The drive for independence suspected in new boost for Scots language. Sounds familiar?

The Financial Times (£ paywall) which is so good at making its limited space for non-financial themes count, reports a new boost for the Scots language which the writer Mure Dickie suspects is part of the longer term drive for independence.  In language policy, the parallels as well as contrasts  with both Irish and Ulster Scots hardly need much spelling out. But I hope you will – enjoy, is that the word? – the distortions  of  what we think of as English that only sound uncouth because they came to be regarded as the inferior speech of inferior races. Unionists and nationalists can at least agree to slam that one down today. An open minded language policy in  both countries can be a uniting not as divisive force.

This week the first “Scots scriever”, or writer, takes office as part of a drive by the Scottish National party to give the Scots language greater status in schools and cultural industries.

In the policy statement that paved the way for the appointment of writer Hamish MacDonald, state agency Creative Scotland said it aimed to enhance the status of Scots in communities across the country.

“Creative Scotlan is commitit tae wurkin wi pairtners tae heize up the status o Scots language amang folk an toons athort Scotlan,” as the agency rendered the goal in the Scots section of its unusual bilingual statement.

While the SNP policy builds on the work of past Labour administrations in Scotland, it remains controversial. Some sceptics suspect an SNP effort to highlight cultural differences in the UK as part of its push for independence.

Yet three centuries after the union of Scottish and English parliaments, just defining what Scots is remains a challenge. Without a standard version used by the crown, parliament or law courts, many in Scotland have tended to share Hume’s view that it is merely a dialect — or rather, a variety of dialects — of English.

The paper also a carries counterintuitive  approach to counter the independence drive from John Lloyd, the Scottish journalist now long  based in Oxford and London

The past two years have been an object lesson in the fact that the virtues of unionism are now a very difficult political sell. But there is an answer to the passion of Scottishness. The answer is indifference, that it is not worth the bother.

There’s a Scots phrase, not much used now. (Independence would not stop the disappearance of many Scots phrases, any more than Irish independence has saved Irish Gaelic). The phrase is “dinna fash yersel”. From the French “fâcher”, or “annoy”, it means: do not bother yourself. It is the mismatch between the gain and the bother that is unionism’s unspoken, unglamorous, unfashionable weapon — and the sign of its success.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • Barneyt

    Its very interesting on a few counts. I guess Northern Irelanders who may push the Ulster Scots “language” will be non-plus’d by this initiative from the SNP. In NI, Ulster Scots is promoted to cement a connections with the Lallans and to cement NI and its peoples status within the UK union. The SNP on the other hand further the Scots language for an entirely nationalistic purposes and of course to continue their push for separation – The enhancement of identity runs common I suspect.

  • Scots Anorak

    A curate’s egg of a piece. Full marks for getting the point that Scots is a number of varieties rather than just one, however.

    On the other hand, the whole notion of politicised language consciousness in Northern Ireland is, if you don’t mind my saying it, a very Unionist one, and has its root in the fact that Unionism here embodies the primacy of politics over culture (or, at least, culture of the secular sort). Unionists commonly claim that Irish has been hijacked by the Shinners and therefore can’t be supported or acknowledged (meanwhile, public support for Welsh in Wales has almost succeeded in taking the language out of the party-political sphere entirely). Unionists also promote a form of Ulster Scots intended to prove languageness and that native users consequently cannot understand (they would find your press-release quotation from Scotland much easier, despite its being, if we would believe the Ulster-Scots Language Society, in a foreign language).

    Scots activism in Scotland is strongly Nationalist. On the other hand, speakers come in all political colours, and the SNP has been wary of promoting Scots too far because of its uncertain linguistic status and fears that attempts to change that status might attract ridicule. Scots is very much in the ha’penny place compared with Gaelic, which has few constitutional associations of any kind. The announcement will do very little to change the status of Scots, which in its written form remains a primarily literary (rather than utilitarian) language. I would characterise the appointment of a scriever as a minor, minor sop to cultural Nationalists in the Lowlands — or, indeed, a neutral cultural initiative. What it clearly isn’t is part of a scheme to achieve independence. Westminster seems to be doing the legwork on that front itself.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    “Unionists commonly claim that Irish has been hijacked by the Shinners and therefore can’t be supported or acknowledged (meanwhile, public support for Welsh in Wales has almost succeeded in taking the language out of the party-political sphere entirely).

    That’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison.

    The unionist claim is not without foundation.

    The only time I ever came across Irish when growing up in the grim north was almost exclusively in the context of SF or something nationalist orientated.

    I only got over this hump after spending a great deal of time in Glasgow’s teuchter triangle and the Outer Hebrides.

    So now I’m pro-Gaelic but I can say with conviction that SF’s use of the language does it more harm than good.

    Yes, I acknowledge that they helped the language.

    But thankfully that sort of help is no longer necessary, kind of like how a heart patient doesn’t require a defibrillator every day; Yes, it is necessary at the beginning but not during the convalescence stage.

    And your own football league exposed how this psychology has some merit.
    The reason for the Old Firm joint sponsorships came about as the marketing gurus discovered that the negative aspect was stronger than the positive aspect of sponsorship (I’ve a Celtic mate who to this day refuses to drink McEwan’s Lager, though to be fair it is not a great drink).

    How Magners will do out of going it alone remains to be seen.

    (Also, a former work colleague from Drumchapel told me that his local pub/social club poured Oranjeboom lager down the pan when he explained its house of Orange connotations).

    There are Jews who refuse to speak German and there are Croats in Vukovar who are bitterly opposed to the erection of Cyrillic signs in the town as Cyrillic script is for ‘themuns’ (whom they have had a bitter experiences with).

    I don’t agree with this mentality but I acknowledge that it exists and I’m alarmed at the number of people who can’t see this very real condition.
    I would love for Gaelic to be revived.

    On a selfish (and fantastical) note I would love for everyone in Ireland, Scotland and Mann to be English-Gaelic bilingual.

    But I know from experience how off putting SF’s use of the language is.
    It hobbles the efforts of people like Linda Ervine and helps to make people like myself ‘suspect’.

    No amount of highlighting unionist wrongs in the past or present will change this.

    We are where we are, we have to choose where we want to go.
    If we want to go to a place of healthier Gaelic then we must do what is required.

    I agree with the rest of your post though.

    (I really hope I haven’t derailed this thread….)

  • runepig

    Dinnae fash yersel, dae it awfy well!

  • Sergiogiorgio

    “Once in a generation…”, now who was it said that?