By a Newsnet reporter

With the Prime Minister reportedly visiting Scotland this week, Scottish National Party Depute Leader and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has stepped up the SNP’s challenge for David Cameron to agree to a live television debate with First Minister Alex Salmond on Scottish independence.

Mr Cameron has refused to engage in a debate with the First Minister, however the SNP argue that it is only proper that the man who wishes to remain the Prime Minister of Scotland explains to the Scottish people why he should keep the role, despite the fact his party has only a single Scottish MP.

The Prime Minister's office has reportedly suggested that Mr Salmond should debate with Alistair Darling, the official head of the Better Together campaign.  However critics have pointed out that Mr Darling is a back-bench MP representing a party which is not in office, and which has no influence on UK Government policy.

Ms Sturgeon pointed to the "utterly contradictory" reasons for the Prime Minister refusing to debate with Mr Salmond.  Wednesday’s Herald newspaper reported Mr Cameron's spokesman rejecting participation in a debate because: "It's for people in Scotland to lead the debate on the Union."

However the Scottish Government point out that case against independence is being led by the UK Government from Downing Street.  It is understood that the UK Government campaign is being co-ordinated by Chancellor George Osborne.

It was reported last year that “Whitehall’s full intellectual might is now engaged” in the campaign to oppose independence, and that the Treasury is spearheading the “co-ordinated push” with Sir Nicholas MacPherson, the department's top civil servant, chairing a group of permanent secretaries. Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, is also chairing another group liaising with ministers.  

The UK Government has established 13 policy "work streams" in order to counter Scottish independence. Five involve the Treasury and cover the economic performance of Scotland, currency and monetary policy, tax and spending, financial services and banking, and debt and borrowing.

The Downing Street-led operation was established with a view to a paper being published by the UK Government against independence on 13 policy areas every month in 2013. So far, however, only one paper has been published, in February – which backfired when one of its authors and the UK Government’s own legal expert, Professor James Crawford, said that the Scottish Government's timescale for Scotland becoming an independent country in March 2016 is "realistic".

At the end of February, the Scotsman newspaper reported that a leaked Treasury document against independence was having to be rewritten because the UK Government were basing their case for the Union on Britain's triple-A credit rating.  The credit ratings agency Moody's stripped the UK of its triple-A rating in February.  The second major credit ratings company, Fitch, has announced it is to carry out a review of the UK's rating, and it is expected to announce a downgrade later this month.

A YouGov poll commissioned by the SNP showed that over two-thirds of people in Scotland believe Mr Cameron should reverse his position and agree to take part in a head-to-head TV debate with Mr Salmond.  Only 19% agreed with Mr Cameron's position.

Speaking ahead of Mr Cameron's reported visit this week, Ms Sturgeon said:

"David Cameron's reasons for ducking a debate with the First Minister are utterly contradictory. If the case against independence is to be made by 'people in Scotland' – as the Prime Minister's spokesperson claims – why on earth is the UK Government's entire Whitehall machine focused on spearheading a 'co-ordinated push' for the No campaign from London?

"The reality is that the No campaign is Tory-led and Downing Street-led. The Prime Minister should be honest about that, and therefore reverse his position and agree to a live head-to-head TV debate with Alex Salmond – as over two-thirds of Scots want him to do.

"In my view, first and foremost in such a referendum debate should be the UK Government’s brutal welfare cuts – and how David Cameron can possibly justify the Westminster system imposing iniquitous measures such as the Bedroom Tax on Scotland when over 90 per cent of Scottish MPs voted against it.

"David Cameron should use his visit to Scotland to speak for himself and agree to a head-to-head debate with Alex Salmond – if he does not, the conclusion we can take is that he is incapable of defending Westminster's attacks on working families and some of our most vulnerable citizens to the people of Scotland."


# clootie 2013-04-04 07:13
David Cameron decides instead to use North Korea to highlight the need for a Trident replacement. He will also argue on jobs cuts in defence - fear again. What happened to the positive case?

SKY appear to be taking the unionist stance with no balance on the defence presentation.
# Ready to Start 2013-04-04 07:30
Increasingly UK wide TV programmes are noting the referendum with numerous pundits standing up for the Union and no one in favour of independence allowed near the screen.

On BBC Radio Scotland this morning Colin Blane referred to "if the SNP win the referendum" but would never say if the Tories win the referendum.

David Cameron's refusal to debate with Alex Salmond and claims that it is up to "people IN Scotland" to lead the debate doesn't fit with London Tories funding the NO campaign or English newspapers slavish support for the union.

Call Kaye is on about Trident jobs and Cameron's visit. Demand that he defends the union by debating with Alex Salmond.
# ianbeag 2013-04-04 10:27
With the Iain Duncan Smith petition having gathered around 300K signatures within a few days, perhaps we should be organising an on-line petition to shame Cameron into a debate with Alex?
# Jamieson 2013-04-04 10:28
David Cameron is just afraid to debate with Alex Salmond. And:-

"It was reported last year that “Whitehall’s full intellectual might is now engaged” in the campaign to oppose independence, and that the Treasury is spearheading the “co-ordinated push” with Sir Nicholas MacPherson, the department's top civil servant, chairing a group of permanent secretaries. Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, is also chairing another group liaising with ministers."

"Full intellectual might"? Well with a shower of d1ckheads like that in charge we should have no problems. They have already cocked up TWO papers not one. You forgot the paper about how it is going to cost us £1 if we go Independent.
# WRH2 2013-04-04 10:52
WMD's give us bargaining power according to Annabel Goldie on this morning's Call Kaye. That was the reason she came up with after all the other daft arguments (numbers employed, defence jobs, etc) were taken to bits by callers and texts. Just makes me wonder why the UK didn't negotiate with Iraq then since they didn't have any WMD's and according to Annabel's argument, that should have put us in the driving seat. Negotiation could have saved a lot of lives for all sides concerned.
A debate between Cameron and Alex Salmond would be really entertaining, but for once I have to admit, someone from the Tethered Together side has shown some intelligence. They obviously understand Dave's limits! AS would wipe the floor with him.
# call me dave 2013-04-04 21:20
David Cameron has insisted that a TV showdown with the Scottish First Minister in the run up to next year's independence referendum would be a "phoney debate".

Nationalists have called on the Prime Minister to take part in a television debate with Alex Salmond ahead of the key vote on Scotland's future - due to be held on September 18 2014.

But Mr Cameron dismissed this as "diversion tactics" from the Scottish Nationalists, who he claimed were losing the argument on independence.

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