THERE’S something about Scottish languages that causes an outbreak of instant hysteria amongst Unionists. I write a lot about politics, and naturally that attracts criticism and abuse on social media, but it is nothing compared to the abuse you receive when you dare proffer a positive opinion on Scots or Gaelic. Unionist trolls have a particular distaste for Gaelic on public signage, because naturally painting Gaelic for Police Scotland on the side of a helicopter makes it stop working, and putting Gaelic on road signs causes potholes. Clearly the reason why so many people go astray in the Scottish mountains every year is because they’ve got Gaelic names.

Funnily enough, those who object the loudest are often proud to call themselves Tories, a word which itself derives from Gaelic. It comes from the Irish Gaelic word tóraigh, which means “the act of causing Jackson Carlaw apoplexy with a road sign”. It’s a very expressive language, is Gaelic.

It doesn’t really matter how much you attempt to employ facts or evidence to argue the case that Gaelic and Scots are vital and central parts of Scotland’s cultural heritage and deserve protection and public support every bit as much as more concrete expressions of our heritage, like castles and museums. Opposition to Gaelic and Scots is based on an emotional fear that the promotion of these languages threatens a British identity based on the English language.

Loading article content

I recently had an argument with a Unionist woman on social media who continually asserted that Gaelic was never spoken in the Central Belt. There is abundant evidence to the contrary, the most accessible of which are the thousands of Gaelic place names which litter the Lowland landscape. Places such as Barrachnie, Barlinnie, and Camlachie in the East End of Glasgow, from the names Bàrr Fhraochnaidh (heathery hill), Blàr Leanaidh (marshy plain), and Camas Làthaich (muddy riverbend), respectively. Or there’s Methill, Largo or Rosythe in Fife, from Meadh-Cille (middle chapel), Leargach (steeply sloping), and Ros-Fhìobh (the promentary of Fife). Where do all these Lowland Gaelic place names come from if it’s not from a time when Gaelic was widely current? I asked her. Was it the place name fairy? Who else created all these Gaelic names? “ScotRail”, she confidently replied.

Maybe that’s some ScotRail I’m not familiar with. Perhaps it’s something to do with ancient Gaelic legend, the SgòtRèile son Osain son of Fionn MacCumhal who was part of the armies of Dalraida which fought against the evil witch Maedb and the magic bull in the battle of Central Station when Iain Greigh was vanquished by a Subway sandwich. When you’re arguing with a person who claims to believe that rail transportation is all part of a devilish nationalist plot to impose the Gaelic language on a reluctant populace, it’s better just to walk away. Or indeed, get an express train and escape as far and as fast as you possibly can. The belief that Gaelic, and Scots, are being artificially imposed upon Scotland by evil nationalists intent on creating division from England is a trope of Unionist belief that they are not prepared to surrender no matter how much evidence you present to the contrary.

This week we had yet another instance of anti-Gaelic hysteria. A couple of cooncillors in Moray denounced what they decried as the “Gaelic Gestapo” for attempting to “impose” the Gaelic language on a region where it was spoken natively not so long ago. Obligingly, the local edition of the Press and Journal printed their comments in very large type on its front page. There were other choices of headline possible, such as “Moray councillors offend Holocaust survivors by making hysterical Gestapo claims”, or “Godwin’s Law lies broken and bleeding on the Moray Firth”. Instead of calling out the councillors for making a frankly insulting attempt to link support for the Gaelic language with actual Nazis, the paper reported the slur and didn’t challenge it.

The uncomfortable truth for Unionists is that public support and funding for the Gaelic language is a result of a decision made by the former Labour government in Westminster. It has nothing to do with the SNP, which has traditionally shied away from anything that can be described as cultural nationalism. In 2001 Tony Blair’s government signed up to the European Charter for the Protection of Minority and Regional Languages which obliges the British state to promote and protect Scottish Gaelic, and the other Celtic languages of the British Isles. The UK Government also ratified the Charter with respect to Scots, although granting Scots a lower level of protection than Gaelic. The Charter is an international treaty created under the auspices of the Council of Europe. And as any Unionist politician ought to know, international affairs are a reserved matter for the Westminster government. By signing the Charter, the UK Government obliged itself and its agents to promote and protect the Gaelic language. As far as the Council of Europe is concerned, the Scottish Government is an agent of the UK Government.

When Unionists attack the Gaelic and Scots languages they conveniently overlook these uncomfortable facts. Instead they prefer to accuse independence supporters of politicising the languages. The truth is that by claiming support for Scotland’s traditional languages is a nationalist plot, it’s the Unionists who are politicising the languages. They claim that they’re proud Scots, but they want to destroy a part of Scottish heritage and replace it with ignorance, and all in order to extract a limited short-term political gain.

Moray’s councillors should hang their heads in shame, and so should the editor who thought to give legitimacy to an attempt to link Gaelic with Nazism.