In Depth

Yes, but… Noisy Salmond fails to guarantee independence

But Alistair Darling will regret being forced to say: 'Of course we could use the pound…'

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond may have won last night's shouting match with Alistair Darling, but Scotland is still heading for a narrow vote in favour of remaining in the union, according to the most up-to-date polling.

Before the debate, voters were divided 51/49 per cent in favour of the No campaign, led by Darling. Afterwards, an ICM/Guardian survey of 505 people who watched the latest debate came up with the same result: the No camp still on 51 per cent and the Yes camp on 49 per cent.

It is a very small sample and it excludes the don't knows (who, presumably, could be swayed either way). 

But while it is still close enough to give David Cameron nightmares, it is hardly the ringing endorsement that Salmond and the Yes campaign were looking for this morning, with the referendum only three-and-a-half weeks away.

ICM research director Gregor Jackson said: "It suggests that the Yes and No campaigns will need to find other ways of reaching out to the Scottish public, particularly undecided voters and waverers, over the next three weeks."

John Curtice, the Guardian’s psephologist, said: "All that the No [campaign] needed was a draw. Yes, in contrast, wanted a decisive win last night – and if this poll is to be believed they did not secure it."

With postal voting starting today, there remain real doubts about Salmond’s ability to convince his countrymen to vote Yes by making a leap of faith into the unknown – especially given the continued uncertainty over the Scots' chances of keeping the pound.

Darling was weaker on this issue last night. In the first debate he had hammered Salmond on his failure to have a Plan B if Scotland is denied a currency union with the pound.

But last night Salmond hit back. He forced Darling to admit: "Of course we could use the pound…"

Salmond’s deputy Nicola Sturgeon gleefully tweeted the clip: "Alistair Darling admits 'of course we could use the pound'."

Within minutes, his words were being used online by the Yes campaign and will be used in Yes Campaign posters in the coming days. Nick Robinson, the BBC political editor, tweeted: "Darling will regret saying 'Of course we could use the £' even though he added it'd be a mistake for an indy Scotland to do so."

The idea that a break-away Scotland wants to cling to the pound may seem an obscure point to those south of the border, who are denied a vote, but it goes to the heart of whether a new independent Scotland can survive.

Then Ed Balls, Labour's shadow chancellor, intervened.  Instead of mealy-mouthed technical arguments like those advanced by Darling, Balls basically told Salmond to get stuffed.

Balls tweeted: "There will be no currency union. Scotland would probably end up with the euro - the least worst option for Scotland."

If Labour win a majority at next May's general election, and Balls isn't shuffled out of his current post by Ed Miliband first, then it is Balls who Salmond will have to deal with if he can win a Yes vote on 18 September.

And Balls is as determined as Tory Chancellor George Osborne to rule out a currency union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the event of Scottish independence. 

The pound  - or pund - has been Scottish currency since the 12th Century under King David, long before the Union of 1707. But there is another option. In addition to the Scots pund, silver coins were issued denominated in merk, worth 13 shillings 4 pence (two-thirds of a pound Scots). If he wins a Yes vote, Salmond could go back to the merk.

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