Two weeks ago Kerry Hudson, Aberdeen-born author of Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, won the Scottish Mortgage and Investment Trust First Book Award.

That's not so remarkable in itself until you realise she's the fifth woman to win this prize in the last six years, joining a mix of fiction and non-fiction writers like Sue Peebles, Sarah Gabriel, Andrea McNicoll and Jane McKie. Fellow nominee Jenni Fagan was hailed as one of Granta's Best Young British Writers earlier this year (and earned a selection for Oprah's Book Club and a New York Times review by Michiko Kakutani). Denise Mina topped it off by winning the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year Award for the second year in a row.

Is it a coincidence that so many Scottish women writers are dominating the awards scene and review pages at the moment? Or is this the beginning of a new 'matrilineal' heritage, poised to take over fiction, poetry and non-fiction where a 'patrilineal' tradition has left off? Adele Patrick of the Glasgow Women's Library believes so - she can scarcely believe the difference in the Scottish literary scene from 20 years ago, when the Women's Library was set up. And one of the many women writers to debut in the last 12 months, Zoe Venditozzi, also sees hopeful signs of change. But is it a big enough change? And does it matter?

Scottish women's writing itself has undergone redefinition in the last few years, becoming a term that includes women perhaps not born but raised here, or women who have settled here and who focus on Scotland for their subject matter. They, and Scots-born women, are all eligible for Scottish literary prizes, and that fluidity is reflected in the way literary borders themselves are being re-aligned. Crime, historical and literary fiction have fashioned new crossovers and welcomed new writers like Lisa O'Donnell, Kirsten McKenzie, Andrea Gillies, Elizabeth Reeder, Kirsty Logan (winner this year of the inaugural Gavin Wallace Fellowship) and Eleanor Thom (winner of a Saltire First Book Award).

Established writers have entered new territory, like Alice Thompson, Karen Campbell and Sara Sheridan, or are consolidating their successes, like Louise Welsh, Kathleen Jamie and Jackie Kay. The great names many of us grew up with - Liz Lochhead, Janice Galloway and AL Kennedy - can surely look down from their lofty positions as members of the canon and feel satisfied at the talent surrounding them.

But would they choose to go as far as Irvine Welsh did a few years ago, when he was photographed standing behind two younger male writers, 'anointing' them as 'successors' to his literary mantle, on the cover of The List magazine? Would women writers even think of doing such a thing? And if not, why not? Undoubtedly Welsh's gesture was both generous and important for two lesser-known authors.

But it was also something else: it was a father-son gesture which embraced and emphasised the long-standing patrilineal nature of the Scottish literary tradition. It's a tradition that still sees Scottish Literature departments at universities dominated by studies of Fergusson, Burns, Hogg, Scott and Stevenson. It's a tradition that asks: who will be the successor to Alasdair Gray and write the next Lanark, the next great bench-mark in Scottish fiction? Who will be the successor to James Kelman and be the next Scot to win the Booker Prize?

The unspoken assumption behind these male-dominated questions is inevitable: it will be a man, of course. That's the way our tradition goes.

In their 1997 collection of essays, A History Of Scottish Women Writers, Dorothy Macmillan and Douglas Gifford argued that "what has in the past been perceived as the 'Scottish Tradition in Literature' has been both male-generated and male-fixated... even where women writers have been admitted to the canon of the academies, in the work of Susan Ferrier or Margaret Oliphant or Marion Angus, these writers have always been seen as 'minor'".

And yet ironically it was one of those very writers whom Welsh chose to anoint in that image in The List, Alan Bissett, who pointed out, in a perceptive essay published six years ago about 'The New Weegies', that it's women who are making their mark. "What is also new about the wave of noughties' writers is that it is spearheaded by women. Never before have so many Glaswegian novelists simultaneously achieved such prominence," he wrote, highlighting the work of Louise Welsh, Anne Donovan and Alison Miller.

But does the prominence of women writers, which has only increased exponentially since Bissett wrote these words, mean not so much a reply to a male-dominated tradition as an assertion of the importance of women's experiences, women's lives? Many of us writing today, if prompted, would cite a 'matrinileal' heritage, after all - my own 'literary foremothers' would be Emma Tennant and Janice Galloway for showing me what new things could be done with the historical novel.

Zoe Venditozzi also cites Galloway, and includes Kirsty Gunn and short-story writer Ruth Thomas, and points out that the world of women writers is different from that of male writers, whether it's writers' retreats that don't provide child-care facilities making it harder for writing mothers of young children to get away, or the Scottish Writers' Football Team, which is necessarily all male, and which brings together male writers, agents, publishers, and so on. "Where's the women's equivalent of that?" she asks.

One answer might be social media. As Adele Patrick points out, women are less in the 'anointing' business than in the supporting business. "An analogous situation [to The List cover] might be Liz Lochhead inaugurating her successor, but women tend to champion each other in subtle, more sisterly ways," she says. "I see Twitter feeds that offer real sisterly support, offering the type of encouragement that women need for each other - 'don't doubt yourself', 'you do deserve this prize' and so on. In the past, male writers were often bracketed together in groups, with the implicit suggestion that they were all producing similar work, had the same agenda and so on, in what were really artificial constructions. Now, we have the hybridity of a new 'canon' of women writers."

Macmillan and Gifford argued in their historical study that being outside the canon wasn't necessarily all bad for women writers in the past, offering up certain freedoms for them. Does Patrick view the possibility of a new matrilineal heritage, a canon of women writers, with trepidation or pleasure?

"Being 'canonised' can be the death-knell for sparky, surprising writing!" she insists. "But I don't fear it because of the way things are happening right now - risk-taking doesn't necessarily feel the same as it did in the past. There are more ways for women to get feedback for their work than before. It's great to have women occupying positions in the canon - our work will be done when Scottish schoolchildren are asked to draw a picture of a poet and they don't automatically draw a man - but it's a healthier environment now, a more level playing field."

Many years ago Scottish reviewer Carol Anderson wrote of Joyce Carol Oates: "Novelists such as John Updike, Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer slug it out for the title of the Great American Novelist. But maybe they're wrong. Maybe, just maybe, the Great American novelist is a woman." As we look to the future of great Scottish writing, maybe, just maybe, that future is female.

Lesley McDowell will be speaking at In Search Of Scotland's New Generation Of Writers as part of the Wigtown Book Festival on October 6 at 4.30pm