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Debate: snap poll declares Darling winner

An instant ICM poll of viewers has found that Alistair Darling has won tonight's live debate by 56% to 44%.

Other findings from think tank Demos showed that from Twitter's response to the Scottish independent debate via the #ScotDecides hashtag, both participants received significantly more negative tweets than positive tweets, with Alex Salmond slightly more polarising than Alistair Darling.

The majority of tweets measured came from Scotland, 37.7% were from England, 157 tweets from Wales and 139 tweets from Northern Ireland.

The Scotland Decides live televised debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, as expected, discussed currency, the economy, tuition fees and pensions as well as the leaders fielding questions from the audience.

The debate was hosted in Glasgow's Royal Conservatoire by STV's Political Editor Bernard Ponsonby, and had an audience of mixed Yes and No supporters, as well as currently undecided voters.

To get the debate underway, members of the studio audience articulated some of the themes of the night.

In his opening statement, Salmond said independence is "the opportunity of a lifetime."

Alistair Darling's opener talked of family, country, economy and the First Minister's "blind faith."

Salmond went on to claim that a majority of people voted SNP in 2011, when it was in fact 45%.

The second half of the debate involved both leaders given 12 minutes each to question each other.

As expected, currency proved a contentious topic. The Sunday Herald political editor Tom Gordon tweeted: "X-examination begins with Alistair Darling asking Salmond about a Plan B for the currency. Salmond brings out script from Newsnight."

The Herald columnist David Torrance tweeted: "Darling finally comes to life! Audience booing Salmond. FM was never going to be on strong ground re: proposed currency union"

Darling finished his questioning as it was started, with probes into currency and economy.

Salmond opened his segment with a direct question to Darling about "why his party choose to call themselves Project Fear." Darling rebutted the claim.

Salmond continued with questions about various scare sctories in the media. Darling replied with "You are being ridiculous."

Salmond continuously pushed Darling about whether he agreed with David Cameron over whether Scotland could be a "successful independent country." Darling appeared to avoid answering directly with yes or no.

The debate was then turned to the audience who posed a range of questions, including one member who asked Salmond "why can't you tell us what Plan B is rather than just saying 'it'll be alright on the night'?"

At this point in the debate, HeraldScotland's Twitterendum tool, which gauges the sentiment of social media users' tweets, showed that 27% were in favour of No, while 73% were Yes.

The audience members continued to put tough questions to Salmond, with one man accusing him of making "snide" comments.

Political editor Tom Gordon tweeted: "Debate almost exclusively about the finances of independence so far. Shows where the public priority is."

Herald columnist David Torrance tweeted: "Salmond steps away from the podium to answer questions from the audience. Good look - engaging & a bit more intimate."

The debate then turned to matters of tuition fees.

"The rocks will melt with the sun before I see tuition fees imposed on people of Scotland," said Salmond.

Darling then pushed Salmond on the SNP plan to charge students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland tuition fees, but not Scottish students under independence.

An audience member the asked about pensions. To that, Salmond claimed there would be "no disruption" and possibly more money. Darling countered this by warning of percentage of working age population declining, which would make pensions tougher to fund.

"State pensions depends on the wealth of a country," claimed Darling. "It really all comes down to the money."

The debate finally moved to the closing statements. 

Mr Darling said too much of the debate had been "characterised by guesswork, blind faith and crossed fingers".

He said: "That's no way to decide the future of our children. I don't want to see our children's future gambled away.

"I want to have the best of both worlds - that's the best way of ensuring we have opportunity and security, not just for our generation but for the generations to come."

Mr Darling added: "I want to tear down the barriers to increasing wealth and opportunities, I want to make sure that we live in a country that is as secure as possible.

"In just six weeks time we will make the biggest single decision that most of us have ever made in our lifetime and it's important that we get it right, because if we vote to leave there is no going back."

In his closing address, Mr Salmond said there were "three big reasons" why Scotland should be independent.

He told the audience: "If we're independent we get the government we vote for at each and every election.

"Secondly we know that Scotland is a wealthy nation with abundant natural resources. With independence we can turn that prosperous economy into a just society.

"And finally no one will ever govern Scotland better than the people who live and work in Scotland - we'll always make the best decisions about Scotland's future."

The SNP leader concluded: "Voting yes is a vote for ambition over fear. It tells the world that Scotland is an equal nation that carries itself with confidence and self-belief. "This is our moment - let's take it."

Tom Gordon concluded by tweeting: "ICM snap poll gives debate to Darling by 56 to 44."

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