IT’S a storm in a cortado cup, admittedly. But the demise of the paper edition of the Scottish Review of Books, as a consequence of Creative Scotland rejecting their grant application, is a dark and concentrated swirl of contemporary Scottish issues all on its own.

Adjust your vintage tortoiseshell specs, re-roll your black poloneck, and read on.

For one thing, such language! Creative Scotland is “metamorphosing into a manifesto-waving, policy-driven arm of an increasingly authoritarian state”, wrote the co-editor of the SRB, Rosemary Goring.

The nub of this charge seems to be CS’s request that the Review’s board embody, in Goring’s words, a “higher degree of editorial and board member diversity, thereby meeting Creative Scotland policy”.

Goring then launches into a defence of “quality and originality” as the benchmark for literary and an artistic excellence, which she says should always take priority over any “quest for diversity”.

Goring continues: “Imposing BAME [black/asian/minority ethnic] diversity targets, in a country whose ethnic profile is at best patchy and in some cases negligible, is to put the implementation of an inarguably important principle higher than any other consideration.”

There are facts behind this last claim – but there is a world of argumentation beyond it, too.

The 2011 Scottish Census (the next one is in 2021) shows 4% identifying as non-white “minority ethnic” across Scotland. In the major cities it’s higher – 12% in Glasgow City, 8% in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Given the 2001 census number for BAME was 2%, it’s reasonable to expect that these national demographics will be 6-8% in 2021, if they match the rate of increase.

So even on a numbers game, and looking at the eight current Scottish Review of Books board members, a minority ethnic member would seem like a fair, and not exactly “authoritarian” request – at least if we’re presuming the audience for the journal is mostly city-urban. (It’s worth noting how different major cities are in the rest of the UK in their BAME numbers – Manchester is at 33%, London 39% and Birmingham 42%).

But the issue isn’t, of course, strictly about proportionate quotas (a blunt instrument which nevertheless shakes organisations out of their complacency). To my mind, there are also two other questions: whether we’re preparing ourselves for the future or not. And whether we’re acknowledging our national past properly.

In terms of the future, Scotland will be a country (hopefully independent) with a black and brown world heading towards our shores and borders – driven there by the destructive forces of climate chaos.

In terms of the past, we have to accept that the carbonisation of the environment which causes this is built on a history and legacy of modern Western exploitation. One in which Scots played their full and integral part.

We have showcases of Scottish national culture – which a “review of books” should to some extent be. So Scottish editors should lean in and listen harder to voices (whether writing here, or from beyond) who speak from a decolonial perspective. If they implicitly or explicitly challenge our blithe assumptions about culture, economy and history, we should welcome it.

In preparing to engage with the teeming planet directly, how can Scotland demonstrate its wisdom and openness? Well, one small way is by accepting that “quality and originality” needs to be about the framing and context of serious literature, as well as any brilliance of technique or voice in any particular book.

In Scotland, this framing is being led from the top. Nicola Sturgeon’s advocacy of global contemporary fiction is straightforwardly enthusiastic.

It leads her to interviews with writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and (just announced) with the Indian writer Arundhati Roy at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival. (Which should be a challenge, given Roy’s radical opposition to capitalist business-as-usual).

The Scottish publisher Sandstone Press published a Man Booker International award-winner this year (Jokha al-Harthi’s Celestial Bodies). And writers like Jackie Kay, Leila Aboulela and Chitra Ramaswamy are prominent and leading in Scottish letters.

So it’s a poor moment to make the charge that “diversity” in literature threatens to trump “quality” in literature.

The other element of the complaint by the Scottish Review of Books is that Creative Scotland asked them to pitch for a “considerably enlarged” grant. This would shift the Review away from being an “(unpaid) cottage industry”, in Goring’s words, to an enterprise with properly paid staff.

I scratch my head at that defence of amateurism. And I do so because the idea of a “review of books” in Scotland is something that I believe needs substantial long-term support and investment.

I’ve written happily for the SRB on several occasions – reviewing books about the Blue Nile, a New Sociology of Scotland, the musicians Momus (and Prince), the urbanologist Richard Sennett, and Madeleine Bunting on the Hebrides.

And as a literary reviewer across many UK titles for the last 30 years, I can assure you it’s a rare joy to be able to take 1500-2500 words to consider and analyse a single book. At that length, you don’t have to compress your responses into zippy one-liners; your assessments can be more considered, better evidenced.

The “review of books” format is a culture unto itself – a gesture towards other cosmopolitan titles like the New York, or London, or Los Angeles Review of Books.

It implies that your publication has a territory (maybe even a sensibility), but also that you are also wide open to the global republic of letters. And that you will apply to the same standards and respect to the writing on your doorstep as writing from the wider world.

So to say we need a “Scottish review of books” is to make a more general point: we need to devote resources to taking our literary and intellectual production seriously. And part of that should mean long, well-written but critical and exploring essays on our own textual culture, the world’s writing, and where each of them might fit.

TO blow our trumpet a little, the title you’re reading (across seven days of publication) really understands this need. Its relationship with the blog Bella Caledonia has brought some startling new essayists to the pages of the mainstream press (like Mairi McFadyen or Paul Tritschler).

Alan Riach, Professor of Scottish Literature at Glasgow University, covers his topic methodically and richly in these pages, taking the space to draw connections between writers as disparate as George Mackay Brown and Alexander Trocchi, or Janice Galloway and Iain Banks.

I despair mildly when I think of any other medium than text that might support a vital Scottish criticism. BBC Scotland is about to launch a four-part series (a whole four of them!) based on the Scottish author Damian Barr’s Literary Salon in London.

It promises that three authors per episode “will be filmed as live and performed in front of an audience”. Listening into the previous podcasts, Barr is witty and Wildean enough. But what is it about format television that seems to want to morph any subject into a laugh-fest?

British arts broadcasting, never mind Scottish, is on a long retreat from critical thinking. So it’s maybe too much to expect the beleaguered BBC Scotland channel to reverse the trend.

So please, yes let’s get heads together to imagine a better resourced, more diverse and worldly, thoroughly modern Scottish “review of books”. A few brutal cortados, and a clean of our hipster spectacles, will kick us off.