CHANNEL 4 has offered to host a TV debate on Scottish independence between Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon.... but the Prime Minister has already chickened out.

On Monday when the two met at Bute House, the First Minister said they had debated the future of Scotland’s constitution.

She told journalists: “We had a very lively discussion, we had a session where it was just the two of us in the room and then we were joined by our officials.

“In both of those sessions we had a very lively exchange of views about independence. I made clear my government’s intentions to pass the framework Bill to allow a referendum to take place next year.

“He made the case that he was for the Union, and didn’t think Scotland should have the right to choose. And we had a to-ing and fro-ing on the pros and cons of independence.

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“At one point I suggested to him we didn’t have the debate in Bute House, we took that debate out into the public and let the public decide.

“I even suggested we might debate it live on television – at which point his adviser said it was probably time that we left. We had a very robust exchange of views about that.”

Yesterday, Channel 4 told us they would “be interested in hosting a debate between Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson”.

When we put the offer to Downing Street, a spokesman for the Prime Minister told us: “I think you’ll find there are extensive words on independence from the Prime Minister.”

The SNP’s depute leader, Keith Brown said Johnson was “running scared”.

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“Boris Johnson’s backdoor exit from Bute House shows how much of a big fearty he really is.

The National:

“He clearly has no confidence in the anti-independence arguments which are stuck in the past and have no credibility whatsoever.

“So it is unsurprising to hear that he’s too scared to agree to a head to head televised debate with Nicola Sturgeon. But Johnson should have courage in his convictions and face Nicola – instead of running scared and continuing to block democracy.”

The Scottish Tories seemed less reluctant than their colleagues in London. A spokesman said: “After Jackson Carlaw’s demolition of Keith Brown in the last televised debate, it’s surprising Nicola Sturgeon would want to put herself up for a similar defeat.”

During last month’s Tory leadership contest, Johnson was accused of being a “coward” by his rival Jeremy Hunt.

Though the two men took part in many hustings around the country, Johnson only took part in two televised debates.

Hunt said he had accepted live TV debate invitations from Sky, the BBC, Channel 4, the Sun and ITV.

Johnson took part in a BBC Newsnight debate at the early stages of the contest, and another on ITV.

In the end, the lack of TV exposure did Johnson little harm with the electorate of Tory members, who voted for him in their droves. He defeated Hunt 66% to 33%.

While Television debates in the run up to elections are commonplace in most democracies, they are still a rarity in the UK.

During the last independence referendum campaign more than 2 million viewers across the UK watched the BBC debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling.

The first debate, broadcast by STV, was shown only in Scotland.

A recent Sky News petition to make televised debates a regular fixture of general election campaigns attracted more than 140,000 signatures and sparked a debate in Parliament.