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A vital month for political debate

There is now just one month to go to the biggest constitutional decision to be made in the UK for 300 years, a decision keenly awaited by the whole country, but resting wholly in the hands of Scottish voters.

At this milestone, the latest two polls suggest that, although the Yes campaign has failed to make the decisive breakthrough it must have hoped for by this stage, it is certainly not a write-off following First Minister Alex Salmond's poorer-than-anticipated performance against Alistair Darling in the first TV debate between the two.

In both polls the Yes camp makes gains, though ICM also indicates that undecideds are more likely to vote No than Yes. There is a slog to the finish line in prospect.

That being so, the momentum on both sides is building. Alex Salmond will today appeal to Scots' sense of history by evoking the Declaration of Arbroath and perhaps a little of the Braveheart spirit, something he has eschewed until now. Meanwhile, Better Together screens its first television broadcast and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander goes on a tour of the country.

At this important juncture, The Herald is beginning extended daily in-depth coverage of the referendum as part of our ongoing commitment to provide news and analysis even-handedly in relation to both sides, and offering comment arguing the case passionately from both points of view.

Additionally, in early September, a Herald debate is planned with figures from the Yes and No camps discussing the key issues. Emotions and the tug of the heart will undoubtedly play their part in determining how people cast their ballot, but voters also have a crucial need for clear, accessible information to make up their minds.

One of the biggest criticisms of the debate so far has been its bewildering nature, characterised so often by assertion and counter-assertion, leaving onlookers not knowing whom to believe.

The entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter has tersely observed that voters have been "enveloped by a thick fog of obfuscation". To help voters navigate their way through the thicket of claims and denials, it has been a key role of The Herald over the last two years not only to present the claims made but to scrutinise, analyse and evaluate them, with equal rigour on both sides. We will continue to do so, highlighting the flaws where we see them.

So what shape will the debate now take? Certainly the future of the pound will be high on the agenda, put there by the No side, while Yes will seek to characterise the vote as being about the future of the NHS. Polls show the NHS is second only to the economy and jobs in voters' list of priorities.

In his next TV debate with Mr Darling, however, the First Minister will be under pressure to produce some convincing evidence to support his controversial assertion that privatisation of some health services in England would threaten the Scottish NHS budget, a claim that has greatly puzzled many observers.

Expect this and much more besides. Scotland's political debate has never been so engaging - or so important.

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