The ancient Scottish tradition of “handfasting” was a sort of fixed-term marriage in which participants could try out a spouse before deciding to stick with them.
On the face of it, it sounds like a convenient way of doing things but, inevitably, it only ever seems to have benefited the man. Moreover, it was messy, open to abuse and often led to acrimony – and worse.
“Handfasting” is said to have led to a bloody war between the MacLeods and MacDonalds on Skye in the early 17th century.
Four centuries on, are we seeing the implosion of another fixed-term marriage here in Edinburgh?
In today’s News, the secretary of the city’s Lib Dem group says it has been “pushed to the brink” by its SNP coalition partners.
Paul Edie says that last week’s Nationalist U-turn on the privatisation of some council services “may well mean the end of the road for the coalition”. Should we be surprised, or care?
Surprised? Probably not. In some ways, it is a miracle that the coalition has survived so long, given the knife-edge balance on the council and the very different styles of Jenny Dawe, the intellectual but ineffectual Lib Dem leader, and her SNP deputy, arch-political survivor Steve Cardownie.
In fact, the reason these unlikely political spouses may trip up at this late stage is precisely because May’s election is so close.
Even though there is clear logic in outsourcing bin collection and other services to save money, the SNP doesn’t want to dull its left-wing credentials this close to a battle in which it will go face-to-face with Labour.
And should we care if there is a divorce? There’s a danger civic politics would grind to a halt as no opposition party would want to step in to the breach. Residents may feel that given the council’s track record on trams a period of little political activity may be no bad thing.
We may be about to find out, as the privatisation vote is only on hold for a month. If this council, and the SNP in particular, cannot take the tough decisions necessary to move the city on then they should step down. And let the hand-wringing begin.