The BBC has caved in to pressure and granted independent candidate Billy Fox equal status in Friday’s election hustings programme.
Mr Fox had boycotted the programme after being told he could not sit on a platform alongside candidates from the four main parties. Yesterday SNP candidate Jean Urquhart said she would not take part in the debate either unless the corporation allowed Mr Fox to participate fully.
In a surprise announcement today, the corporation yielded to protests and made an exception to its policy due to the “particular circumstances” of the Shetland campaign. Mr Fox has welcomed the decision.
The BBC statement reads: “We have listened to the representations and considered the issues surrounding the hustings debate on Radio Shetland carefully. Having done so, we believe there is sufficient reason, on this occasion and in these particular circumstances, to review our approach.
“Therefore we have now extended and invitation to the independent candidate, Billy Fox, to take part in the hustings programme on Radio Shetland sitting on the panel with the candidates representing the four main political parties. This does not represent a change in policy. BBC Scotland will consider each hustings broadcast on its merit.”
Mr Fox said he was “extremely grateful” for a “significant shift” in the BBC’s policy. “What this also illustrates is the power of protest,” he said. “Along with fellow independent candidate James Stockan standing in Orkney, we have shown that independents can make changes even before they are elected.
“It shows that independents can gain mutual respect and work with other parties. In this regard I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to those fellow candidates who gave me their support, and not least the many members of the public who lobbied on my behalf.”
Liberal Democrat candidate Tavish Scott said he was pleased the BBC had listened to complaints about its original stance. “This will allow a full debate, giving all candidates an equal opportunity to make their case and to be questioned on where they stand,” he said.