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I despair at how quickly couples give up on each other – but then, what do I know about dating?

I sometimes wonder how the hell I’d cope nowadays.

I’ve realised as my kids have become teenagers, and begun moving into the stage of relationships, that I can give them no dating advice at all, as my experience is so skewed and unrepresentative. I’ve been with Ben now for 35 years, and I have never been on what you’d call a grown-up date. Maybe this is why I love TV dating shows. They’re anthropologically interesting to me, like wildlife programmes.

It started with Blind Date, which now seems quaintly old-fashioned, Cilla performing a finely judged balancing act between the risqué and the prudish, reining in guests before they went too far, reminding us all, with her frequent mentions of getting a hat, that she hoped the contestants were looking for love and not just a shag. Take Me Out was more obviously shag-based, the daters flying off to the imaginary Isle of Fernando’s (Tenerife), and having to endure a bungee jump or an afternoon in a canoe before getting down to cocktails and eye contact.

Then came First Dates, which I love not least because the maître d’, French Fred, bears more than a passing resemblance to Ben, with his salt-and-pepper beard and that twinkly look in his eye. His USP is the tongue-in-cheek meaningless aphorism, fridge-magnet clichés delivered with a knowing carelessness: “Love is like a beautiful summer’s day. When there are clouds, you have to look beyond, and see the sunset over the hill . . .”

I also love the Blind Date page in the Saturday Guardian magazine and the brilliant weekly post-match analysis by The Guyliner. Now revealed to be the writer Justin Myers, The Guyliner has a deal with Little, Brown for two novels, which I look forward to with great excitement, as his commentary is hilarious and barbed but also (see his relationship advice for Gay Times) enormously sympathetic and humane.

I like to think that I’m sympathetic and not just watching for the lolz. I’ve seen friends using various dating apps and it’s helped me understand the awkwardness of adult dating. Not least because a date is so often dinner. I can’t imagine anything worse, or more clinical. How can you fancy anyone when all your energy is going into trying not to eat like Ed Miliband? Nightmare.

But my age shows most in my frustration at couples’ inability to spot a good match when presented with one. Their perfectionism, their checklists of attributes any potential partner must possess, their unforgiving insistence on spark and chemistry. I once wrote the lyric “You say the magic’s gone/Well I’m not a magician/You say the spark’s gone/Well get an electrician” and I stand by those words. It’s an overrated way of trying to judge compatibility. I despair when couples give up before there’s time for the smallest flame to ignite.

Still, what do I know? My only real experience is of teenage dating forty years ago, which was altogether different. You hung out first in a crowd. Or you met on the dance floor, or at a party. You sized each other up, gave each other the eye, had a snog, got a whiff of each other’s pheromones. The spark was already ignited, then you maybe had a date, which was never dinner and was still mostly snogging, and then you talked on the phone to get to know each other. It was rudimentary, but it worked.

I sometimes wonder how the hell I’d cope nowadays. I can’t help imagining the pitfalls that would lie in wait for me – minor celebrity, semi-VIP – if, God forbid, anything happened to propel me back on to the dating scene. Imagine turning up on a blind date. Option 1: he recognises me, and is a fan (run). Option 2: he recognises me, but is not a fan (preferable, but still, awks). Option 3: he doesn’t recognise me, and then comes the “So what do you do?” bit and he’s either a) embarrassed and apologetic (awks) or b) super-interested and wants to catch up on everything he’s missed (dull).The very thought is terrifying.

As Carrie Fisher says, in my favourite line from When Harry Met Sally: “Tell me I’ll never have to be out there again.”

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 04 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Russian Revolution

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Nicola Sturgeon is betting on Brexit becoming real before autumn 2018

Second independence referendum plans have been delayed but not ruled out.

Three months after announcing plans for a second independence referendum, and 19 days after losing a third of her Scottish National Party MPs, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon booted the prospect of a second independence referendum into the heather. 

In a statement at Holyrood, Sturgeon said she felt her responsibility as First Minister “is to build as much unity and consensus as possible” and that she had consulted “a broad spectrum of voices” on independence.

She said she had noted a “commonality” among the views of the majority, who were neither strongly pro or anti-independence, but “worry about the uncertainty of Brexit and worry about the clarity of what it means”. Some “just want a break from making political decisions”.

This, she said had led her to the conclusion that there should be a referendum reset. Nevertheless: "It remains my view and the position of this government that at the end of this Brexit process the Scottish people should have a choice about the future of our country." 

This "choice", she suggested, was likely to be in autumn 2018 – the same time floated by SNP insiders before the initial announcement was made. 

The Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie responded: “The First Minister wishes to call a referendum at a time of her choosing. So absolutely nothing has changed." In fact, there is significance in the fact Sturgeon will no longer be pursuing the legislative process needed for a second referendum. Unlike Theresa May, say, she has not committed herself to a seemingly irreversable process.

Sturgeon’s demand for a second independence referendum was said to be partly the result of pressure from the more indy-happy wing of the party, including former First Minister Alex Salmond. The First Minister herself, whose constituency is in the former Labour stronghold of Glasgow, has been more cautious, and is keenly aware that the party can lose if it appears to be taking the electorate for granted. 

In her speech, she pledged to “put our shoulder to the wheel” in Brexit talks, and improve education and the NHS. Yet she could have ruled out a referendum altogether, and she did not. 

Sturgeon has framed this as a “choice” that is reasonable, given the uncertainties of Brexit. Yet as many of Scotland’s new Labour MPs can testify, opposition to independence on the doorstep is just as likely to come from a desire to concentrate on public services and strengthening a local community as it is attachment to a more abstract union. The SNP has now been in power for 10 years, and the fact it suffered losses in the 2017 general election reflects the perception that it is the party not only for independence, but also the party of government.

For all her talk of remaining in the single market, Sturgeon will be aware that it will be the bread-and-butter consequences of Brexit, like rising prices, and money redirected towards Northern Ireland, that will resonate on the doorstep. She will also be aware that roughly a third of SNP voters opted for Brexit

The general election result suggests discontent over local or devolved issues is currently overriding constitutional matters, whether UK-wide or across the EU. Now Brexit talks with a Tory-DUP government have started, this may change. But if it does not, Sturgeon will be heading for a collision with voter choice in the autumn of 2018. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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