Eddie Barnes: Independence debate goes heavyweight

“IT depends whether there’s a good film on,” replied one MSP yesterday on whether they would be tuning in to last night’s TV debate.

Michael Moore and Nicola Sturgeon, pictured, debated key issues. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Just under 500 days before the big day in September 2014, there are many, politicians included, who have not yet tuned in to the big referendum debate.

Nonetheless, Michael Moore and Nicola Sturgeon were on hand to kick things off. Politicians need no reminding of the importance of TV debates, with the campaign-changing General Election events of 2010 fresh in the memory.

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Mr Moore and Ms Sturgeon are old sparring partners whose personal relationship is cordial thanks to their roles negotiating the “Edinburgh Agreement” last year. Ms Sturgeon has now become the so-called “Yes Minister” and her personal ratings are now far higher than the more divisive Alex Salmond. Mr Moore’s reasonableness means he cannot easily be tarred with the “scaremonger” brush.

That might be the case, but the SNP minister came out swinging from the start, declaring Mr Moore was scaremongering even before he opened his mouth. The UK Government was talking Scotland down, she added. Mr Moore’s attempt to demonstrate positivity in response to this claim will doubtless already be on VT at SNP Towers. Round One to Sturgeon.

The pair then had the chance to cross-examine one another, with Ms Sturgeon asking the questions first. Notably, they were all focused on the competence of the Westminster system. “Look me in the eye”, she said to Mr Moore, on whether he was happy that 50,000 more children could fall into poverty.

Mr Moore’s questions were on the detail of independence; a sign of the pro-UK’s desire to focus the debate on the nitty-gritty of how the new country would actually work. Here Mr Moore found some success: there were some uncomfortable moments as she declared she would not talk about a “Plan B” on the currency.

But, on punches thrown, it was the more proactive Ms Sturgeon who came out on top over the course. It was also an hour of TV when the issue of independence was debated with seriousness and depth.