Leader comment: Police Gaelic plan requires a proportionate response

Police Scotland's Gaelic language plan follows those introduced by other public bodies.
Police Scotland's Gaelic language plan follows those introduced by other public bodies.
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There are precious few Gaelic initiatives launched in Scotland which are met with widespread approval. Typically, the development is attacked as a waste of money, with the language derided as at best worthless, at worst dead.

We don’t even have to predict the response to the Gaelic action plan embarked upon by Police Scotland, because it was instant. “A waste of time and effort,” says Douglas Ross, justice spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives.

As a minority language, Gaelic is a soft target and an easy stick with which to beat the Scottish Government, with opponents leaping to identify promotion - or at times, just preservation - of the language as a cultural flank of the drive for independence. And therein lies a basic misconception of why Gaelic initiatives such as that announced by Police Scotland exist in the first place.

Gaelic language plans are a consequence of the Gaelic Language Act, passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2005. The first SNP administration came to power in 2007; the Act pre-dated it by two years, and was introduced when Jack McConnell led a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition. What is more, the legislation was passed unanimously by the Scottish parliament.

BBC Alba is another frequent target, but again, its creation dates back to a decision taken in 2005.

Then there is Gaelic Medium Education, which was built on a method of funding put in place by the Conservative government of the mid 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher was in power.

Today, Police Scotland is simply following the directions of the 2005 Act, in line with so many other public bodies in Scotland.

Yet Mr Ross states: “Rather than waste time and effort on this, they [Police Scotland] should be attempting to tackle the staffing and funding issues currently facing the force.”

But any suggestion that Police Scotland’s plan is a waste of money ignores the force’s own description of the initiative as “cost neutral”. Gaelic is not the cause of the force’s financial crisis, and to pretend that it is affecting staffing and funding issues is not a credible analysis. Nor would the crime rate fall if Gaelic was to be abolished.

But funding aside, is Gaelic, as Mr Ross declares, a waste of time and effort? It would be, if it was being imposed on officers. It would be, if it was stopping officers from getting on with their jobs. But instead, support for Gaelic will be available to those who want it, and it is acknowledged that if there is demand for Gaelic language skills, it is expected to come in those communities where Gaelic is strong, which means mainly the Highlands and Islands.

Appropriately enough for policing, what is required here is a proportionate response to the situation. Where there is demand for Gaelic, that need can now be met. Where there is no demand, there will be no waste of time or effort.

The only distraction there will be for Police Scotland is contrived outrage.