My marriage has become a kind of devo max and our children are the Forties oilfield. Stay with me

We’re formally under a union but technically going about our very different lives.

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Well, that was a bit of a let-down in the end, wasn’t it? I mean the Scottish referendum, which I’m sure, as I write (blearily, the morning after the count), everyone will have forgotten about by now. I’m joking, I think. Maybe not.

I’d been pretty obsessed by the matter for months and the children had told me to stop asking what they thought about it some time in June. Yet so fascinated was I by my train of thought, and the increasingly fraught mood of Scotland and England (if anyone asked the Welsh what they thought, I didn’t see the answer, and as for Northern Ireland . . .), that I offered to write, for free (such selfless generosity!), a piece for OurKingdom, Adam Ramsay’s excellent blog on the subject.

I proposed, even though I knew I was not the first person to have thought of this, to approach it by the metaphor of the disintegrating marriage. Mr Ramsay, too polite to roll his eyes at this, gently let it be known that perhaps I could come up with another metaphor.

I never did, because it all got so weird and confusing, and in the past fortnight no one knew what the hell was going on or what was going to happen. To take one example, for a republican like me, it was particularly discombobulating to see the Palace, with its firm rebuff to those who said the Queen was freaking out, act as the most dignified and statesmanly representative of the establishment.

Anyway, you’re not going to hear any more about it here, because this is meant to be the part of the magazine where the reader, comfortably sated and burping with a generous helping of the most insightful political writing on the planet, enjoys those dainties which, insubstantial yet strangely crucial to the whole ceremony, close the repast and cleanse the palate for next week. (Someone with a heavy editorial hand has described me in my microscopic Wikipedia entry as “a left-wing journalist”, which is technically true, as I am a hack and I am indeed left-wing, but how they could tell, from book reviews on the one hand and moaning about my lot on the other, what my politics are is beyond me. So, in order to buff up those credentials a bit: I still blame Thatcher for everything.)

It occurred to me, once the brouhaha had subsided, that instead of approaching Scottish independence through the metaphor of marriage, why don’t I approach marriage through the metaphor of Scottish independence?

Let me think. It may surprise you to learn that my wife and I are still legally married, although we have not slept in the same bed, and certainly not wanted to, for seven years. For one thing, both of us suffer from dikigorosophobia, which, as I am sure I do not have to remind you, is a fear of lawyers. For another . . . well, why bother? We’ll get round to it. Also, I get a perverse pleasure from casually referring to “my wife” – sometimes, if I am feeling particularly naughty, “the wife” – to people who only know me as unmarried.

So we have, then, a kind of devo max: formally under a union but technically going about our very different lives. A final dissolution would make no difference to anything, but it would involve some very tiresome paperwork, and some expense.

I am rather fond of this analogy, although I’m not sure how this means our children fit in. Hmm. Let me think. We’re extremely fond of them, without them our lives are deprived of ultimate purpose, and they represent, in a way, our future. I know – they’re our oil. This might need some work. We have squabbled about them, but only in an I-can’t-do-this-weekend-can-we-swap-over-and-you-do-two-weekends-in-a-row-well-all-right-but-why-didn’t-you-bloody-well-tell-me-earlier kind of way.

I wonder if the arguments about who gets the Forties oilfield would have been so equable if the vote in Scotland had gone the other way.

Also, if the Union had been like a marriage, the first couple of years after the break-up would have been tiresome in the extreme. State visits would have been simmering with barely suppressed rancour.  “That’s a nice new airport I see you’ve got there. Someone’s doing well.”

And so on.

Gradually, relations would have improved, to the point where England could have met Scotland’s new boyfriend and got along perfectly well with him; for drinks, if not a whole dinner. Takes a while, mind. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 24 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The cult of Boris

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