Scottish Labour has set out plans to move away from the “tokenistic” attitude to Gaelic as the party puts the Highlands economy central to its plans to bolster the language.

Anas Sarwar’s party has pledged to bring forward a new strategy to protecting the Gaelic language – with a published strategy attempting to place Labour as a government in waiting.

The proposals include cracking down on the spread of short-term lets and second homes in the Highlands and islands that have been blamed for causing housing problems in Gaelic communities.

The party claims this is a significant change of direction in how the issue is approached and has stressed its plans are a rejection of the SNP’s “tokenistic” attitude to the Gaelic language, which Labour believes has overlooked crucial social and economic factors.

Labour has insisted that the approach by the Scottish Government has created an existential threat to the language, which has been stuck in a spiral of decline for decades.

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Scottish Labour is adamant that protecting the Gaelic language means supporting Gaelic-speaking communities, particularly in the Highlands and islands, which the party claims have been badly failed under SNP rule.

Scottish Labour’s blueprint focuses on providing good homes for rural communities, building a resilient, reliable ferry network, delivering skilled workforces and supporting small businesses, ensuring there is a just transition to net zero which delivers community energy benefits and promoting Gaelic within Scotland’s creative industries.

In order to “ensure that good quality housing is available for the those who wish to live and work within our rural Gaelic communities”, Labour has committed to “exempting short-term lets from the non-domestic rates relief scheme and creating a 100% council tax surcharge on second homes”.

The party has also vowed to “support the return of empty homes to the housing market through a council tax escalator”.

It has also touted a “£1 homes scheme with powers for the council to repurpose empty residences and sell them for just £1 to people who are committed to living locally”.

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Turning to the ferries crisis, Labour said it would draw up “a proper ferry procurement and construction plan which standardises the build specifications, forecasts ahead for the work needed to replace CalMac ageing fleet and brings new orders and opportunities to Scotland’s shipbuilding industry”.

The party has also pointed to a “new governance to replace the failed CMAL model and improve transparency”.

The party has said addressing these wider challenges is crucial to ensuring that Gaelic can “survive and thrive”.

Scottish Labour finance spokesperson, Michael Marra, said “After years of decline as a living language, we face the risk of losing the daily use of Gaelic within its heartlands, and the SNP’s tokenistic approach has done nothing to turn the tide.

“On everything from transport to jobs to housing, the SNP has let down Gaelic-speaking communities and threatened the very survival of the language.

“You cannot claim to support the Gaelic language while abandoning the communities in which it is used and passed down through generations.

Read more: Homes for Gaelic speakers and a Google office in South Uist... what will it take to revive Gaelic in Scotland?

“Without a stronger economy and increased opportunity the current population decline will continue apace. Without people there will be no language.

“We all have a responsibility to protect this crucial part of our culture and history.

“Scottish Labour will end the failing status quo and put economic prosperity front and centre in our plans to ensure Gaelic can survive and thrive.”

The Scottish Government will bring forward the Languages Bill at Holyrood to legally recognise Gaelic and Scots and to protect minority languages within communities after being a commitment in the SNP’s 2021 Scottish Parliament manifesto.

The legislation was included in Humza Yousaf’s first Programme for Government at Holyrood, but wasn’t mentioned in his speech.