I wish to speak to and move amendment 26, in the name of Michael Russell. This amendment in support of Gaelic is part of a much wider approach to building and securing the language—a language that is spoken probably by fewer than 50,000 people in Scotland, but which is as much a part of our heritage and our future as any other aspect of Scottish culture. All new structures that are established in Scotland must recognise the linguistic diversity of the country.
A number of amendments were brought forward at stage 2 to introduce into the management, operation and interpretation of national parks the
The amendment seeks to ensure that the visible presence of the park is available, and is seen to be available, in Gaelic, so that the parks have a Gaelic dimension and a Gaelic benefit. It is a small step forward, at limited cost, but it is of great symbolic significance.
I move amendment 26.
The Conservative party is not convinced that the amendment is necessary. We are not sure that Gaelic is spoken in either of the national park areas that have been identified so far, but we would like a commitment from the minister that if, following scrutiny, that proves not to be the case in the Cairngorms national park area, or if it proves not to be the case—as clearly it will not—in any prospective national park in Wester Ross, Gaelic versions of all documentation will be produced where appropriate. However, it is not appropriate that all documentation should automatically be produced in Gaelic in every case.
The amendment would make it compulsory for documents to be published in Gaelic. While that might be good practice in Gaelic-speaking areas, I fail to see the necessity to publish documents in Gaelic if there was, for example, a proposal that the southern uplands should become a national park, or Orkney or even Shetland.
While the sentiment behind the amendment might be appropriate in Gaelic-speaking areas, I see no reason why it should be compulsory for parts of the country where Gaelic is not spoken.
If the Lib-Lab Government is at all serious about trying to nurture Gaelic, which we all know has been in grave danger for a long time, it must use every legislative opportunity to do so.
I have listened to the debate with great interest. Many people fail to understand the situation of Gaelic speakers and those who sympathise with them. I speak as a learner who has not found it easy to get to the stage I am at. Because I am a learner, when I go around places such as Strathspey I try to find people with whom to practise Gaelic. I find them with no difficulty—Gaelic speakers can be found at any shinty match in Strathspey.
However, it is not only Gaelic speakers who have the confidence to burst into Gaelic, but their relatives, friends and their sympathisers—a huge body of people. I was interested in the example of the southern uplands. We could make a national park out of Glasgow, which is where we would find the largest number of Gaelic speakers. That argument does not wash well. Gaelic has not gone from all parts of Argyll but I have not had much success finding it around the shores of Loch Lomond, although I am sure it must be there.
The principle is that the Lib-Lab Government should use legislative opportunities to show that it is serious. If it does not take those opportunities, it is only putting another nail in the coffin of this distinguished language.
Our linguistic heritage was debated in the Rural Affairs Committee and the Executive proposed an amendment to section 33 to include language in cultural heritage, which is mentioned in the first of the park aims.
I am sympathetic to the amendment, as it aims to promote Gaelic, but I feel that the Executive's amendment takes that into account. I prefer "language" to "Gaelic" because, historically, more than one language has been spoken in Scotland. During the committee stages of the debate, reference was made to Gaelic and Scots, but those are limiting. A national park could be set up in, say, Shetland, which might consider its linguistic heritage, Norse, rather than Gaelic or Scots.
While I would do everything I could to promote Gaelic, that does not mean that I demean other people's linguistic heritage. Although I support the sentiments behind the amendment, I do not support it.
As has been said, we went a considerable way at stage 2 to give assurances about Scotland's linguistic heritage. A key element of that is Gaelic. We did not want to be prescriptive on the face of the bill because, as Rhoda Grant said, other languages have been spoken in Scotland, which are part of Scotland's history. However, we wish to promote the live, vibrant and active Gaelic language.
Amendment 26 proposes to include in the bill a requirement that reports and statements, the national park plan, directions and guidance by the Scottish Executive to the national park board, annual reports and orders should all be published in English and Gaelic. Many of us would question whether the amendment is the best and most effective way in which to support Gaelic in Scotland.
Alasdair Morrison, the minister responsible for Gaelic, would use stronger words than me in rebutting the amendment and some of the remarks
What we need is real, meaningful action. For example, we need interpretative material for school visits by Gaelic-medium education pupils and students. We see that as essential. We need signage of Gaelic names in national parks, where that is appropriate, but many of the names are Gaelic in the first place. We need acknowledgement of the linguistic heritage of national park areas, for example in parts of the Trossachs.
Those initiatives should, and will, come from the national park authority itself. It would be inappropriate to specify them in the sort of prescriptive detail that we have in the amendment. The real challenge is to ensure that we support Gaelic in a practical and effective way. That is why the Executive sets so much store on access to Gaelic through Gaelic-medium education.
Gaelic should have its rightful place and status acknowledged. That is why the amendment is misconceived and would be a costly diversion of funds from initiatives that really matter and that really can make the difference.
We recognise fully the importance of the Gaelic tradition and language in Scotland's cultural heritage. It is a vital part of our national inheritance. I hope, on that basis, that I have persuaded Mike Russell, or Irene McGugan in his place, that amendment 26 is not needed and I invite him not to press the issue to a vote.
Division number 8
For: Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Grahame, Christine, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McGugan, Irene, McLeod, Fiona, Morgan, Alasdair, Munro, Mr John, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Mr Gil, Quinan, Mr Lloyd, Robison, Shona, Stone, Mr Jamie, Swinney, Mr John, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Andrew
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Galbraith, Mr Sam, Gallie, Phil, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Gorrie, Donald, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Harding, Mr Keith, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Johnston, Nick, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, MacLean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Mundell, David, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Thomson, Elaine, Tosh, Mr Murray, Wallace, Ben, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan, Young, John
Abstentions: Harper, Robin, Sheridan, Tommy