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Scottish independence: Alex Salmond shouts loudest in night of aggressive argument

The battle for Scotland ... First Minister gains revenge in return bout of referendum heavyweights

By James Cusick

Alex Salmond has staged a comeback to win a key TV debate against the the leader of the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK, a snap poll has found.

Research by ICM for the Guardian newspaper showed 71% of people questioned thought the Scottish First Minister had been the better performer in the BBC clash, compared to 29% for Better Together leader Alistair Darling.

A similar survey after the first head-to-head debate between the two last month suggested the former chancellor had scored a narrow victory over the SNP leader.

An independent Scotland's future currency and its reliance on oil revenue dominated the second televised debate between the two. Scotland's First Minister opened the wrangling by stating that in three weeks, on September 18, voters could "complete the home rule journey" and "take matters into our own hands." The ex-chancellor said Mr Salmond wanted a separate state "no matter what the cost".

Mr Darling immediately went on the offensive, saying Mr Salmond was asking Scotland "to trust what he says – and I can't".

But an aggressive, re-energised Mr Salmond may have delivered the comeback he needed, and delivered it in a shouting match that was less genteel than their first television confrontation.

In a reprise of the battleground that dominated the first debate 20 days ago, Mr Salmond repeated his belief that a Westminster government would deliver a currency union with an independent Scotland. Although describing options that included using the pound "with permission" and the euro, Mr Salmond said his priority was "seeking a mandate" for a currency union, and that if he described the detail of a Plan B "then that is what we will end with".

Before the debate a poll suggested 38% would vote Yes, 51% for No. In what looked like an over-anxious effort to score points, Mr Salmond claimed that the "major revelation" of the night was Mr Darling's acknowledgement that Scotland didn't need to ask permission to use the pound.

Although the debate focused on oil, the NHS, and bedroom tax, Mr Darling repeatedly attempted to return to the currency issue. Mr Salmond accused Mr Darling of being a "one-trick pony" and said he had answered the question before. He again asked Mr Darling: "If we win, will you support Scotland joining the union?"

But as Mr Darling repeatedly tried to return to an independent Scotland's currency, Mr Salmond tried to evade the question, saying: "Even your insults are retreads from the first debate."

The Glasgow audience in the Kelvingrove Gallery was far more aggressive than the one at the first debate. Some of the questioners accused Mr Darling of forgetting his Labour roots, of forgetting the legacy of NHS founder Aneurin Bevan. One audience member asked: "If we would be better together, why are we not better at the moment?"

One question about Scotland's oil resulted in heated exchanges between the two men.

Mr Salmond appeared to lose the hesitancy he showed in the first debate. Although the "risk and over-reliance" on oil was attacked by Mr Darling, there was huge applause when he said: "Any country in the world would be delighted at the oil asset we have."

Mr Darling at times looked outside his comfort zone.

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