I watched as twenty-three of our newly elected MSPs chose to take their oath or affirmation of allegiance in a language other than English; or to be precise, to do so using another language in addition to English.

Some people won’t care one way or the other; some will take the Jacob Rees-Mogg line that ‘foreign languages’ have no place in our national parliament, but for those of us who speak one of the minority languages which were heard (and seen, with BSL one of the languages being used) these gestures are important.

It’s not about how fluent an Arabic speaker Anas Sarwar is, or if Rachael Hamilton can hold a conversation in Welsh, it’s about recognising that, for many Scots, English is not their first or only language. It’s recognising that Doric, Scots, Gaelic and Orcadian, indigenous languages which have for so long been looked down on as second-class, as markers of an educational deficit, are fit for purpose and deserve their place in our parliament. It’s telling speakers of Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic, Shona, German, Welsh and Canadian French that they are valued members of our society and it’s telling users of British Sign Language that they, too are recognised, visible and acknowledged.

Looking in particular at the indigenous languages of Scotland, elected representatives using them in parliament, even in this small way, is important for those of us who speak one of them as our first language. It provides a counter-narrative to the idea that these languages, and by extension their speakers, are somehow deficient. Gaelic and Scots did not become minority languages because their speakers fancied a change.

It’s not that English is an inherently superior language, it’s that English became the only means by which people could access an education. The 1872 Education (Scotland) Act provided education for all the children of Scotland, but provided it only in English. Between 1872 and 1905, Gaelic wasn’t even taught as a subject in areas where it was the first language of the majority of the population. Instead of being taught to read and write in their mother tongue, children were physically punished for speaking it. Parents were told that persisting in speaking Gaelic or Scots to their children was preventing them from becoming fluent in English, and thereby hampering their education.

This isn’t in the dim and distant past, it was happening less than a century ago. Even now, although the SQA has a Scots language award, there is no National 5 or Higher available. These things are important for the status of a language. Gaelic is in a stronger position in this regard, with Gaelic-medium education available from pre-school to postgraduate study, but only in a minority of schools and universities, my own institution being one of them. This is why it is significant that six of the MSPs representing the Highlands and Islands (and also one Highlander representing a Lowland constituency) chose to include Gaelic when being sworn in. They said a lot more by doing that than the few words needed for the oath or affirmation.

What was particularly heartening, looking at the list of MSPs who chose to use languages other than English in Holyrood yesterday was that they came from a variety of political stances. Representatives of the Scottish Greens, Scottish Labour, Scottish Conservatives and the Scottish National Party all stood and raised their right hand and affirmed that a language other than English was valid. ‘S math a rinn iad uile.

Dr Anne Frater is a senior lecturer in the Gaelic Section of the University of Highlands and Islands, and is the programme leader of BAH Gaelic Scotland.