By G.A.Ponsonby
Why are Scots happy with second best; what is it about Scottish people that renders them apparently ambivalent about the land and who owns it, or rather who doesn’t?
How has a lack of social housing affected the psyche of the working class Scots over the centuries and what is the link between poor health and undemocratic feudal law?

These questions and more are posed by the respected author, journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch in a book that tries to move the discussion on Scotland’s future away from the tribal and damaging political battleground and into a more thoughtful and constructive arena.

‘Blossom’ seeks to provide an explanation to some of the more baffling health statistics and damaging social characteristics in the shape of the legacy of Scotland’s anti-democratic approach to land ownership.  The book escapes the confines of the ‘Union versus Independence’ debate and reveals the hidden Scotland where, post and pre-Union, rich Scot exercised power over poor Scot.

‘Blossom’ takes the reader on a virtual tour of Scotland past, where rural workers, with no housing or land rights worthy of mention found themselves forced into the cities and slums, swapping one uncaring and unsympathetic landlord for another.

Years became decades, became centuries which despite land-grabs, mass emigration (with some people rounded up and forcibly shipped to Canada) and two world wars, nothing changed. 

The book explains how huge swathes of Scotland are still owned by a privileged few – 1000 people own 60 per cent of all land.  Much of this land could be put to good use, but instead lies virtually barren.

In Blossom, the author hypothecates on many of the social ills that currently plague contemporary Scotland.  The conclusion that land reform is necessary if Scotland is to flourish, is articulated through a series of historical observations, statistics and comparisons with the Nordic model.

The statistics do not overwhelm, but some will shock such as the fact that as late as 1951 there were six times more Scots living three or more to a room than in England and Wales.  In the same year, Glaswegians were almost ten times more overcrowded than their London counterparts with half spending every waking hour in the same room as their parents or siblings.

Contemporary examples of ‘ordinary Scots’ fighting against a centuries old system provides the reader with an identifiable reference point from which Riddoch expands her compelling arguments, and these arguments are strong.

How Scotland’s pensioners lost out financially due to the nation’s adoption of the tenement as the model for urban housing.  In England the strategy was to build out but north of the border Scottish planners decided up was best.

This, and other differences to housing north and south of the border, provides a fascinating sub-theme that runs throughout the book.  Riddoch’s love of the tenement is palpable and it’s an emotion many readers with experience of tenement life will share – this reader especially.

The tenement is the supporting actor to the star of the book which is the people of Scotland.  Blossom reveals a Scotland full of promise, whose richest resource – her people – remains untapped.

Riddoch’s belief in Scotland’s countrymen and woman is the lifeblood of Blossom. 

The hard drinking, chain smoking, tough talking men of Drumchapel who tried to break through the male barriers in the eighties in order to address low life expectancy.  The Doctor who realised a new approach had to be found in order to help drug taking mothers hold on to healthy babies.  The inhabitants of Eigg who succeeded in buying their island, despite years of bureaucratic adversity.

The book zigs zags from people to places, communities to housing, the central belt to the Isles – chronicling the clashes that make Scotland what it is today.  The glorification of empire and Royal Britain that is Edinburgh’s layout and street names  – sitting cheek by jowl with the emerging contemporary confident Scotland, symbolised by Holyrood.

The tensions between Gaelic and Scots, Glasgow’s Celtic v Rangers tension and arguably the most passionate of all – Britishness and Scottishness – are all touched on in a book that leaves no stone unturned … or even chucked.

The windows of some of Scotland’s cultural establishments are metaphorically smashed as the author laments, with clear irritation, the absence of modern Scottish artists in our museums and galleries. 

Riddoch cleverly challenges some of the more widely accepted symbols of Scottish culture, arguing that what we see frequently presented as authentic, is in fact a manufactured ‘Britified’ imposter.  The language is less controversial but there are echoes of Alasdair Gray’s ‘settlers and colonists’.

One of the problems highlighted by Riddoch is the male dominated Scottish society that restricts the role of women.  Under-represented in politics and journalism, societies influential spheres, the author argues that more needs to be done to help those strong talented women currently unable to enter the decision making arena, to add their talents to a male dominated pool.  One word stood out … childcare.

Blossom is an eye opening tour of our Scotland, today’s Scotland, with a look back at the Scotland of our forebears.  It presents the problems and offers up not solutions, but examples of how those solutions might be found – by including all of Scotland’s people and trusting them to help themselves.

Blossom is a must read for anyone seeking a better Scotland.  The author’s three decades experience in journalism was tapped into in the three years it took to research, write and publish.  The effort and love in bringing the book to fruition is evident. 

Is Riddoch correct in all of her assumptions?  Probably not, but for me there’s far more ‘on the ball’ than ‘wide of the mark’ in Blossom.

I enjoyed reading this book and hope that very many more will have the opportunity to share the experience. 

If you care about Scotland and her people then you cannot afford not to read Blossom.

Blossom is available in hard copy or in eBook form


2013-10-11 19:46

I saw her at a hustings with politicians. She was a breath of fresh air, the voice of common sense.

Her book is on my Christmas list.
2013-12-17 21:08

An excellent read.

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