"Bòrd na Gàidhlig say they are not forcing this is on anyone but if you study the plan they certainly are forcing this on us. Last month, I made a remark about the Gaelic Inquisition but that is not too strong a word for it. This is being rammed down our throats. The only way to stop this is for Caithness to declare UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence)."
That's the opinion of one Don Smith, Thurso community councillor. You'd probably be forgiven for thinking that he's some hero of liberation for oppressed minorities; and, if you change the words 'Bòrd na Gàidhlig' for 'the government,' 'Gaelic Inquisition' for 'the police,' and 'Caithness' for 'downtown Johannesburg,' that's exactly what he'd be.
But the organisation he is referring to is not an Apartheid government; it is a Scottish advisory board on the use of the country's native language. The Gaelic Inquisition, despite its comparison to a brutal medieval religious regime, is one of the most important public campaigns carried out by that organisation, to date. The objective doesn't involve the suppression of ethnic minorities; in fact, it's quite the opposite. Bilingual roadsigns, which will doubtless reduce the monopoly on roads that the non-Gaelic Scots such as Mr Smith currently enjoy, but will also enable tens of thousands of native speakers to drive without relying on their ability to speak a foreign language. In the face of the obvious benefits to the economy and social well-being of the region, Mr Smith's hysterical opposition to the scheme 'when money is being thrown at Gaelic' should be, as his fellow councillor, Mr Rosie, says regarding the new roadsigns, 'laughed out of court.' It's almost as pathetic as the Scottish transport minister, Stewart Stevenson, claiming that bilingual roadsigns (the only roadsigns that many of the inhabitants of the Highlands and Islands can understand) cause accidents. The basis of this argument, he claimed, was his accounts of English-speakers trying to read Gaelic placenames. But people who do speak it should not be denied the right to drive around on the roads that their council taxes pay for.
A contributor from Nairn perhaps explains it best:
"These ruins (a list of abbeys and castles) have been maintained. But does anyone realistically want to restore them to their former glory and live in these ancient piles as monks? Rightly or wrongly, that is how many view the aims of the Gaelic lobby.'
There is nothing to suggest that they cause accidents, and yet the council officials take issue with Gaelic being used in the bastions where it is still spoken. Wales has nowhere near the same power as Scotland does to control its own affairs. It's national parliament is second only in powerlessness to the English lack of one. Of the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom, two Crown dependencies, and its overseas territories, Scotland is second to none in its legal autonomy. It is in Scotland,the corridors of power of village halls and community centres, that the problem lies.
Scottish law does nothing to protect the language against the bigoted views espoused by its inhabitants, especially those in the media power-house of Edinburgh. The most trivial example in recent history is the comments published in 2004, in the Student newspaper, in their television listings. In a rubbish attempt to explain what Gaelic programmes were about, its editor made several comments that, whilst I personally don’t care about, would have sparked a massive public outcry had they been about any other nationality. The newspaper would probably have been banned, and the editors arrested for inciting racial hatred, and a score of other thought-crimes. However, there was no criminal or civil proceedings to be taken, for, earlier this year, MSPs voted against giving Gaelic-speakers equal status with English. Blatant racism is now perfectly acceptable, as, officially, the Gaels are second-class citizens. We should read the ‘lack of equality’ for what it is - inequality. Their promise to give it ‘equal respect’ rather than ‘equal validity’ is even more offensive. I was considering sending an email to a variety of MSPs earlier, although the irony of me writing one in English would probably have been used in one of their bizarre, logic-challenged arguments, so I didn’t bother. It wouldn’t have been as ‘valid’ as a complaint made in English, anyway.
In what way is Gaelic not as valid as English? Why does the language and culture of its speakers, which is completely different to that of people in the Lowlands, not demand equal respect with English, or even languages that really are foreign, such as Punjabi and Guajarati? It may seen to the former landlords who govern us that Gaelic is the tongue of 19th-century evictees, but Gaelic is an integral part of Scottish identity. Even in the Lowlands, the vast majority of placenames are Gaelic, and the fact that many of these MSPs who ‘fail to see the relevance of Gaelic in Scotland’ cannot translate the name of their town is tragically ironic. Compared to the Scots dialects, for which there is now a campaign to recognise as no fewer than three new official, separate language, although it is perfectly possible for their speakers to understand both each other and the English, Gaelic is ancient. It first arrived in Scotland in the 300s, having been in Ireland for anything up to two thousand years, and was the official language of state until the 1100s. It continued to be the official tongue of the Highlands and Islands, under the de facto independent Lordship of the Isles, until 1493. It would be another three hundred years before Scots had a significant presence in the region, as a language of trade and commerce. In 1891, more than two and a half thousand Gaelic-speakers were returned by the census, only including those who could read and write in the language. It even, gallingly for those who maintain the exact opposite, has the backing of the current Lord of the Isles, who is none other than the heir to the throne - Prince Charles - who says that ‘Scottish life is greatly enriched by the Gaelic dimension.’
One councillor, Deirdre Mackay of Brora, Sutherland, who is the daughter of Mr Rosie, even says that allowing children to learn in their native language is damaging equal opportunities. Never mind the irony of a Labour councillor complaining about political correctness, but the notion that Gaelic ‘has to be challenged’ is flawed. She claims that, if bilingual education is to be provided, then it should be in Spanish, Urdu, and Chinese, not in Gaelic. The last time I checked, Mrs Mackay, the two of those that are languages were not spoken natively by large numbers of people, and they already have millions of speakers. And, besides, those languages are taught in Scotland; the total cost of English education is more than four and a half billion pounds per annum. That’s four and a half thousand times the cost that Mrs Mackay was complaining about - if that was proportionate to the official number of Gaels, then the population of Scotland would be twenty-seven million. She also complained that people who ring Porterfield Prison are asked if they are Gaelic-speakers - forgetting that some people are, and that Gaels have just as much right to talk to their imprisoned relatives as anyone else. She then goes on to say that it is wrong for Gaels to have such small class sizes, and receive a better education than anyone else. Not only is the logic completely backwards, but it is a false argument; her real complaint is that those who attend such schools ‘have to put up with Gaelic at the same time.’ And do you know what the most depressing part of the saga is? The councillor’s first name and surname are both of Gaelic origin.
The thing that every single one of these councillors is forgetting is that Gaels also pay council tax. They also want parks; they also want good schools; they also have relatives; they also get old. It is not just for the Scots to decide how that money is spent; and, indeed, why should Gaelic money be used to support the agenda of a select few Scots with a superiority complex, and to provide them with the services that Gaels also demand? I know that comparisons with historical regimes are not that easy to pull off, especially not on a blog, but in what way is making public services exclusive to the non-Gaels any different from Apartheid? There is no ‘Gaelic Mafia’ stalking the corridors of power waiting to pull off a creagh. There will be no Scots taken out of school and thrashed for speaking English. There will be no campaign to make people pay to watch a BBC (state-owned) channel simply because they are not the ‘majority.’ There will be no Scots forced to learn a foreign language to drive and work. No-one will be refused a job because they speak English at home, and they will not have to be shut off from the rest of the world as they are forced to listen to BBC Alba in a dark room whilst their ‘normal’ classmates play amongst a wide variety of toys and fun activities, in the ‘proper’ language.
We demand recognition. We are a thousand-year-old people with a unique culture and history, and a legitimate right to exist - no-one can truly deny that we are here, even if they’d rather pretend that we weren’t. We demand equality. We want schools, signs, and services that we can make use of. We pay for them, as well; we fight in wars, as well, more so than any other nation in the Commonwealth in proportion to our population size. We demand validity.
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