Leaders pull out of PMQs because of Scotland: a show of desperation?

The three main party leaders have put out a joint statement saying they won't partake in Prime Minister's Questions tomorrow, because they want to concentrate on the Scottish referendum campaign.

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Amid gleeful accusations from the Yes side of being "panic-stricken", the three pro-Union party leaders have, well, panicked.

They have just released a joint statement saying that they will be pulling out of the weekly Commons calendar staple, Prime Minister's Questions, tomorrow. This is because they all want to concentrate on rescuing the Union from the Scottish nationalists, whose campaign has been gaining rapid momentum in the past week.

Here's the statement:

Joint statement from David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg

“There is a lot that divides us - but there's one thing on which we agree passionately: the United Kingdom is better together.

“That’s why all of us are agreed the right place for us to be tomorrow is in Scotland, not at Prime Minister’s Questions in Westminster.

“We want to be listening and talking to voters about the huge choice they face.

“Our message to the Scottish people will be simple: ‘We want you to stay.’”

David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg

The question and answer session will still go ahead, but with stand-ins: deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman versus William Hague, representing the government. 

Abandoning PMQs, one of the most high-profile parliamentary set-pieces each week, is a show of insecurity. It gives the impression that the three leaders have decided to desert their posts in London to leg it up to Scotland in a desperate last-minute bid to save the Union. Parliament has only just returned after summer recess; the House returned last Monday. To go rogue not even two weeks in is a show of panic. It's acts of desperation like this that will play into Alex Salmond's hands; he has already been accusing pro-Union figures of being "panic-stricken".

Also, will it really help now if they go up to Scotland and sing the importance of the Union? The three leaders have had to keep a relatively low profile in the referendum campaign. Cameron due to being a Tory, Ed because he's English, and doesn't seem to cut through every time he does cross the border, and Clegg again for his Westminster-centric, non-Scottish credentials. It's sensible that they haven't been incessantly speaking at Scottish voters, telling them what to do. If they begin to go back on this approach now, out of nerves, they could risk a hell of a lot more than having one slightly preoccupied bout of PMQs.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

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