Kate Forbes MSP has called for the Scottish Conservatives to issue an apology after their party’s Education Spokeswoman claimed that teaching pupils through Gaelic Medium Education (GME) is harmful.
In response to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) plans to make GME, rather than English, the default choice for all new primary one pupils, Liz Smith MSP described it as “a deeply troubling step” and “one that could put children… at a distinct disadvantage to their peers”.
Ms Forbes, who made history in 2018 by becoming the first female MSP to give a plenary speech entirely in Gaelic in the current Holyrood chamber, condemned the remarks.
The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, whose primary and secondary schooling was through Gaelic Medium Education, said: “I am a product of Gaelic Medium Education and so I’m personally offended by the suggestion that it has put me at a distinct disadvantage. On the contrary, I went to University, trained as a Chartered Account and now serve in the Scottish Government. My peers from school do various different jobs, and our lives and careers have been enhanced by Gaelic Medium.
“By this logic, does education in every other language under the sun put children at a disadvantage to English Medium Education? Better tell the French, Spanish and Italian that – amongst many others.
“These remarks aren’t just ignorant, they are damaging. How far the Scottish Tories have fallen since the 1980s when it was under a Tory Government that Gaelic Medium Education first emerged. Sometimes the Tories think they are attacking the SNP by attacking Gaelic – that is nonsense. Gaelic speakers are citizens and voters like any other.
“There is still a stigma attached to Gaelic and the language is fragile. Either it dies out, thanks to baseless attacks like this and a lack of support, or it lives to see another generation. I’d like to see the Tories distance themselves from these remarks and, at the very least, apologise to Gaelic speakers who’ve done nothing to deserve this latest, groundless attack.”
Parents who want to opt out of the new Western Isles system can still have their children taught in English from P1.