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Scottish independence debate: Alex Salmond vs Alistair Darling – live

5 August 2014

7:38 PM

5 August 2014

7:38 PM


Welcome to tonight’s liveblog of the STV debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling. We’ll bring you rolling coverage and analysis of the exchanges.

21.50 Well, we didn’t learn a great deal that was new from that. But what we saw was impassioned. Many people didn’t see it, because STV Player, the only option for those not in Scotland, froze. But for those fortunate enough to have seen the whole thing, and for the Scottish voters who will decide the result, that was an engaging debate. Here are some thoughts on each man’s performance.

Alex Salmond: Calmer and less shouty than he often is at FMQs. He nuanced his ‘you’re-too-negative’ attack by portraying Better Together’s narrative as being based on half-truths or misquotes, such as misrepresentation of Jean-Claude Juncker’s comments on Scotland’s future. But he went a bit too far at some points, wittering about aliens and driving on the other side of the road. Part of this strategy to portray warnings simply as ‘campaign rhetoric’ includes refusing to contemplate anything other than a currency union. But here he was weak: he looked as though he simply hadn’t thought of the contigency plan for a currency union not going ahead. As for whether he still appeared too arrogant to woo those women voters, he didn’t give a great impression of humility. He rightly mocked Darling for arguing Better Together was optimistic and positive, but he could have gone further in offering a passionate, exciting vision of an independent Scotland. Some of his best lines were when he talked about protecting Scotland from further Westminster tomfoolery, rather than a sports coach-style pep talk about potential.

Alistair Darling: More aggressive and sarcastic than he’s been up to this point. He was at his very best in the currency union section, which I suspect will be takeaway from tonight’s debate. The audience helped him on this too. He also had some good lines and jokes, which helped him appear less boring.

Darling performed better than expected, while Salmond seemed a little less impressive than expected. Perhaps both confounded expectations in their own ways, but Darling will have benefitted the most. Even if you think both performed well – and it ws certainly an excellent, passionate, interesting debate – it is difficult to declare Salmond an outright winner. As James explained before the debate, winning outright and obviously was the only thing Salmond needed from the debate. Darling needed to survive, but he did better than that. So on those measures, it’s a win for the ‘No’ campaign tonight.

Interestingly, the Guardian’s exit poll with ICM of viewers finds that Darling won the debate by 56% to 44%.

21.44 And that’s that. Summary coming up shortly.

21.41 Salmond argues that the men did agree that Scotland could be a successful independent country. Scotland will get the government it votes for at every election, he says. Voting yes ‘is a vote for ambition over fear’, he says, it will tell the world that Scotland is an ‘equal nation’. ‘This is our moment. Let’s take it.’

21.40 Darling is closing now. He wants to see Scotland prosper, and wants to tear down the barriers to increasing wealth and opportunity. He says he is optimistic about Scotland’s future in the UK, because it can have the ‘best of both worlds’ (ping!). Too much of the pro-Indy campaign has been characterised by guesswork and blind faith, he says.

21.39 Darling says he wants to see more job opportunities in Scotland, but ‘firm after firm’ says Scotland needs to stay in the UK to safeguard those jobs.

21.38 Salmond says Scotland does have a challenge in terms of social protection and pension spending. But: ‘I’ve got a great idea… why don’t we secure the 37,000 young people who leave Scotland’ and give them opportunities to work here, he argues.

21.34 The next round of questions on pensions includes an audience member who is annoyed that money is being prioritised for pensions above the Gaelic language. Sadly the moderator says the discussion needs to stick to pensions, so we won’t get a chance to see the two men tussling with that…

21.33 Pensions. Darling says ‘the big thing on the state pension largely depends on the ability of the country to pay those pensions and that depends on how much wealth it generates’.

21.31 Good line from Salmond. He says he cannot continue to protect Scotland from Westminster policies. This is another side to his argument: that staying in the UK would not be business as usual, but a slide down a slope of poor treatment by Westminster politicians.

21.29 Darling says ‘we are going to have a conversation at some stage as to how we are going to provide those services’, but it is ‘entirely up to the Scottish government’ how it provides services. It will continue to be the case, he points out.

Salmond says John Swinney has balanced the books over seven years, under ‘great pressure’ from Westminster. But Scotland cannot sustain having ‘hand-me-down’ cuts from Westminster, he says.

21.24 More questions: on an independent Scotland sustaining free higher education and prescriptions. Salmond says it would be able to do, and that the Scottish governement has been able to preserve them through difficult financial times. He pledges that neither will be reversed.

Darling says ‘what you will not get away with’ is charging fees to students from other UK countries. He says if Scottish universities start losing the income from those students, then they will struggle.

 21.20 Salmond now turns on the Office for Budget Responsibility, accusing it of being a branch of the Tory party.

21.16 More contributions from the audience, who are also growing more passionate. One man tells Salmond he’s disappointed in him. And we get our first ‘are-you-really-Scottish’ question for Darling, from a woman who wants to know if he really has an address in Scotland.

21.13 Now we’re bickering about Fred Goodwin. Both men have links here. Darling was part of the government that knighted Goodwin, points out Salmond. Darling points out that Salmond wrote to Goodwin urging him to take over ABN Amro. Score draw there.

21.10 Darling says that if Scotland votes for independence then there is clearly a mandate for Scotland to negotiate the terms and conditions. ‘Of course I believe in the sovereignty of the people,’ he says.

‘If you are going to enter into a currency union, two sets of people  – the UK and Scotland – would have to agree to the terms of a currency union,’ he says. And he says there is no law that would compel people to agree to that.

21.09 So it’s Salmond’s turn to talk about that contingency plan. But he says he wants to talk about what is best for Scotland. He says the range of options are on p4 of the report of the fiscal commission.

21.08 More questions on currency union. One woman says she’s still waiting for an answer from Salmond on the contingency plan. Another says he thinks a ‘Yes’ vote will change the position on currency union, which is what Salmond wants to convince voters is the case. This – along with Salmond not really having another plan – is why he won’t talk about Plan B.

21.04 We’re back on currency union now, with a question from an audience member on keeping the pound. Both men rehearse their earlier arguments on this, but Darling goes further, after getting a derisive laugh from the audience about transferring money ‘from the richer to the poorer parts’. He points out that he bailed out RBS, but would not have been able to in an independent Scotland.

The audience member says he’d quite like to hear about the contingency plan if a currency union does not occur.

21.00 We’ve now had an hour of the debate. It is much angrier than many expected. Salmond’s tactics so far have been to suggest that many warnings by the ‘No’ campaign have been based on mis-quotes and are insincere because key figures within Better Together really think that Scotland could thrive as an independent country.

Darling has been more serious (as well as more shouty and sarcastic than he might have planned to have been) than Salmond, telling the SNP leader that he needs to grow up and stop talking about aliens. His section on currency union was good, but Salmond had some good lines on ‘Project Fear’. Of course, the problem for Darling on the latter is that the ‘No’ campaign does have to be negative and about fear of the risks – and Darling was appointed because he would be a good, dry person to be able to communicate these risks.

Darling was probably slightly on top at the end of that round.

20.56 Salmond now turns onto Labour supporters and politicians who do support the ‘Yes’ cause. Then we’re back to the spin room, and presumably, the adverts. Some thoughts on what we’ve seen so far coming up.

20.53 ‘All countries can go it alone proivided they accept the risks.. that come with that,’ says Darling.

‘Do you agree with him?’ shouts Salmond. ‘I think you really do agree but you just don’t want to do it.’

20.52 These exchanges are getting very grumpy indeed. The pair are starting to talk over one another. Salmond accuses Darling of thinking that Scotland’s oil reserves are a curse. He then quotes David Cameron saying that Scotland could be a successful independent country. ‘Do you agree with David Cameron?’ he shouts repeatedly. Darling talks about something else.

Salmond then says he feels like Paxman grilling Michael Howard. Darling says he’s more like Michael Howard.

20.50 Is this a sensible foray by Salmond? He wants Darling to withdraw the claim that Juncker was talking about Scotland when he made his comments. But Darling is using it as an opportunity to talk about the risk to Scotland’s position in Europe. Darling is also being surprisingly sarky.

Salmond goes off on a slightly different tack, and complains about the eurosceptics in the ‘No’ campaign. ‘You’re in bed with people who will say that they are going to vote to leave the European Union. Isn’t that the real risk for Scotland?’ asks Salmond.

20.48 Salmond gets serious, and starts talking about Jean-Claude Juncker’s comments on an independent Scotland’s position in the EU. He asks Salmond to correct claims that the ‘No’ campaign made about Juncker’s comments.

(This is what Juncker said).

20.46 Salmond is now reeling off a series of strange predictions from ‘no’ campaigners. Darling is showing his exasperation, exclaiming ‘for goodness’ sake!’. ‘You are being ridiculous,’ he says, telling Salmond to have a ‘grown-up conversation’ about pensions and the like.

20.45 Darling goes back to that non-existent legal advice on EU membership. ‘You cannot blame me for asking things,’ he says. Salmond accuses ‘No’ campaigners of saying independent Scotland would have to switch which side of the road drivers drove on.

20.44 It’s Salmond’s turn to ask the questions. He asks Darling why the ‘No’ campaign calls itself ‘Project Fear’. Darling says it doesn’t, and is laughed at by the audience when he says Better Together makes a ‘positive case’.

20.42 Darling asks Salmond why Scotland should take on such big risks. Salmond says independence would mean an ‘end to austerity’. ‘Why it’s worth having control of our own finances is we could do that in an independent Scotland.’ Darling says there is no way Scotland would be able to borrow billions to do this.

Salmond suggests Darling hasn’t read his documents. ‘Your budget deficit was 11% of gross domestic product!’ he snipes.

20.41 Salmond is accusing Darling of a ‘campaign tactic’, and his warnings are ‘part of project fear’.

20.39 Darling is getting quite aerated now. He warns Salmond that the financial markets are listening, which gives the SNP leader his chance to land his first real blow. He points out that Darling was Chancellor during financial meltdown.

20.38 Salmond argues that keeping the pound is best for Scotland. ‘We’re going to put forward Plan A – what’s best for Scotland.’

20.36 ‘We’ll keep the pound because it belongs to Scotland as much as it belongs to England,’ says Salmond. ‘Why can’t we go back to the Alistair Darling of last year, saying it was logical and desirable,’ he says. Darling repeatedly heckles, saying ‘come on!’ and then brings up that missing legal advice about Scotland’s membership of the EU.

‘What is option B? Please tell us?’ Darling says.

20.35 Darling says he wants Salmond to contemplate ‘for one minute’ the fact that he might be wrong.

Salmond goes back to the Newsnight performance. He gets booed.

Darling says, witheringly, ‘you are doing yourself no favours here’.

20.33 Darling starts by pressing Salmond on what his plan is if Scotland does not get a currency union.

Salmond  has brought along a transcript of Darling on Newsnight Scotland. ‘Of course, of course it would be desirable to have a currency union,’ he quotes Darling as saying.

‘You are sooo predictable!’ says Darling. He has brought the transcript too.

20.30 STV is on the adverts. If you’re not in Scotland and are staring at the same blank screen on the broken STV Player, this is what the debate looks like:


20.26 We get questions from the audience, which range from food banks to bank notes. But the debate then cuts to the spin room.

20.24 Another sound of the gong for ‘best of both worlds’ from Darling before the debate opens up to the audience.

20.23 Darling is now being pressed on what tax powers Scotland would gain if it voted to stay in the UK. Salmond is gleeful when he stumbles, but is then pressed on how SNP MSPs would vote on more tax powers. He says SNP MSPs are focused on getting a ‘Yes’ vote.

20.21 Darling is taking care to talk about Scotland as ‘our country’. One of the risks that some highlighted before this debate was, bizarrely, that Darling might not be seen as a sufficiently ‘Scottish ‘ politician. He also gets a good zinger in, telling the audience that he didn’t vote for Salmond, but is ‘stuck with him’. That’s democracy, he says.

20.20 Salmond says that if Scotland becomes independent, ‘in every single election, we’ll get the government that Scotland votes for’. He is being asked about risk, and is turning to emotional arguments. Darling’s task is to turn it back.

20.17 Darling comes up with the usual politician speak about the only poll that matters being on 18 September when he’s asked whether he needs to worry given Better Together have the poll lead.

20.15 Salmond says that if the ‘Yes’ campaign win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Scottish people, then they will win the referendum.

20.14 Darling calls on voters to say with ‘optimism’ and confidence ‘no’ to independence. He uses the ‘best of both worlds’ again. We may keep a tally.

20.13 Darling is speaking now. He tells the audience that sometimes saying ‘no’ is the best thing to do. He wants to use the strength of the United Kingdom to make Scotland stronger. He uses that phrase, ‘the best of both worlds’, that I suspect we’ll be hearing a great deal of during the course of this evening.

20.12 Salmond says his case is that no-one will do a better job of running Scotland than the people who live and work in Scotland. Scotland should seize the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ with ‘both hands,’ he says.

20.10 Salmond begins by dismissing those who say Scotland cannot be a successful independent country. He points to the successful Commonwealth Games where many of the countries were smaller than Scotland and less well-resourced. hesays the quesion is should Scotland be independent, not could it.

20.09 They’re currently taking opinions from the audience before the two men take the stage.

20.05 And we’re off. If you’re trying to catch the debate and you’re not in Scotland, you can watch it here (although some people seem to be struggling to get it working).

While we’re waiting, it’s worth reading Alex’s post from this morning in which he looks at the chances for the two men fighting over the thistle, and James in the Mail on Sunday on what each man needs to do in order to get what he needs from this clash.


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