Fiery Scotland debate surprisingly won by anti-independence leader

Poll shows Alistair Darling beat Alex Salmond in TV clash ahead of go-it-alone referendum

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2014, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 August, 2014, 4:15am

The leaders in the battle for and against Scottish independence clashed in a heated live television debate, six weeks ahead of a historic referendum on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom.

First Minister Alex Salmond, leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), had been expected to dominate the debate on Tuesday with Alistair Darling, a fellow Scot and leader of the "Better Together" campaign.

But Darling, who was Britain's finance minister during the 2008 economic crisis, held his own as he pressed the SNP leader on his claim that an independent Scotland would continue to use the pound sterling - something London says will not be possible.

Salmond insisted this would not be a problem, and hit back by asking Darling repeatedly whether he believed Scotland could successfully be an independent country, a question his opponent dodged.

If we decide to leave there is no going back, there is no second chance

Both campaigns had said the debate could be a turning point in the campaign for the September 18 referendum, when four million Scots will vote on their future.

In the end, neither side delivered a knockout blow, but a snap poll showed Darling an unexpected winner as 56 per cent of respondents said he won, versus 44 per cent for Salmond. Both the "Yes" and "No" campaigns claimed victory.

A definitive win was needed more by the "Yes" campaign, which had pinned its hopes on Salmond's talent for debate to overcome a stubborn gap in the polls.

A poll by the Financial Times newspaper currently puts the "Yes" vote at 36 per cent, 10 points behind those who would vote "No" to independence. Some 16 per cent said they remained undecided.

Exchanges between the two debaters became increasingly heated, and at one point Salmond was accused by an audience member of being "snide" and giving a worrying impression of what an independent Scotland would be like.

Members of the public audience heckled, booed and cheered the two men throughout, prompting the moderator to ask them to show respect and allow the politicians to be heard.

There were a few moments of levity, sparked by Salmond's complaint that for much of his life, Scotland had voted for left-of-centre parties but received a Conservative government.

Darling responded by noting that he was Scottish but did not vote for the SNP. "I didn't vote for him but I'm stuck with him," he quipped.

In his opening speech, Salmond argued that Scottish people should be able to decide their own future.

"My case this evening is this: no one, no one will do a better job of running Scotland than the people who live and work in this country," he said.

But Darling warned of the risks of going it alone and argued that Scotland would pay too high a price to leave the union, saying: "Remember this - if we decide to leave there is no going back, there is no second chance."