Blosson: A Journey Beyond Independence
Bonar Hall, Dundee Literary Festival 2013 24th October, 2pm
One was immediately given some idea of Lesley Riddoch’s character when the audience was told that she arrived straight from a hospital visit some 40 miles away in Kirkcaldy. In fact, such was Riddoch’s warm humour and enthusiasm in the session that it was easy to forget that you were listening to one of the country’s best known journalists rather than someone that you had known for years. In Blossom, her latest book, Riddoch tackled the problems facing Scotland and offered some insight into how the people themselves, at a very grassroots level, can alter the future of the country.
You would be forgiven, given the current furore surrounding the debate on independence, for thinking that Riddoch’s talk would be political. In fact, she offered a vision of Scotland that disregards Holyrood and Westminster (almost), placing the emphasis for her vision of independence on independent-minded people rather than political independence. The West Whitlawburn co-operative housing scheme in Glasgow was given as an example of how Scotland should, in her view, be planning for the future: once a dilapidated, undesirable housing scheme, residents took control and through their own initiative and ambition, and formed a co-operative, securing more than £50 miliion worth of improvements, – effectively transforming a crime-ridden housing estate into a desirable location. This is a small-scale model of how Riddoch believes Scotland should –and moreover could work; with the people being the driving force, rather than a “top down” approach, which she argued was failing in its efforts to produce change.
Although naturally promoting Blossom, Riddoch’s hour with the audience was as much an introduction to a new way of thinking about Scotland as it was an introduction to the book. If her appearance immediately after a visit to the hospital wasn’t indicative of her positive can-do attitude, within a few minutes of addressing the Bonar Hall audience, it was evident that Riddoch provoked thought and challenged opinions. Although the independence debate might be a divisive subject, nobody was alienated during the talk; in the almost informal and conversational tone of the event, it was clear that a love of Scotland, and a sense of dismay at its current state, was shared by all – there were audible gasps as statistics revealed Scots to be worse off and less healthy than our European counterparts.
When Scots are discussing the issue of independence, there is a tendency to compare ourselves with our English neighbours and to suggest that they are dragging us down. What Riddoch showed in an hour is that the future of Scotland depends more on the positive attitudes of individuals. Whatever side of the independence debate you stand on, you would be hard-pressed to find somebody whose thoughts were not moved by Riddoch’s well-researched arguments – and more importantly – by her enthusiasm and solidarity with the people of Scotland.