DONALD DEWAR blew distinctly cool on demands for Gaelic to be given secure legal status by means of a language Act along Welsh lines. The proposal is being promoted in a private parliamentary Bill by Michael Russell of the SNP.
But the First Minister and his officials appear to believe a "blanket duty" would add to the burden on public bodies if Gaelic was granted "equal validity" with English, giving speakers a statutory right to use it. There are also fears in ministerial circles that such a move could open the floodgates for similar demands from other minority communities.
Mr Dewar believes that "practical steps" suchas those already being taken in education hold the key to strengthening the language. He pointed out that the new education Act requires local authorities to include plans for Gaelic education in annual statements of improvement objectives. "If there is demand (for Gaelic-medium education), it will be met," Mr Dewar pledged.
But Alasdair Morrison, junior minister responsible for Gaelic, apparently continued to argue last week that the Executive's policy remains one of "working towards" secure legal status for Gaelic, although sometimes this intention is couched in terms of simply "securing" the position of Gaelic.