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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Political Crack in Scots

It is self evident that from the Middle Ages until the 18th century the Scots language evolved as a medium for spoken political debate and for written political discussion, drawing on Latin and French and coining its own terminology, so that it was normal for political debate to take place in the language at the highest levels.

This position was weakened after the monarchy removed to England after 1603, and then the political union with England in 1707 removed politics to London – which seriously undermined Scots as a language of politics in institutional settings. During the remainder of the 18th century the political elite consciously shifted to speaking and debating in English in order to conform to the new political arrangements in which English culture, language, and identity predominated.

However, the rise of the popular printing press gave the language a new voice by the mid 1800’s when regional journalists, and letter writers, contributed hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of articles in the various regional forms of Scots. Another important new factor was the gradual extension of the voting franchise from 1832 onwards. This meant more and more of the middle and working classes – precisely the people who spoke Scots – were admitted to the political process and they took it for granted that they should debate politics in their mother tongue. Once again Scots developed its range and register as speakers expressed themselves in the tongue they knew best.

This continued to be the case until the early 20th century when anti-Scots education programmes, the takeover of Scottish newspapers by outside companies and the rise of the English language broadcast media (1920’s) turned the social and political climate against the language. Only as recently as the 1990’s, with the reversal of discriminatory policies in education, the re-establishment of the Scottish parliament, and recognition of the language within the EU, has the climate begun to improve for Scots as a language of political expression.

Because of its long history as a medium for political debate Scots has a large word stock covering administration, political concepts, and debating, and certainly has a longer, better-established parliamentary tradition than some languages present in the Scottish parliament today. But because the vast majority of MSPs do not speak Scots, and because the status of Scots had until very recently been much maligned, very little has been done to represent the Scots community directly within the parliament. In the PDF document below is a brief overview of Scots as a language of politics together with a short list of key terms combined with some general words and expressions which may be used in a number of situations, politics included.