September 18th 2014 | Scotland

Holyrood Response: What advice would you give your representative in the next TV debate?​​

Holyrood logo

After the last debate things were so bad for Alex Salmond that there were reportedly calls from within the SNP for Nicola Sturgeon to do the next one.

Actually Salmond was not terrible. But he was worse than many expected – it looked like the pressure got to him – and he will need to put in a better performance on the 25th of August.

A YouGov survey released this week found No at 55 per cent (up one) and Yes at 35.

YouGov polls typically put Yes support lower than rivals like Survation and the debate does not seem to have been a game-changer, with a significant proportion (around ten per cent) still undecided.

But still, it makes pretty grim reading for Salmond.

He was behind in the polls before, tasked with winning over undecideds. That is still the case – he just has one less opportunity to do so.

The problem is that, following a successful first debate and safe in the knowledge that he has averted a major swing towards independence, Darling may feel he does not have to do much.

This could be a mistake. There is a feeling that many people who vote No will do so with a very heavy heart after what has been a generally negative campaign from Better Together. Some may vote No, not because of Better Together, but because of doubts about Yes.

Darling could probably win the referendum by continuing to hammer Salmond on the pound, but the victory would simply mean Scots were too nervous about the risks of independence to vote Yes.

That is hardly a ringing endorsement for the union and the question of independence could well rear its head again once a currency solution was found.

Yes hopes to win more support through its grassroots campaign and the debate will be a further chance for Darling to kill off a potential rise in support before Yes door knockers get there first.

Salmond will likely press Darling over further devolution, particularly following comments from Boris Johnson suggesting that he would oppose further powers being transferred from London to Edinburgh.

The sight of Johnson waddling into the debate to block more power for Scotland would act as a powerful motivation for Yes and Johnson’s comments played straight into Yes’s hands.

But Salmond will need a better answer on currency. In the last debate it was hard to understand why he could not simply say that his preferred option was a currency union, but that after a Yes it would be for Scots to decide what they wanted their representatives to negotiate.

A major strength of the Yes campaign up till now was in separating itself from the SNP and Salmond should do that himself.

In the last debate both candidates were guilty of aggression and finger pointing and Salmond in particular cannot afford a repeat performance.

He will need to try and soften his image, while talking up the potential for the power of independence to tackle inequality.

By focusing on child poverty in a debate last year Nicola Sturgeon reduced Alistair Carmichael to pleading “Are you going to stop this?” with the moderator.

Things were not nearly so bad for Salmond against Darling and while there is next to no chance of Sturgeon taking his place, if the First Minister intends to bring public opinion on board it might be worth getting a tip or two from his deputy.