2007 - 2021

No Guid Eneuch

In spite of twenty years of devolution, next to no serious political action has been taken to protect or promote Scotland’s second most spoken language, Scots. Jack Capener explores why, and argues that the time is now for the Scottish Government to finally provide Scots speakers with linguistic equality.

Twanty year syne, at the openin o the Scots Pairlament, Donald Dewar famously statit thit the chynges brocht aboot bi devolution warnae aboot wir politics an laws, but aboot hoo we cairry wirsels. Compare the Scotland o the day an the Scotland o 1999, an it seems gey clear thit he wis richt. Twanty year o devolution his lairnt us tae cairry wirsels wi mair confidence, pride, an dignity.

But some hings hivnae chynged ower muckle. Aw thon new cultural confidence brocht aboot bi devolution hisnae translatit ower weel intae confidence aboot hoo we speak, especially fir thae folk thit speak Scots. Whan it comes tae the status an treatment o Scotland’s seicont maist spake leid, it cin sometimes seem like devolution ne’er happened at aw.

Jist like in 1999, Scots speakers still hae tae cairry themsels wi shame fir their wey o speakin. Thair remains confusion amang the general public aboot whit exackly Scots is, an the fauchlin ‘language or dialect’ debate hauds hingin aboot wir heids like flees aroon keech. Stigma in scuils micht be fadin awa bit bi bit, but Scots is still the leid o the hame, wi nae presence in the contexts thit gie a leid the wecht o offeicialness. Gey few folk cuid e’er howp tae yaise Scots in offeicial contexts like job interviews wioot bein geckit at.

The fact thit maist Scots speakers still cannae feel at hame in their ain vyce mauger o twa decades o devolution shuid be an affront tae us aw. An the reason fir it is simple: lack o serious government action.

Grantit, some guid steps hae bin taen, sic as the creation o a ‘Scots Language Qualification’ an the settin up o ‘Scottish Studies’ in scuils. Yet Scots lacks statutory recogneition or protection an haes neist tae nae veisbility in the public sector. Fundin fir Scots organisations sic as the Centre fir the Scots leid hisnae been muckle mair nor pocket siller, an anely a wee puckle scuils gie Scots medium education. Sae it’s left maistly tae private bodies an individuals tae pick up the pieces.

Whan A massel first stertit reconneckin wi ma Scots vyce an gettin involved in a wee bit advocacy, A wis nearhaun blawn awa bi aw braw wark bein duin bi a hale fouth o private organisations an individual advocates sic as academics, screivers, an siclike. These war folk dedicatin their ain time an siller tae proteckin an promuivin Scots, wi neist tae nae support or fundin fae public authorities or the government. A thocht tae massel, “Jings, wir leid’s futur shair is in capable hauns!”

A wisnae wrang, but A didnae realise at the time thit the leid’s futur shuidnae hae tae be in thae folk’s hauns at aw. Gin we accept thit linguistic richts are human richts, then we maun accept it’s the responsibility o the government tae facilitate the enjyement o linguistic richts.

It’s a miracle thit Scots haes bin thrawn eneuch tae survive sae lang wioot the kinna government support it needs, but we cannae tak its ongangin survival fir grantit, as thair’s anely sae muckle thit individuals an private organisations cin dae. Coordination atween sindry groups an projecks cin be a richt sair fecht, an lack o siller is an ayebidin roadblock. On tap o this, individuals cannae dae onyhin aboot the lack o Scots broadcastin, signage, an owersettin in offeicial documents. Thon’s exackly why government action is sae sairly needit.

Thair are maist like hunners o reasons thit Scots isnae gien the attention it needs, but at the en o the day, nane o thaim really maitter. Facts mey be cheils thit winna ding, but the wey A see it, thair’s anely twa facts thit really maitter here. Fact yin: aw weys o speakin are equal. Fact twa: 1.54 meillion folk speak Scots.

Wi thae twa facts in mind, the lack o strang, serious government action is naehin short o a failure tae enshair linguistic equality fir awmaist 30% o wir population.

We cannae jist accept this reality. It’s time fir chynge, fir strang an serious action fae the Scots Government tae shaw fir the first time thit they tak linguistic equality seriously.

A Board fir the Scots Leid (or Scots Language Board) sib tae the Bòrd na Gàidhlig wad be a guid stert. It wad finally pit Scots on a formally equal fuittin wi Scotland’s ither indeigenous leids. It michtnae be a siller bullet, but it’d be an important first step taeward linguistic equality. It sens a clear message thit the Scots Government cares aboot linguistic richts an is willin tae walcome Scots back ben whare it belangs: on the public stage. An whit better time tae sen thon message nor 2019, the UN Year of Indigenous Languages?

Suin, A reckon, Scotland will rejyne the warld as an independent kintra. Whan that happens, it shuid be as a kintra thit taks tent o its diversity an promuives fairness an equality. Bi treatin wir leid wi thae values, we cin shaw jist hoo serious we are aboot biggin a better society.

Sae as Donald Dewer statit twanty year syne, we hae tae cairry wirsels differently. Scots speakers are stertin tae cairry their identities wi mair pride, but a chynge at the grassroots needs tae be accompanied bi a chynge in politics. We cuid weel be at the stert o a Scots Leid Renaissance, but it’ll ne’er get aff the groon wioot political action. We maun encourage wir Scots-speakin politicians – an there maun be a wheen o thaim – tae reconeck wi their ain leid, their ain dialect, ken its value tae theirsels an their constituents, an its value tae Scotland. The chynge is bein made doon at the grassroots, noo we hae need o wir representitives tae tak on the cause in Holyrood.

Noo’s the day an noo’s the oor fir the Scots Government tae pit wir leid on the agenda. Aw een will be on the SNP’s Naitional Conference in October.



Comments (15)

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  1. CF Connolly says:

    Great stuff. I’m currently reading A Scots Quair, by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, largely written in Scots and set in Kincardineshire. I don’t think I shall ever refer to a teenage girl as anything other than a “quean” ever again.

    Seriously, there is still an obvious perception that Scots is an inferior language to English, just as there was in the 1910s and 20s. I’d love to hear Government ministers speaking in the old tongue without anyone blushing over it.

  2. Dugald Dalgetty says:

    You mention “the lack o Scots … signage, an owersettin in offeicial documents then eruditely provide “Fact yin: aw weys o speakin are equal.”

    As written Scots is clearly intended to be a more-or-less phonetically accurate representation of speech, how many versions of official documents would you like to have in order to ensure that ‘aw weys o speakin are (treated) equal’?

    1. Jamie Smith says:

      Ye’d juist need the ae version. Traditional Scots orthography actually less or mair covers aw dialects: e.g. written ‘ane’ is pronounced ‘ane’, ‘een’, or ‘yin’ (or ‘wan’); written ‘guid’ is pronounced ‘gid’, ‘gweed’, ‘gyid’, or ‘göd’. Thir days the general population isna really awaur o this sae ye hae fowk writin Scots in an ‘anglophonetic’ wey, whaur the spellins reference English phonology insteid o Scots phonology.

      It’s braw that fowk’s writin Scots even ithoot a gree’d staundart, o coorse, but if ye war tae employ the written leid in ‘official’ airts (like scrievin policy documents or academic papers), it wad really be better if the leid wis bein teacht and fowk kent hou tae read written Scots in their ain dialect, itherwise it could weel raivel them or pit them aff.

      Haein a written staundart wadna preclude them that wants tae frae writin in a mair dialectal wey, either.

  3. George T Watt says:

    Tae me it seams that we still hae an eiducatioun system biggit tae mak oor bairns braw wee Britains, nae Scots. I first heard o Gavin Douglas frae a Canadian a guid wheen o years syne. I wunner foo mony quines an cheils hae heard o Gavin Douglas fan thay lea the skule noo? Foo mony, ken o Shakespeare? I wuid jalouse nae mony hae heard o Douglas but near aa wull ken o Shakespeare. Gin I’m richt, yon’s nae near guid eneuch.

  4. Stuart Jackson says:

    I tried contacting lalan’s advocates about formulating a plan for language tuition as a base for supporting Scots language’s to no avail. What I was interested in is finding language and education experts to formulate a teaching platform based on the Luxembourg educational model. It is a 3 language system. This is where French Luxembourgish and standard German are learnt as related subjects.
    You could translate this scenario into Gaelic and lallan’s / standard English reversing the emphasis depending on if it is a Gaelic or English orientated school. But like Gaelic an infrastructure has to be built even to get to a targeted local level as well as national level. I posted this idea out year’s ago in the national and other discussion platforms but apart from likes not any real headway on the issue. I even contacted SNP ministers with no response. Would be nice to get your or any constructive thoughts on this. Sorry for not writing in lallan’s I speak it fine though.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      How very telling! The Scots language movement has set its face against a standard Scots orthography, and so is trapped in the twilight world of dialectism.

      The lack of progress cannot be blamed on the government. It’s the result of the intellectual regression of the Scots language movement.

      1. Dugald Dalgetty says:

        That is the conundrum. Unless you actually have a language in its own right like Luxembourgish, Catalan, Welsh or Gaelic all that left is the celebration of dialect diversity under the Dachsprache Standard English which is used for the serious and official stuff.
        A body for celebrating dialect diversity already exists, the Scots Language Centre (https://www.scotslanguage.com/). What would a “Scots Language Board” do that isn’t being done already?

      2. Rob Bye says:


        Pitie that therna mair fowk sayin that.

        1. Graeme Purves says:

          The want o a stannert Scots orthographie means that onie bodie ettlin ti master the leid hes ti gang thair ain lanerly wey. It’s each til thair ain privat Pitsligo.

  5. Wullie Oliphant says:

    A`ve tweeted afore about this. A am a Scots Language Ambassador fir west Fife and hae been fir five year. A wark fir nothing roond the Kingdom and up tae this year got motor petrol siller. This year A wis tellt that’s no gettin paiyed either, so A fund the development o Scots oot ma ain pooch!! That’s no a problem, but it’s a national disgrace that a developed modern democracy in western Europe has to hae its ain leid funded by folk like me and no by the cintrys ain government.
    Is that the same fir Catalan, Swiss German, Flemish, Welsh, Gaelic (Scots & Irish)? As ye say there’s 1.5 MILLION o us according tae the 2011 UK census. It’s high time we crawled oot fae under the stanes and shouted aboot it instead o sittin at computers screivin letters tae papers and comments like this.

  6. Derrick McClure says:

    Initiatives HAVE been taken, but they just fizzle out. What happened to the Cross-Party Group on Scots? Why did all the recommendations of the Ministerial Advisory Group on Scots either fade away or never get acted on at all? The writer is exactly right – there’s TONS of information available on Scots, it’s the vehicle for a brilliant literature, it’s a subject for top-quality academic research, it’s the native language of hundreds of thousands of Scottish citizens, it’s recognised internationally as a language with precisely the same right to official support as any other minority language – and those in the field have been POINTING ALL THIS OUT FOR DECADES without its making a blind bit of difference. And under an SNP government too – it just passes belief. What more can we do (“we” = scholars, writers, academics, researchers, creative artists, native speakers) to get the government to take some positive, effective and lasting ACTION? The SNP during its long period in office has been just a tiny fraction more useful than Labour was in supporting Scots – a tiny fraction more useful than totally useLESS, that is – and how could there be a more damning verdict than that?

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      No further progress will be made without a standard Scots orthography.

      1. nameless gadgie says:

        What processes and or leverage are needed to get (enough/key) people around the table to discuss and agree on one? If that is the barrier.

        From memory for Kernewek, it was a big pot of European funding – conditional on having a written standard – that forced activists to come together and compromise.
        I’m not sure an external pot of money/offer will ever be available for Scots.

        An alternative form of leverage might be the esteem in which Professors and other academics are held, thereby having the ability to call people together for a thorough discussion- though seem not to be for or against a standard for professional ‘objectivity’ reasons. Anyway, it seems like this was tried once with the RRSSC report.

        Would it be worth repeating the ‘RRSSC’ excercise ’25 years on’? Have opinions changed? The report itself seems written and pitched at a fairly linguistics-orientated audience, and its conclisions not published in a public friendly or sell-able form. This was also pre-/early internet, so perhaps an user-friendly RRSSC2 excercise would have more reach? Just an idea, but am interested to know how advocates for a standard orthography envision getting there (if we’re not) or propagating once we’re there. Thanks

        1. Ailie Dinmont says:

          Indeed, many have tried … and failed to gain any traction with the wider public. Perhaps figuring out why that is and how to overcome it might be part of the solution


  7. Wullie says:

    Why did they remove Latin from state schools in 1964 / 1965 ?? Is that a whole generation brainwashed ??

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