Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Gàidhlig ann an Glaschu

The Herald reports that Glasgow City Council is to implement a plan to increase use of Scottish Gaelic.

Labour Councillor Aileen Colleran, who represents Partick, an area where many Highland immigrants made their home, makes the following optimistic comments.

"By 2020, the place of Gaelic will be obvious to all. We'll see it around us — in our buildings, on our streets and in our shops — we'll hear it in conversations, in our schools and in the media. Our young people will be speaking it in Buchanan Street without feeling self-conscious and people will recognise the language as Gaelic."

Admirable sentiments, but the final clause indicates just what a low base the language is coming from, with most Lowland Scots as ignorant of it as Northern Ireland Protestants are of Irish — probably more so. Very often in Scotland, Gaelic is viewed as being of regional rather than national importance. And while it does not attract the sort of vitriol suffered by Irish in Northern Ireland, there are still people willing to debate the very desirability of effective promotion.

One such debate is appended to the Herald article, with a pounds-and-pence Gaelic-bashing contribution from Liz Smith, the Conservatives' schools spokeswoman in the Scottish Parliament. And yet the Tories have consistently said that, while Scots is a group of dialects, Gaelic is the true language of Scotland and the only national speech variety meriting Government intervention. It seems that, even now — to paraphrase Abba Eban — the Conservatives never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity with regard to Scotland.

Needless to say, their position is short-sighted, not only culturally but politically, since cultural nationalism is the only alternative to the pre-eminent political nationalism of the Scots. It is political nationalism — the symbolism of institutions rather than language — that has laid the Tories low in the country, and that may, in the medium term, lead to independence.

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