Scottish independence campaign edges forward despite TV debate flop

LONDON Sun Aug 17, 2014 3:33pm BST

Alex Salmond (L), leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party, and Alistair Darling, head of the ''Better Together'' anti-independence campaign, take part in a television debate with host Bernard Ponsonby (C) in Glasgow August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Peter Devlin/STV/Handout via Reuters

Alex Salmond (L), leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party, and Alistair Darling, head of the ''Better Together'' anti-independence campaign, take part in a television debate with host Bernard Ponsonby (C) in Glasgow August 5, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Peter Devlin/STV/Handout via Reuters

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LONDON (Reuters) - Popular support for an independent Scotland has risen slightly in the last month even though Alex Salmond, the fiery nationalist leading the breakaway campaign, failed to win a high-profile TV debate, two opinion polls showed on Sunday.

With just five weeks to go before a Sept. 18 referendum in which Scots will decide whether to end their 307-year union with England and break up the United Kingdom, both polls showed support for independence had risen by 2 percentage points once undecided voters were excluded.

Like most other polls, both put the anti-independence campaign firmly in the lead however.

The surveys heartened nationalists who had expected Salmond, the leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), to easily win a TV debate with the leader of the anti-independence campaign, Alistair Darling, on Aug. 5.

In the event, Salmond unexpectedly failed to turn the U.S.-style debate into a victory for his cause.

But on Sunday, an ICM poll for the Scotland on Sunday newspaper put support for independence on 38 percent, up 4 points in a month. Support for the anti-independence camp was also higher, up 2 at 47 percent. Some 14 percent were undecided.

A second poll, undertaken by Panelbase, put support for the pro-independence camp at 42 percent, up 1 percentage point in a month. Support for the anti-independence camp fell by 2 points to 46 percent; 12 percent said they were undecided.

When the "don't knows" were stripped out, both polls, which were based on samples of about 1,000 people each, showed a 2 point swing towards the pro-independence campaign.

Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, an expert on the referendum, said the data showed that undecided voters were beginning to make up their mind.

He said the polls provided evidence that the "Yes" campaign had not been badly hurt by failure to win the TV debate.

"(This) means that a pro-independence campaign that had appeared to be at risk of being written off by the media will now enter the last month of campaigning with renewed heart – and that interest in and speculation about the outcome of the referendum will remain at fever pitch," said Curtice.

'CURRENCY DEBATE'

The debate is centred on how an independent Scotland could continue to use the pound despite Britain's main parties ruling out a formal currency union in the event of a "Yes" vote.

Darling, the leader of the "Better Together" anti-independence campaign, said on Saturday that Salmond's plan to use the pound "come what may" was irresponsible.

"If we left the UK and used the pound without any formal currency agreement, it would mean even bigger spending cuts and big increases in the cost of living for families in Scotland," he said.

The ICM poll showed signs that Darling's side was winning the currency debate with many Scots unconvinced by the pro-independence campaign's stance on the issue.

The polls were published a day after Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott stirred debate by saying that an independent Scotland would not be in the world's best interests.

“What the Scots do is a matter for the Scots and not for a moment do I presume to tell Scottish voters which way they should vote," he told The Times newspaper. "But as a friend of Britain, as an observer from afar, it’s hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland."

Salmond described the comments as "ludicrous" and "bewildering".

Salmond and Darling will go head to head on Aug. 25 in what is likely to be the final TV debate. Salmond has said he wished he'd better explained his stance on currency during the first debate and that he'd try harder next time.

(Editing by Stephen Powell)

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Comments (10)
pavlaki wrote:
I don’t want Scotland to stay part of the union for financial reasons only! If you would rather be independent then vote yes and everything will be sorted out afterwards. It is in England’s interest to do so. I would rather have happy but independent neighbours than a Scotland that grudgingly stayed part of the union for the sake of a few pounds.

Aug 17, 2014 5:26pm BST  --  Report as abuse
Cynicalsam wrote:
If the Westminster government can save the lower Clyde shipbuilder now in administration I might consider the NO campaign as this crisis has occurred on their watch and will be an example of their support for Scotland. It IS noticeable that Labour’s efforts to help amounts to challenge the SON, surely a cheap political gambit. Labour also contracted overseas yards for important orders. Many times quality has to be paid a premium and tender price IS not the best value.

Aug 17, 2014 11:52pm BST  --  Report as abuse
Jamie18 wrote:
I agree with Pavlaki, I don’t want to be part of Britain just for money, happiness is more important. I am confident for Scottish Independence, I want to vote yes. Anything is possible, and we can survive on our own.

Aug 18, 2014 12:40pm BST  --  Report as abuse
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