Yes Camp Hoping For TV Debate Boost

26 August 2014, 10:33 | Updated: 26 August 2014, 10:37

Pro-independence campaigners expect a boost in support after Alex Salmond's performance in a key television referendum debate.

The First Minister and Better Together leader Alistair Darling clashed in the BBC debate in Glasgow last night with currency, oil revenues, the NHS and the future of nuclear weapons the main subjects of a heated discussion.

Research by ICM for the Guardian newspaper showed 71% of people questioned thought Mr Salmond had been the better performer in the programme, compared with 29% for Mr Darling.

A similar survey after the first head-to-head debate between the two men earlier this month suggested the former chancellor had scored a narrow victory over the SNP leader.

In both televised debates, the issue of which currency an independent Scotland would use was at the heart of the arguments.

Mr Darling again repeatedly pressed the First Minister to set out his plan B for a currency if a formal deal could not be agreed with the rest of the UK to allow an independent Scotland to retain the pound.

But the former chancellor appeared to accept that Scotland could use the pound regardless of whether Westminster signed up to such an arrangement.

He said: ''Of course we can use the pound... we could use the rouble, we could use the dollar, we could use the yen. We could use anything we want.''

Mr Salmond said: ''The key point we have heard tonight is that Alistair admitted a few seconds ago we could use the pound anyway. We didn't need permission.

''Totally different from what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said a few months ago, when he said 'If you walk out of the UK, you walk out of the pound'.

''Remember that, we have heard it tonight. They cannot stop us using the pound - the most important revelation of this debate.''

Yes Scotland chief executive Blair Jenkins welcomed the results of the ICM poll and expects undecided voters will move towards the pro-independence campaign.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, he said: "We heard wall-to-wall sunshine in the weather forecast and I think it's wall-to-wall sunshine for the Yes campaign as well. People will be enormously strengthened and I think will take a lot from last night.

"More important than anything else, I think voters who are still making up their minds will have no doubt where the best arguments are.''

He added: "This is not a presidential election, this is not about voting for a politician or a party. It's much, much bigger and much more important than that, so I think you won't necessarily get people moving instantly from last night but they will now reflect on what they saw and heard.''

Speaking for the Better Together campaign, Labour MP Douglas Alexander told the same programme: "I think there's a difference between performing and persuading. If these debates determined the outcome of elections in terms of performance, I expect Nick Clegg would be Prime Minister this morning.

"I think he (Alistair Darling) asked the questions we need answers to. Postal ballots drop in 48 hours' time, we're still in a position where we don't have clarity from the First Minister in relation to currency, pensions and oil and actually, I think, the Yes campaign are where they did not expect to be, they're haunted be a series of basic questions as the postal votes drop.''

During the televised debate Mr Darling accused the pro-independence campaign of scaremongering on the future of the NHS with claims that a Yes vote is needed to protect the health service north of the border from privatisation.

Mr Darling said: "What we need is less of that scaremongering and a realisation we all want the NHS to do well, we all want it to be there at the point of need, but to do that you need funding.

''Frankly taking on risks, not even knowing what currency you've got, is the real threat to the National Health Service.''

But Mr Salmond insisted that spending cuts south of the border could hurt the health service in Scotland if the referendum resulted in a No vote

He said: "That is why, to have a health service we can all trust and rely on, we've got to have a health service where we have financial control as well as policy control, so we can keep the National Health Service as the greatest public institution in Scotland.''

The SNP leader went on to tell Mr Darling he was ''in bed with the Tory Party'' over welfare reforms - with this denied by the Better Together leader, who argued that it made sense to spread the cost of providing social security across all of the UK.

Mr Darling said: ''We know there are people with disabilities, we know we've got an ageing population that will require more medical care, we know we've got a falling working age population. Why take that burden on five million people when it could be pooled and shared across 63 million? It makes no sense whatsoever."