A Scottish friend, who lives outside Scotland and therefore cannot vote in the upcoming referendum on separation/independence of Scotland from the UK, emailed me this morning about other matters, but wanted to hear a report on last night's "debate". A number of my Twitter friends had remarked that the STV on-line feed of the event seemed to crash or buffer almost continuously, perhaps because there was nowhere near enough bandwidth to cope with the demand (apparently from around the world) to watch it.
Luckily, though, it is going to be re-broadcast tonight on the BBC Parliament channel so at least most viewers throughout the rest of the UK should be able to watch it if they wish to.
As for the debate last night, well I both watched it and and recorded it. My overall impressions:
- was that there was nothing much new. Salmond certainly had no killer punch and Darling was only marginally less dull than usual, although I think he had the better evening;
- I doubt if anyone will have been persuaded against their previously held views or that many if any 'undecideds' will be any nearer to reaching a decision on how to vote;
- having said that, my view is that most 'undecideds' know perfectly well how they are going to vote, but they simply don't want to reveal it, possibly to avoid complications in their personal and professional lives if their real views don't 'fit' (they may also think it makes them interesting, perhaps, when instead it simply reveals how boring they are; not cynical at all, eh?).
Now onto some comments about what I saw and heard. Both participants mostly regurgitated their well-known positions and although it was mostly 'civilised' on both sides, it did descend into a Yah-boo shout-match on a couple of occasions.
One of the major topics of the evening was what currency Scotland would use post-separation/independence, should that eventuate. Salmond was asked what his back-up plan is should a 'currency union' with rUK not be agreed, as the UK government has repeatedly said this would not happen. Basically he said it would happen, because it would be in the interests both of Scotland and rUK; no evidence was offered, although eventually after much to and fro he did slip in that the UK Treasury "gained £40 billion from being able to include oil revenues, which it would not be able to do without a currency union" and that the current refusal to contemplate currency union by the UK government (and the Labour opposition, too) was mere bluff and bluster that would change quickly in the event of a 'yes' vote. My remarks - either you believe this or you don't as little real substance was offered to support his contention. This was really what both Darling and sceptics/opponents in the audience quizzed Salmond about most exhaustively. Salmond and his advisers really do need to develop a more credible position on this important topic.
As for Darling, his major stumbling block was when he was asked repeatedly by Salmond whether "you agree with David Cameron that an independent Scotland could flourish" to which he refused to give any clear response. The basic difficulty for Darling is that as a staunch Labour supporter he seemed incapable of putting aside his dislike of all things Conservative in a seeming determination not be be heard saying anything that might be taken to be support for a view expressed by the Prime Minister and leader of a political party he opposes viscerally, even at the expense of not achieving his aim of keeping Scotland part of the UK. In other words, the 'Better Together' campaign's main flaw is that its principal components (Labour, Conservative, LibDems) basically loathe each other and seem unable to put this loathing to one side in order to advance their joint desire to maintain Scotland within the UK. Darling and his Labour advisers and 'Better Together' partners really do need to develop a more credible position to enable them to answer Salmond's jibe (for that's all it was) with conviction - that of course Scotland could flourish as a separate country, but that they simply want to remain British. In other words, that the separation/independence debate should not solely be about economic and fiscal matters, but about emotion, too.
Apart from these two topics, which showed up glaringly the defects of both sides of this debate, there was nothing much more said that was not trivial or petty. Some of the audience participation on both sides was reasonably sensible, without in any way being anything other than naked propaganda for their chosen standpoints. The stand-out silly, unpleasant comment/question came from an independence supporter though. There is a thread (actually a dirty-great ship's traditional jute rope!) running through much separatist/independence rhetoric and that is that anyone who is not a supporter of their position is not a true Scot and is somehow a traitor. The stand-out comment which illustrated this attitude perfectly was from a lady who asked Darling in an aggressive and argumentative manner if he had an address in Scotland, seemingly expecting him to say no. Now, anyone who knows anything about me knows that I have absolutely no love for Labour, but have always thought that Darling is, for a Labour person, a reasonably decent and honest man and that he is so self-evidently Scottish that I don't think any rational person could seriously have posed the question that lady did, unless blinded by nationalist rhetoric; it is perfectly easy to establish that he has a home in Edinburgh and is of course the MP for a constituency in that city.
That's really all that needs to be said about last night's programme I think; I don't care for Bernard Ponsonby's presenting style, but he did a competent enough job in all fairness.
The general verdict of most commentators is I think that Darling won 'on points':
- Scottish Daily Record;
- Daily Telegraph;