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Rivals clash in Scottish independence debate

Tuesday - 8/5/2014, 10:22pm  ET

This photo taken and issued on Tuesday Aug. 5, 2014 by Devlin Photo Ltd, shows Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, left, Britain's former treasury chief and leader of the pro-Union Better Together campaign Alistair Darling, right, and broadcast journalist Bernard Ponsonby during a televised debate ahead of the referendum on Scottish independence, in Glasgow, Scotland. A second televised debate is to take place on August 25. (AP Photo/PA, Devlin Photo Ltd)

DANICA KIRKA
Associated Press

LONDON (AP) -- Scotland's leading politician clashed with Britain's former treasury chief Tuesday in a televised debate meant to sway undecided voters in the final weeks before a referendum on Scottish independence.

The debate pitted the pugnacious First Minister Alex Salmond against the droll Alistair Darling and was marked by exchanges in which both men interrupted and spoke over each other while offering little if anything new to their positions.

Under repeated questioning, Salmond refused to give a Plan B for what currency an independent Scotland might use, sticking to his contention that it would retain the British pound even though the U.K. has said that is not an option.

Darling for his part, ducked and dived on the question of whether Scotland could succeed on its own, saying that the country would be better off as part of the U.K.

Still, the people of Scotland were paying attention.

"Watching the televised debate was interesting but we are hearing from two very experienced media trained politicians used to spinning arguments whichever way they want," said security consultant Simon Thomas, 47 from Glasgow, who will vote no. "I can't say the performance of either one of them is likely to alter my vote."

Ronald Anderson, 64, a tradesman from Airdrie, described himself as being skeptical.

"But I'll be voting yes because I think it is abhorrent that a country as wealthy as Scotland has so much poverty," he said.

Salmond was spinning the well-worn argument that oil revenues have flowed south of the border at Scotland's expense. Darling stressed an equally well-tested argument that an independent Scotland would be on its own should its banks ever need a bailout as they did during the 2008 financial crisis.

With only six weeks before the Sept. 18 vote, polls have consistently shown more support for staying in the union, but the distance between the two sides has narrowed.

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Paul Kelbie contributed to this story.


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