Under existing and extremely challenging circumstances, Gaelic public bodies will soon outlive Gaelic communities. This outcome, despite over a generation of official Gaelic promotion, is analysed in our recently published Scottish Affairs article on ‘Moving beyond Asocial Minority-Language Policy’, co-authored with Iain Caimbeul.

The inadequate strategic response to the Gaelic communities in crisis has its origins in four inter-related issues: the emphasis on the institutional status of Gaelic rather than on cultural and socio-economic development for Gaelic communities; the limitations of the 2005 Gaelic Act, as seen in the questionable relevance of poorly verified public authority Language Plans; the atomisation of Gaelic culture, whereby capable individuals benefit from the opportunities which the institutional promotion of Gaelic has provided; and the ideological acquiescence by key Gaelic power brokers in the sectoral provision of the Gaelic status quo.

In turn, a combination of these factors may also explain some of the ideological obfuscation about the level of societal crisis in the Gaelic group and the reluctance to consider alternative approaches to address the crisis.

The over-reliance in policy on sectoral planning to enhance the status of Gaelic in education, media, the arts and symbolic aspects of civic administration has been detrimental to social planning for Gaelic communities. This strategic imbalance has resulted in a policy dynamic of language promotion without language protection for the existing Gaelic group.

This is evidenced in the comparatively generous provision for the Gaelic media sector, in contrast with a negligible level of official support for targeted Gaelic community development.

From this perspective, the current civic dispensation has more relevance for individuals in English-speaking Scotland with a ‘third-person’ cultural interest in Gaelic than for those who were raised actually speaking the language in rooted Gaelic communities.

As Soillse’s Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community study has clearly demonstrated, the status quo is not a feasible option if the societal continuity of the Gaelic group is to be a credible aim of Gaelic policy.

Despite admirable levels of community and institutional consultation on the findings of the study, no new significant Gaelic strategies, which are demonstrably different from the thinking in which the Gaelic crisis emerged, have been initiated. Over ten months have passed since the publication of the evidence on the prognosis for vernacular Gaelic and a proposed prescription for its amelioration. If the new Scottish Government chooses to retain existing structures, despite manifesto commitments, it will be missing an opportunity to overhaul its approach to the Gaelic crisis and to live up to its democratic commitment to Scotland’s Gaelic vernacular communities.

The chief recommendation of the study, the establishment of a Gaelic Community Trust under the control of the vernacular communities in the islands, is the only plausible strategy suggested so far to arrest their decline.

The primary aim of the Trust is to give the Gaelic community a cooperative agency by which they can build capacity to address the societal challenges they face. By mutually reinforcing a Gaelic-speaking collective and giving a socio-cultural focal point for all supporters and learners of Gaelic, this community-led approach is much more likely to generate positive societal outcomes and to engender a more interesting and dynamic engagement with the social reality of Gaelic.

As languages can only live in a community of speakers, it is imperative that minority-language policy is primarily focused on actual communities.

Conchúr Ó Giollagáin is the Gaelic Research Professor in the University of the Highlands and Islands