There was quite the controversy on Scots language Twitter this week. A stooshie, if you like.
And it kicked off with a poem about football of all things.
Erin Boyle, a student from Glasgow, wrote Fae The Scheme tae the First Team and recited it in a video on the BBC Social Twitter account.
You should watch it. It’s a lovely thing. A heartfelt celebration of the street football enjoyed by generations of working class heroes.
The Scots language seems to make a certain kind of person really angry though and within hours, the Social had to release a statement defending the post in the face of a torrent of “hateful and abusive comments” from viewers critical of Erin’s accent and dialect.
Among those who took offence was a lady called Lesley McDonald, whose Twitter account has since been locked down but whose screenshotted comments on this and previous cases – were being shared widely this week.
Fair enough you might say.
Freedom of speech is a right we get quite puffed up about in Britain.
If you don’t like what people are saying about you on social media you are equally free to block them and move on.
— BBC The Social (@bbcthesocial) June 11, 2021
Except McDonald is on the board of the Robert Burns World Federation – its education convener no less – and at the time of writing hundreds of people have signed an online petition calling for her removal.
It does seem an odd reaction from someone who serves on a body which exists to promote Scotland’s language, heritage and culture through the works of our national poet.
And the official response – “The Robert Burns World Federation values all the languages of Scotland and dialects. The comments of Lesley McDonald were personal and do not reflect the opinions of the Federation” – could certainly be said to come down on the sleekit cowrin tim’rous side.
The Robert Burns World Federation values all the languages of Scotland and dialects. The comments of Lesley McDonald were personal and do not reflect the opinions of the Federation.
— RobertBurnsWorldFed (@RobertBurnsFed) June 14, 2021
But why all the anger and what is it really saying about us?
There’s maybe a bit of cultural cringe at play – that inferiority complex, not exclusive to Scotland but certainly practised here with aplomb – that causes some to dismiss their own culture as inferior to those of other places.
I wonder if there’s a bit of referendum reflux there too – Scots words lumped in with saltires and Gaelic road signs as symbols to be slapped down lest the Jocks get too uppity.
Maybe it’s good old fashioned snootiness. But I can’t help but notice there’s a peculiar kind of bile that rises when the speaker is a young woman.
A misogynist’s a misogynist for a’ that
Among those who leapt to Erin’s defence was Len Pennie, from Fife, better known to her 93,000 Twitter followers as @Lenniesaurus.
She’s best known for her Scots word of the day tweets, short videos, in which she explains the origins of her chosen word – this week’s included siller, ower and gar – and gives an example of how to use it in a sentence.
If yous could gie @_Erinboyle_ a wee follow an some positivity, that wid be class. Scots speakers, especially lassies, git some amount ae hate online, so we have tae balance that oot wae love an support. X pic.twitter.com/DnW52oOoAa
— ✨ Miss PunnyPennie ✨ (@Lenniesaurus) June 11, 2021
She counts domestic goddess Nigella Lawson, Call the Midwife star Stephen McGann and Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart among her admirers.
But she also attracts a wearying volume of venom, much of it misogynistic, and calls it out with a courage I couldn’t match.
She and Erin are among a growing number of young Scots using social media to either promote the language, or simply to speak it the way young Scots are speaking today.
There’s a rich seam of comedy on TikTok from creators like @teuchterquine, @doricdad and @littlestchicken.
Singer @natidreddd has amassed 1.4 million followers through her Scottish singalong time posts, while Iona Fyfe, a former winner of the Scots Singer of the Year award, is fusing Huntly and Hollywood with her Scots language versions of Taylor Swift hits.
Courier columnist Alistair Heather is another whose tweets about fitba and culture run the gamut between scunnered and chuffed and whose writing ponders concepts such as “dulchas” – the idea that Scots belong to the land and it to them.
From history to here and now
There’ll be a Burns Federation certificate of mine in a shoebox somewhere.
We learned The Puddock in P5 or P6 – a very Scottish poem now I think about it. The puddock gets eaten because he’s too busy fancying himself to notice the hungry heron (so don’t get too big for your boots lady).
It was a fun enough pursuit for swotty kids who were good at learning things by heart but when the lesson ended we went back to talking the English in our books and on Grange Hill and never gave a thought to the words our grandparents spoke at home.
What young people like Erin are doing is energising the language – and all the culture and heritage that’s rolled up in it – on an entirely different level
Their Scots is a living thing. A source of pride. Belonging to contemporary Scotland every bit as much as to its historical record.
If Rabbie was half the man we’ve made him out to be, I suspect he would have approved.