Jack Capener wis the guest Spikker at the Doric Board Advisory Group meeting on Wednesday 11th September.

The members heard Jack outline his plans for the creation of a new Scots Language Board and his proposals to the Scottish Government.

Herewith Jack’s Briefing Notes:

Motion Briefing Notes


National language policies can either mitigate or exacerbate the health and status of minority and indigenous languages. This motion urges the implementation of a robust, legislative language policy for Scots in order to better promote and protect the language in Scottish public and private life and secure Scotland’s status as a diverse, multilingual nation.

Scots was the dominant tongue of the Lowlands during much of the Middle Ages, but found its civic status and private use challenged by English from the 17th century onwards, culminating in the Education (Scotland) Act 1872 mandating that only English be used in Scottish education. In spite of this, Scots remains the second most spoken language in Scotland, with the 2011 census revealing that over 1.5 million people in Scotland identified as Scots speakers. The Scottish Government’s language policy has sought to give Scots proper recognition through the following actions. In 2011 the Scottish Government adopted manifesto commitments on Scots, agreeing to “develop a national Scots language policy, with increased support for Scots in education, [and] encouragement of a greater profile for Scots in the media”. This led to the development of the concept of ‘Scottish Studies’ in schools and the creation of a Scots Language Qualification. The Scottish Government’s manifesto commitment also included the establishment of a network of Scots co-ordinators, whose action plan has been undertaken through and within Education Scotland. The Scottish Government also supports the application of the provisions of the Council of Europe’s Charter on Regional or Minority Languages, the provisions of which include the need for resolute action to promote regional or minority languages. These actions are applauded and recognised as valuable first steps towards bringing Scots onto an equal footing with English.

However, as noted in the 2010 Report of the Ministerial Working Group on the Scots Language, Scots “is still very far from having the recognition or the status which is its due”. It lacks any official status in Scotland and there is no legislation in place to promote or protect it. A great bulk of the work done in relation to Scots takes place in the private sector, through organisations and individuals. Two of these organisations  (the Scots Language Centre and the Scottish Language Dictionaries) receive direct funding from the Scottish Arts Council. Funding for these two organisations and other Scots projects between 2016 and 2017 amounted to £400,000. In contrast, in the same timeframe the Bòrd na Gàidhlig provided £4.3m in financial support to 300 Gaelic organisations.

In this regard, Scotland is somewhat exceptional in its treatment of Scots, particularly in the context of the Scottish Government’s long-standing and robust protection and promotion of Scottish Gaelic. The Gaelic (Scotland) Act 2005, passed unanimously, explicitly aims to secure Gaelic as an official language of Scotland “commanding equal respect” with English, by establishing the Bòrd na Gàidhlig (Gaelic Language Board) as part of the framework of government in Scotland and also requiring the creation of a national plan for Gaelic to provide strategic direction for the development of the Gaelic language. The Act gives the Bòrd na Gàidhlig a key role in promoting Gaelic in Scotland, advising Scottish Ministers on Gaelic issues, driving forward Gaelic planning and preparing guidance on Gaelic education.

The 2005 Act has had a major impact on the visibility and status of a previously minoritised language, bringing it back onto the stage of Scottish public life. A similar piece of legislation for Scots has the serious potential to have similar effects. The following section outlines the elements that could be introduced as part of the creation of a statutory Scots Language Board, as well as the advantages which it could bring.



Following the model of the Bòrd na Gàidhlig, a Scots Language Board would be a body corporate established by legislation. This legislation would set out the Board’s general functions (such as its role in advising public bodies and monitoring the implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages) and its relation to the functions and powers of the Scottish Ministers. Provisions regarding the status, proceedings, and constitution of the Board could be

set out in a schedule within that legislation. By following the model of the Bòrd na Gàidhlig in this regard, a Scots Language Board would enjoy the strong status of being a legislatively established public body, whilst also enjoying the flexibility of having only general functions set out in the legislation, giving the Board’s members flexibility to use their own expertise to use discretion in more specific issues.


The aforementioned legislation could mandate the Board to set out a National Scots Language Plan, to be approved by the Scottish Ministers. Such a plan would represent an unprecedented level of national co-ordination and co-operation in the promotion and protection of Scots, allowing for a united approach with the clout of governmental backing. The details of this plan would remain at the discretion of the members of the Board, who would use their expertise to create a  tailor-made strategy taking into account all factors they deem relevant.


The legislation could confer upon the Board the power to require public authorities to produce and implement a Scots Language Plan in order to increase the status and visibility of the language within that public authority. Requiring specific plans from specific public authorities could be important in ensuring that different industries and bodies see the introduction of Scots in ways that suit their own needs and circumstances. For example, the role of Scots in

tourism might be distinct from its role in culture or education.


The proposed establishment of a statutory Scots Language Board could be modeled around the Bòrd na Gàidhlig in order to ensure that the Board enjoys governmental backing, national coordination, and flexibility through expertise-driven discretionary decision-making. The points outlined above fit neatly into frameworks already established for Gaelic and would thus not cause complication or confusion amongst public authorities, who are already familiar with these processes due to the 14 year precedent set by the Bòrd na Gàidhlig. A Scots Language Board is therefore an effective and efficient step towards bringing the treatment of Scots into line with that of Scotland’s other indigenous languages.



Billy Kay, Scots: The Mither Tongue (Mainstream, 2006)

Bòrd na Gàidhlig, About the ‘Bòrd na Gàidhlig’ (English) [online]. Available at: http://www.gaidhlig.scot/bord/about-us/

Ministerial Working Group on the Scots Language, Report (2010) [online]. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/report-ministerial-working-group-scots-language/pages/1/

Scotland’s Census, Ethnicity, Language & Relgion [online]. Available at: https://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/ethnicity-identity-language-and-religion

Scots Language Centre, What is Scots? [online]. Available at: https://www.scotslanguage.com/What_is_Scots%253F_uid2/What_is_Scots_%253F

Scots Language Centre, 2011 Census [online]. Available at: https://www.scotslanguage.com/articles/node/id/255

Scottish Government, Language Policy [online]. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/policies/languages/scots/

Scottish Government, Scots Language Policy: English Version [online]. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/scots-language-policy-english/


Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 asp 7

European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages 1992 CET 148