Hansard is not all in English, and nor are its staff. People from all parts of the UK work here, including me. I’m Scottish. I came to live in London more than 15 years ago, but I was born in Lanarkshire and grew up, studied and worked in Orkney, Aberdeen and the north-east. It doesn’t matter how long you are away from home, though, it’s still home, and there are many ways to wear your nationality.
Home and away
When I came to work at Hansard, I didn’t expect to hear from home quite so much. Actually, I felt quite out of place. It took me a while to fully believe that I belong here - that this is my Parliament too. Part of that came from hearing the voices from home. I hear them often in my work; I hear accents and words I know and I don’t know, and my ears tune to their lilt and song.
Respecting every MP and their story
Hansard is sprinkled with words that reflect constituencies and traditions, including Scots words and Scottish dialect. Let’s not get into language policy in Scotland, old or new, or the place of Gaelic or Scots, or what they speak in the Northern Isles, or where the line lies between Scots usage and English spoken with an accent – other than to say that those issues are part of the Scottish story, and that Hansard’s terms of reference tell us to respect every MP and their story.
Hansard is a report
of all speakers alike...which…leaves out nothing that adds to the meaning of the speech or illustrates the argument. (Erskine May)
If that is not a direction to pay attention to Members when they talk in the language of their home, I don’t know what is.
Listening to every word
I once listened to and reported seven different speakers with seven different Scottish accents in the space of one turn. I particularly enjoyed that. Hansard listens to the arguments first, but we are also listening to the voices – the voices from the Highlands, from Ayrshire, from the central belt, from Moray, from all over Scotland, just as we are listening to the voices from Belfast, or Merseyside, or Yorkshire, or North Wales, and everywhere else too. We are listening to the intonation of language and the musicality of speech from all over the UK. We are listening so that we can record what is said, so that others, anywhere, can read the arguments made. And we are doing so while embracing the difference in language and respecting the stories Members bring to this place, however they want to express them.
Words and rhythm
The odd word used in a speech, such as dreich or fankle or crabbit, will be in the report, although sometimes we send Members notes to check what they said or what spelling they prefer (we send Members notes on many things, because we want to get them right). But being Scottish isn’t always about the number of Scots words used, and reporting the rhythm of different accents can be more challenging. I enjoy listening to the accents of Members, and not just those who represent Scottish constituencies, but the words written down on the page often look pretty similar, whatever the accent. In capturing speech on the page, we strive to keep some of the pattern of delivery, because the meaning is in there too.
Of course, just because I’m Scottish doesn’t mean I understand what all Scottish people say, ever, or that my job at Hansard is to report the Scottish people. We work as a (small) team, covering short sections of debate on a rota – it’s the luck of the draw which Members any reporter covers. Collectively, we have experience of hundreds of speakers, as well as style guides, reference sheets, dictionaries and Google (and colleagues in the Scottish Parliament). You might say it’s no bad thing to have staff who particularly enjoy listening to the Scottish speakers, but that is true for speakers from any area of the UK. We respect what a speaker says and how they say it, on any subject, whoever we or they are – that’s the job.
*Inspiration for title: Dougie MacLean, "Caledonia"
Images: UK Parliament, symbols of Scotland around the Palace of Westminster
If you want to know more about the Official Report of the Scottish Parliament, the team in Holyrood also have their own blog.