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September 21, 2017

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Scottish independence leader seen as debate victor

LONDON--Campaign leaders clashed over Scotland's future in a fiery final TV showdown, with the pro-independence side hoping a strong showing will give them momentum as postal voting begins on Tuesday.

Pro-independence Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond emerged the clear winner in a snap Guardian/ICM poll in which 71 percent said the Scottish first minister had bested his opponent, "No" campaign leader Alistair Darling, excluding "undecideds."

But experts questioned whether the victory would be enough to bridge a stubborn gap in polls, in which the Yes Scotland campaign has long lagged behind the anti-independence Better Together.

The debate was heated, with the two rivals interrupting, challenging and talking over each other on topics that ranged from what currency an independent Scotland would use, oil reserves, defense, to the fate of the National Health Service (NHS).

In his opening statement, Salmond underlined the historic nature of the decision, saying that 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 ... We are a rich nation and a resourceful people. We can create a rich nation and a more fair society," Salmond said.

In return, Darling sought to sow doubt in Salmond's vision, saying the details were not clear enough and emphasizing uncertainty over what currency an independent Scotland would use.

Salmond is "asking us to take his word for it on everything. No plan B for anything. Trust what he says? Sorry, I can't," Darling rebutted.

The pro-independence camp was 14 points behind in the latest YouGov poll for The Times last week, which said 43 percent of respondents would vote "Yes" to the split compared to 57 percent who would vote "No."

However, the gap between the two camps appears to have narrowed slightly in recent weeks.

"Certainly most commentators will reckon that probably Mr. Salmond was the winner tonight, but whether he has done enough to move the numbers I think may be another question," politics and polling expert John Curtice of Scotland's University of Strathclyde told BBC News.

Almost a fifth of voters are expected to begin receiving their ballots by post on Tuesday ahead of referendum day on Sept. 18.

Currency Question

Darling was quick to bring the debate to the question of what currency an independent Scotland would use — perceived as a weak point for the Yes Scotland campaign in the past.

But this time Salmond seemed on stronger footing as he insisted that a vote for independence would give him a mandate to demand a currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom, an idea that the three main parties in Westminster have rejected.

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