UN Year of Indigenous Languages and European Day of Languages

– in the Scottish Parliament on 6th November 2019.

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18960, in the name of Angus MacDonald, on the United Nations year of indigenous languages and European day of languages. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

I ask those members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons. Members will note that there are things—I cannot remember their name.



The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Headphones. [


.] There are headphones on each desk for use for translation, as I understand that there will be a contribution in Gaelic.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that 2019 is the UN Year of Indigenous Languages, and that the European Day of Languages will take place on 26 September; acknowledges the strong contribution that indigenous languages bring to Scotland’s rich and varied culture; notes that it is through language that we communicate with the world, define identity, express history and culture, learn, defend human rights and participate in all aspects of society; believes that, through language, people preserve their community’s history, customs and traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression; notes that language is pivotal in the areas of human rights protection, good governance, peace building, reconciliation and sustainable development; praises the work of Bòrd na Gàidhlig for its efforts to promote, encourage and grow indigenous Gaelic language and culture through supporting local learning groups and events, as well as supporting the national Gaelic Language Plan and providing support for Gaelic-medium education; highlights the work of the Scots Language Centre in promoting and encouraging Scots and the regional dialects of the language throughout Scotland and, in doing so, raising the understanding of Scots, Doric and Lallans and how Scotland's language came to be; notes the work of the Scots Language Society in its efforts to promote and encourage the Scots leid, best known for its “Lallans” journal and annual “Sangschaw”, which is a competition of singing and writing in Scots equivalent to the Scottish Gaelic Mod or Welsh Eisteddfod; understands that the Council of Europe declared 26 September the annual Day of Languages after the success of the European Year of Languages in 2001, and is marked across all 47 member states of the Council of Europe; recognises that the aims of the European Day of Languages are to alert the public to the importance of language learning and diversifying the range of languages learnt in order to increase plurilingualism and intercultural understanding, promoting the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe, which must be preserved and fostered, and encouraging lifelong language learning in and out of school, whether for study purposes, professional needs, purposes of mobility or pleasure and exchanges; considers that Scotland’s colourful, multicultural society is only enhanced by the languages that bridge its diverse communities together, from Polish, Indian, Chinese, Italian and many more to the languages of Scotland’s culture in Scots and Gaelic; believes that, by celebrating the European Day of Languages, people are promoting the objectives of raising awareness of Europe’s rich linguistic diversity, the need to diversify the range of languages people learn and the need for people to develop some degree of proficiency in two languages or more to be able to play their full part in democratic citizenship in Europe, while fully understanding that language skills are a necessity and a right for everyone; notes the calls for people to celebrate both the 2019 UN Year of Indigenous Languages and the European Day of Languages across all communities in Scotland, and looks forward to celebrating Scotland’s indigenous languages and what it considers Scotland’s diversity and acceptance of other cultures in the future.

Photo of Angus MacDonald Angus MacDonald Scottish National Party

I am delighted to be able to bring the debate to the chamber and I thank colleagues from across the political spectrum for ensuring that my motion received cross-party support. They all know who they are.

From 195 countries in the world, it is estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 different languages are spoken, and that around 60 per cent of the world’s population speaks more than one language. It is clear why the United Nations designated 2019 as the year of indigenous languages, with the aim of highlighting the cultural importance of indigenous language and the impact that loss of languages can have while the language of dominant culture takes over.

My motion also refers to the European day of languages, which has been held on 26 September every year since 2001, raising awareness of Europe’s rich linguistic diversity. The Council of Europe decided that that must be preserved and enhanced, while identifying the need to diversify the range of languages that people learn to include less widely used languages, resulting in plurilingualism.

The key message of the European day of languages is simply that language skills are a necessity and a right for everyone. The language that we have used over the centuries has shaped Scotland’s rich cultural history and is largely responsible for the image that we, as old and new Scots, want to show the world. Scots is the nearest linguistic neighbour to English—it has been spoken and written in Scotland for hundreds of years and it has survived against the odds. It has survived not only the removal of the Crown to the south, the introduction of an English-language Bible and the prorogation for 300 years of this Parliament, but a long campaign of hostility towards Scots and Gaelic from educators and the elite.

As a Hebridean, I admit that I have trouble forgiving the actions that were taken by the establishment in the past against Gaelic. Like Gaelic-speaking children, Scots-speaking bairns were also subjected to multiple indignities for speaking their language, including physical punishment. Thankfully, we now see many efforts to sustain and support Scots, with cultural production at a higher level than ever, and more and more people confidently speaking in the language that they have inherited from their forebears.

Hailing from the Isle of Lewis, as I do, I have to say that Gaelic remains the language that is closest to my heart, although clearly Scots comes a very close second. Unfortunately, Gaelic is considered as definitely endangered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, based on the reduction in learning Gaelic as a mother tongue in the home. I am probably a victim of that.

Although the language is considered to be in decline—some might even say that it is on life support—the Scottish Government is doing what it can to encourage the uptake of Gaelic in schools and local community learning through the national Gaelic language plan. Gaelic-medium education is also increasing, with a fourth Gaelic school now planned in Glasgow, and it is well known that Sgoil Ghàidhlig Glaschu is one of the highest-performing schools in Scotland.

More than 10,000 school pupils in Scotland are being educated in Gaelic. Nearly 4,000 are enrolled in GME, which is a 32 per cent increase in just three years, and around 10,000 adults are learning the language, with the figure set to increase with Duolingo coming on board with a Scottish Gaelic app for learners. I would encourage all members to sign up in advance of the app going live. In fact, I lodged a motion about that this afternoon, which members could perhaps consider signing.

Let us not forget that around 500 students from all over the world are enrolled in Gaelic courses at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, from beginner classes to postgraduate degrees.

There are also some great local examples of Gaelic in education in my constituency. With a steady increase since 2015, the number of children learning Gaelic in nurseries and primary schools in Falkirk district is set to break through the 1,000 mark this year alone, thanks to the Blasad Gàidhlig, or taste of Gaelic, programme, which is delivered by Fèisgoil, the formal education strand of one of Scotland’s most successful arts organisations, Fèisean nan Gàidheal.

Just last week I visited Carron primary school in my constituency, which is part of the Larbert cluster, to see at first hand the Gaelic sessions being delivered by Fèisean nan Gàidheal tutor, Eilidh Cormack. The enthusiasm for Gaelic from the primary 1 to 3 pupils was very infectious and a delight to see. With the benefits of bilingualism becoming more widely accepted, it is encouraging that 1,000 pupils from the Larbert cluster schools now have access to Gaelic through the Fèisgoil programme.

I look forward to the programme being rolled out to other schools in the district and, eventually, I hope, to a Gaelic-medium unit in Falkirk district, which I believe is long overdue. The warm welcome that I received from headmaster, Mr Forsyth, from the Gaelic tutor, Eilidh Cormack, from Eilidh Mackenzie of Fèisean nan Gàidheal and, of course, from the pupils was greatly appreciated, and I look forward to awareness of Gaelic going from strength to strength throughout Falkirk district in the future. The programme has been developed to support the one-plus-two language part of the curriculum for excellence and supports the local council in delivering its Gaelic language plan in nurseries and primary schools. The programme is delivered in schools throughout the country in which there is not already a GME offering in place, meaning that the language is reaching a wider audience within various regions.

Gaelic and Scots give us so much information on who we are as a people and the distance we have travelled as a country. They give us the foundation on which we are building a new Scotland, which is tolerant and progressive while always understanding our heritage and what it means to the world. Each of us in this place has a duty to encourage more uptake of Gaelic and Scots, and I include myself in that.

I offer the observation that we simply do not speak enough Gaelic or Scots in this chamber. Not so long ago, the Parliament’s in-house Gaelic team issued us all with phrases to use in the chamber, but apart from my colleague Dr Alasdair Allan and a few others, I have heard very little attempt to use those phrases—although, given the speakers who are lined up for the debate, that may well change tonight.

We must all do better—again, I include myself in that—but there is good work going on out there. Despite some recent criticism, the good work of Bòrd na Gàidhlig in promoting and protecting the Gaelic language cannot be ignored; in fact, it should be praised. Similarly, the role of the Scots Language Centre and the Scots Language Society in ensuring that speakers of the Scots leid are given a strong voice have to be applauded.

The last thing that I want to do is to make this members’ debate political. There is a time and place for political discourse and I do not believe that it should be during members’ debates. That said, I was pleased that delegates at the recent Scottish National Party conference in Aberdeen unanimously called for the creation of a new body to encourage the use of the Scots language. That would clearly strengthen the view of Scots as a language in its own right and improve the understanding of what it means and represents to us here.

We must ensure that both Gaelic and Scots have plenty life left in them and that those speakers who have inherited a centuries-old culture will continue to use it without fear or embarrassment. Scotland as it is today is a tapestry of colourful, diverse culture from all round the world: each thread has its own purpose, including our own languages of Gaelic and Scots. If we remove just one of those threads the tapestry will no longer be as strong as it is today. However, we have the opportunity to make it stronger by adding to it, in the knowledge that building on what we already have can only make a more colourful tapestry of what we want Scotland to be, for auld lang syne as well as for the future of our nation.

I thank you for your indulgence, Presiding Officer, and I look forward to hearing the contributions of other members.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Mr MacDonald. We move to the open debate; I request speeches of four minutes, please.

Photo of Donald Cameron Donald Cameron Conservative

I start by expressing my thanks to Mr MacDonald for bringing the motion to the chamber today. He is a keen supporter of the cross-party group on Gaelic and has always been a passionate advocate for the language. Despite our many political differences, I have always been struck that support for indigenous languages, particularly Gaelic, exists across the political spectrum in the Parliament. That is incredibly important. I also notice that the Deputy First Minister is going to wrap up for the Government, and I acknowledge his personal interest in the language.

I have the great privilege of representing the Highlands and Islands, which is, of course, home to most, although not all, of the communities that speak Gaelic. Angus MacDonald spoke about how Gaelic is gaining ground in his constituency in the central belt.

I want to focus on the language. From my personal experience, I tried to learn Gaelic at night school in London and in Edinburgh, and I attended Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, albeit a long time ago. According to the previous census, Gaelic is currently spoken to some degree by around 60,000 people. Those speakers range from fluent speakers to those who are learning a few words here and there. I will not inflict my Gaelic on members, but I warn them that Peter Chapman intends to speak in Doric. They should listen out for that, as I will.

Gaelic has recently received more exposure for people outwith the Highlands and Islands and, indeed, Scotland, and interest has increased in the Gaelic language and in Gaelic songs, poems and names. The Mòd, which is Scotland’s best-known Gaelic festival, happened in Glasgow last month, which I think was the first time it had taken place in that city for nearly 30 years.

The motion acknowledges the role of Bòrd na Gàidhlig and the work that it does to preserve and promote the language. It has been the subject of some criticism recently, but I am sure that it will meet the challenges with alacrity.

Organisations such as Comunn na Gàidhlig, Fèisean nan Gàidheal, MG Alba and many others should be commended for their efforts to widen people’s exposure to the language. However, as with many other indigenous languages across the world, the use of Gaelic as a conversational language is under threat, as Angus MacDonald pointed out. Despite all the work that is going into its preservation and promotion, the director of the language sciences institute at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Professor Conchúr Ó Giollagáin, recently warned that the language is coming close to collapse. He told

The Guardian in an interview that policies that are currently being used in Scotland maintain a focus on promoting Gaelic among new speakers, but it is important to note that we must also concentrate on those who are already fluent and strike a balance between new learners and those who are already fluent so that they can pass on the language from one generation to the next.

We know that BBC Alba has commissioned or created £160 million-worth of Gaelic television, but more could be done. If we consider how popular foreign language television programmes such as “Bron” and “Les Revenants”—“The Bridge” and “The Returned”—can be, we see that they are proof that a series does not have to be in English to attract an audience. It would be remiss not to point out the huge success of “Bannan”, which is a Gaelic-language programme that has been produced by and aired on BBC Alba. It has also been shown in North America and Scandinavia.

I am aware that Angus MacDonald’s motion also praises the European day of languages. I am sure that we all agree that, whatever language people take up, it is of benefit. As I have indicated, an important aspect of learning any language—particularly an indigenous one—is the doors that it opens.

I thank Angus MacDonald once again for lodging the motion, which celebrates both the United Nations year of indigenous languages and the European day of languages. It is right that we mark them. As Angus MacDonald said, indigenous languages are not in competition with one another. Together, we can ensure that they survive and thrive.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

Tapadh leibh, anns a’ chiad dol-a-mach gu Aonghas Dòmhnallach, a fhuair cead airson an deasbaid seo an-diugh, a’ toirt cothrom dhuinn uile dà rud cudromach a chomharrachadh aig an aon àm: latha nan cànan aig an Aonadh Eòrpach, agus bliadhna nan cànan dùthchasach aig na Dùthchannan Aonaichte.

Gu mì-fhòrtanach, bidh cuid anns an rìoghachd seo a’ faighneachd fhathast carson, no eadhon ciamar, a bhiodh mac-màthair sam bith a’ bruidhinn barrachd air an aon chànan? Ged a tha dà-chànanas nàdarrach gu leòr, agus àbhaisteach, air feadh an t-saoghail.

Mar dìreach aon eisimpleir den àbhaisteachd sin, bha mi air bòrd trèana eadar a’ Bhruiseal agus Lucsamburg greiseag air ais. Bha mi ag èisteachd a-steach - gu mì-mhodhail, feumaidh mi a ràdh -- ris na còmhraidhean eadar an duine a bha a’ reic cofaidh bho throlaidh agus an luchd-siubhail eile timcheall orm. Ged nach do thuig mi mòran, bha e follaiseach gu leòr gun robh comas aig an duine leis an trolaidh anns a’ Ghearmailtis, Duidsis, Fraingis, Beurla agus Lucsamburgais.

Tha rathad fada romhainn fhathast mus ruig sinn an ìre sin anns an dùthaich seo. Ach bha mi airson a’ phuing seo a dhèanamh: Tha ceangail ann eadar Alba a tha fosgailte gu cànain gu lèir agus an spèis a th’ againn mar dhùthaich airson nan cànan dùthchasach againne. Tha sin fìor a thaobh na Gàidhlig agus a thaobh Albais ann an dòighean eadar-dhealaichte.

Tha mi toilichte a ràdh gu bheil, mar a thuirt Maighstir Dòmhnallach fhèin, tòrr a tha math a’ tachairt a-nis ann an saoghal na Gàidhlig. Am measg iomadach rud eile, bidh Duolingo, an t-seirbhis air-loidhne as motha anns an t-saoghal airson daoine a tha ag ionnsachadh cànain, a’ tòiseachadh cùrsa Gàidhlig a dh’aithghearr. Bha mòran ag iomairt air a shon, anns a’ Phàrlamaid seo, am measg àiteachan eile.

Tha tòrr ann ri dhèanamh fhathast, ge-tà. Tha mi a’ cur fàilte chridheil air na sgoiltean agus ionadan Gàidhlig a tha a’ fosgladh, agus an obair sàr mhath a tha iad a’ dèanamh airson a’ chànain. Ma tha beàrn ann fhathast, ’s e gu bheil feum mòr fhathast air seirbheisean tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig anns a’ choimhearsnachd. Tha mi a’ creidsinn gun robh Maighstir Camshron a’ dèanamh an aon phuing.

Tha sin fìor anns a’ Ghàidhealtachd agus anns na h-Eileanan co-dhiù. Feumaidh sinn Gàidhlig a’ neartachadh taobh a-muigh na sgoile cuideachd. Agus dhan a h-uile duine leis a’ Ghàidhlig, tha an teachdaireachd soilleir - cleachd i no caill i.

Bidh duine sam bidh a tha a’ leughadh an Daily Gael a’ faicinn gu bheil an làrach-lìn sin a’ cumail sùil gu math geur air an aineolas a bhios a’ nochdadh anns na meadhanan fhathast mun Ghàidhlig, bho àm gu àm.

Tha a’ mhòr-chuid ann an Alba, ge-tà, taiceil dhan Ghàidhlig, agus ’s e briseadh-dùil a th’ ann nuair a tha cuideigin a’ sgaoileadh sgudal mu shoidhnichean-rathaid no sgoiltean Gàidhlig agus mar sin air adhart. Dè chanas mi, gu modhail mu dheidhinn sin?

Uill, tha abairt anns a’ Ghàidhlig airson daoine a tha thu ag iarraidh a bhith fad air falbh bhuat:

“B’ fheàrr leam ann an Hiort thu”.

Ach tha Hiort anns an roinn-taghaidh agamsa, mar sin ma tha na beachdan sin agad mun a’ Ghàidhlig, dìreach fuirich far a bheil thu, tapadh leat.

Tha Alba taiceil ris a’ Ghàidhlig, ri Albais agus ri saoghal far a bheil daoine fosgailte dhan a h-uile cànan agus a h-uile cultar a th’ ann.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Dr Allan. I apologise to the chamber, because there appears to have been some problems with the feed. I know that Dr Allan has provided an English translation as well as the Gaelic, so we can read the

Official Report tomorrow to get the full flavour of what he said.

Following is the translation of Dr Allan’s speech:

First, many thanks to Angus MacDonald for securing today’s debate and giving us all the opportunity to celebrate two important things at the same time: the European day of language and the United Nations day of indigenous languages.

Unfortunately, some in this country still ask why, or even how, anybody would speak more than one language, although bilingualism is natural enough and normal worldwide. I will give just one example of how normal it is. I was on a train between Brussels and Luxembourg a while back and was listening in—somewhat cheekily, I must say—to the conversations between the man selling coffee from a trolley and the other travellers around me. Although I did not understand much, it was clear enough that the man with the trolley was able to speak German, Dutch, French, English and Luxembourgish.

We have a long road before us before we reach that level in this country. However, I wanted to make the point that there is a link between a Scotland that is open to all languages and the respect that we have for our indigenous languages. The same is true for Gaelic and for Scots in different ways.

I am happy to say that, as Mr MacDonald said, there is a lot happening in the Gaelic world just now. Among many other things, Duolingo, the world’s largest online language learning service, will be starting a Gaelic course. Many campaigned for it in the Parliament, among other places.

There is much yet to be done, however. I warmly welcome the opening of the new Gaelic schools and units, and the excellent work that they are doing for the language. If there is still a gap, it is that there is still a great need for Gaelic medium services in the community. I believe that Mr Cameron made the same point. That is true in the Highlands and Islands, at least. We also need to strengthen Gaelic outwith the school. For everyone who speaks Gaelic, the message is clear: use it or lose it.

Anyone who reads

The Daily Gael will see that that website keeps a close eye on the ignorance that still appears in the media about Gaelic, from time to time. The majority of people in Scotland are supportive of Gaelic, and it is very disappointing when people spread rubbish about signage, Gaelic schools and so on. What can I say politely about that? Well, there is a Gaelic expression for people you would like to be far away from:

“I’d prefer if you were in St Kilda.”

However, St Kilda is in my constituency so, for views like that, just stay where you are, please.

Scotland is supportive of Gaelic, of Scots and of a world where everyone is open to each and every language and culture.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

Tha mi toilichte bruidhinn san deasbad seo agus tha mi airson taing a thoirt do Angus MacDonald airson a thoirt dhan Phàrlamaid.

The member continued in English.

I am pleased to speak in the debate, and I congratulate Angus MacDonald on bringing it to the Parliament.

I welcome indigenous languages being recognised, with this year being the United Nations year of indigenous languages and 26 September marking the European day of languages.

Times have changed. A generation ago, indigenous languages and dialects were frowned on; indeed, they were discouraged. Now that we are so close to losing them, we begin to see their worth. The people’s history and culture were never written down; they were handed down in stories, poems and songs. If we lose the language that holds that information, we will lose our culture and heritage, too.

At a time of austerity, when essential services are being cut, people question spending on things such as promoting language, and the Gaelic language has faced such threats. It is not a life and death issue and, when life and death services are being threatened, I understand why such questions are asked. However, people do not question funding for museums and historic buildings in the same way. Why is language seen as expendable?

The late John MacLeod was passionate about Gaelic achieving UNESCO status of intangible cultural heritage. UNESCO lists intangible cultural heritage, including oral traditions, performing arts, artisanship and so on, and John wanted that recognition for Gaelic—not only for the language itself but for the cultural heritage that it holds. He believed that that could be focused in the Western Isles, where there is the greatest number of speakers, although the number there is dwindling too. To have a focus on the language is important. I am proud that the Parliament passed the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, securing the status of Gaelic. Sadly, there appears to have been little progress since—indeed, the number of speakers continues to fall—so we must redouble our efforts to preserve the language.

The 2005 act established Bòrd na Gàidhlig. It is clear that there are problems with the board, and some of those are placed at the door of the Scottish Government. That must be sorted and quickly. At a critical time for Gaelic, the focus must be on protecting the language. We must promote the language, and promote its use.

A fitting legacy for John MacLeod would be that we achieve the UNESCO status that he campaigned for. Therefore, we should redouble our efforts to protect the language and gain that status.

I have been learning Gaelic for a couple of years, although members would be forgiven for not believing that, given my opening statement. However, I hope that before too long I might be able to deliver my whole speech in Gaelic—that is an aim for me. However, those things, although they are important, are simply window dressing. To protect the language, it needs to be the medium that is used for social as well as formal occasions. If we all spoke a little, that would help, so at a time when we look forward to making new year resolutions, maybe we can think about how we can promote Gaelic and how we can speak it a little.

Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

Weel done tae Angus MacDonald on securin the debate. Ah am gey taen on wi the motion recognisin no just yin, but twa threatened leids here, in Scotland—yin o which Ah will attempt tae dae justice tae the nicht, wi thanks tae Stuart Paiterson for his help wi this speech, though he is no responsible for ma pronunciation.

The motion gies guid praise tae the darg o Bòrd na Gàidhlig fur promotin an growin Gaelic.

It is richt a braw that Gaelic benefits fae this support, though it doesnae hae the official status o Welsh or English in the United Kingdom. Withoot ony inbidin leid bein official, English is the de facto leid o the UK. Yon absence o legislation maks fur discriminatory policy, so indigenous leids dinnae hae eeksie-peeksie staunnin in the UK.

Oor ither national leid is Scots, which is spoken fae Galloway tae the Grampians, Dumfriesshire tae Shetland an maist places in atween. Scots wis yince the official leid o the royal Scottish court an has a written tradition in education, government, law, sang an poetry gaun back ower 700 year. In the middle ages, Scots literature wis looked on as yin o the maist important in Europe, wi great works like Wyntoun’s “Kronikill”, Barbour’s “The Bruce” an the poems o Henrysoun, Dunbar an King James the Fourth kent throughoot the continent. In the 17th century, its official use stopped when the court moved tae England. It has syne suffered a wheen o attempts at makkin it whit it is no—slang, dialect, poor English an no a leid at aw.

But Scots wull nae be shoved intae the linguistic midden. It is no only haudin furrit, it is makkin its way back up tae where it should be: an officially recognised national language. In 2001, the UK Government signed the European Chairter fur Regional or Minority Languages an unnertook tae recognise an promote Scots. That wis ratified no long efter by the Scottish Government here in Embra.

In the 2011 census, there wis a question on Scots leid fur the very first time: 1.5 million folk telt the census that they could speak Scots and 1.9 million folk telt the census that they could speak, read, scrieve or unnerstaun Scots. Ah agree wi the motion that the Scots Language Society an Scots Language Association dae guid work, but they are awfy wee an unnerfundit when ye look at yon results fae the 2011 census.

Scots disnae get the official recognition an support o Gaelic. There is nae impetus on local or national Government tae produce info, leaflets or documents in Scots, as there is fur Gaelic in the areas where Gaelic is spoken. There are, though, a growin number o national media ootlets in Scots includin

The National

, BBC Scotland’s “The Social” an Scots Language Radio.

Ah very much support the recently formed oor vyce group, which was set up tae ca for the establishment o a Scots language board, on a par wi Bòrd na Gàidhlig. The group has already met twice, and is made up o a wheen o educators, activists an artists. Ah wid also like tae gie a cry oot tae the Doric language board, which is based at the Elphinstone institute in Aberdeen, wha state that they are

“a steppin stane tae a National Scots Language Board”.

Fae August 2014, the Scots language award has been available at Scottish credit and qualifications framework levels 3, 4, 5 and 6. It gies weans the opportunity tae study the history o the Scots leid an develop their ability to unnerstaun an communicate in Scots. This month, the Scottish Qualifications Authority heid o service reports that creative pieces scrievit in Scots for higher an advanced higher English were o an awfie high standard. They are seein a fair increase in the number o poetry an drama portfolio submissions in mony dialects o the Scots leid, including Doric, Shetlandic an Glaswegian. Banff academy has been working with the Elphinstone institute on neurolinguistic studies showin that speakin twa leids heezes up attainment in mony subjects. Validatin Scots through schemes such as the SQA award boosts the self-belief and confidence o weans.

There is mair. This year saw the first Scots language awards in Glesca. The Open University is noo runnin a free online course in Scots language and culture wi 10 units. Creative Scotland held its first ever Scots leid gaitherin, and it was selt oot. Scots language publication grants have been awardit tae nine publishers.

In this Parliament a couple o months syne, we memorably celebratit the amazin legacy o Scottish cultural icon Hamish Henderson, in this centenary year o his birth. Henderson was a firm advocate o the Scots leid. He spoke o the “carrying stream” o Scottish culture in language and sang. Whit better acknowledgement could there be o Hamish’s legacy than making sure that the Scots “carrying stream” becomes a michty river, fed by the virrsome tributary o this Scottish Parliament’s commitment, no jist in words but in much-needit action.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

Mòran taing, Presiding Officer. Gabhibh mo leisgeul; chan eil ach beagan Gàidhlig agam. Feumaidh mi Beurla a bhruidhinn.

I apologise to the interpreter, because I did not say before the debate that I was going to make my usual apology, which is that I have only a wee bit Gaelic, so I am afraid that members are going to get this in English.

I congratulate my colleague Angus MacDonald on an extremely comprehensive motion. I will have time to touch on only elements of it. I want to get a negative out of the way straight away, which is to say again that, like other members, I know people who were belted for speaking Gaelic at school, and not that long ago.

Dr Allan talked about recent ignorant pronouncements, but let us turn that into a positive. I have a very positive letter from Highland Council saying that the council effectively implements Gaelic immersion policy and is happy to support the expansion of Gaelic immersion education. That is important, because we do not want any misunderstandings.

Language is hugely important. As the motion says, its contribution is rich and varied. I am a typical mongrel Scot, with grandparents from all over the place. Three of them were Doric speakers and one spoke Lallans. I have a wee bit of French and a wee bit of Gaelic. My daughter is fluent in Gaelic, my son is fluent in Catalan, two of my grandchildren are fluent in Gaelic and two of them are fluent in Catalan and understand Spanish—or Castilian as they call it. There is a cultural difference there because, living in Catalunya, there is exposure to a range of languages, which Dr Allan talked about. I hope that we will benefit from that.

Angus MacDonald talked about old and new Scots. I stand to be corrected, but I think that the second most spoken language in the Highlands is Polish. We want to welcome the rich cultures that exist. Scotland has been doing that, but there is no place for complacency. Because of the waves of immigration that we have had, which I hope will continue, Doric has taken a back seat.

I give the example of a dear friend of mine, Henk Rennie, who I had cause to be away with on work a lot. Like me, he was a Scottish Police Federation secretary, from the north-east. He was of Dutch origin and spoke broad Doric. If on any occasion I did not hear what he said or did not pick it up correctly, he repeated in English. His default position was to assume that I did not understand rather than that I did not hear.

We have heard comments about officialdom. Members are aware that individuals have been challenged from shrieval benches for, quite legitimately, using the word “aye” for “yes”.

There have been a lot of improvements. I had a wee look at the YoungScot website, where there is a piece entitled, “Seven Benefits of Being Bilingual”. I will rattle through them. There are benefits to the brain, such as improved attention span, which would be helpful for politicians, and there is a load of evidence about that from the mil—I am struggling to say this in English—millennium cohort study. There are health benefits; bilingual people seem to have lower levels of stress than monolingual people. Open-mindedness and adaptability are also benefits—that is huge—and social opportunities are another. There are more options for further education and work, and bilingual people have the ability to learn more languages. Benefit 7 is that there are “No Negatives!” That seems to be very positive.

I am a big football fan and the family in Catalunya are, of course, big Barça fans. If members look at a Barça web page, they will find that it is in Castilian, Thai and a range of other languages—it is also in Catalan, because there can be a local focus. My office manager, Steven Dehn, who is Bavarian, would want me to point out that, likewise, FC Bayern Munich, which is another multinational organisation, uses a range of languages and plays an important part in promoting Bavarian.

It is important that people hear Scots, Doric—I am looking forward to that today—and Gaelic being spoken in the chamber.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I congratulate Angus MacDonald, not only on lodging the longest-ever motion in the Parliament but, more important, on securing the debate.

I thank my intern Anna, who is bilingual English and Mexican Spanish, for providing my speaking notes for tonight. She is familiar with bilingualism.

I want to pick up on a point that John Finnie made. My mother was born in Dalmeny Street, in Leith, in 1909, to a Gaelic native speaker father and an Anglophone mother. She learned Gaelic to some degree before she went to school, but when she went to school she was punished if she used Gaelic. She left school with no Gaelic. It is ironic that she became a language teacher, teaching French and German, although she had no Gaelic. That has been the message down the ages.

I am very much looking forward to hearing from Peter Chapman, whose Doric far surpasses my trivial amount of the language. It is worth making the point that Doric is, I think, a language in its own right. It is as close to—or as distant from—English as Norwegian is to Swedish, and Norwegian and Swedish are recognised as separate languages. It might be time for Doric to have similar recognition.

I join other members in congratulating Bòrd na Gàidhlig on its successful work in promoting Gaelic and, in particular, for facilitating access to Gaelic for people at an early age. The number of people who speak Gaelic is stabilising, after a period of particular difficulty, and there is an increase in Gaelic speakers under the age of 20. If Gaelic becomes a language of the young, we can see a future for it, so I hope that that trend continues. We know that Gaelic is the key to Highland culture, heritage, tradition and society.

We have other languages that sort of dribble into our perception. Just a mile outside my constituency is the town of New Pitsligo, which has the alternative name Cyaak, which is Brythonic—it is really Welsh. We have a long history of many different languages in Scotland.

Teaching is important, if we are to preserve our traditions, but individuals can play their part, too. Expressions that we inherited from our ancestors are important, and it is good to use the oral tradition to pass them down.

Multilingualism is a key European value and a crucial component of economic growth and social cohesion, but not all Governments agree that that is the case. We have been particularly disappointed by the failure to allow into Scotland at first asking some Gaelic teachers from places elsewhere that use Gaelic. I hope that we will not see a repetition of that. There is an acute shortage of qualified Gaelic teachers, and we do not need further barriers to teachers coming here to help.

In September, the Scots language awards made an excellent contribution to that area of policy and gave much deserved recognition to the many talented writers, performers and educators who work in Scots.

On the doorstep of the Parliament, outside the Canongate kirk, there is a recent statue of Robert Fergusson. I will close with one verse of his nine-verse poem “Braid Claith”. It was published in 1773 and is directed at us politicians and our potential arrogance.

“Ye wha are fain to hae your name

Wrote in the bonny book of fame,

Let merit nae pretension claim

To laurel’d wreath,

But hap ye weel, baith back and wame,

In gude Braid Claith.”

In the 21st century, we can learn a lot from the Scots language, even if we have to go back to the 18th century. Robert Burns described Robert Fergusson as

“my elder brother in the muse”.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

I thank my colleague Angus MacDonald for bringing this debate before Parliament today.

This is the year of indigenous languages and I welcome that. It has been great to hear everybody’s contributions so far. Like others, I am happy to hear Peter Chapman’s Doric.

I want to use my short time this evening to focus on my first language, the language that I grew up with as a wee wean, dreepin aff the fairm dyke, loupin the burns, and just dumfoonert wi wunner at the world aroon me.

Scots is an indigenous leid. Mr MacDonald’s motion states that

“through language, people preserve their community’s history, customs and traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression”.

That is absolutely richt.

There are wonderful ways that ideas, feelings and stories can be communicated, with pinpointed, focused, specific accuracy when using particular Scots words to make crystal clear a meaning that one wants tae get across tae folk.

Fir me, words like dreich, fash, sleekit, scunnert, blether, fouter, clatty and houchin are unique and specific words that struggle tae be accurately translated.

A guid pal o mine, Scots speaker, poet and scriever, is author Susi Briggs. She has helped me an awfy lot and is here in oor public gallery this evening. Susi’s children’s book, “Nip Nebs”, which is beautifully illustrated by Ruthie Redden, was written tae teach weans aboot Jack Frost and whit happens tae yer fingers, yer neb and yer taes when the winter weather is cal and frosty ootside and nippin ye. Her new book “Nip Nebs and the Last Berry” could not have been written without funding and support from Curly Tale Books and the Scottish Government. Actor Gary Lewis, who is a great supporter of Scots and a local Galloway talent, scrievit the foreword note in the book. Help and support from ither artists and dedicated funding can help ony new Scots scrievers. Many thanks go to the Government for supporting Susi.

In September, I attended the verra first Scots language awards, which were held at the Mitchell library. The event was sponsored by Hands Up for Trad, headed by Simon Thoumire and hosted by Frieda Morrison and Alistair Heather—twa guid Scots leid presenters.

The thocht ahint the awards was tae heighlicht the Scots leid, bringin it forrit intae the een o the public and media in its mony forms. It was a wunnerfu nicht o poems, sangs and clatter and mony Scots-speaking experts ably presented their personal wirk and aa folk supported ilk ither.

Angus MacDonald mentioned that, last month, at the Scottish National Party conference in Aiberdeen, a motion by Jack Capener and Charlotte Armitage, which supported the creation of a Scots language board, was unanimously approved, tae acclaim. I was happy tae speak supportin that motion. The motion asked that a board, similar tae Bòrd na Gàidhlig, which has been really successful in furthering Gaelic language, be established fir oor Scots leid.

As Joan McAlpine mentioned, there is a new campaign called Oor Vyce. It was also created by Jack Capener, who is a braw Scots speaker. Oor Vyce is a campaign for a Scots language board. It is campaigning for the statutory recognition and promotion of Scotland’s second most spoken leid.

I am happy tae be working with colleagues in the chamber, such as Joan McAlpine and the multilingual Dr Alasdair Allan, to re-establish the cross-party group on Scots language in this Parliament. I have also had braw support from Stuart Paterson.

In the previous session we had a Scots language cross-party group convened by Rob Gibson MSP—a guid, braw Scots speaker who hails fae Wick. I record and reflect my thanks to him for his work in the previous session to raise awareness. I spoke to him recently, and he has a Scots “Statement o Principles”. I have a copy here, but I dinnae hae time tae read it out loud—although I have a few copies if onybody wants yin.

I have just one ask: to ask the Deputy First Minister if the Government wid consider takin forrit action tae explore establishin a board for the Scots language. Once again, I thank Angus MacDonald for bringing the debate to the chamber.

Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

I thank Angus MacDonald for lodgin the langest motion that I have ever seen. Like Stewart Stevenson, I must say that I have never seen a motion as long.

For once in my life, I have not written a speech. I just thought I would stand up here and spik—I hope that I can dae that. I am absolutely delighted tae hae the opportunity tae spik in my natural language. I was born and bred and brocht up in a sma Buchan ferm in the 1950s. Aa that I heard until I went tae the skweel wis the Doric. Aabodie aboot there spoke the Doric. My mum and dad spoke the Doric. We didna hae a television in thaim days. I suppose we had a wireless, but I dinna remember listenin til it very much, so it was the Doric that we heard.

Suddenly, when we went to the skweel at five year aal, we werna allowed to spik the Doric. We suddenly almost had tae learn a new language, and it was tough going for us. There is a story o a wee loonie who had been tae school just long enough tae realise that they didna spik the Doric there. I apologise for the language a wee bit, but it was the loonie’s language and nae mine. He came in ae day efter playtime, and he was greetin. The teacher says til him, “Oh, Jimmy, fit’s wrang wi ye?” “Oh,” he says, through his tears, “Please, miss, the big boys have pushed me ower, and I’ve torn a hole in the erse o ma briks.” The teacher gies him a severe look, o course, and he realises that he is mistaken. He says, “Please, miss: what I meant to say is that I’ve torn a hole in the erse o ma trousers.”

The Doric was frowned on and looked doon on. As folk have already said, you got the belt in my day if you didna spik English in the school. Doric is under pressure and has been under pressure aa these years. I would love tae see the Doric gettin the recognition that it deserves. The problem is that, wi each generation, we lose a bit mair o the language—we are aye lossin a few words. My son and my stepson baith spik pretty strong Doric, a bit like masel, but my grandkids dinna. They understand it, but they dinna spik it. That hurts me and worries me. In my ain hoosehold, I feel that I should be able tae dae a bit better.

The language is part o who we are; it is part of fa we are in the north-east. It is part of our culture and our heritage. It is the folk of the north-east. I am absolutely proud tae be spikker o Doric. It really annoys me when ye are in a crowd o folk and ye ken that they are aa Doric spikkers, who have been born and bred and brocht up in the north-east, but they are nae spikkin Doric. They think that they are seen tae be better or cleverer or something, because they are tryin tae spik posh. That annoys me a lot.

Folk dinna realise the quality of the stuff written in the Doric—the poetry, for instance. There is some great poetry written in the Doric. As I keep sayin, there is poetry written in the Doric that would stand comparison wi onyhin written in the English language. We have folk such as Flora Garry, JC Milne, Charles Murray, John M Caie and Ian Middleton, tae name just a few, who are great writers o Doric poetry.

Ian Middleton wrote a heap o little sma bunnles, as he caad them—one-verse things. One of them was:

“My mither had grief an wis pittin on beef

An the doctor says, ‘Nae ifs or buts:

You’ll stop eatin fries

An puddins an pies

An ging ontil a diet o nuts.’

Well, she thocht she would try it,

This monkey nut diet,

But the remedies failed the disease.

An noo she’s fair fizzin

Cause her wecht’s geen an risen,

But, boy, she can nae half climb trees!”

That is a little short funny thing, but there are some great poems written in the Doric as weel. If I have time, I will gie memers one mair.

I have already said that I get annoyed if folk try and spik posh when they are among their ain folk. In the north-east that is kent as spikkin pan loaf. If ye are spikkin pan loaf, ye are tryin tae spik posh. Peter Buchan, the skipper o a fishin boat at Peterheid harbour, wrote a lot o great stuff. His poem ca’ed “Pan Loaf” was makin fun o these fowk who try an think that they are better by spikkin English when they should be spikkin their ain language. It goes like this:

“There are among us those who feign, wid treat wi scorn and great disdain

And gien the slightest chance wid hain the Doric phrase.

Tae hear them spik ye’d think that they were born five hunner mile away

Instead atween Burnhaven Bay and Ugie’s Braes.

They think it impolite to say if, when freen meets freen,

Fit like the day? Oh no, that’s not the proper way. It’s ‘How do you do?’

At phrases sic as oors they scoff,

They toss their heids an spik pan loaf.

They dinna hoast—oh no; they cough.

Their bluid is bloo, but drap a hemmer on their feet,

Or stick a needle in their seat, ye’ll get the Doric,

Pure an sweet, aye rich an rare.

If they were richt they’d need nae shock,

Tae gar them spik like Buchan fowk,

They widnae be the lauchin stock,

That noo they are.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

If we want to hear the cabinet secretary, I will need to have a motion without notice, under rule

8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes. I invite Angus MacDonald to move such a motion.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[

Angus MacDonald


Motion agreed to.

The floor is yours, cabinet secretary.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The Parliament could have saved me from having to follow Mr Chapman if it had not agreed to that timely motion from Mr MacDonald. I heartily congratulate Mr Chapman on his wonderful renditions. I also congratulate Angus MacDonald on securing the debate on the UN year of indigenous languages and the European day of languages.

It is an enormous privilege for me to hold ministerial responsibility for Scotland’s languages, which is one that I take very seriously. I am delighted that Mr MacDonald has secured a debate that gives me the opportunity of participating on such matters.

Mr MacDonald spoke about his Hebridean roots and the challenges that have resulted from past actions that have served to make it more and more difficult for individuals in Scotland to maintain and continue the linguistic traditions of our country. The energies that are now being put in by a range of different organisations, led by the Government, to overcome those injuries of the past and to preserve and nurture our indigenous languages are a central part of the Government’s agenda. I very much welcome the extensive motion that Mr MacDonald has lodged and the contributions that members around the chamber have made on this important subject.

The Scottish Government welcomes the UN resolution proclaiming 2019 as the international year of indigenous languages and appreciates UNESCO’s work as the leading organisation on the subject. The Government sees the themed year as an excellent opportunity to further promote and preserve our indigenous languages, which play an important part in Scotland’s culture, heritage and future.

The promotion of Scotland’s indigenous languages and dialects is an important component of its international engagement activity. Scotland was the first home nation to sign up as a friend of the themed year, and our partners have prepared a programme of events to contribute to it. In the past 12 months alone, our offices in Berlin, Paris, Brussels and London have all supported events aimed at celebrating Scotland’s linguistic richness. In future, we will continue to invest in policy exchanges and cultural collaborations with international partners.

In September, we published “Arctic Connections, Scotland’s first Arctic policy framework”. In that document, we committed to encouraging new collaborations between Scotland and Arctic communities—such as the Sami and Inuit people—in relation to the promotion of minority indigenous languages, respecting the fact that all languages have their own specific needs and roles.

As members will be aware, the Scottish Government has actively pursued its responsibilities to promote and support all our indigenous languages. We have introduced and supported legislation and have developed our own British Sign Language plan, Gaelic language plan and Scots policy, which make clear our intentions in that respect.

Rhoda Grant made the point that there is a duty in statute in relation to the Gaelic language for us to promote our native languages. The Government takes that duty seriously and we work with others to make sure that we advance it.

I am pleased to say that we have made good progress with Gaelic over recent years in the key areas of broadcasting, the arts and publishing, and we have seen welcome impacts on the economy, jobs, skills and the creative industries. The gains that have been made for the Gaelic language are impressive. We have a successful Gaelic-medium education sector operating within Scottish education. We have an increasing number of Gaelic stand-alone schools. We have a dedicated body—Stòrlann—that was set up to provide resources and support for teachers and pupils. We have benefited from the establishment of a Gaelic TV channel, which has been a success and has transformed broadcasting in Scotland. We also have a Gaelic arts sector that punches above its weight and without question enriches the cultural life of Scotland.

Bòrd na Gàidhlig was established 12 years ago with statutory duties to promote the Gaelic language. Rhoda Grant and Donald Cameron mentioned that there have been some issues of concern about the performance of the board. I assure members that those issues are uppermost in my mind and the Government is actively working with the board to address them.

We have excellent teaching and research in the Gaelic departments of our universities, and the Scottish Parliament has passed with all-party support strong legislation in support of the Gaelic language. An increasing number of local authorities and public bodies have Gaelic plans that list their commitments to Gaelic.

Having said all that, I think that there is still—Mr Finnie and Dr Allan mentioned the issue in their speeches—a challenging agenda that doubts and debates the wisdom and the value of many of those actions to try to protect and nurture the Gaelic language. It is a matter of fact that there is a statutory duty on us to do what we are doing, but there is also a moral duty and a moral imperative on us all to encourage the promotion of our indigenous languages. Gaelic is one of those languages and it merits the support of us all.

We have made progress in taking forward the support of the Gaelic language, but I recognise the necessity for us to put more impetus into that agenda, so, to add to all the activities that I have cited, I established the faster rate of progress initiative in 2018. It has brought together 24 public authorities with the clear aim of agreeing a number of measures that will allow improvements in support of the Gaelic language to be realised in order to achieve the vision of the national Gaelic language plan.

We established five workstreams with priorities and challenges to take forward support of the Gaelic language. The first two are digital learning and media, and the economy and the labour market. I was stunned to learn in the faster rate of progress initiative that two thirds of international visitors who come to Scotland wish to have some experience of the Gaelic language during their visit to Scotland. That is a massive economic opportunity for our tourism sector, and we have to sustain and nurture the Gaelic language to support it.

The next two priorities are community engagement, and participation, usage and learner support. In that regard, Donald Cameron’s comments on the importance of supporting use of the language and Dr Allan’s point about the importance of ensuring that there is community utilisation and utilisation of the language in our public services were important observations to reinforce the work that we are doing. I commend Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for the work that it is doing in partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise on developing a community approach to encouraging greater use of the language.

The final workstream in the programme is on the recruitment and retention of teachers in Gaelic-medium education, which I view as being central to encouraging further developments in the Gaelic language. We will explore all the implications for the curriculum at all stages to ensure that we are supporting the development of the Gaelic language.

Rhoda Grant mentioned her assiduous work as a learner of Gaelic. I am not a Gaelic speaker, but I have endeavoured to express myself in Gaelic when I have had the opportunity to do so and have felt that to be appropriate. Most recently, I delivered a reasonably significant proportion of my opening address to the Royal National Mòd in Glasgow in Gaelic. A member of the public who was there kindly wrote to me afterwards to express her appreciation of the fact that I had done that, as she knew that I was not a Gaelic speaker. I want to place on record how much I appreciated that encouragement to continue in my work on expressing a proportion of what I am thinking in the Gaelic language. It is a challenging language to learn, but I was deeply touched by the fact that a member of the public took the trouble to write to me to express her support and encouragement. It is crucial that individuals are supported in that way to learn the Gaelic language.

A number of colleagues—Joan McAlpine, Stewart Stevenson, Emma Harper and Peter Chapman—talked extensively about Scots and Doric. The culture of our country is inextricably linked to the Scots language. Just last week, I visited Hill of Beath primary school near Cowdenbeath. The young people from the school come from a community that has a deep tradition of expression in the Scots language. Unlike Mr Chapman’s experience all those years ago—if he may forgive me my choice of words—Hill of Beath primary school is embracing the Scots language. On my visit, I witnessed a tremendous distillation in every single class, from primary 1 to primary 7, of the young people expressing their natural roots and their natural acquisition of their language. As the school recognises, that is helping their attainment and performance, because they are more adept at utilising language as a consequence of the fact that they are being nurtured in the language of their roots. The artistic and cultural expression that came out of that experience was marvellous.

I saw many of those aspirations also reflected at the Scots gaitherin event—to which Joan McAlpine referred—that took place in Glasgow at the end of September, and which I had the good fortune to address. I give a commitment to Emma Harper that I will look carefully at the proposals that have been brought forward to establish a board in relation to the Scots language. The Government looks carefully at all suggestions to advance and develop the native languages of our country.

Scots song, poetry, literature and drama have a strong tradition, and Scots can also be seen to influence more immediate aspects of modern life through television and film, and through the increasing popularity of its expression through social media activities. All those activities and areas need central Government’s support, and I am pleased that, in recent years, we have increased the Scottish Government’s support to a variety of Scots organisations that are supporting the language and opening up access to those who wish to engage and use their mother tongue on a daily basis.

I will cover one last issue before I conclude my remarks. John Finnie referred to the seven benefits of bilingualism, which relates to a very broad point about how the learning of languages facilitates cultural awareness. That foundation of bilingualism enables individuals to make proactive connections and enhance their learning attributes as a consequence. That aspiration lies deep at the heart of the Government’s one-plus-two languages agenda, which is about encouraging multilingualism in our society. Over the past six years, we have provided more than £30 million to local authorities to develop that approach throughout the curriculum in Scottish schools. Those actions to encourage multilingualism complement the work that is being taken forward to enhance and encourage the use of Gaelic and Scots.

There is much to celebrate in the linguistic traditions of our country, but there is also—I am seized of this point—much to do to ensure that we live up to our commitment to our forefathers and mothers by doing all that we can to protect the languages that are part of our identity and history, and which must be part of our future in the years to come.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The debate’s ower, so I’m shuttin doon the day’s gaitherin.

Meeting closed at 18:09.