By Maggie Ritchie

SCOTLAND has narrowly voted for independence, the virus is still with us in its endlessly multiplying variants, army trucks trundle through the streets and Chinook helicopters rattle above while the jobless roast rats in the street.

It’s the near future as imagined in a new dystopian book by Glasgow-based author, Ian Pattison, the creator of the BBC network comedy, Rab C Nesbitt.

As he says: “There is no shortage of love, death, passion, politics – and coffee – in this book.”

Burning Down the House, his fifth novel, is provocatively set in an independent Scotland in the immediate aftermath of a narrow second referendum Yes vote.

As the fledgling independent Scotland endures its birth pangs, the book’s hero/anti-hero Ivan tasks himself with grabbing this historic moment before it cools and hardens into disappointing orthodoxy. When words fail, action must follow is Ivan’s thinking.

“In the book, we find Ivan’s life at a crossroads,” said Pattison. “His obsessive behaviour has caused another relationship failure; he’s dissatisfied with his work and with the usual forms of political protest which these days tend to involve nice middle-class people carrying ironic placards to zero effect.

“He wants to leave his mark on the new Scotland and looks to the example of last century Ireland for parallels and inspiration. He’s a man on a mission to shape the Scottish future and his ultimate methods aren’t pretty.”

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The book also features the ghost of dead Irish freedom fighter, Michael Collins, who takes up residence in Ivan’s flat in the best armchair and eating huge slices of cake.

Ivan is obsessed with Collins, who was Provisional Governor of the Irish Free State from 1922, and his ghost materialises after a bump on the head. The Irish revolutionary will play a crucial part in Ivan’s own version of a Scottish revolution.

“I’ve never understood why nobody involved in the independence debate looks at our near neighbour Ireland’s history,” said Pattison, who wrote a play about the freedom fighter.

“Ivan tries to apply the lessons of Irish politics to Scotland that has just voted Yes and, where the very narrowness of the vote is a recipe for schism and where people are more divided than ever. That is already true post-Brexit and Indy Ref – there are no shades of grey in this debate and the people who didn’t vote the way you did are a bunch of idiots.

“We have seismic divisions over remaining in the UK Union with polls leaning consistently, if narrowly, towards Independence. Brexit and the pandemic have sharpened tensions and don’t forget that perennial Scottish favourite, sectarianism. It’s very much alive and well.”

Pattison’s hero, a disillusioned writer who once had a popular success, is an old anarchist, who decides words have extreme limitations and that it’s time for action.

“He goes back to the old anarchist stance that the best way to start a revolution is to start with a two-person cell as it limits the possibility of infiltration. Ivan has regular talks with his cousin, Trish, a republican, in Glasgow’s Café Twa, over cups of coffee and when Trish falls for a young Irish Republican, Ivan meets his ideal running mate in revolution.

“You’ll experience the rawness of an evolving nation through the eyes of writer Ivan and Trish. Ivan is spiritually for independence but has no faith in the political system. What he sees is what Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising rebellion, saw in Ireland in 1916 – that Scotland needs a convulsion, in this case a Glasgow-centric convulsion that may well lead to civil war but out of the embers of which a new Scotland will emerge.

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“The present is hot and malleable. Ivan believes this historic moment needs grabbing before it cools and hardens into disappointing orthodoxy. When words fail, action must follow.”

Pattison may be best known for creating and writing the BBC Network comedy Rab C Nesbitt for which he wrote all 67 episodes as well as two stage shows, but he has also written and created other BBC shows including Bad Boys and Breeze Block. He has published four novels before this one. In theatre, he has written several plays about, among other subjects, Irish freedom fighter Michael Collins, Psychiatrist RD Laing and the self- styled modern dandy Sebastian Horsley.

While Pattison has set his latest novel in the inflammatory arena of the independence debate that pitted families and friends against each other during the run up to the 2014 referendum, it’s a satire filled with comic absurdity. It shares the dark Glasgow humour and biting cynicism that fuelled Rab C Nesbitt’s impassioned rants against hypocrisy and social injustice.

The main character of this new book struggles with modern life. “A frustrated Ivan is exasperated by the media gatekeepers of the new Scotland and their endless nervousness over giving offence,” said Pattison.

“There you have it. Love. Death. Insurrection. All the big emotional guns. And yes, there’s coffee. Cake too. For Ivan the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first cappuccino.”

Burning Down the House – the title inspired by the Talking Heads song – is available on Amazon by order or on Amazon Kindle.