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Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes is keen for Gaelic to be normalised in all Highland and Island services

By Ian Duncan

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Kate Forbes MSP has said that Gaelic should be treated as normal in all services for the Highlands and Islands to increase confidence in speakers to use the language in everyday situations.

Her comments follow new research by the UHI and Soillse, which was published in a book called The Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community: A comprehensive sociolinguistic survey of Scottish Gaelic, that said daily use of Gaelic was too low if it is to be sustained as a community language in the future.

The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, who made history in 2018 by becoming the first female MSP to give a plenary speech entirely in Gaelic in the current Holyrood chamber, has been a proud advocate for the language since first being elected in 2016.

She said: “One of the communities under research, Staffin in Skye, is in my constituency. When I hold surgeries there, some constituents choose to discuss matters in Gaelic with me.

“This isn’t just about preserving our heritage, understanding our culture or sentimentalising our ancestors’ memory – important as all of those are. This is about our future, and ensuring that this language is alive and in use for many years to come.

“I cannot overstate how critical the next few years will be. This research is sobering and stark and I think all of us should actively work to ensure these predictions don’t come true.

“Every organisation in the private and public sectors, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, faces a choice of either facilitating or reversing the decline of Gaelic.

“If it is still going to be a vernacular language, rather than just the preserve of academia, then speakers should be allowed to take it into schools, the workplace, the local store and the place of worship.

“I take my responsibility as MSP for Gaelic-speaking communities very seriously – so should every other organisation, body and individual that lives or works in these communities.”

She said the language could not be separated from daily life such as working, shopping, chatting and added: "So when it comes to promoting Gaelic, it has to be normalised in all services concerning the Highlands and Islands.

“There are many public and private organisations with an interest in the Highlands and Islands, to promote economic growth, provide education and support local communities. The language should be embedded, not an additional afterthought.

“Gaelic is used in the agricultural community – so let crofters buy and sell in Gaelic. It is spoken at home – so make it the default language of education as Còmhairle nan Eilean Sìar has done. It is learned at school – so let it be used in a work setting, or going to the doctors, or answering the phone.

“It will take two things – increased confidence amongst speakers to use it and increased willingness amongst all public and private organisations to recognise that tokenism doesn’t cut it.”

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