Aw Aboard! The fecht for the Scots language stairts the day!
‘Tae popular acclamation!’ Noo there’s a thocht tae quicken the hert. A roarin croud isnae jist for Hampden when we’re takkin oot a guddle o P.E. teachers an pairt-time posties; but the second tae last place ye’d expect yin (coontin the Mitchell Library an New Douglas Park on a Setturday) is shuirly an SNP conference meetin whaur a motion cawin for a Scots Language Board is due tae be proposed. An yet, this verra efternuin, sic a motion wis carried bi vyces alane – a fittin omen for a debate aboot whit fowk are an arenae alloued tae be heard fae in oor modern Scotland.
Coorse, there are aye fowk oot there fawin ower theirsels tae tell ye that there’s naethin new unner the sun, an that SNP conferences hae been passin Scots language motions an then forgettin aw aboot them syne Day Dot… Which is aw true, ye ken, but the age o Trump an Johnson seems like an unco time tae be makkin Public Service Annooncements on the perfidy o politicians. These are strynge times, an it needsna tak the Oracle o Delphi tae mind us o the muckle gap atween whit oor leaders promise an whit’ll they deliver.
Sae, aye. This Scots Language Board business micht gang straicht tae the dowp-end o the policy pile, there tae malinger eternally amidst the stourie smirr o Ideas whase Time Has Yet Tae Come – universal basic income, socialism, equality. Or then again, mebbes a Board WILL be set up, but wioot the siller, pouer or remit tae dae onythin but man a booth at community centre conferences an high schuil careers fairs…
The Bòrd na Gàidhlig sets oot the template for whit an equivalent body for the Scots language wad an could be ettlin tae achieve. The lang, slaw deith o a language is a kittlie thing tae reverse, but the example of Scots Gaelic has makkit it gey clear that wi popular will an political capital – an a wee bittie money – the question is nae langer whether a language can be brocht back fae the brink, but how best it can be duin. An the three areas o public life a Scots Language Board will need tae get tae grips wi richt oot the gate are exactly the same three whaur Gaelic has cairved oot sic an inalienable place for itsel in modern Scotland – media, education, an the airts.
Contra the BBC’s dwab insistence that Tam Cowan an the occasional wird on River City coont for somethin, there is simply nae Scots on TV or on radio. Nane. The BBC, like mony ither public bodies, hae lang hidden ahint government inactivity tae justify this dumfoonerin absence o ony pretence at equality – unless an until somebody at Westmínster or Holyrood stairts haudin oor feet tae the fire, they say, Scots spikkers are getting hee-bluidy-haw for their license fees. Nae force but the yins that drive the mercat can compel maist media ootlets tae provide content in Scots – but the BBC hae an express responsibility tae mak shuir their ootput adequately represents Scotland in aw its diversity, which they hae signally failed tae dae. Ilka bairn that has grown up in this kintrae these past hunner years, hearin their ain language naewhaur but in their ain hoose an in the mockin tongues o teachers an politicians, has the BBC tae thank for thon. Och, ah ken, ah ken – braidcastin isnae a devolved maitter. But saft pouer gets things duin an aw, sometimes. A Scots Language Board wad chynge the gemme for Scots in the media, an even jist that wee bit visibility wad be a shot in the airm for the language that’d mak Popeye’s spinach luik like Asda’s ain brand energy drink…
An as for schuils… Weel, michty. We’re killin oorsels ilka day ettlin oot spirit-levels for the Easter road slope o a playin-grund that separates Eton fae Easterhoose – yin education minister efter anither has thrawn awthin they could think o (an the jawbox forby) at the policy waw, howpin for somethin tae stick. But the notion that teachin wirkin-cless bairns in the language o their middle-cless peers micht in ony wey be educationally disadvantageous is sowt that gets laughed oot the place in a cuttin wind o scorn an sarcasm. Good luck applying for a job in nedspeak, oor weel-wishers cry. Try sealing a deal with Japanese businessmen in your kiddie-on slang. Which is aw fair eneuch, ah suppose… The oors ah’ve spent starin at a letter template in Word an tryin tae mind whit the English is for ‘Awricht troops!’, ah’m never getting back. But still. If we’re sincere aboot wantin tae gie wirkin-cless bairns the best chance we can in life – an ah dinnae ken, ah micht be readin the situation aw wrang, mebbe we arenae – it’s plain as parritch that we hiv tae stairt bi turnin the language they’re ashamed tae speak o intae a soorce o genuine pride. Tae fankle atween twa languages is a mervel tae see in ony bairn – a Scots Language Board will be able tae legitimise thon, lattin oor weans ken that, even gin their education will aft as no be led in the international lingua franca o English, their lives dinnae hiv tae be.
By the by – dae ye ken hou much money Rabbie Burns is wirth tae the Scottish economy? Naw. Oor government daes. They’ve duin studies on it an awthin. Pure millions, it is. Thraw in a hantle o oor ither Scots scrievers – Irvine Welsh, James Kelman, Kathleen Jamie, Liz Lochhead – an ye’re talkin aboot a naitural resoorce that’d lea a gap the size o Darién’s in oor national economy gin it wis tae disappear owernicht. The notion that Scots an Gaelic dinnae pey their ain wey is gied the lie ower an ower again bi the thoosands o tourists wha are drawn here ilka year bi oor creative traditions – oor ballads an poems, oor stories an sangs. But livin traditions quickly become deid yins, an wioot the same financial support the Bòrd na Gàidhlig has been able tae ensure for its scrievers an sangsters, the rich culture that has lang sustained oor poorest peoples, as weel as aw the siller than gangs wi it, will be buried that deep ablo the soil that no even the maist determined o frackers’ll be able tae airt it oot. Again – wioot a Scots Language Board tae protect the interests o oor creatives an makars an awbody that benefits fae thaim, the exhaustion o this national treisure, an the income stream it provides, isnae jist a possibility but an inevitability. An it’s aye cheaper tae tend the gairden ye’ve got than it is tae growe a new yin.
Weel, aye, aye. But still an aw – sae whit? Whit odds is it the difference a Scots Language Board wad mak if aw thochts o it are gettin cowped in an Aiberdeen midden the morn alang wi the paper chains an conference programmes? John Steinbeck wance said that there are nae poor fowk in America, jist temporarily embarrassed millionaires. In Scotland, we’ve the opposite problem – we’ve nae winners in bonnie Caledonia, jist muckle haufwits heidit for a faw. There’s nae sic thing in Scotland as an open door, jist wan that’s shuttin. An richt eneuch, the ingang that has opened for the Scots language the day is awready swingin tae. But space for a fit in the door is aw Scots spikkers hiv really asked for – an, gawin bi the smeddum o the wans ah ken, ah we really need.
It’s a fair scunner that yin o the maist wame-turnin o purportedly pro-indy sentiments has found its hermit-crab hame in Scots. ‘Wheesht for indy!’, cry the purple-pussed fowk that hae never stapped rinnin their mooths aw their days. Weel, at a conference haw in Aiberdeen this efternuin, there wis tae be nae wheeshtin. Throu the totiest wee crack in the door, fowk fae aw ower Scotland, fowk o ilka race an religion, language an culture, sexuality an gender, shoutit oot for Scots. The gatekeepers hae been chased awa. Noo for the gate.
Image: Calum Colvin