‘WE need new stories”. Such a theme – birthed at last year’s Edinburgh International Book festival – drives this fascinating and rich collection.

Entitled Imagine A Country: Ideas For a Better Future, it’s edited by Val McDermid and Jo Sharp, and comprises of 90-odd alphabetically ordered pieces, each 500-800 words long (I have one of them, under “K”).

Like you, I’m currently sitting indoors at my own hearth (actual and digital), feeling odd and mildly stunned at the corona-quiet outside. But I suggest, in the downtime, you could much worse than curl up with this fireball of optimism and idealism.

All things will pass. When they do, and we then grab our nation and its systems and point them in an entirely different direction, here you’ll find some intriguing pathways ahead.

I did my own rough categorisation of all these imaginings of Scotland. And the top three categories (with of course many arguable overlaps, argument being the point) are a fascinating snapshot of where the Scottish intelligentsia, such as it is, currently lies.

(This is minus, we must note, working politicians. “They already have plenty of opportunities to tell us what they think,” quip the editors.)

The second-most-numerous category concerns what I’d call “land, homes and place”. The poet John Burnside, with his usual dark thunder, calls for a “land ethic” in Scotland. “A country where a teenage boy with social anxiety problems is not condemned to sit on a cold street, begging”, writes Burnside, “while a man born into millions slithers by in his Bentley on the way to a banquet” (a position roughly echoed by the nature advocate Cameron McNeish and Shetland’s Malachy Tallack).

There is a moving set of voices arguing for the minimal securing of the right to a decent, comfortable home (or “howff”, to quote architect Malcolm Fraser’s Scots usage), with the principle of ownership decidedly communal (whether on Eigg or in the central belt).

Lesley Riddoch and I propose new kinds of built space – Lesley with her rural “huts”, me with my suburban “constitutes” or “makar houses”. We are both hoping they encourage social making and soul saving, simultaneously.

And there are some intense pitches for locality, and the people we immediately live with, as the basis for civility and progress. This at a time, the authors suggest, when all other ideologies have run out of steam.

Writer Alan Bissett says: “We need to think of ourselves as occupying a country of thousands of small locations, full of people who contribute something to that place”.

The literary critic Stuart Kelly hymns his recent embedding in village life – while the journalist Peter Ross thinks his profession ignores a “vital task in simply recording life as it is lived”. “Let us not forget to beat the drum for the humdrum”. We understand news is about “speed, aggression, outrage” – but could it also be, asks Ross (with some courage), about “beauty, compassion and love”?

The third-largest category I marked down as “history, identity and tradition”. From Jackie Kay’s sweet and inclusive patriotic verse, to Alasdair Gray’s “kinds of folk” taken from his Hillhead Underground mural.

From Jamaican historian Geoff Palmer’s plea for chattel slavery to be put at the heart of Scottish history, to Damian Barr’s demand that every aspect of an under-recorded Scottish history be given its due.

There are also two proposals to change the country’s name – Mark Cousins suggests Land of the Trees (by 2040), Greg Hemphill “Banterland”, “Great Patter” or “Biiiiig Whisky” – and a call from Elaine C Smith for an official national winter festival.

Yet my most populated category – again, you can fight me about it – were pieces interested in “behaviour, ethos and practice”. The late Stephen Maxwell, in his Arguing for Independence, wrote on the motivating power of Scotland as an “autonomous moral community” (from the Church of Scotland to anti-Trident).

Well, the AMC is out in force here, pushing through any carapace of posturing or coolness. People such as Horse McDonald, Ricky Ross and Trishna Singh just urge acts of daily kindness, or forgiveness, or openness to the stories of others, or a saving humour – or Janey Godley’s concrete suggestion of “free soup every Friday made by a granny”.

Inspired by a spontaneous shrine in his local Alexandra Park, Stuart Cosgrove proposes new public rituals that allow mothers to mourn their lost children.

Scaling the metaphysical heights, Andrew O’Hagan imagines a “non-narcissistic Scotland … a country where we are ambitious for the world because we do not see it for long, and the world is our legacy, which gives us the freedom to plant wonder in place of our ego”.

Richard Holloway, deeper still, asks us imagine running our country behind John Rawls’s “veil of ignorance”. If we simply assumed we had to deal with full human potentiality, what kind of country would we run? Almost worth the price of purchase alone are two fantasy-epiphanies by AL Kennedy and Ali Smith, which put sensuous flesh on Stephen Maxwell’s moral bones. There are some unanticipated suggestions. Both the director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and the director of that city’s Lyceum Theatre, seem to require of us some form of national service.

The former imagines his grumpy granny dealing with enthusiastic young cadets of the future, doing their year of “Social Service”.

Half-seriously, the latter wants every 18-year-old drafted into creating community musicals, as a form of social character-building (“it’s not easy to be a fascist whilst performing a kick-line in Oklahoma!”).

Indeed, there are some extremely strong arguments here for learning and practising drama and narrative as a key skill for the future. “Empathy is a muscle, theatre is the gym,” as dramatist Jo Clifford puts it. Fellow practitioner Philip Howard sketches a future where a Scotland wide open to the refugees of the world uses drama-education to increase understanding.

Cartoonist Frank Quitely wants the study of “Story” to be a master discipline in schools: kids should know how “stories shaped our evolution from prehistory to the present day … paying particular attention to Story in religion, politics, the media and social media”.

As you might predict from this book-forged nation, a transformed Scottish education threads through everyone’s future, in some way.

Novelist Christopher Brookmyre makes a hard-nosed case for philosophy education in schools, as an antidote to polarisation (and a straightforward raiser of outcomes).

Composer Bill Sweeney does a funny and ideas-packed “heidie’s address” to a school in 2035, where “we now rely on AI bots for our day-to-day repetitive and non-creative tasks”. There are arts trips, outdoor learning, ambient opportunities for music-making – and a thrumming insistence that creativity is at the centre of any pedagogy (Seona Reid, Ruth Wishart and Roddy Woomble are particularly eloquent here).

It’s hard to exhaust this book – which also has striking pieces on social justice, food and environment, and children’s rights.

But I must mention the short number of what you could call “macro-policy” pieces. Poet Don Paterson supports universal basic income, while novelist Leila Aboulela promotes the shorter working week. Major scientist Anne Glover advocates a post-consumerism of smart materials and 3D printing; academic Gerry Hassan urges that we develop our literacy in futures thinking.

The point of these policies is that they are all designed to support the preceding, teeming multitude of human purposes and actions. Their evaluations of the human condition are much more diverse than, say GDP or the labour market. If you seek any grim realism about the severities of competitive advantage for an independent Scotland, this isn’t your rodeo.

But if you’re trying to imagine what you might do with yourself, when “business as usual” collapses around your ears, and a disordered climate turns life upside down … Well, this volume could be a very good place to pick up some clues. About the practicalities of living with different, more expanded, and subtler priorities.

The right book, for a weird time.

Imagine a Country: Ideas for a Better Future, edited by Val McDermid and Jo Sharp, is published by Canongate Books. Out on Thursday, £12