The Comhairle's Response
Is it right that Gaelic be recognised as one of the languages of Scotland in statute?
Gaelic can legitimately claim to be Scotland's oldest living language and continues to play a fundamental part in Scottish life being partly responsible for the creation of our unique national identity. In March 2000 the UK Government signed the Council of Europe Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and this Charter was subsequently ratified n July 2001. Although ratification of the Charter has conferred a certain improved status on the Gaelic language, specific legislation needs to be incorporated into the Gaelic Language Act to give Gaelic speakers certain rights to use the language in specific circumstances. The forthcoming Act must ensure that Gaelic truly enjoys equal validity with English and removes, once and for all, the confusion that continues to exist in relation to the legal and official status of Gaelic within Scotland.
Should Bord na Gaidhlig have the functions provided in Section 1 of the draft Bill?
Section 1 of the draft Bill proposes to give Bord na Gaidhlig general functions of promoting the use of Gaelic and of advising Scottish ministers on matters relating to Gaelic language and culture.
It is essential for Bord na Gaidhlig to have the functions detailed in Section 1 but it is imperative also that Bord na Gaidhlig be given not only the power to carry out these functions but also the resources to achieve these aims. The MacPherson Taskforce Report – Revitalising Gaelic: A National Asset recommended £10Million as a minimum initial budget for the development and support of the Gaelic language. If Bord na Gaidhlig is realistically to achieve the goals set out for it in Section 1 of the draft Bill, the Scottish Executive must provide the necessary budget to allow Bord na Gaidhlig to effectively orchestrate the revitalisation of the Gaelic language.
It is also important for the Scottish Executive to be fully supportive of Bord na Gaidhlig at the present time and in future. Bord na Gaidhlig should not be placed in the position where it alone is responsible for the welfare of the language. The establishment of Bord na Gaidhlig should not be an excuse for the Executive to abdicate its own responsibility in relation to Gaelic. Bord na Gaidhlig can be effective in its own right but without genuine and wholehearted long term support from the Executive it is difficult to envisage that Bord na Gaidhlig alone can meet the aspirations of the Gaelic Community.
Should the requirement in Section 2 and 3 of the draft Bill be placed on Bord na Gaidhlig?
Sections 2 and 3 of the draft Bill place a responsibility on Bord na Gaidhlig to produce a National Gaelic language plan and provide guidance and assistance for public bodies to devise their own Gaelic language plans.
It is only right and proper that the responsibilities for the National Gaelic language should be placed on Bord na Gaidhlig. Too often in the past strategies for supporting the Gaelic language have been well meaning but lacking cohesion and clarity. To meet the aspirations of the Gaelic community, radical, bold and positive steps are now required to safeguard the language in the 21 st century. The development of a streamlined, co-ordinated, properly planned and resourced National Gaelic language plan is essential without delay and Bord na Gaidhlig is the only body that is capable of delivering this. Again, it is important to stress that the progress of the Bord, in this arena, can only be successful with the support and goodwill of the Executive and Scottish Parliament.
In order to raise the profile of Gaelic within Scotland, it is clear that all major national public bodies and agencies will also have (require) to develop and produce individual Gaelic policies in co-operation and with assistance from Bord na Gaidhlig. Enhancing the status of the language on a national scale will only be effective if all named national bodies and organisations have a statutory duty/obligation to produce these plans or policies. A voluntary requirement only to produce such policies will devalue the status of the Bord and will lead to unnecessary confrontational scenarios which will be detrimental to efforts to revitalise the language.
Should Bord na Gaidhlig be given the powers in Schedule 1 paragraph 11 to the draft Bill?
Are there other matters, beyond those in Section 5(5) of the draft Bill that public bodies should have regard to in determining whether to prepare a Gaelic language plan?
It is unrealistic to think that a single Act will save the Gaelic language but it is important for all major public bodies in Scotland to have Gaelic language plans or policies. This in itself will raise the profile of Gaelic enhance its status in the eyes of the population. It will also provide a psychological boost for speakers and learners as it will widen the range of contexts in which Gaelic can be used. It is not essential for all bodies to have the same type of Gaelic policy but it is important that each national body should have some type of policy, which would be developed with the assistance and advice from Bord na Gaidhlig. For the Act to be meaningful there should be a statutory requirement on all named public bodies to produce Gaelic policies.
Should public bodies be required to consider whether it is appropriate to prepare and publish a Gaelic language plan describing the service they will offer in Gaelic?
It should be a statutory obligation on public bodies to produce a Gaelic language plan or policy. Each body should decide, in conjunction with Bord na Gaidhlig, what level their Gaelic language plan should be pitched at. It is not essential for all bodies to have similar plans but for the Act to be meaningful, each public body must be required to produce a language plan relevant to areas and services they provide.
Should the Bill provide for Bord na Gaidhlig to assist and advise public bodies in the preparation of Gaelic language plans?
It is vital for the status of Bord na Gaidhlig that it should be involved in providing assistance and advice to public bodies at the stage where they are preparing their Gaelic language plans. The guidance would, naturally, identify the relevant factors and criteria public bodies should take into account in determining their own strategies. Guidance from Bord na Gaidhlig to public bodies would have been determined in consultation with relevant Ministers in the Scottish Executive.
Should the Bill require Bord na Gaidhlig to prepare guidance on Gaelic language planning?
In order to ensure a national consistency in Gaelic language planning, it is extremely important that Bord na Gaidhlig should be given the powers in the Bill to prepare national guidelines on Gaelic language planning.
Should Bord na Gaidhlig have a role in advising Education Authorities and the Scottish Executive on plans for Gaelic Medium Education flowing from the 2000 Act?
The key target of Bord na Gaidhlig in conjunction with the Scottish Executive must be to increase the number of Gaelic speakers and, therefore, in essence, educational provision is going to be the life-blood of any Gaelic revival. If Gaelic is to thrive and survive then Gaelic Medium Education must grow exponentially. It is, therefore, essential that Bord na Gaidhlig has a role in advising Education Authorities and the Scottish Executive on plans for Gaelic Medium Education flowing from the 2000 Act but without the wholehearted support of the Executive it will be impossible for Bord na Gaidhlig to enforce the requirements of the Standards in School Act 2000. In fact it is apparent that the 2000 Act has not enhanced the position of Gaelic Medium Education in any meaningful way.
The Standards in Scotland's Schools Act 2000 does not appear to make it a statutory obligation on Local Authorities to provide Gaelic Medium Education where reasonable demands exist. For the 2000 Act to be effective, the Scottish Executive must ensure that Education Authorities comply with the 2000 Act to ensure that the expansion and improvement in numbers and quality of Gaelic Medium Units continue. Bord na Gaidhlig should work in tandem with the Scottish Executive to monitor that Education Authorities are meeting the objectives of the National Priorities in Education in relation to Gaelic Medium Education. The onus for the meaningful implementation of the 2000 Act should not be passed over to Bord na Gaidhlig although the Bord should be fully involved in advising and assisting Education Authorities in assessing and developing their plans.
Would you like to comment on any other aspect of the draft Gaelic Language Bill?
Since Comhairle nan Eilean Siar was established in 1974 as an all-purpose Authority, it has consistently championed the Gaelic cause on many fronts and has one of its key tasks a commitment to ‘ promote the Gaelic language and culture' .
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar welcomes the publication of the draft Gaelic Language Bill and looks forward to the enactment of a Gaelic Language Act in the near future.
- Comhairle nan Eilean Siar believes that the role of Bord na Gaidhlig will be crucial in the revitalisation of the Gaelic language. In order for Bord na Gaidhlig to meet the aspirations of the Gaelic community and supporters of the language within the country it must be invested with statutory powers to produce and implement development strategies which will set in place the conditions for Gaelic to grow and flourish. Bord na Gaidhlig must have powers to plan for Gaelic nationally and to require other public sector bodies to work with it in that process. However, Bord na Gaidhlig will not be able to deliver its objectives or its priorities without substantial new resources. It is important to stress that the Comhairle does not believe that the successful delivery of the national strategic development plan for Gaelic can be achieved by Bord na Gaidhlig without the full support and commitment of the Scottish Executive
- Comhairle nan Eilean Siar believes that Gaelic should be recognised as one of the languages of Scotland in statute and that the forthcoming Gaelic Language Act must ensure that Gaelic truly enjoys equal validity with English and removes, once and for all, the confusion that continues to exist in relation to the legal and official status of Gaelic within Scotland. In essence, there should be a categorical statement in the Bill that Gaelic is a national language with equality of status with English
- Comhairle nan Eilean Siar believes that there should be a statutory obligation on all national public bodies, named in the Bill, to produce Gaelic language plans. These plans should be prepared with the assistance and advice of Bord na Gaidhlig and take account of the criteria agreed between Bord na Gaidhlig and Scottish Ministers. It is not essential for all national bodies to have similar Gaelic language plans on the principle that one size fits all but plans must be drawn up in accordance with guidelines on national criteria and should be reviewed every three years
- In order for Gaelic to grow and flourish, it is imperative that the number of Gaelic speakers must increase and to a greater degree this is dependent on expanding Gaelic Medium Education. It appears that the Standards in Schools Act 2000 has failed to enhance the position of Gaelic Medium Education in any meaningful way. Scottish Executive Ministers must ensure that Education Authorities within Scotland must comply with Act 2000 to ensure that there should be a statutory right to Gaelic Medium Education for all children, where reasonable numbers permit. Bord na Gaidhlig should advise Scottish Education Authorities on developing Gaelic Medium Education plans but the Executive must be responsible for ensuring that Education Authorities comply with the terms of the 2000 Act in relation to Gaelic Medium Education. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has indicated within its own Gaelic policy that it desires to move towards mainstreaming Gaelic Medium Education with an opt-out provision for English medium. This will take some time to achieve, particularly in view of the shortage of Gaelic Medium teachers, however this could be facilitated if the fear of losing this means of education was removed through having statutory security for Gaelic
- Gaelic Medium Education has a key role to play in the future of Gaelic development requiring adequate resources not only in the educational arena but also in the community sector to provide a well organised programme of out-of-school activities to support school based Gaelic Medium Education
- Although Gaelic broadcasting is not included in the Bill, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar believes that broadcasting has a key role to play in the regeneration and revitalisation of the Gaelic language. With the imminent switch-off of the analogue system and the migration to the digital system, it is important that a dedicated Gaelic digital TV channel is created. Adequate resources must be made available for the digital channel and it would be a powerful endorsement of the Scottish Executive's commitment to Gaelic if innovative strategies were looked to provide resources for a Gaelic digital channel from the Edinburgh purse to augment funds coming from the Westminster purse