Friday, 28 September 2012

Crouns for Covenants

The Blether Region very much enjoyed William Crawley's documentary on the Ulster Covenant yesterday evening — enjoyed, that is, until the final credits, when it was revealed that the Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund had stumped up the siller for it.

Let's be clear: dipping into an ostensibly Ulster-Scots fund for a programme on history and politics is plain gyte. It diverts money that could be spent on Scots away from it and saddles the language with unnecessary (and at a community level, obviously incorrect) stereotypes. Even the effect presumably intended, that of packing the schedule with programmes of interest mainly to Protestants, may be considerably blunted by the requirement that the BBC demonstrate impartiality — that is, a "Protestant" programme may have to be counterbalanced by a "Catholic" one.

As we know, the equivalent "Catholic" broadcast fund sensibly covers language only. Cultural nationalists get their Irish programmes from that, while political nationalists get their programmes by default by piggybacking on the Ulster-Scots ones. The real effect of the Ulster-Scots fund is therefore one of subsidising the BBC — which sends the lion's share of the money raised through licence fees in Northern Ireland straight to London — while Scots the speech variety remains marginalised.

The Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund — which, unlike many another daft Ulster-Scots "ploy" of recent years, does not manage to squeeze in the word "language" (odd, that) — will have many dedicated and talented administrators working for it. Ultimately, however, those individuals are hobbled by the perpetual relegation of language to minor status through its conflation with politics.

The programme was interesting, and it is important that such material be broadcast, since it is of obvious relevance today. Indeed, tomorrow's Covenant march is certain to be in the news — perhaps, though we hope not, for all the wrong reasons.

At the end of the day, though, it was a programme about the Unionist community, a community created during the course of the nineteenth century through an ethnic merger that virtually ended literary endeavour in the Ulster dialect of Scots.

Far from being synonyms, a cool-headed look at history may show that "Orange" and "Ulster-Scots" are opposites.

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