Profile of Scots language has prospered in pandemic thanks to social media stars - Brian Ferguson

Trying to pluck the positives for Scottish culture from 2020 is something of a daunting task given the devastation of the live events industry for more than nine months – with little sign of any real respite before the first anniversary of the pandemic shutdown arrives in March.

The profile of Scots language campaigner and poet Len Pennie, aka Miss Punny Pennie, has soared in recent months.
The profile of Scots language campaigner and poet Len Pennie, aka Miss Punny Pennie, has soared in recent months.

I cannot recall anyone pessimistically predicting back then that Scotland’s theatres, concert halls, comedy clubs and nightclubs would still be locked up by the end of 2020.

An entire summer without festivals was bad enough, but when Covid-19 soon ripped through the schedules of autumn and winter events it would have been understandable if artists, performers, writers, directors and technicians involved in Scottish culture had gone into hiding until the spring.

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The reality has been very different, thanks to a heady mix of innovation, ingenuity and sheer dogged determination to keep making new work, keep making the case for Scottish culture to be protected and nurtured, and frankly keep entertaining audiences in the face of previously unimaginable curbs on their social lives.

And while overloading on social media has undoubtedly been a cause of deep anxiety to many this year, the key platforms have also helped artists, performers, companies and festivals find new new audiences when they needed each other most.

One of my own favourites was fiddler Duncan Chisholm, whose daily #CovidCeilidh videos from outside his Highland home sparked a worldwide movement of musicians sharing their own performances.

For other performers, having a decent social media profile and a strong online presence has given them a campaigning platform.

Stand Comedy Club host Mark Nelson took his industry’s fight for support straight to the top of Scottish Government – and helped rally some of the biggest names in the business.

An absence of live events has also allowed aspects of Scottish culture to thrive in the online environment.

One the most intriguing things is how the pandemic seems to have helped spark a revival of interest in the Scots language - spearheaded by a young social media-savvy triumvirate.

Writer and broadcaster Alistair Heather started making a name for himself two years ago with his opinion columns, for titles including The Scotsman, and viral social media videos.

This year, the Dundonian fronted his own hour-long BBC Scotland documentary on the Scots language, co-hosted the Scots Trad Music Awards (the first time it had been hosted in Scots as well as Gaelic) and also fronted the new Scots Language Awards.

Iona Fyfe has taken on Spotify over its neglect of the Scots language. Picture: Elly Lucas

Before the latter event, Heather hosted a Facebook chat with one of Scotland’s new social media stars, Fife poet Len Pennie, better known as Miss Punny Pennie on Twitter, where her “Scots word of the day” videos helped her amass more than 30,000 followers.

While the self-confessed “warrior poet” has been battling social media trolls lately, another performer and campaigner, Aberdeenshire singer Iona Fyfe, one of this year’s Scots Language Awards, was taking on Spotify for its refusing to recognise the ancient tongue – and promptly won an apology and a promise of action.

If the momentum this trio has generated keeps up I’d expect the Scots language – which is spoken by around 1.5 million Scots, as Alexander McCall Smith pointed out in these pages last week – to play an increasingly prominent role across the cultural spectrum in 2021 and beyond.

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Broadcaster and writer Alistair Heather presented a BBC Scotland documentary on the Scots language and also co-hosted the Scots Trad Music Awards on BBC Alba this year. Picture: Sean Purser

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Scots language poet Len Pennie, aka Miss Punny Pennie, was recently commissioned by supermarket chain Lidl to create a new piece for the festive season.

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