Blossom, by Lesley Riddoch

“Scots are currently being asked to define Scottishness through the constitutional prism of independence alone,” writes Lesley Riddoch, early on in her new book. “But perhaps that isn’t a wide, searching or engaging enough perspective.”

Riddoch admits from the start that Blossom: What Scotland Needs To Flourish “could be dismissed as a rant. It is certainly a polemic.” Yet she believes there is a “way out” for Scotland: “a way out for this country to truly blossom. But it needs us to question what we currently regard as normal and inevitable. And that, by definition, is very hard.”

Her inspiration comes from “the exceptional ‘ordinary’ Scots” that she’s met during her 30 year career “as a journalist, broadcaster, feminist and supporter of community action”. The book is “an account of Scotland at the grassroots throught the stories of people I’ve had the good fortune to know–the most stubborn, talented and resilient people on the planet.” And they’ve “had to be.” The people she introduces were–in a few cases, still are–doing their own thing, ignoring the traditions and policies of institutional Scotland.

Although clearly in the “Yes” camp for the forthcoming independence referendum, the target for Riddoch’s frustrations isn’t the British state per se, but the institutionalised top-down governance that it has for so long made its own. This has been largely imported wholesale into Scotland’s so-called “local” government and the devolved Scottish Parliament.

It is this “top-down” approach, Riddoch argues, that has effectively disempowered and paralysed so many Scots, at best leading to “sticker-plaster” policies rather than long-term solutions needed to sort out the country’s many and damaging inequalities. The same approach that has ensured some of her examples–the Drumchapel Men’s Health Group, or Mary Hepburn’s work with drug-using mothers–lost public funding, with often tragic personal consequences. The same approach that’s ensured success stories, such as the housing co-operative that turned around the local community in West Whitlawburn, Glasgow, are unheralded at least in Scotland.

“Aye Right. We are the only nation who could turn a double positive into a negative,” she points out at one point. But then, Scots have been “badly served by a political debate which is often sloganeering, simplistic and scaremongering and by a media which has become a collective echo chamber for suspicion, pessimism and despair”.

Somewhat repetitive gardening metaphors notwithstanding, Riddoch’s book is a fervant call for something better and more positive. Some of her solutions will be risible to the ‘No’ camp, not least land reform, but her wider suggestion is perhaps more pallatable; nothing more than a call for the many peoples of 21st century Scotland to value themselves and what they have more. Whether that could lead to some Scottish equivalent of the more egalitarian and community-focused Nordic nations is open to debate. But if we don’t at least try, she fears we may well be destined to remain “a grudging and grumbling part of the UK forever.”