It is often said that we Scots don’t celebrate our successes well. While natural coyness may be an attractive quality, the tendency to sneer is not.
Recently, the knives have been sharpened for Gaelic in general and BBC Alba in particular, no doubt as a result of the Royal National Mod appearing on the critics’ radar and census figures that identified the number of Gaelic speakers in Scotland.
The figures contained few surprises and underlined the fact that there is a stable base of Gaelic speakers. What was very encouraging was the rise in the number of young people speaking the language.
Too many people have been too quick to write off Gaelic. They’ve been at it for years and are unwilling to recognise that efforts to help Gaelic thrive may be bearing fruit among young people.
Which brings me to BBC Alba, the TV channel that MG Alba and the BBC produce in partnership. If it is not the cost, it’s the content. Either way, the Gaelic doom-mongers are just not having it. I find this attitude perplexing. Hugh Reilly’s wacky take on the channel in Tuesday’s The Scotsman on Tuesday (£25 million for BBC Alba? Sorry Hugh, that’ll be the £14m our programmes actually cost) is a case in point.
BBC Alba was established with Gaelic at its heart, but with the intention of appealing to Gaelic and non-Gaelic speaking audiences. Five years on and Scotland has much to be proud of in the success of a channel that now regularly attracts audiences in excess of 500,000 – beyond expectations of the BBC Trust.
Yes, sport has proved a big attraction, but music and documentaries have also appealed to non-Gaelic audiences. That is testament to the programme makers and we should bear in mind that more than 20 independent production companies based in Scotland are actively involved in working with the channel, which must be good for our creative industries.
BBC Alba does have its challenges to meet. The Scottish Government and all political parties, as well as the BBC, have been supportive, but the scale of funding means we have to work hard and innovatively to create new content. Far from being coy about the success of BBC Alba, we are proud of what we have achieved so far. More can be – and must be – achieved, but rather than surrender to a curmudgeonly mindset, let’s smell the roses along the way.
• Donald Campbell is chief executive of MG Alba