Alex Salmond gave the campaign for Scottish independence a morale boost with a strong performance in a crucial televised campaign where he fended off doubts about his currency plans to tell voters: “This is our time, our moment: let us do it now.”
A snap Guardian/ICM poll suggested Scotland’s first minister had won the raucous and sometimes testy debate against Alistair Darling, leader of the pro-union Better Together campaign, by a margin of 71 per cent to 29 per cent.
But analysts said Mr Salmond’s success was likely to fall short of the game-changing moment that many feel the Yes campaign needs to close the No camp’s lead, which the Financial Times’s tracker poll puts at about 13 percentage points.
After Mr Salmond’s underwhelming performance in the first of the two debates, on Monday night he had most of the best lines and a much slicker defence of his refusal to identify a “Plan B” to post-independence formal currency union with the remaining UK.
Scotland could use the pound without formal union, a situation known as sterlingisation, or could adopt an independent currency either pegged or floating, he said. “You’ve got three Plan Bs at once,” Mr Salmond said.
Mr Darling, a former UK chancellor, found himself on the defensive when asked by a member of the audience at the elegant Kelvingrove museum which of the currency options he would favour. And he struggled to come up with examples of job-creating powers that Scotland could expect from London after a No vote.
And when he sought to keep pressure on Mr Salmond with arguments that worked well in their first encounter, the first minister mocked him as a “one-trick pony”.
“Even your insults are retreads from the last debate,” he said to laughter and applause.
A passionate and sometimes angrily pointing Mr Darling sought to turn the tables with a withering critique of Yes campaign attempts to portray independence as the only way to save Scotland’s devolved National Health System – a gambit he called shameful “scaremongering”.
He also stressed the many risks of independence, stressing the uncertainty of oil revenues and likely loss of defence jobs, and insisted Scotland’s brightest future lay within the UK.
But the Better Together leader came under pressure from often critical audience members, one of whom accused him of betraying the memory of late Labour party hero Aneurin Bevan for defending a status quo that included fierce Westminster welfare cuts.