With little more than three weeks to go until polling day, where Scotland’s future will be decided, the second of the live television debates took place last night. This time the BBC broadcast the debate between Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and leader of the Better Together campaign, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.
An audience of 200 people selected by polling and research consultancy ComRes was invited to attend. The broadcast was divided in four parts: 1) The opening statements, 2) The issues, 3) Cross Examination and 4) The Closing statements.
Each of the issues was introduced by a question from the audience, and covered the Economy, Scotland at Home, Scotland in the World and What Happens after the Vote. The debate was chaired by Glenn Campbell and it took place in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow.
In his opening address, Alex Salmond saw the vote as the completion of a journey towards home rule and argued that "No-one will run this country better than the people who live and work in Scotland." Alistair Darling argued that independence is too much of a risk and that there were still too many questions: "It is answers now we need."
As the first question concerned the economy, there was little surprise that Darling went straight on the attack regarding the currency, asking for Salmond to clarify his position in the light of the fact that the UK #Government has stated that there would not be a currency union. Salmond stated again that Scotland would keep the pound. There was also debate about where the burden of the national debt would fall and Darling claimed that a monetary union would only work where there is political union, otherwise Scotland’s budget would have to be approved by a "foreign country."
The inevitable question regarding oil revenue was also raised in this section with Darling asserting that oil revenues are volatile and finite and that the revenue estimates were too high. Salmond countered saying that far from being a burden, oil is an asset to Scotland’s economy. He stated that Scotland could be successful even without oil.
Salmond could point to the UK already being Scotland’s largest export market (excluding oil) and Scotland being the rest of the UK’s second largest import market after the US. Salmond sought independence from the UK in determining the NHS budget which, despite being devolved, is still tied to the rest of the UK via the Barnett formula. He highlighted the potential impact of the UK Government’s plans to increase privatisation in the NHS.
Darling pointed to figures showing that Scotland’s citizens already benefit from £1200 more per person spent on them from the public purse than the rest of the UK. The chance for cross examination saw Alistair Darling once again seek answers on the currency and oil, whilst Salmond fired questions to his counterpart on welfare, poverty, the NHS and further devolution powers. The debate was getting more heated as they both attempted to assert control.
Next their stance on Trident was put to the test. Darling warned that removal of Trident would result in the loss of 8,000 jobs to Faslane. Salmond believed that in time Scotland could build up its own defence forces creating further jobs in the process. Both sides admitted that come the 19th September they would have to accept the result and work towards ensuring the best future for Scotland. In their closing statements, Salmond addressed the nation and called it an opportunity that may not come round again. He concluded by saying "This is our time, let's seize it with both hands."
Darling on the other hand said whilst he believed that "Scotland can go it alone," he did not believe it in Scotland’s best interests and urged people to "to say politely but firmly no thanks to independence." It remains to be seen whether this final televised debate will have an impact on voters. A Guardian/ICM poll shortly after the debate had Alex Salmond winning the debate with 71% of the vote. This was in contrast to the previous round broadcast by STV where most pundits claimed a victory for Alistair Darling. But it is not about winning debates that counts; it will all be decided at the ballot box on 18th September.
Prior to the televised debate, the latest YouGov poll had 51% for No, 38% for Yes with 11% undecided. Professor John Curtis, polling expert from Strathclyde University, told the BBC that despite gains over the winter for the Yes campaign, the average result had No at 57% and Yes at 43%. Whatever happens, it will be a victory for democracy as the people of Scotland have been given a unique chance to decide their future governance. We won’t have to wait too long now to find out the result. #Parliament