A record TV audience of 1.3 million viewers watched the referendum debate in Scotland on Tuesday evening. Better Together leader Alistair Darling went head-to-head with First Minister Alex Salmond in the two hour debate and – here’s a shock – both camps claim victory for their man!
The two-hour live programme aired on STV after the broadcaster secured the first televised referendum debate between the leaders of the respective campaigns.
The debate,presented by John MacKay and moderated by STV’s political editor Bernard Ponsonby, was held at Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland before a studio audience of 350 voters.
The politicians clashed on a range of issues – currency, EU membership, poverty, and political sovereignty were all debated in a series of sometimes heated exchanges.
With the stakes so high, it was little wonder that both men ‘wobbled’ during the session – Mr Salmond when pressed by the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer on whether an independent Scotland would be able to reach a sterling-sharing agreement with the rest of the UK, and Mr Darling when repeatedly asked by the First minister to clarify whether he thought Scotland could succeed as an independent nation.
A poll conducted by ICM for The Guardian immediately after the debate found 56% of voters declaring Mr Darling the winner, with Mr Salmond trailing on 44% – a view generally shared by the media.
However the Yes Scotland campaign heralded polls showing their share of voters intentions picked up by 4% following ‘Scotland Decides’, with more undecided voters seemingly inclined to vote Yes.
Better Together said Mr Salmond had been ‘skewered’ by Alistair Darling in the TV debate, and added that the First Minister’s failure to map out his Plan B on currency means more Scots are saying No Thanks to separation.
Earlier, ahead of the debate, leaders of the three major unionist parties signed a joint letter supporting the devolution of further powers to Scotland, including in “fiscal responsibility and social security”.
Labour’s Ed Miliband, Conservative David Cameron and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg all signed the letter, as did their Scottish leaders Johann Lamont, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie. Plans for these powers, which would be drawn up fully following a “No” vote.
The letter reads:
Power lies with the Scottish people and we believe it is for the Scottish people to decide how Scotland is governed.
We believe that the pooling and sharing of resources across the United Kingdom is to Scotland’s benefit in a partnership of nations in which distinct national identities can flourish and be celebrated.
We believe that Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole have been strengthened since the advent of devolution.
We support a strong Scottish Parliament in a strong United Kingdom and we support the further strengthening of the Parliament’s powers.
The three parties delivered more powers for Holyrood through the Calman Commission which resulted in the Scotland Act 2012.
We now pledge to strengthen further the powers of the Scottish Parliament, in particular in the areas of fiscal responsibility and social security. We believe that Scotland should have a stronger Scottish Parliament while retaining full representation for Scotland in the UK Parliament. That can bring people together from all of Scotland, from civic society and every community.
The Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have each produced our own visions of the new powers which the Scottish Parliament needs.
We shall put those visions before the Scottish people at the next general election and all three parties guarantee to start delivering more powers for the Scottish Parliament as swiftly as possible in 2015.
This commitment will deliver a stronger Scottish Parliament in a stronger United Kingdom.
That commitment doesn’t go far enough for everone, however, and the Scottish Greens are among those to argue that only self-government will create a fair Scotland.
Green Yes, the Scottish Green Party’s campaign for a Yes vote in the independence referendum, welcomed comments by the First Minister on the opportunity to create a more just society during the TV debate.
Commenting on the debate, Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian and a member of Holyrood’s economy committee, said: “None of the arguments was new to those of us who’ve been on the campaign trail for the past two years but so many people are only now switching on. Alex Salmond highlighted the opportunity 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.
“As our political system demands a winner and a loser we have an adversarial debate that isn’t best suited to those seeking information. I hope we hear a wider range of voices and visions over the remaining six weeks.”
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