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TV review: victory for Salmond, but BBC also loses to STV

They made space in Kelvingrove tonight by clearing out the fossils, stuffed otters and the giant elephant.

I can't say the fine old museum looked better for having concealed its treasures. It replaced them with two politicians, both of whom were nicely warm, dry and talcumed after their desperate grab for YouTube votes earlier this week, but there were signs on social media that some are getting weary of the campaign or, at least, of the same faces reciting the same phrases: Plan B, Project Fear, oil reserves.

So are we tired of it all? Would we rather they'd kept the stuffed otters on display?

Salmond didn't begin with promise. I'd been expecting extravagance and vigour to try and overcome his poor show in the last debate but he went for the safe option, listing the goodies Holyrood has given us: free personal care and no tuition fees and then the bad stuff Westminster apparently forces on us: bedroom tax and nukes. Nothing new here, then. These are old, weary words which any slabbery toddler could recite if you just handed them a sweetie and asked them what Salmond thinks.

Darling was no better. He opened with the old chestnut of Plan B which is a phrase so sodden with repetition it just makes him look timid and tired. He seemed to have retreated back into his familiar 'bank manager' shell, perhaps unwilling to gamble on another uncharacteristic display of spirit which saw him 'win' the last debate.

Incredibly, the audience were equally as dull. 'Would we be financially safe in an independent Scotland?' was the first question and I challenge you to think of one more boring. There was a priest on Father Ted who might have managed it. They could have got him on to ask 'what's your favourite raffle ticket number?'

The question was so open-ended and flimsy it allowed the politician to skate off in any direction he pleased. It's also a pointless question, so adds nothing to the debate: there can't ever be guarantees of financial safety in any country. Globalisation has seen to that. So this watery question allowed Darling to wander over old arguments on currency and the nation surely sighed and sunk low into its sofa.

But when Salmond's turn came we sat up. To the question 'will we be safe' he answered bluntly, 'Yes we will' and came out from his podium to speak bravely and plainly of sharing the pound, reminding Darling that 'we don't need permission to use our own currency'.

He was keen and composed whereas Darling was simply back to being Darling.

The first half hour was taken up with oil and currency, both worthy and essential but never likely to fire up the audience who remained unnaturally sedate. If the indyref debate is a meal, currency is the broccoli. If these men want to engage the audience - and the huge swathe of the electorate who don't bother to vote - they need to dish up pudding sometimes: jobs and schools and hospitals.

The second question was another predictable bore: 'what would be the best for an independent Scotland?' Again, you've heard this question put to them a thousand times and it certainly doesn't force them onto anything specific.

The audience finally perked when discussing the NHS. Darling was furiously mocked when he accused Salmond of scare-mongering about privatisation. That was a terrible error which showed contempt for the audience.

He tried to edge his way back to safe territory by returning to the currency issue but this threw up a tremendous moan from the audience. 'I've heard of one-trick ponies,' said Salmond, gleefully catching the mood.

The debate now belonged to Alex Salmond. Once he was unshackled from the repetitive sniping about Plan B he excelled, especially on the 'bedroom tax' and child poverty, issues closer to people's hearts than whose smug face adorns our bank notes. Darling again stumbled, misjudging the mood and adopting a dismissive tone. 'Too many children are moving into poverty!' he declared, as though it was their own fault. Will those council-house brats never bloody learn?

Salmond was now charging ahead under social issues and took the audience with him, and they were now noisy as an audience should be. An obedient, respectful audience would be the kiss of death to any debate.

Admittedly, Salmond did seem a bit too pleased with himself at times. Having the crowd cheering at his back, it teetered on the verge of pantomime. 'Name three job creating powers!' he kept yelling, turning the debate into a tipsy parlour game.

Glenn Campbell was invisible by now, doing nothing to control or restrain or guide. This was a particular omission as the audience seemed heavily biased in favour of Yes. I began to feel sorry for Darling but, with politics as with sex, once you feel pity for a man, it's over.

We finally moved onto Trident. Darling bumbled again, making the pitiful argument that Trident creates jobs, therefore it's good. I believe Auschwitz employed a few people too, as did the Southern cotton plantations. A pathetic argument yet, again and again, he clung to the mantra '8,000 jobs', just as he can't help repeating Plan B. It demonstrated again his eerie detachment from the mood of the audience.

Salmond seeks to connect with them by wandering on the podium, but Darling's little attempt - saying 'haud on' - backfired. His verve and spirit from the first debate was gone. It seemed his mum had dished out his pocket money - 'you've got £2 worth of charisma, now don't use it all up at once!' - but it was too late. Like any kid, he spent it all in the first shop and had none left for tonight.

So if we can reduce this to winners and losers, Darling lost, but the BBC also lost to STV. They chose to place the opponents close together with no moderator physically between them, but this approach failed: the debate wasn't enhanced by their proximity, but lost under whoops, shouting and pointing, and wispy Glenn Campbell receded from sight.

None of this will matter to Alex Salmond though, who'll be happy with tonight's result but he must know that such a noisy display does nothing to sway undecided voters.

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