Scots as a leid o eddication

In this airticle, we’ll leuk at the faisibility o the uiss o Scots in eddication. Syne whan haes it been uised in eddication? In whilk wey it is uised in eddication? An is it siclike wi ither leids?

For tae answer thae quaistens, we can leuk at the history o Scots an its uiss in eddication . . .

Fae the middle o the nineteent hunneryear till the end o the twintiet hunneryear, Scots wisnae gien a place in Scots schuils ava; it wis whiles doun-hauden even.1

On the ither haund, Scots wis a fair feck mair uised in Scots schuils afore the 18t hunneryear, as we can see fae this quote fae The Register o the Privy Seal o Scotland:2

“Ane instructioun for bairnis to be lernit in Scotis and Latene…” (1559)

Maist ferlie amang the legal mentions o Scots in eddication airticles is the legislation estaiblishin schuilin ootthrou Scotland. Schuils in ilka pairish, ’ithin the means o the local cooncil, wis fordert by the 1616 law. This wis follaed by the 1646 law whaur the cooncil wis ootricht obligate tae big an mainteen the schuils. The last o the 17t hunneryear laws wis the 1696 act3 that stuid on the record beuks till 1872.4

We can see that, contínuin on fae the 1559 statement, the leids uised in the air Scots schuils wis Scots an Laitin:5

“Mr. Adame . . . takis . . . vpone him the charge of ane scoolemaister . . . for learning of Scottis and Latine;” (1646 quote fae the Minute beuks o the Burgh o Kirkcudbright)

This law wis byordinar important for eddication history, as it wis the first law that estaiblisht schuils outthrou a kintra.6 The law meant that Scotland coud be amang the first kintras in the warld whaur maist fowk wis líterate.7 This is forby thocht o as bein a catalyst for the Scots Enlichtenment. An it’s throu thir laws that the Scots eddication seistem, richt eneuch, gained a nameliheid o bein democratic, in the sense that it wis appen tae aw the fowk, an no juist the hie heid anes.8

This law wis a skaith an aw, housomeiver: the 1616 law wis misfortunate for Scots Gaelic as the law disnae forder the Gaelic, anither hamelt leid o Scotland. The law wis e’en designtly cockit at the Gaelic, ettlin at its eradication.9

Gaelic is the extant leid that haes been uised in Scotland for the langest time. Gaelic, like ony leid, pits owre thochts in different weys fae whit ither leids dae, an produces the associations o thochts that ither leids disnae.10

Sae, on the ae haund, the air Scots eddication laws wis innovative legislation producin a nation hunneryears afore ithers, an pruif o the fact that the writers didnae denigrate thair ain leid. On the ither haund, it is misfortunate pruif that the writers o the selsame laws denigrate a hamelt leid an cultur o the kintra. It can e’en be hypothesised that it wis this skaithin attitude taewart a pairt o Scots cultur that hinderly remuived Scots fae Scots schuils.

Sicweys we can see that the place o Scots in the Scots eddication seistem haes chynged ’ithin the past hunneryears syne the pittin in place o the first kintra-wide eddication seistem till bein pairtly re-introduced in this hunneryear.

It’s faur fae impossible tae see Scots as a leid o eddication, gien its place at the springheid o Scots eddication.

It haes its relation wi sociolinguistic phenomena an polítical decísions, like the decísion anent in whilk leid bairns will be eddicate. It can occur acause o sociolinguistic phenomena whaur fowk is rewairdit for giein up the leid o thair mithers an faithers. Whither it’s throu the eddication seistem or legal seistem, Scots haes been affroadit. An economic incentives wis gien tae ‘speak proper’.11

There is mony ither leids whaur tendencies can be estaiblisht atweesh the population that speaks the doun-hauden leid an the unnercless, the doun-hauden clesses.

As can be read in Hagège’s Halte à la mort des langues (‘Reest the deith o leids’), uiss o a leid in schuils is ane o the factors that mean it can contína existin, an even floorishin. Likeweys, the doun-dingin o the uiss in schuils can be a factor in connachin the leid.12

Onywey, ony leid can be uised in eddication.

Even gif theoretically the wirds is missin, we can find thaim. Leids can be developit for tae conteen the wirds thay need: we can see this process in ither leids. Ae ensaumple is the Icelandic, whaur thay invent new wirds aften for tae fit in wi the phonological, lexical an grammatical contex that exists awready. French an Inglis wisnae leids uised in eddication in the air Middle Ages aither. An, efter, screivers in Inglis an French haes taen wirds fae Laitin, bigit new wirds wi hamelt material amang ither techniques for giein a leid a haund. An wirds is bein inventit thir days in Inglis an aw: ‘blog’, for ensaumple, wisnae kent a few year syne. But thae leids were developit; thair growth wis fordert.

An, as Du Bellay says in his Défense et illustration de la Langue française, that is mibbe the main thing that lats a leid be uised in a partícular contex: whether its uiss is fordert.13

Scots is a leid that, while it can be associate wi a lack o eddication thir days, is nae less suitit tae sítiations o eddication. Acause ony leid can be uised for eddication, nae leid is wirth less. An it isnae juist a leid that can theoreticly be uised for eddication, but it wis ane o the twa leids uised in the first modren nationwide eddication seistem. This is a fact that can be uised tae shaw that Scots haed its place in the Scots eddication seistem, syne the air laws anent eddication in the Middle Ages. It can forby be uised tae shaw that Scots misfortunately haed its place in the cultural displacement o the Hielands. The lang an the short o it is that Scots can be uised in a eddication seistem nae less nor ony ither leid.

James McDonaldJames McDonald is a Scots polyglot steyin in Réunion. He is keen on different leids, inspecially local leids, an thair forderin, whether it’s Scots, Gaelic, Réunion Creole or ither leids. He wirks in schuils, helpin bairns wi thair hamewirk an giein chess lessons. Ye can contact him on jmcd89 [AT] googlemail [DOT] com.


Scots Inglis
affroadit discouraged
air early
atweesh between
byordinar extraordinary
connachin destroying
designtly deliberately
doun-hauden oppressed
ettlin endeavouring, trying
forder(t) promote(d), drive(n) forward, help(ed) on
hamelt native
hinderly eventually
housomeiver notwithstanding, nevertheless
hunneryear century
leid language
nameliheid reputation
nor than
reest bring to a halt
selsame very same
skaithin harmful, damaging
springheid source, origin
syne then, ago, since

The porage revolution: Hou porage cam tae mak Scotland habitable

Five thoosand year syne the human warld birlt aboot a different axis. Doun in Egypt the Pharos war biggin their muckle pyramidal kists, drawin their pouer fae the fertile launds abuin the Nile. The great Sphinx wis appearin oot fae ashlars o sandstane the size o hooses. Naebody speirt efter wha buir the gree in terms o humanity in thae days; it wis clear. The Egyptians, ane o the great cívilisations, haed taen their place as the heid o the species on earth. They kent wha the Gods war, whit their leid wis, an generally kent wha wis wha an whit wis whit brawly. The rest o us sprauchelt, heid doun, throu the dub an mire, up tae wir oxsters in ignorance.

Ye can think o Egypt as the epicentre o human development o the day, an aa ither human actívity bein ripples oot fae thon soorce. The tottie wee wave o humanity that raxed owre the continent tae exhaust itsel on Scotland’s strands wis minor indeed. Than mair nor iver we war the pure ends o the earth.

It wisnae lang syne afore that Scotland haed been scaured by three miles o hyper-cranreuch in the Ice Age. Maist o Europe haed been in lockdoun as fowk tyned the means tae live in the freezin climate o the day. As the ice meltit an life cam back tae the laund, an as the fowk o Europe keekit oot o their cave shelters in the Pyrenees, it wis anely the bampots, zoomers an gowks that fund theirsels stravaigin sae far north as oor frozen shores.

The ticht glens o the sooth Scotland borderlands war guid for the “drive an sett” huntin tactics o wir ancestors. A wheen o hunters wad yowl and screich loudly an breenge doun the glen, garin aa the herds o beasts flee flichtit afore them. At the fit o the glen the chiels wi the spears wad hunker doun in cover an wait, an they’d pick aff the animals as they scuddit by.

These fowk haed a roch time o it. The population o Scotland wis tiny. Nae mair nor a puckle o lairge faimily groups gangin aboot gaitherin berries an huntin boar. The laund in thae days wisnae exactly conducive tae a lang an couthie life. The diet wis healthy eneuch, but it pit a stap tae ony population growth, for ae guid reason. The berries, nuts an meat wis owre muckle for a bairn tae eat. Therefore, bairns haed tae feed on their mither’s milk till the age o fower. Lassies arenae sae likely tae hae anither bairn aucht them gin they’re feedin fae the breist. The life expectancy o a lassie in thae days seems tae hae been nae mair nor twinty-fower year or thereaboots. Sae gin they maun hae spent fower year raisin ilka bairn, they cannae hae mair nor three bairns afore they dee theirsels. Add tae that a heich rate o premature bairn deith an ye ken that e’en sae muckle as uphaudin the population at its low level wis a sair fecht.

Life went on in siclike a fashion for owre a thoosand year an mair. Humanity tried tae impose itsel ontae the Scots landscape but aye fund itsel deid aamaist afore it wis alive, like a body ettlin tae fill a bath wi the plug oot. Survival wis aa that fowk coud aspire tae, leave alane developin airt or cívilisation.

As the Egyptians slaikit their drouthy thrapples wi reid wine an furnished their hooses wi gowd, the tribes ablo the northren lift in Scotland war thirlt tae a tuim-wamed, short existence.

The revolution that gied thae few faimlies the chance tae growe an pit doun real roots in their hame cam fae the Fertile Crescent. The launds kent the day as Syria, Jordan, Egypt an the rest war pairt o a braid agricultural cívilisation whaur wild gresses war cultivatit an stertit tae gie furth the calorific cereals. That ae development chynged aathing, especially for launds ootwith the Fertile Crescent, especially for Scotland.

Ideas o cereal hairsts spread owre Europe. Fowk wha haed been thirlt tae an aye-flittin life o hunter-gaitherin suddenly fund that they coud settle an area. Thae barleys coud be grund doun tae a paste an gied tae bairns as porage. Mithers coud stap giein them breistmilk at the age o twa, giein them the chance tae get back oot gaitherin, or tae hae mair bairns.

It wis this revolution that gied the puir shiverin craiturs wha bade here the chance tae upbig their populations, big wee widdin hooses an stert tae ferm efter a fashion. Huntin wis certainly a guid soorce o calorific meat, but it wis cereals that gied them the foondation o society.

Than it aa explodit. Fae this base, fermin grew mair complex, cívilisation stertit tae appear. Excess wis produced. Fowk haed free time for the first time in Scottish history. They uised the time tae humph muckle stanes thegither intae stane circles. They also ettled at unnerstaunnin the birlin o the heivenly bodies abuin their heids. It gied fowk a chance tae experiment wi airt an for heirarchies tae emerge.

Suin Scotland wis hame tae complex clan seistems, whiles fechtin, whiles wirkin thegither. Sodgers an wee kings emerged, aa on the foondation o cereal. The early stane-age fowk developit intae the North-Sea traders o the Pictish kíngdom, wha skelpit the Roman airmies, sendin them sooth tae think again. They did the same for the English in the early days, strikin oot fae their ain fertile crescent atween Caithness, throu Aiberdeen an doun tae Embra. They jyned up wi the Scots o the wast an thegither they made the kíngdom o Scotland as we ken it.

Whan ye glower oot owre a bare cairngorm glen, or the icy plashin watter o some lawland burn an ye speir at hou fowk coud bide here in thae lang syne days, mind aye that it wis humble porage that made it possible.

Alistair HeatherAlistair Heather is the Scots Editor at Bella Caledonia. He studies History an French at Aiberdeen University, an warks wi the Elphinstone Institute promotin the cultur o the North-East. Gie him yer chat @historic_ally on Twitter.


Scots Inglis
craitur lamentable person
sprauchle move laboriously
skelp strike
lang syne long ago
to ettle to attempt
hairst harvest

Surfeit Uiss o Digital Technology

Technology, an the mair by taiken digital technology, haes baith positive an negative eftercomes. Technology can hecht possibílities we wadnae itherwise hae. On the yin haund, technology in general can help us redd up problems: technology can allou us tae dae mony things fae the maist basic huntin gibbles tae space shuttles. On the ither haund, technology can cause hashery for the feck o humanity, whether it’s technology that’s uised for killin fowk (like nuclear wappens) or connachin wir environs (like fossil fuels), or connachin wir brain cells, like whit we’ll see efter in this airticle.

Digital technology is a fair guid ensaumple o the foresaid general description o technology: wi it, we can communicate wi fowk the ither side o the warld. An that’s braw; A wadnae can write this airticle itherwise. We can keep in touch wi fríends an faimily on the ither side o the warld. But, at the same time, digital technology can distrack us fae actual real life human traffeck that we war born for. For wir psychological growthe, as weel as ither aspecks o wir halth, digital communication micht get yer wirds throu tae the ither body, but it’s sae sib tae real life communication as Jackie Stuart is tae the heir o the Jacobites.

An ensaumple o this eftercome o digital technology on wir weelfare is the mismeysome oncome ’ithin the past decade: fowk gaun aboot thair day ’ithoot takkin tent o ither fowk aboot thaim, heid plottit in a mobile phone. This is juist a ensaumple o the fack that fowk maks nimious uiss o technology, inspecially digital technology, thir days. Scientists ken smartphones reduce concentration an IQ an yet some fowk gang on thaim insteid o talkin wi fowk in front o thaim.

The warst victims o this (amang wir ain species) is bairns an teenagers. Thay miss oot on social an cognitive skeels, as weel as emotional intelligence. A study by Dimitri Christakis (o the Seattle Children Research Institute at the University o Washington) haes shawn that televísion haes negative eftercomes on the psychological development o bairns, as weel as thair lairin an thair halth.1 A New Zealand study shaws that weans that watch less televísion git thair equivalent o Highers either than thaim that watches mair televísion.2

Social skeels, like lairin leids, is gey an important for wir species. An bairns can anerly lair leids by interaction (wi responses) wi ither human beins. Sae, in general, weans that sits in front o screens, gif it’s smartphones or televísion or whitivver, lair tae speak later, an less, compared wi ither bairns.3 4 An this is true yet whan the televísion thay’re watchin is specífically myntit for eddication!5 An, gif thay dinnae hear ither humans speakin wi thaim, thay’ll nivver lair. Ither social skeels include kennin whan tae speak, whit tae say, in general hou tae interact in company.

Cognitive skeels is affectit an aw whan we uise computers, acause it causes problems wi sleep an concentration.6

On tap o the eftercomes on social an cognitive skeels, we can gang intae the eftercomes o surfeit uiss on ither aspecks o halth, like acoustic neuroma, doun-castin an stress. Acoustic neuroma is a kin o tumour that can gar a body lose thair hearin an balance. Whiles the short term uiss o mobile phones disnae hae ony eftercome on the chance o fowk gittin acoustic neuroma, lang term uissage can hae a significant eftercome on fowk haein mair aften acoustic neuroma.7 An than there’s the connection wi doun-castin.8 An this dint tae yer heid is aw the mair a gray gate while fowk is in the fou course o growthe; thair brains isnae fou developpit yet.

Psychological distress can come fae maladaptive uiss o the internet an mobile phones, inspecially whan fowk is iverly aiccessible on thair phone or on the computer late at nicht.9 10 11

Nimious uiss o mobile phone an internet can be a addiction, wi serious comparisons wi drug addiction on the behavioral an chemical level.12 13 Comparisons can be makkit wi drugs an aw, whan we consíder the life expectancy eftercomes. Televísion haes been compared wi cigarette smokin in terms o life expectancy impack.14

An than thare is the eftercast on the environs: this odious uiss consumes electricity, that maisttimes howks intae the supply o fossil fuels. At the best o times, wi renewable energy, we still need space for tae big up the wind ferms an siclike. An that’s space that coud be itherwise be hained for naitur. An than anither that’s relevant tae the environs is that a fack masel A didnae realise till a few week syne: uiss o the warld wide wab haes a impack on the environs itsel, in partícular acause o the data centres uised tae rin sairches15.

Obviously, it isnae raisonable tae evendoun gie owre technology, an A wadnae want tae. Some technology, includin digital technology, helps us wi important things as weel as things we coudnae dae itherwise: like A said airlier, A coudnae be writin this gif it wadae be for digital technology. An A’m gey thankfu that A can. Gif we coudnae communicate by internet, communication wi ma faimily wad be ance a month or twa by post.

Communication is either for twa ither raisons: writin is a fair feck swither whan ye’re daein it on a computer acause a single short muivement gies ye a hail chairacter. Sae that’s anither advantage o uisin digital technology. An, wi the internet, we can gain access tae information we wadnae itherwise hae. Resairch on the internet can uise wir brain in positive weys.

An, in some domains, partícularly important domains, we need mair technology. An evident ensaumple o that wad be the space industry that A mentioned on the first airticle A wrate here on MAK FORRIT. Some things juist isnae possible ’ithoot new technology. Sae in this contex it’s necessar. It eiks mair tae the experience.

In ither contex, on the ither haund, we dinnae need aw that technology. For ensaumple, gif we’re brainstormin, aw we need is wir brain. An mibbe a bit paper tae note things doun. Gif aw we’re ettlin at daein is juist spielin, it isnae necessar. Atweel it’s better tae dae ’ithoot it in thae cases. For haein fun, for ensaumple, we can evite the uiss o technology. We dinnae need to be sittin afore a screen ilka time we want tae relax. We can be sittin ootby, in the wid. Or haein a daunder by a burn. Or readin a beuk, a actívity that helps wi developpin yer imagination, a capacity that’s important for bairns’ cognitive development16 as weel as developpin thair empathy.17 Readin isnae juist guid at de-stressin18 but is even yin o the best weys tae de-stress.19 Or pentin. Or craft. Or sport. Ony nummer o mair actíve tasks an actívities.

An, while technology can help us wi the ecological transítion, the main drive will be thinkin, ideas, that will bring us a mair sustainable direction.20

Technology is braw whan we need it. But, mair aften than no, thir days we uise it whan we dinnae need tae. Adults can mak guid uiss o digital technology in certain circumstances: internaitional communication, resairch, swith writin. But thae circumstances shoudnae come afore basic aspecks o wir lifes. An bairns need thair interaction, sae lat’s gie thaim whit’s auchtin thaim.

An lat’s consumers git whit’s auchtin thaim an aw. Consíderin the life expectancy impack o televísion uiss in partícular, we can warn consumers o the potential dangers o siclike products.

Naitur wis here afore us. It gies us aw we need tae survive. We can wirk wi it, an no agin, for tae thrive as a species. We can big technology, an we need tae for tae líve in the kin o society we dae. An we need technology for tae git tae new places. But we can taper thir technological developments. Wir lifes shoudnae revolve aroond it. Wir lifes shoud revolve aroond life itsel.

James McDonaldJames McDonald is a Scots polyglot steyin in Réunion. He is keen on different leids, inspecially local leids, an thair forderin, whether it’s Scots, Gaelic, Réunion Creole or ither leids. He wirks in schuils, helpin bairns wi thair hamewirk an giein chess lessons. Ye can contack him on jmcd89 [AT] googlemail [DOT] com.

The ghaist lichts

Ma mither wis fae the North-East o Skye. A clachan cried Stenschol at Staffin. She aye mindit me o ae nicht in the 1930s, whan she wis a lass o mebbe 25. Her auld mither caad oot tae her an the ither young fowk that war ben the hoose that nicht: “’Mon owre an see this!” Her mither — ma grandmither — wis pyntin oot the scullery windae.

The hoose they bade intae leukit oot owre the Trotternish ridge, a muckle formation o black craigs an braes o staney rickles that lours owre the north o Skye.

Doun the daurk face o Ben Edra, whaur naebody wad be in the nicht, wis a stream o lichts. Wee dottit ghaist lichts comin doun the side o the law. It wis like a fairy airmy wis on the mairch fae the glen tae the plains ablo.

Queer tho they maun seem, thae lichts war real eneuch. A wheen o Skeanachs saw them. Mony o them are alive tae this day. Gin ye’re in Staffin, speir efter Lachie Gillies. He’s lívin still, an he saw it aa.

In thae days, fowk creditit the tales o ghaists an siclike supernaitural things mair nor we dae the day. Fowk gied mair room in their herts an heids tae the naitural warld.

Aabody wis sayin efter the lichts war spottit: “Something’s gaun’ae happen. Thae lichts war a sign, or a warnin.” A sign o whit, naebody coud claim tae ken.

A few weeks gang by and they appear again. “Come here till you see this,” says ma grandmither ance mair, an ance mair the bairns keek oot the windae ontae the daurk Trotternish ridge. The ghaist lichts are back, streamin aff the law like a fiery flottila doun a mountain burn.

Time passed. The 1930s turned tae the 1940s. Fowk aye spak o the lichts, but the war in Europe cowpit the naitural runnin o things, an mair pressin maiters cam tae the fore.

But ae still nicht in 1945 nae far fae the end o the war, a coorse haar smuired the hale o the isle. The lift owre Skye had been chowkit ootthrou the war years wi American planes fleein tae Europe, or back hame. An this nicht wis nae different.

Ma mither felt the plane gangin owreheid, an thocht tae hersel: jings, thon’s awfu low. It wis a plane stappit fu wi young Yankie pilots heidit tae Italy. She didna hear the explosion. She didna ken the plane had crashed on the Trotternish Ridge till she noticed the hale clachan in a rammy ootside.

The plane didna hae the hicht tae mak it owre the ridge, which wis lost in the haar. The plane breenged intae the heid o Ben Edra. Aabody on board dee’d on impact.

Ma faither, wi mair nor a dozen ither chiels fae the district, went up wi the polis tae tak the corps aff the glen. The carnage, aa the body pairts strewen owre sic a dulesome airt, wis owre muckle for ony man tae thole. It affectit ma faither deeply.

Ah mind hou he telt us aboot ae American sodger laddie that dee’d. This puir craitur had a gowden locket aboot his thrapple. The heat aff the explosion had sort o meltit it intae his flesh abuin his breist. The whummle o the crash had garred the locket open. On the left side o the locket wis a photae o a bonnie lass — the deid sodger laddie’s wife. On the richt o the locket wis a photae o twa bairns. The twa newly orphaned bairns o this puir sodger.

Thon aye stuck wi ma faither.

The carnage wis sae hellish that it teuk the polis an the local chiels a hale day tae gaither thegither the bits o airmen. The gloamin wis upon them afore they war fínished.

The wifies doun in the clachan war fashed wi the days’ events an steyed watchin the muckle law as nicht fell, feart for their husbands an brithers an bairns awa up there in the daurk.

The menfowk made their dulesome wey doun the path o Ben Edra by torchlicht, humphin the bitties o deed airmen wi them. The torches they cairit war vísible fae the clachan ablo.

Aa the wifies watchin Ben Edra saw the same thing. They saw the black o the Trotternish Ridge daurk agin the sky. An they saw these torches as a trail o dottit lichts runnin doun the law. They war fleggit hauf oot their minds: these war the ghaist lichts back ance mair!

Ma mither saw it aa an she garred me ken: the lichts this nicht buir by the menfowk war the same pattern, pace an nummer as the anes as she had seen a puckle year syne, whan her grandmither had caad her tae the windae tae see the inexplicable lichts on Ben Edra.

A wheen o Skeanachs buir witness tae these lichts. Ma grandmither saw it, wir neebours in the clachan saw it. Lachlan Gillies saw it. Tae this day fowk at Staffin still speak aboot the ghaist-lichts, an hou they predíctit the demise o thae puir American sodgers.

Telt by Alec MacDonald tae Alistair Heather.

Alistair HeatherAlistair Heather is the Scots Editor at Bella Caledonia. He studies History an French at Aiberdeen University, an warks wi the Elphinstone Institute promotin the cultur o the North-East. Gie him yer chat @historic_ally on Twitter.

Glossar o key wirds

Scots Inglis
ghaist spirit/phantom
law hill
clachan hamlet/village
muckle big
wee small
Skeanach (Gaelic) (somebody frae the Isle o Skye)
cheil man

Whit’s that wird?

Scots Inglis
gang (pronoonced ‘gang’ or ‘ging’)

Billy Connolly broke ma hert

Gin ye grew up in a partícular pairt o Scotland at a partícular pynt in time — say the wast coast, say the Eighties — Billy Connolly wis the anely thing that maitered. Set by yer Sex Pistols, forget yer Clash — nane o that stuff iver got throu tae us. The C30s that we swapped aroond in cless warnae bootleg Bowie; they war taped fae dusty auld vinyls we foond in oor faither’s cupboard, clatterin sangs on banjo aboot wellies an jannies an mad wee dugs gaun loco. Like the jokes, we didnae ayeweys unnerstaun them — whit exactly wis ‘the broo’? — but we knew the warld they cam fae, kent the hairmless jakies an alcoholic dreamers that líved in it.

An we learned. As we listened, we learned. We learned hou tae tell oor ain stories, ridículous yins, lingerin on the lip o credibility, interruptit aye an anon bi the wheezy lauchter o the teller. We learned hou tae haud aff an haud aff an keep haudin aff, tae pit aside the story’s endin like a last wee bite o cake. An we learned that the wey ye tell a story maiters, says somethin important aboot ye, an that if ye coudnae tell a story kindly, than it wis mebbe a story that wis better left untelt.

Tae tell a story kindly disnae juist mean bein nice. It means tellin the story in a wey that’s true tae the fowk that it’s aboot; respectin their choices, respectin their mistaks. Tak a keek at the píous, pre-emptive eulogies for Billy Connolly that hiv been croppin up aw owre the shop, an tell me — are they kind? Are they nice? Or are they juist the kind o guff that Billy spent his hale career deflatin — or used tae, onygates, afore he went an broke oor herts?


There’s the wey ye talk tae fríends, an there’s the wey ye talk tae co-wirkers. There’s the wey ye treat the faimily ye love, an the wey ye treat the faimily ye dinnae. There’s nice, but as well as that, there’s nicey-nice. The phone vyce equivalent o fríendliness, the smile wi’oot the een. An whaniver somebody gears themsels up tae say somethin guid aboot Connolly nouadays, it’s as if they’re clappin a scabby auld dug that micht hae yin mair snap left in it.

It’s in the natur o epitaphs — and yon’s really whit we’re talkin aboot — tae be reductive. Sae it’s nae surprise at aw tae see Billy Connolly dung doun bi fowk wha niver really cared for him, lowdent tae a kind o Caledonian Chuckle Brither, an end o the pier act fae a lang-shut muisic haw. Yon disrespect, ah ween, isnae juist for Connolly. It’s for the notion o stand-up comedy as a hale, the idea that there micht be — hae been — artists whase art juist happened tae be makkin fowk lauch. Fowk wha hiv legeitimised the form, the wey Ali did for boxin or Fischer did for chess. An mak nae mistak, Billy Connolly wis o their kind. Billy Connolly wis a genius.

Aye, that’s richt. Billy Connolly, the chiel wha inventit the jobby wheecher, a genius. Think aboot it. A place isnae real till it’s been fully imagined. An in the thirty year that Alasdair Gray wis imaginin Lanark, Billy Connolly mapped oot a wirkin-class Glesga that tae this verra day remains canonical. It’s there in Frankie Boyle an Kevin Bridges an Limmy’s Show. It’s there in hou Gleswegians think an talk aboot theirsels an each ither. Even whan fowk are tryin tae get awa, it’s Connolly’s Glesga that they’re strivin tae escape. Mair sae than Gray or Kelman or even McIlvanney, it wis Billy Connolly, a lowly banjo picker, wha defined the topography o oor common Glesga — its mercats, its parks, its nightclubs, its tenements. Leuk on his wirks, ya bampots, an despair.


Sic a thing cannae happen again; no in this day an age. There’s owre muckle gaun on, nou, for a body tae become as vital tae a cultur as Connolly wis tae Glesga’s. There’s owre mony Glesgas tae be celebratit — gay Glesga, transgender Glesga, Asian Glesga; Glesgas which war aw vyceless afore — for juist yin carle tae represent them aw.

Unity; it’s a kittlie an gey unstable thing, aft as no mainteened at the expense o them excludit fae it. But whan ye’v got it, while ye’v got it, it’s the anely thing that seems tae coont. Connolly gied us unity wi ither, but lat us think oor unity wis wi him. But it wisnae. An that’s whit’s makkit necessar this talk aboot forgiein him.

Maist o whit’s been scrieved aboot Connolly in 2017 haes haed this gey redemptive air, like whan some weel-loved showbiz personality taks a mad turn in his dotage and stairts supportin UKIP or threapin for the tawse in schuils. Think Patrick Moore’s gay-bashin, think Roald Dahl’s anti-semitism. Awbody is suddently in a richt hurry for them tae get on wi it an shoot the craw, juist so’s we can aw forgie them an gan back tae thinkin o them the wey we used tae. An, efter aw, whit coud be mair Christian than that? Tae forgie? Weel, aye; ’cept that forgieness aft becomes a kind of wappen, a wey o daikin aff the roch edges o a person, renderin them as they shoud hae been, no as they really are. An forby, forgiein somebody lats us establish somethin aboot them that it micht itherwise be awfy haurd tae pruive — that they did somethin wrang.


Sae, naw. Ah dinnae think there’s much honour in the virr wi which we’re aw forgiein Connolly, or the wey we’ve waitit till he’s least likely tae repone. No tae mention the wey we’re aw pussy-footin aroond saying juist whit it is the man’s supposed tae hae duin wrang. A recent veisitor tae Earth wad boggle at it, tryin tae wirk oot whit hithertil nameless chairges the Big Yin haes tae answer tae.

Weel, naebody wants tae be the tragic wee shape that actually comes oot an says it, but whit we’re aw forgien Connolly for, or tryin tae, is that he abandoned us. Pit thegither these airts in which we líve, than left us tae it an buggered on aff tae Hollywood. Gin Billy Connolly is the faither o modren Glesga, as ah’m tryin tae propose, he’s lang syne been an absent yin.

Writers like Kelman an Gray, they create moniments. The warlds they mak are the warlds we aw líve in. But stand-ups dae something a wee bit different. It’s no places they big, it’s vyces. The Glesga o Connolly’s devisin wis no sae much a conurbation o tenements an playgroonds as an attitude; gallus, garrulous, quaistenin, self-flagellatin; a vyce that coud exist juist as weel on the Muin as on the Clyde.

But a vyce, unlike a scrieved wird, is a thing that dees. It cannae be replenished or replaced. McIlvanney’s Glesga will líve on doun the ages. But Connolly’s Glesga, like Brigadoon, is dwynin awa wi the man. An suin aw that we’ll be left wi are the echoes.

Sae the abandonment issues we’re talkin aboot here are uggsome on a kind o spíritual level, especially here in single parent Glesga, second cíty Glesga, yer da’s a no-user Glesga. Tae us, Connolly’s exit stage richt wis as personal a disappearance as iver it is tae ony wean o D.I.V.O.R.C.E. In a warld full o soap opera storylines an gleg volte faces, it wis still the maist dramatic heelturn o oor lifes. But than, leuk at whit we war proposin as alternatives. Connolly as cíty mascot. Connolly as coort jester, as disembodied tour guide for aye. Connolly as indentured servant. Whit we wantit o him micht hae seemed raisonable, but even we coudnae mak oot that it wis fair.

At the same time, whit Connolly haed duin wis whit comic faithers o comic faimilies hiv ayeweys duin; he’d pentit hissel intae a corner. Like mony artists, he’d biggit a name for himsel bi celebratin a wey o life which wisnae really hou he wantit tae líve. Whitiver genuine affection Connolly haed for the miners an the shippy men, he didnae want tae juist be yin o them, an he coud niver be happy pretendin that he did. A Newport moment wis ayeweys in the staurs.

The analogy wi Dylan breaks doon awfie trig, o coorse. Whan Dylan went electric, the result wis Highway 61 Revisited. Whan Connolly went mainstream, the result wis Garfield 2.

Lat’s no pile on — whit Connolly did in films wis wirthy eneuch. But naething in his later years wad merk him oot as byous. He wad niver be as beloved bi Hollywood as he haed ayeweys been bi Glesga. Weel, aye; but than, wha but Connolly micht ken hou haurd sae fidgin-fain a love micht be tae líve wi? Hou fearsome? Face it. Awbody in Glesga thinks o themsels as the cat wi the white pent up its back. Naebody wunners if they micht be Pepé le Pew.

Sae ye cannae exactly blame Connolly for gettin the hell oot, even if his Blonde on Blonde juist niver came tae be. Nae dout he haed bigger things in mind than a bit pairt on The X Files. But gin it haed been left up tae us, Connolly wad still be strampin aboot the Pavilion in his big banana feet, swappin pratfalls wi Andy Cameron. He mebbe didnae hae that mony lines in The Hobbit, but ah think ye still hiv tae caw that a bullet dodged.

Wi ony break up, the moral high grund ayeweys winds up bein aboot wha pullt the rug oot fae unner wha. Which yin wis awready checkin oot o the relationship whan ye wir leukin at the weddin rings? We aw like tae think that he pullt the fast yin on us, but the truth is that Connolly wis ayeweys whit he wis. The persona o the Big Yin wis whit we projectit on tae him, and it wis his genius tae reflect it sae weel; but oor incredulity at his turnaboots — his kneelin for honours, his quiet opposítion tae independence — wis juist a function o oor endless capacity for self-deceit. Connolly niver kiddit us on aboot this stuff, but we didnae tak him seriously than, no whan we didnae want tae. Nah. Insteid o that, we juist went on believin that the truth aboot Billy lay in oor herts, an no in aw the things he said an did.


Ah cannae love Connolly the wey ah used tae. It wad be unkind an unfaithfu tae the spírit o the chiel tae lat on itherwise. Gin hertbreak is inevitable in this warld, that can anely chynge the wey ye act, no the wey ye feel deep doun. Whan ah leuk at Billy Connolly nou, wi his hipster specs an his David Foster Wallace haircut — still sellin oot tours, still makkin films — ah hivnae it in me tae feel happy for him. Ah juist feel sorry for masel, the bourach o cooncil estate bairndom he left us aw sittin in. The empty drivewey, the narra wee hoose like the trash compactor oot o Star Wars. It wisnae his faut, ye ken. Faur as ah can tell, naebody wis tae blame for whit wis happenin in wirkin-class Scotland. No the corporations, no the govrenment, naebody. It wis juist wan o thae things aboot the warld, that the cream wad ayeweys rise.

It’s no juist Trump that’s in the business o pittin up waws. We’re aw at it. Ivery election, ivery referendum. On this side, me. On the ither, youse. An sometimes the waws are actual, concrete barriers; but ither times they’re juist distance, spaces atween us an somebody wha is walkin awa. The sleekit thing tae dae is tae watch them as they disappear, and kid on that they’re getting smawer. The honest thing, the anely honest thing, is tae lat them be. Lat them gan.

Sae afore we start tidyin him up for murals, allou the man Connolly that much at least. Allou him the consequences o his choices; allou him the gap atween us that he chose, an wantit, an pit there. Allou that we cannae meet him honestly on even grund again. An dinnae juist speir if we’d hae makkit the same decísions, if we’d been him. Juist leuk at oor ain lifes. Ask oorsels if we did.

Thomas ClarkThomas Clark is a makar an scriever fae the Scottish Borders. He is currently editor o Scots at Bella Caledonia, an poet-in-residence at Selkirk FC. He gabs awa at and on Twitter @clashcityclarky.