The medium is the message

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What an interesting month it has been right here on Newsnet Scotland.  I don’t think there has ever been such polarisation of opinion from any preceding article or series of articles before Newsnet started publishing its Scots language pieces.  What a fascinating and revealing set of responses these diverse articles are generating.  The content of the articles is being pretty much ignored, it seems that the medium is in fact far more important than the message, at least when the message is being conveyed in the Scots language.

We have seen the site labelled as an SNP site, the terms “cultural nationalist” and “political nationalist” have been introduced, and we have resorted to the usual fall-back disputes on who thinks who has greater credentials to enhanced Scottishness, though I hope that if Gerry Hassan reads these threads he has noted that all comments have been polite and non-threatening.

It has been said many times by the Newsnet team that the site is not an SNP site, it exists to counter bias in Scottish news reporting.  Since part of countering this bias involves publishing stories recognising and lauding achievements of the Scottish government, and others investigating the various shenanigans of the Labour party it may look pro-SNP, but it is not.  There are also articles published which are critical of the government, and some which berate the SNP for lack of progress.  All views are welcome, all opinions can be freely expressed.

The site is however, firmly pro-Scotland.

Writing in my role as English onlooker yet again, I have to say that two things really stand out for me on this language issue.  Some commentators who acknowledge that they speak the language have said they find these articles hard to read and challenging.  Why should this be, when I can read them with no knowledge of Scots at all?  I find written Scots much easier to follow than spoken Scots is, I only have to contend with the language itself and not the accent too.  The glossary and a bit of guesswork means I can get the gist of the text even if I may be missing a subtle nuance here or there.  Yes it looks strange to me, and it requires a little effort to take in the story, but it does make me pay more attention to the details.

Much more striking though is the attitude to use of the language at all.  While many readers have been very supportive and commented favourably on the inclusion of these articles there are also a lot of naysayers, and some even seem to fear use of the language thinking that it may drive readers away, or cause a split in the independence movement.  Some even want the articles tidied away into a separate section, perhaps so they can be more easily ignored and save these folks from having to confront their own emotions about seeing their own language in print.

This is what I find so hard to relate to – what causes some of you to want to reserve your own language for jokes or light entertainment?  Why should you be afraid of seeing it on the front page of a serious news outlet?  Why think that by its very place there, said news outlet may lose credibility?

The cultural cringe is perhaps the least attractive trait of the Scottish personality.  I admit, and regret, that it has been fostered by many English-born British leaders, but your own Scottish-born British leaders have not lagged far behind my countrymen.  Newsnet Scotland is making a serious effort here to change things, and I think they are to be applauded.  Just because the British ridicule you, why should you join them in it?

A month or so ago, Newsnet published an article by Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond in which he stated that Newsnet Scotland “has been ahead of the curve” and that “it views the world through Scottish eyes … with just the right touch of hope and optimism”.  I think these articles show that once again this site is well ahead of the curve.  Not only through Scottish eyes, but now with a Scots voice too.

Mr Salmond devoted a fair part of his article to discussion of Scotland’s languages, saying “The SNP Government, too, shares a passion and commitment to all Scotland’s languages, enabling them not only to survive, but to thrive into the future”.  Commenting on the survey into Public Attitudes Towards the Scots Language, Salmond says, “Just over two-thirds of the sample (67 per cent) consider it important that Scots continues to be used in Scotland”.  Maybe this can go some way towards allaying the fears of those who think that seeing Newsnet leading with articles on foreign affairs written in Scots may be off-putting to other readers, even if not to themselves.

As Salmond also tells us “the Scottish Government established a Scots Language Working Group, which published its recommendations on 30 November.  The Scottish Government also directly funded the Scottish Language Dictionaries and Scots Language Centre in February 2009”, I think those who fear that language wars may cause a split in the independence movement can take comfort in the knowledge that since the SNP government is actually providing money to support the language it is considered to be important for Scotland’s well-being.

While I totally agree that halting, and even reversing, the decline of Scotland’s native languages is a different issue to the political independence of the nation, it is not a separate issue to halting and reversing the typical self-deprecation and lack of belief many Scots show in themselves, each other and their country.  Part of the desire for independence for a country is to enable its people to assert their priorities and aspirations, surely an important part of a country’s culture.  How do you intend to persuade the “Don’t knows” that Scotland is capable of running her own affairs if her people don’t believe in themselves?  The very concept of “cultural” or “political” nationalism begs the question: what do you want independence for?

A final quote from Mr Salmond, “In news as in politics, hope will always beat fear”.  Keep them coming, Newsnet.