By Mike Small
“1) Never ask if there’s a non-heritage case for subsiding Gaelic education 2) There’s no non-heritage case for subsidising Gaelic education”.
But, as David Leask (‘Insular, parochial and narrowly nationalist: Scotland’s anti-Gaelic bigots’) writes:
Scotland is still soaked with largely unexamined anti-Gaelic sentiment that, at times, spills in to self-hating bigotry.The Gaelophobe rhetoric is easy to spot: funding for the language is to slow down its inevitable death, very probably as part of some kind of “narrow nationalist” SNP plot. Gaelic supporters will tell you such bilious comment is subsiding. Scots, they reckon, are wisening up to the now well-evidenced educational and cultural advantages of bilingualism. Moreover, they’ll stress how hard to make a credible case against the paltry cost of Gaelic – given its proven economic benefits (and the fact that Gaelic tax-payers have as much right to educate their children as the rest of us).
This deep-seated aversion to your own culture is revealing. It’s often dressed up as a sort of metropolitan-fancy. Who wants to be associated with this broken backward language (subtext: and this broken backward country)? It’s a mindset that has a long history and parades Britishness, cleaved to English language as the pathway to internationalism and modernity. But, as Leask points out: “Should monoglot Anglophone Scots really attack people who are bilingual for being insular?”
Does Leicester this morning look to you like a beacon for contemporary forward thinking internationalism?
The other argument often put forward is the economic case, as argued by the Tax Payers Alliance, and other dodgy front groups. Culture costs and creates opportunities. Scottish Opera costs us £8.24 million. But for the financial year 2013/14, only 77,446 attended. I haven’t and may never go to the opera. It doesn’t mean I want it shut down.
What’s the non-heritage case for subsiding Opera?
We could go on to make the Commercial Case (having gaelic culture makes money), the Moral Historical Case, the Cultural Case, the Rights Case, the Linguistic Case or the Popular Case – but the reality is that despite the presence of a wall of media hostility, most people support the pitiful gaelic funding and educational demand is growing steadily.
If the level of bile is both culturally interesting and politically revealing, as Professor Kenneth MacKinnon reports here the slew of disinformation, pseudo-history, and cadre of persistently anti-Gaelic columnists is extraordinary:
’Gaelic does not even have a modern grammar’ was attributed to Hugh Andrew, editor of Birlinn ( in Daily Mail news item 14 Feb 11 ) – and subsequent items said he should know better. Expression such as ‘teuchter’ and ’Highland Mafia’ still get an airing in print, as with Ian Jack in The Guardian 11 Dec 10, and as in letter in the Herald 8 June 10, which also quoted an earlier article ( Bruce Morton in The Herald 31 May 10 ) (47) referring to ’the Gaels as being “water- fearing clowns” .’ This is standard fare.
Aside from the irony of pro-indy supporters backing a monoglot culture, the simple fact is that such abuse would be thought shameful if it was directed towards any other group in our society.
If the indyref taught us anything it revealed that many Scots lack a very basic level of cultural confidence. ‘Too wee too poor too stupid’ only has traction if its sprinkled on grounds that are already infected with a degree of self-loathing. As Bernadette McAliskey said at RIC 2014:
“A nation without a language is a nation without a soul. You’ve salvaged your soul but you need to remember you have a language too”.
Political revival goes hand in hand with cultural renewal, and, as John Angus Mackay, the chief executive of the Gaelic development board (Bòrd na Gàidhlig): “If Gaelic is to survive, it will only survive in Scotland.”