Author, language activist, playwright, documentary maker and Bella editorial board member Billy Kay has been recognised for his contribution to Scots at Na Trads -2016 Scotland’s Traditional Music Awards 2016, from Dundee.
You can watch his barn-storming acceptance speech at BBC Alba for the next three weeks here (from 57.00 – ) – and read it below.
One of the key themes of Billy’s work, and this is continued in our approach at Bella Caledonia, is not to set one language against another, but to see all of our languages as part of our rich heritage, and he articulates that here. Tom Devine, a leading authority on Scottish immigration and emigration, has remarked:
“… history is not just about economies and governments, it´s about human beings, and Billy Kay should be congratulated because, almost single-handedly, he has developed interest in this in Scotland and scholars owe him a due.”
The author James Robertson has commented:
“Kay was the public face of Scots, and was roundly abused by some for pleading its cause. For others, his work transformed their thinking: never before had they been told, on the BBC no less, that what they spoke, far from being ‘the language of the gutter’ or debased English, had an 800-year pedigree, two multi-volume dictionaries describing it, a vast and glorious literature, and a whole set of dialects of its own. This was a life–affirming, emotionally and intellectually liberating message, and it took courage and conviction to be the messenger.”
A life-long campaigner for Scottish devolution and ultimately independence, he was involved in the campaign for a Scottish Parliament during the 1990s and later the Yes campaign in the run-up to the 2014 Referendum.
“Personally,” he writes, “I am delighted that my second language is English – as a lingua franca in the world today, it is a perfect medium of communication. But, I know the power and pathos of Scots and I want future generations to be bi-lingual in Scots and English, or Gaelic and English in the Highlands, so that like me they find it easier to learn other languages and communicate confidently with the world.”
Here’s his acceptance speech in full:
“Ladies an gentlemen. it gies me meikle pride an pleisure tae receive this honour on behauf o the scots speakin commun ity that nummers at least ane and a hauf million o ma fellae kintraemen an weemen. yet, oor leid is aften cried the bonnie broukit bairn / the beautiful neglected child o scottish culture. Thaim that hae their een open gaun aboot the aulder burgh touns whiles ll’ see scots saws carvit an scrievit in braw gowden letters abune door lintels, an ane o ma favourites is thaim that tholes owercomes – in English those who endure prevail.
An that perfitly descrives the seituation regairdin ma mither tongue. We hae tae thole ignorant an ugsome attacks fae monoglots thirled tae a colonised mentality that’s been aroun since the union whan sooks like boswell cuid say tae Dr Johnson. “I do indeed come from Scotland but I cannot help it!”
We hae tae owercome thon tae mak siccar that the leid o oor brawest sangs , an finest makars disnae become foreign tae oor weans in the 21st Century.
When I studied leiterature at Embro in the early ‘70’s, I haed the guid fortune tae get tae ken the makar in residence there, the maist kenspeckle gaelic poet o the last hunner year Somhairle Macgilleain, Sorley Maclean. I wad jalouse that a wee brek fae ma studies wad gar me clear ma heid…sae i wad gae alang an see sam. I wad lea him an oor later wi ma heid birlin an ideas stoatin aboot ma puggled harns – sam didnae dae licht conversation….
But fae him I got plantit unco richt in the politico cultural movement fae earlier that century that haed his frien an mentor hugh macdiarmid as its figureheid. sorley an i dwalt on the need for status for baith oor leids whan we quoted macdiarmid:
Tae be yersels an tae mak that worth bein, nae harder job tae mortals has been gien.
Hou can ye be fully be yersel gin ye bide ignorant o the cultural tradeitions that hae wrocht ye ower hunners o years?
Yet, despite aw the pressures a guid wheen o us hae steyed leal tae the culture an i want tae enn bi airtin ma luve an respeck tae you ma brither an sister Scots fae Maidenkirk tae Johnny Groats – the muckle majority o ye wha stull hae a guid scots tongue in yer heid, thenk you for hainin the faith an makin the leid a dearly lued an cherished badge o oor identity, an a gleg leivin tradeition for future generations.
Hae it in yer hert, rax oot tae ithers an teach thaim that’s linguistically less fortunate nor you, aye mind, though – tak tent or it’s tint (use it or lose it) . Ower twa centuries syne, burns was avisit bi his social superiors no tae screive in scots, as it was nocht but a deein tongue naebody wad unnerstaun within a generation or twa.. burns wis wyce eneuch tae ignore siccan glaikit advice, steyed true tae himsel an a cause o that becam the international icon we ken the day…..
An sae, here we are the nicht , still speakin an singin the auld sangs an the new, an celebratin this oor ain thrawn an ayebydand , raucle an douce mither tongue. gin we’re ocht ava as a fowk, we’ll still be daein the same come the twenty saicont century! For Scots is baith a lowin flame in Scotland’s hert and a caller mirror reflectin scotland’s soul. that’s why the leid , an the values it expresses, will thole and endure for aye… Scots and Scotland’s day is comin yet for aw that, i’ll lea ye wi Macdiarmid’s mighty words:
For we hae faith in scotland’s hidden pouers
The present’s theirs, but a’ the past and future’s oors.
Thenk ye agus moran taing – Thank you.”