Scotland politics

Salmond v Darling: Hearing the vision above the noise

Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond Image copyright Getty Images

Ahead of the referendum on Scottish independence, one of the most frequently heard phrases put forward by both sides of the campaign was that it's about the vision and policies, not the personalities.

Hard as it may have been to put that thought out of mind as Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and Better Together leader Alistair Darling squared up to each other live on TV, there were a few policies mentioned (some on multiple occasions).

But first came the vision bit.

Mr Salmond began his argument by telling the audience in Glasgow's Kelvingrove Museum that independence was the natural way to complete Scotland's home rule journey.

The vote against devolution in 1979 had, he argued, delivered years of unwanted Conservative rule on Scotland, while the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 had enabled ministers north of the border to enact policies like free care for elderly people.

The natural next step was for Scots to fully embrace independence so Scotland could achieve its full potential.

Image copyright Getty Images

Mr Darling started off with the hard sell. He said Mr Salmond was asking voters to risk everything by putting faith in a vision, about which there were many unanswered questions, such as Scotland's currency future.

He added that Scotland could be successful as part of the Union, sharing the risks and rewards of being part of the UK.

The opener out of the way, the two sides got down to policies. It was inevitable that the currency of an independent Scotland was going to play a major role in the debate - and Mr Darling raised it on many occasions during the 90-minute programme.

'Plan B'

The Better Together campaign think they're on to a winner by saying the Scottish government's plan to share the pound with the rest of the UK in the event of a "Yes" vote can't work.

This is mainly because Mr Darling points out that the main UK parties say they won't agree to it.

As in the last TV debate, Mr Darling continually asked Mr Salmond for his "currency Plan B" and time again, the first minister said the pound was as much Scotland's as the UK's.

Team Salmond knew they had to explain their argument better than the last time the two clashed on TV, and Mr Salmond claimed he had elicited a major campaign revelation when Mr Darling said an independent Scotland could keep the pound.

That wasn't the case, said Mr Darling, adding his point was not about using the pound but about the level of economic control an independent Scotland would have (not very much, he said) without some kind of formal sterling deal.

The NHS came up too - a curious one, given the running and funding of the health service is fully devolved to the Scottish parliament - a point made by Mr Darling.

The calculation by the "Yes" campaign is that, if voters are worried about a cherished service like the NHS, they may be more inclined to vote for independence - Mr Salmond's argument being that the service in Scotland could be compromised by further UK funding cuts.

Fairly shouty

The subject of how much oil is left in the North Sea and the future of nuclear weapons in Scotland were also hotly contested.

Aside from that, it was fairly shouty in parts. At the end of the "cross-examination" bit, the UK chief secretary to the treasury Danny Alexander, sitting in the debate venue media room, remarked that had indeed been quite "cross".

Even on subjects Mr Darling and Mr Salmond agree on, there was dispute.

Both men want a reversal to the current UK government's spending cuts and welfare reforms. Mr Darling, the former Labour chancellor, said the way round this was voting for his party at the next Westminster election. Mr Salmond said Labour had shown its true colours by getting "in bed" with the Tories as part of the Better Together campaign to keep the Union.


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Media captionMr Darling was met with boos from the audience as he attempted to further press Mr Salmond on the issue of currency
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Media caption"Is it sensible?" Alex Salmond asked Alistair Darling four times, over the issue of the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapon programme

The 90-minute debate took place in Glasgow in front of a 220-strong audience. In fiery exchanges, Alex Salmond and Alistair darling clashed on currency, but also oil revenues, the NHS and Trident.


After closing statements, it was all over. In the media/spin room at the debate venue, the briefing began.

One Salmond aide said Mr Darling was a one-trick pony on currency "and the trick hadn't worked". The other side said he'd still failed to answer the question on the pound.

Essentially, the same arguments we've seen played out in the last few weeks and months.

Right after the programme, a snap poll published by the Guardian suggested 71% of people thought Mr Salmond won the debate - something the "Yes" camp was delighted with (as would have no doubt been the case if the result had come out for the Darling camp).

Maybe personality does still have its place in the debate.

Even though polling day isn't until the 18 September, for one in six eligible voters who have chosen to have their say by post instead of the polling booth, it starts this week.

With just a few weeks to go until the vote on Scotland's future, both sides are up for the fight.

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