Page last updated at 16:57 GMT, Sunday, 27 December 2009

SNP to hold talks over TV debates

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond said the SNP must take part in the main debate

The SNP are to hold talks with the BBC in a bid to solve a row about the party wanting to take part in a TV leaders' debate ahead of the general election.

First Minister Alex Salmond said he would not rule out legal action over the SNP's exclusion from the debates between the main UK party leaders.

Mr Salmond said the BBC was "duty-bound" to make sure the SNP was represented in the main UK programme.

Talks will be held with the BBC and Sky television in the new year.

Election campaign

The BBC, ITV, and Sky announced last week they had agreed terms with the three main UK parties - Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats - for a series of live "prime ministerial" debates with their leaders during the election campaign.

The absence of any place for the SNP was immediately branded unacceptable by the party.

The first of the 90 minute programmes will be on ITV, the second on Sky and the third on the BBC.

The SNP leader said that Sky had indicated previously that it was prepared to enter discussions over how the SNP could be represented in its leaders' debate.

We are talking about a Scottish and Welsh dimension in the main structure
Alex Salmond

There will be separate debates held in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland among all the main parties, which will be broadcast on BBC Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and across the UK on the BBC News Channel.

However, Mr Salmond said the SNP must be represented in the main programme "not relegated to the B-league".

He said the BBC's producer guidelines and its public service obligations meant it had to reflect the Scottish dimension in the main debate.

"It is not beyond people's wit and imagination to come up with a format which is effective in debating terms and treats the SNP and Scotland fairly," Mr Salmond said.

He added: "We have had election debates in Scotland since 1992. I took part in the first one with the late Donald Dewar.

"There is nothing new about that.

"We are talking about a Scottish and Welsh dimension in the main structure."

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