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Scottish nationalists attack ‘unfair’ exclusion from TV debate

Scotland’s ruling nationalists Tuesday attacked the BBC’s “inherently unfair” decision to exclude them from the final election TV debate, at the start of a court battle against the corporation.

The pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) is furious they have not been included in Britain’s first-ever televised clashes and have mounted a legal bid against the broadcaster ahead of the third and last debate on Thursday.

Led by First Minister Alex Salmond, the SNP wants to be included in the clash on the publicly-funded BBC alongside Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Conservative leader David Cameron and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats.

Judges could block the debate from being shown in Scotland, force a review of the debate or simply reject the case.

Kicking off the legal battle at Edinburgh’s Court of Session, lawyer Mungo Bovey for the SNP said: “The exclusion of the petitioners is inherently unfair.”

“The criteria used to justify the exclusion of the petitioners from the debate are unreasonable and discriminatory,” he added.

“The exclusion is contrary to the BBC’s own election guidance.”

In papers lodged at the court, the SNP argues that it is unfair to exclude them when the debates appeared to have had such a great influence on voting intentions.

The TV showdowns have been credited with throwing the battle for the May 6 general election wide open after Liberal Democrat support surged following a strong showing by Clegg in the first debate.

But the broadcaster’s lawyer Gerry Moynihan argued the SNP’s demands were “impractical” as the debate would not only be shown on the BBC but would also be broadcast on the radio, the Internet and Sky television.

“The order sought is impractical, ultimately pointless. It is impractical because Scotland cannot be hermetically sealed,” he said.

“It is completely contrary to the public interest for such debates now to be stopped, at least for the hearing of them in Scotland to be stopped,” added the lawyer.

The SNP went ahead with the legal bid after raising 50,000 pounds (80,000 dollars, 60,000 euros) for a fighting fund.

The nationalists’ legal bid has been condemned by Brown’s ruling Labour Party, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems.