by James Fife
On Monday the Scottish Executive presented Parliament with revised, toughened- up legislation which will give Scottish Gaelic official status in Scotland. One improvement is that it will require local councils to consider the language when forming education policies.
Education Minister Peter Peacock announced the bill, revised after public consultations, which resulted in the strengthening of its language-protective features and making it easier to use Gaelic for public purposes. It is hoped the legislation will be enacted by summer 2005 and would work to secure the future of the Gaelic in the country; currently it has around 60,000 speakers.
"Today is an historic day for Gaelic as we move to secure the status of the language in Scotland," said Peacock, "ensuring that rather than dying out, as some have gloomily predicted, it has a long-term future." Chairman Duncan Ferguson of Bòrd na Gàidhlig (Gaelic Language Board) hailed the presentation of this proposed law as a "momentous day for Gaelic."
Peacock cited the flourishing of Gaelic-medium education and growth in younger speakers as showing the time is ripe for such a bill. "This is a vital piece of legislation and it's crucial that we get it right," he said. "That's why we listened carefully to the points raised in the consultation and, as a result, have strengthened the bill," he claimed, stating the revised version makes it easier to ensure public bodies take Gaelic-speakers' needs into account.
One day earlier, Prince Charles expressed public support for efforts to save Gaelic. "If Gaelic dies in Scotland, it dies in the world," he said in a speech at the Gaelic college in Skye, Sabhal Mor Ostaig. "If it flourishes here it sends out a message of inspiration and optimism," he added.
However, not all Gaelic supporters expressed approval of the new measure. Alex Neil, a member of the Scottish Parliament representing the Scottish National Party, said the bill weakens the language regeneration effort by removing ministerial responsibility over Gaelic. He also descried the lack of concrete provisions for language protection. "It is absolutely pointless to have a bill that does not clearly illustrate how we will save the Gaelic language, and that is what we have," Neil said. He cited the failure to address the shortage of Gaelic teachers as an example of lack of specific measures to support Gaelic-speaking communities.
The main amendments made to the Bill following the consultation were that Bòrd na Gàidhlig will have powers to issue statutory guidance on Gaelic education to specify entitlement to Gaelic Medium Education. Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s advisory role will be expanded to allow it to advise all public, private and voluntary sector bodies on Gaelic issues.
Bòrd na Gàidhlig will also decide where to focus Gaelic language development and determine which bodies should produce language plans. A system has been introduced to give the Bòrd and Ministers powers to monitor the implementation of public bodies' language plans and issue directions whenever necessary.
The Bòrd have recently appointed Peadar Morgan from the Gaelic learners association, CLI ,as their language planning manager.