If they survive the seven year itch and the midlife crisis, there is every expectation that married couples will stay together through the golden years of later life. Sadly this is not always the case and last year, after 25 years together, Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver called it a day on their marriage and they have since been working out a detailed settlement on how to divide their combined $400 million fortune. Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond must wish that things were that simple for his country’s divorce from the United Kingdom. But the decision to call a referendum on the 305 year relationship simply establishes that his countrymen can vote in the autumn of 2014 on whether or not a split will take place and does not deal with issues like who gets the CD collection or custody of the dog. Unlike Schwarzenegger, who has played a cautious hand and managed to keep the couple’s marital home and no doubt much of his personal fortune, Salmond is risking everything, including his party’s political future, on this one issue.
Scottish divorce law hinges on a “clean break” philosophy, but nothing could be further from reality for Salmond and his SNP colleagues. They attempted to include a second question in the national ballot which included ceding further powers from London to Holyrood, known as “devo max”, but this has been shelved well before the intention to vote was even announced. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister described the move as “a concession” but I can’t help thinking that The Terminator would be none too impressed.
Although Salmond’s one-issue stand may be heroic, rather like William Wallace, I can’t help suspecting that he is ultimately doomed. The SNP has an enormous challenge to convince the electorate that the finer details of Scottish Independence should be given lock stock and barrel to the SNP while little is known about their wider policies other than their desire to disable nuclear weapons. Unless the SNP is able to make a compelling case and convince the Scots that they will be better off, safer and stronger on their own, it is likely that the majority will opt to play safe and stay with the long-suffering spouse, the United Kingdom. In January 2012 Professor John Curtice’s poll indicated that between 32% and 38% of Scots wanted independence, but this month a poll had the figure as low as 28%.
It is also important to note that in divorce terms, the rest of the UK is not exactly begging Scotland to unpack its suitcase and stay. An ICM poll earlier this year showed that more people backed Scottish independence in England than in Scotland although these views will not be taken into account as no referendum is being offered south of the border. Will Alex Salmond and the SNP survive the 2014 referendum and rule the country like a tartan-clad Terminator or will he be hung drawn and quartered by the Scottish electorate like poor Wallace? It will certainly be worth watching.