First Minster of Scotland, Alex Salmond v Leader of Better Together, former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.
Hailed as THE debate to end all debates. High expectation pre-debate that top class debater, Salmond would wipe the floor with flustering Darling. That it should be the Prime Minister of the UK debating, not Alistair Darling. The gap between Yes and No would be diminished. The undecided population would have their questions answered, one way or another. No pressure then!
The reality however, was sadly, something quite different. I have sat with the debate on STV iplayer following the live showdown, rewatching it, going over it in the nitty gritty to get to grips with what was actually discussed.
The agenda of the evening, hosted by Bernard Ponsonby (who was excellent, very fair and grilled the pair of them equally), was :
1. Opening statements by each opponent
2. Initial questions from Bernard
3. Cross examination of each other
4. Questions from the audience
5. Closing statements
1. AS went first. He acknowledged that many people believe Scotland COULD be an independent country and noted that in the very successful Commonwealth Games, which we have just hosted in Glasgow, 49 of the 71 countries/territories are same size or smaller than Scotland. In the European Union, 12 of the 28 member countries are the same size or smaller than Scotland. He went on to inform the audience that there are 35 food banks in Glasgow alone, and queried how this is possible in a prosperous country. 25 miles away, there is Europe's largest concentration of WMD (Trident) whereby the UK government plan to spend £100,000,000,000 (one hundred thousand million pounds) over the next generation, keeping them there. For more than 1/3 of his life, Scotland has been governed by parties unelected by Scotland, in Westminster. Parties that have given us the Poll Tax to the Bedroom tax, the same people who are telling our country that we can't run our own affairs. AS stated that it is his belief that no-one can do a better job of running Scotland than the people who live and work in Scotland. On the 18th Sept we have the opportunity of a lifetime and we should seize it with both hands.
So far so good.
AD went next with his opening statement. He opened with declaration that he is proud of Scotland, we all are, and he wants Scotland to prosper, we all do, but it is not our patriotism that is at stake tonight, it is something bigger than that - it is the future of our country, the future of our children and grandchildren. Not just for politicians, but for all of us. With regards the ref he said, sometimes it it best to say no, not because we can't, but because it is not the best thing to do. In 6 weeks time we will make the biggest decision we have ever made, but remember this, if we decide to leave, there is no going back, no second chance. He went on to say that he wants the best of both worlds, where we can make Scotland stronger with the Scottish Parliament and new guaranteed powers, because a vote for No Thanks to indy is not a vote for no change. He then stated that we cannot make this decision based on guess work, fingers crossed or AS's blind faith, he doesn't want to see new barriers, new borders new boundaries where none exist, or anything to get in the way of jobs and security that we need in this country. Wants the best of both worlds for generations to come.
OK, good, sounds like it will be a strong debate, fiercely fought with passion on both sides.
2. Both AS and AD answered Bernard in a manner expected of senior politicians, both putting their points across well. Although AD struggled to quantify exactly which powers were coming our way other than income tax, and AS unfortunately gave the panda's in the zoo their first airing. (First face palm of the evening. ) Crass comments like this was the start of my feeling of the tone for rest of the debate, despite AS validating the point that he was voted by a Scottish majority, whilst the UK government is not the government voted by the Scottish majority.
3. This was where it went awry...AD won the toss of the coin to go first. Straight in with the question on many a voters mind, currency. AS stood firm on his "we will use the pound". 9 minutes and 49 seconds of back and forth on the fact that AS would not change his mind or be drawn into a discussion on 'Plan B'. The SNP have no Plan B, its the pound, end of. But the referendum is not about the SNP - who is to say they will be in power in 2016 when we go back to the polls? As I discussed in 59DaysToGo, there are other options, and no-one outwith the SNP in the YES campaign has a desire to keep the pound.
Why did we have to waste nearly 10 minutes on this? What is so wrong with AS saying that he has no Plan B? The currency issue is something that Westminster are not going to discuss, other than refuse to share it, until after the vote, their own politicians have already said this (at the Lib-dem conference earlier this year). Currency is up for negotiation. Of course it is - the impact of taking Scotland out of the pound, with all that we contribute, would have an impact upon sterling that would be counter productive for the rUK to continue to dispute it. Yes it is important, that we have money and are not out of pocket, but there is more to the whole debate than this. Next question - deficit of £6bn, why take this on? Answer, to end austerity. AS rephrased the question into %ages rather than £figure, to make it proportional to expenditure to the country. The change of expression gives a more balanced view of the deficit.
Now, here is where the wheels came off the Salmond train. I understand that he wanted to illustrae the sheer ridiculousness of the scaremongering stories that the Better Together campaign have spouted, and to show how fear works as it seeps into the minds of the voters, BUT, it came across as immature, not taking the debate seriously and kind of school boy mockery. It lost AS a lot of support and respect (certainly from where I was looking on Facebook and Twitter, causing my 2nd face palm moment of the evening). Many people already dislike the First Minister, I for one used to think he was smug and full of self importance, but have warmed to him over the past months of the campaign. However, this tack did his reputation no favours. As was pointed out by an audience member during the debate. What did he ask AD - Why does the No campaign call itself Project Fear? We will have to drive on the right hand side of the road, is that true? How about independence will make us more susceptible to attacks from outer space? Then we finally got into the real cross examination, but the damage had already been done. He questioned AD on Europe from the point of view of the stance Better Together took on comments from Juncker on Scotland's continuation within Europe, AD wouldn't answer AS's qu instead wanted to discuss the wider Europe issues (to applause from the audience). AS proceeded with Isn't the risk for Scotland, the fact that the Government are looking to leave the EU with a referendum? Do you agree that Scotland could be a successful independent country (as David Cameron, PM) does? AD could not would not answer the qu. Why are so many Labour voters choosing to vote yes in the referendum? AD performed as expected.
"Going to stick my neck out right now and say all those in favour of yes, are still in favour, all those in favour of no will still vote no, all the undecided will still be undecided. This debate is an utter disappointment and bloody frustration - the pair of them!"
It got a likes and a few comments. Then I typed a clanger "I'm still voting for no..." eh, naw!!! Typo!!!! Such was my frustration at the TV, I made that kind of blip!?! Frustrated with AS as he is usually a first rate debater, and tonight was not him at his finest. What's going on? This should have been a walk in the park for him, a skoosh to convince some of the undecided and possibly convert some of the No's. Has Alex Salmond become the chink in the Yes campaign's armour (already 2 people have told me that hey would consider YES had the late Donald Dewar still been FM)? Should Nicola Sturgeon have debated? Actually, against Alistair Darling it should have been Dennis Canavan, but that has already been discussed in another post.
4. This is where the debate became a proper debate. This is where AS started debating like he does best, but many people at home had already started tuning out, unfortunately having their minds either made up or swinging to NO. I found this part of the debate the most enlightening and engaging. Bernard Ponsonby packed his punches with the dualling politicians, and he didn't miss and hit the wall. I am happy that the points I raised in my own findings on the likes of oil and pensions are not going to change after tonights debate. I do have to admit that AD performed much better than I expected him to do.
5. Strong emotive closing statements from both sides, re-iterating their points from through out the evening.
Alex Salmond won the closing speech but did he win the debate?
We want answers, we need answers, but neither side are giving us the full picture, Westminster are not prepared to pre-negotiate prior to the referendum, and Holyrood won't admit where they haven't got a definitive answer. Unless, we decide to take matters into our own hands and decided that yes, we can run our own country, will we actually get negotiations going and cards on the table.
In the post debate review in the studio, Nicola Sturgeon (Deputy First Minister) came across exceptionally well - maybe she should be our First Minister.
What we must remember is that this entire referendum debate is NOT about the SNP or the First Minister, but about 'should Scotland be an independent country'? Once the vote has been cast, and should YES win, then the negotiations begin, there is no guarantee that the SNP will be the party in power. That said, we have zero idea of what the other parties are offering at this stage as they have been so determined that there will be no independence, why bother? If, for example, Labour once again want to govern Holyrood, they won't be doing so in any hurry, 1 with Johan Lamont at the helm or 2, without telling us what iScotland looks like under Labour.
To make a difference to the country we live in, we need to look at the bigger picture, passed the SNP and to the future and have the confidence that, yes, we can do this. If you still think, naw we cannae, then maybe you want to question why that is? How on earth can 5 million people not be governed in an appropriate manner to their needs and requirements, voted in by the electorate? What makes Westminster better than Holyrood? What makes every other independent country in the world better than ours? Why are people so fixated on one element of the debate rather than looking at the whole affair? Why are people so scared to stand up for themselves and be an adult and take responsibility for ourselves - isn't that what we teaching our children? Are people really deciding upon the future of their country based on one TV debate? Are people not doing any research other than the debate and the media? Billy Connolly said that we will get the result we deserve; I only hope that we don't deserve a result based on the telly.
Yes is the only vote for me, my family, my country. We get the chance to be in control of our own country, why the hell aren't we grabbing that chance, figure out the details later - we won't fail, we aren't that stupid to allow that to happen!