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Inside Track: Will the Games influence referendum voters?

APART from a couple of minor skirmishes, the Commonwealth Games referendum truce was well observed by the Yes and No camps.

Sensibly so, as few things irritate voters more than politicians attempting to hijack events for their own ends.

That does not mean the Games have been ignored by campaigners, quite the opposite. Before hostilities resume tonight, with the first televised debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, both sides have been trying to weigh up what, if any, impact the Games have had on the independence battle.

Interestingly, there is not much agreement even within the respective camps on the Games effect. Planning their campaign at the outset, Better Together prepared for a modest boost in the polls for the independence cause in the immediate aftermath of the Games. Some campaign insiders still expect that to be the case but others, seeing Scots' enthusiastic and generous support for English, Welsh and Northern Irish athletes, have revised their view. The focus on the "home nations" has been a great advert for the Union, they believe.

There is a range of opinions in the pro-independence camp, too, with some strategists convinced the undoubted feelgood factor, the mood of confidence and optimism generated by the Games has helped create conditions favourable for a Yes vote. Others are less sure about whether the positive mood will translate directly into votes on September 18.

A Survation poll conducted from last Wednesday to Friday, as Scotland's medal haul was piling up, suggested little change, with Yes on 40 per cent (down a point from the firm's previous poll) and No unchanged at 46 per cent. An Ipsos Mori poll due today will provide further clues as to whether the Games have been a game changer.

It is worth reflecting on before tonight's debate grabs all the headlines and catapults us into the frenetic "short" campaign. The STV showdown marks the start of the final phase of the campaign and by tomorrow all discussion will be about whether it has proved a game changer.

Given the high stakes, both sides have been preparing carefully. Better Together's Alistair Darling has been working at home in Edinburgh with campaign spin doctors and strategists playing the role of Alex Salmond. As part of his preparations, the First Minister has again turned to Claire Howell, the psychology consultant who helped soften his image in the run-up to the 2011 Holyrood election. Both sides are conscious they could win the debate but fail to win over voters if they get the style wrong. February's ill-tempered clash between Nicola Sturgeon and Johann Lamont, also on STV, ended in a nil-nil draw neither camp wishes to repeat.

In terms of their approach, the Yes campaign believes Mr Salmond's high personal approval ratings, along with his formidable reputation in debate, will give him the edge. Better Together, by contrast, wants to de-personalise the encounter and present it as an opportunity to seek answers from the First Minister on an independent Scotland's currency and other issues. The bookies make Mr Salmond clear favourite - but the pollsters will deliver the final verdict in the days ahead.

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