Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and former UK Chancellor Alistair Darling squared off tonight in a little-watched debate about the future of the United Kingdom.
On September 18th, Scotland will go to the polls to decide whether or not to become a nation wholly independent of the United Kingdom, breaking the 307 year union between England and its northern neighbour.
At first, it looked like the former Labour Chancellor had the run of the debate, but Salmond came back with some fiery blows – linking Darling with Prime Minister David Cameron, who is monumentally unpopular in Scotland, and claiming that the ‘Better Together’ campaign to keep the union together was nicknamed ‘Project Fear’, even inside the campaign HQ.
The two bickered over government austerity, oil revenues, currency, sovereignty, representation and more – with most critics claiming that Darling had won the night.
This was further reflected in the sentiment trackers employed by the Guardian newspaper and others. Salmond, it seems, was a little too playground politics for most viewers’ tastes, though there is no doubt that he received the lion’s share of the applause in the room.
Darling closed by saying: “I am optimistic about Scotland’s future within the UK. We can have the best of both worlds,” while Salmond claimed that Scotland would be better run by Scottish people – ignoring the fact that it basically already is – and so has the rest of the UK for sometime before 2010.
“This is our moment – let’s take it,” he said, to wild applause.
But on balance Salmond was left a little red faced when he attacked Darling for a joke made by one of his fellow ‘Better Together’ campaigners.
Labour’s Andy Burnham tweeted, “Can’t believe a weak joke I once made about Scotland driving on right has actually been quoted by Salmond. He’s lost the plot.“.
The Guardian quoted a Scottish businessman who said: “Some of your remarks have been snide and not very nice coming from a politician and leader of the Scottish parliament”.
Back to the drawing board for Salmond, who was only earlier today celebrating a modest rise in the number of people who would be willing to vote for independence. Next week’s follow up poll may not be so kind.