Bright Future for Scots Gaelic - Stunning Reversal in Celtic Tongue's Prospects

Scotland’s Bòrd na Gàidhlig has published the draft of the National Gaelic Language Plan 2017-2022 for public consultation.  The purpose of this is to lay out the policy for Gaelic in the near future. The language Plan aims to strengthen the language at both the local and national levels for the next five years. Bòrd na Gàidhlig chief executive Shona MacLennan is quoted in “Holyrood Current Affairs” as follows: “What the plan does is set out the overarching aims for ensuring that Gaelic has a secure future in Scotland. It indicates how government, local authorities, public bodies and Bòrd na Gàidhlig, along with other partners, will take forward the promotion and support of Gaelic. As this is the third iteration of the plan, it builds on what has been implemented during the lives of the previous plans and looks forward to where we think Gaelic can and should be developed over the next five years.”

The future any language is determined by the strength of the tongue amongst school age children and the impact of the the Bòrd na Gàidhlig on the growth of Gaelic Medium education has been profound. Building on growing cultural awareness in all the Celtic Nations and armed with statutory weaponry, progress has been strong. Proof is in the contrast between the situation 30 years ago when barely 50 children were enrolled in Gaelic Medium Education to the situation in 2015 with close to 11,000 students in Scotland enrolled in full or part time GME classes. Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s interim CEO, Bruce Robertson, made the following observation in September 2016: "This has been a milestone year for Gaelic learning. The Education (Scotland) Act 2016 introduced Gaelic-Medium Education provisions, assuring a national entitlement at primary-school level. New GME schools opened in Glasgow and Fort William, with building works underway in Portree, adding to three existing Gaelic schools across Scotland, and complementing departments in primary and secondary schools.”

The Bòrd na Gàidhlig was established as a public body by the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005. The legislation was designed to promote the use of Scottish Gaelic, secure the status of the language and ensure its long-term future.  The Act sets out 3 main aims for Bòrd na Gàidhlig: to increase the number of persons who are able to use and understand the Gaelic language; to encourage the use and understanding of the Gaelic language; and to facilitate access, in Scotland and elsewhere, to the Gaelic language and Gaelic culture.  The Bòrd is required to prepare and submit to Scottish ministers a national Gaelic language plan every five years.

Many observer’s attribute the remarkable reversal in the prospects of Scots Gaelic in recent years to the impact of the Five-Year Plans formulated by the Bòrd. The concept of language planning is widely accepted in minority language communities as a means of preserve and promote the language. . 

What sets the prospects for Scots Gaelic apart from the Celtic tongue in Ireland is the level of government support enjoyed by Scots Gaelic versus the lack of support from Dublin for the Irish Language. In late 2015 Ireland's Conradh na Gaeilge (the main voluntary community organization that promotes the Irish language in Ireland and abroad and whose main aim to reinstate the Irish language as the common tongue of Ireland’s) took the extraordinary step of condemning the Irish Government for its lack of progress toward Ireland’s “20 Year Strategy for The Irish Language 2010 – 2030”. Citing the failure of Dublin elites to support the Irish Language Plan. The difference in the treatment of the two principal Goidelic languages by their respective governments could not be more pronounced.

One could argue that the support of the Scottish Government for Gaelic is driven in part by the Scottish National Party and the question of Independence.  The support of Edinburgh for the Celtic tongue has been steadfast. In October of last year, a government spokesman cited majority support for Gaelic and pledged the resources of the Scottish Government to the long-term growth of the language. SNP Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary John Swinney, whose portfolio includes responsibility for the Gaelic language, delivered a ringing endorsement of the Celtic Tongue in a speech in Stornoway (Steòrnabhagh) on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Gaelic speaking heartland.  Swinney stated: “As a long-serving minister in the Scottish Government, but one who has only recently assumed responsibility for the Gaelic language, I want to make clear to you my determination to work with all who have an interest in nurturing the language, with the structures and gains we have made, to pursue the aim of increasing the numbers learning, speaking and using Gaelic. That is the Government's clear aim and priority and we must use all the gains of the last decades to make further progress...The reason for this commitment is quite simple. Gaelic belongs in Scotland.  It has been spoken in this country for well over 1000 years and I believe this places a duty and a responsibility on us as custodians of this heritage.”òrd-na-gàidhlig-consultation-scotlands-national-gaelic-language-plan


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