Left-Out SNP Blasts 'Utterly Unacceptable' Election Debate Plans After Farage Is Invited

Scotland's First Minister and Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond gestures during a visit to watch a performance by school children in Edinburgh, Scotland January 25, 2012. David Moir/Reuters

The Scottish National Party (SNP) have branded UK broadcasters' plans to for a series of televised debates ahead of the general election in May as "utterly unacceptable" and "clearly inappropriate for Scotland" after Scotland's ruling party was not extended an invite, while the Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party (Ukip) were.

"What the London-based broadcasters are proposing fails in their duty to their viewers in Scotland, and simply doesn't reflect the reality of politics across the UK today," said Angus Robertson MP, the SNP's leader in Westminster.

"The broadcasters have the cheek to say that their proposed format factors in 'changes in the political landscape' to justify including Ukip - entirely ignoring the fact that the SNP are now by far the third largest political party in the UK," Robertson added.

SNP membership has overtaken the Liberal Democrats' UK-wide membership after it reached 80,000 members due to a rapid surge in the weeks since the independence referendum. Only the Labour and the Conservatives have more members.

Robertson's comments come after four of the UK's biggest television broadcasters announced plans for three debates in the run up to the general election.

The first, co-produced by Channel 4 and Sky News would have prime minister David Cameron debating Ed Miliband of Labour the main opposition party, while the BBC will host another debate with Cameron, Miliband and Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats.

ITV will host the third debate where Cameron, Miliband and Clegg will be joined by Nigel Farage of Ukip in a four-way showdown. Last week Ukip won the Clacton by-election to gain their first MP after Douglas Carswell defected from the Conservatives.

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According to Robertson, the SNP, who have six MPs, have not been contacted by any of the broadcasters to discuss SNP participation in the general election debates and said the the BBC in particular should "hang their heads in shame".

"It is clearly wrong that the leader of the third biggest political party in the UK should be shut out of these network debates," Robertson said.

"Yet they are proposing to include Ukip, despite the fact the SNP won six seats at the last general election to Ukip's none - and with the SNP at 40 per cent in Scotland for the general election, to Ukip's 4 per cent."

"This looks like yet another cosy Westminster carve-up, and we need to know what discussions the broadcasters have had with the other parties, and why there has been absolutely no discussion with the SNP," Robertson added. "That is simply unfair to Scotland's electorate and cannot stand."

Meanwhile Ukip leader Nigel Farage told press was pleased with his party's inclusion in one of the debates, saying the decision was "better than it could have been".

"However if the political landscape continues to change we would expect and ask for inclusion in a second debate," Farage added.