If TV debates include small parties, then DUP deserves place

Morning View
Morning View

It will be manifestly unjust if the BBC and ITV, prior to the general election, include the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru in debates but not Northern Ireland parties.

Any such line-up will also demonstrate contempt for the Union, with regional parties from Scotland and Wales included but not those from Northern Ireland.

If the positions are being allocated on the number of parliamentary seats held now, then the DUP is due a place before the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Ukip and the Green Party.

If places are based on total votes secured last time, then the BNP is due a place, unsavoury though that sounds (it got more votes than all the aforementioned parties except Ukip).

If places are based on the largest overall UK parties, plus the largest party from each of the three countries with devolved administrations, then arguably Sinn Fein get a place, based on votes (although it should be judged less eligible for a debate place on the grounds of its abstentionist policy).

Depending on the measure for allocating places, arguably the SDLP deserves a debate position, given that it has three MPs at Westminster, which is more than some of the included parties and the same number of seats as Plaid Cymru.

Such a scenario would be embarrassing: the 60+ million population of the UK having to listen to a cast of thousands representing multiple small groups, when almost 90 per cent of British voters are likely to back just the three main parties.

But while such a debate might be absurd, that is the position in which the broadcasters have put themselves if they were to follow through on the logic of their current extensive list of invitees.

Of the Northern Ireland parties, the DUP has the strongest claim to a debate place, given that it has so many MPs.

Perhaps broadcasters have decided that such a prospect might offend nationalists, and so they have excluded Northern Ireland altogether. If that is their reasoning, then they have been dismissive of Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.