Thursday, 20 October 2016

In Defens

Last night one of the Blether Region's Northern Ireland Facebook pals linked to an article reporting John Swinney's defence of Scottish Gaelic. He invited his friends to "discuss" it. Though an uninformed NI Unionist reading the article (or, as one admitted, only the headline) might be forgiven for thinking that Scottish glotto-politics is a mirror of its Ulster counterpart, in reality that is far from the case. In fact, the comments rather underlined the gulf.

While Scots may be ambivalent about Gaelic, they do not generally hate it. Rather, the picture is mixed, among both Unionists and Nationalists. Attitudes dividing along neat constitutional or sectarian lines to the extent found here would be thought odd.

Although it would be logical to assume that Scottish Nationalists had more time for Gaelic than Unionists, the actual difference may be quite slight, and may not even be as relevant as family history or regional considerations. In particular, planned, co-ordinated attacks on Gaelic by elected Unionist politicians are a very recent phenomenon in Scotland, limited, more or less, to the last two years; the Blether Region suspects that they may lose them as many friends as they win.

While there may be few or no traditional native speakers being raised in Northern Ireland, in Scotland a majority of speakers may fall into that category (just to be clear, the Blether Region is not saying that non-traditional native speakers don't count; the actual structural difference in how they speak is not great).

It is simply not true to say that "nobody speaks Gaelic" (which, even in NI, could only ever refer to its use as a community language, anyway). In Scotland, most speakers are native (see above), and Gaelic is a community language in the Western Isles and elsewhere.

Neither is it true to say that Gaelic is being aggressively promoted by the SNP for political reasons. The most relevant Gaelic legislation was passed by Labour and the Lib-Dems, while BBC Alba came into being during a Labour Government (broadcasting is, of course, reserved to Westminster). Arguably the key move on broadcasting prior to that was negotiated by the Conservative Michael Forsyth when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. One prominent Labour supporter of Gaelic in the 1970s and '80s, Brian Wilson, is also a fervent opponent of devolution.

The above should at least enable NI Unionists to achieve a good grounding in the facts before they criticse one of their ancestral languages.

Oh, and one other thing before I forget: in Scotland we don't generally call it "Garlic".

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