David Cameron said yesterday: “It is my duty to be clear about the likely consequences of a Yes vote. Independence would not be a trial separation. It would be a painful divorce.”
In his analogy, Scotland is one side of a partnership; the rest of the UK makes up the other side. A Yes vote for independence would amount to Scotland walking away from the relationship, divorcing the rest of the UK in a permanent separation.
Yet the divorce analogy is also directly applicable to the ongoing campaign. Yes and No closely resemble a divorcing couple, with Scotland caught in the middle of a messy series of arguments.
And, like the parents who insist however badly they act towards each other it is for the sake of the children, Yes and No seem prepared to wield any available weapon because they have Scotland’s best interests at heart.
Alex Salmond has tainted the Yes campaign by trying to paint everything he thinks voters don’t like with a Tory brush, and he spent much of Monday talking about BBC bias rather than pro-Scottish issues. On Sunday’s Andrew Marr show, Alistair Darling once again chose to emphasize the risks of voting for independence and the permanency of the decision, saying there would be “no way back”. (If your campaign is called Better Together, isn’t it a good idea to focus on the benefits of staying in the UK rather than on the drawbacks of choosing independence? I really think they should have renamed it Worse Apart. )
But to return to the analogy as Cameron used it, today we see the alternative to “the painful divorce”, as the front page of the Daily Record carries in full “the vow”. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are seeking to counteract the threat of divorce with a renewal of vows to strengthen the marriage. Will it be enough to rekindle the spark in the relationship?
The problem is that if the No vote (which I continue to see as the most likely outcome) wins by a narrow margin, it will still show significant dissatisfaction with the status quo. Once the spectre of the end of a relationship has been raised, it’s difficult to continue to feel truly in love, unless there is a dramatic rejection of the outside threat.
Divorce would certainly be the most painful option economically. But it could be emotionally messier if 49.9% declare themselves out of the relationship and wake up on the morning of 19th September to find they are still married.