Food fight over Scots language in supermarkets

THE battle for independence has moved into the fruit and veg aisles. A Nationalist politician has written to supermarkets demanding that they translate the English names of fresh produce into their Scots equivalents, such as "tatties", "neeps" and "brambles".

Bill Wilson, the MSP for the West of Scotland, says stores should label goods in their stores according to the most commonly used Scots phrases north of the border.

Wilson says few people use the English names potato, turnip or blackberry, so the big stores should change their labels. As a compromise, he suggests both the English and Scots words for fruit and vegetables could be used on packaging to respect both tongues.

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Wilson, a long-time campaigner for Scots to be given equal status as a recognised language, has previously claimed that people who use Scots words face discrimination. But critics last night attacked him for wasting the stores' time during a recession.

Wilson said: "I can't see why they shouldn't use Scots words. For example, nobody uses the word 'blackberry' in Scotland; they're always referred to as brambles. The stores are very keen to say that they use Scots goods. Why don't they use Scots words as well?"

Wilson wrote to the main stories including Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda, which have now given him a blunt rebuff, saying any change would cause confusion, particularly among tourists and new arrivals.

The campaign is just the latest attempt by Wilson to ensure the Scots language is given a more official status. He has called for the European Union to give Scots the status of a regional or minority language, so it is considered alongside Welsh, Gaelic and Irish.

Wilson also said that the failure to provide education to native speakers of Scots was "a breach of human rights".

Scots words for vegetables that Wilson wants to restore include the Scots "tumshie" for turnip. He says it would end the current confusion caused by the use of the English "swede" in supermarkets. He would also like spring onions to be referred to by the Scots "syboes".

Wilson said last night: "I haven't had an overwhelming response. Tesco said no they won't. The other supermarkets wrote back saying they thought it would cause confusion. Why don't we, in the year of Homecoming, recognise that there are other languages?"

Richard Dodd, of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: "It would be like saying in other parts of the country that we're going to label potatoes as spuds. Product labelling is there to provide the maximum clarity to the biggest number of people, and that is why the correct and most widely understood words are the ones used.

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"There will often be people visiting from other parts of the country who might not understand these words. Tourism is also very important to the Scottish economy, and if you end up with overseas visitors being confused by what is on the label, it isn't good for them or us".

Labour MP for Aberdeen South Anne Begg accused the SNP of wasting time. She said: "It doesn't matter what things are called on the bag – what's inside is important. We are all proud of our Scots tongue, but people are worried about their jobs and homes, not the names vegetables are sold under."

She added: "What will the SNP be wanting next? Different packages for rowies and butteries depending which part of the north-east the supermarket is in? Different bags for softies and hardies depending on the local words?"

One industry source added: "This idea was clearly dreamed up sitting on the cludgie. Scottish food and drink should be going more global, not more parochial."

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