AS Gaelic-speaking students from Edinburgh, Dingwall and Stornoway battled for honours in the BT Scotland National Gaelic Schools Debate at Holyrood this week, they demonstrated the worth of every penny spent on Gaelic, whether in education, broadcasting or extra-curricular activities.

The students, mainly learners, who'd survived the preliminary heats to make the semi-finals and finals in the Scottish Parliament made their audiences laugh, sigh and pay attention. They were entertaining from beginning to end and, according to Calum Iain MacLeod, chairman of the National Schools Debate Organising Committee, the standard was so consistently high any of the four semi-finalists could have reached the final. It is to be hoped it will not be too long before these same students bring their oratory to the fore in public and political life, sadly lacking many diverting orators.

BT has sponsored the Gaelic Schools Debate for 15 years but, despite the competition's unqualified success, it has decided to divert its sponsorship money elsewhere next year. Year after year, the standard of Gaelic and Gaelic debate has improved and, as the future of Gaelic remains precarious, it would be sad to think such a worthwhile and prestigious event would hit the buffers for lack of a small investment.

Scottish businesses and Scottish politicians should take note. The survival of Gaelic should be a priority for all those interested in the enrichment of Scottish cultural and economic life. Interestingly, the debate attracted entries from schools as far afield as Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Dunoon as well as Ardnamurchan, Lochaber, Skye and the Western Isles.

Demand for Gaelic medium education is growing and, according to Professor Boyd Robertson, the principal of Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic College and National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture on Skye, the standard of Gaelic has increased considerably over the past 10 to 15 years. He puts this down to greater exposure to the language in schools and on television.

As students leave school, they are turning in ever increasing numbers to study Gaelic at further education and university. This year, more than 400 students are studying at Sabhal Mor Ostaig.

Earlier this month, a report for Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) showed how Gaelic is used to deliver economic and social benefits to businesses, social enterprises and communities, and how its impact can be maximised. The report should be compulsory reading for the many naysayers in positions of influence. Almost 70 per cent of the businesses consulted, mostly in the Western Isles, the Highlands, Greater Glasgow, Edinburgh and Argyll and Bute, said Gaelic was an asset, and the impact on turnover attributed to their use of Gaelic was worth £5.6 million.

Calculating from the research (and here First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the new leader of Scottish Labour and every other Scottish politician in Holyrood or Westminster should take note), the potential economic value of Gaelic to the wider Scottish economy could be between £81.6m and £148.5m a year. Rachael McCormack, HIE's director of Strengthening Communities, is convinced Gaelic has great potential to make a positive and measurable contribution throughout Scotland that can be used as an asset in a range of fields, particularly the sectors of creative industries, food and drink, education and learning, heritage and tourism.

More than 30 years ago, progressive Gaelic-speaking community leaders on the west of Ireland warned that Gaelic would not survive unless jobs and opportunities could support the Gaelic-speaking communities. This is why HIE's report is so welcome. If business and opinion formers increasingly understand the economic benefits of Gaelic they might be more inclined to support investment in the language. If the school pupils in Gaelic medium education know Gaelic will help them secure apprenticeships or ease their passage into further and higher education, they will be more inclined to stick with it. If Gaelic is good for business, business should be good to Gaelic. It should be queuing up to make sure of its survival.