Plea for Holyrood consensus to save Gaelic

A plea for political “consensus” has been issued at Holyrood to safeguard the future of Gaelic after a stark warning that the last remaining native-speaking communities in Scotland could die out within a decade.

Locals in Staffin on Skye were among those spoken to by researchers

A plea for political “consensus” has been issued at Holyrood to safeguard the future of Gaelic after a stark warning that the last remaining native-speaking communities in Scotland could die out within a decade.The Tories say that all parties have been guilty of “politicising” the issue in the past, but have now called for a “workable and enduring solution” to save the language.Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has written to the SNP’s MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch Kate Forbes, herself a Gaelic speaker, seeking a political truce.The Scottish Government has said it will always be “keen to work with” all parties to help the language flourish.Researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Language Sciences Institute and Soillse, a multi-institutional research collaboration, found in a report last week that daily use of Gaelic was too low in its remaining native island areas to sustain it as a community language in the future.Millions of pounds of investment has been made by the Scottish Government over the years, including drives to get more people speaking the language across the country.Mr Cameron said: “Over the years the Gaelic issue has been overly politicised on all sides, and that’s something everyone needs to own up to.“While that has been going on, this report reveals how much the language has suffered, and indeed declined. “We need to know why, after considerable investment, that situation has unfolded and how we can urgently rectify it. “We want to work with the Scottish Government to find a workable and enduring solution, so that we can not only preserve the language but hopefully grow it too. “We’re now reaching out to the SNP government to see if we can all find a consensus on this vital matter.”The appeal for consensus comes after a row broke out earlier this year when Tory MSP Liz Smith suggested that children’s education could suffer after it was announced that Gaelic was to be the default language taught in Western Isles schools. It prompted an angry response from the SNP and the Greens who branded the comments “highly offensive.”The latest research was published in a book called The Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community: A comprehensive sociolinguistic survey of Scottish Gaelic. The main findings suggested the language was in crisis, and that within remaining vernacular communities of Scotland, the social use and transmission of Gaelic was “at the point of collapse”.But the research also suggested there had been some success with national policy on Gaelic, such as increasing the number of pupils in Gaelic medium education. The researchers called for a shift away from institutional policies to more community-based efforts.A Scottish Government spokeswoman admitted the language is in a “fragile” state but pledged a collaborative approach to ensure its long terms future. “The Gaelic language is a vital part of Scotland’s cultural identity,” she said.“ Ministers support efforts to improve access for speakers to learn and use the language, and we are always keen to work with all interested organisations, stakeholders and parties in doing so.” “We are interested in the proposals in the University of the Highlands and Islands Language Sciences Institute and Soillse book and look forward to discussing the value of current initiatives and the new structures suggested to strengthen Gaelic in the islands.“Although the Gaelic language is in a fragile condition, there are a range of policies and interventions in place to promote the learning, speaking and use of Gaelic and these are constantly kept under review.”The appeal for a cross-party aproach was backed by Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie.“The Gaelic language is not a political tool but something over which we should unite,” he said. “The history of my party is steeped in the language and we will do everything we can to enhance it and share it. “We need a new plan with the funds attached, drawing on the experience and know how of the creative community to make this a success.”According to the last census in 2011, 57,375 could speak Scottish Gaelic. Meanwhile, more than 4,300 students in Scotland received their education in Gaelic, at both primary and secondary level, in 2018, a 64% increase from 2010. Many more thousands learn Gaelic at some level in the classroom.A spokeswoman Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the national body for Gaelic said ongoing cross-party co-operation is vital for the future of the language.“Bòrd na Gàidhlig welcomes support from all political parties and Gaelic in general has enjoyed and benefited from cross-party political support over the years,” she added.“It is vital that this support remains to ensure Gaelic is considered and visible at every opportunity when creating and implementing policies and manifesto.”

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