All posts by thomas

Whit wey can we revive the Scots leid?

The following blog post is written in Scots. If you find it hard to read, here’s a dictionary that might help.

Oor Rabbie
Oor Rabbie by alister, on Flickr.
In the 2011 census, 1,225,622 fowks indicatit that thay coud speak, read an write Scots, an this maks Scots a heap muckler nor Gaelic. Houaniver, thair is practicallie nae support for the leid in Scotland — we daena hae TV or radio stations (forby wee programmes on the Internet), thair is nae Scots schuils, an thair is nae leid courses whaur outlins (sic as masel) can lairn Scots. Ye can uise Facebook in Faeroese or e’en in Pirate Inglis, but no in Scots. Google Translate canna help ye wi Scots, an yer phone’s autocorreck will chynge yer perfecklie guid Scots intae braken Inglis.

Forby this, monie (maist?) Scots thinks Scots is juist a dialeck o Inglis, an thay aft feel bad about speakin it. This is ane o the monie things that is creautin the Scots creenge.

We maun chynge this!

At the maument there’s three Scots leid organisations in Scotland: The Scots Leid Associe (SLA), the Centre for the Scots Leid (SLC) an the Scots Leid Dictionars (SLD). The SLA is fecklie concernt wi publishin leeteratur in Scots; the SLC is forderin the interests o Scots speakers (nearlins like a ceevil richts muivement); and the SLD is documentin the leid an publishin academic dictionars. Thay ar aw daein a byous job, but nane o thaim sees is as thair rôle tae staundartise the leid an creaut the tuils needit tae lear Scots tae fowks wha daesna speak it yit.

Whan A say “staundartise the leid”, A mean it. The SLA thinks a normative orthographie wad juist be a hinderance for the makars, the SLD daesna want tae bother the fowks wha gat thair erse skelpit for uisin Scots wirds at schuil, an the SLD is simplie documentin whit awbody is daein. Houaniver, ye canna tell a fremmit lairner or a schuil bairn wha anelie haes passive knawledge o Scots that thay maun juist say whit feels richt tae thaim — the result definatelie wadna be Scots! Ye canna mak a spellchecker that allous ilka spellin variant in uiss — it wadna richtifee oniething ava. An schuils will need guideship on whit tae lear tae the bairns.

This isna about creautin a oppressive orthographie — makars and native speakers can write Scots onie wey thay want. Houaniver, the lave o us needs a norm.

Monie ither leids haes been in the same situation. Scots is gey an siclike tae Catalonian an Icelandic in the wey aw three leids haes a great linguistic past but lost thair status whan the places thay ar spoken lost thair independence.

Here’s whit Wee Ginger Dug writes anent Catalonian (in Inglis):

The Catalan Renaixença ‘Renaissance’ arose in response to the sclerotic nature of the Spanish state. The Catalan language came to be seen as a symbol of the frustrated desires of Catalans for their country to become a fully democratic modern European state. A revitalised standard literary form of Catalan was the outcome of this movement, a modern Catalan language fit for all the needs of a modern Catalan nation, but which was solidly linked to the greatness of the Catalan literary past. It was rapidly accepted throughout els Paissos Catalans.

An this is fae the Inglis Wikipedia airticle about Icelandic:

The modern Icelandic alphabet has developed from a standard established in the 19th century primarily by the Danish linguist Rasmus Rask. It is ultimately based heavily on an orthography laid out in the early 12th century by a mysterious document referred to as The First Grammatical Treatise by an anonymous author who has later been referred to as the First Grammarian. The later Rasmus Rask standard was a re-creation of the old treatise, with some changes to fit concurrent Germanic conventions, such as the exclusive use of k rather than c. Various archaic features, as the letter ð, had not been used much in later centuries. Rask’s standard constituted a major change in practice.

We need a Scots orthographie that connecks the modren leid tae its past (makars like Blind Harry, Henryson, Dunbar, Fergusson an Burns), tae its present (the wey Scots is spoken an wrote in Scotland an Ulster the day), an paves the wey for its futur (bi bein consistent sae that it’s easie tae lairn). It is probablie no gaun tae be muckle different fae the spellins promotit bi the Online Scots Dictionar, but a deceesion needs tae be made.

It wad probablie be best tae creaut a new organisation for this ettle, lat’s cry it the Scots Leid Buird (SLB) in the follaein.

Aince the orthographical principles is in place, the SLB needs tae creaut a dataset in electronic format that can be providit tae fowks, companies an organisations wha wants tae mak printit dictionars, Android apps, spellcheckers or onie ither uiss o’t. The dataset soud include place names. The dictionars creautit uisin this dataset wad be great for schuil beuks, dictionars an aw.

Forby, the SLB soud provide advice on hou tae uise Scots an promuive the new orthographie an the Scots leid for ordinar, an thay soud wirk thegither wi the ither three Scots leid organisations aw the time.

In a ideal warld, the SLB soud be fondit uisin government siller, but in the praisent circumstances (wi monie mair cuts comin wir wey fae Westminster) we micht need tae uise croudfondin insteid, least tae get the projeck stairtit.

In ma professional life, A’m a expert in computational lexicographie, sae in anither blog post A micht hae a wee leuk at whit the dataset soud leuk like.

Atween haunds A’ll be awfu interestit in hearin fae yese. Is this the wey forrit? Wha can help?

More pandas than Unionist MPs

panda by Camilla Hoel, on Flickr.
The Unionist MPs from Scotland (such as Jim Murphy, Gordon Brows and Alistair Carmichael) dominated Better Together strongly because they were the only people with a strong personal interest in the status quo. The majority of MSPs and councillors didn’t care all that much, and neither did most rUK MPs.

It’s therefore really important that we get rid of as many Scottish Unionist MPs as possible at the next Westminster election in May, because this will weaken as future No campaign a lot. However, how realistic is it?

To find out, I looked at the votes cast for Unionist parties in 2010 and compared it with the Yes vote in the referendum. Unfortunately, at the moment referendum data is not available on a constituency basis, so I had to group some constituencies and council areas together to achieve comparable areas. In the table below, the first three data columns show first the votes cast for pro-independence parties in 2010, then the votes cast for Unionist parties, and finally the votes cast the the largest Unionist party (given that this is a FPTP election); the next two columns provide the referendum results, and the last column lists the difference between the votes cast for the largest No party in 2010 and the Yes vote in 2014:

2010 Election Independence Referendum
Area Yes parties No parties Largest No party Yes No Diff.
Glasgow 41977 177703 128818 194779 169347 65961
Aberdeen / Aberdeenshire 47268 160549 79246 130727 192700 51481
Angus / Dundee 41086 72042 43261 88664 85072 45403
Edinburgh 30797 188849 86426 123927 194638 37501
East Ayrshire / North Ayrshire / South Ayrshire 40687 140919 88902 121236 140705 32334
East Dunbartonshire / North Lanarkshire 37407 166140 114587 146407 159236 31820
Falkirk / West Lothian 40869 106188 72056 103831 123712 31775
Highland 19582 86449 49414 78069 87739 28655
Clackmannanshire / Perth and Kinross 33062 63843 33870 57825 81750 23955
Dumfries and Galloway / Scottish Borders / South Lanarkshire 44943 240783 141702 165510 247392 23808
Fife 26235 145823 95208 114148 139788 18940
Moray 16273 23646 10683 27232 36935 16549
Argyll and Bute 8563 35427 14292 26324 37143 12032
Renfrewshire 15561 66224 47455 55466 62067 8011
Midlothian 8100 29821 18449 26370 33972 7921
West Dunbartonshire 8497 32581 25905 33720 28776 7815
Inverclyde 6577 30502 20993 27243 27329 6250
East Lothian 7883 39868 21919 27467 44283 5548
Stirling 8091 37609 19558 25010 37153 5452
Na h-Eileanan an Iar 8135 6582 4838 9195 10544 4357
Orkney Islands / Shetland Islands 2042 16082 11989 10552 19955 -1437
East Renfrewshire 4535 46274 25987 24287 41690 -1700

As an example of how to read the table, the constituency of Argyll and Bute in 2010 saw 8563 votes cast for Yes parties and 35427 votes for No parties; however, the latter were divided between three parties, and the winning party (the LibDems) only got 14292 votes, which is 12032 votes less than the 26324 votes cast in favour of independence last Thursday.

(I should point out that SNP constituencies haven’t been eliminated — for instance, Na h-Eileanan an Iar currently have an excellent SNP MP.)

It’s clear that almost everywhere, more votes were cast for Yes than for the largest No party. The two exceptions are Orkney and Shetland, where there is a very strong Liberal tradition, and East Renfrewshire, which was a Tory stronghold until recently and so Labour benefits from a lot of tactical voting to keep out the Tories.

In other words, in most of the country it should be possible to unseat the sitting Unionist MP if we can mobilise all Yes voters from the referendum. I do have my doubts about Orkney and Shetland, but I guess it would be quite useful to keep one Unionist MP so that we don’t have to stop telling panda jokes.

Of course, this analysis is rather crude because I didn’t have access to the referendum data on a Westminster constituency basis. If I manage to find this, I’ll publish a new version of this blog post.

Unpredictable prediction errors

Yes? by Cams, on Flickr.
Readers of this blog may remember that a while ago I made a prediction of the geographical distribution of a narrow Yes vote, based on the most recent council election and some reasonable assumptions about voter behaviour.

The assumption made was that the following percentage of party voters would vote Yes: SNP — 81.7%, Labour — 25.8%, Tory — 5.9%, LibDem — 26.2%, Others — 50.0%. (That is, I expected 81.7% of the people who voted SNP in the council elections to vote Yes to independence.)

A survey made by Lord Ashcroft (PDF) found that 86% of SNP voters, 37% of Labour voters, 5% of Tories and 39% of LibDem voters voted Yes to independence, but this was based on people’s recollection of their last Westminster vote, not the council elections. Also, this was based on a small sample, so these numbers may not be entirely accurate.

To test this, I wrote a computer program to work out the percentages that would have produced the best prediction of the actual result (still based on the council election results). The results are rather surprising: SNP — 64.6%, Labour — 50.3%, Tory — 9.1%, LibDem — 33.4%, Others — 36.9%. Using these percentages produces a decent prediction of the actual result (although a few council areas are wrong, such as Dundee, which performed much better than the revised prediction, and West Lothian, which performed worse).

I don’t claim that these revised percentages are accurate — you’d need a massive exit poll to make sure — but they show that many strong SNP areas performed much worse than I had expected, and many Labour areas performed much better.

To illustrate this, look at the differences between the old prediction and the actual result (the table has been sorted by the difference):

Council area Old prediction Actual result Difference
Orkney Islands 56% 33% -23%
Shetland Islands 56% 36% -20%
Moray 60% 42% -18%
Scottish Borders 47% 33% -14%
Aberdeenshire 53% 40% -13%
Angus 57% 44% -13%
Argyll and Bute 53% 41% -12%
East Lothian 49% 38% -11%
Na h-Eileanan an Iar 58% 47% -11%
Perth and Kinross 51% 40% -11%
West Lothian 55% 45% -10%
Clackmannanshire 55% 46% -9%
Midlothian 53% 44% -9%
Dumfries and Galloway 43% 34% -9%
East Ayrshire 55% 47% -8%
Aberdeen 49% 41% -8%
Falkirk 54% 47% -7%
Highland 54% 47% -7%
Stirling 47% 40% -7%
Fife 51% 45% -6%
South Lanarkshire 51% 45% -6%
Renfrewshire 52% 47% -5%
East Dunbartonshire 44% 39% -5%
North Ayrshire 53% 49% -4%
Edinburgh 43% 39% -4%
East Renfrewshire 40% 37% -3%
North Lanarkshire 53% 51% -2%
West Dunbartonshire 56% 54% -2%
South Ayrshire 43% 42% -1%
Dundee 56% 57% 1%
Inverclyde 49% 50% 1%
Glasgow 51% 53% 2%

Orkney and Shetland might be special cases, because they are so far away from Edinburgh, but what happened in places such as Moray, Aberdeenshire and Angus? Did the focus on winning over the Labour voters in Greater Glasgow make the rural SNP voters desert independence?

Going forward, we need to ensure that independence doesn’t become solely a left-wing ambition. Independence will be good for almost everybody in Scotland, and next time we need to work harder on making independence the choice of people everywhere, not just in and around Glasgow and Dundee.

Looking forward on a day of sadness

Scottish independence referendum resultsI’m absolutely devastated. We nearly won. We could have won. But we didn’t.

We will respect the referendum result, which means we won’t declare independence without holding another referendum, and we cannot hold another referendum without exhausting the alternatives first.

I’m still trying to gather my thoughts, which is hard when you feel tired, sad and deflated. However, I’ve listed below a few thoughts about what will need to happen now. Please leave comments with more suggestions for the future!

  1. It’s completely clear to me that No only won because many voters got the impression we’d get Devo Max if we voted No. I’ve always been very cynical about this, but we now need to do out very best to achieve Devo Max (or Home Rule), and/or federalism in the UK.
  2. The Yes movement needs to be preserved in some form, primarily to guard over this journey towards Home Rule, but also — if the No side reneges on its promises — to campaign for a new referendum because the No side didn’t deliver. It would be unfortunate if this became a purely party-political matter again.
  3. The SNP should rename itself — the word “national” makes too many people jump to the conclusion that it’s deep down an ethnic nationalist party (which it isn’t). As I’ve argued before, “sovereigntist” would be a better word. It gets a bit tiring to state over and over again that the nationalists in Scotland aren’t nationalists.
  4. We need more media in Scotland to represent the views of the 45% who voted Yes to independence. If the BBC’s bias problems cannot be resolved (for instance by devolving broadcasting), we need to create a new Scottish broadcaster. We also need to convince more or the newspapers that it’s in their own commercial interest to cater for the younger, pro-independence audience.
  5. We need to work hard on getting rid of the Scottish cringe. It would have happened on its own after a Yes vote, but now it’ll be much harder. We need to keep showing people that Scotland is big enough, rich enough and clever enough to be in charge of its own destiny. We also need to make people understand that Scottish culture isn’t inferior, and I think working on promoting the Scots language would be very helpful in this context, because it would show Scottish people that the traditional language of Scotland is part of Scotland’s proud heritage.

I do hope the fact that 45% of voters supported independence will tell Westminster that something has to change. If 70% of voters had voted No, I’ve no doubt that Westminster would have thought it’d be a great opportunity to get rid of the Barnett formula and such things, but they must now be scared. They know they only won this referendum by the skin of their teeth.

Letter from a Yes future

We can imagine many different futures. Here is a letter from a future where Scotland voted Yes — not the only such future, but a possible one. Please read it in conjunction with this letter from a No future.

Skye, Scotland
Skye, Scotland by Berit Watkin, on Flickr.
Today, twenty years after Scotland voted Yes to independence, it can be hard to understand that many Scots genuinely believed the scaremongering from the No side.

Of course the financial markets panicked for a few days after the result was known, but they quickly calmed down once the negotiation teams started their work and it became clear that everybody was being constructive. Of course David Cameron had to stand down, but nobody seemed to think that was a big loss.

About a year after the Yes vote, the Scottish job boom started. Lots of companies suddenly realised they needed to have a presence in the new country, and the number of new jobs outweighed the ones being lost to the rUK by 4 to 1. Within a short amount of time all the No voters realised they had worried needlessly and it became really difficult to find anybody who admitted to having voted No.

A couple of years after Scottish independence day, Northern Ireland called a referendum on reunification. It became clear that a lots of Unionists there just couldn’t relate to being in a Union without Scotland, and the reunification referendum resulted in a huge victory to Yes.

Once Northern Ireland had left, Wales decided to become independent, too, inspired by the Scottish economic and intellectual renaissance that was now very evident.

Inspired by all these events, the Labour party reinvented itself in England, merging with the Green party in the process, and started implementing an English version of the Scotland’s successful Common Weal programme.

Amongst other things, this programme had caused the Scottish Government to encourage the creation of new companies all over Scotland, and the former industrial wastelands created by Thatcher were now starting to thrive again. Also, the Highland clearances had effectively started to be reversed, due to improved infrastructure, land reforms and new towns being created all over Scotland.

Of course not everything has been smooth sailing. Trident remained in Scotland a wee bit longer than we had hoped for, and we did go through a small recession in 2026. However, there is now full agreement in Scotland that independence was the right thing to do.

Letter from a No future

We can imagine many different futures. Here is a letter from a future where Scotland voted No — not the only such future, but a possible one. Please read it in conjunction with this letter from a Yes future.

Abandoned building
Abandoned building by Paul Macrae, on Flickr.
I’m writing this during the 2034 independence referendum campaign.

After the No vote in 2014, many people thought things would revert to how they had been before the referendum was agreed on, but this didn’t happen.

The popular Yes movement had become an important part of Scottish life, and BBC bias demonstrations in Glasgow and independence marches in Edinburgh became a part of Scottish life. This really scared the stock markets because the future of Scotland and the UK remained uncertain, and lots of money was removed from the entire British economy, but especially from Scotland.

Scotland got a few new devolved powers, but it quickly became clear they didn’t make any real difference, and most Scots started to realise they had been conned into voting No. The Herald for instance published a heartbreaking mea culpa editorial where they lamented their naïve optimism about the prospect of federalism being implemented after a No vote.

An opinion poll five years after the referendum showed that 75% of people claimed to have voted Yes in 2014, and fully 85% now supported independence, helped no doubt by the exit from the EU implemented by the new Conservative-UKIP coalition in Westminster.

However, Westminster had now learnt its lesson and blocked a new referendum.

At the same time, the repeated cuts to the block grant meant the SNP government had to introduce tuition fees and privatise part of the NHS, and they lost the subsequent Scottish Parliament election. The new Labour-Tory coalition imposed legislation to make it even harder to call another referendum.

In the years after that, the independence marches grew and grew, and recently we formed a human chain from the West Coast to the East Coast, consisting of three million people.

The pressure was now incredibly strong, and the Scottish Government is now organising a new referendum, although it’s not approved by Westminster, so it’s anybody’s guess what will happen afterwards.

Also, Scotland has suffered a lot under austerity and repeated recessions since then, and the new Treaty Against Fossil Fuels will enter into force soon, meaning that the remaining Scottish oil will be worthless.

If only we had voted Yes back in 2014!