POLITICS

Alex Salmond And Alistair Darling Clash Over Currency In First Scottish Independence Debate

05/08/2014 20:59 BST | Updated 05/08/2014 22:59 BST
PA

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond repeatedly ducked a key question on the future of Scottish currency during the live STV debate with former chancellor of the exchequer Alistair Darling in Glasgow on Tuesday, drawing “boos” from a partisan crowd.

During his campaign, Salmond has continuously called for a currency agreement over the pound should Scotland vote for independence. However, Darling, the leader of the pro-UK Better Together campaign, reiterated that the government in Westminster has said that a currency union is not viable, with the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats all maintaining they will not sign up to such an arrangement.

Darling pushed Salmond on his “plan B” should the UK refuse to countenance a currency agreement, however Salmond demurred, refusing to answer beyond saying that Westminster would ultimately agree to a union, saying an agreement would not only be good for Scotland but the rest of the UK.

Darling said leaving the UK but keeping the pound was "a bit like getting a divorce and keeping the same joint bank account". The former chancellor stated: "If you leave the United Kingdom you leave the pound. What is your plan B if you don't get a currency union, this is most important."

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Salmond refused to countenance the need for a "Plan B"

But the First Minister insisted: "We will keep the pound Alistair because it is our pound as well as England's pound. It's logical and desirable to have a currency union because England is Scotland's biggest export market and Scotland is England's second biggest export market."

He added: "This is Scotland's pound, it doesn't belong to George Osborne, it doesn't belong to you, it's been built up by the people of Scotland over a long period of time." Darling continued to press him, saying: "Contemplate for just one minute that you might be wrong. What is plan B. "If you don't get a currency union what are we going to have instead. We need to know."

The Labour MP went on: "Any eight-year-old can tell you the flag of a country, the capital of a country and its currency. I presume the flag is the saltire, I assume our capital will still be Edinburgh, but you can't tell us what currency we will have. What is an eight-year-old going to make of that?"

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Alex Salmond, journalist Bernard Ponsonby, and Alistair Darling

Salmond, raising his voice to be heard above shouts from the audience, stated: "We will keep the pound because it belongs to Scotland much as much as it belongs to England. It's our pound as well as your pound." The First Minister went on to tell Darling he was not in favour of an independent Scotland joining the euro, and did not back the creation of a new currency.

The Better Together leader said: "That leaves us, if you don't get a currency union, which you have said in the past you would contemplate - that is using the pound sterling like Panama or Ecuador uses the dollar. That would be ruinous for our financial services industry, is that your fall back position, is that plan B?"

Salmond, replied: "You're certainly right Alistair, sterling is an internationally tradeable currency, nobody can stop you using it. But I want what's best for Scotland and keeping the pound is best for Scotland and best for the United Kingdom." Referring to Darling's time in 11 Downing Street, when he was forced to step in and bail out the banks during the financial crisis, Salmond said: "I don't think talking about the financial markets is your strongest suit Alistair, given what happened to the financial markets when you were chancellor of the exchequer."

The high-profile debate takes place after lengthy negotiations, with Salmond initially having refused to go up against the former chancellor as he repeatedly challenged Prime Minister David Cameron to debate the issues with him - but the Conservative leader consistently refused to take part in such an event.

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Scotland Debate