The Bill has five overarching policy aims. These are i) to improve the status of Gaelic and Scots; ii) to establish a new strategic approach to Gaelic medium education; iii) to establish Areas of Linguistic Significance to better support individual Gaelic speaking communities while maintaining Gaelic’s status as a language for all of Scotland; iv) to review the structures and functions of Bòrd na Gàidhlig; v) to take action on the Scots language.
i) Improving the status of Gaelic and Scots
The Bill seeks to give legal recognition to Gaelic and Scots as languages of Scotland and to place a requirement on Scottish Ministers to set a strategy for Gaelic.
Under the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, Bòrd na Gàidhlig was established “with a view to securing the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language”. The Scots language doesn’t currently receive any statutory recognition.
ii) A new strategic approach for Gaelic Medium Education
The Bill aims to place a requirement on local authorities to prepare delivery plans for Gaelic Medium Education (GME) and Gaelic Learner Education (GLE). The local authorities will also have a duty to regard the promotion and support of Gaelic when exercising their functions. It will create powers for Scottish Ministers to issue guidance and direction for the authorities to set standards. A requirement is created to establish catchment areas for GME. The role of key bodies in supporting Gaelic within education and communities will be recognised by requiring local authorities to consult with them.
iii) Areas of Linguistic Significance
This aim has been designed in response to the “Gàidhealtachd” commitment. It will introduce a framework to designate Areas of Linguistic Significance depending on the wider demographic position of Gaelic within them. In combination with the powers to set standards and enhanced requirement for Gaelic language plans, this will enable public bodies to make a positive contribution to Gaelic in their area of operation.
iv) Review the structures and functions of Bòrd na Gàidhlig The functions of Bòrd na Gàidhlig are to be altered so that its role can be refocused on monitoring delivery within a renewed regulatory structure. Bòrd na Gàidhlig will continue to support and promote the use and understanding of Gaelic and will be required to report to Parliament and Scottish Ministers on compliance by public bodies.
v) Take action on the Scots language
Through statutory guidance, Scottish Ministers will set the vision for Scots. Within this the role of key bodies in supporting Scots in education will be recognised and strengthened. A strategy for Scots will be prepared and kept under review by Scottish Ministers. Statutory guidance will be prepared for public authorities on the promotion and facilitation of Scots usage and the development and encouragement of Scots culture. Scottish Ministers and local authorities will have a duty to promote and support Scots education in schools. Scottish Ministers will also have powers to issue guidance to local authorities on Scots language education in schools and to set standards and requirements for local authorities in relation to Scots language education.
Who will it affect?
This policy will affect all those who are presently part of Scotland’s Gaelic and Scots language communities, those who aspire to be part of them, and those who support them. It seeks to encourage language education within Scotland and recognise Scotland as a multilingual country by building upon the existing opportunities for Gaelic and Scots language acquisition.
The provisions of the Scottish Languages Bill will support and strengthen the ambition that equal opportunities should feature as an important element of Scottish public and cultural life. In the first instance, the provisions which this Bill will put in place are open to all and there will not be any individuals or communities that are excluded. This is true at present of the main elements of Gaelic and Scots provision, education, arts, media, Gaelic learning and this will continue.
As of the 2011 census, 57,600 people reported speaking Gaelic while a total figure of 87,100 reported having some level of ability in the language. For Scots the equivalent figures were 1,537,626 and 1,929,444.
Giving the languages legal recognition as languages of Scotland will further the rehabilitation of two minority cultures which have historically been discriminated against within the Scottish public sector. It will also help enshrine the principles within the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages across Scottish public life. The provisions within the Bill, by taking steps to remedy historical inequalities enacted against indigenous linguistic minorities, represent in themselves measures which enhance equality as well as setting a precedent for further action in this area.
What might prevent the desired outcomes being achieved?
Gaelic medium education faces the same challenges as the wider Scottish educational sector as well as ones which are distinct to it. The latter includes teacher shortages and the successful implementation of the Bill’s provisions will require the continuance of existing efforts to encourage more people to pursue careers in Gaelic medium teaching. Successful examples of these efforts can be found in Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s Dèan Diofar campaign and the recent inclusion of Gaelic in the Scottish Government’s teacher bursary. This is work which the Scottish Government will continue in collaboration with Bòrd na Gàidhlig and other public bodies such as local authorities, the education agencies and teacher training institutions.
A challenge unique to GME is a shortage of bespoke Gaelic curriculum materials. The successful implementation of a national strategy for GME will require the better resourcing of Gaelic teachers. The Scottish Government supports bodies such as Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Stòrlann in developing Gaelic educational resources and this is work which will continue with the aim of fulfilling the Bill’s provisions.
The designation of Areas of Linguistic Signficance will require extensive cooperation between the Scottish Government, local authorities and other public bodies active within any areas to be so designated. However, the framework provided by the current Gaelic language planning system enables these bodies to work together on behalf of the language and ensures that there is a strong foundation upon which this new provision can be built.
Developing a strategy, statutory guidance, and educational provision for the Scots language will require extensive cooperation between different public bodies as well as groups such as the Scots Language Centre and Scots Hoose.
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