What Scotland needs to thrive

Lesley Riddoch, Thrive: the freedom to flourish, Luath Press, Paperback, £10.99.

Reviewed by Niamh McNulty

Nearly ten years on from the referendum, Riddoch has made the case for Scottish independence lively once again. Instead of that stale, decade old argument mired in dry and overwhelming policy debate, quibbling over the minutiae of the currency question or trade agreements, she brings the argument back to the issue at hand by asking: “Can independence improve Scotland?”. In reply, she hammers home an argument cracking with self-aware humour and compassion for the Scottish people while demanding that we ask more of ourselves, for ourselves; that we face the hard, enriching, joyful work of taking our lives in our own hands with all the responsibility that entails.

Divided into four parts, Thrive begins with a deep dive into what makes Scotland, Scotland and us, us, followed by discussions of the state of the United Kingdom and the state of Scotland as a nation itself, and a final part drawing it together with detailed comparative case studies of neighbouring nations. The book is closed by imagining what Scotland might look like ten years after independence is won, in a beautiful practice of hopeful yet grounded imagination.

In the deep dive, Riddoch goes over the baggage Scots hold when faced with the questions of Independence. What is it that keeps the demand for a secession rumbling and persistent, and what is it that makes us lack confidence in ourselves to see it through? The nation portrayed is yes, one hindered by clearances, loss of language, and hurtful stereotypes, but also one brimming with people who cut through all that crap, who are deeply capable of taking charge of their own lives and communities. She does this through a seamless mix of statistics, historical example, discursive analysis (the section on national anthems was particularly interesting) and stories of community buyouts and solidarity led by capable people working alongside capable people. This mix, cut into small digestible sections makes it an easy and engaging read. You’ll never feel bogged down by the scale of transformation presented, but invigorated and confident, with everything you need to back you to say yes! Funnily enough, Riddoch tells us at the start this is what she’s doing, selling us on the ways in which independence will allow us to flourish; as a salesperson by trade, I can tell you she has the technique down.

The second part of the book makes clear the central grievance the case for independence rests on, and as promised what-about arguments on the BBC, the pound, or exact technicalities are left behind and we’re confronted with this: “Scotland is a social democracy stuck with a conservative England”.

Forget the rest. What matters is that Scotland is an old nation with all the trappings of its statehood and unique institutions intact and those who live here consistently vote at odds with their UK counterparts and consistently don’t see the wishes behind those votes realised. We’re capable enough and different enough to make a legitimate claim not based on exclusion of others but the desire to represent ourselves in all our diversity. We’re taken through Brexit, the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, monarchism versus republicanism, our geography, and the toothlessness of British Labour. In short, she lays out just how inevitable independence is if Scotland is to thrive.

If that wasn’t enough, the next part lets us know that it may also be necessary. Honing in on the diversity and richness of our energy mix, Riddoch looks not only at the familiar idea that we don’t benefit from what we produce, but ties the need for climate action neatly together with the example of local decentralised efforts of many Scots that show we’re more than able to, where Westminster seems to be inept to do anything decent. And, if you need more reassurance that can translate to a national scale, part four brings together comparisons of our Irish and Nordic neighbours’ investment in people-led and centred policy, bringing into focus that what seems David and Goliath to us just now has been done again and again by many before us.

My only gripe with this book is the referral to the Scots in a purely positive light when met with a (possibly tongue-in-cheek) reference to this being in our genetic makeup. Of course, the idea that Scots in general are more social democratic isn’t entirely without basis given recent divergent voting records, but that it’s part of our ethnicity is indeed a frustratingly foundational and misguided tenet of many Scottish civic nationalists. It does give me pause, in an otherwise thorough book that urges us not to play victim to the decisions of Westminster when we very well could strive for integrity and autonomy, that we can’t seem to grapple with the very real underbelly of seeing ourselves as ‘better than’ by virtue of a mystical and inherent politically progressive nature.

Maybe it is implicit in Riddoch’s view that striving to be autonomous from a Westminster ‘preoccupied on regaining lost imperial status’ means we are ready to confront our own imperial legacy. There were a few moments in the book where I felt I was about to get a decolonial analysis that firmly and honestly situated the ways Scotland shares some similarities with colonised nations whilst, importantly, having deeply participated and benefited in British imperialism. And it never came. 

I think this is one area that ought to have been interrogated, and it would have not only sat very well alongside the core argument of the book, but deepened it. An engaging, easy to read polemic that draws together all the evidence and statistics with stories, anecdotes and conviction, this book really did make me buzzing again for the possibility of independence. Riddoch sets out to give Scottish readers a manifesto on independence that speaks to our hopes and dreams rather than hand-wringing worry of the unionist diehards, and does just that. It’s essential reading for anyone who wants something better for everyone living in Scotland, who needs that reminder it’s not silly or naive to dream, and is ready to spark those conversations of 2014 back to life.



Comments (12)

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  1. Cathie Lloyd says:

    I’ve not read the book yet but the reservations about ethnic nationalism/ colonial analysis hits a familiar note. So much debate seems to ignore both class and power dynamics. Historically its clear that certain classes benefited from the Union. We need to confront this in order to make progress to independence. This approach might help the Yes movement identify the alliances we need to build to break through the impasse we’ve been in,

    1. 100% agree Cathie – was discussing this with people about where we have not made progress under devolution, where our politicians fear to tread, and to use this as an agenda for change. There are many areas and it would be good to hear peoples views, but two that people came up with immediately are the rental sector (Edinburgh landlords have just quashed attempts at regulating short term lets) – and land reform – which seems painfully slow. These two areas unlock the rural and urban housing crisis – yet remain untouched by governments in Scotland. Our idea is to map all the areas where there is no challenge and change (by any party) and use that as a chart for the task ahead.

  2. florian albert says:

    ‘Scotland is a social democracy stuck with a conservative England’.

    Does Lesley Riddoch attempt to justify this assertion ? The evidence for Scotland as a social democracy has always been in very short supply. When in the 1980s, the SDP was set up, as an explicitly social democratic party, it had a huge impact on English politics and almost none in Scotland.

    The only Scottish political figure who ever made a coherent defence of social democracy was John P McIntosh. Sadly, he died young and is largely forgotten.

    1. Jim says:

      I think you’ve made a mistake here Florian. The idea of social democrat tends to mean someone who wants to achieve socialism via democratic means. The SDP were a right wing breakaway from the Labour party, not the same thing at all. Ironically Social Democrat prior to the Russian Revolution was another way to say Marxist which the SDP certainly weren’t.

      1. florian albert says:

        ‘social democrat tends to mean someone who wants to achieve socialism via democratic means.’

        This is not so. Post 1945, social democracy has meant something different from socialism. Social democracy involved accepting a mixed economy. In successful social democratic countries – Sweden, Denmark, West Germany and Austria for example – a strong private sector was understood to be necessary to pay for the welfare state.
        Sadly, in Scotland there has been little serious discussion of this topic.
        We have ended up with a post industrial economy with a disproportionately low wage, low skill and low productivity workforce.

    2. Wul says:

      ” ‘Scotland is a social democracy stuck with a conservative England’.

      Does Lesley Riddoch attempt to justify this assertion ? ”

      I’m pretty sure our general election voting record would support Riddoch’s claim.

      Why not buy the book Florian and answer the question yourself?

  3. Wul says:

    Thanks for the review Naimh. I’ve ordered some copies. God knows we need some inspiration.

    Having heard her speak on many occasions, I suspect that Lesley Riddoch’s reference to positive attributes in Scotland’s “genetic makeup” is actually referring to our civic, socio-political and artistic culture and not biology. As such, the rich soup of Scotland’s “make-up” would include people born and raised in many different countries, but now living and voting in Scotland.

  4. mark leslie edwards says:

    I have to say I won’t be purchasing this or any other book on the same theme. Regretfully, I’ve reached the conclusion that voting for any party in the UK is a waste of time to any person that wishes to see less war in the world. Recently, I asked the Scottish government to consider a petition campaigning for compensation for civilians living in Lossiemouth who on a daily basis must suffer the noise & associated affect on mental & physical health while living in what is essentially a simulated warzone. I wonder if any such petition could find favour with a government who posts statements such as what follows on its official website:

    ‘The Scottish Government recognises the need for a defence capability that enables the Armed Forces to move at pace to match adversaries, to operate with agility in the digital age and to collaborate credibly with partners to neutralise threats. Scotland will continue to maximise its soft power approach, working with the UK Government and international allies and partners to achieve this aim.

    Similarly, the Armed Forces remain key resilience partners in helping the Scottish Government tackle non-military threats. Through the provision of military aid to civil authorities and communities, they carry out urgent work of national importance which allows them to support the delivery of essential services or responding to emergencies.

    The UK Government is increasing the Ministry of Defence budget by £24bn over the next four years, resulting in a budget of £46bn in 2021-22. The military and industrial footprint in Scotland has significant implications for the economy, local communities and military families stationed here, yet there have been no discussions with the Scottish Government on how decisions relating to the defence budget will affect Scotland.

    The Scottish Government has repeatedly asked the UK Government to honour its commitment to base 12,500 regular Armed Forces personnel in Scotland by 2020, a commitment that it has failed to meet. With the confirmation of additional defence spending and a commitment to the modernisation of the armed forces, the Scottish Government ask the UK Government to revisit previously announced base closures in Scotland and work with us to carry out local economic impact assessments of these decisions, particularly given the damaging effect of no longer being in the EU and COVID-19.

    The Scottish Government believes it is of paramount importance to ensure appropriate defence and security capabilities are maintained. This includes ensuring that companies operating in Scotland have the opportunity and support to compete for contracts. As the UK Government acknowledges itself, Scotland’s military personnel and industrial base play a crucial role in keeping all of the people of the UK safe.’

    To my mind, that might as well have come from Conservative party HQ. I don’t doubt that Lesley Riddoch has written a very fine book but I feel sorry for younger people thinking Scottish independence might ever happen. It’s like believing in Santa or the tooth fairy. The British establishment’s infiltration, overt and covert colonisation of every aspect of Scottish life has been going on for too long & runs too deep for independence to ever be achievable. I can see Starmer in next & more of the same, the biggest export from these islands has for many centuries been murderous violence, & I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

  5. Paddy Farrington says:

    It’s a pity you focused entirely on what you won’t do, rather than what you can do, MLE. Pacifism, and abstention from party politics, are perfectly valid points of view, but neither entail inaction as your post suggests. You write ” I feel sorry for younger people thinking Scottish independence might ever happen. It’s like believing in Santa or the tooth fairy. ” To me, this is indistinguishable from acceptance of the status quo.

    1. mark leslie edwards says:

      Except I did say what I had done, which was to contact the Scottish parliament & ask if they would accept a petition that aims to gain compensation for the civilian population of Lossiemouth living in a simulated warzone. Given my situation what else do you suggest I could or should do?

  6. mark leslie edwards says:

    Ae mornin ah woke up wi nay toe. Ah hud tae limp tae thi shop like an ald manny & ah wisna thi only ane. A hail bunch ae boys hud woken up in thi same condition. Ah seen at least 20 ae thim limpin doun thi road & ah wis only oot thi huis 20 minutes. Thi toun we lived in wis a well kaint black spot fir nay toe. Och weel, ah thought, am sure wur fabulous government will cough up thi necessary compensation.
    Dear Sir, As you are no doubt aware the town I happen to reside in has recently experienced another outbreak of what the authorities are calling nay toe. I myself woke up this morning to find the big toe that used to be on my left foot completely gone. As you can imagine this is causing me a great deal of discomfort & distress. On a purely practical level I am wondering how I can be expected to drive the 12 miles to & from my place of work when I am unable to effectively depress my vehicle’s clutch pedal. As I am sure you are aware, knowingly attempting to drive with any such physical impairment is highly illegal & in the event of an accident would render my car insurance null & void. I am sure your department would not want me or others in the same boat as myself to be breaking the law. I assume upon reading this you will be asking yourself why I do not simply catch a bus. I have anticipated your reply & my query is with regard to precisely this course of action. However, given that the nearest bus stop is a third of a mile from my house & that the bus service is less than regular (particularly when my work schedule involves late & night shifts) as well as the fact that walking even short distances is proving to be extremely uncomfortable & exhausting, what I am wondering is with regard to the announcement on the wireless last night that both parliaments currently governing Scotland are aware, have anticipated & are about to make available the necessary provision for victims of nay toe. If this is the case I must surely be entitled to a voucher enabling me to receive one of those space hoppers local & national health authorities are recommending in the event that an individual becomes physically impaired as a result of this terrible affliction. Alternatively, if you have a spare space hopper hanging about your office that is in a reasonable enough condition perhaps you could deflate it & send it to my home address along with a pump with the correct connection so that I am able to re-inflate & render it serviceable. Might I ask that this request be actioned with some urgency since my next shift begins less than 24 hours from the composition of the message you are currently reading. If there is a choice of colours royal blue would be my personal preference. Having said that, any available colour would make a world of difference to me, as I am sure it would to any other victim of the terrible nay toe,
    Many thanks,
    The Führer was of the opinion that because I drove an automatic at work me haen nay toe should not be too much of a problem. Oh, c‘mon Führer, I says, Fit aboot fin I jump oot the van tae deliver the messages, how good is it gona look if I‘m hopping aboot spilling ice lollies & microwave meals a‘ o’er the shop?
    Ye’ll nay be in the shop, ye’ll be oot n aboot, ye’ll be at the customer’s doorstep.
    That’s precisely ma point, I says. It disna reflect well on the company tae be sending boys intae the public domain fin they’re suffering a disability.
    It shows the company is willing tae gie the disadvantaged a chance. Anyway, ye’re nay the first boy we’ve had that’s ended up wi nay toe. It may surprise ye tae know that some boys consider haen nay toe ti be the best thing that ivir happened tae thim.
    It gies thim an opportunity tae re-evaluate thir lives, tak better care ae thimsels. In haen nay toe they’re mair attuned tae thir natural environment, they appreciate the present moment a‘ the mair since they hae a greater awareness it might be thir last.
    That’s the maist insane thing I‘ve ivir heard.
    Aye, well, welcome tae the real world.
    I limped roun the corner, entered the huis ae Dan that wis banned frae pubs. Apparently, the pair ae us could pass fur identical twins which might go sum wey tae explaining why I hud such difficulty gitn served in the wan or 2 pubs in the toun that hudna burnt doun or been converted intae tourist accommodation. Ye’ve got the wrong man, I wis ay haen tae tell the bar staff, ye’re thinking ae Dan Andrew, I’m Andrew Dan. Fin we wir bairns at the school wan or the ithir ae us wis ay gitn hauled intae the heidmester’s office fur something the ithir ane hud done. The wey I saw it I hud covered fur him that many times & received that many punishments on his behalf he wis mair than due me a favour.
    Bad news Dan, I’ve got nay toe.
    You & half the toun. Dinna sit near me, I’m nay wanting it.
    I dinna think it’s contagious.
    Ye canna be too careful. Fitch foot is it?
    The left.
    That seems ti be the maist common, altho a few boys have woken up wi the right ane gone. Fit’s the Führer saying, she gien ye time aff?
    That’s fit I’m roun for.
    Oh no.
    Jist hear me oot.
    Ye’re wanting me ti cover a few shifts.
    Jist till I get used tae it.
    How long’s that gona take?
    I dunno, a fortnight mibbe.
    A fortnight!
    Ye like the Führer, Dan, ye’ve ay hud a soft spot for her.
    Is she still wearing the leather troosers?
    The black leather Dan, & by the looks ae it she’s bin wurkin oot.
    I didna tell Dan she’d also started wielding a riding crop & whipping wur erses if we didna git the vans loaded & on the road as fast as humanly possible. She wis gitn virri gude at sneaking up on boys that wur stood haen a blether. All in all, it wis better he found oot for himself. It wid be a nice surprise & fa kains, he might learn tae enjoy it.
    This toun has some amount of blood on its hands. I wonder how many of those happy clappers that marched in support of the continued British occupation of Lossiemouth in 2010 ever spare a thought for the 70,000 Afghan & Pakistani civilians killed as of 2021. Not too many I’d imagine, & Lossiemouth’s reputation as a sanctuary for narrow minded penny pinching bigots has only grown like a malignant tumour since then. Quite honestly, if there are places that deserve to be wiped off the face of the planet this toun must be gey near the top of the list.
    In the interests of clarity & concision I shall from now on refer to myself as Dan one & to Dan that wis banned frae pubs as Dan 2. If I happen to mention Uncle Dan that myself & Dan 2 were named after I shall refer to that esteemed & learned gentleman as Dan 3. Dan 3 wis the aldest & longest sufferer of nay toe in the toun apart frae them that wur deid. Altho, according tae him the final curtain would be descending sooner rather than later. He reckoned he lost a toe mair or less ivry year & noo that a’ 10 were gone he wis wundrin if it wid be his fingers that disappeared next, or perhaps fit wis left ae his feet. Wid the nay toe wurk its wey up baith legs at the same time or steadily tak an inch ur twa aff jist the wan leg so ye wur reduced tae hopping aboot on a crutch like Long John Silver or sum such chiel frae the fiction books. Half the time ye wundird if ye werna jist a fictional character yersel fin ye switched oan the boax & heard fit the muppets wur gassing aboot. It seemed tae hae nay bearing fit-so-ivir oan fit hud become reality for the likes ae us. That is if ye could even hear the muppets above the noise ae hypersonic jets firing low o’er the huis jist tae remind ye not to be gitn ideas above yer station. Ye wur under British military occupation & don’t you uppity jocks forget it! Ye hud the subtitles oan but half the time they made no sense, so, if ye wur Dan 3 ye normally jist stuck oan the heidphones, found a gude tune oan the youtube & opened a wurd document. Obviously, being ancient, retired & haen nay toes meant ye didna hae tae ging & dae a joab, but Dan 3 wis ane ae they ald skool chiels that had been brought up believing it wis best tae keep bizzy. So, altho ye might be lying upon or even in yer scratcher that wis nay excuse nay tae git oan the laptop & mak wan’s feelings known tae fa ivir wis employed tae read cheeky emails & fire back the standard vacuous response frae fitchivir ae the hunners ae miles awa parleymints ye happint tae be maist annoyed wi at that particular moment. The benefit ae being Scottish wis that at least ye hud the twa tae choose frae, unlike they peer Anglaise c*nts fa hud nay choice at a’. Dan 3 hud bin doun there for a month ur twa in his youth & nivir again, the tap wattir wis shite & nay c*nt could unnerstan a wurd ye wur saying. They went oan aboot Scots hating the Anglaise, but ony Scottish person that ivir went doun there wid tell ye it wis exactly the opposite. & so they hud sent the nay toe tae teach us a lesson, ur many lessons in fact, lessons that from time immemorial they hud bin drumming intae fitivir might be left ae the Heilan consciousness: nay tae speak yer ain language, tae accept fitivir the lowland or British parleymints decided vis-à-vis how it wis gona be for yersel & ony offspring ye might hae, i.e., that ye wid huv tae leave yer huis, hame & femly, ging aff & fight thir wars or dae sum subject at the university, git a joab that wis that far awa ye might as well be oan a different planet. Nay sense biding here in the hame toun far ivry half daecent huis & joab hud bin snapt up by ex-military personnel or thir freens n femly frae down sowf. In this neck ae the wids clearance wis not history, it wis on-going & so despite the heat, it wis time for Dan 3 tae hobble roun the huis & shut ivry windae. The jet noise would intrude despite the limited protection offered by double glazing & haen the heidphones oan, he would remain suicidally depressed like sae mony ae his comrades lang deid, but the c*nts didna fly at the weekends sae a’ they arseholes frae doun sowf, (some of whom were employed by the lowland or even central British parleymints – wis thir ony difference?) could journey up tae yon second homes they’d bought efter forcing the locals oot, jist tae add further insult tae injury.

  7. mark leslie edwards says:

    Yung Dan, or, Dan 4, as I shall from henceforth refer to him, had, as per tradition, bin telt tae keep an eye oan Uncle Dan jist in case. In case of what, yung Dan felt like asking. In case the ald c*nt fell o’er, in case the ald c*nt reached intae a drawer & cut his finger? At least the ald c*nt still hud 10, unlike Dan 4 fa hud bin born wi baith pinkies missing. It wis the nay toe of course, but thir radioactive shenanigans seemed tae be a tad mair random fin selecting fit bits the bairns wur born withoot. Yung Dan hud recently bin apprenticed tae the weel kaint local firm, Stepford & Son, so he wis virri conscious as far as issues involving Health & Safety wir concerned.

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