Alex Salmond v Alistair Darling: A historic Scottish independence TV debate deserving of an English audience

Chris Boffey is a former news editor of the Observer, Sunday Telegraph and the Mirror and onetime special adviser to the Labour government.

This country is facing the biggest change in its constitution in more than 300 years, a decision that surpasses the granting of universal suffrage. We are talking about the break up of the United Kingdom.

Salmond and Darling go head-to-head on STV tomorrow

The momentous event could happen this year if Scotland votes 'yes' to independence and yet, despite the massive implications both north and south of the border, there is just one televised debate between the two sides currently scheduled – and that is being aired only on STV, only in Scotland and does not even involve the prime minister of the UK.

The television companies could argue that only those living in Scotland have a vote, that there is limited interest in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and that if David Cameron won't join the face-to-face debate, why should they bother?

But this is history in the making, and as a public broadcasting service the BBC should have been forced to show nationwide the clash between Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party leader and Alistair Darling, figurehead of the anti-independence group, even if it clashed with Eastenders. You cannot get the debate on the 'red button'. For heaven's sake, you could get lawn green bowls on the 'red button' during the Commonwealth Games. Any future debate should be beamed nationwide

Just as shameful as the vast majority of the country being unable to watch the debate is Cameron's decision not to take part, but at least he has a powerful, if not particularly moral, reason. He is a Tory, and let's face it, in Scotland, would be on a loser from the very start. That is why Salmond was desperate to lure him on to the rostrum, and will use his non-appearance as an abrogation of responsibility.

So tomorrow night it will be the Alex and Alistair show. In the blue corner is Salmond, probably the most cunning and most clever politician on either side of the border, and boy does he know it. During the rehearsals for the debate he will have been told not to preen, not to show off and not to give the impression of a man who who sends himself Valentine's cards.

In the red, white and blue corner is Darling; steady, reliable. The man who, as chancellor of the exchequer, stood strong when the world went into an economic spiral. A man who knows how to load a dishwasher and separates the whites from the colours when doing the weekly laundry.

Both men know there are two audiences when they face off: the pundits and the people. In all probability the politirati will decide that Salmond is the winner, but Darling knows his target is the people, particularly female voters.

The 'No' campaign strategy is firmly entrenched in the economic argument. Darling will have to balance the threat to the Scots of losing the pound, losing stability and facing financial turmoil against the accusations of Westminster bullying and negativity. His pollsters have recognised that women are more likely to be swayed by the economic argument rather than a more reckless Braveheart approach.

Salmond will point out that Scotland going it alone will no longer be under the Tory yoke, pointing out that even if every Scottish voter in the 2015 general election voted Labour, Cameron could still be prime minister. Salmond will endeavour to be upbeat and positive, Darling pragmatic and reasonable.

You would like to think there would be a moment to rival the 1988 US vice-presidential debate when Lloyd Bentsen memorably filleted the vice-presidential candidate, senator Dan Quayle, after he compared himself to John F Kennedy.

Bentsen replied: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

Somehow, the phrase "you're no Danny Alexander" doesn't have the same ring to it, and for the vast majority, unless they watch the debate online with STV Player, they may never know.

Outside Scotland but want to watch the debate? Here's how you can see it tonight.

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