Referendum 2014
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Referendum 2014
The Scottish independence referendum and the debate about Scotland's constitutional future
Curated by Peter A Bell
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The non-issue of Gaelic in the indyref debate

The non-issue of Gaelic in the indyref debate | Referendum 2014 | Scoop.it

It has long been a commonplace observation that linguistic distinctiveness plays only a minor role in Scottish national identity and national movements. This claim has been abundan...

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Allan Massie: Gaelic will only be a hobby language

Allan Massie: Gaelic will only be a hobby language | Referendum 2014 | Scoop.it
The indulgent pretence surrounding Gaelic does nothing to halt the language’s decline and amounts to intellectual dishonesty, writes Allan Massie
Peter A Bell's insight:

What a magnificently pointless rant! I can only assume that Mr Massie felt a pressing need to lance the boil of his curmudgeonly indignation. Quite why he should think others might benefit from witnessing this operation remains a mystery. But then, I've never understood the urge that drives people to flaunt their gross physical abnormalities in front of the TV cameras for an audience whose motives I find no less incomprehensible.

Don't get me wrong! I can do the grumpy old man thing along with the best of them. Get me started on the subject of dogs and dog-owners and you'll soon discover the truth of that. But I prefer to put my energies into railing against the injustices of the things people are denied or deprived of rather than the the things that enrich the lives of individuals and add something to our society.

I don't see anybody trying to pretend that Scotland is a bi-lingual nation. All I see is an important part of our culture being given the kind of prominence it needs in order to survive. If there is a cost to this then I, for one, am happy to pay what cannot be more than my infinitesimal share. I do not speak Gaelic, and have no particular personal interest in the language. By the same token, I do not play a musical instrument or enjoy the ballet, but I am content that public money should be spent supporting the teaching of music and the performance of ballet because I recognise that our culture is enhanced thereby and that it would necessarily be diminished were support for these things to be withdrawn.

It all comes down to ones concept of society. Whether one sees it as something external to you as an individual. Something which can only be added to by subtracting from the individual. Or whether one sees society as something that we are all part of. Something which connects us all such that, if one part gains, we all do.

I suspect Mr Massie tends to the former perspective. But I don't think that explains his issue with the way Gaelic is treated in Scotland. The clue to what really troubles him is to be found in his remarks about "national identity". While the semantics suggest an acknowledgement of "our distinct national identity", the tone clearly indicates resentment of the fact that this distinctiveness is more than merely acknowledged.

The tone is redolent of that narrow, jealous, supercilious British nationalism which perceives in the tokens and symbols of other national identities only a threat to its own integrity. A chauvinistic and exceptionalistic nationalism that is offended by the sight of the Saltire.

Gaelic is fine, so long as it knows its place. Just as Scotland is OK so long as it does not exhibit any pretension to be other than totally subsumed in a British identity.

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Peter A Bell's curator insight, October 16, 2013 7:03 AM

What a magnificently pointless rant! I can only assume that Mr Massie felt a pressing need to lance the boil of his curmudgeonly indignation. Quite why he should think others might benefit from witnessing this operation remains a mystery. But then, I've never understood the urge that drives people to flaunt their gross physical abnormalities in front of the TV cameras for an audience whose motives I find no less incomprehensible.

Don't get me wrong! I can do the grumpy old man thing along with the best of them. Get me started on the subject of dogs and dog-owners and you'll soon discover the truth of that. But I prefer to put my energies into railing against the injustices of the things people are denied or deprived of rather than the the things that enrich the lives of individuals and add something to our society.

I don't see anybody trying to pretend that Scotland is a bi-lingual nation. All I see is an important part of our culture being given the kind of prominence it needs in order to survive. If there is a cost to this then I, for one, am happy to pay what cannot be more than my infinitesimal share. I do not speak Gaelic, and have no particular personal interest in the language. By the same token, I do not play a musical instrument or enjoy the ballet, but I am content that public money should be spent supporting the teaching of music and the performance of ballet because I recognise that our culture is enhanced thereby and that it would necessarily be diminished were support for these things to be withdrawn.

It all comes down to ones concept of society. Whether one sees it as something external to you as an individual. Something which can only be added to by subtracting from the individual. Or whether one sees society as something that we are all part of. Something which connects us all such that, if one part gains, we all do.

I suspect Mr Massie tends to the former perspective. But I don't think that explains his issue with the way Gaelic is treated in Scotland. The clue to what really troubles him is to be found in his remarks about "national identity". While the semantics suggest an acknowledgement of "our distinct national identity", the tone clearly indicates resentment of the fact that this distinctiveness is more than merely acknowledged.

The tone is redolent of that narrow, jealous, supercilious British nationalism which perceives in the tokens and symbols of other national identities only a threat to its own integrity. A chauvinistic and exceptionalistic nationalism that is offended by the sight of the Saltire.

Gaelic is fine, so long as it knows its place. Just as Scotland is OK so long as it does not exhibit any pretension to be other than totally subsumed in a British identity.

Alexander Metcalfe's curator insight, October 18, 2013 11:59 PM

Language and politics

Debi Ray Kidd's curator insight, July 21, 2014 4:48 PM

Languages such as Gaelic are being revived but at what cost?

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Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation | Referendum 2014 | Scoop.it

Dr Wilson McLeod scrutinises the place of the Gaelic language in the independence debate and criticises the Scottish Government’s ‘illogical’ decision not to issue a bilingual ballot paper in the referendum.


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Large Scale Solidarity

Large Scale Solidarity | Referendum 2014 | Scoop.it

One jarring conversation in a Highland town this summer led me to reflect on the nature of a Scottish national identity and on what would constitute a just sovereign order in an independent – or, indeed, non-independent – Scotland.

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Teaching Gaelic in schools ‘a waste of resources’

Teaching Gaelic in schools ‘a waste of resources’ | Referendum 2014 | Scoop.it
CHILDREN would progress further in the world by learning Mandarin or German rather than “wasting” money on Gaelic, a Highland politician has claimed.
Peter A Bell's insight:

Jim Crawford exhibits that troubling paranoia, rife among unionists, which sees a nationalist conspiracy in everything from education policy to funny-shaped clouds.


He strikes me as being a very shallow individual. An impression that was reinforced by his silly tantrum over the First Minister of Scotland holding aloft a Scottish flag in celebration of a notable sporting victory by a Scottish tennis player. Would this bladder have protested the waving of a union flag? One very much doubts it. We are left to wonder what sort of person it is who sees his own country's flag as a symbol of political conspiracy.


Similarly with the teaching of Gaelic. That it is one of the native languages of Scotland means nothing to Mr Crawford. It is of not the slightest consequence to him that Gaelic is a deeply-rooted part of Scotland's culture. To this fervent British nationalist, if it is Scottish then it is worthless, an embarrassment and nothing more than a device by which to promote the cause of restoring Scotland's rightful constitutional status.


Note this attitude well. It is all too common among unionists. An attitude which holds that all things identifiable with Scotland are symbols of the civic nationalist movement and, as such, must be denigrated. It is not nationalists who claim all things Scottish as tokens of their cause. It is unionists like Crawford who identify all things Scottish as tokens of nationalism and a threat to the British state.


It is an attitude which is distasteful at the best of times. But it is an attitude which must be anathema to all decent people when it informs efforts to introduce politically-motivated restrictions on children's education.

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