IN THE aftermath of Alex Salmond’s performance in his televised clash with Alistair Darling, one lifelong SNP campaigner made a pithy and indiscreet remark to members of the media in Glasgow.
“If Alex suddenly gets laryngitis before the next debate, if I were you I would be very suspicious,” the campaigner said.
Of course, no such thing will happen. Nonetheless, the comment indicated the frustration felt by many in the SNP that Salmond failed to deliver the comprehensive thrashing that so many thought was an inevitability.
Darling’s dogged concentration on Salmond’s Achilles Heel (the currency), his one-liners and his grasp of detail outshone a First Minister, whose charisma was supposed to have carried all before him.
Going into Tuesday night’s events, the SNP did nothing to dampen expectations that their man would emerge triumphant. Perhaps it was understandable to talk up Salmond’s chances given Yes Scotland’s requirement for a game-changing moment to turn round the polls.
But to hype up Salmond’s chances in the way that the SNP MSP Pete Wishart did by saying it would be a slaughter worse than the Bannockburn re-enactment was to underestimate Darling’s abilities.
Yesterday Salmond was adamant that he had not underestimated the former Labour Chancellor, but clearly some of his colleagues had.
Darling confounded the SNP’s confidence in Salmond and reminded people that he has a formidable mind as well as arguing skills honed at Westminster, Edinburgh Council and his early training as an advocate.
It was these attributes that Darling used as he homed in on the currency issue to telling effect. He relentlessly pursued Salmond over his refusal to outline what an independent Scotland would do if refused – as the UK government has said it would – the use of sterling in a formal currency union.
The debate was not all one-way traffic, even if Salmond’s mention of Project Fear scaremongering about motorists driving on the right hand side of the road sounded faintly ridiculous.
Darling looked awkward when Salmond repeatedly challenged him to admit that an independent Scotland would be a successful country.
Yesterday Salmond said that those exchanges were “like drawing teeth” and explained that securing such an admission would put all sides in agreement that Scotland could go alone. But the reality for Salmond is that he must find a better way of dealing with the currency question when he turns up for the BBC debate later this month. Otherwise, laryngitis might prove the wiser option.