Alex Salmond arrives to take part in a live television debate with Alistair Darling at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Alex Salmond vs. Alistair Darling: live blog

The Scottish First Minister and the Better Together chair go head-to-head in Scottish independence debate.

22:00pm As I expected, the viewers are giving it to Darling. A post-debate Guardian/ICM poll puts the Better Together chair ahead by 56 per cent to 44 per cent. That's almost identical to the No campaign's current poll lead. 

21:44pm Salmond calls for a vote for "ambition over fear" and says independence would allow Scotland to turn its "prosperous economy into a just society". No one can govern Scotland better than the Scottish people themselves. "This is our moment," he ends, "let's seize it". 

21:41pm Closing statements now. Darling warns that "if we vote to leave, there is no going back", adding that Scotland can have "the best of both worlds": a stronger Scottish parliament and the Union. He denounces the "guesswork, blind faith and crossed fingers" of the Yes campaign. 

21:37pm The debate moves onto pensions. Darling says that Scotland's rapidly ageing population means it would need higher immigration to sustain the current system. 

21:31pm Darling says it is up to the Scottish parliament which services are free and that public spending could remain higher than the UK average. Salmond says Scotland cannot continue to bear "hand-me-down cuts" from Westminster, highlighting the cost of scrapping the bedroom tax. 

21:27pm In response to an audience question, Salmond insists that an independent Scotland could maintain free higher education and free prescriptions. But Darling rightly responds that it would become illegal under EU law for the government to deny free university education to non-Scottish students from the rest of the UK. 

21:26pm Salmond denounces Darling and his predecessors as Chancellor for failing to set up a sovereign wealth fund for oil. 

21:21pm On austerity, Darling says that his 2009 Budget "did more redistribution to people with lower incomes than any other in a generation."

21:14pm Darling says the UK cannot be expected to underwrite a banking system that is 12 times the size of Scotland's GDP. Salmond hits back by noting that Darling was charge of financial regulation "when the banks went bust". He adds that the rest of the UK government would never allow RBS to go under. 

21:13pm After repeated criticisms from the audience, Salmond refers them to "page four of our Fiscal Commission report". He'll have to do better than that. 

21:08pm Another audience member to Salmond: "You haven't given us a straight answer ... What is your plan B? We need more than 'it'll be alright on the night'". 

21:06pm The first question, from a No voter, without a currency union would Scotland use the pound without the permission or is there a contingency plan? Salmond replies that he wants what's best for Scotland, Darling says a monetary union requires a political union and a fiscal union. 

21:01pm Before the second half, they've just cut to the spin room again. With his forensic questions on the currency, Darling had the best of that round, with Salmond's attacks rather esoteric by comparison. Audience questions are next. 

20:56pm Salmond repeatedly presses Darling on whether he agress with David Cameron that Scotland could be a "successful independent country". Darling replies that he has never said that Scotland couldn't go it alone, but that the risks aren't worth it. 

Salmond repeatedly mentions Cameron's name, desperately trying to tie Darling to the Prime Minister who shunned a debate with him. 

20:52pm Salmond asks why some of Darling's allies in the No campaign, such as Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, support EU withdrawal. Darling replies that parties will take different positions on that issue, joking that he and Salmond could find themselves on the same side. The biggest danger for Scotland at present is leaving the UK, he says. Salmond replies that independence is the only way for Scotland to avoid the threat of EU withdrawal. 

20:50pm Darling ridicules Salmond's belief that Scotland would easily win EU membership: "The one thing you can't accuse the EU of is moving at speed". 

20:48pm It's Salmond's turn now. He asks Darling why the No campaign refers to itself as "Project Fear". It doesn't, replies Darling. 

20:45pm The debate moves onto public spending. "We have to end austerity," says Salmond. When Darling replies by pointing to the large deficit Scotland would face, Salmond responds by reminding him that the UK's deficit reached 11 per cent when Darling was Chancellor. 

20:42pm Darling: "So plan B is to scrabble around using somebody else's currency. That's not independence, that's foolishness of the first order." Salmond replies by referring to the report in the Guardian earlier this year that a senior UK minister believes Scotland would be offered a currency union if it voted for independence. 

20:39pm Darling runs through the alternative options: would Scotland adopt the euro (which, as he notes, Salmond used to favour)? Would it create a new currency? Salmond says Scotland will keep the pound as that's "best for Scotland and for the rest of the UK". 

Darling responds: "but you won't have a central bank ... you can't seriously be saying this. Scotland can't uses somebody else's currency." 

20:36pm Boos from the audience as Salmond refuses to answer Darling's repeated question: "what is your plan B?"

20:33pm Darling rightly points out that Salmond's stance would leave Scotland with no lender of last resort (the Bank of England at present). 

20:32pm After an ad break, the debate is back. Darling and Salmond now have 12 minutes each to cross-examine their opponent. 

Darling starts by challenging Salmond over the currency: what's his plan B if he doesn't get a monetary union? Salmond says an independent Scotland would continue to use the pound without permission (rather like Panama uses the dollar).  

20:25pm After much searching, I've managed to find a working stream at http://zattoo.com/watch/stv

Highlights to folow. They've just cut to the "spin room".

20:06pm The demand for the debate appears to overwhelmed the STV player, which immediately crashed at 8pm. I'm trying to find somewhere else to listen to it, but for now this only further proves why it should have been televised. 

19:47pm After months of waiting, Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond are finally going head-to-head in debate. The encounter isn't being televised outside of Scotland, but non-Scottish viewers can watch it live on the STV player. I'll be live blogging the highlights from 8pm. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.