SCOTLAND could soon be celebrating another win after decades of waiting – this time in the literary world, with the result of the Booker prize announced this week.

Douglas Stuart, who was born in Glasgow and now holds dual US citizenship, is the bookies’

favourite to win for Shuggie Bain, his debut novel which was inspired by growing up in the city’s Sighthill housing scheme.

Instead of the usual dinner at London’s Guildhall, the winner will be announced at an online awards ceremony on Thursday, featuring appearances from various guests including former US president Barack Obama.

However Stuart would be only the second Scottish author who has won the Booker in its 51-year history, after it was awarded to James Kelman for How Late it Was How Late in 1994.

The question of why many prestigious authors north of the Border have been consistently overlooked for one of the glittering prizes of the literary world has long provoked controversy.

In 2012, Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh described the Booker as being “based on the conceit that upper-class Englishness is the cultural yardstick against which all literature must be measured”. 

Dr Jamie Harris, a lecturer in Literature and Place, at Aberystwyth University, argued that non-English British writers published outside London are still being “perennially disadvantaged” by the Booker’s selection criteria in a recent article published on The Conversation website.

He pointed out that in the 30 times the prize has been awarded to UK-based authors, it has also only gone once to a Welsh author – Bernice Rubens in 1970. Northern Ireland has also only had a winner in recent years: Anna Burns for her novel Milkman in 2018.

Harris told the Sunday National it was “baffling” the writing output of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was not reflected in the representation of Booker winners.

“It is very interesting that there is just one [winner] from each of the non-English UK nations,” he said.

“I think it has to be seen in the wider context – bearing in mind this was a prize that was set up for British and Irish and Commonwealth nations, around 45 or so of the 53 Commonwealth nations are still yet to be represented in the Booker.”

However Harris did acknowledge this year’s shortlist is one of the most diverse ever – with four female and two male writers, four of whom are people of colour.

Avni Doshi’s debut novel Burnt Sugar and Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King are among the books shortlisted, with The New Wilderness by Diane Cook, Tsitsi Dangarembga’s This Mournable Body and Real Life by Brandon Taylor also up for the award.

Harris claimed the Booker’s submission criteria, which does not allow entries from publishers who don’t publish at least two literary fiction titles a year, has created an “unbalanced system”.

And he said many feel a rule change which allowed publishers with a history of having books longlisted to submit more entries also works in favour of bigger publishers.

Another major issue, he argued, was the concentration of publishing “power” in London, with smaller regional presses often unable to afford “prohibitive” costs associated with minimum print runs and marketing if a book is longlisted.

“It’s not the responsibility of the Booker to fix wider problems of publishing,” he said.

“But one sticking plaster approach would be to abandon this idea that bigger publishers get to submit more works and make it more equal in that regard.

“There probably needs to be more funding available for [smaller] publishers – that’s not something that the Booker can do, that is something devolved administrations can do or think about.”

Gaby Wood, the literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, the charity which runs the prize, pointed out every publisher in the UK and Ireland is eligible to enter.

She said: “We do have the call-in system – there are regular submissions and beyond that every publisher is allowed to send a letter asking the judges to call in up to five books – that is 100% fair and equal.

“It may surprise publishers the extent to which they have a shot.

“The question of writers beyond London is a really interesting one and I don’t think the Booker prize is more tilted in that direction [London] than publishing in general.

“It is something the Foundation has been thinking about. The question of whether some writers are most disadvantaged is something that would interest us anyway.”

She added: “With this [prize] the judges are under really strict instructions to just consider the individual book and come up with the best 13.”

The Booker Prize award ceremony will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and live-streamed on iPlayer.