Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Independence White Paper

Scotland's Future, the long-awaited White Paper on Scottish independence, was issued at 10 o'clock yesterday morning, with its political significance matched by its size and scope, covering every imaginable topic, both constitutional and political, and even including 650 frequently asked questions to assuage the timorous. While the Blether Region counts itself among those gung-ho Scots for whom exclusion from NATO and an inability to watch Strictly Come Dancing would make independence more rather than less attractive, its chief interest lay in what the weighty tome contained on the subject of Scotland's languages.

On Gaelic it has the following to say on page 314:
"We plan to create a secure future for Gaelic in Scotland by increasing the numbers learning, speaking and using Gaelic, through Gaelic education in all sectors and all stages such as early years, primary and secondary education. We will continue our support for the work of Bòrd na Gàidhlig in promoting the use of Gaelic in Scottish public, cultural and community life. In addition, we will maintain our support for MG ALBA, which has brought significant benefits for Gaelic."
There is more detail on Gaelic and Scots in the FAQs:
232. What will independence mean for Gaelic?
Gaelic has been a continuing element in Scottish heritage, identity and history for many centuries. Gaelic has official recognition and it is an increasingly visible part of Scottish public life reaching into education, the arts, media and broadcasting. In an independent Scotland, Gaelic will have a central place in Scottish public life.
233. What would the priorities be for Gaelic in an independent Scotland?
Our aim as a government would be to continue to reverse the decline of Gaelic in Scotland. The most recent Census has demonstrated that initiatives in support of Gaelic have significantly slowed down the decline of the language. Policy and resources would continue to be directed to the priority of increasing the numbers speaking, learning and using the language.
234. Will Gaelic be recognised as an official language in an independent Scotland?
In Scotland, Gaelic has a significant level of official support from the Scottish Government. Official recognition for Gaelic is also provided by the 2005 Gaelic Act. In an independent Scotland this official recognition would be confirmed and maintained.
235. Will there be more support for the Scots Language in an independent Scotland?
The 2011 Census, for the first time, provided information on the numbers of Scots speakers. This information, in an independent Scotland, will assist in developing policy and promoting the use and status of the Scots language and supporting communities that speak Scots.
471. What would happen to Gaelic broadcasting in an independent Scotland?
The Scottish Government is committed to the continuation of the BBC Alba channel and Radio nan Gàidheal, under the auspices of the Scottish Broadcasting Service.
589. What will our national languages be?
We propose no change on independence to the status of Scotland's languages such as English, Gaelic, Scots and British Sign Language.
The Constitutional Convention appointed after independence could consider the position of Scotland's languages within the permanent written constitution.
The aim to "continue to reverse the decline of Gaelic in Scotland" is of course misleading, since, as the document itself acknowledges in the next sentence, overall that decline has only yet been slowed.

But one can't fault the policy. Reading between the lines, "a central place in Scottish public life" for Gaelic suggests the mainstreaming of bilingual signage, with Scotland's public face increasingly like that of the Irish Republic, and Northern Ireland becoming even more of "a place apart" than at present. When one takes into account BBC Alba and the recent emphasis on immersion education, both of which will certainly continue, and an expected increase in learners outwith Gaelic-medium schooling, the similarities with Ireland become quite striking. Even if the Scots plan no galvanising constitutional fiction about the "first national language", it is presumably no coincidence that the Education Minister is to be responsible for Gaelic. So it is likely that the language will be better off in an independent Scotland, although doubters will of course make the valid criticism that many of the expected benefits could — and, in fact, already are — being delivered under devolution. Indeed, growth from a low base is likely to attend either scenario, the key difference perhaps being the psychological effect of nationhood in softening Scotland's not inconsiderable strain of linguistic utilitarianism — since, as any child knows, nations have languages.

One can infer too that the fortunes of Scots would also enjoy an upturn under any SNP-led independent Administration. Although no specific promises are made, the logic of including a question on Scots in the Census unmistakably points in that direction. In this case, the reticence exhibited by the White Paper's authors may be the result of the ridicule that might attach itself to any concrete proposals. With sensitive development, much of it decidedly academic and unsexy, that will, over time, become less of a concern. At the moment, however, Scots is political in a way that Gaelic isn't, and there is no doubt that the more nationalist the Government, the better Scots will do.

Bring it on.

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