« | Home | »

Salmond v. Darling

Tags: |

At eight o’clock yesterday evening, Alan Titchmarsh: Love Your Garden aired on ITV in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scottish TV broadcast a two-hour live debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling at the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow. Billed as an evening that would decide the future of the United Kingdom, the first televised debate ahead of next month’s independence referendum was available only to viewers in Scotland. (The STV live stream, accessible throughout the union, reportedly crashed early on.)

The evening began, as almost everything in Scotland seems to these days, with the unveiling of an opinion poll. The moderator, Bernard Ponsonby, solemnly reported that 42 per cent intend to vote Yes, 58 per cent No, ‘when you strip out the don’t knows’. Salmond has never been a great debater – journalists who say he is have never had to endure first minister’s questions at Holyrood – but both Yes Scotland and the unionist campaign, Better Together, seemed keen to talk up the SNP leader. Pete Wishart, the Scottish nationalist MP for Perth and North Perthshire, said beforehand that the ‘slaughter will be worse than the Bannockburn re-enactment’.

The debate, when it finally started, looked like any other: two middle-aged men in suits gesticulating a lot, sometimes talking over each and occasionally shouting. The format was only recently imported to Britain but already it looks unbearably familiar. Salmond, calmer than usual, focused on the positive: an independent Scotland would be a fairer, more progressive place. He took little sorties from his podium, walking towards the audience, arms outstretched, to deliver rehearsed soundbites: ‘rocks will melt in the sun’ before the SNP introduces tuition fees. Darling emphasised the risks of leaving the UK. When the SNP leader said that only independence would guarantee that Scots get the government they vote for, the former chancellor pointed his finger across the rostrum and shouted: ‘I didn’t vote for him but I’m stuck with him.’ The audience clapped and booed in equal measure.

The main event – the ‘cross-examination’ – saw each man given twelve minutes to interrogate the other. Darling spent almost nine minutes haranguing Salmond over the question of what currency Scotland would use if the rest of the UK rejected a post-independence currency union. Salmond prevaricated, citing newspaper clippings and old press releases. If there is a No vote next month, Yes supporters could be left regretting the decision not to outline a currency Plan B, which many wavering Scots say they are worried about. Darling, for his part, struggled to answer questions about provisions for further devolution, even though the three unionist parties had announced earlier in the day that they had signed a joint pledge for more powers for the Scottish Parliament after the general election.

The commentators in STV’s ‘Spin Room’ declared the contest a draw: ‘No knock-out blows have been thrown.’ A snap post-debate poll put Darling ahead, 55 to 45, more or less in line with the pre-debate poll on referendum voting intentions.

I was left wondering what happened to the engrossing public conversation that I have heard over the last two years. By far the most interesting aspect of the Scottish independence debate has been the mass rallies and the town hall meetings. Scotland Decides reverted to type: enervating party hacks and a Punch and Judy show. The STV anchors kept telling viewers that ‘the debate has trended worldwide’ but if there were any undecided voters still watching by the time the curtain came down at 10 p.m. they could be forgiven for not bothering to vote at all on 18 September.

Comments on “Salmond v. Darling”

  1. Amateur Emigrant says:

    A very disappointing two hours. As someone said, the winner was Bernard Ponsonby.

    As for Plan B, I wish Salmond could simply point out that to declare Scotland’s Plan B would be to go into a negotiation openly declaring its lowest acceptable position. Only a fool negotiates like that.

  2. Robin Kinross says:

    For the duration of the Edinburgh Festival, there is an alternative TV discussion about independence going on here:
    It shows what you can do with a gathering of non-oppositional people, calmly sitting down together, talking, and listening to each other. As someone remarks in the first programme, in 10 minutes of this discussion they got much further than Darling and Salmond did in two hours.

    Another virtue of the Referendum TV broadcasts: it shows that the discussion is so much wider than Salmond vs [whichever suited man the No campaign has put up for the occasion]

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.

  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • Neil Kitson on Unwinnable War Two: There is no Chapter VII support for military action in Resolution 2249.
    • pinkycubin on Unwinnable War Two: Streetsj, It is obvious there is no clear 'solution'. That doesn't therefore mean that the use of ordnance dropped from height is part of the answ...
    • soadenubi on Being Lord Lugard: As a Nigerian normally resident in Lagos, I found the blog:Being Lord Lugard a most interesting read. This note is primarily a request that the Autho...
    • streetsj on Unwinnable War Two: Yes. So what's your solution? A negotiated settlement of peace for everyone. And who would disagree - but realistically what is the answer? One thing...
    • streetsj on What does Osborne want?: I have thought since 2010 that much of the most austere rhetoric has been directed at the financial markets. Meanwhile reality is very different as pu...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Edward Said: The Iraq War
    17 April 2003

    ‘This is the most reckless war in modern times. It is all about imperial arrogance unschooled in worldliness, unfettered either by competence or experience, undeterred by history or human complexity, unrepentant in its violence and the cruelty of its technology.’

    David Runciman:
    The Politics of Good Intentions
    8 May 2003

    ‘One of the things that unites all critics of Blair’s war in Iraq, whether from the Left or the Right, is that they are sick of the sound of Blair trumpeting the purity of his purpose, when what matters is the consequences of his actions.’

    Simon Wren-Lewis: The Austerity Con
    19 February 2015

    ‘How did a policy that makes so little sense to economists come to be seen by so many people as inevitable?’

    Hugh Roberts: The Hijackers
    16 July 2015

    ‘American intelligence saw Islamic State coming and was not only relaxed about the prospect but, it appears, positively interested in it.’

Advertisement Advertisement