Published: 01/09/2015 12:55 - Updated: 02/09/2015 11:40

Lesley is making a change for the better

Lesley Riddoch.
Lesley Riddoch.

A YEAR before Scotland went to the polls to decide on the issue of independence, award-winning journalist Lesley Riddoch published Blossom: What Scotland Needs To Flourish, setting out her views of how Scotland might change for the better.

Two years on, Blossom has been reprinted five times. Each time Riddoch has included an update on Scotland’s ever changing political landscape.

"Every time you think things will calm down, they just don’t," Riddoch said.

"This could be us moving into the new normal. People have just put up with things that just fundamentally don’t work for such a long time, but once Pandora’s box has been opened — and unquestionably the referendum opened it — all things become possible because you have seen something better and that’s really quite stimulating for people all over the UK."

One result of this that Yes campaigners have thrown their energy into other issues, such as the campaign for land reform, an issue that Riddoch, whose parents come from Caithness and Banffshire, views as the most important facing the Highlands.

"Labour and the Lib-Dems have a long history of trying to do something about land reform, and yet the people who are most active on the ground are all the old Yes network, generally" she said.

"It’s a bit of a shame we can’t seem to cross that divide to get to one movement."

A long term supporter of land reform, Riddoch was a trustee of the Isle of Eigg Trust when the islanders made a successful community buy-out of the privately owned island in 1997.

Now, however, she warns that land reform legislation in Scotland may have become too "Eigg-shaped" in being geared twoards community buyouts.

"We haven’t got enough money in Christendom to buy every piece of privately owned land and some people don’t want to run a whole community," Riddoch pointed out.

"What people need is availability of land, not just a whole swathe of it, but a wee bit here and a wee bit there. But most of the big estates are still sitting in the same configuration of land ownership they had 300 years ago."

Hand in land with the issue of land ownership, Riddoch sees the issue of local democratic control as vital to the future of Scotland.

"Highland Council covers an area the size of Belgium," she pointed out.

"We have the largest local council in Europe by a country mile.

"If you look at Norway they have 428 municipalities. We have 32 and we have the same population. People have got used to the idea of authority being distant, whether it is the council or a landowner.

"Despite the fact we abolished feudalism 15 years ago, it’s in our heads. We still expect someone better than us, distant from us, to be running the show."

Riddoch is so convinced that the Scandinavian nations have valuable lessons for Scotland that together with Labour supporter Dan Wynn she set up Nordic Horizons to exchange ideas between Scotland and our neighbours to the north and east,

"Anything that Scotland thinks is holding it back is there with knobs on for the Nordic states," she said.

"At the same time the positives we have — fishing, oil, and so on — are the positives we have."

If these lessons are learnt, Riddoch is confident Scotland can look forward to a brighter future.

"If I wasn’t optimistic, I wouldn’t be here," she said.

"I think people need to stay nimble and keep the pressure on the SNP and maybe even start up new parties and make the proportional system work well. There’s still a tendency to think of the Westminster system as normal and we’ve just tweaked it. Westminster and first past the post are not normal. Normal is sharing power.

"Westminster, while we are in it, is important, but the important thing for our real energies is our own country. That’s why land reform and local democracy matter more to me than however many attractively interesting dust-ups there are in Westminster. I’m confident we have begun to get our priorities better that way."

Lesley Riddoch will appear at Nairn Community and Arts Centre at 4pm on Sunday 6th September as part of the town’s 12th Book & Arts Festival.

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