Alex Massie Alex Massie

Not Tonight, Darling

Well that was a gubbing. No doubt about it. Alex Salmond won last night’s debate against Alistair Darling just as thoroughly as he’d lost their first encounter. Sure, some Unionists tried to put a cheerful spin on it – “We’ll take that” one senior Labour figure told me – but don’t you believe any of it.

Salmond, as predicted, was much better than he had been in the first debate. Darling, as predicted, was much worse. File this encounter in the drawer marked reversion to the mean.

Darling had many problems last night but among the greatest was the fact he’s not a Tory. Time and time again Salmond stuck him with the “in bed with the Tories” jibe and took great pleasure in seeing Darling squeal and wriggle. It’s not fair! Well, tough.

Salmond, like the Yes campaign in general, has largely given up talking to the wealthiest 40% of Scots and his tactics in this debate were pitched at lower-middle and working classes. Which is, of course, perfectly reasonable.

But Darling’s non-Toryism meant he had few answers and, worse, few defences. He was forced – by his leftism and by the conventions of Scottish orthodoxy – to play along with the notion that governments can create proper jobs and so he looked a fool when he couldn’t name any so-called “job-creating powers” that would be devolved to Holyrood after a No vote.

Nor could he make a case for welfare reform as a route back to work  – and dignity – and he couldn’t make the argument that however uncomfortable life might be for the poorest sections of society it might be even less comfortable after independence. Ireland, which has a higher per capita GDP (the SNP’s favourite junk statistical measurement) than Germany is no better a place in which to be poor than Scotland now.

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