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The Scottish War on Gaelic

Mathematician, theoretical physicist and software professional (15 years experience). Curious about everything and keen to share knowledge.

The English view of Scots mirrors  an ancient Scots view of the Gaels

The English view of Scots mirrors an ancient Scots view of the Gaels

Road signs that include Gaelic have the unexpected benefit of raising blood pressure in Scottish Tories. The Wee Ginger Dug claims this is because it shows Unionists that Gaelic is one of Scotland’s national Languages along with English and Scots, that Scotland has an identity and culture separate from that of England and that the desire for independence is not based on hatred of the English even though the Westminster “Government” does its best to stimulate such hatred. The history of suppression of Gaelic reveals a more complex story than a devious English plan to neutralise rebellious Scots.

The Tory hatred of Gaelic is not an English phenomenon but an expression of a cultural gap between Lowlands and Highlands. The Tory war on Gaelic continues Lowland Scotland’s war on the language and culture of the Highlands that started long before the Union of 1707. English first exterminated Lowland Gaelic, then the Scottish crown under James V1 stepped in to promote English, passing laws foreshadowing England’s 1705 Aliens Act. English became the language of ambitious Scots and Gaelic declined.

Fear of the Gaels

Gaelic entered Scotland from Ireland, gradually replacing Pictish throughout most of what is now Scotland. Later, English, or more accurately a collection of Middle English dialects, replaced Lowland Gaelic.

In 1380, John of Fordum described two languages spoken in Scotland: the Scots and the Teutonic. The Teutonic was spoken in the seaboard and the plains – that is the Lowlands. Scots was spoken in the Highlands and Islands. He described Lowlanders as domestic, civilised and devout and Highlanders as savage, untamed, rude and independent, ease-loving, clever and quick to learn, attractive in person, but not in dress and hostile to the English people and language. These Highlanders sound like much more fun than Lowlanders but harder to handle.

Fordum’s description includes the idea that the Scots hated the English, and this echoed earlier writings. Most of it was used to justify pacification of the highlands and the attempted destruction of Gaelic after 1745. Every Western empire, including the British, adopted this attitude to the peoples they conquered or exploited, from the 18th century Irish Navigators who built the English canal system to the 21st century Polish Plumber. This prejudice may be traceable to Jung’s Theory of Archetypes and the fear civilised and devout people have for their less restrained neighbours who had to be considered less than human: for example, in the 19th century the Reverend Thomas Kingsley called the Irish “White Chimpanzees” and in the USA efforts were made to prove the Irish (and the Jews and the Italians) were actually Black thus equating them to the slave population.

The Scottish crown doubtless lacked the money to build a wall across Scotland to keep the savage Highlanders out, shortage of funds being a universal and eternal royal problem, so other measures were taken.

Laws Against Gaelic

The 1609 Statutes of Icolmkill required the education of chiefs’ heirs in Lowland schools where they “may be found able sufficiently to speik, reid and wryte Englische".

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A 1616 act established parish schools teaching in English explicitly stating that the aim was to abolish “Irishche” as it was the cause of continuing barbarity in the Highlands. The act noted that living in the Highlands meant Highlanders could not reform their county so they should not be allowed to inherit property unless they could “write, read and speak Inglische”. An act of 1695 stated that in parishes where no Highland minister served schools should be set up "for rooting out the Irish language, and other pious uses".

Banning of Gaelic in schools meant English was seen as the only language for education, undermining the value of Gaelic to its speakers. The clearances also reduced the number of Gaelic speakers in the Highlands. In 1872 Scottish Education was centralised and standardised – without Gaelic, reflecting the fact that many educators considered Gaelic a mark of backwardness and a waste of time.

Gaelic was suppressed in schools, usually by corporal punishment and parents began to require their children speak English not Gaelic.

Ironically, there was a similar taboo against the Scots language and even in the late 20th century some parents and schools punished children for speaking Scots not English

In Conclusion

This brings us back to the current controversy Tory MSPs are trying to manufacture over the use of Gaelic on road signs. It is not an England vs Scotland conflict but a Lowland versus Highland clash over 600 years old. It was initially waged by Lowland Scots (James VI was a Lowlander) not English.

There are striking parallels between the Lowland perception of the Gaels as described by John Fordum and the attitude of many English to the Scots people, lumping together Lowlanders and Highlanders. Perhaps these can be exploited when pressing for independence.

It might be going too far to suggest that in the next Scottish Independence referendum the NO and YES voters will be separated geographically between Highland and Lowland Scotland – apart from Glasgow – but the centuries old cultural gap and Lowland fear of and contempt for the uncivilised Highlanders the Highlanders will be a potent, if subconscious, factor in swaying voters and this should be considered in canvassing for independence.

To preserve Scottish culture and further the independence cause, all three Scottish national languages must be respected. Scottish Tories respect only English. Not respecting all three is likely to harm the cause of independence.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2017 AlexK2009

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