Salmond limps from head-to-head with Darling

Salmond’s cloak of invincibility damaged by his performance against Alistair Darling in televised debate

Alex Salmond (left) with Alistair Darling, at their television debate in Glasgow. Photograph: Reuters/Peter Devlin/STV

Alex Salmond (left) with Alistair Darling, at their television debate in Glasgow. Photograph: Reuters/Peter Devlin/STV

Sat, Aug 9, 2014, 08:32

Taking First Minister Questions in the Scottish Parliament, Alex Salmond often gives the impression he believes he is not up against equals. Often, the people facing him give the impression that he is right.

On Thursday, however, the situation was different: Salmond’s cloak of invincibility had been damaged by his performance against Labour’s Alistair Darling in Tuesday’s televised debate.

There, he was skewered by Darling over the issue of a future Scottish currency. Salmond says it will be sterling in a full currency union. The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats say this will not happen.

Labour’s Ed Miliband came to Glasgow yesterday and delivered exactly the same message. The Conservatives’ George Osborne did so in February. The Scots hated Osborne’s intervention, but they heeded it nonetheless.

‘It’s our pound’

On Thursday, Salmond repeated: “It’s our pound and we are keeping it.” His difficulty, however, is that this does not assuage voters’ concerns – even if no one can say for certain what would happen if the Scottish people vote Yes on September 18th.

Salmond’s problem is that although his sterling declaration has flaws he cannot offer anything else – a new currency, for example, or a pre-1979 Irish-style one-for-one arrangement with sterling – because most Scots do not want either.

He fluffed a golden opportunity on Tuesday. Beforehand, his supporters gathered in the Royal Conservatoire of Music in Glasgow were buoyant – “owning the room”, in the words of one journalist. Afterwards, they were worried.

Cracks appear

Meanwhile, the Sinn Féin-like discipline the Scottish National Party displays has begun to crack, with anonymous criticisms to the Scottish press, while an old internal enemy, Jim Sillars was quick to pounce on Salmond’s failings.

Behind the usually regimented SNP lines, there are sharp divisions. For many, the independence campaign is a bastardised version of their dream since it promises to keep the queen, sterling, Nato and much else besides.

However, they have stayed quiet, believing September 18th would – to paraphrase Michael Collins – win them the freedom to win the kind of freedom that they want over the decades to follow.

Salmond, however, knows he must keep the option “safe”. Most Scots want more of their affairs to be run from Edinburgh – even if they have less-than-flattering views of the parliament that would be responsible.

His “it’s our pound and we are keeping it” argument in the television studio and in Holyrood clearly has not persuaded the crucial doubters he needs to win over – though Darling also has issues to face about the extra powers Scots will get if they vote No.

The Scots do not want a trip into the unknown. Salmond’s aura took a blow this week, but he is resilient. The road to September 18th – that began two years ago for most people and 80 years ago for some – is not travelled yet.