Gaelic Language Plan

Scottish Government's plan to support the promotion of Gaelic throughout Scotland.


Overview of the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 and the preparation of Gaelic Language Plans

The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005

The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 was passed by the Scottish Parliament with a view to securing the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language.

This is a critical time for the future of Gaelic. The position of the language is extremely fragile and the declining numbers of those speaking Gaelic fluently or as a mother-tongue in the language's traditional heartlands threatens the survival of Gaelic as a living language in Scotland. It is essential that steps are taken to create a sustainable future for Gaelic in Scotland.

One of the key features of the 2005 Act is the provision enabling Bòrd na Gàidhlig (the Scottish Government's principal Gaelic development body) to require public bodies to prepare Gaelic Language Plans. This provision was designed to ensure that the public sector in Scotland plays its part in creating a sustainable future for Gaelic by raising its status and profile and creating practical opportunities for its use.

The requirement to prepare a Gaelic Language Plan

The requirement for a public body to prepare a Gaelic Language Plan is initiated by Bòrd na Gàidhlig issuing a formal notice to that effect under section 3 of the 2005 Act. The Scottish Government was issued with a notice in August 2006, and was asked to submit its Gaelic Language Plan to the Bòrd for approval during June 2008.

Key considerations when preparing a Gaelic Language Plan

The 2005 Act sets out a number of specific criteria which must be taken into account by bodies preparing Gaelic Language Plans. These are designed to ensure that Gaelic Language Plans which are prepared are comprehensive, consistent and appropriate to the particular circumstances of the body preparing it.

(i) the extent to which the persons in relation to whom the authority's functions are exercisable use the Gaelic language, and the potential for developing the use of the Gaelic language in connection with the exercise of those functions

This consideration is designed to ensure that the Gaelic Language Plans prepared by public bodies take account both of the existing number of speakers within their area of operation, and their potential to develop the use of the language. Generally speaking, the expectation is that public bodies with significant numbers of Gaelic speakers within their area of operation will develop stronger Gaelic Language Plans.

(ii) statutory guidance on the preparation of Gaelic Language Plans published by Bòrd na Gàidhlig under section 8 of the 2005 Act

Bòrd na Gàidhlig has published statutory guidance under section 8 of the 2005 Act, which provides advice on how Gaelic Language Plans should be structured, and on the content which public authorities should consider including in their Plans.

(iii) the National Plan for Gaelic

The National Plan for Gaelic is a statutory document produced by Bòrd na Gàidhlig under section 2 of the 2005 Act. The National Plan offers a holistic overview of Gaelic development needs, covering language acquisition, language usage, language status and language corpus issues. It sets out priorities for Gaelic development, and identifies bodies which can contribute to achieving them.

(iv) any representations made to the public body preparing its Plan about how it uses Gaelic

This provision is designed to ensure that public bodies take into account the views of interested parties in the preparation of their Gaelic Language Plans. The principal means of obtaining these views by the Scottish Government was through public consultation on its draft Plan.

(v) the principle of equal respect

The principle of equal respect was incorporated into the 2005 Act by the Scottish Parliament as a positive statement about the value and worth of Gaelic, in recognition of the fact that users of Gaelic aspire to use Gaelic as normally as possible in their lives, that there should be a generosity of spirit towards Gaelic across Scotland, and that the language should not suffer from any lack of respect either at an individual or corporate level. The Bòrd's guidance states that giving Gaelic equal respect does not automatically mean identical treatment for Gaelic and English, or that a particular level of Gaelic provision must be made available in all circumstances. Instead, it encourages public bodies to endeavour, whatever the particular linguistic landscape they face, to be supportive and generous to Gaelic development and to prepare their Gaelic Language Plans with a view to facilitating the use of Gaelic to the greatest extent that is appropriate to their individual circumstances. When delivering services in Gaelic, we shall endeavour to ensure they are of a comparable standard and quality as those they provide in English.

Consultation on a draft Gaelic Language Plan

The 2005 Act requires public bodies to bring the preparation of its Gaelic Language Plan to the intention of those with an interest in it. To do so, the Scottish Government consulted publicly on a draft of its Gaelic Language Plan in 2009. We have endeavoured to include these in our Plan.

Approval of the Scottish Government Gaelic Language Plan

The Scottish Government Gaelic Language Plan was submitted to the Bòrd and approved by the Bòrd.

Overview of the functions of the Scottish Government and the use of Gaelic within our area of operation

The Scottish Government is the devolved government for Scotland. The Scottish Government was established in 1999, following the first elections to the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government is led by a First Minister who is nominated by the Parliament and in turn appoints the other Scottish Ministers who make up the Cabinet.

Scottish Government civil servants are accountable to Scottish Ministers, who are themselves accountable to the Scottish Parliament. The senior board of the Scottish Government is called the Strategic Board. The Board is chaired by the Permanent Secretary and the members of the Board are Director-Generals of the core Directorates of the Scottish Government plus three non-executive members.

The Scotland Act lists, in Schedule 5, the matters that are reserved. Any matter not so reserved, or otherwise defined in the Act as being outwith the competence of the Parliament, is devolved. Table 1 below shows some of the key devolved and reserved issues. The Scottish Government is responsible for most of the issues of day-to-day concern to the people of Scotland, including health, education, justice, environment and rural affairs, and transport. The outcome of the Spending Review 2007 was announced on 14 November 2007. Scotland's budget is £29.8 billion from 2007/08 to 2010/11.

The Scottish Government's main offices are located in Edinburgh at Victoria Quay, St Andrew's House, Saughton House and Pentland House; and, in Glasgow, at Atlantic Quay. Additionally, we also have around 70 area offices stretching from Kirkwall in the North to Stranraer in the South.

Devolved issues include:

  • health
  • education and training
  • local government
  • social work
  • housing
  • planning
  • tourism, economic development and financial assistance to industry
  • some aspects of transport, including the Scottish road network, bus policy and ports and harbours
  • law and home affairs, including most aspects of criminal and civil law, the prosecution system and the courts
  • the police and fire services
  • the environment
  • natural and built heritage
  • agriculture, forestry and fishing
  • sport and the arts
  • statistics, public registers and records

Reserved issues include:

  • constitutional matters
  • UK foreign policy
  • UK defence and national security
  • fiscal, economic and monetary system
  • immigration and nationality
  • energy: electricity, coal, gas and nuclear energy
  • common markets
  • trade and industry, including competition and customer protection
  • some aspects of transport, including transport safety and regulation
  • employment legislation
  • social security
  • gambling and the National Lottery
  • data protection
  • abortion, human fertilisation and embryology, genetics, xenotransplantation and vivisection
  • equal opportunities

The work of the Scottish Government is carried out by:

  • The Scottish Government - the mainstream civil service in Scotland with the core Directorates of Economy and Chief Economic Adviser, Heath and Wellbeing, Justice and Communities, Environment, Education and the Office of the Permanent Secretary;
  • Agencies - established by Ministers as part of Scottish Government departments, or as departments in their own right, to carry out a discrete area of work. Agencies are staffed by civil servants;
  • Public bodies ( NDPBs) - national and regional public bodies, carrying out their day-to-day functions independently of Ministers, but for which Ministers are ultimately accountable; and
  • Task Forces - advisory bodies established by Ministers to investigate and report on particular issues. Task Forces have a short lifespan, normally around a year or so, and are abolished once they have reported.

The Scottish Government's area of operation is all of Scotland. It therefore follows that all of Scotland's Gaelic speakers and Gaelic communities are within the area in which the Scottish Government operates including all of the districts in which persons able to understand, speak, read or write Gaelic form a majority of the population.

Demographics 1

The total number of people recorded as being able to speak and/or read and/or write and/or understand Gaelic in the 2001 census was 92,400 (1.9% of the Scottish population). Of these, the total number of people who could speak Gaelic was 58,652 (1.2% of the Scottish Population).

While the number of Gaelic speakers declined overall in the last census, the number of people able to speak and also to read and write Gaelic increased between 1991 and 2001 reflecting a growth in Gaelic literacy and growing numbers of Gaelic learners. The number of children aged 5-15 able to speak Gaelic also increased between 1991 and 2001. It is a priority for this Government to stabilise the number of Gaelic speakers at their 2001 levels by the 2021 census.

Gaelic speakers are spread throughout Scotland. Of the Gaelic speakers identified in the 2001 census, just over half lived in the Highland counties (the Highland Council, Argyll & Bute Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar areas) and just under half in the Lowland areas. Gaelic is spoken by a majority of people in the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar area and in the parish of Kilmuir in the Isle of Skye within the Highland Council area. Only just over a quarter of speakers live in localities where Gaelic speakers form a majority.

There is a high degree of urbanisation within the Gaelic speech community with large concentrations of Gaelic speakers living in Greater Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen. For example, 11,211 Gaelic speakers, or 19% of all Gaelic speakers, live in Greater Glasgow according to the 2001 census. 2

Census 2001 Data

All persons aged 3 and over (=100%)

Able to speak the language

Speak, read or write

Speak, read, write or understand



58,652 (1.2%)

65,674 (1.3%)

92,386 (1.9%)

There is no authoritative figure for the number of non-fluent adult learners. However, a national study in 1995 by John Galloway on behalf of Comunn na Gàidhlig, the Gaelic development agency, found that there were roughly 8,000 in Scotland. 3

There are around 2,500 primary and secondary schoolchildren in Gaelic-medium education ( GME) nationally at present, with a further 700 children in Gaelic-medium nurseries. Within English-medium education between 2,500 and 3,000 learners study Gaelic as a secondary subject each year between S1 and S6 4 Many children in English-medium primary schools take part in the Gaelic Language in the Primary School scheme each year: around 6,500 children in the 2005/06 session.


Email: – Central Enquiry Unit

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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