Policing Language

The Times have a very different story about Gaelic today. On Tuesday they ran with a front page splash (at least in their Scottish edition) “Backlash over ‘politically driven’ broader police use of Gaelic” by Mark McLaughlin. The piece reported: “Thousands of people have objected to Police Scotland’s plan to expand its use of Gaelic in a backlash against the “politically driven” equality drive. The force received 6,700 responses to a consultation with about three quarters of respondents displaying “annoyance or general ambivalence towards the concept as a whole”.

Without context the impression given was that a large swathe of people are hostile to gaelic language, but this is not born out in survey after survey of wider attitudes to gaelic language and culture. The context missed by The Times, but of crucial importance, was the lobbying by the British nationalist fringe group ‘The Majority’ (“Fighting back against Scottish Nationalism“):


This is an important omission. As Professor Steve Murdoch (and others) have pointed out: “The unionist & tribal anti #Gaelic lobby who think that support for the language is all an SNP plot, should know it was Labour Lib Dems & Conservatives who pushed the language in the 1990s early 2000s”. Indeed as Shona MacLennan reminds us: “The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 was passed under the Labour/LibDem Administration with cross-party support. That’s how politically motivated it was.”

Fiona Rintoul attempts to correct the coverage in The Times today “Spread the word: Gaelic is a part of who we are”, but instead of clarification she reiterates the confusion writing: “A modest plan by Police Scotland to expand its use of Gaelic has provoked a deluge of comments from the public, three quarters of which were negative. The usual arguments about wasting money on a minority language whose speakers can all speak English have surfaced, with critics of the force’s Gaelic plan espying “political interference”.

But this simply isn’t correct. Debate about support for the Gaelic language hasn’t “erupted once more” it’s just been curated and amplified by a very specific permanently enraged lobby-group of unionists. 

As I wrote in 2017 (‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’): “It’s clear that many of our cultural institutions are not fit for purpose and are still mired in slightly weird inappropriate dispositions, a historic legacy of a political failure of leadership and decades of cultural misinformation. We can see this in attitudes to language, visual art, in specific (and very different hostility to Scots and Gaelic), in issues about leadership and curation, in attitudes to the Gàidhealtachd, and in general expressions of self-loathing and ‘cultural cringe’ … in times of both cultural renewal and a heightened British nationalism, these expressions of anglo-normative vision clash with the more simple desire for self-expression and re-education.”

Mark McLaughlin reports: Chief Superintendent Linda Jones, who is overseeing the Gaelic plan, said people felt it was “politically driven” and amounted to “government interference”, adding: Jones admitted there was only “moderate public interest” in Gaelic in wider Scottish society but “considerable political interest”.

This is a distortion and a misrepresentation and the Times should acknowledge this.


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Comments (2)

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  1. david says:

    ‘The times should acknowledge this’ – holds sides and laughs out loud.

  2. Peter Daly says:

    It was revealing how this whole language kerfuffle took a turn for the deeply misogynistic on the twittersphere.

    The content of the tweet by that Silvio Tattiesconie character to the Scots language poet actually seems legally treacherous for him since he was A) outright stalking a woman whilst *boasting* about doing exactly that, B) *organising* her harassment directly in his own tweet with plain “lets rob a bank” language and C) using a degrading, sexist and sexualized slur about her whilst doing it. It sort of passed the threshold from the usual bad-tempered online nastiness into criminally prosecutable behaviour.

    It all just goes to show that when you find one far-right bigotry like language fascism, you find another like misogyny following closely behind. So this is a good time to point out that Donald Trump retweeted Scotland’s very own Silvio Tattiesconie last year.

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