HIDDEN away in George Osborne’s Autumn Statement the other week was a wee item which, if we had a properly functioning media in Scotland, ought to have attracted far more criticism than it did. Although Georgie managed to find extra money for weapons of mass destruction and for a bombing campaign in Syria which will put civilian lives at risk in return for purely cosmetic political effects, he decided that the UK Government will no longer fund Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland.
You might think that the future of the Gaelic language is not important, that it’s of low priority and we shouldn’t be discussing it when far weightier matters are at stake. But there is always going to be something that someone, generally an English language monoglot, will consider of greater importance than Scotland’s ancient language, a language that the critics already decry as dead.
But the fact is that if we do not take serious and sustained action now to save the Gaelic language, then it will die. There is no free market in language. Languages live or die according to the support given to them by the powerful and the influential. It’s obvious that the Tory government isn’t going to give the Gaelic language and an important part of Scottish culture the support it needs to survive.
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The only conclusion is that they don’t care if it lives or dies, and even that it might suit them for it to die out, then they can argue that Scotland doesn’t have a language or culture of its own. So much for the respect agenda then. Scotland’s ancient culture isn’t respected enough for Osborne to find even the token amount of funding previously granted to it by a UK Government which jealously hoards control of broadcasting like Smaug.
But some things are more precious than keeping Scottish culture alive, things like tax breaks for rich corporations and bombing raids on Syria.
You’d think that the Tories would show Gaelic a bit more consideration. After all, at least according to the enraged response from certain Unionists on Twitter recently, the Gaelic language is so powerful that simply painting two Gaelic words on the side of a police helicopter stops it from working. Meanwhile bilingual Gaelic signage in train stations has the power to confuse and alienate poor wee English monoglots. To some folk, Gaelic is a dead language and with their mockery and disdain they’re going to do their utmost to ensure that it dies. Some people need to look up the meaning of the phrase self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the modern world a language needs broadcast media to survive. Broadcasting is a reserved matter. The Unionist parties are united in their refusal to consider devolving control of television or radio to Holyrood, even broadcasting in Gaelic or Scots. Obviously whether Postman Pat is dubbed into Gaelic is a matter of such fundamental importance that it requires the input of a Tory MP from Bedfordshire. Of course the real reason that Westminster won’t devolve control of Gaelic broadcasting, or the Scots broadcasting that it doesn’t allow at all, is that such devolution would lead to demands for the devolution of English language broadcasting too. That would threaten the Unionist hegemony, and Scotland might insist that since Scotland raises £335 million in TV licence fees then we expect rather more than the £35 million currently spent on Scottish TV production. Under the Union your TV licence fee has to go on Great British Sycophancy with Nicolas Witchell instead.
Westminster insists it retains control of Gaelic language broadcasting, but it’s not going to pay for it. Gaelic is a rich and evocative language, a cursory trawl through a Gaelic dictionary produces at least six words for hypocrisy – beul-chràbhadh, breug-chràbhadh, cealg, cealgaireachd, fimeanachd, saobh – but that still isn’t enough to describe the duplicitous double-dealing of the UK Government where Scotland and her culture are concerned. If Westminster wants to call the tune, then it needs to pay the piper.
Westminster previously granted a mere £1 million annually to BBC Alba for Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland. The rest of the channel’s funding comes from the BBC, which pays £8 million, and from the Scottish Government – which despite having no legal responsibility for broadcasting coughs up almost £14 million a year for a public service which remains controlled by and regulated by Westminster. £1 million isn’t much in terms of UK Government spending.
According to a recent report on Sky News, £1 million will also be the average cost of a single RAF bombing raid on Syria. It’s clear where the priorities of the UK Government lie. George Osborne would far rather dish out death and destruction than deliver Dotaman. There’s always plenty money for bombs, never enough for culture and education.
Gaelic television only exists because of a treaty commitment by the UK Government. Westminster signed up to the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages which has a number of different chapters specifying varying degrees of protection for threatened languages like Gaelic and Scots. Westminster decided to give Gaelic greater protection than Scots, and part of that meant that at European level the UK Government committed itself to providing Gaelic language broadcasting. Now having made the commitment, Westminster is refusing to pay for it.
Westminster didn’t make the same commitment with respect to Scots. There’s no linguistic or cultural reason for the difference in treatment, the difference is political. A significant number of Scottish politicians, and a public which the same politicians have ensured have never been educated about Scottish languages, doesn’t accept that Scots is a “proper language”. Yet there is no controversy amongst linguists. Linguists accept the status of Scots as a language.
Scottish politicians and journalists who refuse to accept that Scots is a real language are the linguistic equivalent of Creationist fundamentalists who maintain that there is a scientific controversy about the theory of evolution. There’s no controversy among biologists or palaeontologists, there’s only controversy among people who have a political reason for refusing to educate themselves.
The same holds true for Scottish languages, but the flat earthers and creationists of language science are the people who determine Scottish broadcasting and education policy. The Union is a death sentence for Scottish languages, and for Scottish culture, killed by the smug Smaug Tories who’d rather pay for war.