New Scottish Government Gaelic Bill - at last
10/10/03, by Davyth Hicks
Scottish Gaelic is to get, at last, the legislation that language campaigners have demanded for decades. Today Jack McConnell the Scottish leader announced the launch of the Bill at the annual Mod, the annual Gaelic gathering, this year in Oban. However, language activists see it as falling far short of what is needed to kickstart Gaelic regeneration.
First Minister McConnell will start the consultation process for the bill which will provide ‘secure status’ for the language. He said that: ‘We want to secure the place of Gaelic as a living part of Scottish life, to promote the language’s everyday use and increase the appreciation of its place and value'.
The key provisions of the Bill are: the recognition in legislation of Gaelic as a language of Scotland; establishing the Gaelic development body, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, on a statutory basis to promote the use and understanding of Gaelic ; requiring Bòrd na Gàidhlig to prepare a National Gaelic Language Plan for approval by Scottish Ministers and to require public bodies in Scotland to consider the need for a Gaelic language plan in relation to the services they offer.
Bòrd na Gàidhlig (Gaelic Language Board) chairman Duncan Ferguson, warmly welcomed the draft bill describing how the Bòrd would benefit from its new powers. The new duties on all public bodies in Scotland to consider Gaelic language plans for their services, when taken together with the guidelines we will issue on how to exercise those duties, gives a clear route to providing more opportunities to use Gaelic in everyday situations’.
Peter Peacock, Minister for Education and responsible for Gaelic, said on BBC Radio Scotland that he wanted ‘to see Gaelic not just survive but thrive. I want to see more Gaelic speakers in Scotland and we are beginning to see signs of that already'.
The Scottish Government is also set to review and modernise the national guidelines for Gaelic for those aged five to 14, in order to tailor them to the needs of language development in Gaelic medium education and to ensure they remain relevant for the 21st century.
However, Gaelic activists point to weaknesses in the draft bill. Speaking to Eurolang, Dr Wilson McLeod, lecturer in Celtic at the University of Edinburgh, described the draft bill as ‘exceptionally weak, it doesn’t bear any comparison to language legislation we know from other European countries. It doesn’t look like 21st century language legislation'.
Dr McLeod drew attention to specific faults such as the lack of any principle of equality of Gaelic with English as found in the Welsh Language Act. ‘It doesn’t mention linguistic rights, there’s nothing about Gaelic medium education and it doesn’t give the Gaelic Language Board any powers over public bodies to make Gaelic language plans. There’s also nothing about the use of Gaelic in the legal system’.
However, he said: ‘Its going to have a benefit, if we look at the effect that the Welsh Language Act has had on Wales bilingualism now has an official ethos, it changed the landscape, it changed the linguistic culture, the draft bill is welcome but its not really the kickstart that Gaelic, in the bad situation that its in, needed’.
Rob Dunbar, a specialist in language legislation from the Department of Law, University of Glasgow, added that: ‘It falls far short of Commun na Gàidhlig’s proposals and far short of what was found in the Welsh Language Act and is weaker than Mike Russell’s Bill [from last year] in that it does not give the Gaelic Language Board the power to require local councils to make Gaelic language plans'.
The consultation process will continue until January 9th 2004. (EL)