THOSE readers who’ve been around the literary block will be struck by the reception of Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, Thursday’s winner of the Booker Prize. Particularly compared to the last (and only other) Scottish Booker winner, James Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late in 1994.

Shuggie Bain has come garlanded with praise from the heart of American literary culture, after having been rejected by more than 30 publishers in the UK and Scotland. And Stuart’s has also won from a shortlist which seems acutely self-conscious about articulating marginal and muffled voices. As well as critiquing broken systems – whether environmental, the small aggressions of racism or class prejudice.

Whizz back to 1994 and Kelman’s work raised what now seems like the most antique of stushies. The chair of the Booker panel, Julia Neuberger, felt it a “disgrace” that How Late It Was should win (she also thought it was “terrible, boring, monotonous, Glaswegian”, recalled Alan Taylor, a Scottish judge that year).

Read Kelman’s 1994 acceptance speech and you can see that today’s critiques and concerns have deep roots: “I see this as part of a much wider process – or movement – toward decolonisation and self-determination … It is a tradition that assumes two things: 1) the validity of indigenous culture, and 2) the right to defend in the face of attack. It is a tradition premised on a rejection of the cultural values of imperial or colonial authority … ”

Does this vocabulary sound familiar? The circle closes further. Douglas Stuart recently paid due respect to Kelman’s work. “How Late It Was, How Late changed my life”, he wrote on the Booker website. “It is such a bold book, the prose and stream of consciousness is really inventive. But it is also one of the first times I saw my people, my dialect, on the page.”

So it would be initially reasonable to praise Shuggie Bain as a product of the living tradition of contemporary Scottish writing. It’s another example of what has been generated by that wave of literary pioneers, surfacing at the cusp of Thatcherism in the late 70s and early 80s. (Another notable current example might be Kirstin Innes’s Scabby Queen, the author explicitly citing the work of Janice Galloway and AL Kennedy as inspirational.)

Is the global acceptance of Shuggie Bain another example of the “Scottish Voice” (as expressed culturally), mapping out in advance new territory for democratic progress? Watching Barack Obama pipe up in Thursday’s night’s televised ceremony, blandly praising the testimonial power of literature, was to be reminded of his last, inglorious conjunction with Scotland in 2014. Overall, circumstances seem to be improving.

Yet for some critics, Bain’s story – a young gay Glaswegian, coping with the decline of his glamorous alcoholic mother, amidst various grim West-of-Scotland post-industrial locales in the 80s and 90s – points the country backwards rather than forwards.

Is Shuggie Bain an example of the “miserabilism” that some (like former Channel 4 executive Stuart Cosgrove) complain is the default tendency of modern Scottish literature? Scouting around for comment amongst my literati pals last night, this landed in my lap like a cold fish supper: “Bain is a deep-fried Angela’s Ashes”.

Ooft. After that might come two other sets of summary judgements: “misery memoir” and “poverty porn”. So the indictment might go: Douglas Stuart might stand on the shoulders of philosophically coherent conveyors of the subaltern voice like Kelman – but he’s toned it down enough to be sellable to the most obvious and lucrative market niches. (“Not a word of it is true, it is all written in truth,” Stuart has said, admitting that his own, hard-scrabble experiences with his addictive mother have been heavily drawn on.)

I think this judgement would be deeply unfair to the book itself. What Shuggie Bain did for me was to recall, with necessary detail and vividness, some of the inner instabilities of Scottish industrial-age society and culture. The deep cracks just waiting to open up into giant fissures, under the disruptions of Thatcherism, into which bodies and souls would easily fall.

For example, the fleeting satisfactions of fashion and consumerism are pitilessly laid out by Stuart. The alcoholic mother Agnes looks in her mirror and sees Elizabeth Taylor, or at least “the vain and haughty version from the paparazzi photos on the yacht in Puerto Vallarta”. The pages of the Freemans catalogue are “gazed hungrily at” by mother and child, the hire-purchases “steadying her shakes”.

SHUGGIE fortifies his difference from the savagery of the schoolyard through cultural distinctions. The tastes of others are regularly designated as “common” or “immodest”, mother’s jewellery is ordered into patterns, lager lovelies get substituted by “scented dolls” and his suits are unusually “black and fitted” for an eight-year-old.

Yet he barely survives the barrage of precisely targeted resentments from his community, whether in the south side of Glasgow or the unspecified former mining village known as “Pithead”.

Stuart wants to show us the drives and needs behind his later life, as a proudly gay fashion producer living in New York. But he also doesn’t shy away from showing how fragile people are when consumer identity is their main compensation for hard, unsatisfying work. And how that identity crumbles, sometimes into addiction or cruelty, when the work itself goes.

As a late-50s, west-of-Scotland, upper-working-class male myself, Stuart’s depiction of masculinity in the 80s and 90s is unsparing. When I compare it to personal experience, I’m ambivalent about this part of the novel.

For me, this exact period was a flowering. It was all about university and new peers; a growing engagement with Scotland’s labour, artistic and peace movements; the beginnings of a constitutional swell towards a Scottish parliament.

There’s none of those webs of solidarity or self-determination in Stuart’s pages. Any kind of political hope is non-existent, even while the wrecking ball of Thatcherism swings at everything in the background.

Yet it would be false to say that the judgemental harshness, the rampant sexism and misogyny, and the latent violence which Shuggie Bain encounters didn’t exist, certainly among the former industrial

North Lanarkshire communities I grew up in. Male lust and aggression becomes an exercise of power by the recently disempowered over the never-even-empowered.

It was always a rotten situation. And writers have only begun to scratch the surface of the damage that this era of toxic Scottish masculinity has wreaked on subsequent generations of daughters and sons. I applaud Douglas Stuart’s ability and stamina, in laying out these oppressive, sometimes terrifying logics of maleness.

Shuggie Bain shows quite a few signs of being a first novel. Some of the dialect writing is pretty shakily handled (his American editors evidently unable to help him out). And the novel’s end remains private and Glasgow-centric – Shuggie glumly watches more human ruination, in the Paddy’s Market of the early 90s. It ends up making you feel claustrophobic about these characters, happy to be finally free of them.

But this is a novel which reminds us how precarious and brittle our subjectivities are – particularly when giant external forces rip apart the habits (and crutches) that hold us together in the everyday. For these reasons, even though it refers to a different history, Shuggie Bain is a worthy winner of the Booker Prize. A novel for exactly this moment.