General Election TV snub for SNP as Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer to face off in first live debate

Then SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon at an ITV debate with future Tory PM Rishi Sunak ahead of the 2019 general election
-Credit: (Image: Handout)

The SNP has been snubbed by broadcasters after it was announced the first TV debate of the general election campaign will only involve Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer.

A party insider today branded the decision a "democratic outrage" after it was confirmed the Prime Minister and Labour leader would face-off on ITV on June 4.

It will be the first of two planned primetime head-to-head debates between the pair, with the second due to take place on Sky News later next month.

But there will be no place for John Swinney despite his party winning the third most MPs at the previous general election in 2019.

The First Minister branded the decision to exclude him as "ridiculous" and said his party would be arguing its case with broadcasters.

"I think it’s ridiculous that the third party in UK politics has been excluded from the debates that are being taken forward," he said. "We’re making strenuous representations to the broadcasters about that point and we’ll continue to do so."

An SNP insider told the Record the party should have been invited as it was the only one offering voters a pro-independence and anti-Brexit platform.

"Voters in Scotland deserve to hear from the SNP - the third party in the UK, the party of government in Scotland, and the only major party campaigning against Westminster austerity cuts and Brexit, and to give people in Scotland a choice over their future," they said.

"The fact we've been shut out of the first televised debate is a democratic outrage."

The hour-long ITV debate will be moderated by Julie Etchingham and take place in front of a studio audience.

Michael Jermey, ITV’s director of news and current affairs, said: “Millions of viewers value the election debates.

“They provide a chance to see and hear the party leaders set out their pitch to the country, debate directly with each other and take questions from voters. ITV is pleased to be broadcasting the first debate in this year’s election campaign.”

Stephen Flynn, the SNP leader at Westminster, said: “It's a disgrace that there will be no Scottish voice included in the first TV election debate.

"It shows that Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer are running scared of scrutiny - and it underlines why it's vital to vote SNP to make Scotland's voice heard and put Scotland's interests first.

"Scotland deserves better than a narrow choice between the Tories and Tory-lite Labour Party, who are both wedded to Brexit, austerity cuts, creeping privatisation of the NHS, and want to block Scotland from having any choice over our future.

"The SNP is the only party that will always put the interests of Scotland first - and it's wrong that we have been blocked from attending the debate in another Westminster stitch-up."

The Record understands the SNP has been invited to take part in a larger-scale TV debate which will feature more parties, with final details still to be agreed.

A spokeswoman for the Lib Dems played down the party's exclusion from the ITV debate.

"When Liberal Democrats have the opportunity to make our case to voters, they like what we have to say - whether that’s on fixing the NHS or stopping sewage from being dumped into our rivers," they said.

"But this election won’t be won or lost in some narrow debate - it’ll be up to voters across the country, many of who will be turning to the Liberal Democrats as their local champions - and as the ones who can turf out the Conservatives in their area."