BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 28 AUG 2014


Alasdair Darling won the first debate largely due to his aggression, keeping a subdued Alex Salmond on the back foot much of the time. I likened his approach to Brazil booting Columbia out of the World Cup. I highlighted his aggression on Scotland Tonight that evening, before the dust had settled. I also gave Darling a zinger with his "you do know what a joke is, Alex..." and Salmond one for his "logical and reasonable" line on Currency Union.

On Channel Four News immediately before the second debate I was asked to anticipate how Salmond would approach answering the currency question, apparently his achillies heel. I never believed his position was as bad as it was painted after the first debate and now no one, save those with the Union Flag planted on their front lawn, believes it.

I asked after the first debate whether Darling had another approach, thinking he would need one: he didn't, and he did. This time Salmond was ready for him. In debating terms the edifice of Currency Union came tumbling down. This was at times a peerless Salmond eviscerating a hapless opponent who was unsure whether it was Kelvingrove or Kensington. It would be nice symmetry to say that after Brazil Columbia this was Brazil versus Germany, but to his credit Darling neither capitulated nor gave up. Though he was beaten by the length of Byres Road.

The BBC's decision to give two minutes for the opening and close was better than the 60 seconds last time. It allowed both debaters to develop their themes at the start and explain their vision at the end in a more structured, elegant fashion.

Salmond was clearly enjoying himself from the first few sentences and was fluent, measured and authoritative. He had that self-satisfied smile on his face from the off: a good sign for him, annoying for the rest of us. Rhetorical devices such as repetition of "we" and "no-one" are effective in creating a rhythm and he used the power of three - Thatcher, poll tax, deindustrialisation - to great effect. There is one slight stumble but overall the right content- there is a vision piece he comes back to in his close- meets effective delivery in terms of tone, pitch, pace and pause.

Darling probably sensed this would be a different contest but he opened well enough after a stumble ten seconds in, though it was a bit nervy and pacey. The power of three again - jobs, pension, future - is used as a device. The personal attack on Salmond starts immediately with "HE", though Darling did use Salmond's full name once. And then it's currency, currency, currency and "we need answers". Darling was edgy and in hindsight would have been happy to call it a day after these first few minutes, taking a narrow loss on the chin. Salmond shaded the opening by a point, maybe two.

Darling would also have been happy if you threw in the next bit of sparring on the economy up to oil before calling a halt, as he would have escaped with a few flesh wounds. But jings, crivvens the section on currency... "Of course you can use the pound", was the start of the unravelling.

Less than 10 minutes in Salmond has comprehensively answered the currency question. Darling's problems start here as his position comes under attack soon after and he had nowhere else to go. Other than to have the same question on a loop, and he's no Paxman.

(From a mibby, a brief summary on currency, if Yes: On 19 September, it's the £ for a while; post Indy, Scotland can/may/will still be using the £; between those dates WM & SG negotiate, one saying no to CU and the other saying yes to CU; there are other options: B, C, D... etc.)

After the currency mauling Darling's denoument came when he highlighted a scare story on the NHS and was ridiculed in turn by the audience and his opponent. (Pot, hoist, kettle, black, petard: perm any three, four or five into a sentence that includes pounds, pensions, banks and business). It was all over bar the shouting and all about damage limitation for Darling from now on.

The irony here is that the NHS line by Yes is as much artifice as is currency for Better Together. There were big punches to be landed on this but Darling never managed to lay a glove on Salmond, though he did try manfully to land some blows and towards the end summoned up some lines about spending the oil money many times over. But it was too little too late and his heart seemed not to be in it. Glen Campbell even chipped in with some terrific lines on whether Salmond would extend the five and a half year "Red Line" deadline for binning Trident. Spoiler: of course he would extend it, in exchange for... ach, go on, have a guess. Play negotiation bingo. Darling by now was in Jinty McGuinty's having a half and a half pint with a basket of haggis pakora chaser and missed this zinger.

Better Together and much of the Unionist press thought the head-to-head Q and A was shouty and unproductive: Fair enough, that's arguable. Some said the whole debate was: that's baloney. Glen Campbell could have intervened some more during the Q and A but it was only 16 minutes - and this was a debate! At the end of this section Salmond summarised with a zinger of a 20 second mini-peroration that sent his supporters into a frenzy. Salmond is not one for showing mercy in these positions and took delight in pointing out Darling's repetition of lines from earlier that evening and some from the last debate.

Debating is distputatious entertainment between two people, moderated by a chair. The tactic from before never worked this time because the element of surprise was lost and Darling's heart was not in it: Pointing at, shouting about and being personally insulting to your opponent is not edifying and no one likes it save your acolytes. You should seldom do it as a tactic and it's an awful strategy. If you find similar behaviour in such a forum please direct me to it. Such behaviour can work if you win, a bit like even dodgy humour works only if you get a laugh, but this time it seemed mean and petty. Most of all it felt manufactured, inauthentic and over-played.

By contrast Salmond, while willing to go toe-to-toe with both sword and shield as necessary in feisty exchanges, was measured, assured and assertive. And polite to his opponent, even offering him a job on the team post Yes. Darling cracked a smile at that one, though it was ironic.

Lastly, peroration. There's a word. Want a definition? "The conclusion, intended to inspire enthusiasm in the audience".  The peroration sums up in two minutes the previous eighty. Both Darling and Salmond got to look us in the eye, swat away "HIM" and set the direction for the future of a nation. It's a vision thing. Darling was reading too much and delivered a re-hash of many the of the old tropes that been unsuccessful earlier, juxtaposed with name-checking of long-dead famous Scots. And of course the ubiquitous personal attack on his opponent. Salmond interspersed a better rehearsed but extemporaneously delivered vision piece with a few comebacks at what had gone before. He will have been happy he nailed it, Darling knows he messed his up.

If you have neither the time nor the inclination to sit through the whole 90 minutes of this riveting chunk of disputatious entertainment have a look at the last five minutes. It will tell you all you need to know about what went before. I scored Salmond at 9/10 and Darling 5/10 for their closing statements. That says it all, really.

Salmond was on the money, in the moment and owned the room. Darling was all over the west end.


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Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.

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