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When Love Breaks Down - Why It's Already Over Between the UK and Scotland, Whatever the Outcome of the Referendum

10/09/2014 13:26 BST | Updated 09/11/2014 10:59 GMT

There is a lot of focus on the outcome of the referendum in Scotland next week. What most people don't seem to realize is that whatever the outcome it is already over between Scotland and the rest of the UK. It was over the moment that Scotland decided it might want to leave.

There is a parallel between Scotland's behaviour and that of a disgruntled partner in a marriage or committed long-term relationship. We live in a time when we are encouraged to look at relationships a little like we look at products and services - as something to be weighed up in a cost-benefit analysis. And we live in a time when we are encouraged to verbalise our thoughts and grievances.

This is in many ways good, repression and withholding has been the bane of generations of British relationships and marriages. It is good to talk, to share, to be honest.

But what often gets missed in this desire to verbalise and offload is the power of our word. A marriage is a commitment generated in language, a commitment with a promise of a shared future, a foundation on which trust and shared interests can be built. Healthy commitments are not set in stone, they are an ongoing process of negotiation, refinement and rebalancing, a dynamic contract that flexes and matures as circumstances change and each party develops and grows.

Underneath though they have a foundation based on a single and critical assumption - that even though things might get hard, might get challenging, and sometimes might suck, we are in it together and in it for the long haul. Questioning and challenging that assumption every so often isn't a bad thing - complacency is the rising damp of many a good relationship. But what must not happen is that the commitment is fundamentally threatened. When that happens the foundation cracks. And after that there is no going back. Many relationships do stagger along after such a schism but they are never the same again. They are like a house with subsidence, cracks will just keep showing up.

This is what has happened with Scotland and the rest of the UK. The foundation of mutuality, based on an often begrudging but none-the-less very solid three hundred year old union, has been ruptured. By asking that simple question "should we stay or should we go now?" the question is actually answered - the foundation that underpins the union has been fractured. 'Staying' would be to stay in something diminished and flawed.

This is not to say there cannot be a union. But if there is to be one it needs to be a new one. It is like when one partner in a committed relationship is unfaithful. In that moment the existing relationship is destroyed. A new, better relationship can be negotiated and built but by implication it is brand new and thus none of the old agreements and understanding can simply be carried through. It is a relationship where trust will need to be earned from ground zero again; where a new set of agreements, some maybe radically different from the old, need to be established.

If Scotland wants to be in a union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland '"Yes," is not enough. What will then need to happen is the negotiation of a new deal, one in which both parties have a say.

And perhaps what might happen is what so often happens to the disgruntled partner who decided they might want to leave. When they change their mind and try and return they find out that they are no longer welcome, that the thing they had thought of leaving is no longer there any more, that it has moved on.

Neil Gibb is Anglo Scot. His father was a Scottish republican, his mother an English monarchist. Currently he calls himself British, but he is now wondering what a new identity might look like.