ALEX Salmond and Alistair Darling go head-to-head in a television debate this week, with Yes Scotland strategists predicting a victory for the SNP leader that will help win next month’s referendum.
Figures on the Yes side are confident that Salmond’s ability to communicate the arguments for independence to a mass audience will close the gap between Yes and No.
With Yes Scotland continuing to trail Better Together in the polls, Salmond’s spokesman last night hailed STV’s two-hour debate on Tuesday night as a “fantastic opportunity for the Yes campaign’s positive message to reach every home in Scotland”.
The spokesman added: “We know that when people engage with the issues and listen to the arguments they come down strongly in favour of a Yes vote. September 18 is the opportunity of a lifetime for everyone living in Scotland, and we are looking forward to making that case in next week’s debate and the campaign to come.”
With six weeks to go until the poll, sources close to Salmond believe there is a large number of undecided voters who will tune into the debate for the first time on Tuesday.
One said: “In our experience undecided people break down more to Yes when they hear the arguments. The TV debate enables that to occur on a much bigger scale. That’s the sort of opportunity we have because for the first time a large number of people begin to engage with the debate.”
The first of what could be a series of three TV debates (negotiations are ongoing with the BBC and Channel 4) coincides with a new phase in Yes Scotland’s campaign.
Based on the themes that independence will create opportunities, it will be accompanied by a mammoth mailshot that will target all 2.5 million households in Scotland.
At a cost of £550,000 to the taxpayer, the Scottish Government will distribute a new 12-page guide outlining the “opportunities of independence” this week.
With the end of the Commonwealth Games today, both sides enter the last lap of the campaign. But with Yes Scotland stalled at around 45 per cent in the polls, Salmond faces a huge challenge to close the gap.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said: “It is not proved that easy to move the polls. The Yes side moved it a bit earlier in the campaign. But recently they have suggested a fair bit of stability in public opinion.”
He added: “All Darling has to do is play a straight bat and make sure he doesn’t lose. Salmond needs to win.”
“Salmond needs a game-changer rather than us. In that sense the pressure is on him,” said Blair McDougall, Better Together’s campaign director. “The personal way that the pressure is on him is that in 25 years of leading his party, this is not only the climax of his political career, it coincides with the testing of his movement’s entire raison d’etre.”
McDougall added: “I think he will have a very loud ticking clock in his head with only so many days left and desperately needing momentum to change.”