Salmond v Darling: who won?

So, I went to bed last night somewhat discomfited.

The stress engendered by trying to watch the bloody thing in Scotland’s far-flung southern most corner hadn’t helped.  It might have been on ITV Border but it would seem there are two versions of this channel on Freeview.  Sadly, the folks appear to have the Cumbrian version.

The STV player crashed, indicating the level of interest in watching this debate all over the UK and no doubt, the world.  I even tried the pub next door but alas, the woman behind the bar didn’t know how to change the channel.  Frustrated at every turn, relying on twitter to gauge how it was all going was probably not wise.  By the time I arrived, the No side was crowing, the Yes side strangely muted.

So with only little more than half the debate to go, I finally got to settle down with my beer and popcorn in time for the First Minister’s cross exam of Alistair Darling.

Did my toes curl at the opening exchanges?  Yep.  Gathering all the online snippets and insider jibes of *he says, she says* didn’t seem appropriate or relevant. This was focusing on flotsam and jetsam and point scoring, no doubt leaving much of the audience of non-aligned and non-partisans in the dark.  Eek.

The section on the EU was better but surely the point wasn’t to get Darling to agree to remove the misinformation from the website but to agree with what the European President said? On the successful, independent country issue, well that was better, but surely Darling landed a few blows by getting some substantive points into his attempts to avoid answering the question?

Then it was Bernard’s and the audience’s turn.  It seemed that the No camp had prepared its questioners better.  Short, sharp and digging not just at the currency issue, but also having a pop at Alex Salmond personally.  But generally, thoughtful and often, heartfelt questions.  And if anyone can claim to have had a good debate, it’s Bernard.  His exam of both men was incisive and this made for the best segment.

My conclusion by bedtime?  It hadn’t been a great day at the office, as they say.  Alex Salmond could do miles better than this, surely.  I know, I’ve seen and heard him do better.  Trying to put myself in the shoes of all those undecided voters I keep encountering on the doorsteps, would the First Minister’s performance have propelled them further towards a Yes? Especially women, who largely want to vote yes but just don’t like that there are so many uncertainties and unanswered questions, particularly on economic matters? Frankly, I didn’t dare answer that one.

But what a difference the cold light of day makes.  I watched the whole debate this morning from start to finish.

On opening statements, it was positive versus negative.  Salmond won, hands down, setting out three areas he wanted independence to change for Scotland.  Darling slung some soundbites together and focused on what we can’t do and wouldn’t be allowed to do. It was no, not and never for Darling from start to finish.

The currency cross-exam and sections on it afterwards were uncomfortable but Salmond stuck to his key message – it’s my job to argue for what is best for Scotland.  And Darling got tied in knots when Bernard took over: on scoring points, Salmond actually won, subtly undermining Darling’s supposedly rock-solid reputation on fiscal management.

And Darling was often flippant throughout, dismissive of the Yes woman’s question about who subsidises who – never a good move on live telly – while Salmond was earnestly serious, calm and measured at every stage. He got across all the key messages for a Yes, on democracy, social justice and the economy:  Darling had little to offer in terms of what voting no actually means.

Then there’s the body language.  Coming out from behind the lectern to engage with the audience in the room and beyond was a good move for Alex Salmond.  At one point, Alistair Darling had actually turned his back on them and preferred only to engage with Bernard. And all that finger pointing.  At Salmond, at Bernard, at the audience.  Not good. Worse, he actually lost it at some points, hectoring and floundering and throwing out scare stats in equal measure. Meanwhile, Alex Salmond calmly set out the arguments for and was actually majestic on social justice issues.  Visibly angry at how ordinary people are suffering under Westminster austerity: many out there will have identifed with that.

Did Alex Salmond win it then?  No.  But he did among some of the key voting groups in this race to the referendum finish.

The 512 hardy souls who were polled by ICM immediately after the debate decided that Alistair Darling *won* 47% to 37%.  He clearly found favour among men, the over 55s and those living in Central Scotland, the Lothians, the Highlands and North East of Scotland.  Perhaps worryingly for the First Minister, only about two-thirds of those who had been yes before the debate or who were SNP voters think he won.

But only 4% of women thought Darling won; more in the 35 to 54 age group thought Salmond won; in Glasgow, the voters were almost evenly split on it. And among the undecideds generally? Overwhelmingly, whether they had been undecided before or still were after the debate, they thought Alex Salmond won. In fact, post-debate, an astonishing 40% of undecideds reckoned Alex Salmond won, compared to only 14% who believed that Alistair Darling did.

Who had the more appealing personality?  Men plumped for Darling, women overwhelmingly plumped for Salmond, as did voters in most parts of Scotland.

Who had the better arguments? On this, Darling emerges as a clear winner.  But again, not among women or undecided voters.

And on voting intentions in the referendum?  It would appear that what many thought of the debate made no difference to voting intentions.  Young voters 16 to 34 might have thought Darling won but as many of them intend to vote yes as vote no, while the opposite is true of the 35 to 54 age group.

And it might be small numbers, but more of the undecideds before the debate had shifted to yes than to no afterwards.

But given that over half of those undecided voters are still undecided, it’s clear that this debate didn’t provide anything like a game-changer.  No is still ahead and according to this poll and the general consensus, won the debate.  Yet, look below the waterline and Darling might not have had quite such a good debate as the pundits have opined, nor Salmond taken the *pounding* favoured by the headline writers.

Alex Salmond actually managed to close the gap in voting intentions – down to 6% between No and Yes – and in particular, close the gap among women and young adult voters.  Yes would win in Glasgow, Mid Scotland and Fife, Highlands and the North East and over a quarter of Labour and Lib Dem voters would vote Yes.

The strategy then appeared to work, in parts.  It was never designed to appeal to partisans like me – after all, my vote was won a long time ago.  And occasionally, it pays to remind myself – and indeed, ourselves – of this.  These debates aren’t about us, for us nor aimed at those of us who are already voting Yes but at all the others who can still be persuaded to in the six weeks that remain.  I think I’ll sleep better tonight realising that.




9 thoughts on “Salmond v Darling: who won?

  1. Pingback: Salmond v Darling: who won? | Referendum 2014 |...

  2. A reasonable summary Kate.

    Another point worth remembering was the expectation ahead of the debate. Salmond’s reputation ensured his expectation out-stretch what he could reasonably deliver, while Darling’s woeful leadership of the Better Together meant he would have had to go some to reach such depths in a format that would suit him. In order to win, Salmond would have had to leave Darling in tatters and that was never a realistic objective. As such, Salmond was always likely to be a let-down to commentators and that feels like a defeat to many.

    As you said though, Salmond was on the whole very good and the general tone and theme needs minor refinement ahead of future debates.

    Three major areas for improvement however:

    1. Need to be convincing on the currency union, whether that’s by giving the risk and uncertainty more context, or highlighting the negligence of Westminster parties who have discounted it to the detriment of people both sides of the border. People need to understand better why a currency union is likely and desirable (rather than just repeating the phrase).
    2. The Project Fear theme was a complete disaster and by far the biggest mistake IMO. I understand what they were trying to do but there are better ways to make the general point.
    3. If future debates allow a cross-examination of Darling, he must be faced with simple, Yes/No questions. Darling threw the commanding lead he had away by refusing to simple agree that Scotland could be a prosperous nation. Be blunt about promises of future powers: “Will Scotland have full control of taxation, yes or no?” “Will Scotland have control of welfare so that we never have to suffer the bedroom tax again, yes or no?” “Will Scotland be able to invest oil revenues, yes or no?” “Will Scotland have control over immigration so that we might attract and retain skilled people who want to work here, yes or no?”. At every point, make it a Yes or No question and highlight his impotence and lack of answers. People are losing patience with politicians and just as the “currency plan B” question will continue to cause a problem, Salmond needs to highlight lack of answers from the No campaign.

    I dont think anyone really benefitted from it but that doesnt surprise me. The debates are a flawed idea and the best parts of this campaign are happening away from the politicians and away from the mainstream media. It’s no surprise both contributed to a poor debate.

    A final point: that’s probably as bad as Salmond will be, and probably as good as it gets for Darling. If Salmond/Yes get on top of the currency narrative, Darling has nothing.

    • The raw figures from ICM show actual more voters moved to No than Yes. 27 Don’t Knows moved during the debate. 18 went to No and 9 travelled to Yes.

    • To add just one “debating point”. After asking the yes/no question, DON’T keep repeating “answer the question”. You have to “allow” Darling to refuse to answer, then come back with the question again. That way his shiftiness is revealed more obviously.

      Give him the space to say nothing, then reply, “That was interesting Alastair, but you didn’t answer the question. Perhaps you will this time. Do you think that Scotland could be a successful independent country?” And then shut up again! Continued obfuscation will become more clear. (This was Nicola’s mistake in the “debate” with Lamont)

  3. Reblogged this on charlesobrien08 and commented:
    I thought Alex looked a bit wearied,or off colour maybe more help is needed from other yessers?.I also thought he behaved in a more adult manner,I cant go finger waving nor shouting in debates.Perhaps I had my opinion on who won changed many times by what I have read and heard since,but I did return to Alex won and won well,it was Darling’s ill manners that turned me into a certain Alex won.OK so I have been a member of the SNP on and off(because of moving around for work) for about 40 years,might have made me a bit biased.

    • If you really are put off by “ill manners” you must have been put off by Eck years ago.

  4. I thought Alex looked a bit wearied,or off colour maybe more help is needed from other yessers?.I also thought he behaved in a more adult manner,I cant go finger waving nor shouting in debates.Perhaps I had my opinion on who won changed many times by what I have read and heard since,but I did return to Alex won and won well,it was Darling’s ill manners that turned me into a certain Alex won.OK so I have been a member of the SNP on and off(because of moving around for work) for about 40 years,might have made me a bit biased.

  5. You are spot on with your appraisal. I think Alex was good but I’ve seen him better to. We depend on SNP too much, it’s not all about Alex or Nicola on their own, (but if not for them we would not be having this ref. so thanks) We know YES has other excellent communicators, such as Lesley, Pat, Robin etc, they are good at painting a vision (in words) of a modern, fairer indi. future. We just have to get them on a TV platform SOMEHOW?

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