Salmond 'closes on Sky election debate'

Friday, February 12 2010, 12:24 GMT

By Andrew Laughlin,

SNP leader Alex Salmond is reportedly close to reaching a deal with Sky to secure his involvement with the main party leaders in the forthcoming TV election debates.

According to The Daily Telegraph, the satellite broadcaster is sympathetic to Salmond's frustration about his exclusion from the initiative.

In a proposed compromise, the First Minister would be allowed to ask one question for each subject raised by the studio audience on Sky's debate format, while also giving his view on the issues being discussed.

Should the proposal go ahead, Salmond hopes that the resulting pressure would force the BBC to follow suit due to its obligation to maintain impartiality.

In December, the SNP leader refused to rule out legal action against the corporation over his exclusion from the main debate format.

In the run-up to next year's general election, Sky, the BBC and ITV will each hold a 90-minute prime ministerial debate, with Conservative leader David Cameron, Labour leader Gordon Brown and the Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg on the panel.

Separate debates will be run by the BBC and Sky in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but Salmond claimed that his party should not be "relegated to the B-league".

The other parties however do not want Salmond involved in the debates as he is not a candidate for Prime Minister. Instead, they believe that he should appear with Scottish secretary Jim Murphy and Tory shadow David Mundell on the Scotland-only programme.

Early reports suggest that Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol have been identified as suitable venues for the debates, which will most likely go ahead at peak time on Thursday or Friday to avoid a scheduling clash with Champions League football.

However, it emerged last week that the debate format is under threat of being "negotiated to death" as parties squabble over issues such as statement lengths and audience participation.