Scottish Independence: EN readers split on debate

Alex Salmond, Bernard Ponsonby and Alistair Darling. 'Picture: Peter Devlin
Alex Salmond, Bernard Ponsonby and Alistair Darling. 'Picture: Peter Devlin
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EVENING News readers are split over who won last night’s referendum debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling.

But what is clear from our exclusive reader poll is that it helped many make up their minds as to how they would vote.

How did you intend to vote before the TV debate?

Yes: 47.2%

No: 34.6%

Undecided: 17.8%

How are you intending to vote now?

Yes: 54.1%

No: 40.2%

Undecided: 5.1%

Who do you think won?

Alex Salmond: 37%

Alistair Darling: 38.1%

Tie: 24.3%

• Discrepancy in percentage add-ups due to some readers leaving questions blank.

Only five per cent of those polled were now undecided after the televised clash – compared with 17.8 per cent before the debate.

While many judged that Mr Darling had come our marginally on top, most were in the main pushed in the direction they thought they would vote – with support rising by around six per cent for both the Yes and No camps.

Some pundits had predicted an easy victory for the First Minister, but Mr Darling proved more feisty and effective than many expected.

An instant ICM poll of people who had seen the debate found Mr Darling had won by 56 per cent to 44 per cent for Mr Salmond.

Voters interviewed after the debate complained there had been too much point-scoring and too few answers. One said he believed undecided voters were likely to have been left even more undecided.

The audience made its frustration clear by booing both men at different stages.

Alex Salmond asked Mr Darling over and over again whether he agreed with David Cameron’s comment that he believed Scotland could be “a successful independent country”. The former Chancellor was not willing to say.

Mr Darling used almost nine of his 12 minutes of cross-examination time pressing Mr Salmond on the currency question.

At the start of the debate, which took place in front of an audience of 350 at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, Mr Salmond urged voters in Scotland to seize the opportunity of independence with both hands.

He said: “Within ten miles of where I’m standing in Glasgow there are 35 food banks, in this city and its surroundings serving thousands of families with children.

“How is it in this prosperous country we have thousands of families with children dependent on food banks?”

In his opening statement Mr Darling said everyone in Scotland was proud of the country and wanted it to prosper but patriotism was not what was at stake.

He said: “Rather it’s something bigger than that, and that’s the future of our country, the future for our children and our grandchildren.

“In six weeks’ time we will make the biggest decision we’ve ever made here in Scotland and remember this, if we decide to leave there is no going back, there is no second chance.”

He challenged Mr Salmond to address questions that he said had remained unanswered during the debate.

Mr Darling said: “He either can’t or he won’t answer them. If he does that it’s not good enough for me and I don’t think it will be good enough for you either.”

With Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal democrats all having put forward plans for more devolution to Holyrood in the event of a No vote, Mr Darling said Scotland would get “substantial powers” over areas such as income tax.

But Mr Salmond dismissed that, saying: “We will have had a Yes vote in the referendum by then and we will be negotiating for independence.”

He said SNP MPs at Westminster would “vote for more powers” if Scotland stayed in the UK and these were offered, but insisted: “We’re anticipating a Yes vote.”

The First Minister continued: “The Tory Party have one MP, there are more pandas in the zoo in Edinburgh than Tory MPs in Scotland. But we still get a Tory Government.”

Mr Darling, who was chancellor in Gordon Brown’s Labour government, pressed the First Minister on his plans to keep the pound after independence in a currency union with the rest of the UK.

The Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats at Westminster have all maintained they will not sign up to such an arrangement if there is a Yes vote, with the Better Together leader demanding to know the Scottish Government’s alternative plan. Mr Darling said leaving the UK but keeping the pound was “a bit like getting a divorce and keeping the same joint bank account”.

The former chancellor stated: “If you leave the United Kingdom you leave the pound. What is your plan B if you don’t get a currency union, this is most important.”

But the First Minister insisted: “We will keep the pound Alistair because it is our pound as well as England’s pound.”

The two men went on to clash on the finances of an independent Scotland, with Mr Darling insisting the country was better off in the UK. “Money has flowed both ways over the last 30 years, but in the last 22 years Scotland has spent more than it has put in, so we have benefited from being part of the United Kingdom,” he said.

“We have higher public spending here per head than they do in the rest of the United Kingdom.

“But we benefit from being part of the UK at the moment.”

Mr Salmond, however, insisted: “In each one of the last 33 years, Scotland has paid more in tax per person than the average of the UK. Over the last five years we have £8 billion more into the treasury than we have had out of it, in relative terms. that is £1,500 a head for every man, woman and child in Scotland.”

In his closing address, Mr Salmond said there were “three big reasons” why Scotland should be independent.

He told the audience: “If we’re independent we get the government we vote for at each and every election.

“Secondly we know that Scotland is a wealthy nation with abundant natural resources. With independence we can turn that prosperous economy into a just society And finally no one will ever govern Scotland better than the people who live and work in Scotland - we’ll always make the best decisions about Scotland’s future.”

Analysis

By Alison Johnstone

SO, the first presidential style debate of the referendum is over. None of the arguments was new to those of us who have been on the campaign trail for the past two years but so many people are only now switching on.

Alex Salmond highlighted the Westminster policies that mean we have food banks in our wealthy nation, and that we’re about to be railroaded into spending £100 billion on a new generation of nuclear weapons on the Clyde. The opportunity, he pointed out, is to end austerity and improve our democracy. I was also pleased to hear the First Minister highlight the opportunity we have to adopt a more welcoming immigration policy, retaining skilled workers instead of kicking them out as the three big UK parties would have us do.

Alistair Darling – my MP – highlighted what he called the risks of independence, failing to acknowledge that a No vote also contains risks. He kept referring to strength and security, which probably sounds attractive if you’re well off but is simply meaningless if you’re one of the many Scots struggling to make ends meet.

He also said the UK can transfer money from the richer parts to the poorer parts. Yes, it can, but it doesn’t. Alistair also sought to use the SNP’s college cuts as a reason against independence. I’ve been a vocal critic of those cuts but they are an election issue – the question we’re being asked on September 18 isn’t ‘do you like John Swinney’s budget?’ – it’s who’s better placed to decide how our country is run.

I hope we hear a wider range of voices and visions over the remaining six weeks.

• Alison Johnstone is the Green MSP for Lothian

Analysis

By Brian Monteith

And the winner is . . . Bernard Ponsonby, the moderator who pressed both debaters to answer the questions rather than evade them. And the loser is . . . the sound engineer who got into a right fankle and had people reaching for the volume control on their remotes.

I sometimes wonder what the point of these big debates is. In pure debating terms, there can be no doubt that the winner on the night was Alistair Darling. Firstly he performed beyond most people’s expectations (although not mine). He was calmer, more appropriately serious – and tended to stick to facts rather than conjecture.

Alex Salmond performed short of most people’s expectations (and especially those of his supporters). He was flippant, meandering and repeatedly evasive.

The relative silence of the nationalists on social media told the story, their man had let them down by babbling on about pandas, aliens and driving on the right side of the road and having no Plan B on currency.

When a member of the audience said he was still waiting on an answer the First Minister looked small. When a member of the audience asked Alistair Darling if he had a home in Scotland the whole of the Yes campaign looked small (it’s here in Edinburgh, where he lives).

There are still two debates to go – and I can’t see Alex Salmond having any answers then either.

But for all this, while the No supporters know Darling won, the Yes supporters still claim Salmond won. Where does that get anyone?

It tells me that after the vote on September 18 and a likely No win we’ll still have Yes people going round wanting the debate to continue, another referendum as soon as possible – a rematch. Scotland needs this to be over. Judgement day can’t come quick enough – but it needs to be final.

‘It was a boxing match with no knockout blow’

MEMBERS of our Evening News Readers panel gave their views on the big debate and how it would affect voting intentions.

Tina Woolnough, 51, a parents campaigner from Blackhall: “It was the same old verbal boxing match, which does not really lead anywhere and is quite stressful to watch. There are risks to staying in the UK and risks from independence. That’s called the future – that’s what life is like. So then you think, ‘why aren’t we talking about a vision for Scotland?’ We should be talking about the kind of Scotland that we want to have as a result of a Yes or a No vote and they were not really doing that.”

• VERDICT: No overall winner; still undecided.

Jonathan Law, 41, a city centre shop owner from Brunstane: “I think it was like a boxing match. Darling was saying to Salmond, ‘look, we are on a ship that’s sailing out of recession and you want to jump on a ship that’s on an uncertain journey’. There was no knockout but I would say Darling won on points. The uncertainty of losing the pound means you are working with a currency with a different value. Suddenly you have your own currency and you’re buying from England and I’m worried my buying will become difficult. I’m going to vote to keep the UK.”

• VERDICT: Darling won; will vote No.

Robert Thornton, 64, a self-employed shopkeeper in the Grassmarket: “We all know that if we get a Yes vote, we’re going to keep the pound – what Darling was saying was just scare-mongering from Westminster. I think they were both quite mild, really. I don’t think either of them stood out and I was a bit disappointed with Alex Salmond.”

• VERDICT: No overall winner; will vote Yes.