Gaelic is on the way - but not yet

13th December 2002 at 00:00
Labour and Liberal Democrat ministers may end up supporting legal status for Gaelic but not in this Parliament, which ends in March, it emerged on Tuesday during evidence on the Gaelic Language(Scotland) Bill that has been introduced by Mike Russell, the SNP's shadow education minister.

His private member's Bill is trying to push through - against opposition from the Scottish Executive - the long-cherished ambition of the Gaelic lobby for a secure legal foundation to save their language from extinction.

So far, ministers have dismissed Mr Russell's flanking manoeuvre as untimely and unworkable, ahead of their own initiative of setting up a new board for Gaelic, chaired by Duncan Ferguson, head of Plockton High in Wester Ross.

In a written submission to the Parliament's education, culture and sport committee, Mike Watson, the minister responsible for Gaelic, explains that it would be inappropriate to commit the Executive to fresh legislation before board members have their say in the new year.

"The establishment of Bord Gaidhlig is our main priority for Gaelic and, in itself, it confers significant status and recognition on the language and culture," Mr Watson says.

But in evidence to MSPs, Donald Meek, who chaired the Ministerial Advisory Group on Gaelic that led to the setting up of the board, said he understood ministers would support legal status in the next parliament. "We need a law that Gaelic can be taught throughout the country and we're in a hurry," Professor Meek said.

The number of Gaelic speakers was diminishing rapidly, especially in the Western Isles, he said.

Fellow professor and advisory group member, Kenneth MacKinnon, told MSPs of the urgent need for a "simple" law that would recognise Gaelic and the work of the new board. Mr Russell's Bill could be amended to avoid any coercion on public bodies and any extra costs.

Mr Russell accepted his Bill could be radically simplified to avoid complaints from ministers and the Gaelic lobby. It had been drafted without the help of civil servants.

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