By Mike Small
You won’t be able to read this article. The whole country’s ‘going gaelic’. It will be compulsory next. Of course it won’t really but it’s the sort of cultural of panic that is the tone set by a lead commentary column in this weekend’s Guardian (‘Why I’m Saddened‘). It’s reminiscent of the now widespread xenophobia gushing daily from the gutter press.
As Alasdair Mac Gill-eain said previously on Bella C:
“Most Gaels are wearily tholed to the almost vituperative outpourings of the Daily Mail against state support for Gaelic: they couldn’t sell their tabloids any other way.”
Now it seems the Guardian’s own Uncle Tom, Ian Jack is at it as well.
Poor old Ian is upset. He’s got his passport and it’s got the cheek to refer in passing to some of the other cultures that make up this Great Country of Ours. I wonder where he’ll go with his passport? I hope somewhere where they speak English.
In an article exposing an unimaginable lack of cultural self-awareness he writes an extraordinary sentence, this is it: “The Welsh and Gaelic phrases on the passport are surprising. They don’t answer to this present Britain. They exist in a more historical landscape, to redress old rural grievances rather than to express new metropolitan demands.”
Pause and reflect on the wonders of that sentence.
Deconstructed we have four key messages: You must answer to this present Britain. To be rural is to be grievous. Come and live in the city and shut up about your culture. Speak English goddamn you!
It’s difficult to know whether to think that the estimated 750,000 Welsh speakers in Wales should be more insulted by that or the 1.5 million people that can understand Welsh, or the gaelic speaker old and new, rural and urban? Is it more insulting to his own culture and heritage or that he feels able to consign another nations to ‘historical landscape’, itself a telling term.
He then has a predictable old moan about gaelic funding rolling out the old canards about state funding which, when boiled down amount to: “how dare they undo the linguistic ethnic cleansing we’ve achieved?”
As Wilson McLeod has laid out previously : “The current budget for BBC Alba is only around £20 million per year (with just £14 million for content), compared to £103 million for S4C (the Welsh public broadcast channel), £89.5 million for BBC 3 and £1,200 million for BBC 1.” So gaelic has less than a quarter of the BBC3 budget. Or to put it another way, Jonathan Ross was paid more than it costs for gaelic content.
But Jack is not interested in facts or true reflection, it’s just an exercise in paying someone for maudlin out loud: “All the Celtic languages are a mystery. How far would I need to reach back to discover an ancestor who spoke Gaelic? Perhaps to what in England would be called the Chaucerian era, perhaps to never.”
It never crosses his mind that it might not actually be about him.
He has made a hallmark of looking backwards (but not too far back). About 1957 seems to be the EXACT point when everything was right in Britain. His truly execrable The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain (2009) is a whole book dedicated to this genre of looking backwards and boring people about trains.
Elsewhere he mumbles: “Is Scotland so very different from England? More and more of its manmade landscape looks much the same: slip roads uncoil themselves expansively from motorways, property developers’ flags flutter above new private housing estates built of pastel brick, old shopping streets look ghostly, road-signs point the way to superstores.”
Jack plays cultural arithmetic taking the number of gaelic speakers in Scotland then: “Multiply that figure by five to get the number of Cantonese speakers in the UK, by 10 to reach Punjabi, by 20 to those who use Bengali, Urdu and Sylheti.” To what end is this exercise?
History is clearly his obsession but not his subject. He writes: “By 1755, Gaelic speakers numbered only 23% of the Scottish population.” How did that happen? That seems an odd date. Did anything happen around that time that might have precipitated its decline? We’ll never know because Jack hasn’t told us.
Jack is a nominally Scottish writer who – like many – is detached from his own history and this displacement generates a sort of self-loathing. He doesn’t mention the failure of the Jacobite Rebellion (1745–6) and the subsequent suppression of the Gaelic language and culture of those who had supported it. Nor does he seem aware of the ‘mass migration’ from the Gaelic Highlands in the 18th and 19th C. Instead, forlorn and self-comforting he writes:
“What I remember of Cardonald is the old Flamingo ballroom and council estates that were well thought of.”
A few months ago Jack was interviewed by the Scottish Review of Books and the author and his interviewer wrapped themselves in a warm blanket of unionism and snuggled down for an evening of nostalgic revelry.
Jack’s prejudice ignorance should be challenged and some facts put in the public realm or tbis impostition of the anglosphere will corrupt our own self-knowledge: Cuimhnichibh air na daoine bho ‘n d’thainig sibh (Remember the people whom you come from).