Publication - Independent report

Scots language: Ministerial Working Group report

Published: 30 Nov 2010
Learning Directorate
Part of:
Arts, culture and sport, Education

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

Scots language: Ministerial Working Group report
3. Discussions of the Working Group.

3. Discussions of the Working Group.

This section contains summaries of points arising in the course of the discussions. The grounds for the recommendations presented in the preceding section are set out in more detail here.


Summary of discussions.

The many-faceted topic of education was discussed at several meetings. Aspects requiring to be examined were identified at the first meeting as including

(a) the need to make speakers aware of both their own and other dialects;

(b) the need for adult as well as pre-school, school and student speakers to be provided for in educational practice;

(c) the need to provide for speakers with learning difficulties;

(d) the lack of a generally-understood relationship between spoken and written Scots.

From information provided by members, it emerged that the profile of the Scots language in education has never been higher. More teachers than ever are committed to the view that Scots plays a crucial role for many pupils in raising levels of attainment and confidence, improving behaviour and literacy skills and supporting social inclusion and Scottish identity. However, due to the traditional and still deep-seated prejudice against the language and the historically inadequate resourcing of it, only a small number of children in Scotland are currently benefiting from high quality Scots language teaching and from the many examples of good practice which are in evidence across the profession. Furthermore, though numerous individual examples can be found of good practice at all educational levels in providing for Scots, the overall picture is of sporadic and piecemeal efforts, hampered by an excessive dependence on individual initiatives and an almost complete lack of coordination or official guidelines. The suggestion of a network of Scots co-ordinators for the various regions was seen as a step towards resolving this.

The common argument that it would be difficult to find room for Scots in an already crowded curriculum was recognised as fallacious, since Scots is not only a subject for study (though it is this and should have a place as such) but the normal spoken tongue of many people and the speech in which many nursery, primary and secondary school pupils conduct their regular activities. It was suggested that this pervasive lack, among teachers and the general public, of a clear understanding of Scots or the issues surrounding it - a fundamental problem in improving the status of the language - could be addressed by ensuring that the language and the learning opportunities it offers become an integral part of all teacher-training courses given in Scotland.

From the outset the success of Shetland was recognised as a source of possible guidelines for the rest of the country. Elements contributing to this success included regular consultations between teachers and local authority representatives on what resources are required, active participation by teachers in the task of preparing resources which are user-friendly and meet the requirements of the curriculum, and the obtaining of a graduate placement post with the remit of producing the finished materials for pre-school teaching and lower primary classes. (This post has now grown into a three-year post with a wider remit.)

The importance of the internet as a teaching tool was recognised. Discussion of a picture dictionary of Scots as a means of introducing young children to the language was complemented by discussion of whether a web-based resource might be even more useful, as being cheaper to produce, more easily accessible, easier and quicker to update and more capable of allowing for inclusion of different dialects. The fact that LTS has commissioned a module on Scots, about which all teachers will be informed, was noted with approval: so likewise was the Engage for Education website, recently launched by the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning earlier this year, on which a workshop on Scots language may be posted.

An issue in which educational provision has some part is the link between Scots speech and social inclusion: the well-remembered stigmatising of all forms of Scots in the classroom is much reduced, but prejudices remain. It was suggested that a research project on social attitudes to Scots could be commissioned.

The undoubted progress which has been made over the last ten years in strengthening the place of Scots in the educational system makes it particularly urgent that this momentum should be maintained. A recent critical lack of positive action for Scots in education threatens to undermine the recent advances. The increased level among the teaching profession of skill and experience in teaching Scots is a major asset to Scotland's education system, but will disappear if not supported now by government. And there is increasing dissatisfaction among teaching professionals that while there are financial plans in place for the other languages of Scotland, the government has made no provision for the future funding of Scots in schools. Only delivery of meaningful and sustainable learning opportunities will bring to an end the generations of neglect of the Scots language in education. The Scottish Government must act to restore to hundreds of thousands of young Scots the fundamental human right of children to be taught in their mother tongue.


Summary of discussions.

Questions relating to the use of Scots in broadcasting and the media were discussed at the third and fourth meetings of the group. The Group recognised that the reservation of broadcasting to the Westminster Government by the terms of the Scotland Act (1998) would be an obstacle to implementing any changes; but several matters require to be urgently addressed.

Three items were identified as central to the discussion: the need for more funding in Scottish media, the lack of effort put into developing programmes either in Scots or about the Scots language, and the cultural implications of the lack of Scots within Scottish broadcasting.

It was strongly felt by the Group that the Scottish broadcasting media should promote a climate where Scots is encouraged, particularly in instances where members of the public take part in broadcasts: a case in point is interviews for news programmes. One suggestion was that the BBC and other broadcasting stations should be encouraged to make a variety of programmes in Scots to reflect the cultural diversity within the nation, including (for example) the commissioning of new plays for radio and television; another was the introduction of quotas by BBC Scotland for the use of Scots in their programming. The group also believed that BBC Scotland should have an officer with a full time remit on Scots as BBC Ulster has for Ulster Scots. The full time employment of a Scots correspondent (or preferably a group of them) was mentioned as a recommendation.

As in education, the importance of the internet and its potential as a vehicle for promoting Scots was recognised in the Group's discussions of broadcasting and the media. It was suggested that all major Scottish institutions could be approached with a view to having Scots content on their websites. There should also be funding for a major Scots website using existing audio and video resources and providing links to media archives, and including samples of Scots from all periods of its history and reflecting all its range of uses (song, comedy, drama and other literary forms, etc.). The website of the Scots Language Centre, already recognised internationally as an excellent resource, could form the foundation for this project."

Many ideas were proposed as recommendations in addition to the ones listed: some, after discussion, were seen as being too specific in proposing a proportional relationship between the number of Scots speakers and the amount of broadcasting time devoted to Scots, since the Group cannot prescribe quotas. However, the field of broadcasting was seen as an area where the provision for Scots is particularly far from adequate, and where several immediate steps to improve it can realistically be advised.

Literature and the Arts

Summary of discussions.

The topic of publishing was examined at the fourth meeting of the Group. The strong and enduring association of Scots with literature was recognised, and seen as one of the essential arguments for determined Governmental policy in support of the language.

In view of the positive attitude of the Scottish Arts Council's Literature Department towards Scots writing, which has always been a valuable asset, the possibility of a dedicated fund to subsidise publishing in Scots was seen as realistic and deserving of investigation. This would provide incentive for publishers to publish new Scots literature. The success of the Gaelic Books Council was noted, and the possibility of a similar body to fund publishing in Scots was seen as a useful aim to which the SAC's successor, Creative Scotland, should give serious consideration.

A common perception that Scots is "difficult" to read was seen as an obstacle to developing an extensive Scots publishing industry. One way of countering this could be to produce audio books, accompanied by new printed editions, of classic Scots texts. By allowing readers to hear the pronunciation and see the written form at the same time, this would help them to associate the Scots of written texts with the familiar spoken language, thus making for a clearer understanding of and a better-informed attitude to the Scots tongue.

Although the need to expand into other markets besides the educational field was recognised, the successful link between Scots publishing and education developed by Itchy Coo was seen as an achievement that could be built on. Itchy Coo's greatest success has been with books for primary-school age children; but it is essential to encourage children to maintain their habit of reading Scots into the secondary and tertiary education periods and beyond. An obligatory Scots element in the Highers would give publishers the opportunity to produce books aimed at this age group.

What could prove a major setback to Scots publishing was the SAC's decision to withdraw funding from Lallans magazine, one of the longest-running and most important outlets for Scots writing: this matter arose during the weeks when the Group was discussing the issue of publishing, and received urgent attention. Subsequent contact between Creative Scotland and members of the Group have resulted in assurances that this does not imply any diminution of Creative Scotland's support for Scots, and that alternatives to continuing Lallans in its present form, such as replacing it with an online magazine, will be actively sought.

The topic of creative writing was discussed at the fourth meeting of the Group. The principles set out in the discussion paper were unanimously endorsed, and the need to create an ambience more favourable to the production of creative writing in Scots, in all literary genres, was seen as of vital importance for the health of the language. The integral connection between encouraging creative writing and fostering literacy in Scots and a general understanding of the language and its identity, and as a corollary the close link between the fields of creative writing and education, was noted: it was agreed that while guaranteed practical support for literature, in the shape of bursaries and grants for writers and sponsorship of literary projects by central and local government, was essential, it could only have a lasting effect in the context of an educational programme aimed at raising the general level of literacy in Scots.

A key factor, emphasised both in the paper and in the ensuing discussions, is the lack of financial support for writers in Scotland, particularly those writing in Scots, because of the perceived lack of a market for their work. The self-perpetuating vicious circle - nobody buys Scots books because nobody publishes them; nobody publishes them because nobody buys them - could be broken by a determined programme of subsidising and publishing good-quality Scots works, co-ordinated with a programme of raising the status of Scots in the educational system. The Itchy Coo project is a model example of how this kind of co-ordinated programme can be achieved, and its success provides a template for future Scots publishing ventures.

The specific part to be played by Creative Scotland was examined, and the need for this body not only to give support to individual authors for one-off projects but to subsidise the advertising and marketing of Scots books was endorsed. The importance of literary magazines such as Lallans was emphasised: such magazines, though in many cases ephemeral, play an essential part in providing outlets for Scots writing; and should be more consistently and determinedly supported. Another important institution deserving of guaranteed support through both more secure financing and more high-profile publicity is the Scottish Poetry Library.

The National Theatre of Scotland was the subject of some discussion: though the radical, adventurous and highly stimulating nature of many of its productions was seen as a matter for applause, and likewise the use of actors with strongly Scottish voices, it was considered that its lack of initiative in either producing much new work or revivals of good-quality plays in Scots was in part a failure of its remit as a national theatre. Scottish Screen was likewise seen as an artistic body whose use of Scots could be substantially increased.

International Contacts

Summary of discussions.

This topic was discussed at the fifth meeting of the group. Since the discussion paper had focused mostly on the Scots international presence in the academic and creative writing fields, in which the success of recent efforts to raise the international profile of Scots were unquestioned, much of the discussion centred on what could be done to promote Scots internationally on a popular level.

Given the overall success of the Homecoming Scotland project of 2009, the lack of a strong emphasis on Scots in the many international events associated with this was seen as an opportunity lost. Plans for similar events, such as the one currently under discussion to commemorate the 700 th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 2014, should be framed to allow for a much greater degree of promoting and displaying the Scots language.

Tourism was also seen as a means of promoting Scots abroad. The language itself could be advertised as a tourist attraction along with other aspects of the nation's cultural heritage: countries with strong historical links to Scotland might be highly responsive to this. VisitScotland could play a key role in promoting Scots internationally by this means.

Another possible opportunity is the Commonwealth Games, which will bring large numbers of international visitors to Scotland. Introductions to the language, and in particular to the dialects of Glasgow, could be offered to visitors, both on arrival and via the internet.

In general, in view of the determined efforts of the Scottish Government to promote Scotland on the international stage and to ensure that the country plays a full part in both hosting international events and taking part in ones held in other countries, it was recognised that there are enormous opportunities for enhancing the international awareness of Scots. VisitScotland and other cultural bodies could have a key role in this, and should be actively encouraged to develop it.

Public awareness.

Summary of discussions.

The theme of public awareness of Scots had surfaced, with one application or another, at all the meetings; but the one devoted specifically to a discussion of it was the sixth.

Several previous discussions had focused on the need for a body to exist for the support and promotion of Scots as Bòrd na Gàidhlig does for Gaelic, and receiving a comparable amount of recognition, attention, publicity and funding; but the general feeling of the Group was that the setting up of an entirely new body would be unrealistic at this time. Meanwhile, much of the co-ordination and publicity is carried out the by Scots Language Centre. The possibility of a part time press and communications officer being appointed as a permanent member of the SLC staff was seen as desirable: this would require funding. Funding should also be provided for existing Scots agencies to enable them to lobby and raise awareness more effectively.

The unsatisfactory level of public awareness on Scots, in spite of all the valuable work being done, was seen as being partly due to the lack of any consistent and strongly-emphasised policy on Scots on the part of public bodies such as VisitScotland, Creative Scotland and other bodies which receive public funding. It was considered that determined action should be taken by the Government to ensure that all such bodies institute policies on Scots and put them into practice. The Government too should have such a policy in place in accordance with its commitments under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.


Summary of discussions.

The issue of dialects too was one which arose during the Group's discussions of all other topics: necessarily, since the long-term socio-historical development of Scots has given it, at present, a distinctive nature as a language with a number of different dialects but - at present - no standard form. Much of the widespread ignorance and confusion surrounding Scots, already often referred to, inheres in a failure to understand that the term "Scots" includes Buchan, Border, Fife, Ayrshire, Galloway, Shetland and all other dialects, and that there is no form (or certainly, at least, no spoken form) which can be taken to be simply "Scots" (as, for example, what is commonly and naively taken to be simply "French" is the Île de France dialect spoken with an educated middle-class Parisian accent). This situation is by no means unique to Scots and is well understood by sociolinguists: also well recognised is the fact that a standard form to be used for governmental and other official purposes could readily be devised, and would be if a government directive to this effect were issued. Another common source of confusion is a value-based distinction between urban and rural dialects.. Since a clear understanding of this situation requires some comprehension of fairly sophisticated sociolinguistic concepts, the discussion must return to the need for an educational policy which will instil a better understanding not only of Scots but of language in general.

Though it goes without saying that the central government and all public bodies should treat Scots dialects with respect, a major responsibility lies with local authorities to apply Government policy in their own dialect areas, and to take a proactive approach in encouraging the local speech. There might be a designated official in each relevant local authority whose remit is to promote the Scots of the area, and who receives funding specifically for this purpose; and these officials should consult and collaborate with each other and with their counterpart in the central government.

The existence of striking differences between local dialects should be seen, not as a handicap to development, but as a positive source of strength. Children in schools could be taught about the distinctive features of their own local dialect and how they compare and contrast with those of other areas. As different dialects are broadcast on national and local radio and on television, they could be encouraged to look for the differences and discuss them in class. The long-term result of this would be to increase the general level of respect and understanding of different dialects all over the country, and to enable Scots-speakers to appreciate the essential fact that, divergent though the dialects are, they are nonetheless forms of the same Scots language.

The Census

Though not at first designated as a specific subject for discussion by the Group, it was felt that in view of the fact that the welcome decision had been taken to include a question on Scots in the 2011 census, the Group's collective thoughts on this might be useful to the Government both in devising the question and in utilising the information which it will give.

Summary of discussions.

It was noted with satisfaction that though the proposal for a Scots question in the 2001 Census had been rejected by the then-existing Scottish Parliament, this time no MSP had voted against the inclusion of Scots in the census. The Group learned that most questions contained within the census have been developed for public bodies and government departments so they can gain information to help them identify a need for services. The basic information required for Scots is on how many people can speak, read and understand it; and the guidance material is intended to clarify this for the lay citizen, including the issue of dialects.

The suggestion was made that the planned inclusion of a Scots question should be well publicised in advance of the Census. The SLC and GROS will be raising awareness of this, hopefully funded in their efforts by the Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism; all publicly funded and voluntary Scots language organisations should be encouraged to participate in, and use their networks to promote the awareness raising; and individual Group members (and others) could also help by such methods as writing letters to newspapers.

Since the inclusion of a Scots question has been decided, the Group's response when making its recommendations should focus on the issue of how to utilise the data. The General Register Office should be requested to provide a breakdown by area/age etc to help inform policy development. Many of the recommendations made by the Group in other fields will be greatly facilitated by a careful application of the data gathered.


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