Monday, 8 March 2010

Ulster-Scots Academy

Observers of Ulster-Scots politics at Stormont will have been interested to hear Nelson McCausland's latest statement, in which he reaffirmed his official commitment to one of the more controversial proposals to promote Ulster Scots:

"[...] in addition to the broadcast fund and the strategy, work is ongoing in relation to the Ulster-Scots Academy, which will unlock £11 million that remains there at present. That will be taken forward in a very inclusive way. I am about to sign off on a process to recruit a director, and we are also in the process of appointing an interim board to take that work forward."

The DUP wishes to ramp up official backing for the dialect in order to allow spending on it to reach a level equal to that afforded to Irish — or, as cynics suggest, as an expedient to swallow money that would otherwise go on the latter's promotion. Needless to say, neither scenario is based on the needs of Irish or Ulster Scots as speech varieties; rather they reflect roles foisted on them as avatars of their imagined communities and recipients of "esteem".

The fact that it is not in the interests of Ulster Scots to be codified separately from Scots in Scotland is apparently neither here nor there, since the decision is political rather than linguistic. However, at that political level too, there is surely opposition. Even before the current fiscal squeeze it was clear that the settled will of ordinary Unionist voters was against any official communicative use of Ulster Scots along the lines shown in the above photograph; the strength of feeling may even be greater than Unionist opposition to Irish. How can Mr. McCausland escape the negative comment, not to say ridicule, that backing an academy might attract?

Perhaps he has simply calculated that he is unlikely to be asked to see the scheme through to fruition. After all, the previous DUP incumbents of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure did not last long in post. There is still a very real risk of the Assembly collapsing once again, and even if it survives its present travails, there will be elections in a year's time, which may bring a further risk of collapse if Sinn Féin is returned as the largest party. At the very least those elections will bring about an Executive reshuffle.

Ironically, experience has shown that Ulster Scots springs to life, or at least actuality, at times of collapse, crisis and negotiation. That factor may have provided a further incentive to string things out.

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