By a Newsnet reporter
First Minister Alex Salmond has confirmed he has accepted an invitation from STV to take part in a televised referendum debate with the leader of the anti-independence campaign, Alistair Darling.
In a statement issued this evening, Mr Salmond revealed he had agreed to appear in a televised debate on August 5th.
However the SNP leader reaffirmed his intention to press UK Prime Minister for a head-to-head prior to the independence referendum on September 18th.
In a statement, a spokesman for the First Minister said: “We will continue to pursue a debate with David Cameron but in the meantime have accepted STV’s proposal for a debate between the First Minister and Alistair Darling on August 5th.”
The statement follows an announcement yesterday by the Better Together campaign that they had pulled out of the STV debate. The anti-independence group had accused STV of altering the initial date for the broadcast from July 16th to a date after August, in order to suit Mr Salmond.
However STV hit back claiming the initial July 16th date had been provisional and that neither side had stipulated an absolute date.
Reports from the BBC from Sunday also appear to confirm that Better Together had initially welcomed Mr Salmond’s proposal to meet Mr Darling after the Commonwealth Games, if David Cameron continued to resist calls to debate the First Minister.
In an article from Sunday, the BBC wrote:
“Mr Salmond said he would continue to push for Prime Minister David Cameron to debate him over independence, but he has offered to take on Alistair Darling after the Commonwealth Games.
Better Together campaign director Blair McDougall said it was a welcome development.”
Complaints by the Better Together campaign over the proposed date of a televised debate have been called into question after it emerged the campaign itself had issued official statements boasting that Mr Darling would debate with Mr Salmond “any time”.
On September 23rd last year a Better Together spokesman said: “David Cameron does not have a vote in this referendum. Alistair Darling does. He is ready to debate Alex Salmond any time and any place.”
It has also emerged that Mr Darling himself is on record as saying he would debate with the First Minister “anytime, anywhere”.
“I have repeatedly challenged Alex Salmond to publicly debate these issues with me. However, he seems more interested in turning the debate on Scotland’s future into a battle between England and Scotland than he is in providing people with details. I will debate him anytime, anywhere,” he said.
The First Minister’s spokesman added: “Rather than attacking impartial broadcasters, the No campaign should accept the challenge and have the debate on August 5th on STV, who have proposed a serious and substantial two-hour debate involving a 500-strong audience of ordinary people representing public opinion across Scotland.
“We have only received a formal invite from the BBC today, and will give it due consideration.”
It also emerged that, despite Better Together revealing yesterday Mr Darling had accepted an invitation from the BBC to appear in a TV debate, that First Minister’s office only received the invite today.
“We have only received a formal invite from the BBC today, and will give it due consideration.” the First Minister’s spokesman said.