In Scotland, we have three national languages – English, Gaelic and Scots.

The 2011 census revealed that 1.5 million people identified as speaking Scots, yet much of Scotland’s population is unaware that they possess skills in reading, writing and speaking Scots.

Scots is part of the West Germanic language family and is a sister language to English with close affinities with Scandinavian languages such as Danish and Norwegian. Scots has four main dialects: Insular, Northern, Central and Southern, but for me, it was just the way folk spoke in their everyday lives.

READ MORE: Scots word of the week: Mither-leid

Growing up in rural Aberdeenshire, I didn’t realise that the way people speak – in Doric, a vernacular or byleid of Scots – was a special and unique trait of the regions people, lore and history. At the time, I was unaware of the similitude of Scots to other European languages, I was unaware of the language’s history and the significance of the literature written in the language, and I was unaware of its desperate need for recognition and promotion.

At 17, I left Huntly to pursue a degree in traditional music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, with my principal study being Scots Song. Since graduating in 2019, I’ve toured in several countries, released albums of Scots Songs which have been played on national and international radio, won the title of Scots Singer of the Year at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards and won the title of Young Scots Speaker of the Year at the inaugural Scots Language Awards. My career and artistic practice is centred upon my ability to sing, speak and perform in Scots, yet Scots is not a legally recognised official language in Scotland, despite being recognised under the European Charter for Minority Languages.

Without legal status as an official language, Scots is not protected under linguistic equality and diversity policies, and companies, organisations and institutions are not held responsible for recognising the language. I became increasingly aware of this in December 2020, when I tried to pitch my new single, a Scots translation of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ to Spotify playlists. The form asked, “What languages are the lyrics in?” and despite listing every other minority language of the UK such as Manx, Cornish, Gaelic, Irish Gaelic and Welsh, Spotify had omitted Scots from its language list. It dawned on me that mine and several other Scots language musicians, back catalogues of Scots Songs had been incorrectly listed under English. Three months of social media campaigning, an open letter, a motion in the Scottish Parliament lodged by Clare Adamson MSP, and countless emails later, Spotify finally adds Scots as a language.

On 5th March, I released my new single, The Wild Geese – the first song to be released on the platform correctly listed under Scots Language. Spotify’s move to recognise Scots will no doubt raise the profile of the language. It is incredibly important that a global organisation like Spotify has taken steps to recognise a minority language that 30% of the Scottish population speak, but I feel deflated that it took so much perseverance to pressure the organisation into recognising Scots, when every other UK minority language was already accounted for.

The Herald:

This issue can only be solved with the introduction of a Scots Language Act, which would give Scots official status as a language. Over the pandemic, my tours and performances have been cancelled, and my time has been spent working voluntarily with Oor Vyce – an association of individuals with a personal or professional interest in Scots, campaigning for statutory recognition of the Scots language by the Scottish Parliament. Oor Vyce hopes to achieve a Scots Language Act and the development of a Scots Language Board, which will help to advise the government on Scots issues and ensure that Scots is included in future language policies. The board will also advise on how Scots can be included in the mainstream educational curriculum and will develop a national plan for Scots.

READ MORE: Drew Allan: More Scots words? Gaun yirsel

With the establishment of a Scots Language Board, comes more opportunities for those who work within the Scots language sphere, as well as enhanced educational opportunities and funding for organisations and individuals alike to make Scots more immediately visible in society through artistic, creative, academic, educational and community-based projects. Of course, Scots faces many critics. Online trolls are quick to brand the language “SNP nationalist agenda”. When in reality the speaking of Scots is not a political statement and should not be politicised nor bound-up in party politics. Language is not a political stick to beat opponents with – it is simply our own “mither tongue”.

A Scots Language Act is about creating meaningful change to ensure that speakers can no longer be stigmatised, and they can feel comfortable in the way they naturally speak and that they can access media and content in their own language. If we have more TV presenters and broadcasters speaking in Scots, and normalising the use of Scots, then perhaps the next generation will feel empowered to use their mother tongue in their professional careers. We can inspire the next generation of authors, writers, presenters, broadcasters, journalists, academics, teachers, singers – all working in the medium of our national language. It is also about enabling non-native speakers to access opportunities to learn the language, with correct and developed pedagogy.

As I look forward and plan to record my second album of Scots Songs, I can only hope that when the world allows me to tour again, I will be performing my songs in a language that is legally recognised, funded and supported by our Government.  Haud gaen!

Iona’s new single, The Wild Geese is released on all platforms on 5th March. Download/stream here: 

To celebrate Spotify adding Scots, Iona has curated a Spotify playlist of Scots Songs. Listen here: