Up to a point, we Scots with pleasant and comprehensible voices seem to escape this sort of judgement. Nobody would insist that you sink your clipped vowels in an estuary of the
Why is this relevant to Scottish politics, you ask? Merely this. As all of you anorak-enswaddled political followers will be well aware, the next Holyrood election falls on the decreasingly distant year of 2011. What will happen and why is clouded by significant uncertainties, despite the polling data available to us. Will the increase in the SNP vote prove hard or soft? Alternatively, will the experience of the SNP in government lead to more or less confidence in the Nationalists as a force in Scots politics? Everything is naturally relative. One has to weigh on the same proverbial scales the heft of Ian Gray, Liberal shrinkage, potential Green revival, the context provided of the 2010 General Election, both in terms of the morale of Tory and Labour troops – but also voters’ attitudes to whoever occupies Downing Street and the seats to the right of Mr Gopher Speaker. Once one has mixed these dry ingredients, toss in sticky situations, flung eggs of protest – in short, all of the gleeful and malicious works of the Goddess Fortuna – and then, at the end, matters will be all reduced to a number of tribunes, a slim or more bloated electoral count, inchoate triumph, miserable defeat. We can all go home.
I don’t anticipate being at the heart of it – I’ll be out of the country. Indeed, I’m disappearing from
I’m not objecting to this – I enjoy it, regard it as a positive thing – but with a more scientific pair of goggles on, it is interesting to speculate on why the sniffish middle classes can forgive some uses of language and not others. Which brings me – very stumblingly – to the point I was intent on making at the outset. I’m not a scholar of this area, so what follows should be treated very much as lay jottings. Cast your ear – and mind – back to the Government of pre-2007. Listen to its tone of voice, its accents. Further, imagine that you are not the free thinker that you hope you are, liberated from social convention. Put aside the fact that you believe that we should judge people by what they say and not how they say it, keeping up the firm barriers between the rhetorical and the epistemological. Jack McConnell’s inanimate drone, the floppy, charmless howls and barks of Glaswegians and neighbourly cronies. Piercing cries, proletarian voices.
Remember, here, that I’m speaking as the character outlined above, of which I can assure you, there are many in the country. People who want someone who can speak to speak for them. Who are looking for
Which returns us to the division I mentioned - and the idea that we should distinguish between how people say things (rhetoric) and what they say and know (epistemology). If my thesis is correct, it would seem as if, in the empirical world, this aspirational division is not what drives the social life. We associate how people say things with what they know and if people can't speak, we assume they are being forced to keep silence because of their ignorance. Of course, exceptions always occur, but a generalisation admits exceptions. For some voters, these two notions are intimately connected. I'd argue to the benefit of the SNP government over their Labour opponents.
How many people will have their minds changed by this? How many linguistically sensitive souls does