2007 - 2021

A Scots Pairlament?

Literary quotes cut into stone panels as part of the Canongate Wall at the Scottish Parliament.

Literary quotes cut into stone panels as part of the Canongate Wall at the Scottish Parliament.

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.

Literary quotes cut into stone panels as part of the Canongate Wall at the Scottish Parliament.

Literary quotes cut into stone panels as part of the Canongate Wall at the Scottish Parliament.

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.


Comments (28)

Leave a Reply to Mary MacCallum Sullivan Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Brian Fleming says:

    A braw scrieve Tammas.

  2. C Rober says:

    Google Mitchell soap box on Scots , then release the hoons.

    Dialect ma erse.

    If Scots wis a language course a wid still get an F , but thats mair than a wid git fur the gaelic , I widnay be able to figur oot where to put ma name on the test paper.

  3. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

    pure brilliant!

  4. Effie MacLeod says:

    As a Scot whose first language is Gaelic and who has lived in the Northwest Territories of Canada, where 11 languages are classified as official, I agree that Scots deserves official language status. The value to the individual, the group and the nation is significant when all language groups are equal. Scotland will be stronger as a result.

  5. Alf Baird says:

    Thankfu fir a braw airticle, Tammas.


    Thon heid bummers (aye, includin the CEO) in the Scots Pairlament canna e’en speak Scots nivver mind screedit. Maist heid bummers in hunders o Scotland’s public bodies canna speak fer less screed Scots aither. E’en ‘Creative Scotland’s’ CEO (?!?), niver mynd heids o maist o wir universities an maist ither bodies tae.

    Haein Scots leid shud hae be a necessar requirement fir a sic poseetions, naw? Like in ony ither kintra – ye widna e’en qualify fir a job interview in ony ither kintra if ye coudna speak the local leid. Guid that millions o’ Scots are speakin Scots as well as English. Wir fowk shud be bi-lingual tae meet the staundart fir heid bummer jobs (i.e. Gaelic OR Scots, an English), jist like in maist ither kintras. Aw wir current heid bummers ir really no qualified the noo if they canna speak far less screed ony o the indigenous leids, ‘English’ bein merely an ‘administrative language’. How ir they expectet tae communicate wi aw the locals if they dinna huv the leid?

    A ‘Scots Language (Scotland) Act’ is necessar tae owercome ongoin discriminashun o Scots fowk, leid an cultur. That wid mak Scots ‘statutory’, an gie ‘Scots’ equaliti wi English an Gaelic (thanks tae the ‘Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act, 2005’).

    “EXIT’ replaced bi ‘OOT’” – aye, juist likin the German, Dutch and Norwegian etc ‘uitgang’, an as ma mither wid cry “gang oot the hoose tae play ye wee…….”.

    1. Tammas Clark says:

      Aw guid pynts, Alf. But we dinna just need mair tapsters an daesters that’ll tick the ‘Scots’ box on their census an niver braithe anither wird aboot it; we need fowk wha will speak the leid as a maiter o coorse, no just thraw in the orra sawe or twa when the occasion caws for it. Richt nou ah’m shuir there’s mony in the Scottish Pairlament wha can speak Scots – there’s just naebody chuisin tae dae it. Same aw ower. Ah dout oor national fitba team has haed a boss wha didna speak Scots (Vogts apairt) but hou mony o thaim iver uised it?

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Wi huv tae stairt some place. As wi the ‘Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005’, a ‘Scots Language (Scotland) Act 2017’ wid be a guid stairt bringin aboot at least:
        – a Scots Language TV Station
        – a Scots Language ‘National Certificate’
        – Scots wirds
        – a Scots Language National Body (tae mak sure its aw done richt)
        – a Scots Language budget fir aw the above

        1. Alf Baird says:

          3rd point: Scots wirds/leed (and/or Gaelic) should also be uised in public ‘English’ documents

          As an aside, there are 27 municipalities with language facilities in Belgium which must offer services to residents in Dutch, French or German, in addition to their official languages. In Singapore residents must learn either Mandarin or Tamil as the indigenous language option, plus English as the ‘administrative’ language. French is the official language of Quebec albeit it is constitutionally obliged to also provide English services in the courts and the Quebec parliament.

          Essentially multi-lingualism seems to be the norm in many nations so should not be beyond Scotland nor especially the Holyrood Pairlament. What has been done for Gaelic over the past decade demonstrates a great deal can be achieved, if there is the will.

          1. Tammas Clark says:

            Nae argiment here. Like ye say, we dinna even hae tae leuk at ither kintras for oor exemple – we’ve duin it aw wi Gaelic awreadies!

  6. Socrates MacSporran says:

    A guid read, hooever, Ah’m nae say share aboot “Heid Bummer”.

    Micht it no better be: “High Heid Yin”?

    1. Alf Baird says:

      Tammas is mibbe richt, its aw aboot context, tho neither term is that complimentary!

      Heid bummer is a term: “…bristling with disapproval or even contempt”

      High heid yin is used if: “..the person is even more important than such a position implies”


      On a related theme, tourism is now our biggest industry. Visitors come here to experience our Scots culture in all its forms. To intentionally suppress one of our two indigenous languages, and therefore to intentionally suppress our culture, could be likened to shooting ourselves in the foot. We should make all possible efforts to ensure the Scots and Gaelic languages survive and prosper, for our own benefit as well as for the millions of people who want to come here to celebrate our differences with us and contribute to our economy in so doing. We simply become just another part of England if we make it so ourselves and by intentionally suppressing the ‘Scots’ language (as the Establishment continue to do) that is all we will deserve.

  7. Noel Darlow says:

    I like the way Lesley Riddoch drops Scots words into the dialogue when she’s talking but this sounds forced. Language is used to communicate ideas but here ideas seem to be in second place in order to ostentatiously communicate a sense of Scottishness.

    I don’t want to sound dismissive. I’m kind of on the fence really. On the one hand, celebrating and maintaining our culture (or rather language cultures, plural) is a legitimate aim. On the other, there’s a danger of inventing new ways to embellish the parody, tartan & shortbread kind of Scottishness.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      “I like the way Lesley Riddoch drops Scots words into the dialogue when she’s talking but this sounds forced. ”

      Dinna forgit ‘proper English’ wis garred doon wir thrapple at schuil gin aw the bairns naitural leed wis Scots. Nuthin naitural aboot bein ‘gar-fed’ a furrin leed/cultur. As fir kilts an shortie, aw dout ye’re leukin at this airse fir elbae, naw? – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_cringe

      1. Noel Darlow says:

        Naw. As far as I know, Scottish fancy dress – including little mini-kilts and clan tartans – was an invention of the early 19th century. It’s not actually a Scottish tradition – although you could argue that there’s nothing to stop us appropriating this if we want to, and have done. We can’t rewrite the past but Scottishness today is whatever we want to make it.

        Is there a single, canonical Scots language to be preserved or are there multiple dialects from different regions?

        1. Tammas Clark says:

          Guid quaisten – Matthew Fitt has a wee bittie aboot dialects o Scots (an mair!) in the day’s National – http://www.thenational.scot/comment/matthew-fitt-we-maun-tak-a-tip-fae-the-klingons-for-futur-o-scots.13563

          1. Alf Baird says:

            “to ostentatiously communicate a sense of Scottishness”

            Its no aboot that at a’ Noel. Learnin Scots or Gaelic AND English wid mak bairns (an aw Scots fowk) muckle peuchle an gie thaim respect for thair ane leed an ither leeds = nae mair cringe. An if ye’ve ‘a guid Scots tongue in yer heid’ ye micht as weel uise it. Maist o us awready speak Scots, so aw we hiv tae dae is learn tae screed the leed, a pleisance ance ye stairt. Bairns wid dae this eathly at schuil. The result wid be a mair peuchle(confident) fowk an kintra.

            The only ‘ostentation’/pretension is forced on Scots (e.g. via BBC, msm, Establishment etc), reflected in Scots trying/or being told to speak so-called ‘proper English’ (in schools, parliament, councils, courts etc) and endeavoring to pass English off as ‘our’ main or indeed our only language, when it very clearly isnae wir leed an we ken it isnae. There is a world of difference between ostentation and colonisation/oppression and the latter is no longer tolerated, not least thanks to: the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights (1996), the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (1992), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1988), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). This is essentially why the ‘Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005’ came about and it is why a ‘Scots Language (Scotland) Act should be forthcoming pronto, and hopefully no later than 2017, despite the fact it is still not in any party manifesto for May, as far as I can see.

  8. Fay Kennedy. says:

    Interesting article. Very timely too as I just had a conversation with a Welsh visitor in West Australia who commented on how strong my Scottish accent is considering have been living here for fifty years. It lifted my spirits quick smart and yes our Scottish languages should be given proper status. The way people speak is vital to their confidence and sense of belonging. The Scots have lost so much by losing their languages and just as oppressive as losing our land. They go hand in hand.

  9. Ramstam says:

    As faur as I ken nae pairty is likely tae come forrit wi a programme tae promote Scots.
    Houiver, nane o thaim hiv as yit
    feenisht writin thair manifesto.
    Gin we dinna ask whit they’re
    ettlin tae dae for the leid then naethin wul chynge.
    Mibbe if politicians thocht there wis votes tae be won it wad focus thair minds.
    At the meenit they needna dae onything for they hae the get-oot o “ower mony dialects”.
    It micht be sair tae bear for a lot o folk but ye canna lairn aither bairns or adults the leid wioot a written form.
    We canna jouk it nor deny it.

    1. Matt Seattle says:

      Ramstam – ye’re daein it awready, A’m daein it, Tammas Clark here is daein it. Whitwey wait on the ScotGov te gie support – or permission? Oo’ve strairted, here an nou, in thir conversations on Bella, CommonSpace an in the National, in the bairns’ buiks whit are screivit in, or owerset intae Scots, in oor poetry an sang, an in mony ither weys.
      Independence means nae speirin efter permission, ken?

      1. Tammas Clark says:

        Ah’m no wantin tae get ower cairit awa, but ah dae think we’re makkin forrit, an Matt is like eneuch richt tae link that wi the referendum. Poleetical pressure will nae dout follae – there’s a wheen o guidwill oot there tae be won gey cheap bi the first pairty that catches on!

        1. Alf Baird says:

          Tammas, I’m still both surprised and upset that ‘Language’ Meenister Alasdair Allan (and the SNP in general) has not yet brought forward a ‘Scots Language (Scotland) Act’ to follow on from, and give equality to, the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005. Is he scared the msm would choke on their porridge? Surely this must be done to conform with international law, as was rightly the case with Gaelic?

      2. greatbighoo says:

        “in the bairns’ buiks”

        You are encouraging children to participate in this moronism?

        Do you want your children to be able to compete in a Globalised world?

        What is wrong with you?

        I hope your children succeed despite you.

  10. Cobra! says:

    A gree 100%! As faur as A’m concernt, awthing shoud aither be in Scots or Gaelic, Inglis shoudna be the master leid, it’s juist a collonial leid! We ainly speak it because we were forcit tae! A think Inglis’ poseetion in Sooth Africae is a guid idea o whaur Inglis shoud be in Scotland, in ither wirds, we can speak it, but we dinnae want tae! =P

  11. greatbighoo says:

    In a Globalised world in which the forthcoming generations must be able to compete, and where the international language is English –

    Why are you encouraging this moronism, you imbeciles?

    1. Alf Baird says:

      “Niver heed whit the houdies croak for Doom”

    2. Jim says:

      Bidialectism or bilingualism is clearly not an option in the humdrum monotonousness of the greatbighoo’s insipid world.

    3. Seumas Mactalla says:

      Bilingualism is important and useful for child development. It encourages flexible thinking and has been shown to prevent the onset of dementia in the elderly. Its also going to be a globalized world where the learning of languages will be advantageous as China and Brazil take over from the United States imperialists and English will lose its hegemony with the dollar.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.