Leaders: Debate leaves us not much the wiser

The debate at times simply descended into a shouting match. Picture: Getty
The debate at times simply descended into a shouting match. Picture: Getty
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SO A second debate then, and hard not to believe that it was granted just to give in to the BBC for parity with its STV competitor, and not because of any great belief that more illumination would emerge. But did we get any?

Well, for last night’s debate, which, unlike the previous one, was screened to a UK audience, we got more passion and more talking over each other. The problem with the passion and the talking over each other and the generally more shouty nature of it was that it obscured any new information for those seeking facts.

We did get a little more on currency, despite again all the sparring around a Plan B. Alex Salmond revealed more distinctly his drive for an agreement round a formal currency union. It became clear that his drive now for formal currency union is that he believes a Yes vote would give him a mandate to ask for it, the clear implication being that Westminster could not possibly go against the settled will of the Scottish people. The difficulty with that is they still can.

It was also made clear that if the assets of the Bank of England were denied to an independent Scotland by the refusal of a currency union then Scotland would not meet a share of the debt run up by the UK. He pointed out that the UK Treasury had accepted all debt. Legally he may be right, but it is to be wondered how that hardball stance sits with most Scots.

We also got a stronger signal that sterlingisation would be the favoured Plan B, as Mr Salmond pointed out that an independent Scotland could not be prevented from keeping the pound.

One of the biggest criticisms of the last debate was that it failed to cover many of the range of subjects at issue, and that too much time was wasted getting instant reaction and analysis rather than allowing the two main men to air greater subjects. This time there was a better spread of issues, the NHS and spending priorities for it, welfare payments and nuclear weapons.

After the last debate on STV it was widely held that Mr Salmond had lost out to a more animated Mr Darling, but the First Minister was quick to point the next day at poll findings which showed an increase in “don’t know” voters going to Yes following his performance. But last night there can be little doubt that Mr Salmond emerged the victor.

This was a debate that demonstrated firmly held beliefs but at times simply descended into a shouting match and the overall impression on the viewer was one of more talking over each other. And it would be fair to say that Mr Salmond got more vocal support from the audience.

So what did we learn? Probably just that as the date of the referendum comes closer, emotions are running higher.

Fringe gets five stars from us

Does the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have no limits? Just when, last year, it looked like the Fringe had packed Edinburgh to bursting point, it goes and sets yet more records: number of shows nearly 3,200, up 11 per cent on last year; number of tickets sold nearly 2.2 million, up 12 per cent on last year; number of venues nearly 300, up 8 per cent on last year.

The quantity is in no doubt, but what about the quality? To judge by the stars appearing against our reviews, that hasn’t altered. To be sure, there have been plenty of shows that haven’t thrilled, amused, awed, or entertained our critics, but there were also plenty that have knocked them out.

That’s the joy of the Fringe – going round the shows, even when armed with lots of guides, is a bit of pot-luck, a kind of artistic treasure hunt where you may wind up with a few booby prizes but will also come out with experiences that will be treasured for a long time.

For the artists, too, the battle for an audience can be sometimes win, sometimes lose. Just as important, especially for younger performers, is the intensity of the experience packed into three weeks, including the chance to meet and mingle with hundreds of others – including producers and directors who may have a route to stardom to offer.

This year’s final shows and audience facts are quite a triumph, given that the start of the Fringe had to compete against the Commonwealth Games and deal with a lot of bad weather. So hats off to chief executive Kath Mainland and everyone else involved in it, organisers, artists and audiences, for further cementing Edinburgh’s position at the top of the festivals pile.