Scottish Government Commitments to Gaelic and Scots and a Scottish Languages Bill: consultation

A consultation on our commitments to Gaelic, Scots and a Scottish Languages Bill.


This section will consider whether the Gàidhealtachd commitment should have a principal focus on location and how it is defined or on Gaelic speakers wherever they are and how they are supported.

The Scottish Government’s wish is to strengthen the language and support Gaelic speakers in communities wherever they may be in Scotland. Our aim will be to raise levels of language use, provide more services through the medium of Gaelic and extend opportunities. In particular, our aim includes the wish to see an increase of Gaelic language use in the vital areas of both home and community. Associated with this is a commitment to have a focus on arresting language shift in areas with significant speaker numbers.

Traditionally the Gàidhealtachd has been a term used for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. At certain points in our history the language and culture of this region would have been predominantly Gaelic. Although the term Gàidhealtachd has not featured in Gaelic policy in Scotland, the aim of this commitment will be to consider what further steps can be taken to support and promote Gaelic and to increase the numbers speaking, using and learning the language. The focus of this section of the consultation paper will be the commitment to explore the creation of a Gàidhealtachd.

Ireland’s Gaeltacht

The Irish Gaeltacht areas have been recognised since the 1920s and these were areas where the Irish language was prominent and supported. The most recent legislation has been the Gaeltacht Act of 2012. The Act redefined the traditional Irish-speaking areas in Ireland on linguistic criteria instead of on geographic areas which had been the position until 2012.

In the Republic of Ireland, this term is more closely associated with language support and policy implementation. The Republic of Ireland has used an equivalent term through the last century but even that system has evolved and developed over that period and it does not provide a clear or a static solution for us to import in answer to the question of what may constitute a Gàidhealtachd. To stimulate consideration and discussion however an overview of the current arrangements are referenced below.

The Irish language was once widely spoken throughout the island of Ireland, but now approximately only 2% of Ireland’s population live in the Gaeltacht, the areas where Irish lives as a community language.

The Gaeltacht Act 2012 provides the statutory footing for language planning process. Under the process, Gaeltacht communities in addition to communities in Gaeltacht Service Towns and Irish Language Networks are being afforded the opportunity to prepare and implement language plans at a community level with ongoing support. Such communities are therefore being offered the opportunity to play a key role in addressing the challenges facing the Irish language as identified at community level. The Language Planning Guidelines give a comprehensive overview into the process and how it operates.

Under the language planning process, Údarás na Gaeltachta is charged with facilitating the implementation of the process in Gaeltacht Language Planning Areas and Gaeltacht Service Towns located within the Gaeltacht, while Foras na Gaeilge has similar responsibility for the implementation of the process outside the Gaeltacht insofar as it relates to Gaeltacht Service Towns and Irish Language Networks.

Under the Gaeltacht Act 2012, the Gaeltacht has been divided into 26 Gaeltacht Language Planning Areas which have been given the opportunity to prepare and implement language plans at community level. Gaeltacht Service Towns are towns in, or adjacent to Gaeltacht Language Planning Areas which play a significant role in the delivery of public services and leisure, social and commercial amenities to those areas. Irish Language Networks are areas outside the Gaeltacht which have a basic critical mass of community and State support for the Irish language.

Gàidhealtachd Discussion

The Highlands and Islands of Scotland has traditionally and historically been regarded as the Scottish Gàidhealtachd. However, in terms of the policy application of this term, there are differing views and responses. Some of these have been referred to below and these may help with responses to this consultation.

Some regard the term Gàidhealtachd as a specific location to be geographically designated. They would see the aim of this commitment to be to strengthen Gaelic in geographical areas where it is spoken by a significant percentage of the population. The presumption being that there are certain areas where the Gaelic language has a higher profile and that certain language support initiatives should happen in these areas.

At the same time a number of interest groups did not view the delivery of this commitment as a straightforward task. There were questions raised about how this commitment sat with the concept that Gaelic should be for all of Scotland and should be a national language. This was linked to the concern about ongoing support for Gaelic in other areas, such as Glasgow or Edinburgh, that might be defined as non-Gàidhealtachd. There were suggestions that this approach might be divisive, might be difficult for the allocation of grants and if a line was to be drawn on a map it would be difficult to reach agreement on the criteria for this decision.

Others considered that the focus should be on providing support for those learning and speaking the language and in the networks and communities they belong to, wherever they are. These options are not mutually exclusive and consideration may need to be given to how all can be better supported. In addition to this, we must keep in mind the importance of on-line, digital resources that Gaelic speakers and learners have access to and the communities that result from this.

Gàidhealtachd Options

For the purpose of this consultation exercise, this section will include a focus on geographical areas where there is a significant proportion of Gaelic speakers and where there is significant Gaelic activity.

Where there is a focus on a significant proportion of Gaelic speakers there would be the challenge of how to define such an area and to ask what percentage of the population would need to be Gaelic speakers for an area to be defined as Gàidhealtachd. The question to follow would be what Gaelic measures should be secured in this area – for example should:

  • GME be available in all schools?
  • bodies adopt a bilingual approach?
  • a measure of community support be available for Gaelic?
  • public bodies and authorities make clear commitments on how they intend to improve support for Gaelic and provide for Gaelic speakers in Gàidhealtachd areas?

There will also be questions of whether any additional resources could be allocated to this area and how this could be monitored or regulated. This commitment may also involve questions about enterprise activity and how sectors such as employment, health, housing, transport, connectivity, community matters and more can support Gaelic in such communities. There will also be questions of what this will require of other Scottish Government policy areas.

Separately, certain areas could be defined by virtue of a level of Gaelic activity. The case could be made, for example, that in areas where Gaelic medium education schools and units are located, this creates certain networks and levels of Gaelic activity. If recognition was given on this basis then again some thought would have to be given to what activities in support of Gaelic should be located, encouraged and established in such areas. In communities where GME exists there will often be other Gaelic projects and activities which could include Fèisean and other Gaelic arts activities, Gaelic adult learning opportunities and the work of Gaelic community development officers. It is the existence of GME that often leads to the other activities in support of the language.

An option for making progress with this commitment could be by means of a review of the Guidance on Gaelic Language Plans produced by Bòrd na Gàidhlig. For example, the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 and associated Guidance encourages a proportionate application of Gaelic plans. There are powers under the 2005 Act for regulations to be made which make further provisions for what certain Gaelic Language Plans should contain. In other words, commitments should be stronger where there are more Gaelic speakers. In addition, there have been commitments in the National Plans for Gaelic that certain things should happen in areas with a higher percentage of Gaelic speakers. The policy approach of the National Islands Plan with its Island Communities Impact Assessment is also relevant here as is the potential to create local community Plans.

On-line and Digital

Gaelic on-line activity would have to be seen as an essential element of any attempt to look at the best way to support Gaelic speakers. Gaelic on-line activity is central to all attempts to support Gaelic whether in towns and cities or in areas of low population.

Regulation and Enforcement

The question of how requirements in any Gàidhealtachd area could be implemented and monitored is also an important part of this commitment. This was another theme that emerged clearly in Scottish Government’s informal consultation work, where questions were asked about the powers which Bòrd na Gàidhlig had to monitor and enforce requirements set out in Gaelic Language Plans or in their Guidance. The question of monitoring and enforcement and where this function should sit, overlaps with the commitment on the review of the functions of Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

Consultation Questions

Consultation responses are invited on the question of exploring the creation of a Gàidhealtachd.

Do you have views on what measures should be in place to support Gaelic speakers in areas with significant numbers of speakers?

Do you have views on how such areas should be defined?

How would you balance the commitment to put measures in place in areas where there are significant Gaelic speakers with the principle that Gaelic should be a national language for all of Scotland?

Are there any further points you would like to make about the commitment to explore the creation of a Gàidhealtachd and the associated commitments relating to Gaelic use in family and community?



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