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The English Empire Strikes Back In Scotland

Albain (Scotland)
Albain (Scotland)
Albain (Scotland)

Following on from yesterday’s post examining press reports that Dundee City Council had agreed to reverse efforts to place the English and Scottish (Gaelic) languages on an equal footing in Scotland’s fourth largest city through the provision of bilingual services and public signage comes this news from the council area of Fife. Politicians from the main British nationalist and unionist parties, Labour, the Lib Dems and Conservatives, seem to be working together to block any attempts to introduce parity of esteem between local Anglophone and Gaelophone communities in the region, as highlighted by the Courier newspaper:

“Fife Council has a statutory responsibility under the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 to publish a Gaelic Language Plan by February 28.

In a report to Fife Council’s executive committee, head of community and corporate development Paul Vaughan said that according to the 2011 census, the number of people who can speak, read or understand Gaelic in Fife was 2,462.

A Fife plan has been drawn up to meet the February 28 deadline and “no additional resources should be required”, the report said.

But Independent Cupar councillor Bryan Poole, backed by Lib Dem Kirkcaldy councillor Susan Leslie, expressed concern about potential hidden costs.

Mrs Leslie said: “There is a high degree of cynicism amongst the public in Fife where Gaelic was never even spoken.”

Glenrothes Labour councillor Kay Morrison said there were at least 22 languages used in Fife and Gaelic was near the bottom in terms of numbers.

She noted that during a consultation, 18 responses had stated that during times of austerity, the council should not be spending money on promoting a “dead” language.

The report did not state, however, how many people had favoured Gaelic promotion.

Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay Conservative councillor Dave Dempsey also had doubts about costs.

Noting that Fife Council would have to change its corporate logo to incorporate Gaelic, he said: “I want an assurance that there will be no binning of material and no temptation to throw out headed notepaper. What would happen if language was invented today? There would be one world language.”

Labour councillor Pat Callaghan said: “This is all wrong. I’ve never spoken Gaelic in my life. We should be doing the minimum to promote it.”

But SNP councillors reacted angrily to the comments.

Cupar member Karen Marjoram launched into reading part of the report in Gaelic, adding: “I don’t speak Gaelic but I’m trying my best. We’ve only got one class in Fife at the moment and it’s run by St Andrews University. The cost to Fife Council of this promotion will be negligible.”

Dunfermline South SNP member Brian Goodall said he had been “annoyed and angered” by the “vile and bigoted” anti-Gaelic comments.

He said: “If these comments had been made about any other language we would have the council equalities officer on our case.”

SNP group leader and Glenrothes West councillor Peter Grant said Fife’s Gaelic heritage was well documented.

He added: “Let’s get rid of the nonsense that because it’s not spoken widely now that it’s not an integral part of who we are or who we want to be.”

Dunfermline Central SNP councillor Neale Hanvey said he had found the “bigoted” comments “disgraceful”.”

Additional reporting from Fife Today on the controversy raging in the governing body explains that:

“The plan presented to councillors on Tuesday includes using Gaelic in the Council’s corporate identity and on boundary signs, enhancing the visibility of the language.

This would mean replacing signs with bilingual versions when due for renewal, and creating a bilingual design of Fife Council’s logo.

Other commitments include creating a bilingual introductory page on the Council website and promoting Gaelic in libraries.

The plan also talks about the need to provide training to staff to help them develop the necessary language skills to deliver services in Gaelic.

An audit of staff has revealed a number of them can read, write, speak or understand Gaelic, and a number of others would be interested in learning the language.

The report indicated that that EU funding was available for some aspects of the plan, but for the maj0rity of actions no additional resources should be required.

According to the latest census figures, 2462 people in Fife can speak, read or understand Gaelic.”

Merkava IV Main Battle Tank, Israeli Defence Forces
One way to win a dispute over language rights, at least as practiced by Israel in the West Bank

It seems incredible that elected officials can object to establishing a level playing field between minority and majority linguistic communities, especially in a region with a number of Scottish-speaking inhabitants, including locally-based public servants. That is until one takes into account that those most vociferous in their opposition are to be found in an ad hoc alliance of British nationalist councillors from across the political spectrum. Perhaps an explanation for the antipathy to raising the status of Scotland’s indigenous language can found be in this article via Al Jazeera on the contemporary “culture war” in Israeli-occupied Palestine:

“Just outside of Ramallah, on the edge of the main West Bank north-south artery known as Road 60, a large green road sign is hard to miss. It indicates that the Israeli settlements of Kokhav Yaakov and Geva Binyamin are nine kilometres to the south, while Pesagot is another 13km away.

Just south are the Palestinian villages of Deir Dibwan, Burqa, Mikhmas and Jaba – but they are not mentioned on any of the major signs on the highway. This is a situation replicated across the West Bank, where approximately 150 settlements peppering the higher elevations are connected by a network of roads.

Israeli authorities have long banned the Palestinian Authority (PA) from putting up its own road signs that refer to Palestinian towns and villages. This is true mostly for population centres in Area C, the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under Israeli administrative and security control.

Not only are the proper names of Palestinian locales – in either Arabic, English or Hebrew – often absent from street signs, but in some cases, even the Arabic spelling of Hebrew names has been painted over or erased.

“We got used to the Hebrew name of the area because there are no other signs,” one taxi driver told Al Jazeera.

Critics contend that the Israeli military occupation has not only effectively changed the landscape, but also affected Palestinian memory “through visual and linguistic manipulation.”

“Perceived as mundane and experienced as mere informative images, innocent and indisputable, road signs can constitute part of a highly invested political strategy for producing a linguistic landscape,” wrote Liora Bigon and Amer Dahamshe, who studied Israeli road-sign policy.

Others say the presence of Israeli military infrastructure has affected Palestinians’ usage. Places like Qalandiya, the name of a West Bank refugee camp, are now synonymous with the checkpoints thrust in their midst.

“The most imminent danger is when the colonial terms are used by individuals under occupation,” said Abaher el-Sakka, a professor of social sciences at Birzeit University.

Another danger, according to Sakka, is “erasing the memory of the place, connected to the original owners of the land, by using names that serve the interests of the colonisers, and this means the ultimate success of the colonial project”.

Sakka’s fears do not seem to be inflated: Many drivers on the “Yitzhar line” could not name the nearby Palestinian villages where the settlement was built. “There’s no Arabic name for this area,” said one taxi driver. “There’s an Arab village here, but I can’t remember its name, because there are only Hebrew signs.””

I believe you call that the “normalization” of linguistic and cultural colonization.

2 comments on “The English Empire Strikes Back In Scotland

  1. Haven’t the Scots made it perfectly clear to you that the absolute majority of them doesn’t care about the Gaelic language?

    You can’t expect that the language will be saved by people who are not interested in it.

    What do you expect them to do? Should all the Scots in the area (all 300k of them) learn the Gaelic language just to communicate with those ~2000 people who happen to speak it?


  2. Interestingly one of the ‘token’ powers being given away to the Scottish Government by Smith is control over road signs. There has been some speculation as to how this power might be use creatively to enhance Scotland’s image a country in its own right 😉


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