THE Scots language has been going strong for centuries despite the British establishment’s best efforts to suppress Scotland’s true voice.

When I tell people I write my fiction in Scots a vast number of them become perplexed. Apparently subscribing to the misplaced view that our native language is somehow something “new” or “exotic”.

And for me this view gives rise to a simple question. Why is there such a stigma attached to embracing our own language? For me, the issues are deeply rooted in classism. The Scots language is penalised for one reason and that is because the language is routinely associated with the working class, whereas standard English is written and spoken more widely among the middle classes.

Language is the signpost that divides us along class lines. And this fact is abundantly evident when you consider the cultural struggles between the Scots and English languages. When I began to write A Working-Class State of Mind, I made the conscious decision to write in Scots instead of English.

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I wanted to produce literature, which, in the most literal sense, speaks through the tongue of myself and the people I know.

I would argue the young people living in urban Scotland today would be unable to identify what they speak as a recognised language. They would most likely acknowledge their speech to be either “slang” or merely “poor English”.

When I first encountered the novel Trainspotting at the age of 16, I engaged with Irvine Welsh’s words because it was writing in my own vernacular. In a real sense, reading that book validated my own sense of identity and showed me my voice does indeed matter.

Hopefully, my own book will have a similar impact on those who read it. Trainspotting highlights very effectively my point about language serving as both the carrot and the stick for the working class in Scotland. In one scene when Renton and Spud are both presented in court on charges of shoplifting, Renton effortlessly sheds his Scottish working-class identity and transforms his speech into “proper” English. Spud, however, is unable to perform this “imitator” performance and is stuck speaking Scots.

This leads to Renton escaping punishment while Spud is sentenced to jail. This, for me, powerfully demonstrates how language can be used to reward the working class if they choose to abandon their own identity. I also recall an incident in Edinburgh in the 1990s when a man was held for contempt of court for answering “aye” instead of “yes”.

The Scots language is currently the biggest social class issue facing Scotland. When the dominant group of today can turn the common breath of a nation into cultural self-hatred that is what separates the pawns from the kings.

It is my hope that A Working Class State of Mind can play a part in counteracting such ideas by bringing the everyday language of Scotland to the surface and celebrating it through colourful working-class characters and stories.

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There is this socially accepted notion that it is OK to view Scots as high culture on one night of the year, Burns Night. But every other day it is deemed as low culture.

Do the words of the great national bard suddenly become any less beautiful after January 25? The answer is no. So why does the Scots language become de-cultured overnight? That lies in the root of the issue, classism.

One night of the year it is regarded acceptable to embrace our true voice. I feel this is a symptom of the fact this is a social event that the middle classes are extremely eager to participate in. People have remarked: “It is a waste of time writing in Scots. No-one will want to read it.” My response is this – Robert Burns’s words are timeless and melt away cultural divides. That shows you the power of the Scots language.

Colin Burnett is the author of A Working-Class State of Mind, a Scots-written dark comic tale of what it means to be working class in Scotland today, published by Leamington Books. He was nominated for Scots Writer of the Year (2021) and his book was awarded a Scots language publication grant (2021) from the Scottish Book Trust