First Minister has suffered his Wizard of Oz moment - he can't put curtain back in place

THANKS to two big election victories, something of a myth has been built around Alex Salmond in recent years - the master politician whose touch turns everything to gold.

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As someone who cross-examines him every week in the Scottish Parliament, I don't doubt his ability to use every trick in the book to duck and weave his way out of a tight corner.

But a week on from his disastrous showing in the first independence TV debate, it may be that the First Minister has suffered his Wizard of Oz moment.

In front of a huge TV audience last week, which matched the numbers who tune in for Old Firm matches, the First Minister visibly struggled to answer the most basic question about independence: what currency will we use?

And in that moment, the curtain was drawn back and people were able to see a politician - diminished and furiously back-peddling - desperately trying to pull the levers that normally work so well, yet now were letting him down.

In the wake of the debate, the recriminations within the Nationalist camp centred on the suggestion that Mr Salmond had had a bad night. Wrong. He lost because the independence plan he has decided to sell doesn't make sense. Under the TV lights, and faced by the forensic questioning of Alistair Darling, his position on the currency was finally exposed for the fantasy that it is.

He wants a currency union - to have a divorce but to keep the joint bank account. But as pointed out at First Minister's Questions last week, that's not in his gift to give. It takes two to tango and the Chancellor, Shadow Chancellor and Chief Secretary to the Treasury have all ruled it out.

As the Governor of the Bank of England has made clear, currency unions mean that both sides need to give up some sovereignty in order to make them work. That begs the question: why would the rest of the UK agree to give up some of its fiscal and monetary autonomy so as to stand behind Scottish banks?

Not surprisingly, polls show that people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have said no thanks to this deal, by a margin of two to one. These are the facts and they cannot be avoided, no matter how hard Alex Salmond might try.

His Plan A is dead. He therefore needs to set out his Plan B. Will it be the Euro, a separate Scottish currency or sterlingisation? In recent days Salmond and his team appear to be favouring the latter. But while quips about it "being Scotland's pound too" might rally the faithful, the majority of Scots know the truth - that this is just more bluster. A debt default, no central bank and the currency of a foreign country is such a disastrous option that it was immediately dismissed by his own advisers.

As of last week, we've now all seen the reality behind the Salmond's myth. And no amount of bravado will help him put the curtain back in place.


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