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Less heat, more light in independence debate

by - Political Editor, ITV Border

The independence debate tonight, hosted by STV, was rather different.

Six participants. Nicola Sturgeon, SNP deputy First Minister first took on Labour MP Douglas Alexander.

It was not shouty-pointy. It was very civilised in fact. And it got into some detail on Scottish funding - the famous or perhaps not so famous Barnett formula.

But most of the arguments on both sides, including on funding and the part oil plays in the Scottish budget, were well rehearsed.

So for the viewer, good to hear them presented in more detail, but no variation in ‘the line’ from each side. But no winner or loser from the panel.

Next up came Elaine C Smith, actor and activists versus Kezia Dugdale, a Labour MSP.

Elaine C was fiery and passionate and will, I suspect, have won over many of the audience - and more importantly in terms of the referendum viewers at home.

But she did find it difficult when presenter Bernard Ponsonby pressed her on whether she agreed with SNP policy of cutting 3p in the pound on Corporation tax - SNP official policy.

When she was pressed a third time she said: “I’m not sure whether I agree or not…” Most people took that to be a ‘no’.

Ms Dugdale, seen as rising Labour star, was solid on social policy and suggested Elaine C was only interested boundaries and borders, a point the actress hotly denied.

Elaine C probably lost on policy detail but won on charisma and audience appeal.

Then came Tory leader Ruth Davidson versus Green party MSP Patrick Harvie.

Ms Davidson surprised many by praising Tony Blair for his record of multi-lateral nuclear disarmament.

Mr Harvie simply questioned the moral value of nuclear weapons something his party has always been against.

He also made it clear that he disagreed with SNP policy of being part of NATO, which relies on the ‘nuclear umbrella’.

But he did want independence to give Scotland the opportunity to decide on the issue.

What have we learned?

First, despite what we sometimes think, Scotland has some very good politicians (and one non-politician in this case) and we should remember that.

Second, that on the ‘Yes’ side there is a range of opinions. Elaine C probably spoke for many on the Left on not being keen on cutting business taxes.

Mr Harvie, for many - also on the Left - who have significant reservations over other aspects of the SNP’s plans.

The problem, though, is that the SNP is presenting its White Paper as the basis for their electoral mandate if they win the referendum.

For the ‘No’ side there was more agreement though there are, of course, differences over for example extra powers coming to Scotland.

We did not get such a variety from the ‘No’ side as there were two Labour politicians.

Ms Sturgeon sought to reinforce the difference on the ‘No’ side by saying that Mr Alexander and Ms Dugdale were on ‘team Tory’ for the night.

So in conclusion a very useful night. Less heat than the head-to-heads, more light.

What they will have seen probably helped those who have already decided.

Will it have helped those who have not decided? Perhaps. We must certainly hope so as it’s not long to the referendum date of 18 September.

National

Yes and No camps disagree about Barnett Formula

The Yes and No camps seem to be in disagreement over whether the Barnett Formula would leave Scotland better or worse off if it remained in the UK.

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The cost to Scotland's budget of cuts to the Barnett Formula in event of No vote would be £4bn says @nicolasturgeon #ScotDecides #TeamYes

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Nicola Sturgeon talking about Barnett Formula - a guarantee of higher spending on NHS & schools we only have as part of UK. #scotdecides

But the political editor for Scotland's Sunday Herald argues there would be no change.

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If it's a Yes and we lose Barnett, we gain roughly the same from oil. They more or less cancel each other out #ScotDecides

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National

Westminster 'squandering Scottish oil revenue'

The participants are debating the future of North Sea oil and whether an independent Scotland's economy would be better off.

North Sea oil
North Sea oil Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Nicola Sturgeon gets the first big clap of the evening, saying: "If Douglas is right and we are overly dependent on oil and we're too poor to be independent, how has this resource-rich country got into that state?

"That's something wrong with how we're being governed. It's not an argument to stay the same, it's an argument for change."

She accuses Westminster of squandering "much of our oil wealth over the last 40 years".

National

Alexander: Referendum 'bigger than party politics'

Labour's shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander says that "the decision before us is far bigger than party politics" in his opening statement.

Douglas Alexander
Douglas Alexander

He argues that a unified United Kingdom can deliver: "More and better jobs, a National Health Service that can change and develop the needs for our futures and for our future population, pensions that can deliver dignity and decency as our population ages, a strong Scottish Parliament".

National

Sturgeon kicks off with NHS and nuclear weapons

The deputy leaders of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon, is kicking off the live debate with an opening statement on behalf of the Yes Scotland campaign.

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

"We are now just days from our chance to make history ... this debate has captured Scotland's imagination," she says.

"Only a Yes vote will guarantee an NHS in public hands and publicly funded, only Yes will rid Scotland of nuclear weapons, only Yes will give us the powers to create jobs and a fair society," she adds.

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