Picture the scenario. An English man has been married to a Scottish woman for a number of years. They had a tempestuous relationship before the wedding but decided to give union a chance anyway. Over the years, they bought a house, brought up a family, took foreign holidays and had their inevitable ups and downs. And the marriage rumbled along.
Then, without meaning to, the man started to get complacent and began to take his wife for granted. She, in turn, made occasional noises about leaving him yet he never took her seriously. But suddenly, one day, she came downstairs with her bags packed and announced that she wanted a divorce.
The man felt a sense of foreboding flood over him. “You can’t go,” he cried. “You’ll never cope on your own! How will you manage financially? You’re a terrible spender and don’t have the first clue about how to make ends meet. And what about our mortgage and the credit bills? Who’s going to pay for those?”
“I’ve got a good job,” huffed the woman. “I can take care of myself. As for the debts, I have half a mind to leave them all to you to pay off!”
“Well then, what about our friends?” pleaded the man, starting to feel desperate. “None of them is going to understand why you have left me. They want us to come to dinner parties together. I may not get as many invites on my own.”
“Not my problem,” retorted the woman stoutly, picking up her bag and heading for the door.
By now, the man was jumping up and down, his fists balled up in rage. “OK, then go!” he shouted. “But don’t think I’m going to grant you joint custody of the dog!”
Snorting, the woman banged the door shut behind her. The man stared after her disconsolately. “But what about me?” he called. “I love you!”
For five brief seconds the letterbox flapped open, giving the woman enough time to hiss: “Too little, too late, I’m afraid. You’ll get the paperwork in the post!”
I’m sure everyone who read the above story will see the immediate parallels with what’s going on in the union at the moment. Normally I consider myself both proud and fortunate to be an English person. (Indeed, I just have to take a look at what is going on in other countries around the world to realise just how fortunate I am.) But, this week, I feel embarrassed by England’s reaction to the prospect of Scottish independence for three reasons.
1. We didn’t see it coming.
The Scottish referendum was announced in March 2013. We, in England, have taken it seriously for approximately 10 days. What is even more worrying is that our political leaders seem to have taken it seriously for approximately 10 days as well. If we loved Scotland that much, we should have made it clear a longer time ago.
2. We played on fear.
England’s reaction to the prospect of Scottish independence has been this: you’ll never survive without us. Politicians, economists and business leaders have consistently painted a picture of economic doom for an independent Scotland. But if the last six years have taught us anything, it should be to be sceptical of the views of politicians, economists and business leaders. Lots of small countries can – and do – cope perfectly well. Heard of New Zealand, anyone?
3. We panicked.
When the penny finally dropped in England that Scotland was deadly serious about going its own way, what did we do? We panicked. We promised fresh powers for Scotland, flew the saltire above council halls and sent our politicians scrambling north of the border in a last-ditch attempt to woo Scottish voters. The question is: are the Scots really going to be convinced by all this cupboard love? Or is it just too little, too late?
We will find out on Thursday.