Inverness councillor Jim Crawford has criticised the government’s £4 million boost to teach more pupils Gaelic as a politically motivated move aimed at winning “yes” votes in next year’s independence referendum.
Alasdair Allan, Scottish minister for languages, and a Western Isles MSP, said the extra money would fund more places for Gaelic lessons across the country in the next two years.
Last month, the first dedicated Gaelic school in Edinburgh was officially opened – with 30 Gaelic speaking staff – making it the third in Scotland. There are now about 60 primaries with Gaelic medium units across the country and some secondary schools teach various courses through the medium of Gaelic.
However, Mr Crawford said such resources were misplaced: “If you want to have a future in Europe then there is no point in having Gaelic. That is only useful if you want a job in the Western Isles.
“At a time when Highland Council is trying to save money in its education budget, this amount of cash is outrageous. Kids who want to progress in the world should be learning the likes of Mandarin, German or Spanish.
“Spending this money is purely (first minister) Alex Salmond’s way of saying, ‘we want to make you all feel more Scottish and vote that way next September’. This is outrageous.”
But other councillors have welcomed the move as vital in order for the language to continue as an important part of Scottish culture.
Councillor Alex MacLeod, the SNP Gaelic spokesman, of Landward Caithness ward, said: “I very much welcome the additional support for Gaelic education. Hopefully we can see the lion’s share here in the Highlands, where Gaelic education is among our top priorities.”
Mr Allan added: “Attracting children to Gaelic is imperative to maintaining the language as a vital part of our culture. We have made it our goal to increase speaker numbers and preserve Gaelic as a vibrant part of our culture.”
The overall number of speakers had been in decline for some time, he added, reflecting the fact that traditional Gaelic speakers tended to be in older age groups. “That is why encouraging a new generation of Gaelic speakers is so important to the future of the language.”