ALEX Salmond is under pressure to secure a clear win in tonight’s TV showdown with Alistair Darling to boost the chances of a Yes victory in the referendum.
The First Minister was widely judged to have come off worse in the first televised debate on August 5, but the second head-to-head clash is seen as a crucial test for both men.
The 90-minute debate will be screened on BBC 1 from 8:30pm tonight. It is being staged at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow in front of a selected audience of 200 people.
Mr Darling, who was seen to have won the first debate by repeatedly challenging Mr Salmond over the currency, is expected to return to that issue and also raise questions about North Sea oil.
Mr Salmond has made it clear he plans to focus on the future of the NHS in Scotland if there is a No vote, warning that privatisation of the health service in England threatens Scotland’s budget.
Polling guru Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University said Mr Salmond needed tonight’s debate to be “a game-changer” if Yes was to triumph on September 18.
He said: “A draw is good enough for Mr Darling and Better Together because of where they are in the polls.”
The independence campaign has been given a boost with the backing of more than 30 Church of Scotland ministers who revealed they were voting Yes.
They included former Moderator Andrew McLellan; Leader of the Iona Community, Peter Macdonald; and former church and nation convener Norman Shanks.
Meanwhile, a Nobel Prize-winning economist has backed the SNP’s threat to renege on its proportion of the UK national debt if Westminster refuses to share the pound with an independent Scotland.
All major UK parties have ruled out a currency union but the SNP has dismissed that as pre-referendum posturing. It insists Scotland can keep the pound with the backing of the Bank of England.
Nobel laureate Sir James Mirrlees, a member of Mr Salmond’s council of economic advisers, said: “Britain inherits the debt if it refuses a currency union. It is hard to see how Scotland can take on the debt unless there is a full currency union.”
Think tank Fiscal Affairs Scotland claimed today Westminster could be convinced to share the pound with an independent Scotland. But it said: “The cost to Scotland of such a currency union agreement with the UK government is likely to be severe restrictions in Scotland’s ability to run its own monetary policy and set its overall fiscal targets, possible policy restrictions on setting its own tax rates like corporation tax, regulatory restrictions that are likely to have a severe limit on Scotland’s ability to have a unique financial sector, as opposed to a regional version of that operating in London.”