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