Drastic action needed to safeguard future of Gaelic, report warns

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Scotland's oldest spoken language is in danger of being consigned to the history books unless dramatic action is taken to preserve it, it was claimed yesterday.

Scotland's oldest spoken language is in danger of being consigned to the history books unless dramatic action is taken to preserve it, it was claimed yesterday.

An official report into the state of the Gaelic language has discovered that less than 1.5 per cent of the population are fluent in the ancient tongue of the Highlands and islands.

About a thousands years ago almost the whole of Scotland spoke Gaelic but now it is estimated there are fewer than 50,000 speakers, many of them elderly, out of a population of about five million.

Yesterday the Scottish Executive was presented with a report into the future of Gaelic which calls for the creation of a new development board, millions of pounds in educational funding and the introduction of an official language act.

The report, entitled A Fresh Start for Gaelic, was prepared by a ministerial advisory group led by Professor Donald Meek of Edinburgh University. It claims that immediate action is necessary if the language is to be prevented from dying out.

There are currently only 2,000 children educated in Gaelic, mainly in the Highlands and western isles. The report calls for a change in the law which will give parents with the legal right to have their children schooled in the language. Gaelic has been under threat for centuries as successive Scottish and then British governments attempted to stamp out the culture regarded as hostile to the establishment and the union.

However the language suffered most after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 when an attempt to restore the Catholic Stuart monarchy was defeated at Culloden.

In the wake of the revolt, harsh measures were introduced to suppress the Gaelic language and crush the social structure of the Celtic clan system. It was not until 1777 when the Gaelic Society of London was formed and managed to get some of the acts repealed that Gaelic was again accepted.

Over the past 20 years there have been several attempts to promote the language with more than 40 hours a week dedicated to Gaelic broadcasting on the BBC and the setting up of a curriculum in an increasing number of primary schools.

"I have made my support for Gaelic clear," said Mike Watson, Scotland's minister for tourism, Culture and Sport, yesterday. "Gaelic language and culture are essential parts of the heritage and history of Scotland and in particular of the cultural identity of the Highlands and Islands."

Mr Watson added that he would "consider carefully" the report's proposals.

But Gaelic campaigners called on the executive to "stop publishing endless reports" and take action.

"It is make-or-break time for Gaelic," said John MacLeod of the campaigning group FÀS, which means 'grow'. "This is the second report in two years into Gaelic and we're getting tired of it. What we need is firm action to secure the future."

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