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

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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The attack on Les Bleus was an attack on the soul of France - that's why Euro 2016 must go ahead

As a continent reels politically from the refugee crisis and emotionally from the Paris attacks, football must find a new, confident voice.

After the Paris attacks, the great Bill Shankly’s words have rarely been so tested: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you, it is much, much more important than that.”

As bombers detonated their suicide belts outside the Stade de France, French and German football fans cheered what they thought were fireworks. They were unaware that it was the opening salvo in a night of barbarity. One of the bombers had a ticket for the game but, mercifully, was turned back at the turnstile. Had his bomb gone off inside the stadium, the immediate loss of life, plus the panicked stampede and two more suicide bombers lying in wait outside for escaping fans, could have produced a death toll higher than at Hillsborough, Bradford, Heysel or either of the Ibrox ­stadium disasters.

The French intelligence services have yet to conclude publicly whether the attacks were timed to coincide with the prestigious friendly or whether the crowd of 80,000 was simply another target of bloodthirsty convenience on an already preordained date. Either way, there’s no mistaking that an attack on Les Bleus was an attack on the soul of France. In the aftermath, the Germany-Netherlands friendly game was called off and Belgian football went into lockdown.

How should British football respond? To those who think that the sport is just 22 players kicking a ball around a field, this may seem a peculiar question. But ever since the tail end of the 19th century, when football escaped from its self-enforced ghettoisation in Britain’s public schools, it has had a greater purpose.

More than any other sport, football has been intertwined with politics. As Harold Wilson said: “It’s a way of life . . . a religion.” When President Rowhani of Iran wanted to bolster his image as a new kind of leader, he didn’t deliver a speech but tweeted a picture of himself wearing an Iranian football top, watching a match. Franco’s dictatorship clung to the all-conquering Real Madrid and punished FC Barcelona. On Robben Island, ANC prisoners idolised Billy Bremner of Leeds United and successfully demanded the right to play football.

In October, one of the biggest protests against the closure of the north-east’s steelworks was from 10,000 Middlesbrough fans at Old Trafford. When Catalans challenged hikes in transport costs, they boycotted public transport from the Camp Nou. The biggest “Refugees Welcome” signs in Europe weren’t produced by governments but by fans of the Bundesliga champions, ­Bayern Munich.

So while the singing of the Marseillaise at the England-France match at Wembley was a “hairs on the back of the neck” moment, most of us understand that it’s not enough. What is less well known is that this wasn’t the first time that one of the world’s few genuinely inspiring anthems has been performed in earnest in British football. A century ago, bands took to the pitch to play patriotic British, French and Russian music – not out of altruism but military necessity. The British army was under intense pressure at Ypres and urgently needed new volunteers. The War Office turned to football.

For many, the journey to Loos, Flanders and the Somme started with a routine visit to cheer on their local team. Their sport transported them from a home football field to their foreign killing fields. Many clubs, including Everton, held military training on their pitches, while Manchester City’s then stadium, Hyde Road, became a 300-horse stable. Hundreds of players died serving in the Football Battalion.

But for too long our national sport reflected Britain’s lack of ease with diversity. From the 1920s, the religious sectarianism that poisoned the west of Scotland was allowed to fester in Glasgow’s football. The sport’s tolerance of recreational racism became widespread. Outside stadiums, right-wing extremists sold their propaganda while, inside, black players were vilified – even by their own supporters. Football’s racism corroded its heart and was rationalised in its head: it was allowed on the pitch, cele­brated on the terraces and accepted in the boardroom and far too many changing rooms.

And now, as a continent reels politically from the refugee crisis and emotionally from the Paris attacks, football must find a new, confident voice. The sport and its fans cannot sit on the subs’ bench at a time like this.

In a nation where only one in five male workers joins a trade union, football is a rare regular collective experience. It is more authentic than click-and-connect social media communities. Despite high ticket prices, football offers the one place where thousands of working-class men, including many politically disenchanted young men, come together in a common cause.

British football has long since jettisoned its ambivalence regarding racism. But for organised extreme right-wingers, Islamophobia fills the space vacated by the anti-Irish “No Surrender” tendency on the sport’s fringes. Although the number of top-flight British Muslim players is infinitesimally small, the streets of Bradford, Blackburn and Birmingham teem with young British Muslims kicking a football. More clubs can harness their power to inspire and increase their ­involvement in community counter-­radicalisation strategies. Clubs should also take the lead by having zero tolerance for Islamophobia, training stewards and backing fans who stand up to fellow supporters.

And, finally, the European Championships, for which all the home nations bar Scotland have qualified, must go ahead in France next summer. There’s no liberté in cancelling. In the name of fraternité, let’s all back France as our second team. Allez les Bleus!

Jim Murphy is the former Labour MP for East Renfrewshire and leader of Scottish Labour 2014-15.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State