A LEADING scholar has attacked Scottish Labour for having an “anti-Gaelic agenda” after a councillor posted a message online criticising branding in the language on a new government logo.

At a time when the party is mired in claims of anti-semitism, Wilson McLeod, Professor of Gaelic at Edinburgh University, said Labour is on a “negative trajectory” when it comes to minority languages.

The Professor’s Tweets ignited a firestorm of debate, with social media users suggesting it “might just be another manifestation of the wider problem” of intolerance in the party.

READ MORE: First anti-Semitism, now Labour faces a row over anti-Gaelic voices

He said: “The anti-Gaelic agenda of some Labour party politicians and activists in Scotland appears to be becoming steadily more prominent.

“This is a very unfortunate and unwelcome development.”


His remark was in response to a Tweet from Labour councillor for Annandale North, Adam Wilson, who put an image on his feed of the new Social Security Scotland logo, which in its original form has its Gaelic translation underneath - Tearainteachd Shoisealta Alba. But in Councillor Wilson’s post, he removed the Gaelic and said: “This looks much better.”

Replies included mention of Labour introducing the Gaelic Language Act in 2005, with Roddy MacDonald saying: “The whole point is that increased visibility of the language will encourage more learners. Even the Scottish Labour Party could understand that in 2005. Talk about a brain drain!”

READ MORE: Annexe plan will allow more pupils to have Gaelic medium education

But Councillor Wilson added: “Maybe it’s just that some of us came into politics to tackle poverty, fight for education and challenge injustice. I fail to see how Gaelic language initiatives implemented by any party achieve any of this.

“Only 0.7 per cent of people in Dumfries and Galloway know any Gaelic, that figure includes those who know only a basic level.

“My tweet was not naivety or immaturity.”

Professor McLeod said last night: "It's a long-running thing that's getting more prominent about an idea that Gaelic is not a real priority. It's not part of a Labour agenda about promoting social justice and it's depressing to see that."

Referring to Councillor Wilson's Tweet, he said: "The idea of the 2005 Act was that we were going to see Gaelic given a higher profile but now, Labour seem critical of a bilingual logo.

"This is a new thing - to see a symbolic rejection of Gaelic.

"I don't see this as trolling on Twitter which is different altogether - I see this as a structured disregard for Gaelic and I find that worrisome."


Labour supporter Mary Galbraith, who has previously stood for election for the party, said: “Gaelic has friends and foes in all parties.”

She added: “I see more people - from many sides - prepared to use Gaelic as a weapon. Which is tragic. None of us who really cares for the health and vitality of Gàidhlig should tolerate that state of affairs.”

As debate raged on the social media platform, Criostoir Piondargas waded in.

He said: “There’s a very worrying trend of late of Labour supporters showing signs of intolerance to certain minority groups. This might be just another manifestation of the wider problem…sadly I think there’s many within the Labour party that forget this, and some you are going down a very dark path. Anti-Gaelic sentiment doesn’t attract as many headlines as anti-Semitism but neither are befitting of the Labour Party.”

READ MORE: £500,000 funding boost for Gaelic media firm behind BBC Alba

Last August, labour councillor for Edinburgh’s Colinton/Fairmilehead area, Scott Arthur, questioned whether expanding Gaelic medium education was a priority when tackling the attainment gap in the Capital’s schools.

Pavel Iosad, lecturer at the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences at Edinburgh University, said yesterday: “Labour did put through the Gaelic Language Act, but it’s not a very strong act. At the moment, I haven’t seen Labour being pro-active about Gaelic.”

READ MORE: First anti-Semitism, now Labour faces a row over anti-Gaelic voices

A spokesman for Scottish Labour said last night: “Labour has a proud track record of promoting Gaelic in government, including the 2005  Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act. We robustly reject any suggestions otherwise.”

Analysis from David Leask: First anti-Semitism, now Labour faces a row over anti-Gaelic voices

This April Fool’s Day a young man took exception to a boring new bilingual logo for a Scottish Government quango.

Adam Wilson did not like that national social security agency’s signage was in both English and Gaelic. So he chopped off the Celtic words and tweeted what was now a monolingual logo, saying: “This looks much better.” He later said he was joking. Scotland’s Gaels did not get the gag.


Tweet captured by the Twitter account @gaelicbingo

There is nothing unusual about anti-Gaelic bigotry in Scotland’s polarised political cyberspace. Twitter and Facebook, after all, are brimming with angry British nationalists who see the language as a proxy for Scottish independence and a whole bucket of other prejudices.

But Mr Wilson is not a loyalist with a Union Jack avatar. He’s a 22-year-old Labour councillor from Dumfriesshire who, judging from his Twitter feed, genuinely believes in social justice. And it is this passion, he says, which has prompted him to question policies his own party introduced to support a minority: Gaelic speakers.

“Some of us came into politics to tackle poverty, fight for education and challenge injustice,” Mr Wilson tweeted on Easter Sunday. “I fail to see how Gaelic language initiatives implemented by any party achieve any of this.”

Mr Wilson was at primary school in 2005 when Labour and its coalition partners in the Liberal Democrats passed the current Gaelic laws, including those which pave the way for the cost-free inclusion of Gaelic in some signage or on government logos.


Twelve years ago Labour’s logic was to include Gaelic because Gaels were a minority Now it has members whose logic is to exclude Gaelic because Gaels are a minority. That is quite a turnaround. How did it come about?

My guess is through social media. Labour is already wrestling with a row over pernicious anti-Semitism. New sentiment opposing spending on Gaels probably has the same online genesis as anti-Jewish prejudice.

Labour activists, after all, are as likely as anyone else to become radicalised online. Some will have been exposed to the gradual normalisation of anti-Semitic memes - even crude ones showing the “Jewish Masonic Conspiracy”, such as the mural Jeremy Corbyn now famously failed to register as grossly offensive.

Others, in the heat of the independence referendum, will have clashed with aggressive Yes supporters who put “Saor Alba” on their Twitter profiles even though they have no idea how to pronounce the old “Free Scotland” slogan in Gaelic. Some Labour unionists will have found themselves making common cause online with stauncher British loyalists with stronger, more visceral dislike of Gaelic.

Such ultra-unionist voices, some clearly influenced by the political language wars of Northern Ireland, rarely stop to think that the Gaels they insult might well have voted No back in 2014.

Is Labour now ridden with such attitudes? Probably not. The party is full of champions of Gaels and other minorities. But the time might have come for it defend its own record on Gaelic, which trumps that of the SNP.