‘What’s the point?’ Scots divided as govt launches consultation paper in effort to keep Scottish Gaelic language alive

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Some Scots are hitting out at the SNP government after it launched a consultation to further the teaching and use of Gaelic, claiming the move was an unacceptable waste of money.

On Thursday, the government published a consultation paper for its plan to enhance the teaching and use of Gaelic in Scotland over the next five years. The document asserts the need for a “concerted effort” – and additional funding – to promote the language and thereby ensure it has a “sustainable future”.

The language, which was once one of many tongues spoken in the historic region encompassing modern-day Scotland, has seen its usage drop over the decades as speakers die and its use declines. It is now in a “fragile” state, the government said, with the 2011 census showing that only 1.7% of the population aged three and over could speak Gaelic. The number of people who could speak, read, write and understand it was only 0.6%.

The paper’s publishing has triggered renewed debate about the role of the state in funding the support of a language that is naturally decreasing in usage. Many on social media criticised the government for focusing so much time and effort on a policy they said was unimportant, given the impact of the current pandemic, widespread use of foodbanks and an epidemic of drug and substance abuse across Scotland. 

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“Hungry children can wait,” one person jibed on Twitter, adding, “Forget child poverty and food banks. Let’s keep a dying language alive that hardly anyone speaks.”

One commenter questioned why, if it was so important, people didn’t learn it by themselves at home. “It’s not up to the government to keep a dead language limping along,” they added. 

A number of people online claimed the government had spent nearly £600 million on funding Gaelic despite only a minuscule portion of the population still speaking it. While the exact figure is uncertain, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, a quango responsible for promoting Gaelic development, has an annual budget of £5.2 million a year. Funds are also allocated in other ways, including to Gaelic broadcaster BBC Alba. 

Is there any point in spending money to promote Gaelic? 🤔

— Facundo Savala (@FacundoSavala) July 16, 2021

“Is the taxpayer getting good value for money?” one person enquired, suggesting it was a waste of public funds, while another bluntly asked, “Is there any point?”

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Nonetheless, others were less quick to knock the government’s Gaelic plans. 

“Languages are important in their own right. If we lose Gaelic, we lose our understanding of a whole culture,” one person argued.

Another agreed, saying they weren’t going to have their “heritage defunded” just because other people didn’t use the language. 

Yes. Not going to have my heritage defunded because you don’t like it.

— 🇪🇸 (@vulgarmf) July 16, 2021

One person said the wrongs of Scottish history had to be symbolically “corrected” by pushing Gaelic, rather than letting English entirely take over. “It was the language of a free Scotland before the Act of Union,” he said.

One commenter argued that it was useful for children to learn other languages, and that was why it was important to keep teaching Scottish Gaelic – though her statement was quickly rebuffed by some who recommended that there were more useful languages to learn.

The government said it was looking forward to reviewing the responses to its consultancy and that it was seeking to ensure the language would be “used more often, by more people and in a wider range of situations,” rather than merely by a minority and as a sub-text on road and traffic signs. 

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