18 Aug 2014

Why next week’s Salmond-Darling debate is so important

Alex Salmond today tried to tug at Scottish hearts, visiting the home of the famous declaration of Arbroath, the statement of independence written in Arbroath Abbey in 1320 at the time of King Robert the Bruce. Salmond today produced his own, updated “declaration of opportunity” – under an independent Scotland, of course.

The former was signed by 30 or so Scottish bigwigs, and is thought by some people to have been one of the documents which inspired the 1776 American declaration of independence almost 500 years later.

“For as long as a hundred of us remain alive, we will never on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of the English,” they wrote. “For we fight not for glory nor riches nor honours, but for the freedom alone, which no good man gives up except with his life.”

That’s the passage everybody quotes, though Alex Salmond should perhaps be slightly anxious that immediately before those famous words the Scottish notables warned Robert the Bruce that if he sought “to make us or our kingdom subject to the king of England or to the English, we would strive at once to drive him out as our enemy… and we would make some other man who was able to defend us our king.”


It was a remarkably liberal document for its day, with none of the anti-Semitism of the better-known English Magna Carta of a century before. “With Him,” they wrote (i.e. God), “there is neither weighing nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman.” Indeed, Alex Salmond told me today that was his favourite line from the declaration.

The big issue right now is whether an independent Scotland would be allowed or able to keep sterling as its currency, and whether if it did so that would compromise Scottish independence. An ICM poll for The Scotsman today suggests voters aren’t that bothered about this particular issue, but a couple of voters I spoke to cited uncertainty over the currency as the reason why they would vote no.

Salmond admitted yesterday that he should have made things clearer in the first TV debate with Alistair Darling two weeks ago. But his many interviews today failed to clarify matters. He spoke of Scotland using sterling in “transition” without explaining what the “transition” was a transition to. He ruled out the euro, but did he mean to the Scots’ own currency or to a formal currency union with the rest of the UK?

Salmond was today hailing a slight narrowing in the polls in the last few days, but he urgently needs to narrow the gap a lot more as it won’t be long before people start voting.

There may be a month to go before the official polling day on 18 September, but postal ballots will go out on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week to about 20 per cent of the Scottish electorate who prefer to vote though the mail. Past experiences suggests most postal voters cast their ballots straight away.

That means next Monday’s TV debate with Alistair Darling – the second and maybe final encounter between the two men – could be even more important than the first one two weeks ago.

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