EVEN in these troubled times for the industry, there’s nothing like a newspaper front page to hammer a point home.

“Gaelic at risk of dying out in Scottish life by end of the decade: Study warns urgent action must be taken to preserve the day-to-day use of language,” read The Herald’s on Thursday last week.

It was based on sobering research by academics at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and Soillse, a multi-institutional research collaboration.

They warned Gaelic-speaking communities are unlikely to survive anywhere in Scotland beyond this decade unless urgent action is taken, with the social use and transmission of the language at the point of collapse in the remaining “vernacular” communities where it is still used day-to-day.

Gaelic is in the grip of an ongoing demographic crisis, they said, characterised by a “diminishing social density” of speakers and “a very low level of societal and familial transmission”. These are exacerbated by population decline.

Their comprehensive study is outlined in a new book, Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community.

Questionnaires completed by 16 to 18-year-olds on the Western Isles illustrate the problem.

While 18 per cent said both their parents are fluent in Gaelic, just 5.1% said they always or mainly speak the language at home.

And while a fifth reported fluency, a tiny number – 1.3% – said they always or mainly speak it to their friends.

These are stark figures. Some worry that talk of Gaelic’s imminent demise risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But facts are facts, and the facts are grim.

Similar patterns have played out in my own family. My mum is from Harris and grew up speaking a mixture of Gaelic and English – although it was the latter she spoke in school.

As children, my brother and I often suspected we were being talked about when she and my gran suddenly switched to Gaelic, particularly if we were causing a nuisance.

But I wasn’t born or brought up on the islands and don’t speak it, and nor do any of my cousins. The connection has been lost.

Of course, there have long been warnings about the future of Gaelic.

It’s also unfortunate that the latest alarm bell has sounded during a global pandemic when the attention of those in charge is focused elsewhere.

But among politicians there is now a cross-party determination to take action and a sense that time is fast running out.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, a fluent Gaelic speaker, has called for the language to be “normalised in all services concerning the Highlands and islands”.

Organisations need to recognise that tokenism doesn’t cut it, she said.

Former Labour MP Brian Wilson used a newspaper column to float the intriguing idea of a Minister for the Periphery in the Scottish Government to “breathe new life” into such communities.

Meanwhile, Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron, who represents the Highlands and islands, said a frank and honest debate is needed about what’s working and what’s not.

He wants to set up a summit involving all the key players – including grassroots groups – to be held in Skye or a similar area.

This wouldn’t be a talking shop or “hand-wringing” session, he says, but a forum for thrashing out a way forward.

“My own view is we really have to start concentrating on where Gaelic is spoken,” he explained. Gaelic regeneration goes hand-in-hand with economic regeneration.

This touches on an issue raised by the UHI researchers, who argue current policy in Scotland “displays a general bias in favour of Gaelic learners” at the expense of existing speakers and their communities.

This approach “disregards a troubling societal Gaelic present while promoting an imagined Gaelic future”.

Without viable Gaelic-speaking communities, they argue, learners will be left in a “linguistic and cultural vacuum”.

The researchers outline a new model for community-led revitalisation, with a Gaelic Community Trust, or Urras na Gàidhlig, at the heart of it.

There’s no doubt that reversing the decline of Gaelic will be an uphill battle requiring difficult conversations.

Radical, bold ideas will have to be implemented quickly during a period of unprecedented disruption caused by Covid-19.

But the facts have been laid out, and there is a consensus in Holyrood. The political will is there.

A quick glance at social media also shows campaigners and communities are brimming with their own ideas.

If this doesn't start a reversal in Gaelic’s fortunes, then what will?

The value of any language is incalculable. But however you measure it, allowing Gaelic to fade away would be a massive, irreversible loss to Scotland.