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Scottish independence: Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling spar in TV debate

Better Together leader Alistair Darling, left, and First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond debate over Scottish independence at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow on Monday. Scots will vote on the issue Sept. 18. (Reuters)

The gloves came off Monday in a final and often-fiery televised showdown between the two key leaders in the Scottish independence debate, with the issue of currency looming large as each side sought to electrify its campaign just weeks before Scotland decides whether to become an independent country.

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, emerged as the decisive winner in a snap poll by the Guardian/ICM, with 71 percent saying he was a better performer.

“This is our time, this is our moment, let us do it now,” said Salmond, urging Scots to vote “yes” to independence next month.

It was a debate Salmond badly needed to win, with his nationalist campaign lagging in the polls. A recent poll of polls — that excluded undecided voters — indicated 43 percent would vote “yes” and 57 percent “no.”

Salmond seemed much more assured than he did during the last time he debated Alistair Darling, leader of the pro-U.K. “Better Together” campaign, notably addressing early on the contentious issue of what currency an independent Scotland would use, an area that seemed to rattle him during their previous debate on Aug. 5.

Better Together leader Alistair Darling, left, and First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond shake hands Monday at a television debate over Scottish independence. (Reuters)

Salmond said he would seek a mandate for Scotland to continue to use the pound sterling, despite the leaders of Britain’s three main political parties ruling it out. Darling acknowledged that an independent Scotland could use the pound, but said it was a “rotten” idea without a political union.

“Of course, we could use the pound. We could use the ruble, we could use the dollar, we could use the yen. We could use anything we want,” said Darling. “The problem is if you’re using somebody else’s currency, you don’t have a central bank.”

Both politicians addressed what remains a key question for many Scots: Would an independent Scotland be a more prosperous nation? Salmond argued that with the help of North Sea oil revenues, Scotland would be a richer country, while Darling, a former treasury secretary, contended that Scotland was economically more stable within the framework of the U.K., and said that oil was a resource that was “notoriously volatile.”

There was no shortage of passion on display during the 90-minute live face-off that aired on BBC and C-SPAN from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. The two men sparred, at times by talking loudly over each other, on issues including health services, child poverty and the future of Britain’s Trident nuclear program.

Scots go to the polls on Sept. 18, while postal voters are receiving ballots this week.

Karla Adam is a reporter in the Washington Post’s London bureau. Before joining the Post in 2006, she worked as a freelancer in London for the New York Times and People magazine.


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