One podium missingIt seems likely that the Holyrood TV debates won’t get quite the same attention we saw when Cameron, Clegg and Brown faced off in April last year. For one thing, they’re not an innovation for a Holyrood campaign. For another, there really is a metropolitan media bias, and that media will probably spend more time wondering whether Clegg or Cameron wins the AV debate (as it sadly seems likely to be framed).

However, they will still matter. And who will be in them? The answer so far appears to be four out of the five leaders of the Holyrood parties, and as you can imagine I’m not delighted about that, just as the SNP were rightly disgruntled to be excluded from the Westminster debates.

It’s just special pleading to argue we should be in the debates, I’m told. But how are the broadcasters framing the programmes? Won’t that make it clear who belongs in them? To my mind, there are only two credible answers.

Perhaps they should be debates between the candidates for First Minister. Hands up anyone who has any plausible route for anyone other than Salmond or Gray to become FM in May? Nope, FM debates would have to be just those two, the first chunk of FMQs extrapolated to an hour or so, heaven help us.

The other sensible option is that the debates should test the parties that might take part in government in any form. Is there anyone prepared to rule out a government with Patrick Harvie in it, or supporting it from the outside? The most recent poll suggested that would be certainly a possibility, and even with just 2 MSPs we took part in talks last time that could have led to some sort of more formal arrangement. And does anyone think that criteria would mean including Colin Fox? Really? It also should be noted that both the Tories and the Lib Dems would be hard for either the SNP or Labour to work with formally given their roles in Westminster. So this option points towards five podiums.

Actually, there’s a third suggestion. Parties currently in Parliament should get in, with varying amounts of time according to group size. Yes, let Margo in too.

Any of these is logically consistent. But four out of five is purely arbitrary.

Footnote: On the comparison between the SNP in 2010 and the Greens in 2011, it should be noted that the SNP went into last year’s election with just 7 out of 646 MPs, a lower proportion than 2 out of 129, and although there was a way it could have happened, SNP involvement in government at Westminster government was always a considerably longer shot.