ALEX SALMOND and Alistair Darling were quizzed by Mumsnetters on Wednesday in what was billed by the parenting website as the “final referendum showdown” between the two leaders.
The pair went head to head as concerned parents posed their questions about everything from childcare to currency and mortgages to referendum voting regulations.
Mr Salmond conducted the web chat with Mumsnetters surrounded by mothers and babies at Edinburgh’s Hemma bar - a few feet away from the Scottish Parliament.
Arriving online two minutes before his allocated time and beating Mr Darling to the post, Mr Salmond greeted the members of Mumsnet - which is regarded as a significant political force.
“Hello there. Alex Salmond here. Ready when you are.” he wrote.
Three minutes later, Mr Darling appeared online.
“It’s really good that so many people are entering what’s such an important debate,” he wrote. “This is one the most important decisions we’ll ever take not just for us but for our children and their children. I’m looking forward to hearing what you’ve got to say and answering your questions.”
Mumsnetter Franmat pointed out to Mr Salmond that in an independent Scotland, a new government would be voted in - which could potentially render useless the SNP’s pledge to extend free childcare to 30 hours a week for children over one.
“You are absolutely right that with independence the people of Scotland will elect the governments of Scotland. I think that’s one of the great opportunities of independence - no more governments we didn’t elect,” he wrote, adding that he believes there is a “broad consensus” between the parties that there should be a “significant expansion of childcare”.
NoRoomForaLittleOne asked Mr Salmond why it was fair that her Scottish “DH” - Mumsnet shorthand for “Darling Husband” - living in England, could not vote in the referendum.
“Do we have to apply for our children to have dual-citizenship and different passports if Scotland becomes independent?” she asked.
Mr Salmond admitted the issue had been “the thing that caused me most difficulty in trying to get to a position which was fair”.
“I would have loved to have had a broader franchise but it was agreed between both governments that we should use the same franchise as in the 1997 referendum and the Scottish elections because it would have been difficult to fairly define any other electorate except on the basis of residence,” he wrote.
JimMurphysHump asked Better Together leader Mr Darling to give concrete examples of assets which Scotland would lose in the event of a Yes vote, accusing the Better Together campaign of “scaremongering”.
“What actual thing can it be categorically stated would go if Scotland votes Yes?” she asked.
Mr Darling pointed to the report from Standard Life, which has said it would move business down south in the event of a Yes vote.
“Another example - we spend £1200 more for every Scot on health, schools and other vital public services,” he added. “If we leave the UK, we lose that. It’s not just me saying that - but independent experts. If I saw you step out in front of a bus and I shouted a warning, would that be scaremongering, would it?”
He was also questioned about the impact the referendum would have on mortgages and interest rates.
“I keep being asked this question, it’s obviously a big worry for families,” he said. “The short answer is that it all depends on the currency we use. And we still don’t know, with eight days to go.”
The two politicians clashed on a number of issues, responding to each others’ posts.
While writing about Mr Salmond’s claim that the NHS could be privatised under a Westminster Government, Mr Darling’s response appeared to tail off.
He quickly reposted. “Oops, sorry, got het up there and posted before I meant to. Frightening people on health, cancer patients, the elderly and vulnerable, is despicable.”
Another disagreement occurred when Mr Darling responded to a reply by Mr Salmond to a poster asking about his guarantees on using the pound.
Mr Salmond had referred to Mr Darling’s admission during an earlier TV debate that “of course we could keep the pound”.
“Oh dear,” replied Mr Darling. “Of course Scotland can use the pound. Like Panama uses the dollar. We could also use the yen, the rouble or the dollar. The crucial point is that it would be somebody else’s currency, leaving us with no control over interest rates.”
He added: “If this really is Alex’s Plan B, it is mad.”
His words clearly riled Mr Salmond.
“Alistair, I think by now you would have realised that with almost 3,000 Scottish businesses supporting Business for Scotland, with some of Scotland’s greatest wealth-creators on board, you would have realised that scaremongering tactics are not working for you,” he wrote. “It would be nice if you could bring yourself to accept, like even David Cameron has, that Scotland could be a prosperous and successful independent country.”
After an hour, the debate ended for the politicians to return to their respective campaigns.
Mr Darling departed first: “This has been great,” he wrote. “Thank you so much for all of the questions and the replies. I’m back off on the campaign trail now with my Tunnock’s teacake in my pocket. Best wishes to you all, Alistair.”
But the last word came from PeaceLovingMum: “A shame they couldn’t answer more and they were very selective - repeating lots of things they’ve said a million times. I think it just goes to show that we have all the information we’re going to get. Best of luck fellow voters and let’s hope that what is best for the greater good wins out. x”