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The Gaelic Language Bill Consultation Paper

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The Gaelic Language Bill
Consultation Paper

Section 2: Gaelic in Scotland

Gaelic is a language of Scotland. It has been present here for about 1500 years and has close links with Irish and Manx. Over this period Gaelic has been the language of court and government, learning and the arts, scholarship and devotion and home and community.

The geography and people of Scotland are inseparably linked to the Gaelic language. Not only do many of our family names derive from Gaelic but throughout Scotland many of our towns and rivers, hills and lochs all bear the names given to them by generations of Gaelic speakers.

Along with this unique Scottish heritage, Gaelic also operates comfortably with recent developments in technology and broadcasting, where notable achievements have been recorded. In music and the arts there are also admirable accomplishments and the Gaelic contribution to Scottish cultural expression is significantly in excess of what one might expect from a fragile minority community. The Gaelic education sector is expanding and the work of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig was acknowledged recently with the Queen's Anniversary Award for Higher Education.

The Gaelic language has largely survived in the rich and distinctive culture of the Highlands and Islands. Over the last few centuries, however, the Gaelic language has suffered serious decline. Gaelic is at present seldom used in most areas of public life, in education and commerce and in politics and government.

The Gaelic language has suffered as a result of the social and economic upheavals which resulted in the movement of a high number of Gaelic speakers from the areas in which they lived traditionally. As with other indigenous cultures and languages, Gaelic also shares the challenge of holding ground in face of the global predominance of English language and American culture.

There are many languages spoken in Scotland but the situation facing Gaelic is unique. Only Gaelic is in such a fragile condition and depends almost entirely on Scottish institutions and Scottish communities for its continued existence. The Census from 2001 indicated that there were 58,652 people able to speak Gaelic, 65,674 able to speak, read or write Gaelic and 92,396 able to speak, read, write or understand Gaelic. The 2001 Census also demonstrates that Gaelic decline has slowed down and has almost halved from the decline of the previous decade of 1981 to 1991. There are also encouraging trends with the number of Gaelic speaking primary school-age children growing.

Government support for Gaelic commenced in 1979-80 with a grant from the Scottish Office to An Comunn Gàidhealach, the organisers of the Royal National Mod. Comunn na Gàidhlig, the Gaelic development body, was set up in 1984 with support from the Scottish Office. A scheme of specific grants for Gaelic education was started in 1986 and funding for Gaelic broadcasting commenced in 1992.

The Scottish Executive has built on the earlier Scottish Office support for Gaelic language and culture. Since 1999 there have been considerable developments, which have had the effect of strengthening the position of Gaelic in Scotland. Gaelic is now available at all levels of education and with much improved resources and materials. Gaelic medium education is included in the framework of national priorities in school education and the Executive seeks to monitor and measure the extent to which education authorities respond to parental demand.

Scottish Executive support for Gaelic centres on education, cultural organisations, and broadcasting. In addition to direct support through the Scottish Executive, Gaelic is supported by local authorities, the Scottish Arts Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Enterprise Network.

Language legislation, as is proposed in this draft Bill, is not uncommon. From Wales to New Zealand, it is an established and proven method of protecting and supporting minority languages. This draft Bill seeks to contribute to a sustainable future for Gaelic in Scotland. The aim is to increase access to Gaelic in Scotland's public life and thus to increase the use and appreciation of Gaelic and the confidence of speakers and learners.

The continued existence of Gaelic in Scotland is important. It gives Scotland a link with aspects of its past, with its land and people and demonstrates that diversity and the rights of minority communities will be valued and protected. This is an issue of social justice and support for Gaelic is consistent with the policies at the heart of Scottish Executive's Partnership Agreement for a Better Scotland.