Gaelic in Edinburgh rarely makes the headlines but that changed when the city council agreed its second Gaelic Language Plan.
Edinburgh is often in Glasgow’s shadow in relation to Gaelic development but this new plan and a new climate of goodwill from the council suggest that significant progress is possible.
The plan makes important, if tentative, commitments to the development of Gaelic education in the city, at nursery, primary and secondary level.
Upgrading secondary Gaelic provision is the most urgent issue as the rapid growth of Gaelic in primaries will soon bring a dramatic increase in the number of secondary pupils.
Over the years, Edinburgh council has tended to view Gaelic as a problem to be managed, but there is now an opportunity to be seized.
Edinburgh can and should follow Glasgow in developing a dedicated Gaelic secondary school, but this will require a clear vision, careful planning and committed delivery. Up to now that kind of sustained commitment has been lacking, but the new Gaelic plan can start a new chapter.
A major shortcoming of the Gaelic plan is that education continues to overshadow other important areas of development.
A Gaelic arts strategy developed in 2008 bore very little fruit, much in contrast to Glasgow. Nor are there any commitments in relation to the long-standing community demand for a dedicated Gaelic cultural centre for Gaelic organisations, events and classes.
Such language hubs have been hugely important in other cities, such as Belfast and Cardiff.
The Gaelic plan is required under the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, which was introduced by the previous Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition and passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament.
The Act has the aim of “securing the status of Gaelic as an official language of Scotland, commanding equal respect with the English language”.
One mechanism for achieving this is Gaelic plans by public bodies such as local authorities, and 26 of Scotland’s 32 councils now have such plans. A key aspect of the Gaelic Act is that it is Scotland-wide in scope, although Gaelic plans in more strongly Gaelic areas are expected to be more stringent.
Although less than one per cent of Edinburgh’s population speaks Gaelic, the city plays a disproportionately strong role in Gaelic cultural and intellectual life and Gaelic has had a presence in the city for more than 1,000 years, as demonstrated by the many surviving Gaelic place-names.
Unfortunately, there is clear evidence of hostility to Gaelic in Edinburgh, and poor awareness of the language’s deep roots and ongoing presence in the city.
Even though it was accompanied by an English version, a bland Gaelic tweet from Edinburgh council announcing the Gaelic plan produced an outpouring of abusive responses.
Gaelic was described as “drivel”, “gibberish”, “pish” and a “dodo language” and Gaelic speakers were told to “**** off to some rocky outcrop in the Outer Hebrides”.
This kind of anti-Gaelic abuse is regrettably common – although it’s difficult to imagine that such venom would be publicly expressed in relation to any other group – and adds significantly to the vulnerability of the Gaelic language community.
Ignorance is at the root of such attitudes, but positive action and committed leadership can overcome it.
Professor Wilson McLeod and Professor Rob Dunbar are Edinburgh University academics.