Scottish Twitter, Scottish Protest

13112814_10153824550853300_2527890471120656550_oScotland is sending out memes like they’re midges, and they’re sinking their teeth into the most powerful man in the world, argues Laura-Claire Wilson.

When a pro-windpower, anti-nuclear protest sign that personally insults Donald Trump in Scots is on the front page of a national (in fact The National) newspaper, it constitutes a distinctively Caledonian resistance to the ‘fake tanned fanny.’

Our contribution is not only that of elaborate yet direct insults, although, especially given Trump’s easy-bruising prize-peach ego, that’s hardly worthless. However, the complex of causes expressed in just one placard demonstrate the axial place Scotland occupies in the global defiance of Orange Menace. Equally, and perhaps even more importantly, it situates some of the most significant issues facing Scotland, as a nation, in a firmly international context. And it does so through a medium, the Scots language, that has recently been experiencing an unexpected kind of renaissance: the phenomenon of ‘Scottish Twitter.’

There’s a Scottish Tweets compilation account, of course, but, if you Google the phrase, the omniscient suggestion box will nudge you towards Buzzfeed, whose listicles like 54 of the Funniest Scottish Tweets of 2016 finds one entry asking, ‘@policescotland hi guys just a quick question, is it legal or illegal to slide tackle a goth?’ perhaps prompted by the reflection that ‘Police brutality in america is fucking awful man polis in scotland probably flip coins for who’s chapping the door and who’s dain the talkin.’ As for the impact of the carrier bag charge, one user wrote ‘Can live wi paying 5p for one but am sick of having to fuckin light the beacons of Gondor to summon someone anytime I want a bag in Asda’, while on the subject of the general election, it was observed that ‘Voting no and greeting at Tory government is like grassing yer da for shaggin the neighbour then greeting when he gets flung out aff yer maw’

More important, even, than the properly legal way to tackle a goth, though, is the question, ‘Here is there like “German Twitter” or “Italian Twitter” where mad euro cunts are firin out hilarious spaghetti bolognese patter?’

The answer is, obviously, no.

c5i5d64xuaa1ohiThere are some broad characteristics that distinguish Scottish Twitter from other online subcultures. The swearing is probably the most obvious. It’s probably also the least surprising to any Scot. Even to a native, however, what’s striking is seeing these words actually written out, without the tasteful veil of winking asterisks to count out the unpronounceable letters. We do swear a lot, in terms of profanity-per-sentence. It’s used as much as punctuation as it is for emphasis: a rhythmic device that renders the Scots language as staccato and syncopated as the (particularly Lowland) accent. Its less-than-demure language is only confrontational to those with a mind to be offended. If Scottish Twitter is swearing at anything in particular, it’s only against anyone who would be so patronising as to use the word ‘scatological.’

Thus reintegrated, the full vocabulary of Scots speech can render the tonality of its spoken music in written form. That form is itself the subject of meta-comment in the form of quizzes like Are You A Fluent Scottish Twitter Speaker? Although it’s perhaps disproportionately influenced by the Glasgow patter, what can make this corner of the internet particularly confounding, however, especially for non-digital natives, however, is its departure from standard written Scots. Gone are the glottal-stop-denoting apostrophes. Cannae has mutated into canny. The influence of text-speak is obvious in the contraction of mad wi’ it to mwi.

It’s easy to blame Twitter’s character limit for this move towards concision. Nevertheless, it can also be considered in more organic terms, as a language being (re)claimed by its speakers. In a forum free from the constraints of any kind of formality or structure beyond that of basic intelligibility, a kind of spontaneous Scots, more closely tied to its real daily use, is being rendered. Most Scots speakers tend not to write in the Mither Tongue, and, when they do, they have to think very hard about whether, for example, the second vowel in the word ‘Mither’ should be ‘i’ or ‘e’. Standardised Scots is often popularly associated with the poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid or the New Testament translation of William Lorimer: an artistic or scholarly pursuit. However, the technological sea-change of universal mobile phone and internet usage has shifted daily communication more towards written media. Looking at the utilitarian orthography of Scottish Twitter, one can wonder if the older formal standards are something of a transliteration, inscribing foreignness in its grammatical caveats. Denuded of these accoutrements, written Scots is being democratised in an unprecedented fashion.

c3cicvjwiaepl26This, then, is the real power of this online phenomenon: the startling experience of seeing the world communicated in intimately familiar terms. For the Scots speaker, there is always an alienation inherent in written English, in the (sooner-or-later unconscious) decision not to use certain words or constructions that you probably wouldn’t repress when speaking. To see those words rather than simply to hear them makes the sphere of public possibility so much wider. Narrowing the gulf between oor ain voice and popular discourse brings citizenship home. Simultaneously, it also claims space in the forum for Scots as Scots, both nationally and linguistically.

The distinctiveness of Scottish Twitter’s culture is inherently organic in nature, rather than being the product of romanticisation or conservation. Grounded in a common language, it is also loosely aligned in certain attitudes and preoccupations: the absurdity of the everyday, the highs and lows of the party life, and the puncturing of pretension. Together, these begin to coalesce into a grassroots expression of identity. It’s likely no accident that Twitter has become its medium: its chaotically accessible, fundamentally horizontal structure chimes with Caledonian egalitarianism. It’s condensed form, too, is a perfect vehicle for the particular value placed, in Scottish culture, on the perfectly turned, pithy, phrase, and the scattershot back-and-forth of the patter.

The atomisation of Twitter has another effect: in rendering rhetoric into 140-character artefacts, it has enabled the meme-ification of the gems of this corner of the internet. Viral units, they are transmitted, with a life of their own, through the virtual world. Just as ‘British humour’ has exported and expounded a specific identity and set of values to the wider world, so can an identifiable online discourse communicate an – albeit-unsubtle – version of Scottish identity. Moreover, while it might seem asinine to suggest that tweets about ‘getting wee Alan to fit into a Kopparberg box’ make a powerful ambassador for the spirit of a beleaguered nation, the surprising paradox here is that, in its embrace of everyday localism, Scottish Twitter manages to elide the parochialism that is often risked by more self-consciously nationalistic efforts. In unselfconsciously and shamelessly doing questionable things while drunk and grumbling about pensioners with the words ‘aww yes boil me alive Agnes beat me wae a ladle n call me lentil soup,’ it has nothing to prove, but is nonetheless immediately identifiable.

This kind of visible Scottishness for the internet age has, moreover, become pressingly relevant. The memes have migrated from Twitter into the material world, onto placards and protests signs, images of which have themselves gone native online. In Donald Trump, the resurgent Scots tongue has found its natural enemy – and like all the best enemies, he’s an Auld Enemy.

When Trump flew to Scotland post-Brexit and pre-White House to promote his carbuncle of a golf course, he was greeted with outrage, scorn, and a wide range of creatively elaborate and devastatingly specific insults on Twitter. In person, he was met with numerous protesters, armed with signs calling him a bawbag, was presented with swastika-emblazoned golf balls, and had his ‘hair’ interrogated by a static-charged balloon. Although we hadn’t quite got around to building the windfarms that offend his delicate aesthetic sense, a Mexican flag was flown in full view of his resort in the hopes of achieving a similar effect. Recent post-election protests in the cities have continued the trend, producing a broad and memorable vocabulary of insult and dissent that is characteristically Scottish: Ye cannae shove yer Muslims off the bUS.

The ebullient carnival of Scottish resistance to Trump is not only perpetuating the viral work of Twitter; it is also transposing it into a new key. The organic voices of individual Scots respond in chorus to the man who is, like it or not, currently the global centre of gravity.The ground-level visibility possible in the internet age enables this very local pageant of protest to occur on an international stage. No longer hamstrung by the geographical or linguistic preciousness of a largely London-based media, the voices of ordinary Glaswegians, Dundonians and Invernesians are now as accessible as that of the second-generation half-Lewisman currently embarrassing us all from his squat in Washington DC. The particular solidarity our nation of thrawn underdogs can offer to the persecuted is no longer filtered or compromised, but, untranslated, is now transmitted large as life in all its distinctiveness.

However, this is not only a national response to an international issue. Scots have been fighting Trump for a long time. We’re not just part of the Trump narrative that has now swept the world into its dragnet: we were its prequel. We’ve engaged his particular brand of narcissism before, and we’ve even had some small amount of picturesque success. There is perhaps nowhere else on earth than can so decisively reject the now-president’s poisonous brand of romanticised nativism, his pretension to speak for ‘ordinary’ people, and his almost-adamantine self-regard.

It’s not something that has gone unnoticed across the Atlantic. Recently, Daily Show alumna Samantha Bee sent an (English) correspondent to Aberdeen and Edinburgh to learn from The Original Trump Haters. The stubborn resistance of farmer Michael Forbes forms the (subtitled) centrepiece of a narrative of bullying, government complicity, and broken promises (that were never believed in the first place) being resisted with unimpressed contempt, creativity, pranks, and a parliamentary committee laughing in his face. Asked to offer advice to a country finding itself in a battle metaphorically similar to his own, Forbes answers, ‘An arsehole’s always an arsehole. Just keep pissin’ him off and he’ll crack up. He’ll end up in a padded cell.’

We had the measure of him first. Trump’s bullying bluster is calculated to arouse Scottish scorn and, along with it, our most profound and dextrous leveller: humour. We realised ten years ago that there’s no point in engaging a man who acts as his own echo-chamber: solipsists don’t have ears. With a twin emphasis on ridiculing his herculean self-regard while offering practical as well as moral support to those in his crosshairs, the response to and defiance of Trump presents international onlookers with a taste of our particular politics and values.

Our story, however, is more than a plucky echo of the American one. The specific grounds of revolt against the Turnberry tyrant encompass many of the vital themes that animate Scottish politics: land ownership, renewable energy, and the disproportionate power wielded by the wealthy. The placard featured on the front page of The National was more than just a protest: it was a manifesto. In the Trump era, the distinctive concerns of Scotland chime intimately with the broader themes of global politics.

Self-determination is now more than a purely internal matter; it is part of a broader struggle, and can be introduced the world as such, and expressed, without translation or mediation, in our own words. Alongside the skewed aphorisms and the surreal snapshots of the previous night’s session on the town shared on Twitter, a new language of resistance is being formed. In the fundamental self-assertion of its being spoken at all, that language is, in some sense, the root of resistance itself.

Scotland is sending out memes like they’re midges, and they’re sinking their teeth into the most powerful man in the world. Tweeting our own language, we become visible as Scots in a worldwide context. Resisting Trump, we are distinctively Scottish on the world stage.

Comments (28)

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  1. Frank says:

    Some interesting points in this article but the idea that there is a ‘Scottish resistance’ to Donald Trump is slightly exaggerated surely? Thousands of people on a demo is good but it hardly constitutes a national resistance.

    I also thought the picture in the National was embarrassing: in fact, calling someone a ‘fanny’ reflects an overall lowering of the tone of political argument in recent years. Abuse is a major problem in politics and the left should be challenging this infantile discourse – associated with Trump/UKIP, discourse than reinforcing it.

    As for Twitter, my advice to the ‘radicals’ in Twitterland is this – delete your Twitter accounts now and unite! You have a world to win and nothing to lose except your own self-promotion…

    1. Twitter as a useful form of networking and social resistance is well established Frank, and has nothing to do with ‘self promotion’

      1. Frank says:

        Twitter has nothing to do with self-promotion? I’m not convinced. Do you think when people check how many ‘followers’ they have they are only thinking of how well the resistance is doing? You don’t think that some activists have one eye on the cause and the other on being in the spotlight?

        Yes twitter is a form of social resistance but dialectically it appeals to vanity and ego hence why it is used as a marketing tool by celebrities. And that extends to politics whereby activists and politicians market themselves all the time on twitter. Some say it’s even addictive: they might be trying to market the resistance but they are also selling you themselves as well.

        In my own line of work – academia – I have noticed a trend in recent years whereby colleagues regularly market themselves on Twitter – what else is that if not self-promotion? It happens in everyday life too with people posting images of themselves which say – ‘look at me’ and ‘look how happy I am’. Isn’t it the case that spending large amounts of time on Twitter and Facebook leads to depression? I’m sure there is research to support this claim and it’s linked to the ways in which people are creating a distorted account of their everyday lives.

        One of the interesting aspects of the new (neoliberal) culture is the ways in which humans(including radical political activists) are being turned into their own PR agents whereby the self becomes a commodity to be sold and marketed. Yet, it is contradictory in the sense that it creates resistance and protest and networking, but it also creates new identities and new mentalities linked to neoliberalism. The ways in which ‘the system’ is re-produced is perhaps more interesting to me than the ways in which it is resisted.

        Anyway, I’m off to check how people have re-tweeted my latest insights on Twitter…

        1. If you’re not aware of the many multiple ways in which Twitter has been part of real uprisings and protests then we can point to these Frank

        2. Frank says:

          You seem to be arguing with yourself editor – I already noted that Twitter can play a role in resistance and uprisings. I noticed you didn’t address the point about ‘self-promotion’?

          1. Im not sure the point about self-promotion s relevant. The article addresses the role of memes in shaping and critiquing the political narrative. Self-promotion doesnt have anything to do with it.

          2. Frank says:

            Just to remind you how this discussion began editor. You wrote:

            ‘Twitter as a useful form of networking and social resistance is well established Frank, and has nothing to do with ‘self promotion’.

            And I replied with a response to the assertion that it has nothing to do with self-promotion, a claim which I thought incredulous. It now appears that you were saying that the ‘article’ has nothing to do with self-promotion although that’s different from what you originally wrote.

    2. c rober says:

      mibbe it should then be renamed twatter .

      Its nay different tae likes o punch and ye auld printed press in lampooning , other than doon to the LCD , and of course the removal of wealthy owner or editor.

      That for all my slagging off of twitter is its strength and weakness , as seen by personality being without an adivisor , conscience , or common sense – resulting in being exposed for what they are , good or bad.

      Scots , Irish , Aussie and NZ (for the most part) , French , and Canadian humour is legendary , on the ither haun we have German English middle England , middle income humour to balance it off – which rarely hits the nail on the head. One only needs to watch that (non)Scots (non) comedy , twa doors doon , and realise there is only one character of relevance – which is Mary Doll II.

      LIMMYS world too and the like are hardly consistent comedy , for lampooning which it could be very good at due to the Scots ability to laff at themselves , but in these days of a fart being a racial hate crime I think the guys , and those like Hemphil and Keirnan are somewhat leashed.

      So that leaves the others ,bored twitter users , without irons in the fire , or worried about being blackballed in the thesbian world , or intent on cracking the English or wider market , to pull up the slack – and for what its worth , for me anyway , I will laff even if I end up defending the victim.

    3. SleepingDog says:

      I think I would have to agree with Frank, especially on the abuse and lowered tone. There are homes throughout Scotland where people will be living in fear of the kind of aggressive swearing which foreshadows more extreme abuse. Swearing and personal abuse also tends not to translate well outside the subgroup. Sure, people who know each other really well can risk far stronger terms than they would use with strangers, but it is overwhelmingly strangers that populate the Internet.

      If the examples in the article have been chosen as the best and funniest examples, then I don’t think the article makes the case very well. Too many of these Twitter-sized samples only work on a basic level. I cannot see any dictator shaking in their boots. Infantile, problematic abuse, self-promotion, embarrassing? Yes, I think Frank has a point.

  2. Rachel says:

    There is nothing like a wicked sense of humour to spike an orange bawbag.

    Scottish Twitter, like our whisky, is the envy of the world.

  3. Jim Archibald says:

    Well Frank, if you’re still convinced that political argument has to have a high linguistic tone, this particular article has cleared your head by the length of an uneven playing field.
    Political debate should be parochial. We need more vernacular and less veneer, surely? If you find the message to Trump offensive, yet accept or swallow our Foreign Secretary’s boyish wit memes, ye need tae tak a lang hard keek at yersel…

    1. Rachel says:

      Aye Frank is competing for title of Pure Fanny of the week lol

    2. Frank says:

      I didn’t say it was offensive. I said it was embarrassing. And your just a knob, whilst Rachel is a gobshite…Lol

      1. Quine says:

        Frank’s jist radgin coz he’s got nae patter

  4. john young says:

    Its not how you speak it,s what you speak of,far too many people are beguiled by the clipped oxcam way of speaking,all the time removing your back teeth without you being aware.

  5. Monty says:

    i really wish we had let the original council decision stand and not let this awful man destroy parts of Aberdeenshire. It was obvious what he was then and reversing this decision and letting him have what he wanted made Scotland look foolish then and now. Probably made no difference but when we could have stood up to him we legitimised him.

  6. w.b.robertson says:

    a country campaigning for independence needs all the international friends it can get. What is the mileage in pouring juvenile scorn on a half-Scot who just happens to be the new US president. (Presumably the bairns think it is funny?)

    1. Opposing fascism is a civic duty,

  7. SleepingDog says:

    Does attacking Donald Trump from Scotland smack of avoidance behaviour? If any US citizens noticed, then they might easily win any exchange by pointing out that their Republic elects its head of state through an open public campaign; whereas here we have an unelected, hereditary monarch whose actual powers and influence are shrouded in secrecy and constitutional confusion, and would seem to be a more logical target. Feart?

    1. With Trident on the Clyde and the military and foreign policy instability brought by Trumps presidency – and the lapdog sycophancy of our PM – I think opposing Trump is essential. You are however right its time to remove our hereditary monarch, who will give endorsement and normalisation in a state visit (possibly in Scotland).

      1. SleepingDog says:

        I agree with the importance you attach to Trident, military and foreign policy, and British subservience which slaves it to the USA and its commander-in-chief, Trump. I would suggest attacking not Trump-the-man, but any behaviour which is unpresidential, dangerous, divisive or flouts international legal or ethical or environmental standards.

        To do that requires a level of not just digital but political literacy. People who want to effectively criticise Trump’s actions should have at least basic familiarity with the Constitution of the USA, the role of President and the international legal framework in which the USA operates. They should be able to draw comparisons which reveal hypocrisy and double standards. They should point to official sources on the nuclear holocaust near-misses we have fortunately been spared, and official attempts to cover these up and prevent public debate.

        However, even if the UK was free of US foreign policy and military command and control, the monarchical system here which concentrates political, military, covert, legal, cultural and religious power is exceptionally dangerous — especially in a nuclear-armed country.

        I would dearly love to see Bella Caledonia run an article by someone like academic Elaine Scarry whose theoretical work is highly applicable here.

  8. Clive Scot says:

    Swearing as punctuation: Over 50 years ago on the way home from school in Falkirk a Scots-Italian friend Brian Serafini and I fell into conversation with a local. His response on enquiring my friend’s name was ” Brian fucking Sera fucking Fini what sort of fucking name is that” which was the first time either of us had heard a swear word used as an erroneous hyphen.

  9. Alastair McIntosh says:

    What an elegantly written and insightful article into an underlying meme of Scottish culture. It reminded me of what the University of Abertay sociologist, Andy Samuel, calls the Scots Challenge: “Who the fuck are you then?” … “Well come in and sit down, what will you have to drink?” In other words, first establish authenticity, then the welcome. Filters out the Trump types.

    Such challenges as this article from Scotland to Trump is important given not just his Scottish roots and how he’s tried to capitalise on them (the famous 98 second visit to his mother’s home on Lewis for a photoshot), but also, for his capacity to connect via an intuitive or culturally-ingrained grasp of the settlers’ Scottish and Irish religious psyche that underlies a key part of his conservative evangelical support base. Psychologically speaking, Scotland’s voice is likely to reach Trump and his support base with disproportionate effect. After all, he was called “Donald John” – one of the most common Christian name combinations on his mother’s Isle of Lewis; not Carl Friedrich or something like that from his father’s side.

    Thank you for having written this, and for the lubricating humour.

  10. Scotland Second says:

    If you haven’t seen Every Second Counts, then you should (www.everysecondcounts.eu). This began with the video from the Netherlands, jokingly introducing their country to Trump and now everyone has made one, including Scotland.
    Here’s ours – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rCpKRpt4ag

    Enjoy!

  11. Biz Miller says:

    “calling someone a ‘fanny’ reflects an overall lowering of the tone of political argument in recent years”

    Frank mate, the tone was lowered by Agent Orange himself when he called Michael Forbes a ‘pig’, thereby declaring open season for anyone wishing to hurl an insult back at him.

  12. SleepingDog says:

    Rather than insulting President Trump, why not invite him over to give a lecture on the Constitution of the USA? It will be fresh in his mind, since he recently took an oath to preserve, protect and defend it.

    This will be a particularly useful comparison here in the UK, since we are having a spot of bother sorting out our old one, which has not really been updated since it was used to run the Empire. A written-constitution approach might be really useful in sorting out some problems caused by the modern fast-changing world. After all, when our old rules were put together, our rulers were more concerned with keeping things the same!

  13. SleepingDog says:

    Is Twitter really a forum for discussion or is more like a speaker’s corner?

    This article explicitly argues against engagement, specifically against Trump. But surely if you want to effectively sway public policy you should try and engage with Trump supporters or leaners.

    Perhaps Bella Caledonia should run some articles on how to ‘win’ political arguments (or at least persuade the persuadable) using digital media. How to engage, find enough common ground to avoid talking past each other, state values, construct arguments, find and use compelling examples and counter-examples, use a polite tone to avoid disengagement, respond to good points and concede ground appropriately. Win hearts and minds. Do some research; sometimes you have to read a book to understand a complex argument that challenges the status quo.

    And yes, engage with President Trump. My previous suggestion on inviting him to lecture on the Constitution (others will have better) should have a recognisable pattern: offer alternatives that should all work in your favour (or even make you learn something).

    Political naivety has its place; children are good at asking questions that adults have forgotten how to, and pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes. However, political and digital literacy are basic training for the foot-soldiers of modern democratic movements.

    Articles like this simply encourage gobbing into the wind, and could have been written by any junior officer following their GCHQ how-to guide for Online Covert Action.

  14. Jo says:

    I’m not a fan of Twitter. I’m also not a fan of hurling around insults at others, politicians or not, or of those who’d present all Scots as people who use bad language as punctuation in sentences. I don’t see anything cool about that. I can understand swearing in anger at someone but that’s about it.

    I get annoyed when people outside Scotland attempt to stereotype us all. I’m less than impressed that Ms Wilson attempts to do it in this article by presenting us all as foul-mouthed Twits. We’re not.

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