Salmond bounces back in final debate with earnest Darling

Three weeks out from Scotland's referendum on independence on September 18th, the No side is still ahead in every poll but it is the Yes campaign that has a spring in its step. After a poor performance in the first televised debate, First Minister Alex Salmond came roaring back in this week's duel with Alistair Darling, the former chancellor of the exchequer and leader of the pro-union Better Together campaign. Mr Salmond was not only the better performer, more agile and quick-witted than the earnest Mr Darling, but the First Minister also appeared to have the better arguments and a surer grasp of which issues resonate with voters.

During the first debate, Mr Salmond was wrong-footed by questions about what currency an independent Scotland would use if the rest of the United Kingdom refused to share sterling in a currency union, repeatedly refusing to say which alternative option he favoured. This time, he cheerfully rattled off a series of alternatives, emboldened perhaps by polling evidence that uncertainty about the currency is not proving to be the knock-out issue the No campaign had hoped it would be. The same is true for North Sea oil revenues, which No campaigners predict will be too small and volatile to sustain the economic model envisaged by campaigners for an independent Scotland.

The Yes campaign has given up trying to persuade better-off undecided voters to back independence and those voters who might be swayed by romantic, nationalist rhetoric are already in the pro-independence camp. So in the final stage of the campaign, Mr Salmond and his allies are focusing on lower and middle income voters, arguing that independence is the only way to safeguard elements of British life that are important to them, such as the National Health Service and social welfare benefits. The betting must still be on Scotland rejecting independence next month but a buoyant Yes campaign could yet ensure that it will be a close run thing.