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No right to Gaelic units

Parents will not be entitled to claim a right to Gaelic-medium education under the draft Gaelic Bill unveiled last week at the 100th National Mod in Oban.

Mike Russell, the former Scottish National Party MSP, who failed to introduce a private member's Bill last session, said later he was disappointed there was no automatic legal right.

Mr Russell welcomed the Scottish Executive's conversion to secure status for Gaelic but said his own Bill could easily have been amended in the last parliament if ministers thought it was inadequate. But Peter Peacock, Education Minister, replied that Mr Russell's Bill was flawed since it did not plan for Gaelic across the country.

The Executive's new proposals, launched by Jack McConnell, the First Minister, and Mr Peacock, stress the crucial significance of education in any revival of the threatened language, now regularly spoken by fewer than 60,000 people. The number of native speakers who die every year continues to outstrip the number of new speakers.

Learning through Gaelic-med-ium education in primary school is the bedrock of the strategy but the limited number of available teachers remains the major weakness as Michael Foxley, vice-convener of Highland Council, stressed recently.

"It could be used by some local authorities as an excuse to do nothing," Dr Foxley declared in August after Mr Peacock warned that he could step in if local authorities were seen to be laggardly in bringing forward plans as part of the five national priorities.

Mr Russell said that he favoured a "name and shame" policy if authorities were ducking their responsibilities.

Consultation on the draft Bill runs until January 9 and the Executive notes that there is "scope for many education authorities to improve further their policy consideration of Gaelic-medium education". Some have already submitted plans. Authorities are being invited to establish "thresholds" to assess parental demand.

Ministers also point out that they have asked the development body for the language, Bord na Gaidhlig, chaired by Duncan Ferguson, headteacher of Plockton High in Wester Ross, to meet with local authorities to discuss "the performance review measure for Gaelic within the national priorities framework".

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The Bill, based on experience in Wales, would

* recognise Gaelic as a language of Scotland in legislation

* establish Bord na Gaidhlig as statutory agency to promote the use and understanding of Gaelic

* require Bord na Gaidhlig to prepare a national Gaelic language plan

* require all public bodies to consider the need for their own plan

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