Scots language: Ministerial Working Group report

Report considering the Scots language's place in modern Scotland, with recommendations regarding its promotion.

1. Chairman's Foreword.

The Ministerial Working Group on the Scots Language was convened with the remit of devising and presenting a radical vision for the development of the language, with realistic recommendations on how this vision may be achieved. All members of the MWG have established reputations for active work with and for the Scots tongue, as creative writers, broadcasters, publishers and/or academics with scholarly expertise in both the history and the present state of Scots; and all are keenly aware of the strengths and weaknesses of its position in diverse areas of the national life and of the gaps between its actual status and that which it should rightfully have as one of the languages of the Scottish nation. The Government's new commitment to a policy of active support for Scots had been welcomed and enthusiastically supported by all members, and the founding of this Working Group was seen from the outset as an unprecedented opportunity to bring about a major improvement in the status of Scots. It was never to be expected that the members' opinions on any given question would be absolutely identical; but the bedrock of the group's discussions was a common acceptance of the following principles as elemental "givens":

a. Scots is, along with Gaelic and English, one of the three indigenous languages of Scotland.

b. As such, it should as a matter of right have an established, institutionalised and formally recognised place in all aspects of the national life, comparable to that enjoyed by Welsh in Wales and Scottish Gaelic in Scotland.

c. The profile of Scots is better in this respect than it was until well within living memory, but it is still very far from having the recognition or the status which is its due.

d. This being the case, it is necessary that the existing unsatisfactory situation should be changed. Motivated by this common commitment, the members of the MWG have, in the course of several meetings, discussed both the actual and the desirable state of Scots, focusing (as was agreed at the first meeting) on the following fields:

Literature and the Arts
International Contacts
Public Awareness

Clearly these are not self-contained and mutually isolated fields, and their interaction indeed was a frequent focus of the group's discussions; however, for convenience the group's recommendations will be made under these headings. Each meeting was devoted principally to discussion of one or two of these issues: the normal procedure was for a discussion paper to be prepared by one of the members and circulated in advance of the meeting. Discussions were predictably lively and wide-ranging, each member contributing from his or her individual range of knowledge and expertise; and it is safe to say that the members' understanding of the various issues was greatly enhanced and clarified by this sharing of thoughts and experiences. A point repeatedly made was that the enormous reservoir of knowledge and expertise on Scots among creative writers, academics and ordinary speakers, and the enormous body of readily-accessible information in the form of dictionaries and other reference works, research publications and online resources such as the Dictionary of the Scots Language ( ) and the website of the Scots Language Centre ( ), had hardly been recognised, much less exploited, either by policy-makers or by the general public.

As all members understood, it was necessary throughout to retain a sense of realism. One consideration is that the present unsatisfactory (though improving) state of Scots is the result of long-term social and cultural developments of which the effects cannot be easily or quickly countered. Many contingent factors must be taken into account in our efforts at improving the status of the language: most particularly, the general level of understanding of matters relating to language and its use is low in Scotland; and this must be addressed by far-reaching educational reforms to provide a context in which action in support of Scots can be sure of making real progress. Another factor is that Governmental initiatives must be shaped and pursued in the context of a given political and economic ambience in which even highly desirable moves may not be practically possible. Throughout its meetings, the group endeavoured to strike a balance between enthusiasm for the cause of Scots and recognition of the limitations on what can at present be achieved: the presence of experienced civil servants among the membership was of great help in this.

The present report contains the substance of the Group's discussions, and a set of recommendations which we believe are both desirable and achievable. To speak personally, I have felt myself honoured and privileged at being able to chair this Group.


Email: – Central Enquiry Unit

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

Back to top