As a final word about Aberdeenshire Council’s plan to erect Gaelic signs everywhere (see earlier post), I can do no better than reprint below, Norman Harper’s reply to my comment on his article. I could not predict that my falling down some steps could result in such heartfelt prose appearing on this blog:
Eric, I could rattle on about this all day, but it doesn’t do my temper any good. You might have noticed that the council is considering shutting Woodhill House to save money because the cupboard is so bare. Yet there is still money for this Gaelic nonsense.
When the latest proposals to inflict Gaelic on the people of Aberdeenshire became public in September, I emailed every member of the Policy and Resources Committee and a few others for good measure, not as a journalist (which would be very bad professional form), but as an Aberdeenshire taxpayer, asking them to see sense.
The replies I got were interesting. Not one of them intended to accede to Bord na Gaidhlig’s demands in full. Even the councillors who support Gaelic most enthusiastically (SNP), on the whole wanted to back Option Two, probably including Gaelic on council letterheads and signage on vehicles, indeed anything where Gaelic could be inveigled into Aberdeenshire and council life at minimal cost.
The others — LibDems, Tories and Independents — were as appalled as you and I are and wanted nothing to do with giving Gaelic a foothold anywhere in the North-east. As one said: “Aberdeenshire is not remotely part of Gaeldom in the 21st Century. We have far more pressing priorities here than this.”
I am making no political point in this, but the impetus behind this promotion of Gaelic in Aberdeenshire seems to come from the SNP. That’s not any bias from me; just bare fact.
Some of the SNP replies were interesting. Their implication was that as long as Doric is supported, the council should be supporting Gaelic, too. Indeed, one SNP councillor said that he “strongly” supported the promotion of Gaelic in Aberdeenshire, just not at huge cost.
Another went off on a diatribe about this whole thing being cooked up by the media as an anti-Gaelic campaign. A third pointed out that Gaelic is historically important to Aberdeenshire. The key word in that sentence was not “important”, as he believed, but “historically”: it is now functionally irrelevant here, with just 1,395 people who can understand it; none of them monolingual.
It was also interesting that in the week Aberdeenshire came to its impasse vote, Highland Council was cutting the funding to its flagship Gaelic-medium primary school at Sleat, in Skye, because of falling numbers. If Gaelic can’t muster the numbers and interest in its own backyard, why should it seek to impose itself on me? I’m not in the least interested. The same goes for probably everyone else in the North-east, I would venture. Indeed, if my straw polling is a guide, virtually everyone outside Gaelic and the SNP is hopping mad about it.
One councillor copied me into the council officials’ papers on the proposals. One official had warned that there could be a “reputational impact” on the council if councillors turned away all of Gaelic’s demands.
As I replied to the councillor: “He was dead right, but all the reputational impact would be positive, and right across the shire.”
Dig into the minutes of the Gaelic committee at Holyrood if you want a good scare. One proposal from an SNP MSP was that any contractor working with Scottish public bodies — for instance, supplying stationery, tradesmen services, cleaning windows, or even wheeling round the coffee cart, to the police, local authorities, NHS or anything else in the Scottish public sector — should be required to have Gaelic on their letterheads and vehicles if they want to keep the contract. I can just see Wullie, our local plumber, repainting his van in Gaelic before he is permitted to unblock a toilet at the council offices.
The whole thing is a farce. The number of Gaelic speakers throughout Scotland is about to go below 50,000 and is dropping by around 200 a year, despite £40million being spent annually on life-support.
I understand fully that it is sad for those who are devoted to their culture, but the time has come to be sensible, surely. Cut the cloth appropriately. Any objective linguist knows that Gaelic dropped below long-term viability at the end of the 20th century.
As I have said elsewhere, at what point do we all accept that this is nonsense? When there are 30,000 speakers? When there are 20,000? Ten thousand? Two thousand? Or when the money being spent on it rises to £60million? £100million? £300million?
You can prop a corpse in a chair, weep over it, tell it how important it has been and how much you loved it, put £40million of other people’s electricity through it and paint lipstick on it.
But it’s still a corpse.