Yesterday the Scots voted decisively, but not overwhelmingly, against becoming an independent nation.
How many married folks vote decisively, but not overwhelmingly, against getting divorced at some point during a long marriage? Quite a few, I reckon.
The marriage metaphor with regard to Scotland’s referendum on independence from England is an obvious one on many levels, but as I sought commentary on the independence vote this morning I was still surprised – and for want of a better word, touched – to read a thoughtful article by Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart published this past Sunday in The Herald Scotland. The headline: “Karine Polwart: I ended my marriage to create a healthier, happier family…I want that for Scotland too” is prosaic rather than poetic, but it certainly lays bare her thesis. Polwart argues for the virtues of a healthy, respectful divorce versus the quagmire of an unhealthy relationship.
I think Karine Polwart is terrific, and if I could be of some other nationality, I think I’d be a Scot. (Don’t tell my English ancestors.) But her marriage-and-Scottish-independence metaphor isn’t quite right.
“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,” Polwart writes.
Who can resist the obviousness of Polwart’s clear-eyed linking of marriage to the independence question? “This is not only heart stuff,” she writes. “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.”
“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.”
“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.”
It seems to me that the Yes-to-independence vote was based primarily on issues of agency for Scotland’s future within the English political system, and the concurrent sense of alienation from a Scottish identity that is clearly recognized and respected within the United Kingdom.
How do such grievances arise between countries or between married partners? Is it not usually the frustration of agency or a denial of a sense of independent identity by the more powerful that precipitates resentment in the less powerful?
And yet, is not being “codependent” also a fact of life? Why has codependency become so strongly associated with healthy ecological thinking, while at the same time become a pejorative with regard to marriage?
I think it comes down to issues of scale: a marriage between two human beings is not the same as a marriage between countries. “A people” is not the same as “two persons”. Popularly-used terms such as codependency are terms for individuals, not for nations. “Codependency” and “enabling behavior” have in fact, in the context of personal relationships, morphed from meanings associated with mutual vulnerability and mutual support, to descriptions of something like the behavior of lemmings, which is too bad. A little more codependency and enabling behavior among nations would be a good thing.
I enjoyed reading Karine Polwart’s article, and found her thesis provocative, even if, in the end, I don’t think it stands up to close scrutiny. I hope that Scotland’s “No” vote on independence will serve it well, with increased recognition from England that the Scottish people require greater agency in the management of their country. I hope Karine Polwart’s family thrives. I love the fact that she writes articles on Scotland’s independence and that she writes songs skewering Donald Trump’s building of a golf course in Aberdeen. She truly has something to say.