Friday, 29 January 2010

Here's tae a confident tongue in our heids!

WE celebrate the life and works of Scotland's national bard in what has become known for many years as Burns season.

Adverts in the papers show suppers and ceilidhs are as popular as ever and haggis sales are reportedly on the increase across Scotland. Others too join Scots in passing a winter's night in set-piece speeches and songs with mirth, gravitas occasionally, and toasts at every turn.

It is now well founded. And there is news that 85 per cent of Scots claim to speak Scots, with 43 per cent speaking it a lot, not as a language as such but "it's more just a way of speaking". A fully scientific opinion survey conducted by TNS-BMRB established this and many other insights into our attitudes to one of our three native languages.

The Scottish Government was committed by manifesto to "promote awareness and usage of the Scots language in a variety of settings". Since there is little other relevant research of our mither tongue, this is very welcome. Also, it is one of a vast majority of SNP manifesto pledges we've kept so far.

I have been the convener of the cross-party group for Scots at Holyrood since 2003 and it has never been more successful. The national census in Scotland next year will have questions on usage of Scots, Gaelic and other tongues. The Curriculum for Excellence has provided guidelines for teachers and the ministerial advisory group is full of smeddum.

We have an education sub-group led by Matthew Fitt which attracts dozens of interested teachers across the country. It has met in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow, and is about to reach Kilmarnock. So there is every reason to come much further north. Why not?

I was so pleased to support the Year of Orkney Dialect which is in full swing. Surely there is a need to assert the Caithness speak to add to the recitation prizes and similar events that encourage young folks in their native Caithness dialect? The TNS survey shows that two thirds of Scots dismiss the claims that dialects are slang. A similar proportion consider Scots should be widely used in Scotland today. They see its use in personal and cultural terms and particularly in broadcasting. Fewer see business, legal and other matters as users of the Scots Leid, or Doric or the many other dialects even across the North Channel as Ulster Scots. As we toast the national bard, we should note that 73 per cent agree that learning Scots can contribute to a sense of national cultural identity.

Around half of the 1020 sample say it should be taught in our schools. My hope this Burns season is that a wider lesson is learned by some who would say language tuition is an expensive irrelevance in tough budgetary times.

Did they ever need an excuse? Self-confidence is a vital ingredient of the outlook to make a success of our country's undoubted gifts. If you don't think Scots should weave their distinctive spell among the peoples of the planet in future, I wonder what languages they spoke when they built the British Empire or coined the American Declaration of Independence.

Our children's intelligence can only be strengthened by a certain grasp of their own history and languages. Here's tae a confident tongue in our heads - or heids!


THE SNP housing bill introduced into parliament earlier this month is a major piece of legislation that will increase the supply of affordable housing and improve the quality of Scottish housing in all sectors.

The Scottish Government is investing a record £1.5 billion in affordable housing over three years - including a new generation of council housing. These far-reaching reforms will safeguard that investment for future generations.

The modernisation of regulation will put the interests of tenants and homeless people at the heart of housing regulation and encourage landlords to improve the services that they provide for their customers.

We have listened and taken on board the views of the housing sector across Scotland as acknowledged by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and Shelter.

The records show that the previous Lib Dem/Labour Scottish Executive failed to address the chronic housing shortage in Scotland.

This is laid bare by how quickly the current Scottish Government has kick-started new council housing developments, although there is still a long way to go.

From 1999 to 2007 the Lib Dem/Lab Executive managed to build just six in their last four years while leaving the burden to housing associations.

This makes it deeply disappointing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in London did not grant a further year of capital acceleration for the Scottish Government to make more of our tightly-drawn block grant when he announced his pre-budget report before Christmas. Social housing was set to be a high SNP priority.

Even Iain Gray agreed to this. And now that the UK is getting out of recession that extra cash boost could house many more of our people.


LEVELS of community benefit have been pitiful from individual commercial wind farm applications. Communities deserve a full return from their resources, if at all possible.

In our Scottish Parliament energy enquiry last year, I asked what approach the Scottish Government would take with new marine renewables.

An official of the Scottish Government's business, enterprise and energy directorate said there was a lot of experience in trying to maximise community benefits onshore. Offshore renewables benefits require a lot of work to be done.

I am assured that the Scottish Government is looking at community benefits.

The official continued: "It will be important to consider that right at the start, rather than leaving it to the end."

The Crown Estate must play a similar part in sustaining local communities which host renewables development.

1 comment:

Toby said...

It's heartening to see that the SNP are so supportive of all Scotlands languages and dialects, if only all our local politicians could be so minded. The disturbing comments by Councillor Deirdre Mackay and her father(?) Councillor Rosie over recent weeks has left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth of your average Gael. Judging by the comments on the Online version of the Northern Times these attitudes would hopefully appear to be in the minority. Is it a Highland peculiarity that we're so reticent about our own culture?