Leader comment: Protecting Gaelic has real benefits

A torchlight procession marks the opening of the 2016 Royal National Mod in Stornoway. Picture: John MacLean/An Comunn
A torchlight procession marks the opening of the 2016 Royal National Mod in Stornoway. Picture: John MacLean/An Comunn
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As the Royal National Mòd swings into action in Stornoway, the president of the national Gaelic organisation has called for special support to protect and promote the cultural heritage of the Western Isles, where the language is strongest.

John Macleod of An Comunn Gàidhealach warns that a diminution of the islands’ traditional cultural heritage would have serious consequences for the Gaelic language, which has just under 60,000 speakers.

There are many who say Gaelic should be left to die, and propping it up with public funding is a waste of money. Mr Macleod’s suggestion that the Western Isles’ cultural heritage merits Unesco status will doubtless produce just such a response again.

However, the growth of Gaelic medium 
education beyond the traditional heartland suggests that although the language remains fragile, there is reason to be more optimistic about its medium to longer term prospects than the merchants of doom will admit.

But the threat to Gaelic in the Western Isles is not about the language itself. It is about an ageing population, and the loss of younger generations to the mainland through lack of opportunity. If we believe that Gaelic should be allowed to die, what we are saying is that communities should be allowed to die.

Gaelic culture itself provides a significant economic impact on the islands, supporting tourism and trade, and creating jobs. Without it, opportunities for the local workforce would be even more limited.

Whatever becomes of Gaelic, the very least we should be doing is causing it no further harm, after the ill treatment that caused it such irreparable damage in times gone by.

If the Scottish Government could persuade Unesco to support the Western Isles, that would be a move all would surely welcome.