Friday, 26 February 2016

The Dug Has Barked

Just a line to say that Wee Ginger Dug has a very erudite article about Scots on his blog that puts the nay-sayers — or, in this case, "No, thanks"-sayers — to shame.

More power to your elbow, Paul.

Academies Galore

Agitation for an Ulster-Scots Academy has some history in Northern Ireland. Its key proponents have traditionally been the British-Israelite clique that forms the core of the Ulster-Scots Language Society. Their motive is very simple: they want a form of public backing to standardise Ulster-Scots as something different from Scots in Scotland.

Having an academy allows them to do that, either by browbeating genuine academic linguists into going along with them and allowing them to take the flak for their excesses, or by using the institution as intellectual camouflage to convince the public that they are themselves academics. As USLS members have been heard to suggest that they want the academy to be a "people's college", one assumes that the latter is Plan A. No doubt the extremists would also profit personally, perhaps gaining a few well-paid posts of the kind that have been cheekily snapped up by politicians and Orangemen in other parts of the Ulster-Scots sectarian-linguistc complex.

Now the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure has agreed to the proposal for an academy, and there is no mystery why: like successive Sinn Féin politicians before her, she hopes to get something out of it for Irish. History suggests that she will be disappointed in that regard, since the next DUP Culture Minister will surely once again institute a policy of levelling down provision.

One could argue that an Ulster-Scots Academy, funded through the Agency, might prove a good way of hypothecating funds for genuine research rather than the odd mixture of tourism and sectarianism that has marked out the latter. But I wouldn't hold my breath on that front.

In a new twist, the Minister has announced that Irish is to have an academy too. While the case for an Ulster-Scots Academy is non-existent, that for Irish is problematic to say the least, since Irish-speakers in Northern Ireland adhere to a written standard to a great extent created and nurtured outside the polity. Now, as everyone knows, that standard is polycentric, i.e. not as hard-and-fast as the standard of, say, French or German. Even so, it would seem that an obvious field of activity must remain beyond the future academicians.

So what will it do? Most of the other possibilities seem to be covered elsewhere already: the universities carry out university research and teaching; St. Mary's provides teacher training; and the various community groups cater for adult learners, social activities and entertainment.

Of course, one could argue that the Ulster dialect has not been well served historically because the learner community is cut off from the Donegal Gaeltacht by the border, but learning materials too could be (and, indeed, are) produced at St. Mary's.

The Minister tells us that "Irish and Ulster-Scots are unique and separate entities." That is, of course, absolutely true, and seems aimed at heading off the prospect of Campbell-style levellers, who may shortly return after the May Assembly election. Setting up an academy for Irish simply because one has (wrong-headedly) been granted to Ulster Scots seems a strange way of going about that.

The "curry my yoghurt" tendency of course typifies what is the actual key difference between the north and south of Ireland: politics. Anyone wishing to promote Irish in Northern Ireland has to deal with a different legal framework (or lack of one) and different attitudes, which may have to be assuaged or circumvented. Here, too, however, the Minister failed, since she decimated the existing self-starting, community-led expertise in favour of a pan-Irish feet-up salariat, either because the notion of something being all-Irish reflexively appealed to her or because she was sick of being criticised for Sinn Féin's failure to secure an Irish language Act.

Either way, it doesn't look good.

Even if the DUP do not take DCAL following the Assembly elections, there is a fair old chance that Sinn Féin will choose to rotate its Ministers again, which will mean a new face in the Department. Although the current Minister wasn't all bad and in particular can be proud of what she did with Líofa, overall many people's judgment will be a simple one: she could have done so much better.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Europa geht durch mich

The approach taken by those who wish the UK to remain a member of the EU leaves something to be desired to say the least. As the Scottish independence referendum demonstrated, if you are arguing only on the basis of pounds and pence or narrow statistical self-interest, you have already lost the argument — even if, as in the case of Scotland, fear and inertia might yet suffice to bear you over the finish line.

There are, of course, those who say that a British vote to leave the EU would be a good thing because it would give Scotland a second chance at independence. That is undoubtedly true, but we should be clear that it is a peerie bubble of good on a vast sea of bad.

The Blether Region is not proud to be Scots, for the simple reason that pride without a reason behind it is not logical. Nationality is an accident of birth, a portion of good and ill doled out to every new bairn — but fundamentally not of one's own choosing. At the same time, however, it accepts the responsibility of its birth to do the best for Scotland, particularly regarding those things that Scotland should be doing but isn't. Gaelic, and Scots in the meaningful sense of a distinct language, remain at the point of extinction. Sectarianism may be buried in a political sense, but the corpse can yet show flickers of life. The final chapters of these aspects of our national story have yet to be written, and it is our task to ensure a happy ending.

Europe is another story, for, while the current generation may have inherited the foundations, it is also building the edifice. It is entirely logical to be proud of one's European identity, not because of any primitive sense of racial similarity, but because of one's active participation in the attempt, unparalleled in human history, to create a social union not dominated by a single culture.

The European idea does not get a good press in the UK, either in the newspapers owned by tax-dodging oligarchs, or on television, which takes its cue from them. That allows the propagation of the Big Lie. Just as the Conservatives are allowed to maintain unchallenged that excessive Old Labour spending rather than devil-may-care New Labour deregulation caused the economic crisis, so, for more than a generation now, it has been possible to disseminate the most outrageous untruths about the European Union, safe in the knowledge that one is highly unlikely ever to be brought to book.

The latest example came on today's BBC Breakfast news, when a report on the EU was intercut with footage of non-European immigrants. The UK has such communities, which enrich it, because it conquered so many other countries and, when it had finished exploiting the territories in question, chose to exploit their inhabitants as cheap labour at home. The reason that immigration is so prominent a political theme is the grotesque concentration of wealth in the influential south-east of England, which means that nearly all the immigrants currently want to go to the same region. None of that has anything to do with the EU, which was born as a reaction against imperialism, which insists on spending in poorer areas, and which would regulate financial markets if it were allowed to do so. Indeed, the UK has been allowed to take far fewer than its fair share of refugees just because the EU lacks teeth.

Many of the lies told about the EU have a common motivation: the desire to reverse gains made over a period of decades by working people, particularly women, for the benefit of bad employers. The propaganda tools to achieve that end are the worst sort of daily papers — comics with tits — a constant, stultifying diet of dog-whistle paranoia. Flicking through them, one often gets the impression that their editors prize anti-EU propaganda as an acceptable form of racism, a kind of legal opium for the masses.

The Blether Region is distinctly proud that its wee three-leedit family is a microcosm of a far greater and even more diverse one across Europe. It is proud that the EU has ended war. It is proud that the EU's negotiated politics are pragmatic rather than ideological. Proud too that it believes Old Father State should look after his children.

It would be a terrible shame if retired people, living off political promises wrung from elected representatives, were to ruin the life-chances of their grandchildren by voting to leave the EU — just as they imposed the wrong choice on them in the Scottish independence referendum.

During that debate, the Blether Region was struck by the injustice of Spain, a country that joined a decade after the UK, conniving to threaten Scotland with exclusion, and for the doubly undemocratic reason that self-determination in one country might fuel demands for self-determination in another. There is a similar irony in today's debates, since the UK may be about to leave the EU just when many countries in central Europe, which joined as soon as the fall of communism allowed them, are coming into their own, and with others queuing at the door.

It is no doubt British politeness to give up one's seat for a late-comer, but it may not be common sense.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Beards and Makars

The last week has seen some debate in Scotland concerning a mooted, and then withdrawn, plan to do away with the title of "Makar" and replace it with the more pedestrian — and more English — "National Poet of Scotland". Some commentators believed that "Makar" implied someone who wrote in Scots (indeed, it does), or that it smacked of medievalism (in a healthy nation, it would imply cultural continuity). The stalled initiative sums up one of the main differences between the nationalism of Scotland and that of Wales and, to a certain extent, Ireland. Faced with the choice of reviving in general use a beautiful and uniquely Scots word or creating yet another public position including the word "national", many folk's first choice is reflexively for the latter.

The utilitarian nature of Scottish nationalism isn't all bad: it may be one of the main reasons why it will succeed, perhaps sooner than we think. It is hardly music to the ears of cultural nationalists, however.

In this case, faced with the mobilisation of just such people, who are among the SNP's longest-standing supporters, the Scottish Government has backed down. That's not to say that the current situation is perfect. While no one would bat an eyelid at a "Makar" writing in English, perhaps with the odd Scots word thrown in, what would the reaction be if a Gaelic-language poet were appointed to the post? Given the real possibility of that never actually happening, perhaps Scotland should have both a "Bard" and a "Makar".

As an aside, among the more bizarre suggestions to come out of the debate is support for the appointment of Tom Leonard. Mr. Leonard writes witty, entertaining, often thought-provoking poems in a subversive, deliberately illiterate version of Glaswegian. His work is dedicated to debunking the notion of Scots as a language, highlighting its Central Belt sociolectal incarnation at the expense of its historical and rural use as a language. Because, after all, it's only Glesgae that counts.

One could hardly think of a less suitable candidate.

Of course, there are those who argue that a "Makar" can write in any language, including Standard English or, in this case, cludgie-door graffiti. In particular, they draw attention to the fact that there is now a Scots "Scriever".

In the Scottish National Dictionary, the verb scrieve is defined as follows:
"To write, esp. to write easily and copiously (Sh. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XII. 193; Ayr. 1880 Jam.; Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. 341; Sh., Abd., Kcd., Ags., Per., Edb. 1969). Vbl.n. scri(e)ving. Agent n. scriever, skriever, a writer, used somewhat contemptuously, a scribbler, “a mean scribe” (Lth. 1825 Jam.)."
Now, of course, the word has since been revived in a more general sense — perhaps influenced by the use of cognates in other languages — in a manner shorn, or perhaps merely ignorant, of its pejorative overtones.

However, given that Mr. Leonard has, as a matter of explicit ideology, adopted just such an attitude to Scots, the Blether Region respectfully suggests that he might be a good candidate for the post. Just don't call him "Makar".

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Brass Necks

The Impartial Reporter is carrying an article on Fermanagh Grand Lodge's response to the recent consultation on an Irish language Bill ("Orange Order Slams Use of Irish"). It once again underlines the huge gulf in sentiment between the most vocal Northern Ireland Protestants and their more liberal co-religionists in Scotland, the vast majority of whom would sooner ban Orangeism than Gaelic (clue: one makes it embarrassing to be Scots; the other doesn't).

Tellingly, any cultural reason for the promotion of Irish is rejected, while Ulster Scots is mentioned only as a spoiler, barely ranking above the languages of recent immigrants.
"The Irish language is a minority language, and should not be given official status any more than Ulster Scots, Polish, Lithuanian, or any other language. In fact languages like Polish for example, are much more prevalent throughout the population in Northern Ireland currently, and should in fact be given a higher preference for such consideration."
Above all, the fact that the Orange Order thinks it has the moral standing to "slam" anything is testament to the kind of parallel universe in which its members live and breathe.

For social cohesion, devolved government, peace and prosperity, even for the future of Protestantism and the Union, the things that it purports to value most, it should be clear to all by now that it would be infinitely better if it simply disappeared.