Lesley Riddoch shakes up referendum debate

Lesley Riddoch in Stornoway with Angus MacNeil MP on Saturday. She explained:

Lesley Riddoch in Stornoway with Angus MacNeil MP on Saturday. She explained: "Maybe the reason Angus and I get on quite well is he has also spent a lot of time around the Nordics and he has also seen himself how successful a different way of running things is."

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A change of perspective was what was on offer from Lesley Riddoch as she gave her take on the independence debate while touring the islands recently.

“What we are missing in all of this is stories,” said the award winning broadcaster and journalist who was in Stornoway alongside local MP Angus MacNeil on the last leg of a tour across the Western Isles.

“I think women have had enough of the endless, pernickety debates about ‘will we be in the EU or not’, ‘which section of the amendment will it be’ or whatever,” she said. “They relate to the idea that those are problems that you deal with if you want change. Can we just talk about the change now then? You know?”

The straight talking style of the former BBC presenter appeared to go down well with her island audiences. The event in Stornoway, held in a room above The County Hotel bar, was packed out despite it being HebCelt Saturday, while the queue to buy a copy of her book ‘Blossom’ was almost out the door.

Speaking to the Gazette afterwards she explained why she believes the conversation needs to evolve.

“Everyone will remember the best communicator probably in the world, at least in our culture, was Jesus because he spoke in stories,” said Riddoch. “He didn’t give people a lecture in generosity, he told them the story of the Good Samaritan.”

She continued: “It’s the stories that pull people in I think. Particularly the people who are currently considered to be hard to reach - I’m thinking of people, generally speaking, who respond to bare statistics least, so young people and women. They need a different story.”

Being free of party ties gives Riddoch the range to say exactly what she thinks - while having explored alternative political landscapes, particularly those of Nordic states, gives her a new perspective on the politics of the ongoing debate.

On the topic of centralisation, which has been a recurring theme in recent island referendum debates, she believes the SNP are in need of a “major awaking” as to how unpopular it is.

“If I were to walk out today and say ‘How many people want more councillors’ - the answer would just be a howling no. If I walked out and said ‘Do you feel powerful in your local area’ the answer would be no. ‘And does it matter to you?’ the answer would be yes. It’s time to stop asking the question in a way to frame the answer.

“You need to look at what successful nations do, and successful nations are powerful locally - they just are. And it’s one of the biggest democratic deficits we’ve got. I think quite often the SNP do find this hard to answer, that’s really why it’s useful there are more people than the SNP that want independence.”

Asked if she believes this has damaged the campaign for an independent Scotland, her response was “I do a bit actually.”

“I think all political parties in Scotland are unaware of how British they are. How much the British template, how things work, has effectively been adopted without too much radical, critical thought.”

She continued: “So I’m not surprised in a way that the SNP have this slightly centralist tendency in there because it comes with being a party that has grown up within a British framework. It’s time for them to dust it down, and they have done in other parts of their policy.”

Riddoch says she is confident that the island majority are in favour of an independent Scotland. However, she added: “I would never underestimate the wee small hour fear type thing that can creep into people when they start thinking ‘gosh, we’ve go to turn everything to be able to make this country work’. The enormity of realising what we have put up with for the last 30, 40, 50 or 100 years is actually quite scary, and I see that. But to me the biggest thing I’m scared of in life is stagnation.”

The battle for votes continues to rage on in the Western Isles. Be sure to see next week’s Stornoway Gazette, out Thursday 7th August, as we reveal the first two panellists who will be part of the Stornoway Gazette Big Referendum Debate on September 1st.

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