Conservative Shadow Education Secretary Liz Smith’s silly response to Gaelic becoming the default language for young pupils in schools on the Western Isles are at odds with her own party’s track record, writes Brian Wilson.
There is only one criticism of the decision by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to make Gaelic the default language in primaries one to three – it should have happened 45 years ago when the islands authority was established.
No language can survive without a home. Anyone who opposes actions which recognise the challenges faced by a minority language is, however honeyed or harsh their words, effectively advocating extinction.
There is no danger of any child growing up without competence in English because they are taught through the medium of Gaelic. And, of course, parents can opt out if they don’t fancy it for their child.
I challenge anyone to produce evidence that children with Gaelic competence are disadvantaged in education or life. That exists only as a prejudice. There is, however, abundant evidence of enhanced performance through bilingualism.
Some say “why not offer Italian or Mandarin”? I agree. Scotland has an abysmal record on language teaching. Immersing children in a second language during early primary years need not be restricted to Gaelic. Responding to that demand, where it exists, would be a positive, creative approach – rather than nasty, negative sniping. I wrote last week about the limited point of Gaelic’s “official status”.
But this is at the other end of that spectrum – a practical attempt to maintain continuity in places where Gaelic is a living language, but still an imperiled one. As for the Tory education lady who said silly things, she should check her own party’s record over recent decades on pro-Gaelic initiatives. From the days of George Younger, they have been positive and respected. She should not break the consensus in pursuit of cheap applause.