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The son of the chief of Clan Cameron has reiterated his long-standing support for the provision of Gaelic Medium Education (GME) in the wake of a bitter row ignited by comments from one of his fellow Tory MSPs at Holyrood.
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Donald Cameron issued a statement today last Friday in support of GME after comments by Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith triggered uproar.
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes and SNP colleague Alasdair Allan, who represents the Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituency in the Western isles, have now both demanded an apology after Ms Smith claimed teaching pupils through GME was ‘worrying’ and could put them at a disadvantage following a decision by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar that all children starting school this summer will be taught in Gaelic, unless their parents opt out.
Mr Cameron, son of Donald Cameron of Lochiel, the 27th chief of Clan Cameron, of Achnacarry in Lochaber, said: ‘I support the decision of the comhairle to change the default position to Gaelic at P1, not least because parents can still opt out and choose English medium education for their children.
‘Ultimately, this is a matter for the local authority taking into account the specific, indeed unique, circumstances in the Western Isles.
‘Bilingualism is plainly beneficial. We are all aware of the mistakes of the last century, where one language was promoted at the total exclusion of the other. In terms of this policy, I am confident council officials will ensure parents who do opt out are not marginalised.
‘It’s also important the policy is deliverable across the Western Isles in light of the challenges we face in recruiting GME teachers on a national level.
‘The Scottish Conservatives have supported Gaelic for more than 40 years in government at UK level and, latterly, in the Scottish Parliament where MSPs including Liz Smith, myself and others regularly promote the language.
‘As vice convenor of the cross-party group on Gaelic, I’ve frequently argued for the need to depoliticise the language, given the ongoing threat to the existence of Gaelic.’
Posting a comment about the row on his Twitter feed, Mr Cameron quoted a Gaelic motto from Clan Cameron, ‘Aonaibh Ri Chéile’, which translates as ‘Let us unite’.
Asked if Mr Cameron agreed Ms Smith or the Tories should apologise for Ms Smith’s remarks, Mr Cameron’s office said: ‘Donald feels his views are fully expressed in his statement.’
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, welcomed Mr Cameron’s comments: ‘This is a very welcome statement from Donald Cameron who has been unfailingly supportive of Gaelic for years.
‘There are many Conservative-voting Gaelic speakers and I am sure they will be encouraged by this position.’
On Ms Smith’s comments, Ms Forbes, whose primary and secondary schooling was through GME, said she had been offended by the suggestion it had put her at a disadvantage.
‘These remarks aren’t just ignorant, they are damaging. Gaelic speakers are citizens and voters like any other,’ she added.
‘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.’
Mr Allan was equally scathing: ‘The level of ignorance on display in Liz Smith’s comments is staggering.
‘Children educated in Gaelic, far from being ‘disadvantaged,’ come out of school bilingual and evidence points to them having higher attainment in all areas, including English.
“The Western Isles is the last place in Scotland where the majority of the population still speak the language. They do so despite ignorant remarks directed at Gaelic speakers down the ages.
‘I would ask Ms Smith to withdraw and apologise for these highly offensive remarks which show a total lack of understanding of what Gaelic medium education is.’