Alex Salmond agrees to STV debate with Alistair Darling on Scottish independence after 'long overdue climb-down' - Press Gazette

Alex Salmond agrees to STV debate with Alistair Darling on Scottish independence after 'long overdue climb-down'

Alex Salmond (pictured, Reuters) has agreed to go head-to-head with Alistair Darling in an STV debate on Scottish independence.

Salmond's deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, has said he is willing to debate with the leader of the Better Together campaign despite the Scottish First Minister repeatedly calling on David Cameron to join him in a public discussion.

Salmond and Darling have been invited to take part in a live televised debate in Edinburgh on 16 July.

The two-hour head-to-head is being organised by STV as part of its coverage of the independence referendum.

The channel wrote to Salmond and Darling on Wednesday asking them to appear in front of an audience of 500 at the Assembly Rooms.

Better Together responded by letter yesterday, accepting the invite on the chairman's behalf.

The Sunday Herald quoted Sturgeon as saying that the Salmond would be willing to debate with Darling as a substitute for the Prime Minister.

However a spokesman said last night that his preference remains for a debate with Cameron on 16 July.

Sturgeon told the newspaper: "David Cameron should accept the offer of a head-to-head debate with the First Minister, which is the one that all of Scotland wants to see.

"Should the Prime Minister continue to duck this debate, the First Minister is willing to take on Alistair Darling as the Tories' nominated substitute."

A spokesman for the First Minister said: "We will continue to pursue David Cameron to agree to the July 16 debate with the First Minister. If he continues to duck from it – the First Minister will take on Alistair Darling shortly after the Commonwealth Games."

The proposed debate will be hosted by STV political editor Bernard Ponsonby. The audience will feature 500 "specially selected" members of the public representing both sides of the independence debate as well as undecided voters.

Better Together campaign director Blair McDougall said: "Alex Salmond's TV debates bluff has finally been called. This is a welcome, if long overdue, climb-down by the First Minister.

"The nationalists wanted to make this a Scotland versus England contest. The vast majority of Scots know that's not what this is about. There are two competing Scottish visions for our country. We offer the best of both worlds, with more powers for Scotland backed up by the strength, security and stability of the larger UK. The nationalists only offer a leap in the dark with separation.

"People in Scotland deserve a TV debate between the leaders of both campaigns about the big issues in this referendum, like what would happen to our pound, pensions and public services."

Blair Jenkins, chief executive of Yes Scotland, said: "Polls show that the people of Scotland want a debate between the First Minister and the Prime Minister. If David Cameron is content to dictate to us, then he should be brave enough to debate with us.

"Team Yes has an abundance of talent ready and waiting to put forward the positive Yes case; meanwhile, the No side are desperately trying to pass the bat as far down the pecking order as possible."

Earlier this month, Darling claimed that Salmond was refusing to talk to broadcasters about having a debate with him.

In an interview with the New Statesman, he said: “[Salmond] wants to turn it into a contest between Scotland and England, which is why he wants a televised debate with David Cameron. That should not happen. I want to debate him. I’m ready to. But he’s refusing to enter into discussions with the television companies – STV, the BBC, Sky and Channel 4. It’s all being cut very fine. It’s not too late. I challenge him to a debate.”



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