The SNP tell us that they're ready to approach Scotland's future with vision. But does today's failure to reach a decision on equal marriage show cracks forming in the party even before the independence referendum takes place?
Scotland is, the SN tell us, ready to become an independent nation. Many would agree. But if that's so, what sort of nation? What ideals will sit at its heart? Will it look to the past - to its romanticised history, its celebrated rural and architectural heritage, its sometimes delightful but sometimes dubious traditions? Or is it ready to look to the future, to speak out boldly in a changing world?
For those campaigning for independence, this ought to be a no brainer. Sympathisers in love with the romantic idea of Scotland past are unlikely to vote for it to stay in the union no matter how modern policy develops; the weight of that inheritance is too great a thing to be more than temporarily afflicted by a single disagreeable decision. Those with a progressive agenda, however, are far more likely to be swing voters, uncertain where their best options lie. The SNP already has a good handle on the traditionalists. It can't afford to alienate those looking to the future.
Further to this, a Scotland that looks back into the past is easy for opponents to ridicule. It would be very hard for such a nation to justify reaching out to claim its space on the world stage. If Scotland is to become independent, it will need to show that it is sharp, modern, realistic and capable of moving with the times.
This ought to make things simple. But the division that exists within the Scottish populace over equal marriage is closely related to the division at the heart of the SNP. I am always amused by people who tell me that they plan to vote against independence because they don't like the SNP. That, I'd say, is a very good reason to vote for it. Not only would their share of the vote be likely to decline thereafter, but there would be far less reason for the two halves of the party to stay together. The northern, rural, agricultural, paternalistic wing would go one way and the southern, urban, liberal wing would go another. They're only staying together now because they have independence as a common goal. In the meantime, as in most instance were opposed parties make a sincere attempt to work together, Scotland benefits from relatively moderate, pragmatic government. But can they stay together that long?
As Scotland's people wait to see what the eventual outcome of the equal marriage discussion will be, the SNP has some serious thinking to do. If it expects us to believe that it is strong enough to carry Scotland through major constitutional change, it will have to show more mettle than it has today. It won't be able to fob people off forever with the line that it just needs more time. And one thing is certain: if it cannot hold its own marriage together, it has no place denying marriage to those who might.