IF you were to somehow find you had travelled back in time to the 1960s, and, for some reason, were in attendance at a house party in Billy Kay’s home town of Galston, in Ayrshire, you’d likely find yourself greeted by a somewhat eclectic soundtrack.

A Hard Day’s Night might be spinning on the record player, the voices of McCartney and Lennon broken up with appearances from The Temptations or the Four Tops, and, always, Robert Burns. “Motown and Burns were popular culture in that period,” Kay tells me. “And you had to contribute to that. It was that generation when everyone did a turn. All my family were good singers, and it was Burns songs they sang.”

The first of a large family to attend university, Kay has always “loved the sound of language being used at its best”.

Winning prizes at school for his French, German and Russian, as a young man his linguistic ear was his passport out of Galston: “I was going to study modern languages at the University of Edinburgh, but I got so into Scottish literature that I switched to an English degree, and I was also able to study Scots.

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“I was able to give an intellectual background to my mother tongue,” he says. “And the perspective that gave me on the people I came from was life-changing. It really was phenomenal.”

Indeed, his experiences in Edinburgh would later give rise to his 1986 publication of Scots: The Mither Tongue, and an updated edition in 2006 which he recorded and released as an audiobook in November of last year – hoping to reach a new generation of readers through the timbres of his own Ayrshire accent.

The arguments for the book’s existence took place in seminar rooms and around dinner tables, as Kay and his peers debated the progeny and status of the language he was raised with: “Because no one had ever beat me in any of these discussions, I thought, right – I’ve got to put the real story down as an alternative to what they know.

“Also, my frustration with one or two of the people who taught me at Edinburgh – I admired them, but it was as if it wasn’t a living thing to them. It was an academic subject which should be taught, devoid of emotion. Whereas with me, it was the opposite. For me, it was all about, ‘this is who I am, and this is who my parents are, and my grandparents’.”

THIS tension – between Scots as a relic and Scots as a living, breathing, evolving thing – is a symptom of the fact Scotland hasn’t yet established a stable relationship with the language. Often a site of friction and charged argument, Scots is tossed from pillar to post in political and social debate – and when it is used, it is conspicuous, never quite blending in completely, always justifying itself.

In a landmark address last Tuesday, Kay was invited to deliver a Time For Reflection speech to the Scottish Parliament. His speech paid heed to all of the country’s major parties – a nod of respect given to Scottish Labour’s founding father Cunninghame Graham and the Conservative Walter Elliot, “wha first defined oor democratic intellectualism” alike.

Quipping Hugh MacDiarmid, Kay nodded to the responsibility MSPs hold in representing a multifaceted, multilingual country: “Tae Be Yersel’s an tae mak that worth bein/Nae harder job tae mortals has been gien.” His use of words like speir (inquire), threap (assert) and jalouse (suspect) demonstrated the suitability of Scots for debating chambers. The duty of MSPs to promote the language through the curriculum was also emphasised, as Scottish weans will be “transformed learnin a Scottish leid”.

Kay tells me: “Having fought for so many years to create a Scottish Parliament, it was a very special moment for me to address the chamber, especially with it being in Scots, which is often the bonnie broukit bairn – the beautiful neglected child of Scottish culture.”

Unsurprisingly, the speech generated thousands of responses, both good and bad. Kay is well used to this, after years of inhabiting this emotionally charged space: “The reaction to it was overwhelmingly heart-warming, positive and emotional, but then the people who despise any expression of Scottish culture with a national dimension piled in on social media – directed not at the content of the speech, but at the fact that it was in Scots.

“The love, however, outweighed the hate – roughly 70/30 – so it was well worth doing.”

I wonder how much has really changed in the Scots landscape since he first penned the opening chapter of The Mither Tongue.

“As always with Scots, there’s something positive going on that we can quote as an example of improvement, but at the same time, there’s never quite enough going on. There’s quite often two steps forward and one step back,” Kay explains, before pointing to Twitter arguments last month about the census and the question about Scots. “It was controversial in the year 2000 – only the SNP supported it – and 10 years later, everyone supported it. And now, 20 years later, there’s all these people that are unaware of this and think that Scots is an invention of the SNP!

“These are all examples of a country that’s been looking over its shoulders for three centuries for the approval of another culture.

“It’s internal colonialism. And the people that suffered from it become the perpetrators. The Portuguese had this name for African people who were assimilated into Portuguese culture, called ‘Assimilados’, in places like Angola and Mozambique, and taught to despise the culture they came from.

“I think to a certain extent, a lot of Scots are assimilates into English culture, and don’t have the educational background and the knowledge of the other traditions to realise how much they’ve lost.”

KAY goes on to articulate what exactly it is that could be lost – and what he would say to people who see the preservation and evolution of Scots as a pointless pursuit: “Without Scots, we diminish our ability to express ourselves. Scots is tied in with the land, the weather, with the way people have lived and loved in this part of the world for 1000 years.

READ MORE: Billy Kay was attacked for speaking Scots. It proves why his speech was so needed

“If that’s lost, we lose the ability to be at one with the environment and with ourselves. Anyone who refuses to acknowledge its existence is denying themselves part of the Scottish experience.”

Kay, who is a self-proclaimed “Yes Forever”, tells me “ultimately, I don’t think Scots will be normalised until after independence”.

For him, the campaign for Scottish independence has always seemed a movement towards the inevitable. In his eyes, independence will steer the language debate into a more positive place: “It would take a couple of generations after independence for all these things to be implemented, and then people will say, ‘what the hell were we doing all these years, not encouraging our children to read our literature?’

“I think a lot of shackles will be off people, they’ll not be looking over their shoulders, and Scottish priority will become the only priority, and the promotion of the culture will become more central.”