“Do members ever speak in Gaelic in Parliament and how do you report it when they do?” is a question our readers often ask, I imagine. They do, and you can see in the Official Report of Wednesday’s members’ business debate on BBC Alba how Gaelic appears in the OR.
Alasdair Allan, Ruth Maguire, Angus MacDonald and Rhoda Grant spoke to the motion in Gaelic in whole or in part, and their speeches were interpreted into English at the time for the non-Gaelic speakers in the chamber. The OR carried both the Gaelic original and the English interpretation. A point to note is that what appears in the OR is not a translation of the Gaelic but a transcript of what was heard by members at the time; any mistake or omission in the interpretation would be left uncorrected.
Although the OR includes the text of any Gaelic that is spoken, it doesn’t contain a Gaelic translation of speeches that were made in English. However, last week, for the first time, a Gaelic translation of an entire debate was published: the debate on the “Gaelic National Language Plan 2018-2023” that took place on April 24. This is the OR and this is the Gaelic language version.
You may have noticed that, in both examples discussed above, the debate not only included speeches in Gaelic but was itself about Gaelic. Alasdair Allan has certainly spotted that pattern, and he finished his speech on Wednesday by giving notice of his intention to change it and to make speeches in Gaelic about any subject he chooses:
“Dìreach mar a tha cuilean son na beatha agus chan ann dìreach son na Nollaig, chan eil a’ Ghàidhlig ann dìreach son a bhith a’ bruidhinn mu dheidhinn na Gàidhlig. Tha BBC Alba a’ tuigsinn sin. Anns an spioraid sin, tha mi cìnnteach gum bi mi fhèin a’ cleachdadh na Gàidhlig anns a’ Phàrlamaid, chan ann dìreach airson a bhith a’ bruidhinn mun Ghàidhlig mar a tha mi an-dràsta, ach bidh sibh gam chluinntinn bho àm gu àm a’ faighneachd cèist mu sheirbhisean slàinte no mu Bhrexit anns a’ Ghàidhlig cuideachd.”
“Language, like a puppy, is for life and not just for Christmas. Gaelic is not just there to be talked about in Gaelic—BBC Alba understands that. In that vein, I will certainly be using Gaelic from time to time in Parliament and not just in order to talk about Gaelic as I am doing now. Members will hear me asking questions, perhaps about health services or Brexit, in Gaelic.”
It is fitting then that this week the Presiding Officer, in his foreword to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body’s new “Gaelic Language Plan”, outlined that one of the plan’s priorities is “supporting our MSPs and staff in developing confidence and enabling them to use Gaelic in their work.” Given that Michael Russell, who has previously given a speech in Gaelic in Parliament, is now the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, Alasdair Allan might even get the answer to his questions on Brexit in Gaelic.