The Deputy First Minister John Swinney has delivered the Angus Macleod Memorial lecture during the Mod in Stornoway today setting out the importance of the Gaelic language to Scotland as part of a bold ambition to build participation and economic activity in the future.
Mr Swinney was making his first major speech on the subject since assuming ministerial responsibility for the Gaelic language after the election. Over the summer the Deputy First Minister has engaged widely with a range of stakeholders central to the future of the language.
In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Swinney reflected on the significant developments in protecting and promoting the Gaelic language since the unsuccessful attempt by the late Donald Stewart, MP for the Western Isles from 1970-87, to secure recognition for the language in legislation in the House of Commons in 1981. Mr Swinney rejected the argument that the language should be anything other than encouraged and reaffirmed the determination of the Scottish Government to continue to strengthen the language. He also set out a bold agenda on education, broadcasting, digital and economic development to support the language.
On recognising the importance of the Gaelic language, Mr Swinney said:
“The picture of Gaelic development through the years has progressed from campaigning for recognition, to putting structures and projects in place. Now that we are at the point where we have good structures in place, we must ensure these are effectively used to strengthen the language and to reap the rewards of its contribution to the diversity that exists in Scotland.
“Why is this important? The clear reason behind this activity is to ensure that the Gaelic language has a secure future in Scotland. As a long-serving Minister in the Scottish Government, but one who has only recently assumed responsibility for the Gaelic language, I want to make clear to you my determination to work with all who have an interest in nurturing the language, with the structures and gains we have made, to pursue the aim of increasing the numbers learning, speaking and using Gaelic. That is the Government’s clear aim and priority and we must use all the gains of the last decades to make further progress with this aim.
“The reason for this commitment is quite simple. Gaelic belongs in Scotland.
“It has been spoken in this country for well over 1000 years and I believe this places a duty and a responsibility on us as custodians of this heritage. This is not special treatment or favouritism or a nationalist plot. It is simply the steps that should be taken to secure a measure of fair treatment for our minority language that has been with us for a long time.”
Setting out the approach that will be taken to boost participation in the language, the Deputy First Minister said:
“In this stage of Gaelic development, we need clear priorities and strong partnerships. Later this year, Bòrd na Gàidhlig will be issuing for consultation the next National Gaelic Language Plan. I will be working closely with the Bòrd on this and together we will ensure this document contains the priorities we need to pursue in order to make further progress with Gaelic in Scotland.
“We want to see an increase in the numbers speaking, using and learning Gaelic. We want to see growth in the status and appeal of Gaelic. We want to encourage and support the use of Gaelic in communities across Scotland. We will look closely at the steps we need to take to strengthen Gaelic in communities where it is still spoken by a large percentage of the population.
“Another gain is the mechanism of Gaelic plans. These plans have the potential for a wide range of bodies to consider what they can do for Gaelic. These plans point to opportunities for collaboration and for support to be provided from Bòrd na Gàidhlig. They help us move forward.”
Rejecting arguments that Gaelic should not be encouraged and affirming the Scottish Government and his personal commitment to the development of the language, Mr Swinney said:
“I know many of you have encountered this hostility to Gaelic. These views on Gaelic are just as groundless and unwelcome as they are inaccurate and misleading. They betray a poor understanding of our country, its history and the respect we should show to minority communities. My very clear view on this is that this hostility to Gaelic has no place in Scotland.
“So let me set the record straight. Gaelic is a language of daily use. The support for Gaelic is a good use of public funds. Gaelic offers a range of benefits to Scotland. It is a valuable language to learn and it deserves the support of people of all political backgrounds in Scotland. And it will have that support from this Scottish Government and from this Deputy First Minister of Scotland.”
Making an argument about the significant economic opportunities arising out of development of the Gaelic language, the Deputy First Minister said:
“I want us to frame a dynamic agenda for economic growth and development in the use of the language and to see the opportunities to ensure the language can generate to create wealth, employment and opportunities in Scotland. Harnessing the energy of the Gaelic movement, combining it with the unlimited potential of digital technology, I believe we have an unrivalled opportunity to create a much stronger footprint of economic activity from Gaelic than at any time in our history. Digital stretches the reach of the language in a way many of us could never have contemplated. The language can contribute to the economic renaissance of Scotland and make our society rich in the truest sense of the word.”
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