Angus MacLeod lecture: the place of Gaelic in modern Scotland

Speech delivered by Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Skills and Education John Swinney MSP.

Mòran taing, John, airson am fàilte chridheil. 'S e fìor urram a th' ann a bhith an seo còmhla ribh an-diugh.

Thank you, John, for your welcome and kind words of introduction.

It is a pleasure and a honour to be with you this afternoon. John, you and your colleagues have been very active over recent years and your work in Park, in South Lochs should be highly commended. You are standing in a fine tradition of land reform and community development and I would like to wish the Park Trust, the Park History Society and the Islands Book Trust well in the years ahead.

It is an honour to be the Angus MacLeod lecturer for 2016. It is a particular pleasure to follow in the footsteps of many previous lecturers for whom I have the highest respect; my former Cabinet colleague, Kenny MacAskill, who in my view, had to take the most difficult decision any Minister in our Government has had to take; the late Charles Kennedy, a good and decent man for whom I had the greatest regard and the warmest of friendships; Maggie Cunningham, who leads MG ALBA with such vision and ambition; and champions of the movement for land reform, such as Jim Hunter, a cause that was so powerfully represented by Angus Macleod himself.

Angus Macleod was a man deeply and tirelessly committed to these islands where he belonged. His many interests were all linked to his strong commitment to people and place. On one of my frequent visits to Lewis, I visited his archive at the Ravenspoint Centre. It is a deep collection of writings, photographs and artefacts that capture a period of time and a set of human experiences that have defined a 200 year struggle to establish an approach to land ownership that respects the communities of which Angus Macleod was a part. His writings evoke a clear and powerful sense of injustice that was perpetrated against those who lived their lives on this land. He recounts the tough, physical challenge of those lives, made worse by what so many endured at the hands of disastrous land management practice.

In amongst the injustice however, Angus MacLeod depicts also some remarkable events that were a portent of things to come. In his account of the 'Attempted Eviction of the Loch Shell Crofters in 1842', Macleod explains the plans of the crofters to rebuff the eviction perpetrated by the sheriff, the Factor and the other symbols of authority. He recounts the uncharacteristic tactics adopted for their times – the womenfolk were organised to run rings round the great and the good, including manhandling some of the pillars of the eviction – eventually forcing the authorities to retreat. Even an intervention by the Lord Advocate was not effective in enforcing the eviction. The crofters were given some grace in the face of their robust actions to protect their lives and their land. The role of Pairc Estate today therefore is a sharp contrast to the experiences of the time that Angus Macleod has charted for us. This commitment to people and place deserves our praise and certainly merits the recognition which has been given to Angus MacLeod.

I am particularly pleased to be delivering this lecture in Stornoway during Mod week. I will be concentrating this afternoon on the place of Gaelic in Scotland and it would be impossible to do that without reference to the long and impressive record of An Comunn Gàidhealach.

An Comunn is an organisation which has spent 125 years supporting Gaelic in education and in the arts, and this week we see more evidence of its continuing activity in the 2016 Royal National Mod here in Stornoway.

Equally, since its establishment in the mid 1970s, this Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and many living and working in this area, have been central and crucial to the promotion of Gaelic and the good progress we have seen.

When I was beginning to prepare for this lecture, I was reading about Sandy Matheson's talk last month in Stornoway on the late Donald Stewart, MP for the Western Isles from 1970-1987. Sandy Matheson, although a political adversary of Donald Stewart, was reflecting with respect and admiration on a chapter written about Donald by Dr Eilidh Macphail of Lews Castle College UHI, in a recently published book on the leaders who have shaped the Scottish National Party. This lecture provides me with a very personal opportunity to join Sandy Matheson in expressing my respect and admiration for Donald Stewart, and his wife Chrissie, both granted the Freedom of the Western Isles as a mark of their outstanding service to these communities. I learned an immense amount from them both about the privilege of being asked to provide public service and the importance of personal courtesy regardless of political difference. That assessment of Donald and Chrissie was the substance of comments by one of my predecessor Angus MacLeod lecturers, Brian Wilson, in his obituary of Donald Stewart.

Donald Stewart was important for these islands, he was important for the Scottish National Party and he was also important for Gaelic.

Donald Stewart introduced a Gaelic Bill into the House of Commons in December 1980, a Bill which aimed to address the issues of Gaelic education, Gaelic broadcasting and the legal status of the language. It was viewed within the Gaelic speaking community as a powerful opportunity to secure legislative foundations on which progress to support Gaelic could be founded.

Donald Stewart's Bill did not progress and was talked out in February 1981 by Conservative MPs in the House of Commons. I remember vividly the outrage. It was a spiteful escapade, indulged in by people who were far away from us and who we found difficult to hold to account. They had played games with an important issue dear to the hearts of many in these communities. It is hard to explain now the feeling of frustration events of this nature give rise to when our democracy is now so much closer to home and enshrined in the Scottish Parliament. And so much easier to hold to account. These reflections on Donald Stewart's Gaelic Bill took my thoughts to the question of what Gaelic support and structures were in place in the early 1980s and what distance has been travelled since.

At the point where Donald Stewart's Bill was being talked out in the House of Commons there were some important Gaelic developments in place and signs of momentum. In the Gaelic activity of the early 1980s we can see the origins of many of the gains we have made in more recent years. However, the predominant theme was campaigning for status and recognition.

In the early '80s, many of us will recall, there were important developments in Gaelic drama, in publishing and in Gaelic early years provisions. There were new campaigning pressure groups, reports were being written, road signs were being mysteriously painted over with their Gaelic names and in some places census forms were being ripped up as they were only in English.

There was progress with Gaelic radio here in Stornoway, Gaelic television was beginning to take root and there were valuable community development projects being established. The establishment of the new council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, had a key part to play in this.

If the early 1980s started with some disappointment with Donald Stewart's Bill failing to progress, there were notable and important gains as we moved through the decade.

We saw the continuing growth of the Gaelic college at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the emergence of Gaelic medium education, good progress with funding of Gaelic broadcasting and there was improved support from the Highlands and Islands Development Board, Scottish Arts Council and from local authorities. The profile of Gaelic arts and music continued to increase, as did projects supporting Gaelic in the community.

Stepping forward to the present day and looking back at this era, the gains made for the Gaelic language have been impressive. We have a successful Gaelic medium education sector operating within Scottish education. We have an increasing number of Gaelic stand-alone schools. We have a dedicated body, Storlann, set up to provide resources and support for teachers and pupils.

We have also benefitted from the establishment of a Gaelic TV channel. This has been a success and has transformed broadcasting in Scotland. We have a Gaelic arts sector which punches above its weight and without question enriches the cultural life of Scotland.

Just over ten years ago, Bòrd na Gàidhlig was established, with statutory duties to promote the Gaelic language. We have excellent teaching and research in the Gaelic departments of our universities and the Scottish Parliament has passed strong legislation in support of Gaelic. An increasing number of local authorities and public bodies have Gaelic plans which list their commitments to Gaelic.

I think on any reasonable measure would be fair to say we have made good progress.

The caution we need to add is that this impressive progress is not an end in itself and does not address all issues. There have been missed opportunities. There will still need to be campaigns and there will still be obstacles.

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's culture and language.

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.

That view is however not universally shared. To give a recent example, last month I attended the AGM of Fèisean nan Gàidheal. I announced some additional funding to support the organisation. This was to enhance and expand the excellent work they are doing by bringing Gaelic language and culture into more schools. Modest funding. £33,000. It would hardly have broken the bank. But I was horrified, however, to read many hostile responses to this announcement.

I know many of you have encountered this hostility to Gaelic. You will be familiar with the negative points – 'it is a dead language', 'it was never spoken here', 'it is a waste of money', 'it is being shoved down our throats', 'it is a divisive SNP plot'. These views are often found and shared on social media, but sadly sometimes enter into political exchanges and mainstream media.

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.

Gaelic belongs to Scotland, hostility to Gaelic has no place in Scotland and we should all unite behind the effort to create a secure future for Gaelic in Scotland.

We have made progress. Thirty-five years ago the predominant theme was campaigning for status and recognition. The gains we have made are not an end in themselves but must be used effectively to pursue the aims and priorities we share for Gaelic in Scotland.

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.

I believe we are in a good position to achieve these things. We will do this as we build on the gains of past decades and also we will build on more recent gains.

Earlier this year, the Scottish Parliament passed an Education Act which included important Gaelic provisions. We will use this to strengthen Gaelic provision in schools.

This Act placed a duty on Bòrd na Gàidhlig to prepare Guidance on Gaelic education. This Guidance, for the first time, describes what parents can expect local authorities to deliver when they choose Gaelic education for their children. The consultation on this Guidance closes at the end of this month.

In recent years, we have seen a welcome increase in the number of parents choosing to place their children into Gaelic education. Since 2008, we have witnessed a 32% increase of young people in Gaelic medium education and it is our duty in the Scottish Government, working with local authorities, to ensure this demand can be met.

On my last visit to Stornoway, the Scottish Government was able to support Comhairle nan Eilean Siar with the E-sgoil initiative and before that my colleague Dr Allan supported the Gaelic status schools initiative. Today I would like to announce £700k of funding for Glasgow City Council for its two Gaelic schools at Glendale and Berkeley Street.

This funding will further improve the learning environment for young people studying core subjects such as physical education; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); and information and communications technology (ICT), ensuring Gaelic learning provides a wide experience across the curriculum. This is a welcome development and I am confident it will result in further demand in Glasgow.

The arts also must remain central to our endeavours for Gaelic. The arts link to our schools, to broadcasting, with creative industries and with our communities. The arts have immense potential to strengthen appeal and attachment and as we know there are welcome social and economic benefits that follow.

The report 'Ar Stòras Gàidhlig' was commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) in 2014 to assess the economic and social value Gaelic brings to Scotland. The Report was positive: it found that the businesses in the creative industries, tourism, heritage, and food & drink sectors in particular benefit from their use of Gaelic, and that this has the potential to bring economic value of up to £148.5 million a year. Through our supporting the Gaelic language and encouraging businesses to do the same, we are ensuring that we can take full advantage of the value this brings to the whole of Scotland, and increase it in the future.

Also there are very positive results from the work of Fèisean nan Gàidheal where 5,867 young people took part in Fèisean and 8,686 attended concerts, 662 tutors and 864 performers were employed and 840 volunteers were involved. There were 10,907 school pupils engaged in Fèisgoil activities; 14,890 attended Blas events and 19,743 attended Cèilidh Trail events. A similar positive account of economic impact could be provided by Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Skye, An Comunn Gàidhealach, Storlann in Stornoway, Ceòlas in South Uist and other Gaelic organisations.

MG ALBA's funding produces 290 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs, of which around 100 FTE jobs are in the islands. MG ALBA also commissions about 80% of its content from Scotland's independent TV production sector. MG ALBA is creating growth in the domestic production sector, with economic dividends across Scotland.

This includes economically fragile areas; for example in Skye alone, the investment in the Bannan Gaelic drama series has generated gross value-added revenue of £690,000 and created 14 FTE jobs for each series of five half-hour episodes.

In this way, Bannan is helping to create the critical mass of talent and skills required for Scotland's film development. These strategic benefits accrue to all of Scotland, not just the Gaelic media sector.

The Scottish Government's support for MG ALBA will continue. BBC ALBA is now a central element of the world of Gaelic and it makes a huge contribution to a wide range of our Gaelic priorities. We will continue to press for the BBC to improve its support for the channel.

There have been clear gains over recent decades. We are still making good progress with Gaelic initiatives. These gains, in education, in arts, in legislation, in the economy enable us to demonstrate the benefits more effectively. This was not possible at an earlier stage. I cite these examples of positive economic impact to make an argument, that confounds the critics of Gaelic and demonstrates the relevance and significance of Gaelic to our society. 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.

I believe that today we have a unique opportunity.

We now have structures, projects, organisations and legislation in place that is more than my late, much respected mentor Donald Stewart could have hoped for in 1980. While the gains we have made are significant, we must take advantage and use these gains effectively to create a secure future for Gaelic in Scotland.

We now have the means to set clear national priorities. We have the opportunity to create effective partnerships. Beyond this, and as a result of the gains we have made, we can demonstrate the benefits of Gaelic to Scotland. Our aim is that this will strengthen the appeal of Gaelic and result in the growth in numbers and quality that we would all like to see.

We will do this because Gaelic belongs in and to Scotland and the responsibility to promote and support it sits with us. Thank you for this precious opportunity to set out my determination to secure a buoyant future for Gaelic.

Buinidh a' Ghàidhlig do dh' Alba, agus feumaidh sinn taic a chur rithe.



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