In the spirit of inclusion, the television debates that will precede the general election in the UK this year have been expanded to include seven major parties in this country. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg will line up against Nigel Farage (UKIP), Natalie Bennet (Green Party), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) and Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) to debate politics and policy before a final run-off debate between Cameron and Miliband.
So the broadcasters have bowed to popular demand and included some of the ‘fringe’ parties to challenge the monopoly of the big three. But which of these has the honour of being the biggest influence on Westminster, of holding the most seats outside of the traditional English parties? The answer is, surprisingly, none of them, but rather a party that has not even been invited to the debate at all; the Democratic Unionist Party, which holds a majority in Northern Ireland and has more seats in Parliament than the SNP the Greens, and UKIP put together.
It is a somewhat bizarre decision to include a party that is as important to its country as the DUP is. The argument from broadcasters is that Plaid Cymru and SNP have been invited because they are in direct competition with the major parties. This is easy rhetoric, but does not really make sense. The DUP takes its seats in Westminster, votes on UK-wide laws, and as such should have representation at the debates as the local majority party, just as the SNP and Plaid Cymru have.
There is something rather sinister in explaining away Northern Irish politics as ‘different’, as if excluding them from the debate is expected to make it more transparent and less often perceived as isolationist. Yes, there is no direct competition for the DUP for the three main parties, but this does not mean they should not be allowed to speak on national issues. If so much value is placed on being a Union, which it clearly was when Scotland almost left it, why is one part of that Union still ignored when it comes to the major press spectacle before an election?
Excluding Northern Irish parties because it would make the debate too complex lost weight as an argument when other parties representing individual countries of the UK were invited, and broadcasters should have the courage in their convictions to invite Northern Irish Parties, or to stick to their original plan of including the three main parties, and also leaving out the Green party and UKIP. It has gone too far for the latter, but I suspect, unfortunately, that the former will not happen either, and it is a shame for political discourse in this country. Many people may not like what the DUP have to say, or their background as a party, but as I have said before, they deserve a platform on which to say it.