Nicola Sturgeon accused of 'dodging scrutiny' after refusing to appear on BBC Question Time

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Simon Johnson
·3 min read
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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire - Jeff J Mitchell/PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire - Jeff J Mitchell/PA

Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of "dodging scrutiny" of her record in government after refusing to appear on a special Holyrood election edition of BBC Question Time.

The leaders of all the other main parties in the Scottish Parliament have agreed to take part in Thursday's show, which will feature questions from a virtual audience.

But Ms Sturgeon declined to appear and the SNP instead sent her party deputy, Keith Brown, in her place. The show will be broadcast a fortnight before polling day for the May 6 election, with polls showing the Nationalists on course for a landslide.

Opposition sources said they had been told to expect an all-leaders show, and that Ms Sturgeon had initially agreed to take part before pulling out.

On April 12, a member of the BBC Question Time team emailed a party press office saying they were “inviting Scottish Party leaders to take part in the show”, including the SNP.

The Tories said the First Minister was trying to “weasel” out of Question Time by sending in her “lackey”. However, the SNP vehemently denied that Ms Sturgeon had ever agreed to participate.

She has taken part in two TV debates in the campaign so far and faced difficult moments in the first when challenged by members of the public over why she had tabled an Independence Referendum Bill in the middle of a pandemic.

In the second she admitted that "I think we took our eye off the ball on drug deaths" after being pressed over Scotland's record drug death tally, which is the highest in Europe and around three-and-a-half times worse than England and Wales.

Annie Wells, a Scottish Tory candidate, said Ms Sturgeon did not want to face more questions about her record on drug deaths, jobs, schools or another separation referendum.

She said: “The SNP are at it with their pathetic excuses. As early as March 8, BBC bosses were telling the Scottish Conservatives they wanted all five party leaders. Question Time clearly asked for Nicola Sturgeon and they’ve been forced to accept her lackey instead.

“Trying to weasel their way out of this is an embarrassment. The SNP should own this – they are afraid of scrutiny and Nicola Sturgeon is scared of facing direct challenges from voters.”

Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish Liberal Democrat campaign chair, said: "After a shaky campaign where she has been repeatedly taken to task for her failings on education, care homes and social care, Nicola Sturgeon has now gone AWOL.

"This was pitched to us in the Liberal Democrats as an event for party leaders. Despite what SNP spin doctors might say, it is obvious that they are trying to protect Nicola Sturgeon’s reputation from further damage caused by SNP failures."

Labour will be represented on the programme by Anas Sarwar, the Tories by Douglas Ross, the Liberal Democrats by Willie Rennie and the Greens by co-leader Lorna Slater.

Ms Sturgeon last appeared in a BBC Question Time leaders special in the 2019 general election campaign, when she was not a candidate.

A SNP spokesman said Ms Sturgeon had been "scrutinised by the media nearly every day over the last year" and would spend Thursday evening taking part in a phone-in with members of the public.

He said: “There has never been any suggestion that the First Minister would be taking part in this debate. The BBC did not include Question Time in their requests for leader participation.

“The SNP was asked for an SNP representative and the SNP’s deputy leader will be appearing. It is for other parties who they chose to put forward to represent their parties.”

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