Ministerial Working Group makes progress
26th July 2010
A ministerial working group on Scots has been meeting since last November. Its convenor, Derrick McClure, reports on the progress it has made so far.
In February 2009, a one-day conference was held at Stirling University to discuss the results of the Government’s audit on the Scots language. As all those present will remember, the mood of this conference was dynamic and optimistic; and the then Minister for Culture, Linda Fabiani, pledged that the Government would now adopt a policy of actively encouraging the mither tongue. The Ministerial Working Group is the first outcome of this long-overdue commitment. It was established at a meeting in the Royal Hotel, Bridge of Allan, on 24th November 2009, attended by Mike Russell (the then Minister for Culture and now the Minister for Education); and its remit was defined as being to present a report to the Government, by the autumn of 2010, on the state of Scots in various areas of the national life, and to suggest a set of recommendations on which a Governmental policy for Scots could be based.
Since then, the group has had five meetings, each concentrating on one or two of the topics determined at the first meeting, these being Education, Broadcasting, Publishing, Creative Writing, International Contacts, PR/Public Awareness and Dialects. Normally the procedure is for some designated members of the group to circulate working papers on particular topics in advance of the meetings. Discussions have been lively and productive; and each meeting has produced a set of draft recommendations to be presented to the government with the final report.
The presentations and discussions have confirmed what was already fairly clear: that much progress has already been made in improving the state of Scots, and that a vast amount still remains to be done. Many things have emerged that give grounds for optimism: notably, a research project on public attitudes to Scots, the findings of which were presented at the second meeting of the group, shows that the general perception of Scots is strongly positive, with a prevailing feeling that it should be actively encouraged as part of the national identity. The enormous contributions to the promotion of Scots at both the popular and the academic levels by the Scots Dictionaries, the Scots Language Centre, Itchy Coo, Shetland ForWirds and other bodies have been recognised and saluted, the success of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies in promoting the academic study of Scots (in the context of Scottish literature generally) internationally has been noted; and some specific projects which have been, or promise to be, successful in providing further support to Scots have been brought to the attention of the group: these include the new National Trust Burns Centre at Alloway and the promotion of Muirkirk as the first Scots Toun.
A fact that has been recognised throughout, progress notwithstanding, is that in the absence of established policy structures instituted at national level, support for Scots in all fields is piecemeal, uncoordinated and excessively reliant on individual initiatives. The Group has recognised from the first that the hoped-for outcome of its final report and recommendations will be the establishment by Government policy of an overall context in which the place of Scots (in all its forms) in broadcasting and the media, in education, in literature and the arts, in academia and in the public life of the nation, will be guaranteed: that it will have the degree of recognition which indigenous minority languages have as a matter of course in most other European countries.
Two further meetings of the Group will be held before the presentation of the final report and recommendations, which will take place in October of this year. Members are confident that a substantial and continuing improvement in the status of Scots will result.