Thursday, April 28, 2016

Scottish Gaelic in the #SP16 manifestos


Or not, in the case of RISE Scotland and the Lib Dems. But more about them later.

With the Scottish elections air faire - I thought I'd break my sabbatical to explore what the main parties have to say on the place of Scottish/ Gaelic in our society. Gaelic is mostly a non-partisan issue. It is a language and if it is truly of equal worth and status then a plurality of viewpoints expressed through it as a medium should not be a surprise. There are some bigots whose regular but erroneous outbursts on Gaelic issues are fodder for a new ugly breed of fringe Unionists but by and large Scottish is supported across the political spectrum.

Despite the gurning that the SNP are 'forcing' Gaelic onto an unwilling populace, they are for the most part only following legislation signed or implemented by Tories, Labour and Lib Dems in both Westminster and Hollywood.

Here we go. Let's get the worst done and over with...

The Tories - despite loose cannons like Alex Johnstone and Jackson Carlaw - the truth is that the Tories have supported Gaelic since Thatcher. Significant funding for Gaelic was first put in place by a Tory government in London. In their current manifesto, they even have a picture of Bagh a' Chaisteil and manage to state:
We continue to support Gaelic education and would welcome further dedicated Gaelic schools being set up.
Labour - the Branch Office has been generally supportive over the years. Alasdair Campbell is a piper of Gaelic-speaking Tirisdeach stock while the arch-Unionist and pro-nuke bag of bitterness that is Brian Wilson can even speak it to some degree and has been a vociferous proponent of the tongue for decades. On the other hand, one of Kezia Dugdale's first statements after expressing shock at being elected (you're not alone there a' ghràidh) was to oppose BBC Alba receiving a slot on Freeview.

Labour though is currently a chaotic mess on many fronts. As I write, a mere week before the election, their manifesto is hot of the presses. Well, kind of lukewarm. In fact, it seemed as if Scottish Labour would abstain on a manifesto this year. Sure enough given the ever decreasing standards of Labour personnel over the past few years this manifesto made even Rise Scotland's seem slick.

Two gaffes immediately caught the eye. First, the online version was published with at least one section missing - the now infamous 'hello there, hello here' gunshot to foot. Next in the language section was this...



Where on earth did they get 'Nordic' from? Norn or Norse? Or did they mean Doric? This sums up a party that has taken the electorate for granted for decades - producing shoddy campaign material with factual errors, spelling mistakes and all the finesse of a stoner staying up all night to finish a crucial essay before next day's deadline.

As to the real life language that is Gaelic, it's pretty wishy washy. Just what you'd expect from a party now famous for abstaining.

Shame, as it wasn't always like this. In their 2011 manifesto for the Highlands and Islands they stated:
Scottish Labour recognises the crucial importance of Gaelic medium education to the continued survival and flourishing of the language. We support an expansion of opportunities for learning Gaelic, including removing the obstacles to Gaelic education and growing the number of Gaelic medium teachers, especially in areas where there is strong parental demand. We will build on the achievements of the Gaelic Language Act and will enhance our support for Gaelic through encouraging Gaelic broadcasting, Gaelic arts and increased visibility for the Gaelic language in Scotland. We will also support the work of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on Skye, and encourage new learners as well as native speakers from the traditional heartlands and beyond.


Liberal Democrats - skimming over this document after taking several wrong turns in their garish eye-stabbing website was worse than perusing the Tories' letter to Santa. Please note, multiple pics of Willie Rennie (minus mating swine) is not a positive! He either looks as if he's struggling with a bout of anal cramps or is trying very, very hard to add up the numbers of remaining Lib Dem MSPs.

This is a party that has lost any relevance it once had. With a strong representation in the Highlands, it was once very pro-Gaelic. Elected members such as John Farquhar Munro and Charlie Kennedy not only spoke Gaelic to varying degrees of fluency but were honest, likeable and even radical politicians. Now, we see the likes of the ridiculous Tavish Scott - son of the laird - playing the anti-Gaelic card in an attempt to hold onto the party's remaining 'heartland' of the Northern Isles where Gaelic does have a 'history' albeit not as a recently spoken community language by a significant percentage of the locals.

In 2011 though, they did say:
Support Gaelic medium education where there is demand and promote the language in cost effective ways.
Though funnily enough they now say that if parents in Shetland were to demand GME, they would oppose the desire of those Shetlanders to have their kids educated in Gaelic. Then again, what do you expect? They are Lib Dems after all. Would you trust a Lib Dem?

Curiously, the link to the Lib Dem manifesto I sourced included the words 'no to nuisance callers' (??!)

Answers in a Tweet please...

Scottish Greens - their online document is certainly more pleasing to the eye and does not focus on one personality (if that applies to Wille Rennie). Nothing on Gaelic education but this comes in under Arts and Cultural Diversity:
We support cultural ventures in all the languages of Scotland, including measures to encourage the use of Gaelic, the Scots tongue and the languages of those from minority ethnic backgrounds
Could do better. Support is good but any new ideas at developing the use of Gaelic?

SNP - Compared to some 'national movements' the SNP has been relatively 'language-lite' perhaps in an attempt not to 'scare the horses' as was said of the Yes campaign. Gone are the days when Gaelic slogans were part and parcel of SNP conferences. On the face of it, the SNP offer perhaps the strongest case for Gaelic though as mentioned above, until now they have mostly been building on common ground cultivated by the three main Unionist parties. That said, the present Gaelic 'heartland' of Na h-Eileanan Siar is strongly SNP at both Holyrood and Westminster levels.

Here though we have a bit more to chew on with Gaelic coming under both education and culture (A Creative Scotland) - not rocket science but something the other parties have failed to recognise. Here we go:

We will also implement new legal duties and rights to support Gaelic Medium Education as part of our ongoing commitment to stabilise and increase the number of Gaelic speakers.

 We support the central role of Gaelic arts in engaging people with the language, and enhancing the relevance of the language to Scottish society. We will also provide support for the Scots language

 We will maintain our investment in BBC Alba as a vital part of Scottish broadcasting output, and in recognition of its contribution to the development of the Gaelic language.
RISE Scotland - the new radical pro-indy alternative to the SNP 'establishment'. One could ask what is wrong with the Greens and why did the already extant SSP need to be subsumed into a new organisation but...

Nothing. They have words on many valid causes but nothing on Scotland's indigenous culture - the language, music, education, research, media, sport - not a syllable. The closest they come to Gaelic culture is promising to add yet more tax onto a bottle of whisky! Though some of their policies have a worryingly libertarian tone about them:

The primary curriculum is too cluttered, and in secondary schools the burden of assessment has become a direct barrier to better learning and teaching.

Gaelic and other languages taught as a second language would be easy pickings in attempts to 'declutter' the curriculum. Could Gaelic and other languages be taught and encouraged in other 'radical' ways? Er, we don't know. It would seem as if RISE have taken the Lord Robertson's words on 'Scotland not having a culture and languages' to heart.
Nationally, RISE will ensure that councils’ spending decisions are made using participatory budgeting techniques such as those developed in Porto Alegre, Brazil, which allow citizens to decide for themselves how their funds are spent.
'Citizens' such as Tavish Scott who could whip up a sizable minority of whingers with a grudge and decide that 'his' local area does not demand Gaelic education/ services and even if locals were to demand it, we're not going to let you have it anyway. How will these citizen panels operate? Will a simple majority vote suffice? We aren't told.

RISE should know that getting 100% agreement, or anywhere near, is nigh impossible amongst virtually any grouping of people. Otherwise, the socialists of RISE would just have joined the SSP instead of creating yet another organisation, no?

But I digress...

I expected better from RISE even though their existence at this point in Scotland's journey towards independence is a mystery to me. Their manifesto document itself is difficult to read - black text on a dark red background on some pages- gu sealladh orm!! So far, RISE seem relatively well known for certain members who gained notoriety during the indyref campaign and for others shouting at McDonalds' customers about said company's working conditions. Their highlight in the polls seems to have been a subsample of 39 voters in Glasgow, 2 of which were going to vote RISE.



In terms of a positive vote for Gaelic, the SNP promise the most. For that important list vote, you may consider the SNP again or the Greens assuming the Tories' warm words of comfort to Gaels don't wash away the knowledge of just who they are. The Lib Dems continue their downward spiral and Labour can barely get their half-baked manifesto out on time though we can assume they are still pro-Gaelic given recent voting records. RISE may as well not exist as far as we're concerned. Certainly, we don't exist in their eyes.

All in all, there's a worrying lack of action on languages of any kind from any party. Bilingualism is the norm for most people in the world. The benefits of bilingualism to children are proven. The EU is still pushing the 1+2 approach to languages and education. Bilingualism has been shown to promote positive attitudes towards diversity in children and has valuable cognitive benefits to the child.

It's been said that English is the Walmart of languages. Surely this type of myopic and imperialist attitude should be consigned to the past? If so, our politicians need to do more to equip our young people with a knowledge of their own languages, culture and history as well as insights into those of others in the world community.

2 comments:

David said...

Thank goodness you are back and in sparkling form.

Failte!

marconatrix said...

¨in both Westminster and Hollywood¨ ... not that I haven´t nearly typed that myself a few times, and wondered whether there was some subconscious truth trying to emerge -- LOL! However if anything it´s WM that´s heavily into show biz :-)

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¨English is the Walmart of languages¨ An interesting analogy. I´d see English as largely a cheap-n-cheerful convenience store whereas other languages may be a bit more specialised, up-market or both.