THERE is a naive sense that bad news about weakening community use can simply be counterbalanced by unrelated good news in other spheres.

All too often, Gaelic policy over the past 20 years has amounted to vague attempts to raise the profile and status of the language, while neglecting the rapid erosion of the language at the community level.

In reality, there is no such thing as “Gaelic” as a personified, monolithic entity to which good or bad things can happen, only Gaelic speakers or potential speakers in particular places or contexts.

A certain number of learners on Duolingo or a new school in a particular location might be positive developments in themselves but have little or no impact on the decline of the language elsewhere, which must be addressed on its own terms.

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The Scottish Government’s current consultation on language policy and promised Scottish Languages Bill potentially represents the most important step forward in support for Gaelic in a generation.

The three main Gaelic commitments are to establish a new strategic approach to Gaelic-medium education, to explore the creation of a Gaidhealtachd (recognised Gaelic-speaking areas) and a review of Bord na Gaidhlig’s functions.

The aim to strengthen the Gaelic education sector is vital in view of the looming crisis in teacher recruitment recently identified.

However, the “Gaidhealtachd” commitment and review of Bord na Gaidhlig have the greatest potential to break new ground and overhaul the overall framework of Gaelic development.

The Government’s explicit “wish to see an increase of Gaelic language use in the vital areas of both home and community” is to be welcomed, together with their “commitment to have a focus on arresting language shift”.

This is an important change in focus. Until recently, politicians might occasionally discuss Gaelic education and broadcasting, but the issue of community and home use was barely on their radar.

For new measures to be effective, substantially increased funding is essential. While the Scottish Government often points to increased overall funding for Gaelic, the reality is one of the real-terms cuts over the last ten years.

The budget of Bord na Gaidhlig and the community initiatives it funds has been frozen at just more than £5 million for most of its existence, even facing nominal terms cuts of some £300,000 in 2011.

Matters are even worse considering that two expert reports in the run-up to the 2005 Gaelic Language Act recommended an annual budget of £10m as the bare minimum needed – more than £15m in today’s money. Many of the Bord’s weaknesses clearly relate to this chronic lack of resources.

A major gap is the lack of a recognised unit for community language planning below that of the local authority. In recent years, several Hebridean communities have sought to develop local Gaelic plans. However, they soon discovered that there is no dedicated guidance or funding available.

What provision there is for Gaelic community development is too often based on a short-term project model. There is a lack of long-term planning and embedding of experience and best practices.

A vertical relationship with Bord na Gaidhlig substitutes for horizontal co-ordination with other local groups.

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Meanwhile, new campaigns for Gaelic centres in Stornoway, Inverness and Edinburgh have highlighted the need for an increased community focus in urban locations, complementing expansion in education.

While there has been some progress in the recruitment of language officers, geographical coverage is patchy. The focus is on organisations or sectors, and there is no framework for holistic planning for local needs. Nor do these officers typically have much of a development budget beyond their own salary.

Against this backdrop, the Gaelic campaign group Misneachd has set out proposals for a model of local community language plans based on Ireland’s 2012 Gaeltacht Act.

In this model, a designated local organisation in each district throughout the core Gaelic areas of the Western Isles, Skye and Tiree would be supported in writing a seven-year local language plan.

A similar model would apply to urban Gaelic networks.

The National: A Gaelic roadside in Skye

Once approved, at least one full-time language development worker would be employed in each community to oversee local initiatives, with an annual budget of at least £100,000 in addition to salaries.

A new agency based in the islands would co-ordinate the process and offer leadership, support and resources. Crucially, this framework would provide a common baseline of support between communities and establish the principle that Gaelic community development should be a policy area in its own right, with a clear statutory basis.

Language policy may be only one small corner of the many challenges facing Gaelic communities. Nevertheless, the opportunity to make progress in this area should be seized with both hands.

It is crucial that the public and Gaelic organisations make their voices heard.

The Scottish Government’s consultation is open until November 17.

Misneachd’s response and policy proposals can be found at

Dr Christopher Lewin is a researcher in the linguistics and sociolinguistics of the Gaelic languages at the University of Galway and lives in the Connemara Gaeltacht. He previously lived in Scotland and is a member of the Gaelic campaign group Misneachd.