Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

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Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

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Article excerpt

As if the Justice Minister, Jim Wallace, did not have enough to worry him (what with helping First Minister Donald Dewar hold together the creaking coalition while fighting off the supporters of Section 28), now the aficionados of the Scots language are nipping at his heels. Proponents of that energetic variety of Middle English we call Scots (and used to call Inglis) are now pressing for a simple question to be inserted into the census of 2001: "Do you speak Scots or any dialect of Scots?" That eminent Scotophone, the writer and broadcaster Billy Kay, says that the last time the question was asked, more than one and a half million folk answered yes (or aye).

"That's a lot of people," Kay says, "which is the reason why the Scottish Executive is reluctant to ask the question. With that number of people claiming to speak Scots, it might have to put some money behind the language."

This diary feels that Kay and his allies have a case. Only 60,000 of us speak Gaelic, but the language is extremely well funded. What's good for the tongue of Duncan Ban Maclntyre should be good for the tongue of Robert Burns. Besides which, the Scots language has been Euro-blessed: it is recognised under Part II of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Justice Jim could score some easy points for the executive by sticking "a quaistion anent Scots abeilitie" into next year's census. And it is a cause that might well appeal to his boss, Dewar, one of the few senior politicians known to read books.

At the launch in Edinburgh of Tom Nairn's latest (and excellent) opus, After Britain, the author was asked if he was completely sure that there could be "no going back" on the devolution settlement. He was sure. Devolution was the settled will of the Scottish people. Dismantling Holyrood was unthinkable. He could not see how it could be done. …

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