Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Darling looks out of his comfort zone as Scotland’s First Minister goes on the attack
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Tuesday 26 August 2014
An independent Scotland’s future currency and its reliance on oil revenue dominated the second televised debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling.
Scotland’s First Minister opened the debate by stating that on 18 September voters could “complete the home rule journey” and “take matters into our own hands.” In response, the former Chancellor said Mr Salmond wanted to create a separate state “no matter what the cost”.
Mr Darling, who leads the pro-union Better Together campaign, immediately went on the offensive, saying Mr Salmond was asking Scotland “to trust what he says – and I can’t".
But an aggressive, re-energised Mr Salmond may have delivered the comeback he needed, and delivered it in a shouting match that was less genteel than their first television confrontation. An instant ICM-Guardian poll after the debate found 71 per cent of viewers thought Mr Salmond the victor, compared to 29 per cent for Mr Darling.
In a reprise of the battleground that dominated the first debate 20 days ago, Mr Salmond repeated his belief that a Westminster government would deliver a currency union with an independent Scotland. Although referring to options that included using the pound “with permission” and the euro, Mr Salmond said his priority was “seeking a mandate” for a currency union, and that if he described the detail of a Plan B “then that is what we will end with”.
The debate was critical for Mr Salmond. Before the debate a new poll put the support for independence still trailing behind – 38 per cent for Yes, 51 per cent for No.
The nationalist script for the leader of the SNP, who was perceived to have lost the first debate, was a political comeback that would energise the Yes campaign in the few weeks until 18 September. In what looked like an over-anxious effort to score points, Mr Salmond claimed the “major revelation” of the night was Mr Darling’s acknowledgement that Scotland didn’t need to ask permission to use the pound.
Better Together leader Alistair Darling, left, and First Minister Alex Salmond ahead of Monday night’s debate (PA)
Although the debate focused on oil, the NHS, and the bedroom tax, Mr Darling repeatedly attempted to return to the issue of currency.
Mr Salmond accused Mr Darling of being a “one-trick pony” and said he had answered the question before. He again asked Mr Darling: “If we win, will you support Scotland joining the union?”
But as Mr Darling repeatedly returned to an independent Scotland’s currency, Mr Salmond tried to evade the question, saying: “Even your insults are retreads from the first debate.”
The Glasgow audience in the Kelvingrove Gallery was more aggressive than the one at the first debate. Some of the questioners accused Mr Darling of forgetting his Labour roots, of forgetting the legacy of the founder of the NHS, Aneurin Bevan.
One question about Scotland’s oil resulted in heated exchanges between the two men. Mr Salmond appeared to lose the hesitancy he showed in the first debate, and although the “risk and over-reliance” on oil was attacked by Mr Darling, there was huge applause when he said that “any country in the world would be delighted at the oil asset we have.”
Mr Darling at times looked outside his comfort zone in an aggressive debate.
The nationalists will claim that Mr Salmond won the debate convincingly. It was better than his outing 20 days ago. How much better? Scotland will know in three weeks.
What they said
Alex Salmond: “No one… will run the affairs of this country better than the people who live and work in Scotland. No one cares more about Scotland.”
“We are a rich nation, a resourceful people. We can create a prosperous nation and a fairer society: a real vision for the people… This is our time, our moment…”
“You are getting three Plan Bs tonight. They are just like buses Alistair: you expect one and then three turn up.”
Alistair Darling: “He is asking us to take his word for it on everything, with no Plan B for anything. Sorry, I can’t.”
“I believe we can be better, we can be more prosperous… by being proud of what we do in Scotland, but also having the advantage of being part of the United Kingdom.”
“The point about a currency union is that both parties have to agree to it. You are taking a huge risk if you just assume it’s all going to fall into place…”
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