SCOTLAND is experiencing a “mass movement” of parents who want their children to be educated in Gaelic, creating increasing demand for more specialist schools to be built.

Allan MacDonald, chair of Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the public body responsible for Gaelic, said there had been a “significant” boost in the number of families interested in Gaelic education in towns and cities.

He said the language was experiencing a “shift in emphasis” away from its heartlands and towards the Central Belt as populations continue to plummet in Scotland’s most rural areas.

He added: “The numbers are growing in the cities and the bigger towns all the time. And that contrasts quite significantly with the economic situation – not just in the Western Isles, but in other areas of the Highlands as well.”

It comes as a series of commitments aimed at boosting the strength of Gaelic were unveiled at a milestone meeting of public bodies chaired by Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

This includes plans to publish the first ever Gaelic tourism strategy this autumn to help bring visitors into contact with the language.

Officials also want to increase the number of school subjects which can be taught in Gaelic.

Mr MacDonald said the new plans represented a “major investment of time, energy and resources”.

He added: “It’s a recognition of the important of Gaelic language and culture to the tourism industry. In effect that’s also a recognition of the place of Gaelic in the economy of Scotland.”

He said recent figures indicating the population of the Western Isles could plummet by as much as 14 per cent in the next 20 years were a “reality check”, but new plans sought to reverse the tide and strengthen Gaelic-speaking rural communities.

Mr Swinney said the Scottish Government had set out a “clear mandate for the support of Gaelic”.

He added: “This meeting shows that there are a variety of activities being undertaken by a wide range of public bodies across Scotland in support of the language and it is important that we capitalise upon this to move the agenda forward.

“I am pleased that agreement has been made on these key commitments and I hope that we can all work together to develop further commitments in the coming months.”