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Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 24 April 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Negotiations on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, National Plan for Gaelic, Point of Order, Decision Time, Show Some Heart (Jayden Orr Campaign)


National Plan for Gaelic

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-11788, in the name of John Swinney, on the national plan for Gaelic.

Some members have indicated that they will make speeches in Gaelic, so interpretation facilities are available. Any member can listen to the interpretation by inserting their headphones into the socket on the right-hand side of the console. Any member who is unable to hear the translation should press the audio button on the console and select channel 1.


It gives me great pleasure to open this debate on the national plan for Gaelic. The ability to make our own decisions in this Parliament has been good for Gaelic in Scotland, and I am pleased to say that there has been good and welcome cross-party support for the Gaelic language in all sessions of this Parliament. I also welcome the opportunity to build on the established policy direction of supporting Gaelic, which I recognise that we share with other parties in Parliament today, as evidenced by the nature of the amendments to the Government motion.

Bòrd na Gàidhlig published the “National Gaelic Language Plan 2018-2023” just a couple of weeks ago. I want to place on record my thanks to Bòrd na Gàidhlig for the comprehensive, inclusive and ambitious way in which it has developed the work to take forward the contents of the plan and the approach to developing and building on the previous national plans. The main headings and themes in the plan focus on the need for progress in the use of Gaelic, the learning of Gaelic and the promotion of Gaelic.

The national plan provides us with clarity and direction in the steps that we need to take for Gaelic in Scotland. I again emphasise that there has been significant investment and very good progress in key Gaelic priority areas such as media, arts, education, communities and wider local plans, and our aim is to build on that excellent progress at local and national levels. Those important areas have wider benefits. Television, arts, education, communities and Gaelic plans can all strengthen the economy, encourage collaborative working and provide digital opportunities. Further, in this year of young people, it is important to note that they have a strong appeal for young people in our country.

The programme of Gaelic activities that is set out in the national plan is in line with our manifesto commitments and commitments in the programme for government. In the areas of activity that I have listed, there are good initiatives and projects in place and operating successfully. That will be built on as part of the development work of the national plan.

At the heart of the national plan is an ambitious agenda with the aim of increasing the speaking, using and learning of Gaelic in Scotland. We will take action on the basis of the priorities in the new national plan. We will introduce initiatives and review projects in order to overcome obstacles, to address gaps and to make faster and more effective progress with Gaelic in Scotland.

Now that the national plan is in place, later this year I intend to convene a gathering of a range of public bodies and authorities and interested parties that can contribute to the progress that we want to see in the implementation of the national plan for Gaelic. It will be a day for looking at challenges and opportunities, and also proposing how we can take action to achieve more Gaelic activity and participation in the language in Scotland. My aim in the discussion later this year will be to emerge with a stronger commitment to Gaelic in Scotland and a range of specific actions that can be put in place to ensure that the aspirations of the national plan are realised in focused activity across a range of different organisations.

Today, I would like to list the areas in which we need to make progress and in August I will convene the relevant stakeholders to ensure that we can focus on a package of practical measures that can be put in place to support the development of the language. There are a number of areas in which we have seen good developments and in which we would like to see further progress.

In Gaelic early years education, there are currently 80 Gaelic early years groups, and last year there were over 500 Gaelic book-bug sessions for children. Bòrd na Gàidhlig has been awarded £100,000 of core funding for 2018-19 through the children, young people and families early intervention fund to take forward that work. In Gaelic early years education, we will build on recent growth in the sector. We will focus on continuity with Gaelic-medium education at primary and look to benefit from the opportunity of extended-hours provision. We will also maintain the effectiveness of Gaelic book-bug sessions and look forward to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig offering its new early learning and childcare course in the Gaelic language.

The growth of GME and Gaelic learner education will remain a key priority, and we will maintain our support for Gaelic education at all levels. There are very good examples of Gaelic education in our local authorities and we welcome and support the work that is being undertaken by individual local authorities. In particular, following the opening of Portree Gaelic school last week, we will work towards the opening of other GME schools in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness and ensure that support is put in place for parental wishes and aspirations for Gaelic schools in Oban and Dingwall.

Portree Gaelic school is the sixth Gaelic school. I commend Highland Council for this achievement and look forward to attending the official opening of Portree Gaelic school later this year. As Gaelic education continues to grow, we will ensure that the growth is encouraged and supported through any changes and reforms to the ways in which our schools are run.

On the expansion plans for Gaelic education, I am pleased to build on the successful opening of Portree Gaelic school earlier this week with the announcement today that the Government will allocate £1.8 million to Glasgow City Council to support the development of the third Gaelic school in Glasgow. I commend Glasgow City Council for its remarkable record with Gaelic education. We look forward to hearing more of the development plans that will come forward from Glasgow City Council in the period ahead. I hope that the announcement will give confidence to the way in which we take forward the further development of the Gaelic-medium education programme across our country.

A strong emphasis will be maintained, as referred to in the Conservative amendment today, on GME teacher recruitment, including new routes into teaching and by means of Gaelic immersion for teachers and transfer courses. Those courses have been successful. We will keep them under review and ensure that they continue to offer opportunities for teachers who would like to transfer to Gaelic-medium education teaching.

We will ensure that Gaelic teachers have access to resources and technology in Gaelic through Stòrlann Nàiseanta na Gàidhlig and e-sgoil and are well supported by Education Scotland through the work that is taken forward in our regional improvement collaboratives.

We will maintain our support for Fèisean nan Gàidheal and its many activities in arts and education. In particular, I commend Fèisean nan Gàidheal for its new project beairteas. That will establish a register of mature Gaelic speakers to support teachers and to contribute to school learning in classrooms.

In education, the Government has invested significantly in partnership with our local authorities and I give the reassurance of our continued aspirations to ensure that the programme of investment and expansion is supported. Through education, we have our best prospects to encourage and support the development of the Gaelic language and participation within the language itself.

It is difficult to think of Gaelic in Scotland without considering the strong contribution of BBC Alba. Without doubt, MG Alba makes a unique contribution to important areas of Gaelic development, such as Gaelic adult education, school education, initiatives for young people and Gaelic in the home and our communities. Benefits can also be seen in employment, skills, training, creative industries, sports, arts and traditional music. Indeed, the work of MG Alba has been fundamental to establishing strong creative industries sectors in some Gaelic-speaking areas of Scotland, particularly in the Western Isles where we have seen significant growth in the creative capacity of the creative industries.

MG Alba adds significant value to Gaelic, to Scottish cultural life and to the economy, particularly in areas of low population density. We will continue to support its diverse contributions, and discussions will continue with the BBC about funding arrangements for MG Alba programmes and how to support the development and range of the programming that can be delivered. The learn Gaelic adult learning resource will be revised and promoted by MG Alba to provide excellent digital access to Gaelic adult learning materials in the future.

The final area that I will cover is the contribution of Gaelic to Scotland’s artistic community. We know that the impact of the Gaelic arts is immense and that they have huge potential to promote language attachment and loyalty. They provide opportunities for expression and skills development, for access and participation and for the pursuit of excellence. Through the Gaelic arts, the appeal and profile of Gaelic are raised in Scotland and beyond; Gaelic language use is strengthened and cultural life is enhanced, which has welcome economic and social benefits.

The work of An Comunn Gàidhealach, Fèisean nan Gàidheal and Ceòlas Uibhist is central, and a range of drama organisations, arts centres and festivals provide opportunities for the Gaelic arts. We must also include the important work of Gaelic publishing, particularly the work of the Gaelic Books Council, Acair and others, which ensure that Gaelic continues to provide opportunities for writers, publishers and consumers.

At the heart of our work on the Gaelic language is encouraging participation and ensuring that Gaelic is an integral part of the vital and vibrant life of communities in Scotland. We can see its impact in stimulating community activity and development, and it is important that we encourage participation, particularly through education and broadcasting, and seize the opportunities of the 21st century, through digital applications, to ensure that the Gaelic language is given every support to encourage and nurture its development. We welcome the publication of the national plan for Gaelic, which we will build on to ensure increased participation and strength in the Gaelic language in Scotland, and to ensure that the benefit is felt throughout Scotland’s communities as we support the development of Gaelic in our country.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication and launch of the National Gaelic Language Plan, and regards this as an opportunity to build on the good success of recent years and to ensure a faster rate of progress in all key areas of Gaelic development in Scotland, maintaining support and encouragement for standalone Gaelic schools and increasing the number of people speaking, using and learning the Gaelic language in Scotland.


Scottish Conservatives are delighted to support the Government’s motion and the Labour amendment.

The Scottish Conservative Party has a proud record of supporting Gaelic communities across Scotland. In 1985, George Younger, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, delivered a speech at the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Gaelic college in Skye, in which he promised specific grants for Gaelic. In the following years, those grants became a reality for the first Gaelic medium units, which are now seen as the catalyst for the subsequent growth in Gaelic medium education. In 1990, the sum provided by his successor, Malcolm Rifkind—and followed up by Michael Forsyth—was crucial for setting up the Gaelic television fund and, therefore, what we know now as BBC Alba. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills was quite right to say how much has been achieved by BBC Alba; it is tremendous and very good news that 10 per cent of Scotland’s population, whether they are Gaelic speaking or not, watch BBC Alba regularly. I know that the cabinet secretary is addressing BBC Alba’s concerns about future funding and the implications of the new BBC Scotland channel.

Like all other parties in the chamber, the Scottish Conservatives have always understood that Gaelic is an intrinsic part of our heritage and social fabric, and it is to be celebrated as such. It is, therefore, extremely important to reassure all Gaelic-speaking people that Parliament gives them its full support. That is something that they greatly appreciate, particularly as it is cross-party support, which has meant that there has been much more substantial progress than might perhaps have been the case otherwise.

As both the Council of Europe and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization have pointed out, however, there is still an issue about Gaelic as an endangered language, by their definition. We should not forget that in the 1990s we saw a considerable decline in the Gaelic-speaking population in Scotland. While there has been renewed growth, there are still signs that in some cases there are real challenges ahead—something that we have to take very seriously.

In 2012, I spoke in the debate that followed the launch of the then Scottish Government’s Gaelic language plan, and I have been on education committees on three different occasions when we have debated the future of Gaelic in Scotland. Then, as now, we were indebted to Bòrd na Gàidhlig and many others in the Gaelic community for helping us—especially those of us who are not Gaelic speakers—to understand the aspirations of the indigenous Gaelic communities and the challenges that they face.

In that respect, it is important to mention the progress of Gaelic medium education, the growth and development of which is one of the great success stories of Scottish education over the past 25 years, as far as I am concerned. More than 4,000 children are now taught through the medium of Gaelic throughout Scotland, and the exciting development is that so many of them are in primary school. We warmly welcome the development of new Gaelic schools in Glasgow, building on the success that Glasgow has always shown, and also in Inverness and Edinburgh, not least because the educational research points to the benefits of bilingualism in the intellectual development of young people. Many of the Gaelic schools and others that have Gaelic medium education have shown real progress in relation to attainment. There is a message there.

It is critical to the survival of the language that that growth continues. It is also important to the increasing diversity of Scottish education, in which the Scottish Conservatives firmly believe parents should have maximum choice. I am aware of some of the controversy concerning recent issues on the Isle of Skye, but I think that we can get past that if we handle the issues sensitively.

I note that Bòrd na Gàidhlig has concerns about whether the forthcoming education bill might undermine the statutory provision of Gaelic medium education across our local authorities. I do not share those concerns, but we must certainly ensure that nothing is done, even unwittingly, to undermine the language provision and the number of teachers available to teach it. We do not yet know what will be in the final education bill, but it is important to be mindful of the issues that have been raised.

The fact that the most recent growth in the language has taken place in the nursery and primary sectors is a reflection of the improved facilities, including the digital ones that the cabinet secretary spoke about. However, there is still a huge issue about teacher recruitment in secondary schools. If there is to be a focus in this area, it must be on that. We know about vacancies that have lain open in local authorities where it has not been possible to encourage people to come and teach Gaelic, and there have been some headteacher vacancies, too. I encourage the cabinet secretary to look at that issue as a priority; we would be very supportive of his doing that.

It is also important that we look at teacher recruitment in the context of economic development across Scotland. We have had debates several times recently about some of the most fragile rural communities. A holistic approach must be taken to ensure that those rural communities, many of which have an indigenous Gaelic population, have the support that they require through their own infrastructures. Without those infrastructures, it is extremely difficult to encourage people to go and stay there to bring up their families and give those communities something for the future.

I say that, not because it is simply what I feel, but because of the advice that we have been given by Bòrd na Gàidhlig and some of those indigenous communities. I looked back at the comments that they made to the Education and Culture Committee in 2012 and 2013, providing Parliament with a lot of information about why the focus had to be on those communities, and recognising that perhaps we need to be a bit cleverer about ensuring that the spending in local authorities is diverted to them and that we do not focus too much time on local authorities where there is no demand and there are minimal numbers of Gaelic speakers.

When we have limited resources, which we do—perhaps increasingly limited resources—that focus is very important for us because, if there is anything that we want to do, it is to ensure that the Gaelic community feels that it is being properly supported in the right areas. That is why we support the cabinet secretary’s motion, but also why we want an additional focus on Gaelic-medium education and supporting those indigenous communities.

I move amendment S5M-11788.1, to insert at end:

“, and, to this end, believes that the priority must be on Gaelic medium education and on ensuring that there are sufficient numbers of Gaelic-speaking and Gaelic-qualified teachers available to meet the demand, especially in secondary schools.”


The interpreters can relax: I do not have the Gaelic and I will not torture any word of the language by pretending otherwise. However, I have a little experience—albeit vicarious—of the recent historical context of this debate.

My secondary school was Inverness Royal academy. In those days, many young people from the islands had to go there for their secondary education and they all boarded together in a hostel. They could study for a higher in their language—Gaelic—but that was it. There was no opportunity for learning in the language or even using the language otherwise. I will not overstate the case, but that was a small community in a big school that suffered a kind of othering. Even then, it seemed to me that that was a pretty dismal kind of education provision for those young people, and, in truth, pretty shameful.

When the Parliament passed the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill in 2005, Peter Peacock, speaking for the then Government, looked back to 1616 and legislation that decreed that Gaelic be “abolisheit and removeit” from Scotland. The school system in the 1970s might not have gone that far, but it was hardly a nurturing environment for Gaelic.

Now, more than 4,000 pupils learn entirely in the Gaelic language and parents have the right to request that for their children; Scotland has a Gaelic TV channel; and 50 of our public bodies have Gaelic language plans in place. All of that—including, of course, the national plans; we note the publication of the third national plan—flows from the historic Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005. Our amendment simply adds acknowledgement of that to the Government’s motion, which we are also glad to support.

Scottish Labour has a good record of supporting the Gaelic language. Apart from Peter Peacock’s leadership in the Parliament in 2005, Labour-led Strathclyde Regional Council opened the first Gaelic-medium education unit at Sir John Maxwell primary school in 1985, and Labour-led Glasgow City Council opened the first standalone Gaelic school in 1999. The United Kingdom Labour Government ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in 2001, and the Communications Act 2003 provided the legal underpinning for BBC Alba.

There is, of course, a long way to go. In the debate on the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill in 2005, Alex Neil, at his most Churchillian, said:

“The bill represents not the end of the story but the end of the beginning of the story of the regeneration of Gaelic.”—[Official Report, 21 April 2005; c 16343.]

He was right. The last census—in 2011—showed a slight decline in Gaelic speakers, although, much more positively, it also showed an increase in young speakers. Although there are more pupils in Gaelic-medium education and more Gaelic schools now, the most recent official figures showed a drop in the number of pupils sitting Gaelic qualifications at both the national 5 and higher levels. Labour has repeatedly raised the issue of the narrowing of the school curriculum with the introduction of the new national exams. We have presented evidence that enrolments and attainments have been squeezed and that certain subjects have particularly suffered. Gaelic is one of those.

The other well-known problem, which Liz Smith rightly drew attention to, is the difficulty of recruiting Gaelic teachers and Gaelic-medium teachers. Indeed, last year, in response to the Education and Skills Committee’s work on teacher workforce planning, a Gaelic-medium teacher described in his written submission his frustration that the

“Failure to recruit fluent Gaelic staff, or adequately train non-Gaelic speaking staff results in only a minority, or small majority of staff having required levels of Gaelic. This undermines the very ethos of a Gaelic school and ultimately the burden on Gaelic speaking staff is increased.”

That is a vicious circle, for the teacher in question—a fluent Gaelic speaker—confessed that he was seeking to leave teaching. However, the reasons that he gave were increased workload and erosion of pay—in other words, the same problems that are underlying the shortages in other key subjects, too. Until the Government addresses those fundamental issues of pay and workload, we have to be concerned about the practicalities of the welcome expansion of Gaelic-medium education to which the cabinet secretary referred.

We should welcome progress, but must acknowledge the challenges that remain. We can celebrate the third national plan, but the cabinet secretary is right to point out that it is only the precursor to an implementation strategy, which will have to address questions of targets and timescales if the momentum of progress is to be maintained.

In spite of my lack of any facility with Gaelic, when pressed on my favourite Scottish poet, I answer Sorley MacLean, even though I can only ever enjoy his work in translation. Seventy years ago, MacLean wrote the rather despairing lyric:

“I do not see the sense of my toil putting thoughts in a dying tongue”.

At least today we can perhaps tell ourselves that MacLean’s native tongue is no longer dying, but we must acknowledge that we have much more to do ere we can truly claim that it flourishes.

I move amendment S5M-11788.2 to insert at end:

“, and notes that the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 set up the framework for the National Gaelic Language Plan with the aim of growing the language usage to a point where it can be normalised.”


’S e latha math a th’ ann. ’S toil leam a bhith ag èisteachd ri Gàidhlig anns a’ Phàrlamaid againn.

Tha mi às na Cluainean, baile beag snog ri taobh Loch Lòchaidh ’s faisg air a’ Ghearasdan. Cha robh Gàidhlig aig mo phàrantan ’s cha robh Gàidhlig san sgoil agam. A-nis tha sgoil ùr Ghàidhlig anns a’ Ghearasdan. Tha an nighean agam, Ruth, agus an dithis nighean aice, Daisy ’s Aimee, fileanta.

Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gum feum a h-uile duine sabaid airson na Gàidhlig.

Mar as àbhaist, feumaidh mi ràdh nach eil ach beagan Gàidhlig agam, ’s feumaidh mi Beurla a bhruidhinn an-diugh.

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

It is a good day. I like hearing Gaelic in our Parliament. I am from Clunes, a small village beside Loch Lochy, near Fort William. My parents did not have Gaelic and there was no Gaelic at my school; now there is a new Gaelic school in Fort William. My daughter Ruth and her daughters Aimee and Daisy are fluent in Gaelic. Everyone should fight for Gaelic.

As usual, I must say that I have only a little Gaelic and must speak in English today.

The member continued in English.

It is important that we give a hearing to one of Scotland’s national languages. I want to talk briefly of my other two grandchildren who are residents of Catalonia. Having travelled South America with their parents, carrying rucksacks, they have settled in Catalonia and are at the first and second stages in a Catalan school. They speak English and they already understood Spanish; now they speak Catalan and Spanish, or Castilian, as they would call it. That is a broadening experience.

Liz Smith touched on bilingualism. As a councillor in Highland Council, I encountered much ill-informed discussion about Gaelic, so I decided to promote the benefits of bilingualism. Quite frankly, it does not matter what the other language is, but in Scotland there is the option for it to be Gaelic.

I will cite information from the bilingualism matters website:

“Research has shown that bilingualism is beneficial for children’s development and the future. Children exposed to different languages become more aware of different cultures, other people and other points of view. But they also tend to be better than monolinguals at ‘multitasking’ and focusing attention. They are often more precocious readers, and generally find it easier to learn other languages. Bilingualism gives children much more than two languages!”

I am sure that I am not the only MSP who is approached about the availability of languages in school, and it is right that Liz Smith recorded Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s concerns about the Education (Scotland) Act 2016, which I am sure the cabinet secretary has heard.

There is a rich opportunity in bilingualism, and a lot of people want to take it up.

In the previous session of the Parliament, I was pleased to be successful in getting an amendment agreed to on the trigger point for Gaelic’s availability in local authority areas. I also did work on Gypsy Traveller sites in a previous session, and it seems to me that there is a common link, when we consider the disparaging comments that are made and the local authorities that do not provide sites and have their heads down. We need to get everyone involved.

Tremendous work is going on—members talked about the statistics, and we can make a lot of that.

The cabinet secretary used the word “attachment”, which I thought was important. I was born and brought up in the Highlands and I have to say that Gaelic was not on my radar at all—it was a language that older people spoke. I did French at school, as did many other people. Now, many people in Scotland, across the Highlands and Islands and beyond, are making a good living and embracing our culture. There are many fine examples of that. I particularly like that Griogair Labhruidh raps in Gaelic—I am sure that the cabinet secretary is familiar with his work, which will be an important part of his record collection. It is about attachment; Gaelic should not be seen as remote.

In that context, I very much align myself with the comments about the fèis movement and BBC Alba. It is great that people understand “cairt-bhuidhe”—yellow card—because they frequently watch BBC Alba. It is not tokenism—we often talk about the quality of journalism, and “Eòrpa” is one of the few programmes that takes a wider perspective and has a positive outlook.

There are challenges with Gaelic-medium education, one of which is that many qualified teachers who are fluent Gaelic speakers do not feel that they have the necessary writing skills to take up posts. There have been a lot of good initiatives in that regard, which I am sure will continue.

Portree Gaelic school has been mentioned. My word, we have some ability in the Highlands—indeed, elsewhere, too—to turn an amazingly exciting and positive story into a negative. Members who follow the Daily Gael on Twitter will know that the opening of the school has not opened a “Portal to hell”; it is a very positive news story and I am sure that there are more such stories to come. I particularly welcome the additional money for the new school in Glasgow.

Mòran taing.


John Swinney might recall that he and I were on a panel at Culloden academy in advance of the 2014 independence referendum. The green room happened to be a primary Gaelic-medium classroom. A notice above the displays clearly explained:

“We learn about the Gaelic language, and learn the language, because it is a gateway to learning about the history and culture of our country.”

That is a nice neat sentence that sums up what we are all trying to achieve when we promote the language, and its message contrasts with Iain Gray’s rather dismal experience at school all those years ago—it is not that long ago. There is a much more positive and uplifting experience now, which is inclusive of people of all ages.

That idea is echoed across the world. The American activist and writer Rita Mae Brown wrote:

“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”

It is with that sentiment that we support the motion and the two amendments that were selected for debate today.

Liberal Democrats have been fully supportive of the Gaelic language and its promotion. From Russell Johnston, to Ray Michie, to Charles Kennedy, to John Farquhar Munro, my party has a long and proud tradition of passionately advocating for the Gaelic language and culture. John Farquhar Munro often spoke Gaelic in the chamber; indeed, I am told that he often used the language in Liberal Democrat group meetings when he was being particularly cussed and was determined not to let anyone else know what he was talking about.

Does Willie Rennie agree that John Farquhar Munro’s greatest unrealised political objective was to turn this country into a monoglot country in which people spoke only Gaelic?

Yes. I will resist. [Laughter.]

Ray Michie was also a firm advocate of the Gaelic language. In fact, she took her oath in the House of Commons in Gaelic. When she retired and was elevated to the House of Lords, she did the same there, and hers was the first Lord’s oath to be given in Gaelic. At that time, she said:

“This brings home to people who have an interest in the tradition and culture of the Highlands how vulnerable the language is and how we want to promote it”,

which I think is a sentiment that we can all share.

I agree with the priorities that the cabinet secretary has set out and which the national plan has also set out, as regards use, learning and promotion. The variety of small schemes that he was able to set out today—in a range of areas from pre-nursery to nursery, and primary to secondary—are all part of the wider strategy that we are trying to develop. They have contributed to a radical change from 1985, when only 14 pupils were using Gaelic-medium education. The figure has shot up to 3,278, which is quite a miraculous change in such a short time. Every party in Parliament has contributed to that development, from the Conservatives—Liz Smith rightly highlighted the early years and support from Conservative ministers—to the then Liberal Democrat-Labour Government also making sure that legislation went through to give it status, to the Scottish National Party Government, which has taken it even further.

However, there is still an awful lot more to do. Liz Smith was absolutely right to highlight the Council of Europe and the fact that the language is still endangered. Overall numbers of speakers are still in decline and we still have a huge amount of work to do, which is why it is greatly encouraging that so many people from across the chamber who are speaking in the debate—some in Gaelic and others in English—are four-square behind the development of the language in culture and the arts through education and a range of other mechanisms, in order to ensure that it continues to flourish in years to come.

We move to the open debate. Speeches should be of up to five minutes, please.


Ann an 1959, sgrìobh an sgoilear cliùiteach Calum MacIlleathain mun sgìre agamsa,

“in Glen Roy I found the only Gaelic speakers in Lochaber under 40 years of age … a language … passes into oblivion.”

Uill, gu fòrtanach, cha do thachair sin.

Ged a tha an deasbad seo a’ tachairt sa Phàrlamaid, chan e rudeigin politeagach a tha sa Ghàidhlig. Ged a tha mi nam bhall dhen Phàrtaidh Nàiseanta, feumaidh mi ràdh gur e am pàrtaidh Tòraidheach a thug cead airson foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig sa chiad àite, le 14 sgoilearnan ann an 1984, agus am Pàrtaidh Làbarach agus na Libearalaich Dheamocratach a chuir Achd na Gàidhlig 2005 air dòigh.

An t-seachdain ’s a chaidh, chuir Port Rìgh, san sgire agam fhìn, fàilte chridheil air an t-siathamh sgoil Ghàidhlig ùir ann an Alba, le tòrr taic bho Phàrtaidh Nàiseanta na h-Alba, agus gu h-àraidh bhon Leas-phrìomh Mhinistear, Iain Swinney, a tha uabhasach taiceil ris a’ Ghàidhlig. Tha fios agam gu bheil luchd-labhairt na Gàidhlig gu math taingeil airson na taice aige. Is e deagh naidheachd a th’ ann a bhith a’ cluinntinn mu na sgoiltean ùra ann an Glaschu agus air a’ Ghaidhealtachd.

Air sgàth ’s gu bheil Achd na Gaidhlig 2005 agus planaichean Gàidhlig ann, tha na h-àireamhan de dh’òigridh a tha a’ dèanamh foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig a’ fas gach latha, agus tha iadsan a’ fas seach searbh sgìth de na h-argamaidean an aghaidh na Gàidhlig. ’S e mion-chànan a th’ innte, ach chan eil i mar mhion-chànan airson nan daoine a tha ga bruidhinn agus ga cleachdadh, agus a tha a’ pàigheadh na h-aon chìsean a tha luchd-labhairt na Beurla.

’S e seo a’ phuing as cudromaich dhòmhsa; chan fhaca mi riamh a’ ghràin air a’ Ghàidhlig cho làidir ’s a bha e às dèidh na h-òraid mu dheireadh a rinn mi sa Ghàidhlig. Le Achd na Gàidhlig 2005 agus am plana Gàidhlig, tha cothrom againn uile Gàidhlig a neartachadh agus a leasachadh, ach cuideachd feumaidh sinn tòrr a bharrachd a dhèanamh a thaobh nan argamaidean ceàrr mu shoighnichean-rathaid, foghlam agus an airgid a tha Gàidhlig a cosg. Tha luach sa Ghàidhlig agus feumaidh sinn sin a dhearbhadh nas fheàrr agus a shealtainn gu bheil taic thar-phàrtaidh ann airson na Gàidhlig. Is i a’ Ghàidhlig cànan ar dùthcha air fad.

Tha adhartas air a bhith ann o chionn a’ chiad phlana Gàidhlig—ann am foghlam, na meadhanan agus cultar—ach aig a’ cheann thall, ’s e am prìomhachas na h-àireamhan de dhaoine a tha a’ bruidhinn Gàidhlig gu làitheil, aig an taigh agus leis an obair, agus leis na sgoiltean ùra tha mi gu math dòchasach gu bheil na h-àireamhan a’ dol a dh’èirigh. Mar sin, bu chòir dhuinn an Riaghaltas agus am plana Gàidhlig a mholadh.

Ach ’s e a’ cheist as motha, a bheil na h-iomairtean seo—na h-iomairtean sa phlana, na h-iomairtean sa phlana mu dheireadh, agus na h-iomairtean a tha a’ dol a bhith againn san àm ri teachd—a’ neartachadh a’ chànain mar chànan làitheil? Tha cunnart an-còmhnaidh ann gu bheil na planaichean Gàidhlig aig buidhnean poblach agus daoine eile dìreach mar “tick-box exercises”. ’S e sin an t-adhbhar a tha lèirmheas agus sgrùdadh den adhartas cho cudromach. Tha tòrr iomairtean air a bhith soirbheachail—mar fhoghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig agus BBC Alba—ach tha tòrr fhathast ri dhèanamh. Tha mi gu math taingeil dhan Leas-phrìomh Mhinistear, oir tha fios agam gu bheil esan mothachail dha na cùisean cudromach seo, agus gu bheil e taiceil ris a’ Ghàidhlig. Tha e cho math a chluinntinn gu bheil trì sgoiltean ùra a’ dol a bhith againn.

Anns an sgìre agam fhèin, tha sinn a’ faicinn ath-bheothachadh ann an iomadh dòigh, leis na fèisean, na h-iomairtean Gàidhlig, sgoiltean Gàidhlig, ionadan Gàidhlig agus ceòl Gàidhealach. Ach ’s e an t-amas as cudromaiche Gàidhlig a neartachadh airson ’s gum bi barrachd dhaoine ga cleachdadh is a’ faireachdainn cofhurtail ga cleachdadh, agus gum bi daoine aig a bheil Gàidhlig mar-thà a’ fàs nas misneachail le bhith ga cleachdadh gach latha—san taigh, san sgoil is san obair.

An t-seachdain ’s a chaidh, bha mi air leth toilichte fàilte chridheil a chur air a’ bhun-sgoil ùir ann am Port Rìgh. Chan eil mi a’ tuigsinn ciamar as urrainn do dhuine sam bith a dhol an aghaidh sgoil ùr, gu h-àraidh sgoil ùr Ghàidhlig.

Tha mise agus an òigridh eile a fhuair na cothroman a tha a’ tighinn an cois foghlam Gàidhlig fada an comain gach neach a rinn spàirn às ar leth agus às leth na Gàidhlig, agus tha mi ’n dòchas gum bi tòrr a bharrachd sgoilearan ann san àm ri teachd as urrainn dhaibh an aon rud a ràdh.

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

In 1959, Calum Maclean, the famous writer, said:

“In Glen Roy I found the only Gaelic speaker in Lochaber under 40 years of age ... a language ... passes into oblivion.”

Well, that did not happen.

Although the debate is taking place in Parliament, Gaelic is not a political thing. I am a member of the SNP, but I must say that it was the Tories who granted permission for Gaelic-medium education in the first place, for 14 pupils in 1984, and that it was Labour and the Liberal Democrats who introduced the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005.

Just last week, in my constituency, Portree welcomed the sixth new Gaelic school in Scotland, with lots of support from the SNP and especially from the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney. He has been very supportive of Gaelic—for which, I know, Gaelic speakers are very thankful.

It is good news to hear about new Gaelic schools in Glasgow and in the Highlands. Because of the 2005 act and national Gaelic language plans, the number of young people in Gaelic-medium education is growing by the day, and they are really tired of the arguments that are made against Gaelic. Gaelic may be a minority language, but it is not for the people who speak it and use it, and who pay the same taxes as those who speak English. For me, that is the most important point. I have never seen hatred towards Gaelic expressed as strongly as following the previous speech that I delivered in the language. With the 2005 act and the Gaelic language plan, we have an opportunity to strengthen and develop it.

However, we need to do an awful lot more regarding the wrong arguments about Gaelic signs and the money that Gaelic costs. There is value in Gaelic, and we must do better in proving that and showing that there is cross-party support for Gaelic, which is a language of our country as a whole.

A lot of progress has been made in education, the media and culture since the first Gaelic language plan, but at the end of the day, the priority is to increase the number of people who speak Gaelic every day at home and at work. I am very happy that, in my constituency, the number of Gaelic speakers is set to rise. We should praise the national plan for Gaelic, but the biggest question is whether the initiatives under the most recent plan and future initiatives will strengthen Gaelic as an everyday language. There is a danger that the Gaelic plans for the public bodies are just a tick-box exercise. That is why it is so important that progress is reviewed and monitored.

There have been many initiatives that have been realistic and successful, including Gaelic-medium education and BBC Alba, but there is a lot still to be done. I am very thankful to the Deputy First Minister, who I know is aware of those important matters and is supportive of Gaelic. It is good to hear that we are to get three new schools in my area. In many ways, we are seeing a revival of the language through fèisean, Gaelic initiatives, Gaelic schools and Gaelic music. The most important aim is to strengthen Gaelic so that more people use the language and feel comfortable using it. That might result in people who already speak Gaelic becoming more confident in using it every day at home, at school and at work.

Last week, I was very happy to give a warm welcome to a new primary school in Portree. I do not understand why anyone would be against a new school, especially a new Gaelic school. I and other young people who got the opportunities that Gaelic-medium education offers are very grateful to everyone who strove on our behalf and on behalf of Gaelic. I hope that, in the future, there will be many more pupils who can say the same thing.


When I meet constituents across the Highlands and Islands, there are signs of Gaelic everywhere that I travel on our roads, in our stations and by our lochs and Munros. They are a daily reminder of how important Gaelic is to Scotland.

I struggled to listen to Kate Forbes and the interpretation at the same time. Frankly, both were worth listening to, so I will go back and listen to one and then the other so that I can link them together.

Gaelic has a fundamental place in Scotland’s cultural heritage, with the clans that we associate with and the ceilidhs that we dance at all having traditions that date back. It is right to remember Scotland’s Gaelic past, but it would be wrong to think of the language as an historical language, because it is very much a living language—albeit that it is one that has been threatened and which we must remember to cherish.

With the future of Gaelic being far from secure, it is encouraging to see that, for the first time, there has been an increase in the number of Gaelic speakers under the age of 25. However, the overall picture is one of decline. The 2011 census recorded that there were about 58,000 Gaelic speakers, which represented a fall of about 1,000 on the figure from 10 years previously.

Therefore, the Scottish Government’s new Gaelic language plan could not have come at a more opportune time to reassure communities on how Parliament proposes to support them. It is worth bearing it in mind that 50 per cent of Gaelic speakers live in the Highlands and Islands. The Government’s plan is nationwide in scale, but it must be particularly sensitive to the needs of local and rural communities in the region that I represent.

The issues that impact on those rural communities—lack of jobs, housing, broadband and public transport—all impact Gaelic communities and the Gaelic language, which often results in depopulation that decreases use of the language, which we should be striving to protect. The pressure is therefore on the Government to unlock the potential economic value that Gaelic can provide to the Scottish economy, which could, according to Highlands and Islands Enterprise, be in the region of £100 million per annum. The growth of the rural economy will lead to the growth of Gaelic in Scotland, which is something that we should all work towards.

Economic gains from Gaelic will be underpinned by effective Gaelic education. In recent years, Gaelic has become an essential part of Highlands school life, with 23 primary schools and 16 secondary schools teaching the language. Inverness boasts the first purpose-built Gaelic-medium primary school, which was opened in 2007 with 100 pupils and has, 10 years later, a roll of 232 pupils. That is a success story that we should all celebrate.

It is clear that more and more communities that have a Gaelic tradition want their children to be more than bilingual, because the benefits from being so are beyond doubt. Learning different languages from an early age leads to higher attainment, so we should not be surprised that more parents wish to send their children to Gaelic-medium schools. The Scottish Conservatives will always support investment in Gaelic schools where there is a real demand from the parents in a community that has a Gaelic tradition.

I am a bit concerned about the description of how you would establish demand. Can you clarify that? You would certainly want a situation where the local authority has the opportunity to build on demand by encouraging others to come forward, which has often happened in communities.

I remind members that they should always speak through the chair and not have direct conversations. So—through the chair, please, Mr Mountain.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. The point that I was trying to make is about where we should encourage demand and build on existing demand rather than just say, “No—we’re not going to do it.” If there is demand, we should encourage it. However, we have to ensure that when we are encouraging expansion of Gaelic education, as in Portree, we do not allow concerns from some quarters to suggest that investment in Gaelic schools is to the detriment of investment in other facilities in the area. We must ensure that Gaelic is seen as a way of uniting rather than dividing communities.

I am mindful of the time that I have left, so I will just say that I am proud of the enduring contribution that my party has made to securing the future of Gaelic by funding the first Gaelic-medium units, as well as by introducing the Gaelic television fund. Those measures were ambitious, but practical—an approach that the Scottish Government would, to my mind, be wise to maintain.

The debate is also a timely reminder for the Scottish Government to act on its commitment, which was made 10 years ago, to ensure that by the 2021 census, the proportion of Gaelic speakers is back up to 2001 levels at the very least. Let us aim high and ensure that the ambition of all the parties across the chamber is to increase use of Gaelic across Scotland


Tha mi nam bhodach: I am an old mannie, so I am unlikely to learn Gaelic before I shuffle off this mortal coil. However, like many of us, I have Gaelic antecedents. My grandfather Alexander Campbell MacGregor was a Gaelic speaker. He was a ship’s rigger; he married someone from Edinburgh and settled in Leith. My mother was therefore brought up in a bilingual household and spoke Gaelic to her father and English to her mother. When she went to school in 1914, she entered an environment where she was punished if she spoke Gaelic. My great-great-grandfather—Archibald Stewart—took his Gaelic with him to Canada, but that was a very long time ago: he was born in the late 1700s.

On the other side of the equation, and perhaps less to the merit of the Stevensons, is my grandfather William Stewart Stevenson, who married Elizabeth Tait Barlow in 1890. His first appointment as a teacher was in the Gaelic community on Lewis, where, as an Anglophone monoglot with an English wife, he was sent to make sure that nobody in the school that he taught in spoke Gaelic. Thank goodness that we are now in different times.

Like Iain Gray, my wife went to Inverness royal academy—I have not spoken to her about her experience, but she does not come from a particularly strong Gaelic tradition.

How do I connect to Gaelic today? Like others, I see Gaelic place names and geographical features; I have Runrig’s “Maymorning” CD in my car, which they produced for the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999; and I also have a Julie Fowlis CD. Do I understand everything that I hear in Gaelic? Certainly not, but I have a few words. I was interested to find that as I was listening with one ear to the English translation of my colleague Kate Forbes’s speech and with the other to the Gaelic, I could pick up some of the crossover. However, can I speak Gaelic in any meaningful sense? No, absolutely not.

When I was a young lad, if someone wanted to hear Gaelic, the place where they would hear most Gaelic was, bluntly, under the heilanman’s umbrella in Glasgow, which is where, traditionally, the people from the Western Isles gathered—it is adjacent to Central station under the arch over Argyle Street. They would have heard more Gaelic there than English. Just as we now see the development of Gaelic in the cities, historically—albeit in the more recent past—it was also a city thing.

The area that I used to represent in Parliament, which is now, after a reorganisation of the boundaries, represented by Gillian Martin, was where the “Book of Deer” came from nearly 1,000 years ago. The “Book of Deer” is a copy of the Bible that contains the oldest piece of written Gaelic. When the first attempts were made to work out who owned Scotland, the monks from Deer abbey went round writing down in Gaelic information in the margins of that Bible about who owned what. That is really quite interesting.

Some of the Gaelic that we are talking about in Aberdeenshire is not Scottish Gaelic. There is a town that is now known as New Pitsligo, which has the alternative name of Cyaak. That is actually Welsh, or Brythonic Gaelic. The linguistic traditions that we have are quite diverse.

My voice is a wee bit rusty today—for that, I touched on Gaelic, as I had a gargle of anCnoc, which is the whisky that is made nearest to me. It is the Gaelic name for the Knock, which is the hill behind the distillery.

I very much welcome the announcement of additional investment in Gaelic teaching in Glasgow and the opening of other facilities elsewhere. Thankfully, the 1616 act that Iain Gray referred to did not succeed, and Peter Peacock, our ex-colleague, was absolutely pivotal in moving Gaelic to another place and building on what had been done before. I give my absolute support to efforts to bring Gaelic to more people.

I conclude with a very simple suggestion that might help and which we might consider doing. We have lots of geography and places with Gaelic names. We might start to help Anglophones with the pronunciation of Gaelic, because, as an Anglophone, it can be quite baffling to look at some Gaelic names. With a wee bit of help, we might learn how to pronounce Gaelic—

I do not know how to say, “Please conclude” in Gaelic, but please conclude.


I am pleased to speak in this afternoon’s debate. It comes not long after our recent debate on intangible cultural heritage, in which many members raised the significance of Gaelic, both in a historical sense and in terms of the need for us to continue to support the language in Scotland.

It is right that we recognise, value, preserve and celebrate Gaelic in Scotland, and the language plan has a key part to play in achieving that ambition. In particular, it is important to strive to grow the language beyond its traditionally strong areas, and to make it accessible to those who wish to learn it across the country. That is how the language will have a future.

It is interesting that the cabinet secretary talked about early years education. It was a nostalgic experience for me when I saw a “Dotaman” display on a recent committee visit to the BBC. It now has a bit of a cult status, but in 1985, it was groundbreaking in its normalisation of the language, to which it introduced many children. On that visit, it was positive to hear about the innovative work that BBC Alba and CBBC are doing in collaborating on the filming of a Gaelic version of the popular kids’ quest programme “Raven”.

Since 1999, the Parliament has played a significant role in providing a focus for Gaelic. The Parliament was established at a time when there were fears that Gaelic was a fading language. Although that has been recognised and some action has already been taken, we still have some challenges to address around educational demand, as well as around public opinion, to which Kate Forbes referred. Parliament has made a conscious effort to ensure that Gaelic receives support and I am pleased to see that it continues to do so.

We must recognise that a contributing factor behind the language’s decline in Scotland can be traced back to deliberate choices and decisions that were made to restrict its use in years gone by. The language was kept alive over the centuries by generations and communities, and by activists and campaigners, who really pushed the agenda.

In supporting the work of Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the role of Government and Parliament is to acknowledge the importance of the language to Scotland, promote equality and inclusion for the communities who speak Gaelic, and encourage acceptance and greater knowledge of the language. We are, thankfully, in a much healthier place today than we have been in recent history. Although I appreciate that Gaelic is no longer the first language for many people, there are still concerns that, as the generations pass on, the traditions that are associated with the language might be under threat of passing with them. On the whole, however, we are now talking less about Gaelic's survival and more about its potential to grow and flourish across families and communities.

One of the reasons for that is that during the years when the language was marginalised, Scottish arts and culture still preserved and promoted Gaelic. From psalms to the Mòd and Celtic Connections, there has long been the space for those who wish to learn or who wish to speak Gaelic to do so with confidence and support. Such richness must not be underestimated. Sitting in a classroom with trained teachers is important, but so is the ability to learn, embrace and live the language through songs and stories, comradeship and friendship.

For example, the new plan includes a project to support the long-term sustainability of the South Uist education and arts centre, which will, I hope, allow the traditions and songs of Gaelic to continue. I am also pleased to see that the plan will continue to support the bodies that are important for Gaelic arts in Scotland. Gaelic is part of the country’s heritage, and in the areas where it is strong, we should be looking to embrace that and the opportunities that it presents. By building strong cultural and artistic links, we can benefit in other areas, especially tourism, as visitors embrace the romance behind the language and its links to Scotland’s rich past.

The development of a Gaelic tourism strategy is welcome, as it looks to support organisations that use the language. I always seem to be referring to the television series “Outlander” at the moment, but it has generated increased interest in Scotland, our built heritage, our landscape and, with the use of Gaelic, an interest in a language that is unique to Scotland and a gateway for visitors who are interested in our culture.

Although members have highlighted Labour’s commitment to Gaelic over the years, I recognise that we have co-operated across Parliament to promote the language, which is very much to be welcomed. The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 and the plan were introduced because we all appreciate and understand that the language and the communities who speak it still need focused support.

The Gaelic-speaking communities of Scotland continue to face many challenges. They are often fragile communities that have ageing and shifting populations as younger people chase employment. That can lead to strong Gaelic communities, in which speakers feel comfortable and where the language is used every day in the home and in the local area, being put at risk of fragmenting. Breaking up such communities and opportunities for everyday use of the language, especially among the younger generations, can put the desire of future generations to access and learn the language at risk, too. Secure and well-paid jobs are important to making sure that Gaelic-speaking families can continue to live and thrive in their communities.

To be successful at supporting and growing Gaelic, we need a holistic approach that nurtures this valuable, precious and unique language of Scotland.

I have to be tight with speeches. We have no time in hand. I ask for five-minute speeches, please.


It is a pleasure to be able to speak once again in support of the Gaelic language and the work that will get under way to deliver the aims that are set out in the national plan.

I have spoken in a number of debates on Gaelic over the years, and each time it is clear that we are moving on and making progress with this beautiful language, which plays a huge part in shaping who we are as a people and where we are going as a nation.

I will not pretend that I am even remotely a speaker of Gaelic, but it has been wonderful to hear Kate Forbes speaking our language with such passion and feeling. I do what I can to support the language, and later in my speech I will share with members some of the impressive work that has been going on in Kilmarnock for the past 20 years at bun-sgoil Onthank—Onthank primary school—near where I grew up; I still live close by.

What I like about the plan is that it is clear, easy to read and very positive about the language. The next five years promise to be an exciting phase. It is important to be able to measure progress, of course, and the implementation and monitoring proposals are due to follow shortly.

The task ahead will not be easy and is very challenging. Gaelic is one of many world languages at risk of being lost unless we all do something about it. UNESCO describes Scottish Gaelic as “definitely endangered”, with around 80,000 people who can speak the language in Scotland outwith the formal education setting. The number of people in Ireland and Wales who speak the other Celtic languages is higher, but we know the history of how we came to be in this situation.

The aim in the national plan is simply to make sure that Gaelic is used more often, by more people and in a wider range of settings. I recall mentioning this the last time I spoke about Gaelic—I hoped that the language could be seen more as well as heard more. The plan certainly aims to do that in the way it intends to promote the language much more in the heritage, tourism, food and drink and leisure sectors.

I hope that that will also mean that people who do not normally come into contact with the language will be able to see it and hear it spoken and sung in local settings, perhaps through music and performance—it all makes a difference and helps to promote the positive image that is really important if we are to broaden Gaelic’s appeal.

The communities aspect of the plan recognises that there are different levels of engagement with Gaelic—areas with a high percentage of speakers; communities in cities and towns such as Kilmarnock; and the technology, media and performance community. They are all different but they all have a part to play in taking the plan forward.

I will share with members a little glimpse of what has been happening in Kilmarnock at Onthank primary school. The Gaelic unit there has recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, with around 250 children passing through the school over those years. Currently, there are around 32 children in primary 1 to primary 7, with a further 13 in the early childhood centre. The benefits for the children over the years have not been restricted to the curriculum. The social and cultural benefits have been immense, with the children travelling all over Scotland for competitions and get-togethers.

None of that would have happened had it not been for the Gaelic language, and it is to the great credit of East Ayrshire Council and the staff in the school over those years that so many children have had such a positive experience. The Gaelic unit is moving to the new William McIlvanney campus in the town, which is a stunning new secondary and primary campus that has everyone really excited about the future.

The national plan is another opportunity to take Gaelic a step forward on its journey of recovery. It has been a difficult journey for so many people who love the language, whether we speak it or not. The plan to broaden its appeal within the diverse communities of Scotland through culture, music and all forms of engagement is the right thing to do in my opinion and I fully support the substantial efforts that everyone is making to protect our language.

Tighinn ’s obraichidh sinn ri chèile gus dèanamh cinnteach gun urrainn don Ghàidhlig mairsinn beò airson bhliadhnaichean ri tighinn: come and let us work together to ensure that Gaelic can survive for years to come. I am ever grateful to a young fellow called Loughlan Buchanan for providing me with that sentence and its pronunciation.

I am happy to support the Government’s motion.


Scotland’s Gaelic heritage is something that all parties in this chamber rightly stand ready to protect and uphold. My colleague Liz Smith spoke about some of the work that the Scottish Conservatives in Government undertook before devolution to promote the language and the rich culture associated with it. We stand alongside that work today.

I welcome the work that has gone into the national Gaelic language plan from Bòrd na Gàidhlig and the process that has led to its development. As a Highlands and Islands member, I recognise the strong Gaelic heritage that is found, in particular, in the islands and west Highlands—specifically in Lewis, South Uist, Lochaber and Wester Ross. In those parts of Scotland, Gaelic is the language of day-to-day life. However, Gaelic culture continues to thrive not only in the Highlands and Islands but in other parts of Scotland. The central belt’s association with the language reflects more modern population movements, as Gaelic-speaking highlanders migrated south in search of opportunities. We see some of that legacy just up the road from the Parliament, where Greyfriars church maintains its regular Gaelic language service, having absorbed the congregation of the Highland Tollbooth St John’s church, which now sees a new lease of life as the Hub, the home of Edinburgh’s international festival.

Members have touched on Glasgow’s links with the language. Particularly through music and other cultural outlets, much of Scotland is at least touched by a Gaelic influence. Indeed, its historical reach is often underestimated. Still, my region retains its position as the home of Gaelic today, particularly in rural communities. I have spoken on many occasions about the challenges that are faced by remote and rural communities in Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and Islands. We face a real challenge in ensuring that those rural communities are sustainable for the future.

Moving beyond the Gaelic-speaking areas, we see a huge diversity of cultures in Scotland. I am an Orcadian, and people in our islands most likely moved from speaking Pictish to speaking Norse and then English without any historical Gaelic tradition. It remains a matter of academic speculation how closely the Pictish language was related to the insular Celtic languages of Britain. In other areas that I represent, there is a long Doric tradition—in the Highlands and Islands, there is a distinct Moray and Nairn sub-dialect of that. We also know well of other languages that have been brought to Scotland more recently by our migrant communities.

Sitting in that context, Gaelic is one of many strong cultural influences that the whole of Scotland can recognise as part of our collective cultural heritage. One element that must be removed is the thankfully fringe pursuit of politicising languages in one way or another. Languages are not political beasts, much less political weapons, and culture thrives by crossing barriers, not by being exclusive or exclusionary. In the areas where Gaelic has a strong presence, it is clearly right that it is recognised by the state. It is right that distinctive cultures and traditions are taken into account when policy is drafted and considered. As the Gaelic language plan shows, that bisects the tiers of government: it is a consideration not only for central Government but for a range of institutions from local councils to health boards.

In his introduction to the plan, the chair of Bòrd na Gàidhlig, Allan MacDonald, recognises the challenges of recruiting high-quality staff in Gaelic-medium education, which members have touched on.

I welcome the consensual tone of the debate, but does the member think that the part of the Tory amendment on ensuring that we have

“sufficient numbers of Gaelic ... teachers available to meet the demand”

is slightly hypocritical, in that the Tories actively stand in the way of Gaelic-speaking qualified teachers such as Sìne Halfpenny teaching in our schools, despite a long but unsuccessful campaign to allow that lady, who is from Nova Scotia, to teach on the island of Mull?

That was a long intervention, Mr Halcro Johnston—I am sorry, but I have no spare time to give you.

It is a shame that the member has brought up the issue of immigration in a debate about the plans for the Gaelic language, but there we are.

Gaelic-medium education is not the only public service in which there are issues. On a recent visit to Stornoway, I heard of the problems of recruiting Gaelic-speaking social care workers, who are required particularly to support older people with dementia in the islands who have reverted to their first language. There are, of course, excellent examples of progress. While I was there, I met the council’s director of education, who spoke about the work that is being done through e-sgoil to engage young people. I also had the opportunity to hear some Gaelic singing, which brought out some of the true depth of Gaelic culture and heritage on the islands.

Promotion is positive, and the high degree of collaboration that has been undertaken in the construction of the Gaelic language plan certainly counts in its favour. However, as other members have mentioned, for Gaelic to thrive in its heartlands, we must more closely recognise the needs of our remote and rural communities. There have been many steps forward, but the sustainability of those communities remains a concern to many across my region.

As I said, it is wrong to politicise language, and we must be—

I am afraid that you must stop there. That is a good place to stop.

I am just about to finish.

You have had an extra 25 seconds, and I have no time left.


I will open with a quote from the very fine writer Joseph Conrad that has always resonated with me. “History repeats itself”, he wrote,

“but the special call of an art which has passed away is never reproduced. It is as utterly gone out of the world as the song of a destroyed wild bird.”

Conrad was talking specifically about human achievement and culture in its broadest sense, and I would include language in that. Indeed, as other members have said, language has been seen as the greatest achievement of humankind, without which none of our other achievements could be expressed.

A language that is lost is hard to reclaim; as Conrad said, it is

“utterly gone out of the world”.

I have always thought of Gaelic when I have heard that quote, perhaps because of its lyricism and the way that it captures the fragility of human culture. Comparing the threat to human culture to threats to wildlife is also evocative. We rightly support measures that are aimed at protecting our flora and fauna, and we are prepared to accept some inconvenience to ensure that the cackle of the corncrake or our ancient Caledonian pine forest is not extinguished.

However, human ecology is also in need of protection and we cannot afford to see Gaelic utterly gone out of the world. That is why I support this national Gaelic language plan. It aims to secure a future for the language, which carries with it a millennium of cultural richness, and I support the plan’s central premise that education is the future of the Gaelic language. It aims to increase its use, to expand the number of people who are learning it and to promote a positive image of it.

As other members have said, the language belongs to all of Scotland, and people are coming from all over the world to learn it and to enjoy the music, literature and oral traditions that it encapsulates. I welcome the fact that the motion enjoys cross-party support, just as the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 enjoyed the support of every party in this Parliament.

Having said that, it is disappointing to hear some people outside the Parliament disparage Gaelic, perhaps because of their ignorance of the role that politicians of all parties have played in protecting it. Sadly, it is not at all uncommon to hear negative comments on social media and even in mainstream media, with nonsense about dead languages and their irrelevance. It is important to tackle that head on.

Particularly relevant to my area of the country is the line of argument, which is often rather drearily advanced, that Gaelic is not relevant to other parts of Scotland. That argument was articulated quite recently on social media by a councillor whose party I will not refer to, because he is quite young and I do not think that he is representative of his party. He made a point on social media about his area of the south of Scotland not having any connection at all to Gaelic.

Will the member take an intervention?


Sorry—I was drifting there. I drift occasionally. I call Mr Finnie.

I wonder whether the member would agree with me that it is not always helpful to come out with a big line about all the negative—

Just a wee minute, Mr Finnie. Speak into your microphone so that we can hear you. Thank you.

I beg your pardon, Presiding Officer. I wonder whether the member agrees that it is not necessarily helpful to recite a lengthy list of negatives. Rather than promoting them, we should be ignoring those people, whom she rightly identifies as often being motivated by ignorance.

I do not think that it was a lengthy list of negatives, and I am just about to come on to a positive retort to the councillor’s comment.

I represent the south of Scotland, where there is actually a strong Gaelic tradition. Gaelic became widespread in south-west Scotland between the 9th and 11th centuries. The very name “Galloway”—Gall-Gael—originally meant “land of the foreign Gael”. Alan, Lord of Galloway, who died in 1234, is named in the Annals of Ulster as the king of the foreign Gaels. Galloway was once an independent kingdom as well. It has been said that the distinctiveness of Galloway perhaps ensured that Gaelic was preserved in the west of the region after it had been supplanted by Scots in other parts of lowland Scotland. There is a very interesting blog by Alistair Livingston of Castle Douglas, who has done a huge amount of work on the subject. It is called greengalloway, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the topic.

Later this year, in September, the CatStrand arts centre in New Galloway will host a day-long conference on Galloway Gaelic, featuring prominent academics. The conference has already sold out, which is testament to the fact that Gaelic has a potential, in terms of cultural tourism in the south-west of Scotland, that many people are keen to explore.

In conclusion, Gaelic is for everyone in Scotland, and that is why I support the motion.

I now call—sequentially—Lewis Macdonald, to be followed by Angus MacDonald.


The words

“An Tìr, an Cànan ’s na Daoine”,

which mean, “the land, the language and the people”, are on the masthead of the West Highland Free Press, the UK’s first employee-owned newspaper, which is based on the Isle of Skye. It is a direct reference to the slogans of the Highland Land League and the Crofters Party of the 19th century. It is good to celebrate the support that the Gaelic language has enjoyed from all parties over the past 30 years, and it is right to say that the language is part of the cultural richness of Scotland as a whole, but we should never forget the origins of the Gaelic language movement in the class struggles and land wars of the Highlands and Hebrides in earlier generations.

When Labour ministers introduced measures such as the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, they did so not only out of support for cultural diversity and inclusiveness, but to achieve, at long last, equal rights and recognition for what had been the culture of the common people of the Highland clans, which is just as important as rights over land and the right to a democratic voice in local government and national Government.

When Labour councils such as Strathclyde Regional Council and Glasgow City Council pioneered Gaelic-medium education outwith the Highlands, that was a recognition not just of the Highland diaspora but of the fact that Gaelic requires equal status right across Scotland if it is to be fully supported in its native-speaking communities. Those views are shared across parties and public bodies today, so it is easy to forget the extent to which the right to speak Gaelic was denied and how significant that denial was.

When people were cleared from the land, in the 1700s and 1800s, it was not just the means to earn a living that were lost; the connection with the land and with past generations, through the language and the shared knowledge of people and place, was also lost.

A few years ago, I was told about the workhouse in Tobermory by the son of a man who had been there. Gaelic-speaking Muileachs had sought refuge in the workhouse as late as the 1890s after being driven from their homes. What struck my friend’s father was that those folk were not just destitute; they were utterly bewildered at the extent of their loss, which impacted on who they were as well as on what they had. That story could be repeated again and again, from the straths of Sutherland to the banks of Loch Tay and to the most westerly of the Hebrides. It is a story of cultural loss going hand in hand with material deprivation.

In debating Gaelic in the 21st century, it is as well to remember that history, which stretches back to when the statutes of Iona were approved by the Scottish Privy Council, in 1609. Those laws effectively prohibited the Gaelic-medium education of the sons of chiefs, with just as clear a purpose as laws that are passed in support of Gaelic-medium education today. As we have heard, that suppression of Gaelic in Scotland’s schools continued for more than 300 years. We have a lot of ground to make up, and what is most remarkable about the Gaelic language is not its decline but its survival.

The national Gaelic language plan is right to seek

“to enable urban Gaelic communities to thrive”,

and real progress has been made on that in the past 30 years. My daughter Iona enjoyed Gaelic-medium nursery and primary education in Aberdeen, studied and debated in Gaelic at secondary school and now, as a university student, keeps up her skills by working of an evening with Gaelic-speaking children in Glasgow. She would want me to mention Mairi Morley, who was for a number of years the Gaelic officer at Aberdeen City Council with responsibility for Gaelic-medium education and who recently went back to her native Uist. She has died too young, and her friends in Aberdeen will gather later today to remember her. Mairi Morley made a real contribution to supporting and sustaining her native language into the present century and to promoting it across Scotland, and she should be warmly remembered for that.

Gaelic has made progress in urban Scotland and should continue to do so, but there is no substitute for the spoken language at the grass-roots level in Highlands and Islands communities. Therefore, our first priority must be to sustain the health and strength of Gaelic as a community language in those places where it is still passed on as a first language from one generation to the next. I welcome the focus on the Gaelic heartland areas in this third iteration of the national Gaelic language plan under the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005.

In conclusion, I ask ministers to say a bit more about how they will measure success in achieving that objective. The future of Gaelic as a community language is inseparably bound up with the future of many of our communities on the edge, and a sustainable future for the language requires us to secure a sustainable future for those communities, too. That would enable Gaelic in Scotland to take another step in the right direction.


Tha mi toilichte a bhith a’ bruidhinn anns an deasbad an-diugh air plana nàiseanta na Gàidhlig, ach gu mo nàire sheasmhach, ged a rugadh agus a thogadh mi anns na h-Eileanan Siar, chan urrainn dhomh fhathast bruidhinn gu fileanta ann an cànan mo shinnsearan air gach taobh de mo theaghlach.

Bidh mi a’ sabaid airson a’ chànain, ge-tà, fhad ’s a bhios an deò annam, gus dèanamh cinnteach gum bi Gàidhlig beò airson linntean ri teachd. Mar sin, bha mi toilichte a bhith nam neach-gairm air buidheann thar-phàrtaidh na Gàidhlig anns an t-seisean mu dheireadh den Phàrlamaid, ach tha mi toilichte gu bheil e a-nis fo làimh ealanta le Ceit Fhoirbeis mar neach-gairm ùr.

Cho math ’s as toigh leam Gàidhlig a chleachdadh an-dràsta ’s a-rithist, feumaidh mi tionndadh gu Beurla.

Following is the simultaneous translation:

I am happy to be speaking in today’s debate on the national plan for Gaelic but, to my constant shame having been born and bred in the Hebrides, I am still unable to speak fluently in the language of my forefathers on both sides of my family. I will, however, fight for the language to my last breath to help ensure that it survives for future generations.

That is why I was pleased to take on the position of convener of the cross-party group on Gaelic in the previous session of Parliament. However, I am pleased that it is in capable hands with Katie Forbes as the new convener.

As much as I like to use Gaelic now and again, I will turn to English.

The member continued in English.

Now I would like to concentrate much—probably all—of my allocated time this afternoon on the issue of funding for MG Alba and BBC Alba. I am sure that the whole chamber welcomes last week’s announcement that the broadcasting regulator Ofcom has given provisional approval to BBC plans for a new TV channel for Scotland. However, that should not be to the detriment of BBC Alba’s funding or programming.

We know that BBC Alba contributes to our Scottish culture, identity and economy, fostering international collaborations and creating internationally recognised programmes. BBC Alba is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. I remember well the launch party, which was held in this very city; a good time was had by all, as members would expect.

There is no doubt that BBC Alba has been a game changer in normalising the language and bringing it to a far-wider daily audience than Gaelic has ever enjoyed. That is no mean feat, given its budget. I am sure that we all agree that BBC Alba has been one of the major successes for Gaelic in recent years. However, it faces two challenges. One is the level of funding that it receives, which has been at a similar level for some years, and the other is that the new BBC Scotland channel is on the horizon. It is not yet clear how the BBC will ensure that that development supports BBC Alba and does not detract from its viewing figures.

MG Alba currently has a budget from the Scottish Government of £12.8 million, which is made up of £11.8 million core funding and £1 million additional annual pressure funding. In the last financial year, that funded 443 hours of original television programming and related costs such as rights, 28 hours of radio, LearnGaelic and 100 hours of channel links from the Stornoway studios.

Funding that level of programming on a small budget for a television channel is achieved through a combination of volume-deal commissions and seasonal commissioning rounds. In July 2017, new four-year volume deals were entered into with eight independent production companies, committing MG Alba to £25.6 million over the term. Those contracts include drama, sport, music, children’s programmes and entertainment and are all with independent production companies. That gives long-term supply commitments to the channel as well as securing jobs, creating stability and encouraging sustainability within the independent sector. The deals also offer the foundation for innovative collaboration. MG Alba has generated £950,000 of added value for the channel from long-term deals as a result of co-productions, and it expects that trend to continue with ambitious, international projects.

Given MG Alba’s level of funding, it can invite only two seasonal commissioning rounds per year, which bring higher production value and bespoke programming to the schedule. It is worth pointing out that the initial Gaelic television fund of £9.5 million in 1992—it has been mentioned already this afternoon—would, taking account of the retail prices index, stand at £18.2 million today. The number of hours that were funded in the early years, prior to the organisation gaining commissioning powers, averaged 165 per annum. With 443 hours budgeted in 2017-18, MG Alba has achieved output of 268.5 per cent of its historical output on a drop in funding, in real terms, of 29.7 per cent. Therefore, it is essential that current investment is maintained, so that MG Alba has a stable funding base that consolidates the £1 million and £11.8 million that will be required to draw more investment from the BBC. I seek the Deputy First Minister’s assurance that such consolidation will be considered in the future.

We should not forget that there would be no commissioning rounds if it were not for the pressure fund of £1 million. At stake are the 114.5 full-time equivalent jobs that were created in the Western Isles and Skye by the MG Alba fund; the equivalent number of jobs in the central belt, given the population difference, would be in excess of 11,000.


Many of my constituents and some of my colleagues will be surprised to see me taking part in the debate. I am honest that I have not always been a natural champion or advocate of the Gaelic language.

I have found the debate interesting and informative. Kate Forbes’s speech, in particular, has given me a different insight to the concerns that I hear regularly from constituents about token issues. I will try not to give too long a negative list. I do not see all the debate as being hate filled, but there are complex cultural and social issues in the part of the world that I represent. People in the south of Scotland feel threatened by globalisation, the encroachment of central Government and some neglect for our indigenous culture. When we recognise that, it is important that those of us who live in the south of Scotland in communities where Gaelic has not been a traditional part of the heritage or oral traditions—

Does Oliver Mundell realise that the big stone in Gretna, the Lochmaben stone, has a Gaelic name, and that it is named after a stone, not a loch? Is he seriously suggesting that Gaelic has never been part of the heritage of the South of Scotland?

I am not suggesting, by any stretch of the imagination, that Gaelic has never been part of the heritage of the south of Scotland. However, for a range of historical, cultural and social reasons, it is clear that the cultural connection with the language is not the same in all parts of the country. As Lewis Macdonald recognised in his speech, in trying to promote Gaelic positively—which I fully support—we have to be sensitive to the history of the Gaelic language and its origins and, in particular, its cultural significance in large parts of the Highland region. We should not be ashamed of that; we have to be alive to and recognise the sensitivities if we are going to tackle some of the challenging cultural issues around building the Gaelic language and a real sense of community about it as a spoken language and to convince people that the language belongs to the whole of Scotland.

It is a testament to native Gaelic speakers, for whom Gaelic is the mother tongue, that they are generous enough to share their language and to see it as belonging to all of us culturally, particularly in light of some of the difficulties and oppressions that they have faced over many years. It is important that we should all work together to try to build a consensus. I have heard a few people say that Gaelic should not be politicised, which is absolutely right and very important. If we are to secure the future of the language as a living speaking language, we have to recognise that politicians and Government actions alone cannot help to keep a language alive. People have to be confident in their belief that the language can and does belong to anyone.

We need to recognise the fact that Gaelic is still in a fragile position, as many members have pointed out. We cannot blame anyone here for the mistakes that were made in the more distant past, but when we see a drop in the census figures we have to recognise that that is because the community is coming to a certain age, which means that people will not always be here to continue speaking their language. That is what makes Gaelic-medium education so important, and why it is important that we focus our effort in communities where there is a desire to grow the number of speakers. We need to ensure that we deliver all the resources that are needed for those who wish to take the language forward.


I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate on the Scottish Government’s new national plan for Gaelic and its overarching aim to help to create a secure future for Gaelic in Scotland, building on the 2005 act and recent developments, progress and success.

I speak today not as a speaker of Gaelic, but certainly as an admirer and also as a constituency MSP. I will come on to why that is important shortly. My experience of Gaelic, both as a constituency MSP and generally, is an appreciation of its vulnerability and the historical nature of that, but also of its growing strength, particularly in the urban environment here in Edinburgh and in Leith in my constituency.

The Gaelic language makes a hugely positive contribution, in terms of cultural progress and adding to the social character and cultural diversity of our society, and by being of huge educational value to those who are in Gaelic-medium education. I welcome the fact that the national language plan reflects Gaelic’s unique and important contribution to many areas of Scottish life. When I read that part of the plan, I thought of two people whom I know. The first of those people is Dolina Maclennan, who has been a long-standing advocate of the Gaelic language and is a well-known actress and singer in the Gaelic community. She is a resident of Edinburgh, welcomed my parents when they moved from Leeds to the city and then welcomed me when I joined the Scottish National Party shortly after that. Incidentally, Dolina made an appearance in “Still Game” a few weeks ago, which members may have seen. Dolina has contributed significantly to the development of the Gaelic language and I think of her today and how we are building on her success.

The second of those people is one of my constituents, who represents a younger generation—Phil MacHugh. As a television personality, he has helped to promote the Gaelic language in the work that he does. That is symbolic of passing on the Gaelic language through the generations and its absolute relevance to modern Scottish media culture, as well as in previous times.

I also think of politicians such as my colleague Deidre Brock MP, who was the Gaelic champion here in Edinburgh when she was a councillor. Deidre emphasised not only that Gaelic-medium education is key to the future of the Gaelic language, but that it is enriching for our education system here in Edinburgh and across the country. That is important, if we want to see enough Gaelic speakers coming through the education system to secure Gaelic’s future.

I worked in the school office at James Gillespie’s high school for a year, and got an understanding of its importance for secondary education through the Gaelic medium here in Edinburgh. That was an inspiring part of developing my understanding of the importance of the language. However, yesterday I went to Taobh na Pàirce, the dedicated Gaelic primary school in Edinburgh, and what a wonderful experience that was. The school is thriving and the nursery is nearly at capacity—there is huge demand. The primary school is very rich with energy, the modern education practices that are used, and the diversity of young people coming together in that wonderful school in Leith, which is an extremely diverse place anyway. The school brings to life the old Presbyterian Bonnington Road primary school with a new future for the language and the area. The school is truly remarkable, and I recommend that people go and see it if they want to see an example of thriving Gaelic-medium education.

In Edinburgh, the number of Gaelic speakers is growing, and that is to be welcomed. I am delighted for Glasgow in light of today’s announcement, and I was also delighted to hear the cabinet secretary say that he and officials are working to bring forward proposals for a Gaelic-medium secondary facility in Edinburgh beyond James Gillespie’s high school, as the number of Gaelic speakers is growing. I look forward to seeing that happen in due course.

I absolutely agree that the bilingualism of Gaelic-medium education develops intellectualism. That is undoubtedly the case from what I have seen. Most of all, it is an inclusive development. It benefits all of us—from those in rural areas to those in urban areas—and that is something to welcome for everyone. The plan should be welcomed, too.


Tha mi toilichte a chur fàilte air a’ phlana seo. I am pleased to welcome the plan. I am also pleased to welcome the debate, in which there has been a lot of agreement about the plan and its refreshed priorities. Each party has taken time to highlight its commitment and contribution to Gaelic. Kate Forbes pointed out that every party has been supportive, but members should indulge me for a moment as I highlight the Labour Party’s commitments and what we have done in the past.

It was a Labour council that opened the first Gaelic-medium unit, a Labour council that opened the first Gaelic-medium school, and a Labour-led Government that introduced the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, which was guided through Parliament by my colleague Peter Peacock. As Lewis Macdonald pointed out, its aim was to provide equal status for Gaelic. I am proud of that record and proud that those initiatives had cross-party support. That must continue if we are to protect our language, and our heritage, with it. The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 gave life to the national plan for Gaelic, and we need to build on it.

The Conservative amendment, which was moved by Liz Smith, highlights education issues. Liz Smith and Iain Gray spoke about the shortage of Gaelic-medium teachers. The Scottish Government needs to ensure that it has enough teachers. It is great to have buildings for Gaelic-medium education, but unless there are teachers to staff those schools, they will not serve the purpose for which they were designed.

The culture and education have changed. Iain Gray talked about the “othering” of islands pupils at his Inverness high school and how that school system discouraged use of Gaelic. John Finnie talked about growing up without Gaelic being available, and how that has changed in Fort William with the Gaelic-medium school there.

Claire Baker said that our communities kept Gaelic alive while the Government and education discovered it. Lewis Macdonald pointed out that the survival of those very communities and the survival of Gaelic are so closely interlinked that we need to protect both in order for both to survive.

Why do we need the Gaelic language? The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 came about because the number of Gaelic speakers was falling. We can read in our history books about the rich and famous, but the people’s history is held in song, poetry and storytelling. For much of Scotland, those stories are told in Gaelic—the history of the Highland Land League, for instance, as Lewis Macdonald pointed out.

It is not just the Gaidhealtachd that has its culture and heritage held in that way. Because of the contraction of the language from many parts of Scotland, we have already lost part of that history and culture, so we need to stop that happening. Willie Rennie’s story about the green room made that very point.

Gaelic was the language of most of Scotland; indeed, its use stretched into northern England. However, much of that has been lost and, with it, the history of those areas and the history and culture of the ordinary people in them. I think that, if we can trace some of that, that would revive interest in Gaelic in those areas.

There is also an economic argument for protection and growth of Gaelic. Angus MacDonald talked about BBC Alba and Radio nan Gàidheal and what they have meant to many parts of the Highland and Islands. Those self-sufficient media outlets encourage training in all aspects of the media, which creates jobs. Many of those who have benefited have moved on to English-speaking media, which has made way for other young creative people.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig is the Gaelic college in Sleat, on Skye. That area was devastated by depopulation, but the college has grown a new and vibrant community around it. That investment, which continues to build the local economy, has, arguably, done more for the economy than any investment solely in jobs could have done. Claire Baker talked about Cnoc Soilleir in South Uist. I hope very much that that facility will do exactly the same for that area. However, we must go further than culture and education in order to protect the language—there must be a language for everyday communication.

Feumaidh sinn dèanamh a h-uile càil as urrainn dhuinn airson a’ Ghàidhlig a chumail beò. Feumaidh sinn a cleachdadh airson nan nithean a tha sinn a’ dèanamh a h-uile latha. Is e seo an dòigh airson Gàidhlig a chumail beò.

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

We must do everything that we can to keep Gaelic alive. We need to use it for everyday things. That is how we can keep alive.


Having asked a question in Gaelic in a recent debate, I will not inflict the same pain on Parliament twice in one month. I am very pleased to be able to close, for the Scottish Conservatives, the debate on the Gaelic plan, which addresses how we continue to preserve, protect and promote that critical aspect of our culture and our being.

I pay tribute to the work of Bòrd na Gàidhlig for its efforts in putting together the report, and the work of other organisations and individuals who participate in such reports and strive to put their recommendations into practice. They include An Comunn Gàidhealach, which organises the Royal National Mòd festival. Last year, it took place in my home town of Fort William, and this year it will go to Dunoon. It is one of the biggest festivals of Gaelic music, arts and culture and it has, along the way, raised millions for the local economies of its various host towns.

Like the Deputy First Minister, I commend Fèisean nan Gàidheal—particularly its chief executive, Arthur Cormack, who happens to be one of my favourite Gaelic musicians—which does so much to promote Gaelic arts and music in communities across Scotland. The fèis movement is a striking example of Gaelic culture playing a role in everyday local life, especially with our young people.

I will make a couple of more personal observations. To my regret, I never had the benefit of Gaelic education, either through GME or simply learning the language at school. I have tried to learn it as an adult—I attended night school in London and in Edinburgh, and I even did a summer course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig—but I have never progressed into anything approaching fluency, although I will keep trying. I am deeply envious of those who have had those opportunities, and I fervently consider that those initiatives should continue to be supported.

Sadly, we have to recognise, as Oliver Mundell did in one of the debate’s most sensitive and measured speeches, that Gaelic has been politicised in recent years—or has at least been used as a proxy for other battles. I do not point the finger of blame, not least because all parties, including my own, bear some responsibility for that, but when the very survival of the language is at stake, we must all join together in that common endeavour.

As Liz Smith noted, Gaelic is in the precarious position of being classified as an endangered language, with about only 58,000 speakers, according to the last census. Gaelic has enough of a fight on its hands simply to exist without there being internal battles within the Scottish body politic about it, so I welcome the consensual comments from all sides in the debate.

I agree fully with Donald Cameron on that point, and in my speech I mentioned the contribution of every party. Unfortunately, such matters are nearly always fought along either constitutional or party lines. How do we, as representatives, try to change that debate?

Kate Forbes is right: it is incumbent on all of us, in the language that we use, and in the points that we make in the chamber and outside it, to work towards ending that often constitutional battling.

All public spending should be scrutinised; there should never be a blank cheque. However, in a way, by its having to argue its case and fight its corner, the cause of Gaelic has, arguably, emerged stronger.

We must always remember that, for many people, Gaelic is not just a language but a way of life. Nowhere is that more obvious than in education. Only last week, the new school in Portree opened in the Highlands and Islands region; the fact that 123 local children have been enrolled in it shows the commitment from people in Gaelic-speaking communities to pass on the language to the next generation. That has not been without its challenges, but I am sure that, in time, divisions will heal.

Members mentioned the primary school in Caol, in Lochaber, which opened a few years ago and continues to thrive. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the school—albeit unofficially. Members also talked about schools in Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland. Many schools see the benefits of GME and Gaelic-learner education. I welcome the fact that local authorities including Perth and Kinross Council, East Dunbartonshire Council and Argyll and Bute Council have some Gaelic education provision.

The importance of GME is the key focus of the plan, which recognises the important role that it can play in Scottish education and beyond. The plan notes the success of Gaelic in contributing to the Scottish attainment challenge. That view is supported by Her Majesty’s inspector and lead officer for inspection of Gaelic-medium education, who said in 2017 that

“attainment in Gàidhlig as a subject is strong”,

and went on to say that

“children attain equally well, or better, than their peers in English medium education.”

Another aspect of the plan that I must mention, and which John Swinney mentioned, is the e-sgoil initiative. I recently met Bernard Chisholm, the director of education of Western Isles Council. We discussed the success of e-sgoil and how modern technology has enabled Gaelic education to be provided virtually to communities across the islands. Although the plan is right to say that e-sgoil would not directly replace traditional teaching methods, the use of technology to increase access to Gaelic is an important step in ensuring the survival of the language.

A key aim of the plan is to increase the number of Gaelic schools. We welcome that, given that in our party’s manifesto we called for the setting up of more dedicated Gaelic schools. With that comes the crux of the matter: if we are to expand Gaelic-medium education and increase the number of schools, we need trained teaching staff. We know from other areas of the public sector that filling roles in rural and remote environments can be extremely difficult, so I am glad that the plan acknowledges that, when it says:

“we must also maintain a consistent emphasis on supporting the training and recruitment of teachers and other staff”.

The plan has an abundance of ambitious proposals, which the Scottish Conservatives welcome. We want Gaelic to thrive in Scotland and we want to do our utmost to support communities where Gaelic is not just a language but a part of the community’s fabric and identity.

I am proud to represent a part of Scotland that has such a rich tapestry of culture, which for the most part is Gaelic culture. As a nation, we should be grateful that we have such a unique language and culture, and as politicians it is our moral duty to defend that.


’S e deasbad feumail dha-rìreabh a bh’ againn an-diugh, a’ dearbhadh a-rithist gu bheil taic anns a’ Phàrlamaid, agus thairis air na pàrtaidhean, dhan Ghàidhlig agus dhan àite a th’ aice ann an Alba.

Tha mise fòrtanach a bhidh a’ riochdadhadh nan Eilean Siar, far a bheil a’ Ghàidhlig làidir. Tha mi ’n dòchas gum bi plana na Gàidhlig a’ toirt chothroman gu mòran anns an sgìre agam fhìn Gàidhlig a chleachdadh agus ionnsachadh. Tha mi ’n dòchas cuideachd gum bi e a’ brosnachadh na Gàidhlig ann an Alba air fad. Mar a tha fhios aig duine sam bith a leughas ainmean-àite air mapa, chan eil tòrr àitichean ann an Alba gun eachdraidh Ghàidhlig sam bith.

Tha mi den aon bheachd ’s a tha Ceit Fhoirbeis mun mhì-rùn a th’ ann am measg cuid bheag ann an Alba dhan Ghàidhlig. Cha bhi mi a’ bruidhinn mu dheidhinn gu fada, ach innsidh mi sgeul no dhà. Is e a’ phuing as cudromaiche gu bheil e a’ dèanamh diofar mòr dè tha daoine gun Ghàidhlig ag ràdh mun Ghàidhlig. Ma bhios iad ga moladh, bidh daoine òga moiteil gu bheil a’ Ghaidhlig aca. Ma bhios daoine anns na meadhanan no ann am poileataigs a’ magadh air a’ Ghàidhlig, bidh na daoine òga sin a’ fas suas leis an smuain nach eil Alba a’ toirt spèis sam bith dhan dualchas Ghàidhlig aca.

Mar a tha sinn air faicinn san deasbad seo, tha ceanglaichean soilleir ann eadar a’ Ghàidhlig agus iomadhach raon eile de bheatha phoblach agus coimhearsnachdan na h-Alba. Mar eisimpleir, tha VisitScotland a’ leasachadh ro-innleachd turasachd Ghàidhlig mar phàirt den phlana Gàidhlig aca, tha Àrainneachd Eachdraidheil Alba a’ cur thachartasan air dòigh ann an sgoiltean far a bheil foghlam tron Ghàidhlig, tha Poileas Alba air àrdachadh mòr a thoirt do dh’ìomhaigh na Gàidhlig air feadh na dùthcha, agus bidh Leasachadh Sgilean na h-Alba agus Iomairt na Gàidhealtachd ’s nan Eilean a’ cruinneachadh fiosrachadh mu chleachdadh na Gàidhlig anns a’ mhargaid-obrach agus a’ cur taic ri preantasachdan tron Ghàidhlig.

Tha iomadh comhairle air feadh Alba a-nis a’ toirt air adhart dhleastanasan ùra mar phàirt den phlana Ghàidhlig aca, agus tha comhairle maoineachaidh na h-Alba a’ cur taic ri faclair eachdraidheil na Gàidhlig, am measg iomairtean cudromach eile.

Innsidh mi rud no dha mun dà leasachadh a tha air am moladh an-diugh agus dham bi an Riaghaltas a’ toirt taic. Tha mi cuideachd airson facal no dhà a ràdh mu dheidhinn cuid de na daoine a bha a’ bruidhinn an-diugh, agus tha mi gu math toilichte gun robh tòrr buill a’ bruidhinn an-diugh—cus airson bruidhinn air a h-uile duine.

Rinn Ealasaid Nic a’ Ghobhainn puingean math mun fhàs ann am foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig. Tha e cudromach a ràdh nach eil foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig a’ tachairt ann an àite sam bith gun taic is gun sabaid sa choimhearsnachd. Bha Iain Gray ceart nuair a thuirt e nach robh cothroman ann sna bliadhnaichean a chaidh seachad airson dhaoine a bha a’ cleachdadh no ag ionnsachadh na Gàidhlig. Rinn Iain Finnie puing mhath cuideachd, is e a’ bruidhinn mu na sochairean a th’ ann airson duine sam bith a tha a’ cleachdadh dà chànan, no a tha ag ionnsachadh dà chànan, no trì cànanan. Bha Eideard Mountain agus Lewis Dòmhnallach ceart cuideachd a bhith a’ cuimhneachadh gu bheil ceangal ann eadar slàinte an eaconamaidh ann an sgìre agus slàinte na Gàidhlig.

Bha Stiùbhart MacSteafain a’ bruidhinn mu eachdraidh an teaghlaich aige—cha chuala mi sin a-riamh roimhe bho Stiùbhart MacSteafain—agus bha e a’ bruidhinn mun àite a th’ aig a’ Ghàidhlig ann an Glaschu, agus mun cheangal eadar a’ Ghàidhlig agus uisge-beatha. Dh’innis Claire Baker dhuinn beagan mun cheangal eadar a’ Ghàidhlig agus cultar, mar a rinn tòrr buill eile.

Tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gu bheil barrachd Gàidhlig aig Dòmhnall Camshron na tha e ag ràdh. Tha mi a’ creidsinn gu bheil Gàidhlig fhìor mhath aig Loch Iall; chuala mi sin an-raoir agus tha mi a’ creidsinn gu bheil uabhasach modhail mun an sin.

Bhruidhinn mi mu rud no dhà a bha daoine ag ràdh san deasbad, ach nì mi puing no dhà eile. Tha Bile nan Eilean a’ dol tron Phàrlamaid seo an-dràsta fhèin agus tha a’ Ghàidhlig na pàirt chudromaich dheth. Mar a chuala sinn na bu tràithe, tha ceangal ann eadar a’ Ghàidhlig agus cùisean eaconamach agus bun-structar, mar thaigheadas, còmhdhail, ath-leasachadh fearainn, teicneòlas fiosrachaidh agus cosnadh. Bidh seo na chuspair deasbaid aig a’ bhuidhinn a bheir an Leas-phrìomh Mhinistear ri chèile san Lùnastal. Faodaidh na cùisean nas fharsainge seo cleachdadh agus ionnsachadh na Gàidhlig a bhrosnachadh, agus ìomhaigh a’ chànain a chur air adhart.

Tha mise air a bhith taiceil dhan Ghàidhlig bhon mhionaid a mhothaich mi nach b’ urrainn dhomh a h-ionnsachadh mar chuspair san sgoil. Tha mi a’ creidsinn gu bheil a’ Phàrlamaid taiceil cuideachd, agus bha sin follaiseach an-diugh.

Tha mi a’ dol a chrìochnachadh le fàilte a chur a-rithist air foillseachadh agus cur air bhog plana cànain nàiseanta na Gàidhlig. Bheir seo dhuinn an cothrom togail air an deagh obair a tha sinn air dèanamh o chionn ghoirid agus adhartas nas luaithe a dhèanamh anns gach roinn de leasachadh na Gàidhlig ann an Alba. Cumaidh Riaghaltas na h-Alba ar taic agus brosnachadh ri sgoiltean Gàidhlig ùra, agus sinn airson gum faic sinn na h-àireamhan a sìor dhol suas de luchd-labhairt, luchd-cleachdaidh agus luchd-ionnsachaidh na Gàidhlig ann an Alba.

’S e deasbad feumail a bh’ ann an-diugh, mar a thuirt mi, agus tha mi an dòchas gur e toiseach-tòiseachaidh a th’ ann airson an t-seòrsa taic a bhios aig a’ Phàrlamaid san àm ri teachd airson na Gàidhlig.

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

This was a very useful debate, which has proved again that all parties in the Parliament are supportive of Gaelic and its place in Scotland.

I am fortunate to represent the Western Isles, where Gaelic is strong, and I hope that the Gaelic plan will bring to many people in my area new opportunities to learn and use Gaelic. I also hope that Gaelic will be encouraged throughout Scotland. Anyone who reads place names on a map will know that not many places do not have some Gaelic history.

I am of the same opinion as Kate Forbes regarding the denigration of Gaelic in Scotland. I will not talk about that much, but I will tell members a story or two. The most important point is that what people without Gaelic say about Gaelic makes a big difference. If they praise it, young people will be happy that they have Gaelic. If people in the media or politics denigrate Gaelic, young people will grow up thinking that Scotland does not respect their Gaelic heritage.

As we heard in the debate, there are clear links between Gaelic and many aspects of public life and communities in Scotland. For example, VisitScotland is creating a tourism strategy, Historic Scotland is promoting events in schools where there is Gaelic education, Police Scotland has greatly promoted the profile of Gaelic throughout the country, and Skills Development Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise are collecting information and supporting apprenticeships through Gaelic.

Many councils throughout Scotland are promoting new roles as part of the Gaelic plan, and the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council is providing support for a historical dictionary in Gaelic, among other things.

I want to tell members one or two things about the developments that were recommended today, which the Government will support. I will also say a word or two about the contributions of a few people who spoke in today’s debate. I am very happy that a lot of members did so, but it would be too much for me to speak about each contribution in detail. Liz Smith made some very good points about Gaelic education. It is important to say that Gaelic medium education is not happening anywhere without people fighting for it and that, in years gone by, there were few opportunities for anyone who was using or learning the language. John Finnie made a good point in mentioning the benefits for anyone who uses two—or perhaps three—languages. Edward Mountain and Lewis Macdonald were also correct in remembering that there is a link between the economy and Gaelic. Stewart Stevenson spoke about the history of his family, which I have never heard from him before. He spoke about the place that Gaelic has in Glasgow and also the link between Gaelic and whisky. Claire Baker told us a little about the link between Gaelic and culture, as did many other members. I will tell the chamber something else: Donald Cameron has more Gaelic than he stated. In fact, I am sure that Lochiel has very good Gaelic—I heard it last night—but he is very modest about it.

I want to make a few more points about matters that speakers covered in the debate. The Islands (Scotland) Bill is going through Parliament at the moment, and Gaelic is an important part of that. Also, as we heard earlier, there is a link between Gaelic and economic and infrastructure matters such as housing, technology and many others. That will be a matter for debate in a group that the Deputy First Minister will convene in August. A wider aspect of that will be encouragement of using and learning the language. I have been very supportive of Gaelic from the moment that I realised that I could not study it as a subject at school. I believe that the Parliament is supportive as well, which has been obvious today.

I will finish by again welcoming the publication and launch of the national Gaelic plan, which will give us an opportunity to build on the good work that has been done before and to make faster progress in the development of Gaelic in Scotland. The Scottish Government will maintain support and encouragement for new Gaelic schools so that we can see the numbers of speakers, users and learners of Gaelic in Scotland increase.

As I have said, today’s debate has been very useful and I hope that it represents the start of the kind of support that the Parliament will give to Gaelic in the future.