Why Gaelic is not to blame for the failings of its quango – Brian Wilson

Giving Gaelic official status in Scotland and creating a quango have been of little practical use to the language, writes Brian Wilson.
Giving official status to Gaelic sounds worthy but hasnt had a dramatic impactGiving official status to Gaelic sounds worthy but hasnt had a dramatic impact
Giving official status to Gaelic sounds worthy but hasnt had a dramatic impact

The problems of Bord na Gaidhlig – the quango charged with promoting the language – should not become a weapon in the hands of the anti-Gaelic lobby.

As Alex Neil MSP recognised when branding it “a total disaster”, the victims are the language and those who speak it. Instead of strengthening Gaelic’s presence, it has become an encumbrance.

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So this is not about Gaelic per se but what happens when the focus is on status and process rather than outcomes where they matter. In other words, it is a reflection of present-day Scotland rather than some deficient Gaelic gene.

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“Official status” sounds worthy even if its practical effects are minimal or counter-productive. What, for example, is the point of wasting extremely scarce human resources on translating official reports into Gaelic in the certain knowledge that nobody will read them?

The danger inherent in “official status”, as I warned at the time, was of it becoming a tokenistic substitute for practical actions where the language is hanging on by its fingernails rather than a useful extra tool.

From its inception, Bord na Gaidhlig set about incorporating existing organisations into its framework. This not only created a top heavy bureaucracy (centralised in Inverness) but eliminated pressure groups which previously made necessary demands on the language’s behalf.

Bord na Gaidhlig became the “official” voice of Gaelic while first and foremost it is also a Government agency. How convenient! Meanwhile, in communities where practical support is essential, it is invisible.

The real lesson of this shambles is that official status and a quango are of little use to a minority language where it really matters. That needs to be understood and acted upon, however belatedly.

Just don’t blame Gaelic.