Motion: UHI Appointment of Gaelic Research Professor Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin

Motion Number: S4M-09537
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 28/03/2014

Title: UHI Appointment of Gaelic Research Professor Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin

Motion Text:
That the Parliament welcomes the appointment of Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin as Gaelic Research Professor at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and director of Soillse, the national research network for the maintenance and revitalisation of Gaelic language and culture, which is effective from April 2014; understands that Dr Ó Giollagáin has an international reputation in language planning and minority language culture and sociology; further understands that, as director of Soillse, Dr Ó Giollagáin will lead a team of four research fellows, one lecturer and 10 PhD students in their research; notes that his research will cover the intergenerational transmission of Gaelic practice and policy in Gaelic medium education and the assessment of government policies on the revitalisation of the language; considers this appointment to demonstrate the commitment of UHI to Gaelic language and culture and the growing reputation of UHI as a centre of academic excellence; further considers the work of academics, the Scottish Government and other partners in supporting Gaelic language and culture to be of paramount importance to the Highlands and Islands and to Scotland, and looks forward to working with Dr Ó Giollagáin and others in support of the Gaelic language and culture.

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Speech: National Gaelic Plan

Tapadh leibh, Presiding Officer. Unfortunately, I cannot replicate the language skills of my party colleagues the minister, Dave Thompson and John Finnie, all of whom are far more proficient in Gaelic than I am. However, as a fellow MSP for the Highlands and Islands, I know how important the continuing encouragement and development of Gaelic as a vital part of the nation’s identity are.

Last weekend, Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis followed her magnificent work for the film “Brave”, which has been referred to, with a stunning performance in front of a worldwide audience to herald the beginning of Scotland’s Ryder cup 2014 preparations. She was brought up in North Uist in a Gaelic-speaking community but, like others, she was not a fluent Gaelic speaker. She benefited first from the fèis movement and she went on to be a student of the language at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, which is Scotland’s Gaelic college in Skye.

As with many lesser-spoken languages, the spread of Gaelic has been inhibited as English and other languages have become the lingua franca. Fewer than 60,000 Gaelic speakers, who are concentrated in the Western Isles, Argyll and Bute and the Highlands, are estimated to remain in Scotland. They represent just over 1 per cent of the population. That must be a concern, given that, in comparison, more than 20 per cent of the population in Wales can speak Welsh.

If we are to witness a dramatic upturn in the number of Gaelic speakers across Scotland, we require a comprehensive and holistic approach to be taken by all the agencies whose remit is the furtherance of Gaelic. I particularly welcome the focus on early years and education in the national plan’s key outcomes. Evidence of success from that comes from my neighbour, nine-year-old Ruaraidh, who attends the local Gaelic school. He said:

“We don’t learn Gaelic, we live it—like the way you get to speak English”.

Promoters of Gaelic-medium education now focus on the benefits of bilingualism rather than the direct benefits of Gaelic, but we must never lose sight of the links to the past, people and places. We can think of all the effort that goes into curating artefacts that are of historical value. How much more precious is a living language? Common sense dictates that we must continue to focus on Gaelic-medium teaching in schools or at least on facilitating Gaelic lessons to maintain the language.

The role that artists and musicians such as Julie Fowlis play in promoting Gaelic is another reminder of how important the language is. Others acknowledge its importance. A local teacher who assumed that two Polish immigrants had arrived for an English as a foreign language course was amazed when they said that their English was fine and that they were interested in signing up to learn Gaelic.

We must never underestimate others. Scots sometimes have to be convinced by somebody else that something is a really good idea. I suspect that, across Europe, we would get massive support for our plan. In Europe, there is a determination to retain languages such as Gaelic, and we must endorse that.

I found out earlier today that the last speaker of the Cromarty dialect, Bobby Hogg, had died aged92, removing one of the more colourful threads of Scotland’s linguistic tapestry. I sincerely hope that the plan that we have will prevent similar headlines about the last Gaelic speaker in the years to come. As Ruaraidh said, we have to live it.

PRESS RELEASE: SNP MSPs WARN BBC OVER HIGHLAND JOBS CUTS

Eight SNP MSPs from the Highlands and Islands have signed a strongly-worded letter to BBC Scotland protesting at “destructive” job cuts which the Corporation is planning throughout the region.

Michael Russell (Argyll and Bute), Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn), Rob Gibson (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross), Alasdair Allan (Western Isles), Dave Thomson (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch), and Highlands and Islands regional MSPs Jean Urquhart, John Finnie and Mike MacKenzie have all told the BBC that they believe its actions threaten to “greatly diminish the essential service” which the BBC provides throughout the Highlands and islands.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“It’s not just BBC staff themselves who is unhappy about the proposed cuts – everyone who cares about local broadcasting should be concerned that the BBC bosses propose to diminish its number of staff available throughout a huge swathe of Scotland.

“We are also unconvinced that it represents progress for Gaelic broadcasting to cut English language journalists and then ask Gaelic journalists to pick up the slack in addition to their own Gaelic work.

“We are now all seeking a meeting with the chair of the BBC Trust, to ask why, at a time when BBC Scotland should be showing ambition, and developing itself as a real national broadcaster, it is cutting back on such basic services.”