Ah wis up at the Scottish Pairlament the ither day. Ah say ‘up’ acause whaur ah bide, in the bonnie Borders, whether ye gaed up, doon, ower or acroass tae somewhaur is mair a quaisten o taste than actual geography. In the auld grey toon o Hawick, it daesna maiter whaur ye’re stairtin fae – tae the rugby it’s up, but tae the fitba it’s doon.
Sae the Scottish Pairlament is ayeweys ‘up’, as least as faur as ah’m concernt, for there’s muckle aboot the buildin tae be admired. The transparency o it, the accessibility. It’s the real deal, as pairlaments gan. Nou, ye can talk aboot yer history an yer tradeetions doon Westmeenster, but whaur the Hooses o Pairlament feel like haudowers fae the days o Empire, oor ain wee set-up is something else. It gets the balance richt. Westmeenster seems ayeweys tae be facin back, intae a time when there wis still a Britain, Great or no. But Holyrood, tae me, is aw aboot leukin forrit; an the Pairlament Buildin is an unco kenmerk o oor modren, internationalist Scotland, gearin tae tak its place at the table o nations.
An internationalist it is, fae the Catalan architect wha dreamt it tae the Sooth African granite that hauds it up. At the entry, leaflets in aw the leids o a the warld walcome ye, in Arabic an French an Urdu an iverythin else. Ah ayeweys git a richt warm glow oot o that; it maks ma hert gled tae see. An yon, bi the wey, is just a wee saumplin o the linguistic diversitie that awaits ye within, wi ilka sign on ilka waw in ivery language o the laund; English, an Gaelic, an…
But hing on. Whaur’s the Scots? There’s a couple o wee bitties, a line or twa o verse, facin oot on the Canongate Waw. Nae surpreese there; oor leid has lang syne been on the ootside o things. But whit aboot inby? Whit’s the story wi that?
Hmm. Ach weel, ye say tae yersel. Yon’s a thing could happen; aften dis. Ah mean, fowk forget. It daesnae hiv tae mean onythin. The puir sowels! They had that much gaun on, it must hae slipped richt oot o their heids. Weel, nae dout they’ve done their best tae mak up for it. Dottit roond the place wi a daud o Blu-Tack an some A4 sheets – “CLUDGIE”, “DENNER HAW”, “HEID BUMMER’S OFFICE”. It’s the efterthocht that coonts.
Naebody could blame ye for thinkin yon charitable wey – it’s ten year auld, the building, an we’ve come an awfy lang road in an awfy short space o time – but still. The anely hint o Scots ye’ll see in the hale o yer veesit tae the Scottish Pairlament is in the gift shap on the wey oot, whaur there’s a pickle o books aside the stocks o rock an the tairtan key rings.
Nou, in a wey, the pairlament is anely representin the state o things ootwith the biggin itsel. On the Edinburgh streets, the spoken leid micht be ilka gate, but Scots written doon is a daimen-icker in a thrave. Likeweys, at Holyrood, the Lallans an the Doric are tae be heard in ivery casual blether – in corridors an cafes an conference rooms. They’ve even been seen tae sneak their wey in tae the chaumer itsel, whaur the guid Scots tongue is sometimes (but no ayeweys) tae be fund in the company o its antrin auld fier – guid Scots sense. Whilk is aw tae the guid, but maks the omeesion o Scots in its written forms leuk preceesely that; an omeesion, a pass-ower. A deleeberate snub.
So, whit tae dae? There’s a kynd o thinkin in these pairts that’s ayeweys for the levellin doon o things. The runnin o a bilingual government is a hard eneuch business as it is, niver mynd makkin it a trilingual yin. Let’s no add tae the mischief bi bringin Scots intae the equation, they’ll say; fact, let’s nip the hale thing in the bud bi daein awa wi the Gaelic. An ah suppose, tae some governments, juistice micht just mean treatin iverybody equally unfairly. But that rins agin whit’s meant tae be the principles o oors, baith in the abstract an in the reality, in the democracy itsel an in the biggin that hooses it. Ah’m no cryin for the dingin doon o Gaelic, or even o English. Aw ah’m askin for is an equal pairtnership, stairtin fae the place whaur, gin we cannae meet as equals, we micht as weel no meet at aw.
An it can be done. Leuk at Sooth Africa, whase granite mashles throu oor pairlament wi the stane o Caithness an the steel o the Clyde. When it cams tae leids, the Sooth African government hiv got eleiven baws tae keep up in the air, but they manage fine. Fair eneuch, they use English mair than maist, but tae them it’s just a lingua franca, a maiter o practicality raither than personal identity. It’s no the hale gemme, the wey it is here. In Sooth Africa, English, if onythin, is servant tae the ither leids, raither than maister.
An English is practical, there’s nae twa weys aboot it. Nearlins aw o us speak it. But at the last coont there wis 1.6 million fowk in Scotland wha said that they unnerstood the Scots leid. Nou, that’s aboot the same nummer o fowk as votit “Aye” in the referendum – which micht be a coincidence, or then again michtna. But whaur supporters o independence are weel representit at the Scottish Pairlament, the speakers o Scots can haurdly get their fuit in the door. We’ve got naething. Nae signs. Nae laws. No even a leaflet at the entry tae tell us whaur the toilets are.
But we’ll no cry it a disgrace, no whiles there’s plenty else gaun on that’s waur. Bairns bein bombed in Syria, austerity cuts sclicing throu the arteries o the common weel. Whit’s a haundfu o slang compared wi aw that? Yet the mairginalisation o Scots disna rin sindert fae thae things – it rins alang by them. It’s anither pairt o the grand schame tae keep the voiceless voiceless that’s allowin aw these ither things tae happen; waur, tae be done in oor names. The politico rimples his neb while a Glesga keelie talks, pulls his face at the latest polls. It’s aw yin. He cannae unnerstaun whit they’re trying tae tell him, and whit’s mair, he disnae want tae.
An wha can blame him? We’ve been ower polite aboot it for ower lang; droppin aw oor glottal stops, pittin on the phone voice. Weel, it’s high time for a chynge, and let’s stairt wi oor pairlament. A sign or twa that pits whit’s in oor minds a wee bit mair bluntly – ‘YOU ARE HERE’ replaced bi ‘HERE WE UR’, ‘EXIT’ replaced bi ‘OOT’ – that widna gan amiss.
The slippery slopers will be up in airms. “But where will it end? Utility bills? Newspapers? Road signs?” Weel, that ah dinna ken. There’s nae surmeesin whaur a path will lead until ye’re oot on it. But ma guess is that it’ll come tae a stap when fowk in Scotland want it tae; an tae fund that oot, we’ll just hiv tae listen tae them. For oor politeecians, that in itsel micht be an experiment wirth the tryin.