I ended my marriage to create a healthier, happier family...I want that for Scotland too
Tuesday 16 September 2014 / Opinion

THE Scottish independence referendum process has coincided almost exactly with the amicable, intentional but disorientating break-up of my marriage.

That micro-scale process of separation took me into bewildering, distressing territory last year, hopping with a carry-on case between the spare rooms of pals for a couple of months, waking to remember that my kids were rising from sleep somewhere else, and moving initially into a depressing wee corner of a house with little more than a camping mat, a sleeping bag, a kettle and a sunflower-yellow deckchair.

Metaphors that compare the political union of the UK to a marriage are overused, tired and flawed.

Nevertheless, I believe that the ways in which we make sense of the vast emotional landscape laid bare by the independence question itself - our bone-deep notions of solidarity and commitment, separation and abandonment, autonomy and co-dependence, security and risk - are formed in the fullness of our individual experiences and choices in this world.

This is not only heart stuff. It informs how we receive and make sense of information, how we consider what's relevant and important to us in the arguments presented. What we value and what we reject is revealed in the assumptions we make and the questions that we pose, and in how we identify the resources we think we can muster to cope, and even, eventually, thrive.

The arena of politics, our imminent decision about Scottish independence, reverberates with the sounds of our own lives; with those we love and have loved, with our hopes and fears, our accumulated triumphs, grief and losses. This does not make us irrational. It makes us human.

The imagined steely eyes of the head that we're asked to deploy when faced with numbers about possible independence - about reasonable oil barrel estimations, tax rates and revenues, public spending and national debt - these eyes are situated in flesh. We reach for metaphors that look or sound a bit like us, a bit like what we know.

And so the entrepreneur might weigh up a prospective independent Scotland as if it were an investment opportunity, while the established business owner promotes the UK as a familiar trusted brand.

The architect might envisage a future nation as a building project, while the psychologist talks about Scotland, or the UK, as if it were a client in need of therapy. But there is no view without a lens.

I have many lenses, as do all of us. And yet despite the imperfect fit of the Union as marriage metaphor, it's the perspective of a soon-to-be divorcee, a mother of two young kids, with visceral recent experience of carving a dignified and mutually respectful kind of separation from the father of my children, that informs my own Yes vote.

I made the decision to end my marriage in order to create, with my ex-partner, a new kind of family structure that would enable us all to be healthier, happier and kinder, more creative, energetic and united in our separation. This is exactly what I want for Scotland, too.

I did not leave my family home because I hoped or expected to be wealthier. There's little economic sense in reducing two household incomes to one.

But some things mean more than this. And in any case, my experience of separation has rekindled a sense of financial responsibility and a far greater awareness of how I make my own money, what I'm willing and able to dedicate and sacrifice to that end, how I spend it, and what it's for. I want that kind of fiscal awareness, vision and prudence for Scotland too. We need to know where our money comes from and where it goes. We need to feel we can influence the decisions that affect this.

I can't honestly say that the break-up of my marriage has enhanced my security or stability. Indeed, these featured in my estimations largely as things I knew I'd have to compromise upon in the short term in order to imagine, invent and establish a better life for my family.

Separation has been, often, a practical and emotional guddle: a mire of documentation that needs to be altered, the urgent need for a tool that I've just remembered is no longer mine, the absence of anyone to cook alongside.

Marital separation, as I understand it, has been hard work. It has also been necessary and right. It's required new forms of communication and an acknowledgment of frustrating but unavoidable co-dependencies. It has necessitated a radical reorientation of relationships and resources, in a climate almost hard-wired for conflict, an environment in which parents are viewed as winners and losers of their own children.

This is a reality for many people. But it needn't be. And I refuse to base my hopes about the kind of family or the kind of country I want to live in on the cruellest and most limiting forms of human behaviour.

I don't expect everyone to think or act like me. Nor do I assume that any possible reshaping of the British Isles would be as peaceable or reasonable as my experience of marital separation. Still, I believe it's necessary and right.

In these final few weeks of discussion and decision about the referendum, I've heard a repeated critical narrative about decided Yes voters like myself. That is: to vote Yes is to have succumbed to a sentimental and otherworldly optimism, and to have been infected with a kind of narcissistic hope that makes reasonable risk assessment and sound analysis impossible.

To vote Yes is to be suspiciously free of doubt and beguiled by false certainties of a more egalitarian, just and wealthy future for us all.

The dominant Yes narrative itself speaks to this kind of visioning and makes too much of disparaging No-voting caricatures: at best, unnecessarily pessimistic and at worst cowardly, elitist and self-seeking.

My Yes is not predicated on presumed certainties and guarantees about the fairness of the future, though I confess to a crushing sense of inevitability that nothing will shift otherwise. It's rooted instead in a desire for engagement, agency, responsibility and hands-on graft in the crafting of something that does not yet exist.

I'm not riding a wave of Yes euphoria. I'm afraid: afraid of those markets that govern so much, and that I still fail to understand; afraid of the scope for spite and recriminations in the event of a Yes vote because profound hurt, shock, and a sense of having been affronted, mitigates often against reasonableness and good sense.

And yet I am emboldened. I am resolute.

Without a belief that things can be otherwise, and maybe even better, nothing can change. The re-imagining and remaking of my family has taught me that change is risky, that transitions are messy.

It means sketching new charts to navigate places that were once familiar, but which look suddenly strange. It is easy to feel lost. But when you are lost already, alienated from your own home, change is necessary, and change is right.

That is why I am voting Yes.

Leave a comment

Please or register to post.

Add comment