Current Affairs Politics The Irish Language - An Ghaeilge

Anglophone Intolerance Speaks The Same Language – In Scotland Or Ireland

Just in case you thought it was safe to speak the Scottish language in Scotland along comes journalist Gina Davidson with an anti-Gaelic diatribe in the Scotsman that twists logic and reason to breaking point:

“CAST your mind back a couple of years to the council’s school closures programme.

After all the wailing and knashing of teeth when it was first suggested that 22 schools and nurseries were to close almost immediately, the axe finally fell on just a handful of primaries.”

Um, does she mean “gnashing of teeth”? I do believe she does. Davidson goes on to discuss Bonnington Primary, one of the schools that was closed, and how the building which housed it was left to wrack and ruin for two years. However, under new plans, it may now be reopened as a Gaelic medium school.

“There are many who claim that the Edinburgh tram is a vanity project of city councillors, and therefore must come to fruition no matter what. Well it seems to me that a Gaelic primary school in Leith is just that – only this time it’s a vanity project being foisted on the council and Edinburgh taxpayers by an SNP government.

Of course, Edinburgh has a Gaelic speaking population that is said to number around 5000. But that’s surely no surprise as this is a city that attracts people from all over the world. Yet no-one is suggesting opening a Mandarin school or an Urdu-only primary for the vast numbers of pupils from those backgrounds who already study in our state schools.”

Is Mandarin or Urdu the native language of Scotland? Who knew? I thought it was a Celtic tongue. ‘mazing. Are the 5000 Scottish language speakers of Edinburgh not tax payers too? As for that point about Edinburgh attracting people from all over the world and having Gaelic speakers there being no surprise. Are you syaing that the people who speak the Scottish language are foreigners?

“No, Gaelic it seems is somehow more important than other languages – even more important than English, despite the 2005 Gaelic Language Act only stating it should have equal value. So important that while other schools are being closed because their rolls are too small, Bonnington will reopen with fewer pupils – around 158 – than it had when it closed. But that’s OK, as they’ll be doing their learning in Gaelic.”

But if English and Scottish are of equal value shouldn’t there be English and Scottish medium schools where parents and communities request it? Oh, sorry, I get you. You actually mean they are not of equal value.

“I don’t particularly blame the parents who send their kids to the Gaelic unit at Tollcross, and who will use the new Gaelic school, for being excited about the prospect. After all if someone hands you the opportunity to have your children learn the language you were brought up using, instead of you having to teach them at home, why not grasp it? Why not also then demand more if the political climate is right?”

Well, that’s nice of you, Gina. You don’t “particularly” blame the parents then. Only partially blame? Imagine, children learning in their indigenous language, the language they speak at home. Whatever next? Gaels sitting at the front of the bus?

“ It’s not really just about keeping an ancient language of the Scottish highlands and islands alive – it’s about courting Nationalist votes.

I realise that as the Nationalist party of Scotland, the SNP feels it has to prove its Scottish credentials time and again – I like to think membership involves knowing all the words to Flower of Scotland, proving you own a porridge drawer, and naming every whisky distilled in the land.

But Gaelic is something else. It has never been a traditional language of Edinburgh. It’s always been spoken by a minority – fewer people speak it than Scots even.”

That’s Edinburgh. Also known as Dún Éideann. The city with 5000 Scottish speakers (and growing). That is, speakers of the indigenous language of Scotland.

“I have no issue with people who want their children to learn another language – and I believe there are many studies that prove that bilingual children are more successful at school – I just don’t understand why, at a time when services are being cut everywhere else, at a time when kids who want to learn to play musical instruments are having the opportunity removed, public money has to be found for Gaelic. If I want my children to learn another language I’d have to pay for it privately – so why should Gaelic be different?”

Well, patently, you do have a problem with people who want their children to learn another language. Yet you acknowledge that being bilingual is a recipe for educational success. However, you don’t want it in the schools in Scotland? Eh, you don’t want Scottish kids being as well educated as their peers elsewhere in Europe?

As for paying to have your children learn another language other than their own, perhaps that is true. But what if the Scottish language is your own? Are Scottish speaking tax payers not eligible to the same public services as their English speaking contemporaries?

“Gaelic may well be a lovely, lyrical, ancient language and be worth keeping alive, but surely that should be in the places where it is traditionally spoken, not in a modern, cosmopolitan city, where the only Gaelic word known to the most is “slainte”.”

You say Edinburgh is “cosmopolitan” then state that there is no room in it for the national language of Scotland? Do you actually know what cosmopolitan means in a modern European sense?

“This Gaelic school is the SNP’s pet project; its a Nationalist version of the Tory government’s free schools down south. And it is bordering on ethnic engineering.”

Firstly, Gina, I think you’ll find that you should write “it’s”, not “its” (so much for English speakers and their education). Secondly, ethnic engineering? Like the kind that turned Dún Éideann into Edinburgh?

Ho-hum. Same prejudices. Same “ethnic” bias. Same Anglophone claptrap. But here’s this for irony: Gina “Save The Castles” Davidson! Bricks and mortar is for saving. Communities and rights, languages and cultures, not so much. Sounds like a supporter of Scottish Labour alright. Thankfully not everyone thinks the same.

Related articles

9 comments on “Anglophone Intolerance Speaks The Same Language – In Scotland Or Ireland

  1. Welsh is the indigenous language of Caledonia. Gaelic and English are languages imposed on the native population by invaders. Having said that, every effort should be made to protect and develop all of the Celtic languages of these islands. The Welsh Medium schools in Wales are a great success and now attract pupils from non-Welsh speaking homes. I hope the Gaelic medium schools have a similar succees.


    • Thanks for the Comment, Ivor, though a few points we might disagree on.

      While Brythonic (“Welsh”) may have been spoken in the southern “border” regions of Scotland, two other tongues existed alongside it. Goidelic (“Irish / Scottish”) in the west, and Pictish (a hybrid language with a Goidelic base and Brythonic overlay) in the north-east. However the original language of Scotland (as with the whole of Britain) was the immediate ancestor of Goidelic since this represented the oldest form of the Celtic languages. Brythonic was a late dialectal innovation (P-Celtic) that spread from Continental Europe into southern Britain and then west and north.

      However, that language shift in Britain – what we would now call England, Cornwall and Wales – was less pronounced than on mainland Europe (hence the “particular” nature of the Insular form of P-Celtic or Brythonic that evolved in Britain).

      By the early Medieval period the Brythonic tongue had largely been replaced in southern Scotland by Goidelic and the assimilation of the Pictish speaking peoples into the Goidelic milieu. From 800 CE onwards the whole of Scotland was essentially Goidelic speaking.

      Thus Goidelic was not imposed by invaders, since it was native to northern Britain and part of a linked linguistic continuum either side of the Irish Sea, that evolved in situ.

      Completely agree about Welsh medium education. A world-leader and something the other Celtic nations should emulate. The Welsh have shown the power of language nationalism, when it is channelled into positive and progressive forms. Much admired and respected.


  2. Clwyd Griffiths

    Why is it some like Gina Davidson seem to think speaking your mother tongue is some kind of a political act? The development of bilingualism is about equal opportunities. I know Welsh medium education has cross-party support in Wales and leaders of every political party at the Assembly have signed a document declaring support for the Welsh Language and undertaking not to use the language as a party political football. So my message to the Gina Davidson’s of this world – STOP PLAYING POLITICS WITH THE LANGUAGE!

    And she bangs on about Urdu, etc. Well if she actually took time to look at decades of research from all over the world, rather than display her ignorant opinions, it would show that being bilingual from an early age i.e. speaking Gaelic and English, makes it easier to learn a 3rd or even 4th language later in life. Gaelic is finally making good strides forward after centuries of being marginalised, don’t lose heart and best wishes for the future! Chan eil aon chànan gu leòr, ádh mór ort!


    • I quiet agree. Davidson talks about Edinburgh being a “cosmopolitan” city yet dismisses the Scottish language as seemingly unfit for it. If one looks around Europe bilingual and multilingual cities (and nations) are commonplace; and to their benefit. An English and Scottish speaking Scotland, or an English and Welsh speaking Wales, are clearly in an advantageous position.

      Considering that the spending in Scotland on Gaelic medium education represents less than 1% of the education budget, while fluent or partial Gaelic speakers and learners represent up to 10% of the population, I hardly think it is unreasonable for Scottish-speaking tax payers to request education for their children in their own language.

      Thanks for the Comment.


  3. Andrew Watson

    As a Scot who grew up in probably the only part of Scotland untouched by Gaelic (The Tweed valley) even I find the constant argument to keep Gaelic in the “traditional areas” ludicrous. For one thing where as in the past about half of Sotland’s population lived in areas considered “highland” population movement means that the Gaelic speakers in Scotland are spread everywhere and the population of the highlands and islands is now rather small. Also, most of these people have no idea about the history and spread of language in the British Isles. What I find really fascinating is that this whole stushie regarding Gaelic that has re-arisen in the papers of late, is due to the proposed Scottish Studies subject being introduced- a subject that would probably only teach ABOUT Gaelic and Scots, not atually teach people to speak them but even that’s driven folk crazy with “it was never spoken here” nonsense. The more and more ignorant nonsense I read about Gaelic the more certain I become about the need for Scottish Studies. In what other country does proposing to teach about your own history and languages somehow cause controversy?


  4. Good post, nice to see a spirited defense of Gàidhlig with a fun tone. Thanks for taking her arguments to pieces, I (as a Gàidhlig-medium primary school teacher) appreciated that! 🙂 Please don’t make comparisons with apartheid white supremacy in the US though, don’t think it’s necessary or particularly apt.


    • Thanks for the Comment, Beth.

      The comparison with Apartheid elsewhere in my blog are mostly Ireland-related, and refer to the situation that did exist here up to the 1920s in relation to Irish-speakers.

      Some of that mentality is still very much alive in Irish society, and is reflected in our politics and media.

      Put it this way, when someone in a managerial position in your place of employment tells you that you should leave your job and family and go live in an “Irish-speaking area with the rest”, that you “don’t belong” here in a region with English speakers (even if you are in fact entirely native to that region) you very quickly realise that the old attitudes still exist in some people. And that is an Apartheid state of mind.

      However your point about Scotland is taken.


  5. Derick Tulloch

    “Clwyd Griffiths on 21/10/2011 at 10:42 pm said: Why is it some like Gina Davidson seem to think speaking your mother tongue is some kind of a political act? ”

    Derick says: because the imposition of the imperial tongue is itself a political act. Hence resistance is also political. Joost sayin.

    Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge my erse.


  6. Thanks for the Comment, Derick. Your point is true for some, untrue for others. For some speaking their native language, from birth or through later acquisition, is apolitical. To others it is bound up with politics and the politics of identity in particular. It depends.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: