The National Plan for Scotland's Islands

The National Islands Plan provides a framework for action in order to meaningfully improve outcomes for island communities. This replaces the proposed plan published in October 2019.

Arts, Culture and Language

Scotland has an enduring worldwide reputation as a centre for ideas, learning, education, creativity and innovation. Culture reflects the past, challenges the present and shapes the future. Alongside its sea boundaries, it is culture that forms an island’s identity. Islanders often act as guardians of their local natural environment as well as their local culture and help to protect and safeguard our global heritage. There was a recognition in the consultation that investment in Gaelic language and culture has brought positive results. Islanders emphasised the need to take a comprehensive approach to include the many aspects of the culture of different island communities, including local languages.

Island communities are passionate about capturing, celebrating and sharing the uniqueness of their island experience. Islanders also feel strongly about preserving built heritage and the natural environment, not just for their economic value through tourism, but for the quality of life they support and as a legacy for future generations. Scotland’s islands are characterised by the richness of their cultural heritage and the culture and creativity generated and experienced by local communities today. For many islanders who took part in the consultation, their sense of “self” and “community” is rooted in the culture and heritage of the island they inhabit. It is therefore essential that all islanders have an equal opportunity to access culture and the arts so that they can take part in or contribute to cultural life in Scotland in the way that they choose.

Music festivals on the islands span every genre from the HebCelt on the Isle of Lewis, Orkney’s annual St. Magnus Festival, to Shetland’s Accordion and Fiddle Festival and the Tiree Music Festival. Many other festivals take place across the islands every year that attract large numbers of visitors and which celebrate the unique culture and heritage of the islands. 

The Royal National Mòd is an annual celebration of Gaelic language, music and culture, organised by An Comunn Gàidhealach. The festival allows competitors from across Scotland and beyond to take part in Gaelic singing, music, piping, dance, literature and drama, and plays an important role in the preservation of Gaelic culture in Scotland. With its origins closely tied to Gaelic-speaking communities from the islands, the Mòd now regularly returns to the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, where it contributes both culturally and economically to the community. 

Additionally, from an economic perspective, creative and cultural industries make a substantial contribution to driving economic activity within the islands and offer a significant opportunity for future economic growth and diversification. Inspired by the natural environment, community, language and cultural heritage, the islands produce a diverse range of practitioners in traditional and contemporary music, literature, arts, fashion and crafts. The Fèis movement which promotes Gaelic arts and music throughout Scotland was mentioned in the consultation as having made a contribution in retaining jobs and young people with social skills through music. Broadcasting, textiles and heritage offer significant levels of employment and business opportunities. The islands also host renowned events, festivals and galleries which build their cultural and creative base.

Sabhal Mor Ostaig makes a broad contribution (education, economic, cultural and linguistic) in an island area with a low population. It continues to excel as the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture, providing world-renowned short courses, further education, higher education and with impressive research capacity and support.

SMO has a key role in the economic regeneration of Skye, providing a varied range of housing and commercial opportunities to enhance its campus facilities and create a more vibrant, sustainable model for a 21st-century community which has Gaelic language and culture very much at its heart.

Food Tourism involves experiences learning about, appreciating and consuming food and drink that reflects the history, heritage and culture of a place. It also supports resilient local food systems which helps contribute to positive economic, environmental social and cultural impacts throughout the supply chain. Island communities fed into the development of Food Tourism Scotland – Scotland’s first ever Food Tourism Action Plan – and are well placed to benefit from the work of the National Food Tourism Board in implementing the actions identified within the Plan.

The implementation of the Plan will build on, and align, where possible, with existing culture and language policies and strategies, such as the Youth Music Initiative which provides a year of free music tuition to thousands of primary pupils across island communities, A Culture Strategy for Scotland published in 2019, Our Place in Time: the Historic Environment Strategy for Scotland and the Gaelic-related provisions in the Gaelic (Scotland) Act 2005 and the Education (Scotland) Act 2016.

We recognise that Gaelic is important to a number of Scottish islands and this Plan will ensure that Gaelic is maintained and strengthened as a living community language. There is a two-way relationship between language and community – Gaelic is important to the island communities where it is spoken, but equally the island communities where it is spoken are important to the health and future of the Gaelic language. While the two are linked, language is more than a cultural issue and permeates all aspects of community life where it is part of the community. Many respondents to the consultation emphasised the importance of Gaelic as an inherent part of many island cultures and others suggested a need to also promote other local languages spoken in islands.

“Gaelic is the foundation from which the culture, music, story and dance of these island communities arises. It is also the glue that holds people together, the web of community relationships that allows them to survive and thrive in the face of hardship and marginalisation.”
(Consultation participant, mainland with links to Outer Hebrides)

Strategic Objective 11

To support arts, culture and language we will:

  • Invest in our cultural and historic resources, to ensure that islanders are encouraged to engage with, and participate in, arts and culture.
  • Support, develop and promote the creative talents of islanders, and ensure that the culture of Scotland’s islands has a wide audience both nationally and abroad.
  • Support all of Scotland’s indigenous languages and dialects in ways that are relevant to the communities where these are spoken.
  • Ensure that the commitments in this plan are informed by and aligned with the commitments in the National Gaelic Language Plan, working closely with Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
  • Ensure that the effect on Gaelic language development is considered from the outset in island-specific policies and initiatives and that these link to statutory Gaelic language plans.
  • Work with public authorities and community groups in increasing the use and visibility of Gaelic in Gaelic speaking island communities. 
  • Work with relevant authorities to improve Gaelic provision for Gaelic speaking island communities in delivering their functions and services. 
  • Support approaches that promote the sustainable management of the historic environment. 



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