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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

William G. Saraband

William G. Saraband is a writer and visual artist originally from Portugal. His artwork fuses Scottish identity and political activism, with bold, abstract and geometric designs.  

Is it a conscious choice to infuse the complexity of identity into your work?

In a way yes and in a way not, for the LGBT bit, no, I don’t ever think I’m doing lGBT art or LGBT writing, it just comes out that way from that perspective because obviously it is a very important part of my identity, it just ends up coming out. The scots language and scottish bit, sometimes it can be a deliberate choice, if I’m trying to make a specific point with my art. Not all of my work is political but when I do choose to do something related to politics, I am very conscious of what I am trying to do, and how I am trying to communicate. For example, my latest work is focused on scottish abstract landscapes, and it started as just that, with absolutely no political motivation whatsoever. I just had this idea come to me of abstract landscape of Loch Lomond and I did the first one and after the first 12 non political landscapes I thought I should incorporate more colours in subsequent versions. It’s important to note that even these non-political ones are political in a way because they represent an immigrant's perspective as a love letter to Scotland, which sometimes feels like an outsider’s perspective. Scottish art has so many centuries of legacy, these landscapes have been painted over and over again, talked about, sung about, poems have been written about them, and i hate doing something we’ve all seen before, 

I decided to do a landscape of Loch Lomond with the colours of the trans flag, which was deliberately political, I was intentionally making an LGBT statement. I have a geometric composition which is entitled “abortion is a human right”. All of my art is Scottish, as I only started to create art in Scotland, I was never a painter before. My degree is in mediaeval history. I never thought i was talented, it was actually my husband, who tends to pull everything good about me out, despite all the ways i have tried to bury it through my own issues, he is the one who is always encouraging me and bringing out the best in me. And as always, he was right because my art has gone really well. I do hope I bring out the best in him, also, but he was already pretty good to begin with. 

What does Scottishness and your relationship to Scots mean to you?

I am a learner of Scots, but I often don’t want to intrude in a space that I don’t feel is mine (editor’s note: most of the people interviewed for this project expressed similar sentiment, the Scots space is as much yours as anyone else’s. The Scots language belongs to all those who claim it) 

People sometimes accuse me of cosplaying Scottishness because I have a profile picture with a kilt and because I am engaged with Scottish languages. I think there is a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural participation. I am an immigrant, I am a foreigner, everything that I know about Scotland I have learned living here, meeting the people and becoming part of the culture. Unlocking the Scots language and overcoming the cultural shame is such an important step. I get to learn a lot about the country through exploring the language. I try to do my best to speak up about minoritized languages and to bring things to light. I feel that the debates around the Scots language and Gaelic can sometimes be reductive, it’s never about the language, the languages are used as a political vehicle. The languages themselves are not political, but you cannot discuss language without politics. I like to think that I try to maintain a positive relationship with Scots, and Gaelic first and foremost because I love language, and because I love scotland. The more I learn Scots and Gaelic, the more I can deepen my appreciation and understanding of Scotland and it allows me to be a better, more involved part of Scotland. 

What is your experience of living as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Scotland?

I’ve always said, coming from Portugal, which is deeply culturally religious, coming to Scotland was a much more positive experience. I know bigotry exists in Scotland, and I know people who have experienced it due to being LGBTQ, but I have been lucky. My husband and I were threatened with a gun in Portugal, people hurled abuse at us, so Scotland feels safer. Seeing LGBTQ+ representation in parliament felt so different and a breath of fresh air. I do find the rise of transphobia in the UK is currently causing a regression when it comes to attitudes towards LGBT people in general. Transphobia has become a vehicle for discriminatory attitudes and abuse. Things we thought were past. I never lived through section 28 but it feels from what people have said that things are moving backwards towards that. This is why I make my art and I’ve shifted my advocacy strongly towards LGBT issues because things are becoming very visceral and bad, taking over our politics, and the media, and the culture. Despite this, some of the biggest pushback to this bigotry is coming from Scotland, and that makes me proud. So there is hope, Scotland is trying. 

 Do you think as your language journey progresses with Scots, you will continue to use it in your work?

In work and in my daily life, absolutely. When I moved to Scotland I didn’t have the accent and when I started introducing Scots words to my vocabulary and changing the way I said different words, it was a conscious effort. It felt fake, it felt as though I was trying hard to sound like someone who I’m not because I’m not Scottish. The thing is, though, my english accent is manufactured, this is not my language, I am a portuguese speaker who in portugal learned english in a received pronunciation accent. I was taught to speak in one way, but now I speak the way people around me speak in scotland. I love the Scottish accent. Like good morning, there’s nothing like hearing good morning in a Scottish accent! Scots for me is visceral positive, I particularly love swear words. Every language is interesting and I love English, but Scots and Gaelic have a special place in my heart. The melody of Scots is just beautiful. I am making a lot of effort to introduce more Scots words all the time. I wrote my uni dissertation in English while I was in Portugal and found that I had used “outwith” without even knowing it was a Scots word!

Do you think there are enough resources for adults to learn Scots?

There can never be enough resources, and they can never be accessible enough. There is no state of perfection when it comes to learning resources, we can always try to improve them. Language learning is such an important skill, and it’s never too late to start. We’re always told that only kids can learn languages, but I have picked up 3 languages as an adult and yes, it requires a lot of time, but it is always fulfilling. People have the curiosity to learn other languages, and we need to make sure there are sufficient resources to fulfil that curiosity.

What message do you have for LGBTQ Scots community? 

As an immigrant, this issue of language activism and LGBTQ+ are interlinked, when you uplift and elevate one marginalised community you uplift them all. We need community between language activism, women’s rights, racial equality, class solidarity, all these groups working together. You have a unique perspective as a member of the LGBTQ community, which shapes the way you perceive the world. We need connection and to understand how all social issues overlap and interact with one another. It can seem overwhelming at times, but so much progress has already been done, and more can be done every day. It’s an uphill battle, but not a battle we are fighting alone. Intersectionality is key, you cannot distinguish one social issue with the other. Whatever field you are in as an LGBTQ person, you add value to. You do not have to be an activist, you improve the world just by existing and thriving, to show other people that happiness is possible.we can only dream of what the next generation of LGBTQ people will achieve.