Document 1260

Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: SB 02-137 Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill

Author(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body

Copyright holder(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body: © Scottish Parliamentary copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Queen's Printer for Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.


02/137 SPICe Briefing
11 December 2002


The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill [SP Bill 69] was introduced on 13 November 2002 by Mike Russell MSP as a Member’s Bill. The Bill places a duty on certain public bodies to prepare, publish and implement a Gaelic language plan. The Bill also establishes a basis of equality between the Gaelic and English languages.

This paper provides background information on the Bill, the policy objectives of the Bill, the Scottish Executive’s policy, the official status of Gaelic, the legislative proposals and their funding implications, the responses to the Bill’s consultation and, finally, a brief overview of Welsh language legislation.

Gaelic in Scotland 4
Aim of the Bill 4
The Scottish Executive & Gaelic 5
Scottish Executive Reports 6
The Macpherson Report 6
The Meek Report 6
Bòrd Gàidhlig na h-Alba (Gaelic Development Agency) 6

European Charter for Regional and Minority Language 7
Secure Status 8
Current Legislative Framework 8

The Bill 9
Financial Implications of the Bill 12

Geographical Dimension of Gaelic 13
Duty to Prepare a Plan 13
Enforcement of the Bill 14
Indigenous and Minority Languages 14
Cost of Implementation 15
The Scottish Executive’s Policy on the Bill 15




• The number of Gaelic speakers in Scotland is declining.
• The Gaelic language is generally thought not to have an “official” status in Scotland.
• There are a number of organisations and academics lobbying on behalf of the Gaelic community for legislation on the Gaelic language.
• The Bill will require certain public bodies, initially in specific areas of Scotland, to publish, maintain and implement a Gaelic Language Plan (GLP).
• When certain public bodies prepare a GLP they will give effect to the principle, that in exercising their functions, Gaelic and English should be treated on a basis of equality. A public body must specify how they will respond to Gaelic enquiries.
• The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman can investigate a complaint from a member of the public, where that person claims to have sustained an injustice or hardship as a result of the action or inaction of the public body.
• The responses received from the consultation to the Bill expressed a variety of opinions and recommendations.
• The Financial Memorandum suggested it was hard to quantify the financial implications of the Bill, as it depended on the measures a public body already had in place for services in Gaelic.
• Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) already has a full bilingual policy. Highland Council has a Gaelic Development Strategy to support and promote the language. Argyll and Bute Council has a policy accommodating enquiries from Gaelic speakers wherever possible.
• Public bodies in Wales must treat Welsh and English on an equal basis and they must prepare Welsh language schemes.


Gaelic in Scotland
The 1991 census recorded 69,510 people of all ages in Scotland who were able to speak, read or write Gaelic. This group represents 1.4% of the total Scottish population. The largest percentage of Gaelic speakers was in the Western Isles, the Highlands and Argyll and Bute. Outside these areas the largest concentration of Gaelic speakers was in Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is anticipated the 2001 census results will show a decline in the number of Gaelic speakers in Scotland, as commented by Comunn na Gàidhlig (the Gaelic development body):

“While precise figures are hard to obtain, it is almost certain that the present annual mortality rate of Gaelic speakers far outstrips the numbers of new speakers of the language each year.. ” (Comunn na Gàidhlig 1997 p4). Also see Scotland on Sunday, 2002 and the Policy Memorandum p1.

Concern has also been expressed about the use of Gaelic in the work place and in the economy according to Wilson McLeod:

“Gaelic remains highly peripheral to the world of work and economic life, which remains an overwhelmingly English-language domain even in the most strongly Gaelic-speaking areas, and the recent growth of the Gaelic economy has done little to change this pattern…One crucial first step would be to introduce meaningful schemes to bring about the use of Gaelic as a working language within local authorities and other public agencies, including the economic development agencies…” (McLeod, W. 2002 p52 & p65).(1)

Aim of the Bill
The overall aim of the Bill is to raise the profile of Gaelic. To gauge public opinion on the Bill Mike Russell MSP issued a consultation letter to public bodies stating that the Bill:

“ not designed to force Gaelic on those who do not wish it, or who work or live in areas where Gaelic has no historic roots. What it will do is make Gaelic a more normal part of everyday life in Scotland and remind many Scots of the existence of the language. Many other steps including more Gaelic medium education for children whose parents request it and new opportunities to voluntarily learn the language to fluency, are required but the proposed Bill is a first step ” (Consultation letter from Mike Russell MSP 2001).

To understand how the Bill has evolved it is necessary to look at the following issues:

• Scottish Executive policy
• the secure status of Gaelic
• the current legislative framework

The Scottish Executive & Gaelic
The Scottish Executive currently support Gaelic in 3 main areas:
• education (2)
• broadcasting (3)
• culture

Mike Watson, Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, on coming to office summarised the Executive’s policy with regard to Gaelic as follows:

“I fully recognise the importance of Gaelic as a living language and the need to support Gaelic medium education for the future of the language. Gaelic is unique to Scotland and plays a central role in our cultural heritage and I look forward to developing and enhancing all aspects of Scottish cultural life. All Scottish Ministers regularly take expert advice on all aspects of their portfolio and I will be working closely with the Gaelic community to ensure continued support for the language” (Scottish Executive 2002a).

Under the Partnership for Scotland agreement the Scottish Executive pledged to work towards achieving secure status for Gaelic (Scottish Executive 2002a).

In 2002-3 the Scottish Executive is providing funding of £13.4m for Gaelic and this is split as follows:

[NOTE: Table here in original]

Scottish Executive funding for 2003-2006 is split as follows:

[NOTE: Table here in original]

The Executive also announced a further £450,000 to set up the new Bòrd Gàidhlig na h-Alba (the Gaelic Development Agency) and provide additional support for Gaelic medium education (Scottish Executive News Release 2002c).

Scottish Executive Reports
Between 1999 and 2002 the Scottish Executive commissioned two reports on Gaelic, the Macpherson Report and the Meek Report. Both reports reached similar conclusions.

The Macpherson Report
In 1999 John A. Macpherson (Depute Director of the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee) was asked by the Executive to chair a Taskforce with the following remit:

“…to examine the arrangements and structures for the support of the Gaelic organisations in Scotland, and to advise Scottish Ministers on future arrangements, taking account of the Scottish Executive’s support for Gaelic as set out in the Programme for Government” (Scottish Executive 2000 p4).

The Taskforce produced the report “Revitalising Gaelic: A National Asset” and concluded that:

“Gaelic is in a precarious, even critical, condition and that, without significant Government support it will not survive beyond the mid-point of the 21st century. In order to optimise the development of the language, future public funding must be need-driven, project-based, and community-oriented” (Scottish Executive 2000 p 4).

The Taskforce recommended:
• Gaelic representation at senior level within the Executive
• establishing a transitional Advisory Group
• establishing a Gaelic Development Agency responsible to the Executive and the Parliament

The Meek Report
To take forward the recommendations in the Macpherson Report the Executive appointed a Ministerial Advisory Group in December 2000. The Ministerial Advisory Group chaired by Professor D. Meek produced the report “A Fresh Start for Gaelic” which was published on 22 May 2002. The two main recommendations of the Group were:

• the establishment of a new Gaelic Development Agency
• the creation of a Gaelic Language Act to give effect to the proposal of secure status for Gaelic as set out by CNAG (Comunn na Gàidhlig 1997)

Bòrd Gàidhlig na h-Alba (Gaelic Development Agency)
In response to the Meek Report the Executive established the Bòrd in 2002. The Bòrd is responsible for the strategic overview of Gaelic development and for coordinating and funding the activities of various Gaelic organisations. The Bòrd has a duty to promote the Gaelic language, to draw up plans for Gaelic and to co-ordinate activities in support of Gaelic. The Bòrd is appointed by and accountable to Scottish Ministers and is a non-departmental public body (Scottish Executive News Release 2002d).


European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages
The Council of Europe drew up the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (the Charter) in 1992 for the purpose of encouraging the preservation and promotion of indigenous minority languages throughout Europe. The Council of Europe commented that:

“…the aim [of the Charter] is to ensure, as far as reasonably possible, the use of regional or minority languages in education and the media and to permit their use in judicial and administrative settings, economic and social life and cultural activities” (European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ETS no.148) paragraph 10).

In March 2000 the UK government signed the Charter and ratified it in 2001 in respect of Welsh in Wales, Gaelic in Scotland, and Irish in Northern Ireland. Ratification commits the Scottish Executive to apply 39 specific measures out of the 65 measures set out in Part III of the Charter. The Charter provides for the use of Gaelic in specific circumstances in civil proceedings in areas of Scotland where Gaelic-speakers form a substantial proportion of the population.

As the Bill proposed by Mike Russell MSP places a duty on public bodies to produce a Gaelic language plan (GLP) it is necessary to assess the impact of the Charter on public bodies. The Charter is only enabling and there is not a requirement on public bodies or local authorities to implement the Charter. Article 10 of the Charter is concerned with “Administrative authorities and public services”. The aim of this article is to improve the communication between public authorities and those who use regional or minority languages. Examples of the measures in Article 10 are:

• allowing the administrative authorities to draft documents in a regional or minority language (Article 10 para 1 (c))
• the publication by local authorities of their official documents also in the relevant regional or minority languages (Article 10 para 1(d))
• the possibility for the users of regional or minority languages to submit oral or written applications in these languages (Article 10 para 2(b))

In light of the Charter, in February 2002, Mike Watson MSP called on public bodies and local authorities to review their policy on Gaelic. (Letter from Mike Watson MSP to the Education Culture and Sport Committee 2002).

Some organisations have already drawn up a policy on Gaelic, for instance:
• Scottish Natural Heritage
• National Museums of Scotland
• Highlands and Island Enterprise
• Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council)
• Highland Council
• Scottish Parliament (4)

Secure Status
At present the Gaelic language is generally thought not to have an “official” status in Scotland. Comunn na Gàidhlig (CNAG) was set up in 1984 to promote and develop the Gaelic language and culture. The establishment of CNAG:

“...was born out of a realisation by government of the necessity to create an infrastructure which could support the Gaelic community’s drive to maintain its linguistic and cultural heritage.” (5)

It is the main advisory and executive body on Gaelic. In 1997 CNAG submitted a report to the Scottish Office recommending measures to secure the status of Gaelic, such as:

• The principle of equal validity for the Gaelic and English languages in Scotland, similar to the recognition given to Welsh in the Welsh Language Act 1993.
• Gaelic officers to be appointed by local authorities to design and implement policies relating to Gaelic.
• Local authorities to make available Gaelic-medium school education where reasonable demand exists (Comunn na Gàidhlig 1997).

In March 2000 Alasdair Morrison the then Deputy Minister for Highlands, Islands and Gaelic, commented:

“It [Gaelic] is fundamental to Scotland; it is not on the periphery or on the fringes. It must be normalised and its rights must be secured” (SP OR 2 March 2000, col 388).

Mike Watson MSP, in September 2002, outlined the Executive’s view on providing legislation to secure the status of Gaelic and the recognition of Gaelic as a language valid for public business in Scotland, in the following terms:

“As we are setting up a new public body for Gaelic [the Gaelic Development Agency], it would be appropriate to seek its advice in the terms of such legislation, in particular on what would best support the Executive’s policy intentions and on what should be permitted that is not administratively possible at present” (SP OR PE 24 September 2002, col 2229).

Current Legislative Framework
There are already several legislative measures in place, which promote the use of Gaelic. These are as follows:

• Small Landholders (Scotland) Act 1911 - requires that one member of the Scottish Land Court must be a Gaelic speaker. The Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 established a similar requirement.
• Education (Scotland) Act 1980 - placed a duty on education authorities to provide the teaching of Gaelic in Gaelic-speaking areas
• Grants for Gaelic Language Education (Scotland) Regulations 1986 - provided for a scheme of specific grants for Gaelic education since 1986
• British Nationality Act 1981 - specified that knowledge of Gaelic satisfies the language conditions for naturalisation
• Road Traffic Regulations Act 1984 - under which the Secretary of State can authorise bilingual road signs (6)
• National Heritage (Scotland) Act 1985 - allows financial support to be given to organisations for the promotion of Gaelic language and culture (such as An Comunn Gaidhealach, organisers of the Royal National Mod)
• Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996 - place a duty on the Secretary of State for Scotland to make payments for a Gaelic Broadcasting Fund
• Local Government (Gaelic Names) (Scotland) Act 1997 - allows a local authority to adopt a Gaelic name(7)
• Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 - provides that education authorities must set out their plans for Gaelic medium education in their annual improvement statements
• Education (National Priorities) (Scotland) Order 2000 - provides for the promotion of the Gaelic language in schools

However, the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill’s policy memorandum states:

“Whilst acknowledging the importance of the work being carried out by the education authorities in respect of the 2000 Act, it is also not considered sufficient on its own to prevent the decline in Gaelic language (Policy Memorandum p2).

The public body must include within its Gaelic language plan (GLP) details of the way it proposes to carry out its functions relating to Gaelic that arise under any other Acts. Paragraph 8 of the schedule to the Bill states that “Other statutory functions and duties “ can be detailed in the GLP. Therefore, although the Bill does not cover the issue of Gaelic medium education, a public body could mention in its GLP what they are doing with regard to Gaelic medium education.


The Bill
The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill [SP Bill 69] was published on 13 November 2002. Also published at the same time were:

• Explanatory Notes (and Other Accompanying Documents)
• Policy Memorandum
• Bile Cànan na Gàidhlig (Alba) (Gaelic Translation)

The following sections outline the key points of the Bill. For a detailed description of each section the Explanatory Notes should be consulted.

Section 1: Gaelic Language Plans
Section 1 places a requirement on certain public bodies to publish a GLP. The GLP should show the framework in place for the use of Gaelic and how the basis of equality of the English and Gaelic languages will be achieved. In preparing the GLP the public body must consult those who appear to have an interest in it. Every public body to which the Bill applies must publish a GLP within two years of the Act coming into force. The GLP is to be effective for five years from the date of the plan’s publication. It is estimated a minimum of 27 public bodies will initially be required to prepare consultation documents and plans.

Section 1 of the Bill establishes a basis of equality between the Gaelic and English languages. This section states that the purpose of the GLP is to give effect, as far as is appropriate and reasonably practical, to the principle that in exercising their functions the public bodies should treat the Gaelic and English languages on a basis of equality. A similar basis of equality is also found in the Welsh Language Act 1993.

Section 2: Review and Amendment of Plans
A Gaelic language plan has a lifespan of five years. During the fifth year, or earlier, the public body must review the GLP to produce a new plan before the expiry of the original GLP. The replacement GLP will include any amendments and revisions by the public body and comes into effect once it is published. When undertaking the review the public body must consult those who appear to have an interest in the GLP.

The public body may amend any clerical errors and update factual information in the GLP without having to carry out the review process mentioned above.

Section 3: Public Bodies
Section 3 states that the Bill will apply to the public bodies set out in Schedule 2 of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002 (2002 Act). Cross-border public authorities and family health service providers (see paragraph 5 Schedule 2 of the 2002 Act) are exempt from the provisions of the Bill. If a public body only has one function in the area, the duties under Section 1 of the Bill will apply.

A new public body is allowed 2 years from the date that it became a public body to prepare and implement a plan. Section 3(2)(b) allows Scottish Ministers to exempt a public body added to the 2002 Act from being a public body to whom the Bill applies.

Section 4: The Ombudsman
The Ombudsman is only able to “investigate a matter if a member of the public claims to have sustained an injustice or hardship in consequence of the action or inaction of a public body” (policy memorandum p4). There are no financial sanctions placed on a body that fails to meet the requirements of the Bill. Section 5(1) of the 2002 Act sets out what matters fall within the Ombudsman’s investigatory powers. Complaints can be made, if a member of the public has sustained an injustice or hardship, on the following matters:

• actions taken in the exercise of an administrative function, section 5(1) (e) of the 2002 Act
• actions taken in the exercise of service failures, section 5 (1) (b) or (e) of the 2002 Act and any action taken on behalf of certain bodies (see section 5 (1) of the 2002 Act for further detail)

The Explanatory Notes explain the purpose of Section 4 of the Bill in further detail, as follows:

“Section 4(a) of the Bill provides that the preparation and publishing of the Gaelic language plan is an action to be regarded as being taken in the exercise of an administrative function of the public body, for the purposes of section 5(1)(a) of the 2002 Act, which the Ombudsman is entitled to investigate. Section 4(a) specifically excludes reference to health service bodies, independent providers and registered social landlords as the Ombudsman is already entitled to investigate any action taken by such bodies.

Where a public body includes in its plan the provision of a service in Gaelic and fails to deliver that service in Gaelic, section 4(b) allows the Ombudsman to regard this as a service failure by the public body for the purposes of section 5(1)(c) of the 2002 Act. Section 5(2) of the 2002 Act defines “service failure” as a failure in service by a public body or a failure to provide a service which it was their function to provide. Section 5(1)(c) of the 2002 Act allows the Ombudsman to investigate service failures of public bodies other than family health service providers and registered social landlords. Family health service providers are, in any case, excluded from the requirements of this Bill by section 3(1). Section 4(b) specifically excludes reference to registered social landlords as the Ombudsman is already entitled to investigate any action taken by such bodies” (Explanatory Notes p5).

Section 7: Commencement
The Bill applies to the whole of Scotland. However, the Bill will initially commence in the local government areas of Highland, Western Isles (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar), the part of Argyll and Bute which is the area of the former Argyll and Bute District Council and the Islands of Arran, Great Cumbrae and Little Cumbrae. The areas of Orkney and Shetland are currently excluded. By order of an affirmative statutory instrument the Scottish Ministers may extend the geographical scope of the Bill to other parts of Scotland.

The schedule sets out the minimum detail, which must be contained within a GLP. The actual form of the GLP is not described in the Bill. The aim of the schedule is to give the public body flexibility in drafting the GLP. The following details are to be included in the GLP:

1. Details of how the public body will respond to external and media communications received in Gaelic.
2. Details of the documents and material the public body will make available for internal and external use.
3. Details of translation services that will be made available.
4. Details of services that are provided exclusively for users of the Gaelic language.
5. Contact details of a senior member of staff responsible for internal and external Gaelic enquiries.
6. Details for staff training in the Gaelic language.
7. The job specification for posts which require the employee to be able to be able to communicate in Gaelic.
8. Details regarding the use of the Gaelic language in any function or duty arising under other legislation.
9. Details of the timetable and implementation of each measure specified in the GLP and the review of the GLP.

The schedule sets out that the public body should forecast the level of use of the Gaelic language in relation to the public body’s performance of its functions.

Financial Implications of the Bill
The Financial Memorandum highlights the fact that it is difficult to quantify the cost of preparing and implementing a plan (Financial Memorandum p6). It is not anticipated that the Ombudsman will incur further costs investigating complaints arising as a result of any failure to comply with the Bill (Financial Memorandum p7).

The financial memorandum estimates that the cost to a public body in preparing, printing, publishing and distributing a consultation document and a GLP is approximately £3,000. This is broken down as follows:

Table 3 – Estimated costs of preparing, publishing and distributing a GLP
[NOTE: Table here in original]

In implementing the GLP the Financial Memorandum acknowledges that the costs will obviously be lower if a public body already has in place measures to meet the requirements of the Bill. However, quantifying the costs of implementation, for instance translating the materials that would be available in Gaelic, proved difficult to quantify. The implementation costs for the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament are that:

“ both organisations already have Gaelic speaking staff and use Gaelic in their daily business the costs associated by the Bill may be met from existing resources” (Financial Memorandum p8).

Therefore, the maximum cost of the Bill for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive would be £3,000 each (Financial Memorandum p8).


The responses to the Bill’s consultation were varied in their support and position on the Bill. COSLA commented that:

“Many councils already undertake considerable work in connection with the Gaelic language in response to needs in their areas.”

Representatives of Gaelic organisations such as CLI (representing the new Gaelic Speakers) Comunn Gàidhlig Inbhir Nis (Gaelic Society of Inverness) and CNAG supported the Bill.

Geographical Dimension of Gaelic
The responses to the consultation reflected the geographical divide across Scotland in relation to Gaelic. Dumfries & Galloway Council commented:

“There is a strong case for supporting and maintaining the Gaelic culture in those areas where Gaelic is still part of everyday life, where Gaelic has traditional roots and where there is a demand…I [the Director of Education] am not however, convinced that this would require that a duty be placed on certain public bodies to draw up and implement a Gaelic language plan.”

Shetland Islands Council went further and stated:

“..Shetland has no tradition of Gaelic among its indigenous population and therefore our Education Service would have no comment to make on your proposed Bill other than to emphasise that geographical areas where this is the case should be exempt from any obligation to prepare and implement a GLP.”

Highlands & Islands Enterprise in contrast commented:

“If this proposal is a matter of civil rights, then all local authorities operating in Scotland should be considered for inclusion in at least some token way, since they are providing basic services and particularly education.”

Duty to Prepare a Plan
The public bodies consulted were asked if there should be a duty to prepare a GLP. The Crofters Commission stated:

“..there should be no obligation or duty, as proposed, upon any public body to prepare, publish and implement a GLP. We believe that the initiative and the proposed legislation should be enabling rather than prescriptive.”

NHS Borders was of the opinion:

“The proposal is time consuming and wasteful, particularly in the areas where Gaelic is virtually unknown.”

Glasgow City Council stated:

“GCC believes that the imposition of a duty on Scottish public bodies, in particular local authorities, to develop a GLP would not be a fair one. Indeed, it would constitute an unnecessary centralist approach to cultural policy which runs counter to policy and practice in other areas.”

In contrast Aberdeen City Council, Argyll & Bute Council and Highland Council stated there was a duty to prepare a GLP. Highland Council stated a GLP should be applicable:

“…where relevant either through historical or cultural links or if there is a sizeable Gaelic community within the area served by the body. The terms of the recently adopted European Charter for Minority Languages should set out the context for organisations’ GLP.”

Enforcement of the Bill
Under the Bill the Ombudsman has the duty to investigate complaints where an injustice has occurred. Views on how to enforce the Bill were varied. Highlands & Islands Enterprise did not want sanctions to be imposed if a public body failed to comply with the requirements of the Bill. Highland Council suggested:

“Appeals could be made to the new Gaelic language agency [Bòrd Gàidhlig na h-Alba] who could have some locus in suggesting improvements in content of a particular organisation’s plan.”

Indigenous and Minority Languages
Gaelic is a minority language indigenous to Scotland. In the Scottish Parliament debate on Gaelic Winnie Ewing MSP acknowledged Gaelic as being of cultural importance to Scotland:

“Our language is a great part of Scottish heritage, and it is a great part of European heritage. We are all responsible for encouraging the language and for ensuring that it keeps its place forever ” (SP OR 2 March 2000, col 408).

The issue of the promoting other minority languages was also raised in the consultation process. Glasgow City Council commented:

“There is, however, the wider issue of whether it would be acceptable to promote Gaelic at the expense or neglect of the Scots Language and its various dialects, where Scots is the indigenous language, and, as importantly, at the expense of other minority languages such as Punjabi, Urdu, Gujuarati etc which are spoken in fairly large minority communities in Scotland.”

Cost of Implementation
Certain public bodies were concerned about the financial implications of the Bill. Glasgow City Council commented:

“The potential costs of implementing a GLP could be enormous if its requirements include provisions for signage, information leaflets, core materials and staff able to answer queries in Gaelic.”

The Executive stated in their Memorandum:

“It seems inconceivable that the implementation of the measures in a plan would not carry other financial burdens. These are unknown and unquantified” (Scottish Executive Memorandum 2002)

The Scottish Executive’s policy on the Bill
The Executive is not supporting the Bill (Scottish Executive Memorandum 2002). The Executive concluded:

“The Bill runs contrary to our current priorities, it carries the potential for dividing the Gaelic community, there are financial and technical uncertainties and it does not give due recognition to the role and functions of Bòrd Gàidhlig na h-Alba (Scottish Executive Memorandum 2002).

The Executive’s Memorandum states that their current priorities are:
• establishing Bòrd Gàidhlig na h-Alba
• extending and strengthening Gaelic medium education, and
• supporting Gaelic broadcasting and cultural groups

The Executive also stated that they are committed to:

“…‘working towards secure status for Gaelic’ but we are not convinced that this should be secured within the area of Gaelic language plans for public bodies” (Scottish Executive Memorandum 2002).


The 1991 UK census revealed that 18.7% of the population were Welsh speakers. The latest figures are from the 1997 Welsh Household Interview Survey. The figures indicate an increase in the number of Welsh speakers, from 18.7% of the population in 1991, to 20.5% in 1997.

The Welsh Assembly is keen to promote accessibility to everyone in acquiring and using the Welsh language. The Welsh Assembly “is wholly committed to revitalising the Welsh language and creating a bilingual Wales” (Welsh Assembly Government 2002 p1). The Welsh Assembly has responsibility for implementing existing language legislation. There are 2 main Acts:
• The Welsh Language Act 1967 (1967 Act)
• The Welsh Language Act 1993 (1993 Act)

The 1967 Act allowed for the use of Welsh in court, and provided for the use of the language in public administration. The 1993 Act gave equal status to Welsh and English in public life.

There are 3 main provisions in the 1993 Act:
1. When providing services to the public in Wales the public sector must treat Welsh and English on an equal basis. Welsh Language Schemes have to be set up by public bodies that must be submitted to the Welsh Language Board for approval. The Welsh Language Board states that the schemes:

“..should be more than policy; it should be a strategy or action plan containing clear policy commitments and descriptions of the steps to be taken and arrangements to be made for implementing those commitments and for monitoring them ” (Welsh Language Board 1996 p18).

The Welsh Language Schemes are more detailed than the GLP proposed under the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill. The private sector is not obliged to meet the requirements set out in the Welsh Language Act 1993. Some private businesses do provide services in Welsh on a voluntary basis.

2. Welsh language speakers have an absolute right to speak Welsh in court proceedings.

3. The establishment of a publicly funded statutory Welsh Language Board. The Board was set up to “promote and facilitate the use of Welsh”. (8) The Board has authority under Section 17 of the 1999 Act to investigate a failure to carry out a Welsh Language Scheme.

In some schools in Wales, Welsh is the only or main medium of instruction. In other schools Welsh is taught as a first or second language.

Comunn na Gaidhlig (1997) “Inbhe Thearainte Dhan Ghaidhlig, Secure Status for Gaelic, An issue of human dignity, of belonging, and of justice”

Consultation letter from Mike Russell MSP (2001) 18 December 2001

European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ETS no.148) paragraph 10 “Explanatory Notes, General Considerations ”

European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages

Letter from Mike Watson MSP to the Education, Culture and Sport Committee (2002) “Advice to NDPBs & Local Authorities: the Gaelic language”, 13 February 2002

Scotland on Sunday 2002 “Gaelic must take its chances as arts funding crisis bites” 17/11/2002

Scottish Executive (2000) “Revitalising Gaelic: a national asset” (the Macpherson Report)

Scottish Executive (2002a) “Gaelic in Scotland Factsheet”, 9 October 2002

Scottish Executive (2002b) “A Fresh Start for Gaelic” (the Meek Report)

Scottish Executive Memorandum (2002) “Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill” to the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, December 2002

Scottish Executive News Release (2002c) “Gaelic roots run deep in Glasgow”

Scottish Executive News Release (2002d) “Appointment to Gaelic Development Agency”

Welsh Assembly Government (2002) “Bilingual Future: a policy statement by the Welsh Assembly Government”

Welsh Language Board (1996) “Welsh Language Schemes their preparation and approval in accordance with the Welsh Language Act 1993”

McLeod, W. ”Language planning as regional development? The growth of the Gaelic economy”, Scottish Affairs no. 38, winter 2002: pp51-72 ‘Hicks, D. 2002. World Congress on Language Policies “ Scotland’s Linguistic
landscape; the lack of policy planning with Scotland’s place-names and signage” Available from: [accessed: 10 December 2002]

Parliamentary Publications

Scottish Parliament:
SP OR 2 March 2000, col 388 & 408
SP OR PE 24 September 2002, col 2229
SP WA 10 December 1999, S1W-01894

SPICe Briefings:
“Gaelic (Gaidhlig)” Devolved Area Series 00/10
“Gaelic Medium” Education” RN 01/110
The Parliament’s Language Policy (to be published)

1 Wilson McLeod currently works as a senior lecturer in Celtic at Edinburgh University and prior to this he worked at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye.
2 The SPICe briefings RN 01/110, Gaelic Medium Education and Devolved Area Series 00/10, Gaelic (Gaidhlig) provide more detail on these policy areas.
3 ibid
4 See the SPICe briefing Devolved Area Series 00/10 p6 and the forthcoming SPICe briefing “The Parliament’s Language Policy”
5 Comunn na Gàidhlig, “Information about Comunn na Gàidhlig”,
6 See SP WA 10 December 1999, S1W-01894 for the Highland Council area. Also see Hicks, D. World Congress on Language Policies “Scotland’s linguistic landscape: the lack of policy and planning with Scotland’s place-names and signage”
7 Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, formerly named the Western Isles Council, changed its name under the Act.
8 Welsh Language Board web site:

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Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: SB 02-137 Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 23 February 2024, from

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"Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: SB 02-137 Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2024. Web. 23 February 2024.

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The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: SB 02-137 Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill," accessed 23 February 2024,

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The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. 2024. Glasgow: University of Glasgow.


Information about Document 1260

Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: SB 02-137 Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill


Text audience

General public
Audience size 1000+

Text details

Method of composition Wordprocessed
Year of composition 2002
Word count 5803
General description Research Briefing. See

Text medium

Web (webpages, discussion boards, newsgroups, chat rooms)

Text publication details

Publisher Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body
Publication year 2002
Place of publication

Text setting


Text type

Prose: nonfiction


Author details

Author id 908
Surname Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body