A Public Apology and “The Scottish Cringe”

Myself playing the fiddle at a demonstration against a cut in funding for traditional Scottish music and dance organisations.  Photo courtesy of Haley St. Dennis

Myself playing the fiddle at a demonstration against a cut in funding for traditional Scottish music and dance organisations.

My recent comments, reported in the Edinburgh Evening News,  condemning the lack of indigenous Scottish content in the Edinburgh International Festival, do not represent the views of the Society of Authors.   It was not my intention to give the impression that I was speaking for the Society when I was interviewed.

In my personal opinion, however, Burns is more relevant and contemporary than many writers published today, and he should have been better represented in the EIF this year, the 250th anniversary of his birth.  He wrote on universal themes in a way that resonated with many, and his international reputation is formidable.   “A man’s a man for a that” would make an excellent national anthem.

Did you notice that I didn’t use an apostrophe in “a that”?  This leads nicely to my next point:  “the Scottish cringe”, to which a minor but significant contributor is the way the Scots language is often punctuated, subtly conveying the impression that it is poor or “bastardised” English.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as this excerpt from the recently published Scots language audit will make clear:

Scots is a West Germanic language spoken in Lowland Scotland and the Northern Isles. It is also used in parts of Ulster. Along with English and Gaelic, it is one of Scotland’s three indigenous languages and is the second most widely spoken indigenous language in the UK. The General Register Office for Scotland estimated in 1996 that there were approximately 1.6 million speakers of Scots ( GROS 2006).

Scots is not a dialect of English but a language in its own right. It is descended from Northern Old English, itself greatly influenced by Old Scandinavian. From the 12 th century onwards, it became increasingly established in Lowland Scotland and was then enriched by words borrowed from French, Latin, Gaelic and Dutch. Scots was the language of state, spoken by kings, courtiers, poets and the people. It has a literary heritage equal to any other language in Europe.

Similar to other languages, Scots also has its own dialects such as Glaswegian, Doric, Ayrshire, Shetland, Border Scots and others. The diversity of these dialects enriches the Scots Language. They share a central core uniting them as varieties of Scots.

Two important factors support the continued existence of Scots as a language. The first is the existence of a literature in Scots for nearly 600 years. Indeed, many of the key works of Scottish literature have contained, to a greater or lesser degree, Scots language within them, and in more recent times have been complemented by the creation and publication of comprehensive lexicographical resources. The second is the continued use of Scots in its variety of dialects in modern life. Information available from Learning and Teaching Scotland on their website 5 suggests that hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland use the language, in one of its dialect forms, in their daily lives (Learning and Teaching Scotland 2007). The Scots language thus rests upon two strong pillars – a tangible history of past practice and its use in the present.

I would define “the Scottish cringe” as a feeling of embarrassment and inferiority suffered by some who live in Scotland in regard to traditional Scottish culture.   I believe it prevents people learning much (if anything) about Scotland’s amazing heritage, its Scots and Gaelic literature and its music.  Through my work in the Scottish Parliament for a Scots-language enthusiast I have come to appreciate both the importance of combating the Scottish cringe and the difficulty of doing so.  Here‘s a good starting point for those wishing to know more about Scots.

As for learning about Scotland’s vibrant indigenous music scene, you could do worse than visit Foot Stompin’.

Best wishes


BioWrite website

BioWrite website

About biowrite

I am a writer specialising in non-fiction, particularly in assisting people with their biographies.
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