Last updated: August 17, 2014 10:19 pm

Salmond and Darling to go head-to-head again in Scottish debate

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 05: (L-R) Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland and Alistair Darling chairman of Better Together take part in a live television debate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on August 5, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. The two politicians are facing questions in front of 350 people during a live televised debate, they will try and influence voters before the referendum on 18th September when the nation will be asked to vote yes or no to decide whether Scotland should be an independent country. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)©Getty

Alistair Darling, right, and Alex Salmond

After Alex Salmond’s underwhelming performance in this month’s televised debate with pro-UK campaign leader Alistair Darling, some of the Scottish Nationalist first minister’s supporters looked across the Atlantic for comfort.

Even President Barack Obama lost his first 2012 debate with challenger Mitt Romney, the pro-independence campaigners said, but the US president bounced back in their next two encounters and secured a second term.

Mr Salmond will have at least one more crack at Mr Darling, the former UK chancellor and leader of the cross-party Better Together campaign, before voters decide whether to call an end to the 307-year-old political union between Scotland and England.

The BBC will broadcast on August 25 a 90-minute debate between the two at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove art gallery. And this bout, in front of a selected live audience of 200, will have even greater reach than the STV debate on August 5, with plans for it to be broadcast on multiple BBC channels across the UK and around the world.

The debate is likely to be one of the last big set-piece moments in the long campaign. Postal ballots will be sent out to voters from August 26 and Better Together has signalled unwillingness to have any more encounters between the two leaders any closer to the September 18 referendum.

And with the Yes camp still trailing in all opinion polls, there will be even more incentive for Mr Salmond to try to build momentum for independence.

People close to the first minister say his strategy and tactics for the debate are yet to be decided, but they play down expectations that he will adopt a substantially different style.

Some SNP supporters would like to see a more impassioned performance, noting that in their first debate it was the usually relatively dry former chancellor who appeared more animated.

But on Sunday Mr Salmond defended his approach. “The tone I wanted to adopt was the tone of a conversation with people as opposed to shouting and waving,” he told the radio programme Scotland’s Talk In.

Mr Salmond’s team say the key audience will be the undecided voters. “We are looking forward to putting the case directly to them,” says one person who works with the first minister.

Women are a key target group, with polls suggesting they are markedly more sceptical about independence than men – and less likely to be fans of Mr Salmond.

A survey by Survation for the Daily Record newspaper last week found half of women polled said Mr Salmond’s presence as leader made them more likely to vote No.

In depth

Future of the union

A Saltire flag

Scotland will decide in a referendum to be held on September 18 2014 whether or not to end the 307-year-old union with England

When female respondents were given a list of adjectives to describe the first minister, the top three chosen were “arrogant”, “ambitious” and “dishonest”, while Mr Darling was described as “intelligent”, “principled” and “arrogant”.

The most pressing challenge for Mr Salmond will be to find a way of dealing with a likely renewed onslaught from Mr Darling over his refusal to identify a Plan B to his plans for a post-independence formal currency union with the remaining UK, a scheme all the main Westminster parties say they would reject.

Although some Yes strategists are quietly pushing for a rethink of the currency stance, Mr Salmond has so far given no ground, insisting the UK would eventually accept sharing the pound – not least because otherwise Scotland might not take on responsibility for its share of the UK national debt.

Asked if he was disappointed with his showing in the first date, he said on Sunday: “I wish I’d explained [the currency question] in more detail to people, and I’ll definitely take the next opportunity to do that.”

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