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TV debate on Scotland's future turns heated

Audience heckled, booed and cheered politicians as they argued over whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom.

Last updated: 06 Aug 2014 00:49
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A poll tracker by the Financial Times newspaper currently puts the "Yes" vote at 36 percent [Getty]

The leaders in the battle for and against Scottish independence have clashed in a heated live television debate, six weeks ahead of a historic referendum on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom.

On Tuesday, First Minister Alex Salmond, leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), went head-to-head for the first time with Alistair Darling, a fellow Scot and leader of the "Better Together" campaign.

"My case this evening is this: no one, no one will do a better job of running Scotland than the people who live and work in this country," Salmond said.

"On September 18 we have the opportunity of a lifetime. We should seize that opportunity with both hands."

But Darling warned of the risks of going it alone and argued that Scotland would pay too high a price to leave the union, saying: "Remember this - if we decide to leave there is no going back, there is no second chance."

On September 18 we have the opportunity of a lifetime. We should seize that opportunity with both hands,

Alex Salmond, first minister of Scotland

Currency debate

Darling, who was Britain's finance minister during the 2008 economic crisis, pressed the SNP leader early on his crucial claim that an independent Scotland would continue to use the pound sterling currency - something London says will not be possible.

Salmond insisted this would not be a problem, and hit back by asking Darling repeatedly whether he believed Scotland could successfully be an independent country, a question his opponent dodged.

Their exchanges became increasingly heated, and at one point Salmond was accused by an audience member of being "snide" and giving a worrying impression of what an independent Scotland would be like.

Members of the public audience heckled, booed and cheered the two men throughout, prompting the moderator to ask them to show respect and allow the politicians to be heard.

Both campaigns had said the debate could be a turning point in the campaign for the September 18 referendum, when four million Scots will vote on their future.

But in the end neither side delivered a knock-out blow.

Public opinion

The pro-independence "Yes" campaign in particular had seen the encounter as a vital opportunity to use Salmond's talent for debating to close a stubborn gap in opinion polls.

A poll tracker by the Financial Times newspaper currently puts the "Yes" vote at 36 percent, 10 points behind those who would vote "No" to independence. Some 16 percent remain undecided.

Ahead of the debate, the leaders of Britain's three main parties vowed to hand over more powers to Scotland's devolved government if voters decide to stay in the 307-year-long union with England.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat chief Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, signed a joint declaration that would give Edinburgh more tax-raising control.

Darling said that with these new powers Scotland could have the "best of both worlds" - more control and the support of a strong United Kingdom.

However, one of the key players in the campaign for Scottish devolution in the late 1990s, retired clergyman Kenyon Wright, branded the promise of new powers a "desperate bribe".

548

Source:
AFP
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