Darling U-turn over Salmond STV debate means head-to-head is on

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  By a Newsnet reporter
 
Better Together head Alistair Darling has agreed to take part in a televised debate with Alex Salmond on the issue of Scottish independence.
 
According to STV, the leader of the anti-independence campaign has agreed to the live head-to-head with the First Minister on Tuesday, August 5th.

The decision by the Labour MP is a U-turn after the No campaign initially rejected the date, accusing STV of bowing to SNP pressure.  The broadcaster had initially suggested a date in July.

The programme will be broadcast from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow from 8pm until 10pm.  The debate will take place in front of an audience of 350 people.

Gordon Macmillan, Head of News at STV, said: “STV has demonstrated its commitment to providing a platform for debate on Scotland’s constitutional future and securing this landmark TV debate on Tuesday, August 5 confirms the next stage of our commitment.

“The live TV debate will give members of the public an opportunity to put questions to Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond and will be available to STV viewers and throughout the UK online.”

Mr Salmond had already agreed to a live debate with Mr Darling, but had expressed a preference to meet Prime Minister David Cameron.  However the continued refusal of the Conservative leader to debate with the First Minister left the door open for Labour MP Darling to take his place.

Commenting on STV’s confirmation, a spokesperson for the First Minister said:

“We accepted this invitation weeks ago and are delighted that Alistair Darling has finally done likewise and accepted the challenge of debating with the First Minister on live TV, in front of a large audience of voters.
 
“Mr Darling will be acting as a shield for the Prime Minister – who we will continue to pursue for a debate – and as such he will be defending the Tory policies of David Cameron’s government.
 
“The choice in this referendum is between continued austerity with Westminster or new prosperity and a fairer country in an independent Scotland – that is the message we will take into this debate and which will win the day in September.”

A spokesperson for the Better Together Campaign said: “We are delighted that there will be a live, televised debate between the leaders of both campaigns.  Alex Salmond will now finally have to answer the questions on the pound, pensions and public services that he has spent the last two years dodging.”