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by Shona MacLennan
21 January 2022
Associate Feature: Gaelic and the Economy

Associate Feature: Gaelic and the Economy

One of the prime responsibilities of the chief executive of Bord na Gaidhlig is leading the creation for Scottish Ministers of a national plan for Gaelic. This is renewed every five years, with the current plan published in 2018.  A significant message in this plan is that Gaelic is an economic asset. The Gaelic language and its culture generate opportunities across many sectors of the Scottish economy.  This is of course in addition to its educational, cultural and creative contributions to everyday life.  

The positive impact from Gaelic is unquestionable. The role of the Gaelic media as an economic and social driver with the potential to create real growth in our communities is clearly demonstrated by the study MG ALBA commissioned as is the tangible and intangible value of Gaelic festivals and events, such as the Royal National Mòd.  Evaluations of its economic contribution to the towns and cities that host it demonstrate this.

VisitScotland strongly recognises the value of Gaelic to its industry. VisitScotland consumer website saw a growth of 56% in the popularity of its Gaelic content from 2018-2020.  It leads a partnership to implement the first national Gaelic tourism strategy, which provides a model for collaborative working.

Many of Scotland’s cultural icons are drawn from the Gaelic tradition and open opportunities to link other countries such as Ireland and Canada.  ColumCille 1500, the year marking 1500 years since the birth of St Columba, generated exciting and attractive creative content, all of which strengthen ties and trade with those countries which share a heritage.

Gaelic language learning has seen a phenomenal uptake during the pandemic, with Duolingo Scottish Gaelic having over 400,000 active learners as well as the BBC’s new initiative, the multi-platform SpeakGaelic, attracting new speakers.

There are also challenges amongst the hugely positive opportunities for growth.  The islands which are home to the communities which have the highest percentages of Gaelic speakers, are facing distinct and immediate challenges.  The impact of Brexit on the traditional industries of crofting and fishing as well as infrastructure development, transportion to the mainland and between islands, and the ongoing impact of COVID on small and aging communities.  

Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the public body responsible for promoting Gaelic, continues to make the case that Gaelic presents opportunities for re-building the economy and the language should be an integral part of economic development programmes alongside education and wellbeing.   

More and more public bodies and the commercial organisations that make up Scotland’s economy are acting on this positively in line with the national plan for Gaelic.  Scottish Enterprise is working  to strengthen the opportunities that Gaelic offers their clients.  A variety of appropriate approaches whether that’s through a sense of place and authenticity and a growing market or its connections to the world-wide diaspora through Global Scots, Scotland’s international business network is effective.  

Highlands and Islands Enterprise has successfully promoted Gaelic in both community and commercial sectors, and reinforced this with its evidence-based study, Gaelic as an Economic Asset, demonstrating the potential of Gaelic to the economy to be in the region of £149m.

None of this would come as a surprise to one of the earliest innovators in linking Gaelic to the economy, Sir Iain Noble, one of the founders of the first Scottish merchant bank.  In the 1970s, his vision was to regenerate Gaelic through a thriving economy.  He put this into practice by establishing businesses which employed Gaelic speakers.  His legacy includes Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the world-leading National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture.

As we move forward to creating the next national plan for Gaelic, the messages are stronger and clearer than ever – the language and the economy benefit each other.

This article is sponsored by Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

Read the most recent article written by Shona MacLennan - Associate Feature: Benefiting from flexibility and diversity

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