The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages was adopted by the Council of Europe in 1992 in order to protect and promote historical, regional, and minority languages in Europe.
In 2001, the UK Government ratified the Charter in respect of Scots in Scotland; however, it was ratified only under Part II - which is predominantly a statement of objectives and principles, without explicit requirement for action. (Part III ratification, by contrast, focuses on concrete measures to be taken in order to fulfil the objectives and principles listed under Part II).
Responsibility for the implementation of the Charter with respect to Scots was devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
Part II ratification obliges the signatory, among other things, to:
Facilitate and/or encourage the use of Scots in speech and writing, in public and private life
Provide appropriate forms and means for the teaching and study of Scots at all appropriate stages
Provide facilities enabling non-speakers living where Scots is spoken to learn it if they so desire
The Labour-led Scottish Executive 1999-2007 / The SNP Scottish Government 2007 - present
In practice, the action taken by the Scottish Executive (termed Scottish Government from 2007) has varied considerably dependent on the priorities and approach to Scots of the party in government.
Between 1999-2007, very little action was undertaken by the Labour-led Executive.
In 2007, it published A Strategy for Scotland's Languages: Draft Version for Consultation, which stated that 'the Scots language will be treated with respect and pride' and committed to 'encouraging Scots language and literature in schools where appropriate.'
This draft strategy was never pursued or implemented, however, due to the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections resulting in an SNP administration (which rebranded itself as the ‘Scottish Government’).
In contrast to Labour’s time in power, the election of an SNP Government has led to positive concrete steps being taken with regard to the preservation and promotion of the Scots language, some significant examples of which are below:
Establishment of a Ministerial Working Group (MWG) on the Scots language in 2009, which reported to the Government in 2010. Consisting of prominent Scots academics, writers, educators, and activists, the group members were tasked with advising the government on developing a strategy for Scots. You can read the report of the Ministerial Working Group here.
Publication in 2009 of an Audit of Current Scots Language Provision in Scotland in order to a) identify where provision currently exists; and b) determine what opportunity may exist to expand provision within the context of the Council of Europe European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, either as part of, or in addition to, the manifesto commitments the Scottish Government has given to the Scots language
Publication in 2010 of a Public Attitudes Towards the Scots Language study
Inclusion of the first ever question on Scots in the 2011 census. This had been opposed by the previous Labour Executive and followed years of campaigning by the Scots language community. In order to address concerns about respondents’ linguistic awareness, the website Aye Can, presenting examples of both spoken and written Scots, was set up to accompany the census.
Creation in 2011 of the post of Minister for Learning, Science & Scotland’s Languages. Dr Alasdair Allan, a speaker and advocate of both Scots and Gaelic, was appointed to post.
Appointment in 2014 of four Scots Language Co-ordinators, to support and promote the teaching of Scots in schools.
Publication in 2015 of the first ever Scots Language Policy. The policy clearly states the importance Scots as one the three indigenous languages of Scotland and sets out the Government’s intent to expand its usage into all aspects of public life. The policy itself was produced in both Scots and English, embodying the Government’s commitment to promoting Scots as a language appropriate for all forms of communication. You can read the policy in Scots here and in English here.
Interestingly, however, although the SNP has previously supported the introduction of a Languages Act covering both Scots and Gaelic (see ‘Manifestos’ section), the party appears at this time to have dropped this commitment.
Language, Power and Politics by Janet Paisley
The Way Forward for the Scots Language by David Purves
A Language Strategy for Scots? by Andy Eagle