DEPUTY First Minister John Swinney defended the public spend on Gaelic yesterday and denied a “nationalist plot” to promote it.

Speaking at this year’s Royal National Mod in Stornoway, Swinney, who was recently made Education Secretary, said increasing the number of people “learning, speaking and using” the language is a “clear aim and priority” of the SNP Government.

However, he denied this was for political reasons, saying: “Gaelic belongs in Scotland. It has been spoken in this country for well over 1,000 years and I believe this places a duty and a responsibility on us as custodians of this heritage.

“This is not special treatment or favouritism or a nationalist plot. It is simply the steps that should be taken to secure a measure of fair treatment for our minority language that has been with us for a long time.”

The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act was introduced under Labour First Minister Jack McConnell in 2005, but subsequent SNP administrations have faced repeated criticisms over the law, which requires public bodies to produce materials in the language.

In August, Aberdeen City Council’s finance convener described the requirement to produce street signs and other materials in the language as “legislation gone mad” and accused the Scottish Government of using it to promote independence.

Yesterday Swinney rejected “hostility” to Gaelic, adding: “These views on Gaelic are just as groundless and unwelcome as they are inaccurate and misleading. They betray a poor understanding of our country, its history and the respect we should show to minority communities.

“Gaelic is a language of daily use. The support for Gaelic is a good use of public funds. Gaelic offers a range of benefits to Scotland. It is a valuable language to learn and it deserves the support of people of all political backgrounds.”

Speaking about the future of the language, Swinney said its rollout could create jobs in partnership with the growing tech sector. He said: “Harnessing the energy of the Gaelic movement, combining it with the unlimited potential of digital technology, I believe we have an unrivalled opportunity to create a much stronger footprint of economic activity from Gaelic than at any time in our history.

“Digital stretches the reach of the language in a way many of us could never have contemplated. The language can contribute to the economic renaissance of Scotland.”