Leaders of the 'yes' and 'no' camps for Scottish independence have made their final pitches to voters in a heated television debate. The historic referendum takes place in three weeks.
Arguments and shouting set the scene of a fiery debate on Monday evening, with pro-independence Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond (above right) clashing with Britain's former treasury chief Alistair Darling (left), on whether Scotland should break away from the United Kingdom next month.
It was the last formal televised debate before polls open on September 18. People who are both resident in Scotland and also either British citizens, qualifying Commonwealth citizens or members of the House of Lords are eligible to vote. Military and government personnel serving abroad but registered to vote in Scotland are also eligible.
Throughout the 90-minute debate, Salmond and Darling shouted over each other on questions from defense, oil reserves and health care. At the heart of the exchange, however, was the currency an independent Scotland would use.
Salmond wants Scotland to keep using the pound sterling in a currency union with the rest of the UK, but Darling, the head of the "Better Together" campaign, countered this would leave Scotland with little control over its economy or ongoing financial security.
"Any country's starting point is currency, money," Darling said. "Uncertainty about currency can bring a country to its knees."
In his opening statement, Salmond said independence would free Scotland from austerity policies and military spending.
"Absolutely no one will run the affairs of this country better than the people who live and work in Scotland," said Salmond.
"We are a rich nation and a resourceful people. We can create a rich nation and a more fair society," he added.
"In bed with the Tories"
One of the 'No' camp's strongest talking points has been doubts over the future of North Sea oil, upon which the economy of an independent Scotland would be heavily reliant.
In the past week, well-respected oil industry figure Ian Wood warned that Scotland's government was up to 60 per cent too optimistic in its predictions for North Sea oil recovery, and that supply could run out with 35 years.
In the debate on Monday, Darling accused Salmond of "nonsense" and overestimating oil and gas revenues. He said he did not want volatile commodity market prices to dictate the future of Scotland.
But Salmond said Darling, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Labour government, was "in bed with the Tories."
Polls consistently suggest voters will reject independence, but the gap between the two camps appears to have narrowed slightly in recent weeks. According to a poll conducted by The Times newspaper, 43 per cent of respondents would vote 'Yes' compared to 57 per cent who would vote 'No.'
But Salmond may lessen that gap even further, following results from a snap poll on Monday night. The Guardian newspaper and market researchers ICM found that 71 per cent of respondents thought the nationalist leader had triumphed, compared to the 29 per cent who thought Darling had won.
jr/jm (AFP, AP)