National Gaelic Language Plan

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23rd June 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

I remind members that social distancing measures are in place in the chamber and across the Holyrood campus. Members should take care to observe those measures and use only the aisles and walkways to access their seats and when moving around the chamber.

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-00166, in the name of Alasdair Allan, on the national Gaelic plan 2023 to 2028. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the launch of Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s consultation events on the next National Gaelic Language Plan; understands that these plans provide strategic direction for the development of the Gaelic language; recognises what it believes is the precarious position that the language faces in the remaining vernacular communities in the Western Isles and elsewhere in Scotland; notes the publication in July 2020 of a comprehensive sociolinguistic study into the use of Gaelic in the vernacular-island communities; understands that this study, The Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Communities, concluded that the social use and transmission of Gaelic is at the point of collapse; notes the view that public policy could and should do more to support and protect the language; believes that developments over the next few years will be vital for its future, and notes the hopes that have been expressed calling for Members to use the forthcoming Scottish Languages Bill and other opportunities to play their part in supporting the Gaelic language.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

Tha tòrr math air a bhith a’ tachairt ann an saoghal na Gàidhlig bhon àm ’s gun deach Achd na Gàidhlig (Alba) 2005 a stèidheachadh leis a’ Phàrlamaid seo. Tha BBC Alba againn; tha foghlam tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig air fàs; tha poileasaidhean Gàidhlig aig iomadach buidheann phoblach a-nis, agus tha àite na Gàidhlig ann an saoghal a’ chultair agus nan ealan nas làidire. Tha Bòrd na Gàidhlig agus buidhnean eile ag obair dhan chànan agus—a’ chuid as motha den tìde—tha aonta ann thairis air na pàrtaidhean gu bheil a’ Ghàidhlig feumail agus cudromach do dh’Alba. Tha buidheann thar-phàrtaidh na Gàidhlig againn a’ toirt misneachd a thaobh an aonta seo.

Ged a bhios mi-rùn an aghaidh na Gàidhlig a’ nochdadh anns na meadhanan bho àm gu àm, tha na cunntasan-beachd a’ sealltainn gu bheil taic nas làidire ann an Alba dhan Ghàidhlig an-diugh ’s a bh’ ann fichead bliadhna air ais. Tha e math gum bi sinn uile, mar Phàrlamaid, a’ comharrachadh nan rudan matha seo. Aig an aon àm, tha e a cheart cho cudromach gum bi sinn ag aithneachadh nan trioblaidean cuideachd.

Tha taic den iomadach seòrsa cuideachail dha-rìreabh dhan Ghàidhlig; ach cha dèan taic a’ chùis na h-aonar. Feumaidh daoine a bhith a’ bruidhinn na Gàidhlig cuideachd, agus tha sin a’ ciallachadh àiteachan agus suidheachaidhean far a bheil e comasach a leithid a dhèanamh. Aig an aon àm ’s gu bheil ùidh anns a’ Ghàidhlig a’ fàs, tha crìonadh cleachdaidh na Gàidhlig anns na sgìrean eileanach a’ fàs nas miosa, tha mi gu math duilich a ràdh. Bha sin follaiseach bhon aithris aig Soillse, a bha a’ toirt sùil air an t-suidheachadh anns na h-Eileanan an Iar, an t-Eilean Sgiathanaich agus Tiriodh. Leis an fhìrinn innse—bha na rudan sin follaiseach do mhuinntir nan sgìrean sin co-dhiù.

Cha bhi mi a’ dol a-rithist gu mionaideach tro na rudan anns an aithris mu dheidhinn staid na Gàidhlig am measg dhaoine òga anns na h-eileanan, no na beachdan a bha a’ nochdadh anns na còmhraidhean coimhearsnachd a bha mise a’ cumail às a dhèidh. Bha iad uile a’ dearbhadh an fheum a th’ air poileasaidhean Gàidhlig a tha nas freagarraiche airson nan coimhearsnachdan traidiseanta, agus ag aideachadh an diofair a th’ ann, mar eisimpleir, eadar poileasaidh airson sgoil agus poileasaidh airson eilean. Tha mi toilichte gu bheil Bòrd na Gàidhlig ag aithneachadh nan rudan sin cuideachd, leis an oifigear a th’ aca a-nis a tha ag obair gu sònraichte airson coimhearsnachdan eileanach.

Tha e gu math cudromach aig a’ phuing seo gun cuir mi cuideam air an dòigh ’s gu bheil daoine a’ cleachdadh na Gàidhlig air feadh na h-Alba. ’S ann le Alba gu lèir a tha a’ Ghàidhlig – mar a tha ainmean-àite air cha mhòr a h-uile sgìre a’ dearbhadh. Cha do dh’ionnsaich mise mo chuid Ghàidhlig anns na h-eileanan, ach ann an Glaschu. Tha coimhearsnachdan Gàidhlig beòthail anns na bailtean mòra, agus tha a h-uile coimhearsnachd Gàidhlig cudromach dhan chànan. Feumaidh sinn uile aithneachadh cuideachd, ge-tà, gum biodh e doirbh a ràdh gum biodh cànan sam bi ann an staid fhallain mur a biodh àiteachan ann far am biodh an cànan sin air a chleachdadh air an t-sràid no anns a’ bhùth. Sin far a bheil an cunnart èiginneach ann, anns na h-eileanan.

Tha cothrom againn a-nis, leis a’ phlana nàiseanta ùr againn, rudeigin a dhèanamh - a dhèanamh cinnteach nach eil brosnachadh na Gàidhlig dìreach mu dheidhinn cia mheud neach aig a bheil a’ Ghàidhlig, ach cia mheud a tha ga cleachdadh. Feumaidh sinn a bhith soilleir. Chan urrainn do Bhòrd na Gàidhlig, no na sgoiltean Gàidhlig, Gàidhlig a shàbhaladh nan aonar, ge b’ e cho math ’s a tha an obair a tha iad uile a’ dèanamh. Chan bhiodh e faidhear no reusanta an dleasdanas sin a chur orra.

Bidh daoine gu tric a’ bruidhinn mu chosgais nan seirbheisean tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig. Tha e inntinneach nach bi duine sam bith a’ faighneachd mu dheidhinn cosgais nan seirbheisean poblach tro mheadhan na Beurla - no a’ tuigsinn gur e sin a’ chuid as motha de na seirbheisean a h-ann, eadhan anns na h-eileanan fhèin. Tha mi a’ ciallachadh seirbheisean aig an roinn phoblaich, seirbheisean slàinte nam measg. Tha fhios agam dè bhiodh pàipear-naidheachd no dhà ag ràdh mu mo dheidhinn-se nam bithinn a’ dèanamh a-mach an-diugh gur e an rud as cudromaiche a th’ ann airson seirbheisean slàinte an-dràsta fhèin staid na Gàidhlig. Ach innsidh mi, anns an dol seachad, gun d’ fhuair mise an jag Covid agamsa tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig, agus bha e a’ còrdadh riumsa glan!

’S e rudeigin eile a tha mi a’ ciallachadh. Tha cuimhne agamsa, greiseag air ais, a’ bruidhinn ri cuideigin a bha na bhall air bòrd-slàinte, àiteigin ann an ceann a tuath na h-Alba. Thuirt e seo riumsa, anns a’ chànain eile:

“Dìreach air sgàth ’s gu bheil plana Gàidhlig againn mar bhòrd-slàinte, chan eil sin a’ ciallachadh idir idir gu bheil am bòrd na phàirt ann an dòigh sam bith de na h-oidhirpean a tha daoine a’ dèanamh gus a’ Ghàidhlig a chumail beò.”

Tha cothrom againn le bile ùr mu chànanan na h-Alba beachdan mar sin a chur ceart, a’ dèanamh soilleir gu bheil àite aig a h-uile buidheann phoblach anns an oidhirp sin, gu sònraichte anns na sgìrean far a bheil a’ Ghàidhlig làidir fhathast. Sin Ghàidhlig a mhainstreamadh, mar a chanas iad. Ma tha am facal sin a’ ciallachadh rud sam bidh, tha e a’ ciallachadh gum bi sinn a’ smaoineachadh mar Phàrlamaid mu dheidhinn na buaidh a th’ aig na poileasaidhean uile againn air staid na Gàidhlig—chan ann dìreach poileasaidhean mu chultar no foghlam, ach poileasaidhean air taigheadas, dreuchdan, agus an eaconamaidh sgìreil—agus gum bi sin a’ smaoineachadh, mar eisimpleir, mu dheidhinn na buaidh a th’ aig na poileasaidhean sin air a‘ Ghàidhlig nuair a tha sin a’ dèanamh measaidhean buaidh airson nan eilean.

Tha cothrom againn anns a’ bhile ùr a bhith a’ togail air an obair bho 2005, agus cuideachd rudeigin a dhèanamh airson Albais no Beurla-Ghallda – an cànan màithreil agamsa. Chan eil a’ Ghàidhlig agus Albais air taobhan eadar dhealaichte bho chèile anns an t-strì aca. Tha làn thìde ann gun robh sin a’ cur às dhan aineolas mu dheidhinn Albais, ge b’ e a bheil na beachdan sin a nochdadh ann an foghlam, sna meadhanan no àite sam bith eile.

A’ tighinn gu co-dhùnadh mar a tha mi, tha mi an dòchas gum bi a h-uile Ball Pàrlamaid, agus gu sònraichte na buill ùra, a’ gabhail mòmaid a bhith ag ionnsachadh beagan bho na h-oifigearan Gàidhlig anns a’ Phàrlamaid mun Ghàidhlig. Nach gabh sibh an cothrom rudeigin ionnsachadh mu dheidhinn rudeigin cho àlainn ’s cho inntinneach agus cho cugallach ’s a chuala sibh—no nach cuala sibh fhathast ’s dòcha—a-riamh nur beatha.

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

Much good has happened in the world of Gaelic since Parliament passed the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005. We have BBC Alba, Gaelic medium education has grown, many public bodies have Gaelic language plans, and the place of Gaelic in culture and the arts is much stronger. Bòrd na Gàidhlig and other organisations work for the language. Most of the time, there is a consensus across the parties that Gaelic is important and useful to Scotland, and the cross-party group on Gaelic seeks to promote that consensus.

Although prejudice against Gaelic still rears its head from time to time in the media, opinion polls show that support for Gaelic is considerably stronger across Scotland now than it was 20 years ago. It is good for us to have an opportunity from time to time to celebrate those positive things, but it is just as important that we also recognise the problems.

Support of every type is hugely important to Gaelic but, on its own, support for or knowledge of the language is not enough. People need to use Gaelic, so we must have places and situations where doing so is possible. At the very time when interest in Gaelic is growing, I am sad to say that the use of the language in island communities has been declining further. That was obvious from the report that Soillse produced on the situation in the Western Isles, Skye and Tiree, although the decline was already clear to the people who live in those places.

I will not reiterate the details in the report about the state of Gaelic among young people or the opinions that emerged in the community conversations that I held afterwards. They all demonstrated the need for Gaelic policies that are more tailored to the needs of vernacular communities and which acknowledge the difference, for example, between planning for the language needs of a school and planning for those of an island. I am pleased to say that Bòrd na Gàidhlig recognises those issues and now has an officer with specific responsibility for island communities.

At this point, it is important that I stress the way that Gaelic is used across Scotland. Gaelic belongs to Scotland nationally, as place names in almost every area of the country bear witness. I learned my Gaelic not in the islands but in Glasgow. There are vibrant Gaelic communities in major cities, and every Gaelic community is vital to the future of the language. However, we must recognise that it would be difficult to say that any language was in a healthy state if there was no place in which it could be heard on the street or in a shop. That is the urgent danger that threatens the islands.

With our new national Gaelic plan, we have an opportunity to make sure that the promotion of Gaelic is not just a question of how many people have Gaelic but of how many people use it. Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Gaelic schools cannot save Gaelic on their own; it would be unfair and unreasonable to shoulder them with such a responsibility.

People often discuss the cost of providing services in the medium of Gaelic but, interestingly, nobody ever seems to ask about the cost of providing public services through the medium of English, or to understand that, even in the islands, that is how the great majority of public sector services, such as health services, are delivered. I am well aware of what one or two newspapers would say about me if I were to suggest today that the most important thing for health services at this point might be the state of Gaelic, but I was very pleased to get my Covid jag through the medium of Gaelic, which I enjoyed immensely.

However, I recall that, a while ago, I was speaking to someone who was a member of a health board somewhere in the north of Scotland, and he said to me:

“Just because we have a Gaelic language plan as a health board, that does not at all mean that the board wishes to be associated in any way at all with the efforts that are being made in some quarters to keep the Gaelic language alive.”

With a new bill on Scotland’s languages, we have an opportunity to put right anyone who still says things like that and to make clear that every public body has its part to play in such efforts, particularly in areas where Gaelic is still strong. That is to say, we need to mainstream Gaelic. If that word is to mean anything, it must mean that we as a Parliament think about the impact of all policies on the state of Gaelic—not just policies that deal with culture or education but policies on housing, jobs and the local economy—and that we consider, for example, the impact of policies on Gaelic when we are compiling impact assessments for the islands.

We have an opportunity with a new bill to build on the work of 2005 and to do something for Scots, which is my mother tongue. We should recognise that Scots and Gaelic pose no threat to each other but are faced by a common challenge. It is high time that we challenged displays of ignorance about the Scots language, whether they appear in the media, education or anywhere else.

In conclusion, I hope that every MSP, and especially the new ones, will take a moment to speak to the Parliament’s Gaelic officers. Please take the opportunity to learn something about Gaelic, which is as beautiful and interesting a thing as you have ever heard, or are perhaps yet to hear, in your life.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Dr Allan, and thank you to our interpreter.

Photo of Jenni Minto Jenni Minto Scottish National Party

Feasgar math.

Tha mi a fuireach ann an Ilè, agus tha mi ag ionnsachadh Gàidhlig. Ron àm seo, bha mi ag obair ann an roinn Ghàidhlig a’ BhBC airson faisg air fichead bliadhna.

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

Good afternoon. I live on Islay and I am learning Gaelic. Before this, I worked in the Gaelic department of the BBC for almost 20 years.

The member continued in English.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on the national Gaelic language plan, and I thank my colleague Alasdair Allan for lodging the motion. My constituency of Argyll and Bute is the land of the Gaels and has the motto “Seas ar Coir”, or “Maintain our Right”, and that is exactly what the national Gaelic language plan and forthcoming Scottish language bill should do.

I grew up on the east coast of Scotland and was introduced to Gaelic by my hill-climbing father. Driesh, my first Munro, means the thorn bush or bramble, Cairn Gorm means the blue cairn and Ben-y Hone means the mossy hill. Neither of us had Gaelic, but the descriptive names of the hills and mountains that we climbed embedded in me a connection between landscape and language, as featured in the programme “Tir is Teanga”, which my colleague Alasdair starred in, if I remember correctly.

Throughout my almost 20 years at BBC Scotland, Gaelic was the constant thread. I supported Gaelic programme makers as they created a wealth of output for the audience, including “Dè a-nis?”, “Eòrpa”, “Coinneach MacÌomhair” and coverage of Am Mòd. There were programmes on radio and television, giving Gaels of all ages a voice and giving Scotland programmes from a Gàidhealtachd perspective.

While at BBC Scotland, I learned about the rich array of Gaelic dialects across Scotland, and I have learned even more about that from living on Islay. The island is famous for its good whisky, or “uisge-beatha meth”, whereas on Lewis it would be “uisge-beatha math”. On Islay and in some other areas of the Gàidhealtachd, “a” is “e”. Mainland Argyll Gaelic is different again, but with similarities to Islay Gaelic. “Beul Chainnt” was a fantastic series that celebrated the variations across the Gàidhealtachd. Those differences should be invested in, retained and supported.

The motion notes that Gaelic is in a “precarious position” in vernacular communities across Scotland.? It is. In my home village of Port Sgioba, or Port Charlotte, very few houses in the old village are occupied as permanent homes.? I know a number of young people who have moved away because of the difficulty in getting on to the housing ladder.

The Mull and Iona Community Trust has just built two family homes, which were hugely oversubscribed, and

The Oban Times recently had a prominent article on the difficulty that local people, or incoming key workers, have in acquiring property. However, as Alasdair Allan said, Glasgow is looking at opening a third and fourth Gaelic school, while the Gaelic school in Inverness is full to capacity and Edinburgh is consulting on a new dedicated Gaelic school. No matter how much valuable work Bòrd na Gàidhlig does, it is working in an economic climate that, sadly, drives out young Gaels to the cities. That could be described as the economic clearances.

However, we have an opportunity to use Gaelic and other Scots languages as an economic stimulus. We should give our wealth of languages and dialects the Scotland-the-brand treatment to encourage folk to learn and use them—not only to eat local but to speak local.

Schools across Argyll and Bute are providing pathways for learners and fluent speakers. We need to encourage primary schools to teach Gaelic and to connect the older generations with the younger ones by using language as the glue.

Gaelic is one of Scotland’s natural resources. The 2016 VisitScotland visitors survey found that, with no prior promotion, 34 per cent of respondents felt that Gaelic, as a national language, enhanced their visit to Scotland. VisitScotland has built on that lure of language for visitors and has launched its first Gaelic toolkit to help tourism businesses to develop their Gaelic offering.

I look forward to working with communities and other organisations to shape the next national Gaelic language plan to ensure that solutions across na Gàidhealtachd is nan Eilean are found in order to maintain the land, the language and the people—tìr is teanga is daoine.

Photo of Donald Cameron Donald Cameron Conservative

I am very grateful to Alasdair Allan for securing the debate, especially this early in the new session of Parliament, which highlights the urgent need to address many of the issues that he raised and that others will no doubt raise.

In the previous session, several MSPs, of all political stripes—Alasdair Allan, Rhoda Grant, John Finnie and others—were at the forefront of standing up for the Gaelic language and culture. I am sure that the new MSPs will be equally energetic—we have just heard from Jenni Minto, for example.

In the short time in which I have to speak, I want to highlight, first and foremost, that we are in an emergency situation. The Soillse report, which was referred to in the motion for last year’s debate, made that clear. It made the powerful point that, although many people in the vernacular communities are able to speak Gaelic, they are not using it as much as we might expect, so there is no time to lose. I will return to that theme.

Recently, there has been a plethora of interesting proposals on Gaelic. I welcome the work of Bòrd na Gàidhlig in beginning its consultation on the next plan, and the on-going contributions of many other groups, including Fèisean nan Gàidheal, An Comunn Gàidhealach, MG Alba and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. I repeat that we must act swiftly and effectively.

I am slightly nervous about setting up new organisations, agencies and institutions, not because of the laudable aims that are behind the formation of such bodies but, mainly, because of the time that it takes to consult on them and then set them up, given that we have so little time to lose.

As Alasdair Allan’s motion notes, the Soillse report identified that

“the social use and transmission of Gaelic is at the point of collapse”,

with the number of Gaelic speakers having fallen considerably over time. That said, I note that several academics, including Professor Rob Dunbar and Professor Wilson McLeod, have commented that it is important to focus not only on the communities in the report that have about a quarter of Gaelic speakers but on other communities, too. Arthur Cormack, who is well known to many of us, states that there are many types of Gaelic communities beyond the vernacular communities. The point is that it is not about setting one type of Gaelic community against another; we have to address the needs of all communities.

One area that deserves focus is the media. Investment in Gaelic media should be improved. About £20 million is spent on Gaelic television and radio annually, and MG Alba has consistently argued for greater resources. In comparison, the total budget for the Welsh-speaking channel, S4C, was just over £95 million last year. That is clearly an area that should be looked at. Scotland’s Futures Forum reports that we must recognise that young people and children increasingly get their content from social media and streaming sites rather than from traditional media. The Government should also look at that as part of the wider media strategy.

There is cause for some optimism. We cannot forget the welcome growth of learner and first language Gaelic speakers in Scotland’s urban areas, or the significant number of people who are learning Gaelic via apps such as Duolingo. There are many positive stories.

I was taken by the academics’ view that one of the ways of enhancing spaces for the language to be used is through the creation of physical spaces such as the Gaelic language centres, which have an important role to play. In the longer term, it has been argued that the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 could be strengthened and that the reforms that Alasdair Allan mentioned could be considered.

Above all, an economic revival will underpin a Gaelic revival. Jenni Minto made that point forcefully. We have to look at housing, health, local economies, connectivity, transport connections and so on.

Although there is a lot more that I would like to say, if there is one message that the new cabinet secretary takes away—I welcome her to her portfolio and her role in relation to Gaelic—it should be that the task of revitalising Gaelic is urgent and that there is no time to lose.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

Tapadh leibh, Oifigeir Riaghlaidh. Tha mi airson taing a thoirt do Alasdair Allan airson an deasbad seo a thogail. Thank you, Presiding Officer. I would like to thank Alasdair Allan for bringing forward the debate. Please excuse my poor Gaelic in my introduction.

The debate is timely, given the work that is taking place to consult on and draft the new national plan for Gaelic. Although there are disagreements about how we protect and increase Gaelic speaking in our communities, I believe that many of them stem from a real frustration regarding the decline of the language. That is not to say that the actions that are being taken are wrong, but there must be many more interventions at every level. There also has to be a step change in support. I ask all those who have an interest in promoting and protecting Gaelic to set aside their differences and endeavour their best to protect and grow the language.

We need an ambitious plan. I see colleagues in Wales regularly legislating on Welsh—reviewing, renewing and setting new and challenging targets—whereas in Scotland the Government seems to ignore and underfund. Bòrd na Gàidhlig has faced a real-terms cut of more than 30 per cent in its budget in the past decade. In the 22 years of this Parliament, we have legislated on Gaelic only once. In 15 years of Scottish National Party government, we have done nothing but cut funding.

The Government acts in a silo. It ignores the fact that Gaelic is dying because Gaelic-speaking communities are dying, and often at the Government’s hand as it centralises jobs away from the vernacular communities. How many Gaelic-speaking families will be taken from the Western Isles by the ill-advised Scottish Government plan to centralise air traffic control in Inverness?

To survive, those communities need jobs and homes, as well as access to Gaelic education and the ability to use Gaelic in everyday life. The Scottish Government and its agencies must enable interaction to happen in Gaelic and ensure that it is the first language of interaction in the vernacular communities. They must expand those communities in line with investment in teaching the language. Road signs and branding are all good and well, but they do nothing to develop one more Gaelic speaker. In the Western Isles and the Gaelic-speaking areas in the west of Scotland, the Government must ensure that education and public interaction are in Gaelic. It must fund the Bòrd adequately to allow it to carry out its role, but it must also empower it to do that. A review and renewal of the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 is urgently required to enable that to happen.

However, the development of Gaelic does not fall to the Bòrd alone. Councils, Government and agencies also need to step up and take leadership. If we do not, Gaelic will be lost as a language for daily communication. That has already happened in huge swathes of Scotland, leading to a loss of culture, history and heritage. We must remember that the history of the common people is handed down through stories, poetry and song, and all of that has been lost to the up-and-coming generation where the language has been lost. We need Gaelic in the classroom, but we also need it in the community.

I urge the Government to look to Wales—to look to its ambition and to equal it. We also need an overarching policy in order to empower communities to take the lead by funding them to lead that development. This is not a power struggle. We require everyone to do their bit to protect and expand the use of Gaelic. It was the language of Scotland, and of parts of northern England, as well. Our aim and our ambition must be to reinstate Gaelic as a language at home, at work and at play—a language that has equal status to English.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Ariane Burgess, who will make her first speech in our Parliament.

Photo of Ariane Burgess Ariane Burgess Green

I thank Alasdair Allan for bringing to the chamber this important members’ business debate on the national Gaelic language plan.

I am aware that this has been a long day but, as this is my first speech in the chamber as a recently elected MSP for the Highlands and Islands, I would like to take a few moments, if the Presiding Officer will allow me, to thank everyone who campaigned with me and voted for me, especially my partner, Eddy Coodee, who continues to support me as I find my way in my new role.

I also thank my predecessor, John Finnie, who was a champion for Gaelic and did good work in the chamber. Among his many activities, the one that stands out for me is that he secured equal protection from assault for the children of Scotland through his member’s bill, which became an act in the previous session.

The past year has brought many challenges—none that we could have imagined—to our shores, and has brought to light fragility across our society. However, it has also brought out the best of the people across this country, including in the Highlands and Islands, and rekindled the community spirit that is still strong in the region. Neighbours have helped neighbours, and communities have found creative ways to ensure that everyone has been looked after. I look forward to meeting, working with and representing people from all parts of the region as their MSP and the Green spokesperson for communities, housing, land reform and rural affairs.

I declare an interest in the debate. I am a Gaelic learner and an aunt to a niece and a nephew who attend a Gaelic-medium school in Edinburgh.

This debate is close to my heart. My great-grandfather, who was from Edinburgh, was a Gaelic speaker, but I grew up without Gaelic. I got the message that the language had no use not so much from my family but from wider society. I now know that that is not the case. Like Jenni Minto, I experienced the landscape and the language together, and that the language opens the landscape for me. I will be as active as I can in this session to ensure that speakers, learners, educators and academics are given the support that is required to move the language to a stronger footing.

A quarter of Gaelic speakers live in various Hebridean communities in the Highlands and Islands. Alasdair Allan’s motion raises the grave concern of the precariousness of the language in those communities. The perspective that I want to bring to the debate is that, with the launch of Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s consultation events on the national Gaelic language plan and a promised Scottish languages bill to be introduced in this session, we have a great opportunity to take the next steps to ensure that Gaelic has a future and that it will be heard hundreds of years from today. To do that, we must recognise that Gaelic is also vibrant in the Lowlands, where approximately half of Gaelic speakers live, and take an approach that supports the thriving of the language in all places in which people speak it or are learning it.

I am calling for a nuanced approach in which we need to see that Gaelic is Scotland’s language and have the right funding supports in place and the right resources, as needed.

As a Gaelic learner, I have become part of a community of people from across Scotland and the world who take the role of learning seriously. Today, I heard from my Sabhal Mòr Ostaig course speaking partner, who is originally from Europe, that she plans to continue studying and that she hopes to find a place in a Gaelic-medium education school in Glasgow. Another person with whom I have been learning has decided to leave his stable career and take on learning Gaelic full time, because he wants to be a carrier of the language. A third person—a young American—hopes to find his way to Skye to study in-depth.

There is an outpouring of enthusiasm for and interest in Gaelic now, and we must find ways to make it easier for people of all ages to access it. My sense is that Gaelic is currently like a tiny, glowing ember in a fire and that we are at that moment—this is for those who light fires—in which we are not quite sure whether the ember will take or just go out. We must absolutely grab the opportunity with the new language plan and the Scottish languages bill that is to be introduced and fan the flames of the fire.

During the campaign, I learned that, although there is a lot of good work—we have heard about that from my colleagues in the chamber—and a lot of people are working to ensure Gaelic’s future, it is very fragile and delicate. We need to support Gaelic across the country and make sure that we support people in the creation of place, because the issue is about not just the language, but the culture and the community. We have the power to support people in that way.

For example, in Edinburgh, the City of Edinburgh Council is considering the location for a new GME high school. In its manifesto, the Scottish National Party promised a centrally located site for that school, but the council has been considering a location that is not central. From my design and community work, I understand that where buildings are placed helps communities to grow. If we make travel difficult for people by locating the high school a long way away from the primary school, we will not create the potential for the fire that I mentioned. When building a fire, it is necessary to put the twigs together so that they catch fire and the flames spread. Therefore, we need to look at not only the education plans, but the location of the buildings and structures and how we can bring people together to create the community that underpins the language.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in the coming session to ensure that Gaelic flourishes and that our descendants will hear it and speak it for hundreds of years to come.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Stuart McMillan, who joins us remotely.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

I congratulate Dr Alasdair Allan on securing this important debate; I know that the issue of the Gaelic language is one that is close to his heart, as well as being vitally important for his constituency. I also thank the organisations that have provided briefings for today’s debate.

I want to focus my remarks on a constituency issue that has arisen in the past few weeks. Inverclyde has a Gaelic-medium education unit at Whinhill primary school in Greenock. In the previous session, pupils and staff from the school came through to the Parliament to highlight the vast range of multilingual teaching that the school undertakes. The pupils were a credit to the school, to Inverclyde and to themselves.

For many years, pupils at Whinhill would have had placing requests made to the Glasgow Gaelic school for their secondary education. Those requests have always been granted, but a problem arose this year because of the continual growth in demand for Gaelic-medium education in Glasgow. Thankfully, however, the primary 7 Whinhill pupils will get their secondary education at the Glasgow Gaelic school.

As the letter from Professor Ó Giollagáin and Iain Caimbeul—I apologise for the pronunciations—from the University of the Highlands and Islands clearly described, the actions that were provided for in the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 have had positive outcomes. However, they say:

“the demand is now outstripping supply of experienced and competent teachers and an adequate Gaelic school infrastructure.”

I welcome the additional demand for primary school Gaelic education, which has increased by 79 per cent, and the additional demand for secondary school Gaelic education, which has increased by 48 per cent. I would like more young people to have that opportunity, but it is clear that the situation surrounding the transition to secondary school is now challenging.

I have had positive dialogue with Inverclyde Council and Glasgow City Council, and I thank them for that. I know that there is no quick solution. As someone who is a newcomer when it comes to raising an issue concerning the Gaelic language, I realise that there are many challenges surrounding the long-term future of the language. I also realise that not enough experienced and competent teachers are currently available, but it is clear that additional activity needs to be undertaken to resolve the situation.

I want to highlight two questions that I would like the cabinet secretary to consider. What action is the Scottish Government considering to aid local authorities with a tradition of primary Gaelic-medium education to help them to provide suitable secondary Gaelic-medium education if the demand from parents exists? If the demand from parents exists, will the Scottish Government help local authorities to provide secondary GME that covers multiple authorities, without the need for placing requests? In effect, that would involve something akin to a shared service agreement between authorities.

I accept that even if positive opportunities exist to address those two questions, the shortage of teachers that has been highlighted might still be prohibitive. Notwithstanding that, if local authorities were able to set up such an arrangement with Government assistance, it might help in the short to medium term to satisfy cross-boundary demand for secondary Gaelic-medium education.

I encourage anyone who has an interest to get involved with Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s consultation on the next national Gaelic language plan. Although I do not speak Gaelic, I studied French and German at school and university, so I appreciate how important language provision is in ensuring that our country has the broadest possible outlook and opportunities for future generations.

Inverclyde also has a rich Gaelic history through the people and traditions that came to Inverclyde in the past, and I am keen to see those traditions continue for many generations to come.

Once again, I welcome the debate and thank Dr Allan for bringing it to the Parliament.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I, too, congratulate Alasdair Allan on his success in securing a prized member’s business slot. I agree that there is much to be proud of since the establishment of our Parliament in terms of the higher profile of the Gaelic language, of investment in Gaelic-medium education and of Gaelic broadcasting through Radio nan Gàidheal and BBC Alba.

As Alasdair Allan and other members have highlighted eloquently, last year’s report was worrying because it concluded that without radical action Gaelic would be “dead within a decade”. Rhoda Grant and Jenni Minto made powerful speeches about the need for economic support in traditionally Gaelic communities. I thank the academics who have been in touch this week with their insights on what needs to be done now.

I want to focus on the consultation on the national Gaelic language plan, and to highlight the current challenge in Edinburgh with supporting Gaelic-medium education now and into the future. First, we need to ensure that we have enough Gaelic teachers so that GME can be delivered for all subjects, including maths and science. As Ariane Burgess said, the SNP election manifesto promised that there would be a new city centre school in Edinburgh. That caught people by surprise and cut right across current council plans for a new school at Liberton. Timing is critical, because parents need to know that there will be capacity for GME in the city in the future. The council is about to consult on its plans for a new GME school at Liberton, which will mean two separate schools being managed by two head teachers.

There is now a challenge because James Gillespie’s high school has an issue with capacity, hence the council’s plans to increase capacity in the short term at Darroch. It will therefore be interesting to hear from the cabinet secretary about the SNP manifesto proposal. Will it be dropped or promoted? What city centre site did the Government have in mind? Was it to be planned and funded centrally? It is crucial that we have the quality GME that our city needs, and that we support the Gaelic language right across Scotland.

I am glad that Alasdair Allan also mentioned Scots. I was going to apologise and ask whether I could sneak it in at the end of my speech. Oor Vyce campaigners do not want to divert attention from Alasdair Allan’s Gaelic language debate, but they want to take the opportunity to talk about the need for the Scottish Government to do more in the context of the proposed Scottish languages bill. Again, it would be helpful if the cabinet secretary would clarify what legislative measures the Government is considering on Scots, alongside the important work for supporting our Gaelic language.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I thank Dr Allan for lodging the motion and I welcome the opportunity to conclude the debate. It is my first opportunity to do so within my new portfolio responsibilities, which include Gaelic and Scots. I also congratulate Ariane Burgess on her first speech to Parliament. I welcome her and am sure that her speech will be the first of many on this and other important subjects. I look forward to working and debating with her in the coming years.

At the outset of my speech, I indicate my support for the motion, particularly the aim that

“public policy could and should do more to support and protect“ the Gaelic language. As members are aware, the Scottish Government has never shied away from its responsibilities to promote and support Gaelic, which remains a priority for the Scottish Government. Our clear aim is to increase the numbers of people speaking, learning and using the Gaelic language in Scotland.

The national Gaelic language plan is an important document in support of the Gaelic language. It offers a framework for all public bodies to consider how their actions and policies impact on Gaelic language communities.

Support for the Gaelic language is not just a task for Government or Bòrd na Gàidhlig. I think that we all recognise that a wide range of bodies in many sectors can, and do, contribute to supporting Gaelic. That must and will continue, and we must encourage them to strengthen that work, if possible.

I offer the reassurance that we in the Government will play our part in the process.?We have, as members have mentioned, an ambitious set of manifesto commitments; we will do more for Gaelic in Scotland as we make progress with those commitments. Among them is a commitment to explore the creation of a recognised Gàidhealtachd in order to raise levels of language competence and use in the home and the community. I look forward to working with members from all parties, and with people from much further afield, on the details of how to progress that.

We also recognise that help is needed to stem depopulation, so we will establish an islands bond, offering 100 bonds of up to £50,000 to young people and families to stay in or to move to islands that are threatened by depopulation. The bonds will support people to buy homes, start businesses and otherwise make their lives for the long term in those communities.

In addition, we will give local authorities the powers to manage the numbers of second homes in their area and will work with Community Land Scotland so that we can find the right land to deliver more housing in our rural areas.

Many members have quite rightly mentioned education; our commitments include a new strategic approach to Gaelic-medium education. That approach will deal with many issues, including the one that Stuart McMillan raised about the number of teachers who are available for Gaelic-medium education. Again, that is an issue on which I am keen to work with members from all parties, because they will have their own views about how best that can be progressed locally in their constituencies.

Sarah Boyack and Ariane Burgess mentioned Gaelic-medium education in Edinburgh. I understand that the City of Edinburgh Council is to consult on where a Gaelic-medium education high school might be sited. That is the right thing to do—the council is obliged to conduct a consultation. I am sure that it will hear strong representations from parents about their wishes on progressing that and other projects in the city. I look forward to working with the council in order to move forward with a school in Edinburgh that will allow the Gaelic language to flourish. That is an important commitment that we will continue to make to Edinburgh.

My predecessor as education secretary, the Deputy First Minister, ?launched and chaired the faster rate of progress initiative for Gaelic, which has brought together a number of bodies that support Gaelic in various sectors.? I aim to continue the initiative and I look forward to building on that work.

Throughout Scotland, there has been significant investment in Gaelic projects, and island communities have participated and benefited from them.? There is still potential for growth and development of Gaelic in island communities, so we must maintain momentum by supporting and building on the policies and projects that are in place when they are effective in achieving the outcomes that we want.

For the future of Gaelic, we need a strong focus, both on our towns and on our areas of low population.?Many of the Gaelic initiatives that are in place are of equal benefit to urban and rural environments and the two contexts often support each other.?We also need to value both speakers and learners of Gaelic, as members have mentioned, and the contexts and the networks in which they use the language.

In areas of low population, we need to be exceptionally mindful that wider issues including employment, housing, infrastructure and the economy also make essential contributions to the Gaelic task. Members have quite rightly raised that issue today.?That important emphasis features prominently in the faster rate of growth initiative.

There is no fixed blueprint for Gaelic. We all recognise that different situations have different needs, as has come across in members’ contributions. We need to make sure that we are listening to all ages and that we are addressing the needs of Gaelic learners as well as those of Gaelic speakers in fluent communities.

Another point to remember is that any comparison with the past demonstrates good progress for Gaelic.?More activity and more funding than ever for Gaelic are in place. Our task is to ensure that the projects that we put in place are effective and are increasing the number of people who are learning, speaking and using Gaelic.

An important point for us is that Gaelic development is not static—there is no status quo.?Gaelic continues to be actively used in many sectors, and it is developing as new projects are put in place.?We must ensure that we keep moving forward and building on the initiatives that exist. We in the Scottish Government will add to the valuable work that is being done, through the new commitments that I have mentioned and more.

We must all work together. The Gaelic world is too small for division, so we must collaborate and co-operate in order to achieve the progress that we want. ?Again, there are many fantastic examples of that being done. We are seeing collaborative working around early years support and for parents in Argyll and Bute, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Highland. That will go some way towards reversing Covid’s impact on parental confidence.

The Scottish Government has also provided funding support to ensure that there are more Gaelic development officers in communities. Bòrd na Gàidhlig has invested in support for that network of officers.

In nine weeks, we will see the launch of SpeakGaelic—a project that aims to enable increased numbers of people to learn Gaelic and to motivate existing speakers to use the language and improve their abilities in it. The Scottish Government is proud to support MG Alba on that multiplatform project.

There is much to do and, as members have said, time is critical. Good initiatives are in place and I am happy to continue that work, but I recognise the calls from across Parliament to do more, to do it quickly and to ensure that we are supporting people who want to support the Gaelic language.

On that basis, I am happy to support the motion. I look forward to building on and adding to what we have in place to make further progress on Gaelic in Scotland.?Importantly, because it is a new responsibility for me, I will do so by listening to and working with the communities that I will seek to represent, as I move forward with my work in the area.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, cabinet secretary. That concludes the debate.

Meeting closed at 19:52.