Salmond edges debate but no game changer

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
The long awaited head-to-head finally arrived last night when Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling took part in STV’s referendum debate.
 
It wasn’t the debate longed for by Yes supporters who have long argued that David Cameron should face his opposite number, but Darling was ready and willing to stand in for the Tory Prime Minister and so here we were.

These debates can be stale and uninspiring, and the introductions were as expected, with Salmond highlighting the indecency of Foodbanks and Trident.  Darling fell back on his ‘Best of Both Worlds’ slogan, no fewer than three times.

Bernard Ponsonby posed the questions in the opening quarter and it was Darling who buckled first when asked what two additional powers would be guaranteed in the event of a No vote.  The Labour MP struggled and stammered when asked as the audience hooted.

The First Minister faced an onslaught when Mr Darling homed in on the question of a currency union – “What is your Plan B?” he repeatedly asked his opponent.  However Salmond had prepared, and reminded the Labour MP of his own words when Mr Darling had called a currency union between the rest of the UK and an independent Scotland “logical and desireable”.

No supporters in the audience heckled and booed the First Minister, but Salmond was unshakable and refused to step into the ‘Plan B’ bear trap.

However that early momentum was lost when the First Minister, inexplicably, tried to turn some ridiculous scares from the No campaign into an attack.  Aliens and Right Hand driving?  The tactic was poor and Darling regained his lost momentum.

In the second half Mr Salmond excelled in the questions from the audience, walking out from behind his podium to answer questions.  Mr Darling remained static behind his, as did his answers.  The Better Together head played it sensible and did not deviate from his campaign’s tactic of hammering home the threats of independence – boundaries and borders.

Salmond edged the second part of the debate, which saw pensions, tuition fees and the economy raised.  Darling used the well worn claims over the banking crisis and the safety of being part of something bigger.

Salmond just edged the whole debate, but not by much.  The advisor who suggested Salmond go with the question on aliens and driving on the right may well have denied the Yes campaign a much more significant morale boost.

Darling and Better Together will be pleased with their man’s performance.  Rattled in the early exchanges, the Labour MP recovered his composure and minimised the damage.

Few expected this to be a game changer and that’s how it panned out.  Yes can take further comfort in the poll revealed by STV prior to the debate which showed Yes up two points and No static.

In truth Yes know that they cannot win this referendum in the studios and newspapers.  This debate merely reinforced that view and underlined the importance of the activists who are knocking on doors and engaging with real people.

Edit 07:00: There was more good news for the Yes campaign when a poll cunducted by the Guardian newspaper showed that amongst who were undecided before the debate, Salmond won by 55 to 45.  The margin increased significantly when those who remained undecided after were asked – they gave it to the First Minister by a whopping 74 to 26.

Despite this, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland at 06:40 this morning, political correspondent David Porter when speaking specifically about undecideds, told listeners that the Guardian poll had made Darling the winner.  It was true that amongst all of those who took part in the poll, the Better Together head had emerged victor, but the undecideds very definitely did not give the debate to Darling.