Is it time to break up with the independence divorce analogy?
Relations with its partner have cooled and Scotland has been eyeing up a Scandinavian love affair for years. It is no surprise a divorce is being considered.
Over and over, we are told Scottish independence would be like a messy divorce. Given that it would involved 64.1 million people – rather than the more traditional two – it would seem a messier one than most.
In some ways the analogy makes sense – Scotland and the rest of the UK have shared experiences as well as shared assets which would need to be divided up after a Yes vote.
During the concerted intervention on a shared pound, Danny Alexander said: “Alex Salmond cannot honestly expect that Scotland would walk away from the rest of the UK, but taxpayers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would still agree to stand behind the Scottish economy.”
“It is like embarking on a damaging divorce, and insisting we should still share a credit card.”
JK Rowling’s use of the analogy was more poignant, writing: “my guess is that if we vote to stay, we will be in the heady position of the spouse who looked like walking out, but decided to give things one last go.”
Perhaps the best example of the analogy was presented in a conversation between well-known political commentator Richard Madeley and former reality TV contestant Katie Hopkins.
Discussing independence Madeley said: “It’s a bit like a couple, isn’t it? And one of the couple is saying, you know, ‘I think I’m going to walk out, I don’t think I want to be with you anymore,’ and the other one says, ‘fine, go on then, I can get by without you,’ that seems to me to be the psychological dynamic that is beginning to emerge.”
Hopkins then followed Madeley’s analysis – the psychological equivalent of home-brew – to add: “Well the weird thing is Richard, the one who said, ‘I think I might be leaving you’, then also says, ‘but also I am going to take the house, the car, the dog – all the best bits – your queen, your money, Doctor Who’.”
Now not many couples have to split ownership of the Queen in the course of a divorce. Even a cursory glance at the analogy shows it is problematic.
For a start, there are not two parties in the separation but four – if the UK is a marriage it is a pretty polygamous one.
And at least one of the parties in this wacky Mormon-type set up – Wales – is also considering separation.
Scotland has been eyeing up an affair with its healthier neighbours in Scandinavia while also trying to learn lessons from the exit of a previously maltreated member of the set-up – Ireland. It is not at all clear how the EU comes into the comparison.
It may be much easier to imagine a couple dividing up the CD collection (it looks like they will get Bowie) than institutions like the Bank of England or the British Army – but that is precisely what is wrong with the analogy.
It is hard to imagine something as abstract as splitting up a pensions system, but that is the point – calling it a divorce is too simplistic.
The flaw in the analogy is so obvious it is almost not worth saying – states are not people.
Now just because the divorce analogy is flawed does not mean separation would be easy. In would be hard and it is possible that members of Team Scotland will come to regret that prenuptial agreements were not in fashion in 1707.
The four countries will need to have relations in the event of a Yes vote. Unlike a divorcing couple nations do not have the option of moving to a different bit of land. We will need to get on.
If the vote does go in favour of independence, it might be better all round if talk moves from divorce towards ‘conscious uncoupling’.