Friday, 22 February 2013

Boxing Stupid

The Scotsman has an interesting article on a project aimed at encouraging councillors in the Highland area to learn Gaelic. Unfortunately for it, like much of the paper's news offering in recent years, the reporting seems to have been skewed to its detriment by a high-level injunction to attack the SNP — so that the article is introduced with the statistics "just 5 of 80 Highland councillors speak Gaelic" and "only 10 have signed up for basic Gaelic classes".

As if that were some kind of indictment. If Gaelic had such high levels of existing speakers and interest in the general population, it would be a cause for some celebration.

The paper's stance is saddening, for in Scotland, unlike Northern Ireland, support for or opposition to Gaelic has not depended on one's stance on the constitutional question. Admittedly, Nationalists may have been slightly more in favour, but there were plenty of ardent Unionists who did their bit for Gaelic: Brian Wilson on the Labour side; and on the Tory, the unlikely figure of Michael Forsyth. Indeed, in that respect, one might almost mention the Scotsman's own Gaelic column. There is also no shortage of native speakers who have no time for the SNP.

That all stands in stark contrast to the world of Scots. Since the early twentieth century, the vast majority of people who support the notion that Scots is a language and should be treated as such have also been political Nationalists.

It is also true to say that, the above observations notwithstanding, Nationalism in Scotland has been far too coy about culture. The rates of joblessness or child poverty are cogent arguments for independence, but they are by no means the only ones. As Oscar Wilde might have said: to lose one language is unfortunate; to lose two is careless. In Scotland's case, it speaks of a land that successively valued confessional politics and the wealth of empire above secular culture.

It would be naive to think that, in the event of a no vote in 2014, the yes camp would scatter to the four winds. More likely, independence would enjoy a lasting boost, and could well become the majority view fairly quickly thereafter. To attempt to make political capital out of support for Scotland's benighted national languages in support of a short-term political goal is a morally repugnant strategy. It is also a high-risk one, since interest in Gaelic, a genie that got out of the bottle in the early 1990s, is only going to grow, regardless of what happens to the language's native communities.

In short, the Scotsman should be careful for what it wishes for.

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