Scots speakers in the Gàidhealtachd

hlineConventional accounts of Scots emphasise the linguistic divide of the Highland Line; Gaelic-speakers above, Scots-speakers below. This probably hasn’t been accurate for centuries due to population movement and language change. The 2011 Census figures provide evidence. 

Although the majority of Gaelic speakers (51.5%) still live in what is sometimes regarded as the “Gàidhealtachdcouncil areas (Argyll & Bute, Eilean Siar, Highland), almost half don’t. Although numbers are tiny, this distribution clearly supports the notion of Gaelic as a Scotland-wide language and that Gaels should be supported at least to some extent in the Lowlands.

However the reverse is also true. Even in the heartlands of the Gàidhealtachd Gaelic speakers make up only 9% of the population. However in these three council areas Scots declared speakers actually make up 21% of the population. There are therefore far more Scots speakers in the Gàidhealtachd (69,235) than there are Gaelic speakers in the whole of Scotland (57,375). There are also more than three times as many Scots speakers living in the Gàidhealtachd (69,235) than there are Gaelic speakers in the rest of Scotland (27,819). In the Highland region alone there is now 4 times as many Scots speakers as Gaelic speakers.

My aim is not to challenge efforts to promote the Gaelic language in the Gàidhealtachd or elsewhere, rather it emphasises the Scotland-wide distribution of the language. But Scots is also a Scotland-wide language and if it is to be promoted, this has to apply to the whole of Scotland, not just the traditional heartlands.

The conclusion is we should nowadays be thinking not of a Gaelic policy, nor of a Scots policy, but a genuine Scottish languages policy.

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