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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn become historical investigations because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.