Speaking in Tongues

We wouldn’t blow up Stirling Castle, would we? After all, it serves no practical purpose, public money is lavished on it but it’s only used as a leisure destination by those with an interest in long-gone history – it’s a hobby building. Sure, it was once the nation’s capital but that was ages ago. Sorry, Stirling. You’re time’s up.

I’m assuming this to be logical extension of Tory Party noises that Gaelic road signs aren’t worth the money because they’re the vestiges of a dead language kept artificially alive – one that belongs in the past.

This is a kind of cultural nihilism which argues that if it costs money and it isn’t relevant to you, it’s not worth supporting. And since language is only used for communication and most people talk English, well then…who cares about indigenous language?

Funny, isn’t it, how silver or bronze trinkets from another age can be dug up and wondered at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-south-scotland-27941100 and yet an ancient tongue bearing the sounds of the centuries can be discounted? In the delicate tones of Gaelic we hear echoes of our history in Dal Riata and through Kenneth McAlpin to the creation of Alba. It speaks to us as surely as the Lewis Chessmen in their walrus ivory tell us of the 12th century. We cherish the physical because we can handle its form but we are deaf to the culture in sound that a language embodies.

The scandal is that we very nearly lost Gaelic and the valiant efforts to reverse decline deserve all the support we can give them, road signs and all. (On which point there was an expert assessment done on the dangers or Gaelic signage for drivers and none were found. I would argue it makes you look momentarily more closely which is a good thing).

You have to laugh at the tangle they get into though. The resurgence in Gaelic was first funded not by mad Nats but by Britnats – the Tory government of Margaret Thatcher. In fact it needed a furious campaign in Cabinet committee by Malcolm Rifkind to get the millions released which sparked the television production sector on which much of the revival has been built.

The foppish comedian David Mitchell complains that road sings are being used as a nationalist political weapon which must be the first time the Road to the Isles has been weaponised. The truth was that the threat of losing the election for the Tories drove Rifkind to demand the money as a sop to Scottish sentiment, so if they are weapons, he started it! Actually, the Duke of Cumberland also used language as a weapon by trying to eradicate it along with everything else of Highland culture in his Unionist ethnic cleansing after Culloden.

The resonance of Gaelic, especially in song, transports us to a different Scotland and opens our imagination to the images, smells and sounds of the Gaeltacht, a reminder of where so many of our national stock and so much of our national story came from, though not me. But I don’t need its actual meaning to understand its sentiment.

Learning any second language uses parts of the brain that expand the mind of our children and make it easier to learn other tongues, something our education system is not good at. The language now offers through the Gaelic schools a future for the next generation with job prospects to match.

And what’s wrong with a colourful and eclectic culture which declares not everything and everybody is the same? Listen in to Hugh Dan as you watch the rugby or shinty and luxuriate in the knowledge that, though small, this is an endlessly interesting and diverse country.

And let’s keep Stirling Castle.

I’m still giving Kezia the benefit of the doubt. She’s still a bright new pin and hasn’t had time to get blunt or rusty and by God Labour need her to be at the top of her game. However….

I’m not seeing anything that lifts the Bateman eyebrows in surprise. Nothing to make me say: Better watch this one carefully. I do see a very different Labour leader in that she’s a younger woman and full of brio but she lacks ballast so far. I heard her interviewed on radio and she couldn’t articulate what she believed in. Her first appearance on Radio Four (now like the rest of news network beefing up Scottish coverage and about to appoint Sarah Smith as Scotland Editor, I suspect) and yet she failed to place herself in the public arena as a radical, a reformer, a socialist, a federalist or even just a manager. All she had was a briefing slogan – the SNP put the nation first. I put people first. (Except when abstaining on benefit cuts).

Asked if she was looking forward to a Corbyn leadership she sashayed this way and that and simply couldn’t answer beyond the vacuous ‘I’ll work with whoever is elected.’ That might have been acceptable if only the three management consultants were contesting the job on their own but with a stand out candidate like Corbyn, you simply can’t evade the question. Better to say: ‘Jeremy would be brilliant and completely different and would be welcomed by many Scottish members, including me. But I make policy for Scotland and would need to hear from him his proposals before I know if I can agree fully with him on all policies. Scotland is often a very different country with a very different opposition.’

She could even say he comes from a branch of the party she does not belong to but Labour stretches across all opinions and at least he is prepared to be radical ‘which I welcome’. Instead I’m afraid her predicament was summed up by a cruel tweet that she was waiting to see who won before making up her mind who to support. And that sounded bang on.

Incidentally, is she proposing to campaign on raising the top rate of tax? If so, doesn’t that mean under current plans she’ll be putting up all income tax, hitting ‘hard-working families’ as well as the wealthy? If additional control over taxes is to be delivered, it’s unlikely until 2018 at the earliest so for the Holyrood election next May, Labour are asking all people to vote themselves an income tax rise. If the plan is to force the Nationalists to declare their hand before the next round of powers are known in detail and approved, the SNP answer should surely be to wait and see. They can decide when the powers are to be implemented. Why campaign on raising taxes for all when you don’t have to? Could this be a mis-step already? (See, I’m biding my time and being generous).

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

23 thoughts on “Speaking in Tongues

  1. Oh, I think young Kezia has already decided who’s going to win. On Sunday she said she wanted an end to ‘control freakery at party conferences’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-34096028), which was eerily similar to Jeremy Corbyn’s idea on Friday that party policy should come from the membership of the party (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/video/2015/aug/28/labour-membership-should-decide-policy-leader-jeremy-corbyn-video). Of course it could be a complete coincidence…

  2. One of the many problems that British nationalists have is that they don’t understand what a nation is.
    The British “nation” is a term used by them to describe the multi-national state that is the UK.
    When the SNP say that they are going to put the nation first,they mean the people of Scotland who constitute the Scottish nation.
    Cannot be simpler or clearer I would have thought.
    But then again you have to understand the convoluted mental gymnastics that the British Labour party in Scotland have to perform in order to deny that Scotland is a country/nation but more importantly not being seen to so do.
    New leader same old same old.

  3. Derek,

    I am interested that Nicola and Kezia both want to campaign strongly on closing the gap in educational attainment between the poorer child and the less poor.

    A while ago you interviewed that good man, Sir Harry Burns. In his 10th Kilbrandon Lecture, Sir Harry spoke about the effects of chronic stress on the developing brain. Here is a link:


    Chronic stress – often associated with poverty – can result in permanently elevated levels of cortisol. This can impair brain development, affecting the pre cortex and the hippocampus. These are important parts of the brain to do with learning andd memory. The brain is adaptable so it may be possible for the brain to repair itself. However, that is unlikely to happen in all cases. Thus, some children will have their lives blighted. Low educational attainment means that they may struggle to find and hold good jobs – jobs with good pay. As adults they may live in poverty and their children may be born into poverty.

    Health inequalities are or should be- an important concern in Scotland. They affect the poor. Both problems – low educational attainment and health inequalities are better addressed by trying to reduce and eliminate poverty. Resolving them most effectively requires control of economic and welfare policies.

    There is another reference for those interested. here is the link:


    Would you consider asking Sir Harry to write a piece for your blog and/or do another interview?

    I always enjoy your writing.

  4. RE taxes, Nicola made this very point this morning on GMS, if I’m not mistaken – that all tax rates would have to rise – and so let’s wait and see. Of course, it’s a trap set by Unionists.

  5. Kezia Dugdale will say and do practically anything to ensure her progression imo. If Labour turn to the left under Corbyn, she would in all likelihood become an ardent socialist/social democrat, or at least pretend to be. If Cooper or Burnham win then Dugdale would almost certainly remain a New Labour careerist. In other words Kezia Dugdale is a political void.

    There is no sense of mission, drive, or purpose to her politics. She is the exact opposite of the likes of Barbara Castle. Christ even Thatcher had a sense of mission! You would search in vain for the rest of your life trying to locate any genuine core or guiding political principles in Dugdale.

  6. Kezia is as tone deaf choir member. She simply will not achieve success – in politics. And moving quickly on, Gaelic orally and musically is wonderful to my ear. The singing nuance often is like the sound of the sea.And should the criteria be that “most speak it”, then Spanish, globally the most spoken, should be the chosen language? and much kinder to the ear than the bastard language, English.

  7. Ms Dugdale is I fear an entirely predictable and known quantity. Her track record prior to achieving the heady status of ‘branch manager’ does not exactly cover the lady in any glory.

  8. I believe Kezia has been promoted above her current capability. I have no doubt she is a decent, warm and genuine person underneath but her political persona just doesn’t convince me that she’s up for the job of leading Scottish Labour (whatever THAT is).

    “SNP bad” has been done to death, and if I wanted to vote Labour I’d want to hear exactly how she plans to run the Labour party in Scotland, but not a peep that I can remember. As an SNP member, yes, I want to hear a full discussion. I want to hear ideas, but I switch off mentally now when I hear her pull out another “SNP bad” mantra. I don’t hear clear, concise plans or strategies that the Scottish Government might think about, even if they or I do disagree with them.

    If you behave like a horsefly, you’ll get swatted, Kez.

  9. Part deux. (Brainfried computing tonight).

    It’s that colonial arrogance about English being the only necessary language that I can’t stand, wherever you are in the world. I want to hear indigenous languages and dialects; they are what helped shape cultures and grow its people. They add colour, texture and music to what might otherwise be a very bland and constant soundtrack of English. I love the sound and feel of the languages of Scotland and of other countries within the British Isles and elsewhere in the world. They live and breathe and to me they’re as vital to a life well lived as a varied diet of good, honest, healthy food.

  10. I see that WoS has just had his backside kicked due to his infantile comments on the Gaelic language…and deservedly so!

    We need to keep our focus on the BritNat drivel, and should not be seen to be doing their work for them.

    Rock on, Derek!

    • Exactly. “His views”. Are we not to allow that anymore? Stu was up front in his belief but then comprehensively demolished the Jackson Carlaw rubbish.

      I’ve heard people mocking the use of Gaelic, and I live in Argyll where people still speak it on occasions! It’s a fear of the different.

      I would always argue that any language is important and Gaelic deserves to survive.

    • dennis mclaughlin

      Janet you took the bait ,hook line and sinker!.
      admittedly Stuart was a wee bit inflagrante with his Gaelic barb,but the whole premise of his argument was to highlight the sheer hypocrisy of the Tory SNP BAD lot.
      WOS has been and is one of the shining lights of the ongoing Independence argument,so get your toys back off the floor!.

  11. johnny come lately

    Of course Rifkind started the entire gaelic promotion thing, but it was never meant to acheive anything of substance.

    The Britnats have their knickers in a twist because gaelic road signs and gaelic in itself, is a reminder to people in Scotland that they have an identity and history which is seperate and independent of the manufactured British state. Gaelic is not a dead language. It is the first language and spoken language of many in our country, and should be supported, nourished and encouraged .

    And of course we can’t have that old chap, it’s just not good cricket arf arf.

  12. Re Corbyn – am I not right in thinking that when asked about Corbyn, Kezia said she couldn’t vote for someone who could not become Prime Minister? Sounds like a rejection of Corbyn to me.

  13. Regarding “the manufactured British state,” the Scottish nation was also manufactured. They are both fictions – “history” means “story”. Both stories have their twists and turns, their predictable patches and surprises, their heroes and villains.

    The issue here is, which story do you wish to be a part of? An increasing number in Scotland, immigrants like me included, see a better story in Scotland than in Britain.

  14. You can’t just wait for someone else to come up with a plan and then shout and whinge at it, and I’m afraid that’s what the Labour party in Scotland have done for far too long so like the Tories they are being consigned to the dustbin of history for being lazy and along with it arrogant, So say what they will now, they had their chance and they blew it, Scotland is bad at forgiveness in these matters

    Everybody did their nut when the bad guys blew up Palmyra and other sites of historical interest, we like digging up old bones of dead animals from the distant past, we enjoy historical drama and movies, what happened on Wings was more of a humorous episode than anything else. Gaelic is important, not just to Scotland but the world, it’s a live link to a culture that’s still vibrant today, so how lucky are we to have this treasure in our country for all to see that Scotland will not allow to pass into the stupidity of extinction as other countries have done with so much of what they once had and now miss

    I also can’t speak a word of it, nor understand it either, but who cares, well the people who do do, and that’s good enough for me and they have my thanks for doing it

  15. The Tories’ comments on Gaelic also indicate a stupefying ignorance of the phenomenon of language in general. Love to see how they would feel when confronted by non-native speakers who only rate American English and would see British English as distinctly second best. Or even, non-native speakers who only have international Business English as their lingua-franca and find culturally determined British-English as a bit of an irrelevance. Business is business.
    Then they might begin to understand how intrinsic language is to the very idea of self. When ‘your’ language becomes the lingua-franca, it’s never really just ‘your’ language any more.

  16. johnny come lately

    I know what the word historie means! If you want to take that route in your argumentation, then every state on earth by definition is manufactured.
    What makes the British state differnt is the fact that it is a multinational state, which attempts to portray itself as a unitary state! It is the unitary state which is manufactured. I hope that helps.

  17. Sàr-earrann mu’ n Ghàidhlig … agus mu Kezia cuideachd.

  18. Old and no longer relevant……
    That’s Westminster! Let it crumble!

  19. I have emailed the Beeb and the BbcTrust on several occasions once I had worked out the convoluted website.
    I basically stated we Asin Scotland are being cleansed of our culture and dialects.
    When was the last timecwe had Scottish production on ALL the variety of shows that currntly appear on bbcand other tv Stations.
    We hear and see very little Shows with purly Scottish actors WHY
    We surely can produce as good as atbthe moment.
    Oh It gets me so mad to think we can only watch English produced progs(nothing against english) but WE NEED OUR OWN LANGUAGE AND SHOWS.

  20. […] tender at 09.35 on 4 September. Separately, social media contacts suggested I might find output by Derek Bateman and Florian Breit of interest, the latter especially in the context of naturalisation in the UK, […]

Leave a Reply