Welcome to tonight’s liveblog of the BBC debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow.
00:05 In this View from 22 podcast special, Isabel Hardman, Alex Massie and Fraser Nelson discuss what they made of tonight’s debate.
22.27 Snap verdict from Fraser:
It was Salmond’s night. But after a rather disappointing debate, from which neither man emerged with much credit. The first (STV) debate was a proper argument, which Alex Salmond lost. Tonight’s (BBC) debate was more of a pub brawl, which Alex Salmond won. He’s better at when it’s all noise and interruption – he suppressed this talent last time, but indulged it tonight. Darling, his head perhaps still swollen for the praise for being so effectively angry last time, was angrier still. But this time, it wasn’t particularly effective. For a time, the debate was so shouty as to be incomprehensible: had the two been carrying on like that in a pub, they’d be thrown out. Partisans of both sides will have enjoyed tonight – it was a gloves-off fight and, yes, a fight on territory that favoured Salmond more than Darling. I doubt that many undecided voters will have been won over. It will underline one point, though: that separation is a very acrimonious business. The brawling we saw tonight was a taste of what could be to come in the unlikely event of a ‘yes’ vote.
22.16 ICM’s poll has Salmond the clear winner, on 79%, with Darling on just 21%.
22.09 Snap verdict from Isabel:
That was a much closer – and less edifying – fight. There were sections where it was impossible to discern what on earth was going on, let alone which man was right, as both shouted over one another. Salmond was the more aggressive, but Darling was hardly calm.
How had the men changed their performances from the first debate? Salmond’s was the most noticeable. Firstly, there was the strange lectern choreography, whereby the First Minister went for a little walk towards the audience whenever he wanted to sound especially sincere and serious. The trouble is that he did it in such a staged way, rather than wandering about the whole time, that it looked a bit as though he was stretching his legs, or just obeying some instructions on a sheet of paper. And this made a man trying to look sincere even less sincere.
But he had better answers on the currency question, producing what he claimed was a ‘three plan Bs for the price of one’ alternative to a formal currency union with the rest of the UK. He also did a better job of casting this vote as an opportunity to get rid of the Tories, arguing repeatedly that Darling was in bed with the Conservatives. Darling was insufficiently quick-witted to staunch the flow of accusations on that front. But he had a good rally with Salmond on defence, hacking away effectively at his arguments on Trident.
One of the questions towards the end was about how to continue to enthuse people about politics in the way this referendum debate has. Salmond withered about the constitution before being cut off. But some of the exchanges, particularly the ‘cross-examination’ section where both men were certainly cross, were a very poor way of enthusing anyone about politics. And after the passion of the first debate, that is a shame.
22.05 Snap verdict from Hamish Macdonell:
Salmond definitely edged that one. He was the more composed – helped by the audience. Darling allowed himself to get flustered and Salmond managed to control the agenda. But Darling rallied at the end.
22.00 The debate is over. Hang about for a summary of what we’ve just seen, snap verdicts from Fraser, Hamish, Alex and Isabel, and a special podcast.
21.59 Darling’s closing statement, summarised:
Scotland will prosper by building on its strengths as part of the UK. He justifies raising currency again. An uncertainty about currency can bring a country to its knees. When we can’t be told about the currency, independence cannot be trusted. He says Salmond says you and I don’t need to know what the Plan B is. Yes we do, he says. We do not need to divide these islands into separate states in order to assert our Scottish identity, he says. We all have no option other than to say respectfully, firmly, politely, no to Scottish independence.
21.57 Salmond’s closing statement, summarised:
This is an opportunity to take the future of our country into our hands. Scotland will have opportunities and the means of taking advantage of them. He says the ‘No’ campaign has oohing, absolutely nothing positive to say about our country. A Yes vote will guarantee that we will get the country that we vote for. This referendum is not about him or the political parties or anybody. This referendum is about the future of Scotland. We only have to vote to believe in ourselves. This is our moment and our time, let’s seize it with both hands.
21.55 How do we sustain political engagement after the referendum? Salmond manages to make some terribly exciting noises about a constitution before being cut off.
We’re on closing statements now.
21.51 The men are asked about how campaigners from each side relate to each other. Darling says it has become heated, but that after the vote, Scotland will need to work together again.
Salmond disagrees about the tone of the campaign. If it’s a yes vote, he says, he will accept the obligation to have the negotiation with all the best talents as part of Scotland’s negotiating team. He adds, to a few chuckles, that he would be happy to invite Darling to join ‘team Scotland’ to help with that negotiation.
21.47 Question from the presenter: Does Darling believe the UK government hasn’t planned at all for what would happen Scotland went independent? Darling says he does believe it, and that’s because there is no mandate for that.
21.45 Darling accuses Salmond of failing to set out a coherent defence policy. And he takes Trident back to the question of Scotland’s financial security, telling Salmond that he cannot spend money he hasn’t got.
Salmond responds that ‘Trident is a burden on Scotland’. Darling argues that 15 per cent of tax revenue is not a bonus, it’s essential.
21.39 Oh, Salmond’s getting serious again. He’s walked in front of his lectern. The funniest bit is when he walks back.
He was talking about Faslane and Trident and the SNP’s plans post-independence for Faslane.
Darling stays firmly behind his lectern to say Scotland could ill afford to lose the jobs from the Clyde. He says he can understand why people feel very strongly about nuclear weapons, but towing them down to England will cost Scotland jobs while doing nothing to reduce nuclear weapons worldwide.
21.37 From Hamish Macdonell:
Darling being impaled on Salmond’s use of Unison quotes on the NHS. Salmond doing very well by exploiting differences between Labour and the Tories and then demanding answers on more devolution – when there aren’t any answers at the moment.
21.36 That cross-examination section was just dreadful. The two men shouted at one another and there was no light, just heat.
If the first televised debate had the power and passion to enthuse anyone, whether a Scottish voter or someone in the rest of the UK watching as Scotland decides, then that cross section had the power to turn people off again.
21.33 Salmond has decided that he is going to do a terrifying impression of Jeremy Paxman pretending to be a grizzly bear. He is repeatedly shouting at Darling for more details on powers that the Better Together parties will transfer to the Scottish Parliament to enable them to create more jobs.
21.31 Fraser is unimpressed by the tone of the debate:
Alex Salmond seems intent on making sure Alistair Darling won’t win this debate by shouting so much that there is nothing resembling a debate. “If you talk over each other, no one can hear anything” pleads the presenter. To me, that sums up the whole debate. It’s just appalling.
21.29 They are now arguing about poverty, which gives Salmond an opportunity to accuse Darling of being in bed with the Tories. Darling responds by arguing that he is a Labour politician who disagrees with the current government’s welfare policy, and Salmond is ‘in bed with some people you wouldn’t be in bed with’.
21.27 From Fraser Nelson:
To me, Alex Salmond’s rejection of welfare reform embodies the problems of Scottish nationalism, and why it would be bad for Scotland. Alex Salmond is utterly opposed to welfare reform, and not interested in any other form of it – and, ergo, not serious about tackling the appalling poverty in Scotland. The irony is that Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms started out from his visit to Easterhouse, a deprived Glasgow housing scheme. The UK is being given a solution to a primarily Scottish problem, rather than Glasgow being somehow forced to swallow an English solution. Nowhere is welfare reform needed more than the parts of East Glasgow where life expectancy is lower than Iraq.
21.25 Now both men are talking about oil. They are both talking about oil at the same time. Both are accusing one another of nonsense. The overall effect is certainly nonsensical as it’s difficult to tell what either man is saying.
Alex Massie says:
And now we are playing a new game: My Expert is Better Than Your Expert. My oilman is a better soothsayer than your oilman. This is not enormously edifying or illuminating but it is, again, difficult to claim that Mr Darling is winning this debate so far.
21.24 From Hamish Macdonell:
Darling is behind so far. Salmond is much better than he was the first time, he is scoring points on the NHS and the bedroom tax and the audience is helping him, particularly by cheering every point he makes and booing every time Darling raises the currency.
Darling debating reasonably well but starting to look a bit flustered and Salmond starting to get cocky as he realises he is doing well.
He started conversationally, but the old smug Alex is starting to emerge.
21.21 Salmond is right that Darling keeps returning to the currency issue. He accuses Darling of re-heating all his previous debate attack lines.
Is this a good defence from Salmond, though? By reminding us of the previous debate, he also reminds us that Darling was widely considered the victor from that debate. And by criticising the questions rather than answering them, he appears evasive again on the issue that voters really do waver over.
‘I’m going to get nowhere with Plan B, you’re not going to tell us,’ says Darling.
21.20 Darling chooses to focus on the currency issue, which draws a groan from the very vocal ‘yes’ camp in the audience. It may be a politically balanced crowd, but clearly the BBC didn’t test the vocal balance of the audience, as Salmond’s lot are much noisier.
21.18 Aha. Darling does distance himself from the bedroom tax, pointing out that Labour would scrap it if it gained power in 2015 (this is important for Labour in Scotland and the decision was made partly because the SNP had made such a big thing of this particular benefit cut).
But Salmond accuses him of being ‘in bed with the Tories’ because he’s leading the Better Together campaign.
21.17 The men are now fighting over welfare. Salmond goes for the jugular when Darling fails to distance himself from the bedroom tax. It’s not clear why Darling didn’t do this, because his own party has already said it would scrap the bedroom tax.
21.16 From Alex Massie:
As expected, the debate is becoming agreeably ill-tempered and, equally predictably, is becoming a massive game of Risk. Your Risks are greater than my Risks. Au contraire, pal, it is your Risks that will lead us to Risky disaster. innocent voters could be forgiven for thinking it’s all too much and that disaster must inevitably lurk around the corner however Scotland votes. This is not actually the case.
21.15 From Hamish Macdonell:
Darling gets smacked around by irate socialist in the audience but comes back reasonably strongly. This is an area where Salmond is making headway, the perceived threat to the NHS has obviously got people agitated and worried.
Darling then gets asked by a member of the audience: “Why are we not better together now?” To which the answer obviously is “We are”, but he fails to do that, bit of a lapse.
21.14 Salmond points out, very quickly, that he’s involved in improving the situation at Ferguson shipyard.
21.12 Why are we not better together already, asks one audience member. Darling lists examples of the ways Scotland has benefitted from being part of the UK, including defence jobs.
But he does concede that things are difficult now. It’s a tricky one as he doesn’t want to sound complacent by suggesting that everything is fine.
21.12 From Fraser Nelson:
Salmond is on shaky ground with NHS Scotland, which has been separate since its inception since 1948 and has been run from Edinburgh since devolution in 1999. We’re supposed to believe that this would be better after independence? Holyrood has run NHS Scotland for 15 years and is entirely to thank or blame for what has happened to it since. As Darling points out, Salmond mentioned the NHS only once in the last debate. His claim that only independence can save NHS Scotland was not in his door-stopping White Paper. So why does he come up with this now? Because his pollsters tell him that he has to.
Salmond claims Labour in Wales was “forced” to cut health spending “due to budgetary pressure”. That’s one way of putting it. Another way is that Labour is in power on Cardiff Bay and chose to make those cuts – and, frankly, Cameron should have done the same. Labour never made the unwise promise to “protect” an NHS budget that had more than doubled.
21.11 Salmond accuses Darling of being a ‘master of scaremongering’.
21.10 Darling says the best way to attain a thriving health service is to remain part of the UK. ‘We have a rising health need and I don’t want to put that at risk,’ he says. He says economists have identified a £6bn black hole, and that public services would be ‘more squeezed, more pressured and more cut’.
Salmond says the risk to the NHS comes from the cutbacks Westminster has already introduced. He returns to Wales, adding: ‘Are you the only person who doesn’t realise what’s going on in England and Wales?’
21.08 Darling is confronted by an angry audience member. It’s probably a fair bet that she hasn’t got a shrine to Alistair Darling or Better Together campaign stickers stuck all over her car. She is very cross about Darling speaking at dinners organised by private health companies.
21.07 From Hamish Macdonell:
This is the chance for Salmond to go negative when the NHS is raised and he doesn’t disappoint, raising the spectre of a threat to the NHS if Scotland votes No.
Again, he has softened his argument a bit, stressing that policy control is in the hands of the Scottish Government – but financial control is not.
It is a well prepared and delivered speech.
Darling responds gets booed by a section of the audience when he claims Salmond is indulging in a “scare campaign”.
The audience – or a section of it – is doing its best to turn the debate Salmond’s way.
21.04 As for what Salmond had to say once he’d gone on his little walk, he used Wales (which the Tories also do) as a means of arguing that freedom over the health service would improve it, as the Welsh NHS is struggling. He says a Labour administration in Wales has been forced to cut back the NHS because of budgetary pressure from Westminster.
Darling attacks ‘scare stories’ that have been circulating about privatisation of the NHS. This draws a mocking roar from Salmond’s camp, presumably because Better Together is nicknamed ‘Project Fear’.
21.02 Asked by an audience member how an independent Scotland would improve the NHS, Salmond walks round to the front of his lectern again. Clearly he wants to highlight his key issues by doing this. But it looks a bit weird. It looks a bit scripted, as he hardly wanders when he does it, like a speaker comfortable to address the audience without notes. He just looks as though his stage directions say ‘walk in front of lectern [pursued by bear]’.
21.01 From Alex Massie:
“They cannot stop us using the pound” says Alex Salmond for the five thousandth time this year. And, lo, Alistair Darling agrees! See! Told you so! They’re just bluffing and bullying and blustering… Of course there is every difference – as even Salmond knows – between a formal currency union and sterlingisation. But it is good politics – if low logic – to blur the distinction.
21.00 On whether Scotland would be forced to join the euro, Salmond insists it wouldn’t, citing Sweden. Darling says it would.
20.58 From Fraser Nelson:
Alex Salmond again threatening to start an independent Scotland by defaulting on the debt, with a careful form of words. “If the UK parties take all of the financial assets if the United KIngdom they are stick with all the financial liabilities of the United kingdom. That’s obvious”. By ‘financial assets’ he seems to mean the pound, rather than gold and foreign exchange etc. No one is saying that Scotland would not have its share of those.
20.57 From Hamish Macdonell:
Salmond is doing better on oil, helped by his supporters in the audience who have decided to applaud at every opportunity.
But he is struggling on the currency as usual. Darling on firmer ground on currency, despite Salmond moving over to the mandate argument.
20.55 The grumpiness continues. Both men are making interrupting noises as the other speaks. Darling draws a huge cheer from the ‘Yes’ cohort in the audience as he concedes ‘of course we could use the pound we could use the rouble, we could use the dollar’.
But Darling then goes onto say that Scotland’s financial services wouldn’t be able to exist and that countries like Panama cannot borrow.
Salmond calls Darling’s line the most important admission of the debate, even though Darling has not budged from his normal position.
20.52 This is getting bad tempered a little quicker than round one, unsurprisingly. Both men are snapping at one another over currency union.
Salmond says the rest of the UK will not deny Scotland the financial assets of the Bank of England because the rest of the UK would get stuck with all the liabilities. No UK chancellor would do that, he says, pointing out that Scotland would make debt payments as part of a successful currency union.
Salmond is doing better on this issue this time around.
20.51 And now it’s currency union. Darling is running through the options available. Salmond is snorting with derision as Darling says ‘I want to know what Plan B is’.
‘I set out the options very clearly, three plan Bs for the price of one!’ says Salmond.
20.50 From Alex Massie:
You would expect Salmond to win a round on oil and he does. Oil might be 15% of the Scottish economy but it’s 20% of Norway’s and no one seems to worry they are so dependent upon such a volatile commodity. Moreover, every other wee country in Europe would “give their eye teeth” to be in Scotland’s oil-rich position. Ah, Darling says, but it’s still a big “gamble”. After all, when oil revenues fail to meet projections that means you’ll need to raise taxes or cut services to balance the books.
So, yes, oil is a depleting resource but there’s no way Unionists can persuade Scots that it’s a crippling problem. On the contrary, the independence movement is lubricated by black gold. It scarcely existed before oil and might not be nearly so strong if the oil had already run out. But it hasn’t.
20.46 We’re now onto oil. Darling warns that governments have been far too optimistic about oil revenue, and Scotland would have to raise taxes or cut public spending to make up a shortfall.
20.44 From Hamish Macdonell:
Those playing debate bingo get an early tick with Darling’s mention if the “arc of prosperity”.
Salmond gambles on wandering from the podium but he is doing better on the currency by taking it on before the cross examination begins.
“I am seeking the best option for Scotland”, Salmond says. This is a significant change from “It’s our pound too,” he has softened the message significantly, less aggressive, more consensual.
20.42 First question from the audience is on Scotland’s financial security. Alistair Darling argues that Scotland is better off in the wider United Kingdom, while Salmond does something odd: he walks around from behind his lectern to stand in front. Perhaps he wants to appear more personal, more trustworthy. This is one of his weakest points. He says he is ‘looking for a mandate’ to share the pound ‘in a sensible currency union’. ‘A prosperous economy keeps the pound sterling’ he says.
20.41 From Alex Massie:
You’d expect the opening statements to be strong and polished. They’ve had all week to prepare them. And they were good! Salmond stressing that “This is our time. It’s our moment. Let us do it now.” Besides, we must do it now because Scotland and the rest of the UK are on divergent paths. Not for Scotland horrors such as illegal wars, foodbanks, the bedroom tax and so on and so on.
From Alistair Darling: “My first priority is to build a fairer and better society, his first priority is to create a separate state no matter the risks.” Can you really trust Salmond? “You might here some good lines from his tonight but remember a good line is not always a good answer.”
Nothing new to see here. But a strong opening from each man.
20.40 From Fraser Nelson:
Salmond loses no time linking 1979 ‘no’ vote on referendum with 18 years of Conservative rule. Coded message: this is about whether you hate the Tories or not. But Salmond errs in imaging the public share his own dislike of the Tories – both got around 17% of the vote in the last general election.
Darling’s opening line is a belter:
“The basic difference between Alex Salmond is this: my first priority is to build a better and fairer society. His is to create a separate state, no matter what the cost.”
Word is that Salmond will play the social justice card tonight, and he’s got his rebuttal in first. He’s also right: obsession with the border means that the SNP has made pitifully little progress in all its time in power, as it has obsesses with this referendum.
20.39 From Hamish Macdonell:
Not much of a surprise in the opening statements.
Alistair Darling sticks to tried and tested: oil, currency and devo max.
Alex Salmond goes for 18 years of Tory rule, Margaret Thatcher and the bedroom tax – clearly going for the key Labour waverers.
You can listen to an audioboo of Alistair Darling’s opening statement here:
And you can listen to Alex Salmond’s opening remarks here:
20.37 Darling moves on to oil. ‘Are we going to place all our bets on Alex Salmond being right?’ he asks. ‘This is a decision for which there is no turning back but our children and the generations that follow’ will have to live with its consequences, he says. He then says that unless Salmond provides answers, voters will have to say ‘no thanks’ for the sake of themselves and the generations to come. You sense that the impact on generations to come will be a key theme for Darling tonight.
20.36 Darling is now on his opening statement. He points out that postal voting begins tomorrow and that voters need answers. He starts with the currency, which was Salmond’s weakest point in the last debate.
20.35 Salmond says that no-one cares more about Scotland or can run it better than the people who live and work here, he says. Those who say Scotland cannot do it are wrong. ‘We can create a prosperous nation and a fairer society,’ he argues. Salmond closes: ‘This is our time, it is our moment, let us do it now.’
20.34 Salmond argues that the SNP has been improving Scotland. But there is much far too much that is controlled at Westminster. He mentions the ‘bedroom tax’, ‘illegal wars’, benefit cuts, food banks, Trident.
20.32 And we’re off. Salmond is opening.
20.25 As we wait for kick-off, it’s worth reading Alex Massie’s preview of tonight’s debate (and his dissection of the ice bucket challenge).
Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.