An Open Letter to Defend Gaelic

As Misneachd writes: “There will not be a second chance to preserve Gaelic as a spoken vernacular language in Scotland.” This is an Open Letter to Jenny Gilruth and Shona Robison which you are invited to draw on and submit your own letter to the ministers in opposition to the cuts to community development workers that have been announced. The loss of these 29 Gaelic Development Officers in rural communities, along with 3 posts at Bòrd na Gàidhlig it is argued “will have a potentially devastating effect on these communities, not only in terms of the loss of employment, but in the confidence and the belief of those working tirelessly against ongoing and intensifying language shift.” The funding of Gaelic is pitiful and the state of the language perilous. A huge collective effort is needed to reverse these cuts and defend our language and culture.

Jenny Gilruth MSP

Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills

[email protected]

Shona Robison MSP

Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance

[email protected]

A chàirdean chòir,

We are writing to express our anger and disappointment at the removal of the top-up funding which has been given to Bòrd na Gàidhlig since 2021, and which had been used to fund a network of community development officers around the country. 

This small amount of additional funding had, to date, been the only practical response to the publication of a detailed analysis of the decline of the Gaelic language in its heartland island communities, published in 2020. While far from sufficient to address the ongoing language shift in these vulnerable rural and island communities, the community development officers scheme has had an extremely positive effect in the Gaelic speaking communities. A disproportionate return on a very small investment.  

Your own Programme for Government commits the Government to “introduce measures to provide further protection for Gaelic within communities”. Given that the draft Scottish Languages Bill provides no commitment to additional funding, with the Financial Memorandum stating: “The Scottish Government considers that provisions do not create wholly new costs or a requirement for wholly new spend”, it is extremely difficult to see how the Government is acting to provide “further protection for Gaelic within communities”. 

As recently as the 8th February the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills stated in Parliament that ‘for areas that may wish to be designated as areas of linguistic significance, a range of Gaelic support provision is already in place’, and that ‘that support will be built on and strengthened by the new provisions in the Scottish Language Bill’ – rather than being “built on” the very limited support provision already in place in these potential ‘areas of linguistic significance’ has been cut. 

The loss of 29 Gaelic Development Officers in rural communities, along with 3 posts at Bòrd na Gàidhlig will have a potentially devastating effect on these communities, not only in terms of the loss of employment, but in the confidence and the belief of those working tirelessly against ongoing and intensifying language shift. There is a danger that the very small number of people willing and able to do these jobs will lose interest and enthusiasm through being constantly let down by the system which is supposedly in place to support them and their communities. People are sick and tired of the short-term temporary contracts, low pay and insecure career prospects in a sector that should be the cornerstone of Gaelic promotion in Scotland. 

The Government only recently published its latest plan to address depopulation, the £210,000 allocated to “pilot schemes” and “research” in affected communities would be far better spent maintaining and developing these vital community development roles. It seems, despite the Government’s own attempts at “Island Proofing” policy decisions through the Islands Act, that small rural and island communities can still be disproportionately damaged by decisions taken in Edinburgh. 

The 2021 SNP Manifesto committed to: “ensuring it (Gaelic) has a sustainable long-term future” and stated that: “In particular we will have a focus on arresting the intensifying language shift in the remaining vernacular communities.” The loss of these community based Gaelic Development Officers only serves to highlight how peripheral community development is to Government policy on Gaelic. As Kate Forbes highlighted in her article in the National (Gaelic cuts risks ripping core out of our communities, 02/03/24): “community is where language lives or dies”. 

Two panels of Scottish Government appointed experts estimated in the early 2000s that to fulfill its obligations Bòrd na Gàidhlig would need an annual budget of £10 million – it has only ever received around £5 million per annum, and this sum has never risen inline with inflation. Even the initially inadequate budget of £5m per year would equate to between £8 and 10 million today just to maintain its value. 

We understand that budgets across Government are under pressure, but would urge you to reconsider these cuts. The £354,000 which has been cut is a miniscule amount in the context of a national budget. Gaelic community development has been chronically underfunded since the inception of Bòrd na Gàidhlig and a Community Development Officer scheme like the one now being dismantled should be at the very heart of everything we do to support the language. 

There will not be a second chance to preserve Gaelic as a spoken vernacular language in Scotland. If these cuts are not reversed, and greater investment made in the community use of the language, then all other efforts in support of Gaelic will be in vain. At the very least, decisions taken by this Government, now, will prove decisive in whether Gaelic has a future as a community language.

We would ask that the finance for the Gaelic officers scheme be reinstated and made a key part of Bòrd na Gàidhlig’s core funding, and that a review of the overall funding allocated to the Gaelic language is undertaken as part of a strengthening of the Scottish Languages Bill along the lines proposed by Misneachd in our response to the Education Committee’s consultation: Misneachd response to the Scottish Languages Bill

Le dùrachdan,

Sgioba Misneachd

Comments (29)

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  1. Andrew Wilson says:

    I was a Gaelic Development worker 2010-2013 in D&G, who without these grants would not have had a GDO. My remit was to set up a Gaelic interest group and Gaelic classes, so the Council did not have to. That much we did, and to this day the classes continue. Nearly all of our ‘students’ were 60 plus in age; although there were 2 younger ones who went on or will go on SMO. It is a sad day; Gaelic best chance is from the SNP, the Unionist parties will do he haw. We need a compulsory Scottish studies course in schools, to promote Scotland’s indigenous languages and traditions; I think that sweetener might have made a difference to this axe falling. The brutal truth is that many Scots certainly non Nationalists will be delighted; past generations have done such a good hatchet job rubbishing and dismissing Gaelic, that there are not enough Gaelic teachers to fill the vacancies; there will be 2 in nearby Baile Ur an t-Sleibh (Newtonmore). The only hope are the younger generation, who do not seem to have the same anti-Gaelic prejudice, that people of my age do.. As long as they get the opportunity to learn the language and associated culture, because without it they are not getting a full picture of Scotland. Gaelic is so integral and has contributed so much, its about time it was given its rightful prominent place; so what I would want to know, how will the Scottish Government be doing this, without GDOs? Some people i know think GDOs were a total waste of money, but what is the strategy for Gaelic without them? Please say.

  2. Meg Macleod says:

    To reduce this funding amounts to a continuation of ethnic cleansing……

    1. Ann Rayner says:

      That is absolutely correct, along with taking no steps to make it harder for non-gaelic speakers to buy property in these traditionally Gaelic-speaking areas.
      Could we apply a language test ? they do this in england to immigrants from non-english speakingcountries so why not an equivalent here?

      1. John Learmonth says:

        Really, language tests are applied in England?

  3. H Roan Rutherford says:

    As an SNP member of 50 years I think it is essential to avoid any cuts to Gaidhlig development. I also think that the council tax freeze was ill-advised. It would be better to allow councils to decide their own tax increases and justify that to the electorate. This would have allowed Scottish Government to spend the proposed council support on other essential services which are Scottish Government responsibility

    1. MacGilleRuadh says:

      Absolutely right. The council tax freeze is utter lunacy.

  4. MacGilleRuadh says:

    I’m afraid the horse has already bolted. A friend described his return to a Hebridean village of 160 houses that in the 70s all accommodated Gaelic speakers, of those houses now only 6 are so occupied. There has been a population replacement in many areas. Native speakers are more and more isolated in their own communities, young folk move away and incomers are more interested in Strictly than Gaelic culture. A sad end to an old song.

  5. SleepingDog says:

    Regarding appeal to younger folk, I notice that VR experience Aonar seems to have a Scottish Gaelic translation, but for reasons beyond easy explanation the Steam platform confuses or conflates Gaelic with Scots, making finding games in Scottish Gaelic harder than necessary:
    “This is an immersive cinematic VR storytelling experience based on Scottish folklore. Become a part of the lighthouse keeper’s story, and take a journey with him on the Scottish Isles. This is an exploratory application and is best experienced standing with the ability to walk around. The experience is interactive, however it is up to the user to discover what they are able to interact with.
    “This application has been translated into Scots and Scottish Gaelic with the support of the Scottish Government.
    “Special thanks to the Glasgow School of Art”
    I don’t have the required setup and haven’t played it. I’m not sure how many people played it choosing the Gaelic narration option. I’m not sure how effective Scottish Government funding of Gaelic in computer games is, either.

  6. David Hutchison says:

    My great aunt Seordag was one of the last native Gaelic speakers in Assynt where I grew up. She taught us Gaelic for singing at the MOD. I’m not fluent (Comhairle nan Leabhraichean /The Gaelic Books Council helped me to get Gaelic translators.) but I love to create and illustrate stories and she inspired me to write the Seordag Stories /Stòiridhean Seòrdag series of picturebooks for children.
    They are free to download between now and – 9th on Smashwords.

  7. Paddy Farrington says:

    Letter sent to the Ministers and others alerted to do likewise.

  8. Scott McDonald says:

    But isn’t that the point? It’s a dying language and maybe deserves its place in history not being artificially kept alive. Seeing ScotRail station signs and ambulances with Gaelic livery in parts of Scotland that never spoke it even in antiquity is just silly and confusing.

    1. I think most historians or gaelic speakers would reject the idea that gaelic is a ‘dying language’ – not that it is in desperate peril – it certainly is – but the idea that this is some kind of natural event doesn’t really stand up to the slightest scrutiny

    2. Seonaidh says:

      Which parts of Scotland would that be?

      I’m in a town on the western edge of Edinburgh and our local station has one of these signs. It is important to me and my Gaelic-speaking children that they see at least some semblance of recoginition given to our oldest extant tongue. Funnily enough, the area here had a Gaelic name before it’s modern English version and this seems to be the case all the way down to Peebleshire and across to Dumfries.

    3. SleepingDog says:

      @Scott McDonald, ‘antiquity’… that reminded my of a subject I’ve just been reading about:
      I suppose to some it says “You were never here. We were always here.”

      Mind you, maybe everyone started out calling their tiny settlements the equivalent of The Village, or something, and had to keep renaming as more and more settlements had to be referred to and distinguished. And languages overlap, and are used by travellers, traders, words cross linguistic boundaries, people are inspired by exotic names and stories. Whether you have a large number of town streets, or offspring, or fictional characters to name, linguistic outreach has been common in Scotland.

      I mean, look at how many names are Biblical (and maybe even older and more foreign in origin), folk-mythical or colonial.

      1. Seonaidh says:

        In terms of Gaelic in the Lowlands, it amazes me how many people just say “you were never here” and/ or “you are not here”.

        Here, on the edge of Edinburgh, there are pipe bands, shinty, Highland Games, whisky producers, people wearing kilts on special occasions, people with Gaelic names – not just the Macs but names like Glass, Ross, Douglas, Bain, Roy, Gow, Gove, Gilchrist etc – plus lots of place names that describe the land or what it was used for. And yet… some say “Gaelic is foreign here… it was never spoken here”.

        Well, where TF is your evidence for that? Because, there’s a shitload of evidence to say that it was and still is here.

        Having a little Gaelic signage in the Lowlands is not that big a deal, either financially or politically – we can deal with a myriad of ‘other’ languages that we never used to have each time we go to a supermarket – and shouldn’t detract from the points above that the Islands should get the lion’s share of funding and effort. We. Can. Do. Both.

        1. Well said Seonaidh, I remember complaining about Neil Neil McGregor’s much-admired radio series A History of the World in 100 Objects

          As his programme reaches a crescendo of analysis he says:

          “The Greeks constructed an image of the Celtoi as a barbaric violent people. That ancient typecasting was replaced a couple of hundred years ago with an equally fabricated image of a brooding mystical Celtic identity that was far removed from the grainier practicalities of the Anglo-Saxon industrial world, the romanticised Celtic Twilight of Ossian and Yeats. Since then “being Celtic” has taken further constructed connotations of national identity. Just look at the Celtic clovers and crosses that for many Scots Welsh and Irish are visible statements of their tribal identity, or the fact that visitors are welcomed to modern Edinburgh with greetings in gaelic, a Celtic language never historically spoken there.”

          I wrote about it here:

          1. Cynicus says:

            If the word, “here:” at the end is a link, then I am afraid that it does not work.

          2. Paddy Farrington says:

            I think this might be the link that Mike intended:


            Apologies if not, but this one is well worth a look anyway.

          3. Yeah that’s the one, thanks Paddy

        2. SleepingDog says:

          @Seonaidh, agreed. I’m in favour of dual signage.

          Since the Irish Constitution is in the news, what do you think about a dual+ Constitution for an Independent Scotland?

          1. Cynicus says:

            I hope you don’t mind that I’ve borrowed your REPLY link to echo the Editor’s thanks to Paddy above.

  9. Helen Urquhart says:

    I totally agree with all the above. Keeping Gaelic as a spoken vernacular language is so important and I am benefiting myself from regional teaching of the language. The language supports the culture which in turn is helped by ongoing education in schools and colleges; jobs and tourism. The investment in signage throughout the country in Gaelic seems to me to suggest a desire to keep the language from dying. On the East coast, in Fife, there is a marvellous ground swell of enthusiasm for disseminating the language and that strikes me as a true indication of the desire for supporting Gaelic now and in the future.

  10. Anthony Lawson says:

    They know the cost of everything and the value of nothing by making such decisions

  11. Ann Dolan says:

    Keep our ancient language alive, you have no right to kill our mother’s tongue.

  12. Daniel says:

    Tha mi cannan nan Gael gu brath ni-eigheanas nan Gaidhlig !

  13. Carol Sharp says:

    I agree with is this letter. Our mother tongue is important . ‘If you don’t use it you loose it. ‘ we should be preserving this rather than cutting it back.
    Please save our language for the next generations . Everything around us is falling apart don’t let this be another historical, culture to fade and perish. Thanks.

  14. TURABDIN says:

    Saving the languages of Scotland, including vestigial Norn, is certainly part of any meaningful concept of national renewal.
    But to what end? The replacement of English by Scottish mediums in all areas of daily life, or just preserving the languages for the odd ceremonial occasion, as is the case in Ireland?.
    The language regeneration business is costly in terms of time and effort as well as money.
    It is not for the romantic, the feint heart or the part time. It also requires imagination and planning and political will as part of a national [re]education process which many in the old, utilitarian British order will seek to discredit.

  15. Nicola Laing says:

    This is the pure essence of the Scottish folk
    Do not take it away from Scotland
    It is ESSENTIAL ️

  16. Aonar says:

    The Government’s answer to everything is an “officer”. Even the forthcoming Autism and Learning Disabilities Bill is suggesting they need an “officer”. What if this approach is the wrong way round? If the government genuinely wants to help the language then another civil servant won’t help. It will help if they stop undermining the economic and social bases of rural communities, and provide protection to housing etc. It will help if they support grassroots enterprises. People may remember books, songs, and art in a century’s time. They won’t remember another bureaucrat.

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