Well there ye go. I do another piece supporting and promoting the Gaelic language, and now I discover that I’m a blood and soil nationalist, a fascist, and am all but indistinguishable from a Hutu radio broadcaster calling on people to slaughter their neighbours because they belong to a different tribe. That last is courtesy of a minor blog which I won’t give a link to because the frothing zoomer who writes it doesn’t deserve any more readership than the dozen he’s already got.
Being described as a fascist and likened to a Hutu radio broadcaster calling on people to take a machete to their neighbours is quite possibly legally actionable. The author of the blog describes his articlettes as “literary criticism with cojones”, but it’s more like criticism which is cojones. It’s pretentious bollocks masquerading as insight, an example of the psychosis of psychological projection, a snide wee critique of those who can write prose that people enjoy reading from a wannabe writer read by no one.
This followed on from a frustrating and tedious conversation with a Unionist apologist on Twitter who wilfully conflated the terms “indigenous language” and “national language” in order to accuse me of racism for not acknowledging Polish or Urdu as national languages of Scotland. The two concepts are entirely unrelated, as any fewl no. Any fewl that is, except for an apologist for the British state in search of something to feel victimised by.
Nowhere in yesterday’s blog piece do I refer to “indigenous languages”. It’s not a concept which is relevant or useful. Some languages which are indigenous are not national languages. Shelta, the language of the Scottish Traveller community, is not a national language even though it’s an indigenous language. It’s never been used beyond the Traveller community, and it is a symbol of Traveller identity, not a symbol of Scotland as a whole. The Norn language of the Northern Isles is likewise not a national language of Scotland, even though it is also indigenous. Norn was never used beyond the Northern Isles, it’s proper to the Northern Isles and nowhere else. That doesn’t mean Shelta or a variety of Norn (if it were possible to revive it) should not be protected, fostered and encouraged by agencies of the state, they most certainly should. They are a part of the rich diversity of Scotland and we should cherish them.
Equally a national language doesn’t need to be an indigenous language. English is a national language of many former colonies of the UK, but it’s not an indigenous language in all of them. In some countries where it’s a national language it’s spoken only as a second language.
Standard English is also a national language of Scotland. There is a distinctively Scottish variety of Standard English which arose in the 18th century, so English is also an indigenous language of Scotland. But even if it were not, even if Scotland used English purely as a second language like some of the former colonies of the British Empire, it would still be a national language of Scotland. A vast amount of literature and cultural production relevant to the whole of Scotland has been produced in English.
A national language is a language which has an ambit covering the entire country, which is the cultural property of everyone in the country irrespective of their origins, and which is a cultural symbol of that country as a whole. A language can fulfil those roles even if it’s not an indigenous language. Further we can add that a national language is one in which literary and non-fictional works of national significance have been produced. The only languages in Scotland which fulfil those criteria are Gaelic, Scots, and English.
I clearly stated in yesterday’s piece that although Polish, Chinese, or Urdu, or the other languages of minority communities in Scotland, are not national languages of Scotland, their use should be fostered, encouraged and supported. The only clear implication there is that their use should be fostered, encouraged, and supported by the state. However certain British state apologists insist that this statement implies that I’m a blood and soil nationalist. They claim that I’m really drawing a distinction between “indigenous” and “non-indigenous” and that only if you’re “indigenous” can you properly be Scottish. This is an implication which exists purely in their own self-righteous imaginations.
I’d have thought that the statement that Polish is not a national language of Scotland would have been a simple objective statement of fact, but some seek to twist this into a rejection of the right of members of those communities to remain in Scotland, and a claim that they’re not “properly Scottish”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The languages of minority communities are also a part of the rich diversity of Scotland and we should cherish them. The people who use them are every bit as Scottish as anyone else. It’s sad that needs to be explicitly stated. Reasonable people should take it for granted. But then not everyone in the UK is reasonable. You only need to look at the blatant xenophobia on display at the Tory party conference or the recent episodes of BBC Question Time to see that.
Throughout the history of this blog I have repeatedly stated the belief that Scottishness is a property pertaining not just to people who were born and brought up in Scotland, irrespective of their family’s ethnic or national origins, but also that people who choose to come and live in Scotland are equally Scottish too. Those who are Scots by choice are every bit as Scottish as those who are Scots by the accident of birth. This is a belief which is shared by the vast majority of those of us who support Scottish independence, and it is core to our concept of the inclusive and tolerant independent nation we seek to build. But I’m not going to apologise for things which exist purely in the imaginations of people who are looking for excuses to castigate the Scottish independence movement. Nasty and vicious xenophobia is far more of a problem and far more characteristic of British nationalism than it is of the Scottish variety.
I am apparently a dangerous fascist for pointing out the relevance of the Gaelic language to the formation of the Scottish nation. This is divisive, drawing distinctions between tribes, and just a bawhair short of a Hutu radio broadcast calling on Gaelic and Scots speakers to take a machete to their neighbours. That’s the kind of ridiculous and hysterical hyperbole that you attract when you dare to promote a minoritised language, when you seek to describe the value in a language that’s been traduced, belittled and diminished. And apparently the person who wrote it fancies himself as a serious cultural commentator. Bless.
The point which any reasonable person can grasp is that it’s Scotland’s history as a multilingual nation which has created the modern inclusive and outward looking civic Scottish nationalism of today. It’s Scotland’s origins in the Gaelic language and the long interplay between Gaelic and Scots which have created that modern reality. It’s Scotland’s history as a country where many languages have been spoken which has brought about this modern Scotland where Scottishness is a choice, a conscious act of creation that anyone can participate in, not something due to genes or blood. That’s the point that Unionist critics wilfully overlook. It doesn’t suit their simplistic and reductionist narrative that “nationalism is bad”.
It’s only in Unionist Scotland where celebrating diversity, welcoming migrants into the tapestry of Scottishness, and attempting to protect multilingualism and stave off an English language monoculture becomes narrow minded dangerous nationalism. They claim that a celebration of Gaelic and Scots implies a rejection of English, when in fact any such rejection exists purely in their own imaginations. They accuse supporters of independence of blood and soil nationalism while they’re the ones who seek to diminish cultural diversity in the name of the faux internationalism of the British state. The uncomfortable truth that apologists for the British state won’t accept is that the most dangerous, the most quasi-fascist, the real blood and soil nationalists in this country are the ones who wrap themselves in the red white and blue. Defending the British state doesn’t mean you oppose nationalism, because the British state is very much a nationalist project. Defending the British state doesn’t make you an internationalist, it just makes you an apologist for a far nastier and more pernicious form of nationalism. A nationalism that thinks it’s so special that it rejects that it’s nationalist at all.
The real internationalists in Scotland are the people who seek to preserve and foster the diversity of Scottish culture and language and to connect it to the rest of the world on equal terms with any other country.
Audio version of this blog post, courtesy of Sarah Mackie @lumi_1984 https://soundcloud.com/occamshaver/wee-ginger-dug-26th-oct-2016
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