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.
Show Hide image

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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.