Coming to Our Census

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn amazing snapshot of a changing nation appeared this week as the first census results since 2007 were revealed showing a secular country with a growing ethnic mix and increasing numbers of young people learning one of our indigenous languages.

The 2011 survey was the first to include a question on national identity. 62% described themselves as “Scottish only”, 83% of the country’s population felt some Scottish identity (compared to 70% in England and 66% in Wales). Only 18% said they were “Scottish and British”.

What this tells us at a deeper level is difficult to tell. There is no direct correlation between voting intention at next years referendum and national identity, though in the longer term it is difficult to see how the fragile notion of Britishness and Britain itself can survive in the face of such widespread rejection. The trajectory for a clear national identity is on a massive upward direction and it is not difficult to imagine that figure of 18% considering themselves ‘Scottish and British’ dwindling to nothing within a generation. Try selling ‘Better Together’ with only a handful of the population considering themselves remotely British?

Alongside and interacting with this new identity clarity are two new phenomenon: signs of growing cultural and linguistic confidence alongside a growing multicultural urban Scotland.

In the week that Edinburgh opened its first dedicated Gaelic school where lessons will be taught entirely in Gaelic, there are some indications of a new growth of among the young people being given the opportunity to access their language at school. Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pairce has been developed on the site of the old Bonnington primary school in Leith. The school, which has 30 Gaelic-speaking staff, replaces the Gaelic medium education unit that had been based in the capital’s Tollcross primary since 1982. This sort of development – with similar developments in Glasgow, Caithness and across the country – are reflected in the latest results which show a 0.1% increase in Gaelic speakers aged under 20.

Alasdair Allan, minister for Scotland’s languages, said: “While the census shows a slight fall overall, we can take real encouragement from the growth in Gaelic speakers under the age of 20. “This increase in the next generation of Gaelic speakers, helped by a 12% increase in pupils entering P1 of Gaelic Medium Education clearly demonstrates that our investment in the language is paying off.” He added: “Our efforts to support Gaelic and create more learning opportunities for all ages has also significantly slowed down the decline in the overall numbers of speakers, many of whom tend to be in older age groups.”

Amazingly, wonderfully, about 1.5 million people reported that they regularly spoke Scots.

But at the same time as this emergent cultural confidence Scotland is becoming more ethnically diverse. 9% of people living in Scotland are English. Of those not born in the UK, 15% were born in Poland, 6% in India and a further 6% in the Republic of Ireland.The figures indicated that most Scots from ethnic minorities were Asian, making up 3% of the Scottish population. People from ethnic minorities made up 12% of the population in Glasgow, 8% of the population in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and 6% of the population in Dundee.

This more ethnically diverse country is a largely secular one  with the number of people in ­Scotland with no religion outstripping those in the biggest denomination – the Church of Scotland – for the first time.  At the same time, the number of people saying they had no religion rose from 1.4 million to 1.9 million.

Taken as a whole it’s a changed Scotland shifting away from the land of the 1950s, or even the 1970s where a homogenous, white nation would stand to attention at public events and sing God Save the Queen, where our culture and national identity was repressed with the Reverend I.M. Jolly.

It’s a nation in waiting.

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  1. Rev. William Steele says:

    I’m delighted at the founding of Gaelic schools where the medium of teaching and learning of the entire curriculum is Gaelic.Why is the same thing not happening with Scots? It seems to me that to recover our legitimate national pride, we need to remove Scots from being the language of the uneducated and jokes, the language of the working class to being the language of the educated, the arts and high culture, the first language of all the non Gaelic speaking and non BSL speaking population.

    When I was in school in the 1950s and early 60s, we were taught by our teachers that the language we spoke was cheeky and bad English. It was actually bad Scots. We were ridiculed for speaking Lanarkshire working class Scots. What has this humiliating us done to working class people? We tend to feel ashamed of our speech. I was delighted to hear Carolyn Leckie speak Lanarkshire Scots in addresses that she has recently given. It’s such a joy to hear someone of her stature speaking one of our national languages without feeling ashamed.

    Of course, English, being the language of international diplomacy, trade and commerce, will continue to be an important second language (until French or German take its place). We need to realise that English is a foreign language, that the Union has imposed upon us, and that Government officials, and educators have shamed us for speaking our native tongue. The Kirk is also much at fault too in this regard. By using the Authorised Version of the Bible, and not having it translated into Scots, and by Ministers leading worship and preaching in English instead of Scots, we even worshiped in a foreign tongue, and not the language of the heart. At least the Kirk did well by Gaelic by having the Bible translated into that native language, worship lead, and sermons preached in it.

    In spite of the decline of the Kirk, and Christianity, in modern Scotland, the Kirk could still foster our legitimate pride by having the Bible translated into Scots, worship led in Scots, and sermons preached in Scots. The General Assembly could use Scots and Gaelic as the first language medium with translations into English.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      It’s a good question on Scots. I remember Billy Kaye describing how he was beaten for 363 days of the year if he spoke in Scots. Then on Burns Day he’d be given a prize for it. Michael Hance from the Scots language Centre is writing for us next week. I suspect though he’ll be as delighted as we are that 1.5 million describe speaking Scots every day. That’s a huge cultural leap, not that we weren’t before but we weren’t proud of it.

      1. pmcrek says:

        I have it on good authority that about 4 million people speak Scots regularly, they just dont actually know it, perhaps they should be telt.

  2. Nick Jardine says:

    Good point: wonderful that we now recognise the diversity of our languages, that the decline in speaking Gaelic is being reversed. It’s all adds to the general positive picture of Scots recognising and celebrating our endeavours, culture and history.
    It’s a shame that the national identity question has only been introduced in this last census, but I would be pretty confident that the re-opening of our Parliament has played a pretty big factor in boosting that figure.

    Bad point: Mike, you need to sort your Lego, thats appalling.

  3. Neil McRae says:

    It’s fascinating to see the further slight decline in Gaelic speakers being spun as ‘growth’. Thank goodness for that whopping 0.1% increase in the under 20s!

    But yes the census results are fascinating. A country almost unrecognisable from the one, deeply conflicted and ill at ease with itself, I remember 40 years ago.

  4. K Mackay says:

    Mike, very uplifting, we are regaining our confidence!

    Rev. William Steele, there is a version of the new testament (I think) translated into Scots, I bought it for my mum, she loves it.

    Just looked it up, it’s translated by William Laghtoun Lorimer, here’s a link:

    1. Rev. William Steele says:

      Thanks! I did have a copy of Lorimer’s translation of the NT. Unfortunately I left it in Africa, but I’ll buy another when I get back to Scotland late October. Still, I’d like to see the whole Bible and Apocrypha translated into Scots and used in churches.

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