After having a good rant about Labour Party leader Ed Milliband asking one of the stupidest and most poorly-timed questions I've ever heard during Question Time, I returned to my DVR, and watched him...sit down. Which was odd. Because throughout this Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition has gotten five questions at a time, as a way of making up for the Liberal Democrats giving up their two questions during the previous Parliament. (Trust me—the Labour Party gets five, and he only asked three.)
And then we get to this exchange, fourteen minutes in, which...well, here are Milliband's fourth and fifth questions:
Edward Miliband: I want to ask the Prime Minister about Scotland. We on this side of the House believe that the United Kingdom benefits the people of Scotland and the people of the rest of the United Kingdom in equal measure. We are stronger together and weaker apart. Does he agree that we must make the case for the Union—not simply a case against separatism, but the positive case about the shared benefits to us all of Scotland’s part in the United Kingdom: the shared economic interests, the shared institutions such as the NHS, the defence forces and the BBC, and above all the shared values we hold together?
The Prime Minister: I am happy to say that this is an area where the right hon. Gentleman and I will be in 100% agreement. I passionately believe in the future of our United Kingdom, and passionately believe that we are stronger together than we would be by breaking apart. Frankly, I am sad that we are even having this debate, because I support the United Kingdom so strongly, but we have to respect the fact that Scotland voted for a separatist party in the Scottish parliamentary elections, so the first thing that it is right to do is make clear the legal position about a referendum, which is what my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary has been doing. We have made the offer to devolve the power to hold that referendum so that it can be made in Scotland and held in Scotland. Frankly, I look forward to having the debate, because I think that too many in the Scottish National party have been happy to talk about the process but, do not want to talk about the substance. I sometimes feel when I listen to them that it is not a referendum they want, but a “neverendum”. Let us have the debate, and let us keep our country together.
Edward Miliband: May I agree with the Prime Minister? This is not a fight about process between the Westminster Government and the Scottish Government, or between the British Prime Minister and the Scottish First Minister. The way to tackle this issue is to have immediate cross-party talks in Scotland about the timing of the referendum, the nature of the single-question referendum and the vital involvement of the Electoral Commission. Does the Prime Minister also agree with me that we need as soon as possible, as he said, to get beyond process and have that discussion about the substantive issues? This is a momentous decision that our children and grandchildren will have to live with if we get it wrong, so we need a serious, thoughtful and inclusive debate about the choices and the benefits to Scotland of staying in the United Kingdom. On this important issue, the people of our country deserve nothing less than that serious debate about the benefits of the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is right on those three points. On the process of negotiation, which is very important now, particularly given that the SNP has come out and made more clear what it wants to do, I am very happy for the UK Government and the Westminster Parliament to speak directly to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, and let us come to a conclusion about the best time and the best way to hold the referendum. But it must be clear, it must be legal, it must be decisive and it must be fair. Those are the absolute keys. I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman: as soon as those process questions are settled, we need to get on to the substance. [ Interruption. ] The only point I would make about the timing—[ Interruption. ] As SNP Members, who cannot seem to keep quiet, are so keen to leave the United Kingdom, I do not quite understand why they want to put off putting the question for so long.
Let us imagine for a moment the President and Speaker Boehner taking time out from slugging one another to choreograph so nicely a joint address about anything. This set-piece required both Milliband and Prime Minister Cameron to agree on it, and required Speaker John Bercow to agree (since he controls the order of questions). I'm not sure how to reconcile the earlier exchange I mentioned with this one, except to say, everyone seems to agree on the existential issues.
For more on the likelihood of Scotland's independence, here are The Economist and The Guardian.