THE first official Scots scriever has pledged to give the language ‘credibility and dignity’ as his two-year role begins.

Writer Hamish MacDonald this week begins a residency at the National Library of Scotland aimed at promoting the language through original creative work and by raising the ‘understanding and appreciation’ of Scots.

Yesterday he vowed to overcome ‘negativity’ about the subject, which detractors claim is not a legitimate language but merely a dialect.

He told The National: “Language is everything, it is the very core of who we are. Scots is no different. Language tells of migrations of people, of social history and political history, about trade. Unfortunately it does suffer this tag of being a lesser language or not a language at all.

“Hopefully by doing this against all the detraction and doubt we can give the language a bit of credence and credibility and dignity. We are pushing it some way to where someday we won’t have these doubts and questions. Every step on the way is important.”

MacDonald, a poet, dramatist and fiction writer who works in both Scots and English, is a founder of Dogstar Theatre Company and was the first recipient of the Robert Burns Writing Fellowship in 2003.

He also spent three years as director of Scotland’s creative writing centre Moniack Mhor and has contributed to children’s titles published by Scots language imprint Itchy Coo.

Raised in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, his family regularly used Scots and he has worked with communities around the country from Galloway to the Western Isles for 15 years to promote the use of the language.

However, he said a lack of official status is holding Scots back, saying: “I have always found it to be such a positive and engaging force. When kids and adults use Scots in their written work and spoken work it leads to a tremendous release of creativity.

“Scots is vibrant and alive in everyday speech, but I think not having any official status as a language – in the same way as Gaelic or Breton or Welsh – may have some problems associated with it.

“It can mean Scots faces challenges in its identity. It survives in various forms, it doesn’t survive in a standard form and some words are embedded in everyday English, so we have got this question of ‘is it a language?’

“It has its own rhythm and lexicon, it has its own dictionaries. Then you get this question, ‘is it just a dialect of English?’

“Much of the Scots that we still speak pre-dates modern English. Scots has its own dialects in any case.”

MacDonald says the use of Scots on Twitter and other social media sites proves its vibrancy and validity, and aims to expand public appreciation away from a once-a-year look at Burns.

He said: “We are not trying to breathe life into some dead entity, we are continuing a tradition. Yes it goes back 1,500 years to its origins, but just about every language in Europe does the same.

“Scots is an international language which links to northern Europe, Scandinavia, France and to the Gaeltacht. We have got poetry, a whole broad tradition. We have got this wealth of resources – what could be a more valid aspect of your culture to celebrate and to share?

“The residency is about sharing this, it’s not about sitting somewhere self-indulgently studying medieval Scots.”

He added: “We celebrate Burns once a year. When we are doing that we celebrate how beautiful and interesting a language it is. Language develops and grows and finds its own routes. The fact that people write on Twitter in Scots is just an indication that they are writing in their most natural voice. It’s very likely that social media has invigorated the language.”

MacDonald now plans to work with Scots poet and novelist Matthew Fitt to help take Scots into schools through Fitt’s online learning resource

Welcoming the appointment, Fitt said: “Hamish MacDonald is yin o oor finest Scots writers. He has been scrievin and fechtin for the leid for a lang time and his appointment as National Scots Scriever is weel-deserved.”