Scots Language Deserves Better than This

Dear First Minister,

I’m writing to you about the appalling treatment received by Scots language activist Alistair Heather as a guest on The Kaye Adams Programme on BBC Radio Scotland on 21/03/19.

Alistair had been invited on the show and briefed to expect a discussion on recent positive developments relating to the raised profile of the Scots language. Instead, the segment focussed on the ‘mixed reaction’ to a Scots language video Alistair had made the previous year, along with a recording of voice artists reading out a sequence of personally upsetting and abusive comments which had been made about Alistair in the wake of the video. These comments were not presented sympathetically as examples of the kinds of discrimination which Scots speakers are accustomed to in everyday life, but as legitimate reactions and responses to the notion of ‘a Scots language’. The presenter pointedly ignored all Alistair’s attempts to initiate a constructive discussion around the subject, refused to acknowledge the massive positive reaction to this and Alistair’s subsequent videos, and went on to bizarrely connect Alistair’s legitimacy as a Scots speaker to the fact that his father is from another country.

I would urge you to listen to the programme, as I sure you will be as appalled by all this as many of its listeners have been, and would agree that the quality of the ‘journalism’ on display was several magnitudes below that which we expect from blogs and independent podcasts, never mind a state broadcaster. However, this is not principally why I am writing to you.

After the abundantly belittling and hostile treatment of Alistair, the presenter then went on to open up a debate (with another guest) as to whether Scots is ‘even’ a language, with the presumed answer, on the basis of the tenor of the programme and the attitude of the presenter up until that point, being ‘no’.

As you will no doubt be aware, even the most cursory amount of research by either the presenter or her staff would have revealed that the legal status of Scots as a language is not a matter of opinion. Both the Scottish Government and the UK Government, along with the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, attest that Scots is a language. The suggestion that this legal status is in some way a matter for debate is manifestly toxic and hugely concerning.

Because we should be concerned, as a society, when a powerful voice seeks to delegitimize the hard-won rights and protections of a marginalised group of people. We should be concerned when a minority group are required, again and again and again, to prove that they warrant the basic protections and rights which they have struggled to gain over the course of generations. And we should be concerned, most of all, when the platform for such counterfactual ‘views’ is a state broadcaster, funded largely by the contributions of the very people whose voices it seeks to deny. Because this is nothing better than state-sponsored discrimination. And it is not okay.

I write to you today because, as the leader of the government of that state, I trust that you are as alarmed by this as I am. I am sure that you are able to see, at a glance, what subtext would be intended by a programme which posited for debate the proposition as to whether Polish, say, is ‘even’ a language, or Urdu, or Punjabi. And I would like to ask; are the rights and protections enjoyed by speakers of Scots real or illusory? What is the Scottish Government willing to do to meaningfully affirm and maintain those rights, both in this specific instance and in the face of ongoing discrimination which is open and widespread yet, in terms of its political and media profile, largely invisible? Is the continued silencing of 1.6 million people, people who you represent, a recognisable and acceptable aspect of the Scotland you are working towards? I do not think it is, and I am confident you do not either.

Yours aye,
Thomas Clark


Comments (46)

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  1. Dougie Blackwood says:

    I’m sorry to ask but why would anybody sensible dream of getting involved with the Kaye Adams show on BBC Radio Scotland?

    1. James Robertson says:

      Aye, that was my first thought.

    2. Stuart Murray says:

      Indeed. You might as well appear on Radio Norwich with Alan Partridge.

  2. Sandra Stewart says:

    I heard the piece you refer to and I was both angry and appalled. Well done for taking this up. Kaye Adams’ behaviour was disgraceful

    1. Alasdair Galloway says:

      and not for the first time either.

  3. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    The default tone of the BBC Scotland phone-in on matters Scottish is generally one of sneering contempt. The theme is generally framed in a negative way and ‘vox pops’ are usually overwhelmingly opposed. The programme organiser, whether Kaye Adams or another, generally adopts a confrontational approach usually by asking the person making the case to defend her or himself against an extreme claim. Cycling advocates are usually asked, ‘Why do ALL cyclists ignore red lights or cycle on the pavement?’

    Sadly, the complaint will be binned. The answer will be that they want a robust and challenging debate.

    1. Joe Gibson says:

      The best way to best them is do not participate in their programme.

      1. Stuart Murray says:


  4. McZorro says:

    Kaye Adams is trash but let’s keep the head about the supposedly bulletproof status of Scots as a language.

    Obviously this is more of a political claim than a linguistic one, but there’s no reason to erase/overlook the careful and thoughtful work of language scholars on these questions over many decades. Banging the drum for Scots needn’t make you deaf to what linguists actually say about it (which bears almost no relationship to this article).

    1. Caroline Macafee says:

      Many language varieties are part of a social and/or geographical continuum with other, closely related, language varieties. Linguists would not claim to have any objective criterion for drawing boundaries in such cases. It is, indeed, a political question, and as such has been settled, politically, in favour of Scots being a language. However, political power only exists in the wielding of it – it is, as Humpty Dumpty said, a question of who is to be master, that is all.

      1. Interpolar says:

        It‘s said that a language is a dialect with an army.

        Pertaining to Scots, that’s all you need to know about Scottish independence.

        1. Stuart Murray says:

          Many Scots speakers believe they’re speaking English. They believe that their dialect/sociolect is a form of English. Their views are just as valid as those who believe they’re not speaking English.

  5. Robin Turner says:

    As an “English” person – whatever that may mean – I have come to realise that I have been deprived of my home /community language by some group a long time ago. Parts of the British Isles were divided by Anglo Saxon oligarchs into kingdoms. I believe one or more were in what is now called Scotland.

    Of course those kingdoms had several languages spoken within them including the particular Anglo-Saxon language, the existing indigenous language as well as the previous indigenous languages. The creation of a state seems to demand the elimination of indigenous languages.

    I speak only English English but other residents in Derby – to which I moved in year 1955 from the south-east of England having lived there since birth in year 1939 – may see me as not doing it correctly on the basis of vowel sounds and accent.

    So I strongly sympathise with the sentiments in the letter.

  6. Robin Turner says:

    Further to my previous post:

    Some people say that a language has an Army, Navy and an Airforce. I suppose such people would be called nationalists?

    The inhabited British Isles have always had a diversity of languages and maybe now have more that ever before. There was a struggle to get full recognition of Welsh as an official language during my lifetime and Indian sub-continent languagesand others are officially recognised in Derby.

    1. Wullie says:

      This will be the self-opinionated Kaye Adams who doesn’t know anybody who pronounces “scone” as it’s spelled!

      1. del says:

        everyone knows scone is scon

  7. Derek Murray says:

    typical kay adams loud thick self opinionated many different forms of scots anyway same as english geordie fe

  8. Tam Dean Burn says:

    I vividly and fondly remember Tom Leonard informing me in Cafe Gogo…
    Thurz nae such hing as a Scots language it’s a fuckin lexis!

  9. Alf Baird says:

    Weel argied, Thomas.

    An whaur is oor ‘Scots Langage (Scotland) Act’ First Meenister?

    1. Wullie says:

      Skon? no in ma neck of the woods it isnae! Don’t know anybody who calls it a skon!

  10. Tam Meerison says:

    Since when has Ms Sturgeon been “the leader of the government of that state”? The state is the United Kingdom … and as broadcasting and the BBC is not a devolved matter she is perhaps the wrong person to complain to.

    1. Stuart Murray says:

      Im sure Theresa May would be onto the matter like a whippet grabbing the first train to Buchanan Street to tell the BBC off.

  11. Bruce Gardner says:

    I wrote a long letter to Fiona Hislop on the subject of Scots Language but I did not even receive the courtesy of a reply. So feel free to complain but the leftist internationalist style that characterizes the SNP is not interested in Scotland but only in an English, socialist, theoretical progressivism. Kaye Adams can afford to diss Scots Language devotees and representatives, knowing that no-one of any note, not even in Scotland’s so-called Party, cares in the least. It’s all about politics and not about the people and their real history.

  12. Ann Kelman says:

    I was disgust by the way Alistair was treated in this interview. They attempted to make him and how he expressed himself in the Scots leid appear foolish. Yet another central belt attitude to their aine mither tongue. BBC Scotland should attempt to educate themselves.

    1. Stuart Murray says:

      The ignorance here is among Central belt dialect/sociolect speakers of Scots who look down on rural North Eastern speakers because they havent been exposed to it and its not been explained to them that people speak that way. Its akin to when someone from Swindon hears a Brummie for the first time. This is complicated by the vague notion many ordinary people who probably put in the last census that they speak Scots have about what it is. For some its a language and for others its slang. These are the two extremes with most being somewhere in between and just because these definitions are offensive to many like Alistair who grew up perceiving it as a language doesnt mean everyone who believe they speak it perceives it that way. It shouldnt be acceptable to mock the way anyone speaks and the bbc host has some responsibility here for the tine of the , but if people genuinely believe someone is “pittin it oan” its probably counter productive to simply condemn them for reacting to what they hear. I honestly dont know how “genuine” the way Alistair speaks is but I dont assume its not even though I can see how some might. Ionce thought a fellow worker was Danish when in fact he was Cumbrian and I had to explain that his accent/dialect was new to me and I didnt mean to be rude. Perhaps more travel between the Glasgow Edinburgh region and the North East should be encouraged but that may have the unintended consequence of diluting Doric.

      1. Stuart Murray says:

        “some responsibility for the tone of the discussion” I meant to write

  13. hilda proctor says:

    get yer mp to raise a question at fmq s on thursday …. get that wummin named and shamed

    1. Stuart Murray says:

      What if your mp agrees? Scottish politicians have often made offensive statements regarding minority languages.

  14. Stuart Murray says:

    Lets say a Muslim in Delhi is using Muslim greetings when speaking Hindi, at what point does it become Urdu and stop being Hindi? The example of Urdu in the above article is problematic and actually emphasizes the problem with how Scots is defined.

  15. Laura Andrew says:

    A separate language is characteristic of a seperate country and culture, is it any wonder they’re trying so hard to downplay the legitimacy of scots? Unfortunately many years of pretending not to understand what we say, subtitling us on tv etc, has made it pretty difficult to defend such a point of view.

    1. Stuart Murray says:

      Canada, Australia and the United States have the same language (most of Canada at least) and are separate countries.

  16. Morag macqueen says:

    This is dreadful! How are we going to save our languages? Am just appalled. Don’t listen to her show anyway. It’s a load of garbage! For those minus a brain

    1. Stuart Murray says:

      Which begs the question; why bother going n the programme?

      1. Stuart Murray says:


  17. The Clincher says:

    What’s really lacking is a standard written orthography which would counteract the arbitrary spelling of Scots words and the ludicrous phonetic renditions of the accent which brings the status of Scots into disrepute. All language-deniers should be forced to study Hugh McDiarmid – perhaps he should be prescribed in all Scots primary schools.

    1. Dougie Blackwood says:

      We do not have a standard “Scots”, neither should we.

      I speak with a light Glasgow accent and use the idiom of the area. I lived in Ayrshire and while I understood most I had to ask for some of it. Broad Doric is a mystery to me.

      The wide variety of “Scots” is one of its charms and we must not try to define and regiment it. Unfortunately this leads to problems in writing and like most I use English rather than try to write in a phonetic way.

      Do you read the articles in “Scots” in papers like The National? I don’t as the writers version seldom corresponds with mine.

      Enjoy the language of the playground and workplace but do not attempt to tie it down.

      1. Stuart Murray says:

        If you don’t tie it down it cant possibly function as a single language. Having a written standard orthography would enable it re achieving actual practical language status for the first time in several centuries.

    2. Stuart Murray says:

      Its precisely the opposite of that (Christopher Murray Grieve being studied) which is being carried out in schools by campaigners with local words and phrases being studied. Thats all and well, but a standard language variety is sorely needed for Lowland Scots dialects to be joined u as a language without Standard Modern Eglish acting as the default standard orthography.

  18. Malachy Tully says:

    I am very surprised by Kaye Adams but she has been living with the English for to long just like the DUP from the Occupied North of Ireland and they made up their own made up Language to stop us Irish from get help in helping us natives of our wee Island and they have even claimed Robet Burns spoke Ulster Scots even though he had never been to Ireland or even heard of this Language and we Irish are denied to learn our Native Language in our own land and the English Government cannot be trusted with the DUP in their Government which broke the Good Friday Agreement here in the Island of Ireland! Look at how afraid they are and Scotland will be Free before Ireland is and I will be happy for our Celtic cousins!

    1. Stuart Murray says:

      The phrase “made up language” is rather ironic in light of Lowland Scots and attitudes against it. As for “the English”, how are they to be defined exactly? Hopefully not ethnically as that would make the statement questionable. I dont see Ulster Scots as being a separate language from English but then again, I don’t see Lowland Scots being separate from it either. (An opinion I believe is shared by many irish speakers and people.) Robert Burns himself referred to his language as the Scottish dialect.

      1. Stuart Murray says:

        Having said that, I do find the attitude of the presenter patronizing and unacceptable and I do believe that many Scots dialects are very divergient from Standard Modern English. However this is also the case in parts of rural Yorkshire and elsewhere across the UK.

  19. Stuart Murray says:

    Heres an example of what could be a Scots standard orthography. Its cleary not the way anyone speaks (though I admit I may be wrong there regarding Angus!?) but it contains traditional elements that have been recommended by various Lowland Scots fans over the centuries:


    In time afore the ain God stood
    tae tak the place whaur Odin sang
    they had tae leave fur want o food
    and mak thur name heroic strang.

    Tae Muckle toon or Micklgard
    cam yon Northfolk frae hoose and glen
    jist as theyd sailed the Gaels amang
    tae tak the leid o Lewis men.

    Aye noo birls Scottish thru thur lungs
    thur ain leid still syne Age forbye
    and thru they Scotland`s mither tung’s
    kept lifefu tween the sheep and kye.

    Wuild Midgerd mind the days afore
    the Norsesails fell upon yon coast
    and had thur been nae blood tae pour
    wuild Gaelic be there yet tae boast

    Wha kens the sharpness o thon speirin
    an when it shall be reponed
    but ilka Gaelic psalm in hearin
    minds o Sea Gods. heathen-boned.

  20. Stuart Murray says:

    Heres an example of a more day to day Central Belt type of “Scots” ie arguably just English with a Scottish flavor or arguably a dialect/sociolect (Id see this as an equivalent to Scoyse r Brummie poetry):

    Labour Calling fur a General Strike

    get aff yur bike
    fur the general strike
    an doon wae yur tools
    Blairite fannies an fools
    leave thum ben on the flair
    an strike noo fur nae mair
    o thur tory light theft
    o the profits jist left
    fur capitalist gimps
    an thur New Labour chimps

  21. Stuart Murray says:

    Now compare the two Scots versions to the following almost standard English ( I decided to use the Scottish “heids” rather than “noggins”!) and you’ll see how the bit in between full on Scots and full on Modern English is blurred by the bit in between:


    This is the face of a Blairite determined
    to find Corbyn guilty of hatred and fear

    A typical screech by the fearful unermined
    a seat in the lords the desire of their rear

    The cry is a desperate stab in the darkness
    surrounding the loss of their power to rule

    their sky turning red under Corbyn-built starkness
    falls under the laughter at words from this fool

    Who claims that the fight against plutocrat gluttons
    is antisemitic and hate speech to blame

    for all those myopic mainstream fast news muttons
    to graze on while shaking their sheep heids in shame

    1. Stuart Murray says:

      NB; this was in response to the assertion from a Blairite neoliberal that anti capitalism is a form of antisemitism and they were the fool mentioned in the poem.

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