At the end of 2017 the UK government’s produced a 90-page submission to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECMRL) as part of the yearly periodical report on the application of the Charter. This was actually the fifth such report. The just-released document, which was revised in 2018, includes information on Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Manx and Cornish but not Irish and Ulster-Scots, due to the political stalemate at Stormont. The devolved governments in Edinburgh and Cardiff completed the forms, as did the Isle of Man government and the UK government in respect to Cornwall. More than 60% of the report focused on the Welsh language.
The Scots sections mentioned the Census, the 2015 Scots Language Policy, the Creative Scotland Policy, the Scots Scriever, the now pared-back Scots language coordinators initiative and the new SQA Qualifications we will cover later. Not surprisingly the contrasts in activities around Gaelic were stark.
While comparisons with Gaelic are always disheartening, the actions on Scots seem feeble even when compared to Cornish, which has just 464 local speakers, all learners, and currently with no separate funding at all. Cornwall Council leads the Cornish language programme has developed a three-year Cornish Language Plan, including signage and increasing Cornish in publications. Learning resources are also provided on their Cornish Language Office website. A voluntary Cornish Language Board (Kesva an Taves Kernewek) has endorsed the Standard Written Form (SWF) or Furv Skrifys Savonek for use in official documentation, public life and education. According to the Report, “this has enabled work to be undertaken with public bodies such as the National Trust and the Environment Agency, and with a wide range of schools and other organisations – something which was formerly more difficult”. The Board also delivers examinations in Cornish from entry level to above A-level equivalent, though not nationally recognised.
If the ECRML report reveals the treatment of Scots to be rather pitiful compared with other UK minority languages, it is in comparison with other European languages recognised by ECMRL that the neglect of Scots becomes truly shocking.