A draft of Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s next National Gaelic Language Plan was published today to guide strategies to revitalise the language between 2017 and 2022. In a very real sense it represents a ‘manifesto’ for Gaelic in the near future, and it represents the progress that has been made since the Gaelic Language Act was published in 2005. However, it also shows how far there is to go before Gaelic has the “secure status” that organisations like CnaG and others fought for in the 70s and 80s.
In my opinion, the draft is a fantastic starting point and it picks upon areas that have been neglected so far in Gaelic language planning, namely: political support, adult learning and a focus on language use.
I think that garnering further political support is one of the best and most intelligent aims of the plan. When I wrote my dissertation on Gaelic in post-devolution Scotland, one of my conclusions was that there wasn’t enough substantive support for Gaelic from political parties and as such there wasn’t strong enough legislation to bring about the radical change Gaelic needs. Because of that, it’s difficult for Bòrd na Gàidhlig to fulfil their duties without the powers they need to effect institutional change in Scotland in a way that would bring the quick progress that they are aiming for. The Bòrd aren’t nearly as powerful as the Language Commissioners of Wales and Ireland and without the power behind their proposals there won’t be as much coming from their strategies as there could be, even if they’re going in the right direction.
If the Bòrd succeeds in their political ambitions, I’d expect some new legislation, perhaps a new Gaelic Act, that would provide far more power to the Bòrd in terms of enforcing Gaelic Language plans on public bodies. The draft plan also highlight promises made by the Government in their most recent election manifesto, and I think that’s a shrewd move to pressure them into keeping their promises.
There is also more attention given by the new plan to areas that indirectly impact on Gaelic, such as economic development in the Western Isles and the Highlands. It states, rightly and sharply, that Gaelic needs to be a part of wider strategies to help local, isolated communities, with Gaelic being one of the cultural features most afflicted with emigration and job losses in the most Gàidhealach areas of the country. It’s tough to say how much Bòrd na Gàidhlig can do on its own here, but I hope that this part of the plan can pressure them to co-ordinate more with the Government, HIE (in whatever form it takes) and the private sector to put Gaelic at the heart of new campaigns for the region, where there is the best chance for revitalisation of the language.
I also like that a chapter of the plan is devoted to using Gaelic, as that’s perhaps the area that the language is weakest at the moment in terms of development. With more attention to classes and language use opportunities for adults, I’d imagine there’ll be a big impact on the other aims of education and language status. I’ve always thought that being able to use Gaelic more often is the best way of growing the language, and I’m encouraged that the Bòrd are taking innovative approaches to doing this through promoting things like sport and digital media as well as promoting co-operation with groups overseas to strengthen ties between Gaelic and Gaelige communities around the world.
One thing I noticed that hasn’t changed much in this Plan ‘s that there aren’t much in the way of definite aims that the success of the Plan, and the Bòrd in delivering it, can be measured in 2022. There are great aims in there, such as brining Gaelic-medium education to every parish where over 5% of the population speak Gaelic and building 4 new Gaelic-medium schools in the lifetime of the plan, but there isn’t much at all to do with the next census due in 2021. Increasing the number of Gaelic speakers is the Bòrd’s primary aim, but for me there aren’t enough concrete objectives in the plan to make that progress noticeable in the next census. We’ll see what happens, but I think the Bòrd need to aim high with this part of the plan to encourage the political support they need to bring real development to Gaelic.
On the whole, I’m greatly encouraged about the next five years for Gaelic if the Bòrd can pull off what they’re aiming for. We’re still far from speaking of Gaelic as safe, or perhaps sustainable, but if the foundations of education, language use, and political and public support – things will improve little by little.
I strongly recommend reading the draft if you speak Gaelic or have an interest or support for it, because the consultation on it that runs until May is the best time that people have to put their points across to the Bòrd and to say what they think of their plans. If you agree with them or not, if we put our opinions to the Bòrd we’ll have a stronger, more effective and, I hope, more successful plan and the progress we all want to see will happen.
You can view the draft of the 2017-2022 National Gaelic Language Plan here.