Polling this week

Ipsos MORI’s poll published prior to the TV debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling gave No a lead of 54 to 40, with 7 per cent still undecided. This represented an unchanged No share since the previous Ipsos MORI poll, with Yes up 4 and undecided voters down 4.

The nationalists will be pleased to see ‘Don’t Knows’ coming their way, but this poll nevertheless shows the scale of the challenge still facing them. Winning over undecided voters alone may not be enough – they may need to change some minds too. Knee-jerk reactions to the debate no doubt coloured opinions (more below), but all eyes are now turned towards the next poll for any lasting effects.

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Darling edges Salmond in first televised debate

First Minister Alex Salmond and Better Together leader Alistair Darling clashed this week in the first televised debate between the figureheads of the Yes and No campaigns. The STV debate was televised only in Scotland, with viewers elsewhere in the UK left frustrated by a temperamental live stream via the online STV Player.

In defiance of pre-debate expectations, Alistair Darling was widely seen as having come out on top of the debate – borne out by a snap poll of viewers by ICM which found that 56% felt Darling was the victor compared to 44% for Salmond. Darling focused heavily on the currency issue and repeatedly pressed Salmond to set out his Plan B in the event that a currency union cannot be agreed with the remaining UK. Salmond continued to insist that a currency union would be agreed.

The First Minister focused on democratic arguments for independence, noting that Scotland would always get the government it votes for, as well as highlighting the opportunity to end unpopular policies such as the ‘bedroom tax’ and the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde.

Nevertheless, a more animated than usual Alistair Darling was able to focus the debate largely on his strong suits such as the uncertainty over currency, public spending, pensions and EU membership. Salmond sought to portray the No campaign led by Darling as ‘Project Fear’ and tried to dispel some of the more outlandish claims made about the effects of independence.

Beneath the headline ICM figure of 56-44 for Darling, there was some consolation for Salmond, who was judged to have fared better by those viewers who were undecided before the debate. However with his campaign continuing to trail in the polls, this was not the game-changing moment that the First Minister had hoped for.

UK party leaders sign more powers pledge

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband this week signed a pledge committing them to delivering more powers for the Scottish Parliament in the event of a No vote to independence. The pledge, already signed by the Scottish party leaders Ruth Davidson, Willie Rennie and Johann Lamont, commits the parties to devolve further power particularly in the areas of “fiscal responsibility and social security”.

All three parties have individually set out proposals for some greater control of income tax in Scotland as well as devolution of some welfare policies for the first time. The declaration by the UK party leaders was made on the day of the Salmond-Darling debate and was seen as an effort to reinforce the Better Together message that a No vote is ‘not a vote for no change’.

Ben Thomson, Chairman of cross-party pro-devolution group Devo Plus, has however raised concerns regarding the proposed powers, worrying that, in the case of a ‘No’ vote, any further discussion of devolution will get bogged down in the “treacle” of Westminster as MPs turn to the question of EU membership. Thomson additionally labelled the Labour proposals a “damp squib” and the Conservative and Liberal Democrat proposals as “not really [making] sense” given the only-partial devolution of tax-raising powers.

Further doubt cast on economic case for independence

Three days after the debate clash, both the National Institute of Economics and Research (NIESR) and the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee have published reports faulting economic aspects of the pro-independence argument.

The NIESR report focuses on the lender of last resort options for banks incorporated in an independent Scotland, highlighting that the Bank of England ceases to be this lender under a Sterlingisation currency situation between Scotland and the UK.

The report looks at three options for the independent Scottish Government: creating a new Scottish Insurance Fund, negotiating a commercial lender of last resort line of credit with the Bank of England, or declaring the European Banking Union as lender of last resort. Regardless, the report crucially emphasise that the Prudential Regulatory Authority would likely require any systemically important banks using sterling during a period of sterlingisation to redomicile in the UK.

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee’s report raises similar concerns for the economic viability of independence, criticising the potential breakup of the UK single market and the uncertainty over EU membership faced by Scottish businesses following a potential ‘Yes’.

The report ultimately concludes that these uncertainties, as well as a potential short term currency “limbo”, concerns over uncosted intentions to renationalise the Royal Mail, and the possibility that Higher Education plans may be illegal under EU law, amount to a “damaging impact on businesses in Scotland, as well as other parts of the UK.”

Comment

David Aaronovitch in The Times: The glory of independence is just a mirage
As a separate nation Scotland would end up with less autonomy, as it is dragged along in the tow of its bigger neighbour

George Kerevan in The Scotsman: Devolution is just an empty promise
Kerevan warns against trusting promises for further devolution to Holyrood

Ian Bell in The Herald: Talking of hard facts, exactly what happens if you vote No?
If the long argument over independence has had a sub-text, it has been the demand for information

The Guardian: Alex Salmond v Alistair Darling debate: the verdict
The first live debate on independence had the two campaign leaders trade blows over currency union and taxes. Three Guardian writers weigh in