IT’S a terrible shame that children in Glasgow will be prevented from entering Gaelic-medium education after the summer because there’s no room for them in the two Gaelic schools in the city. For we need every child we can get if the language is to grow and survive.

Gaelic-medium schools have been important: they have given native speakers an historic opportunity to be taught through their own language, and have given thousands of learners not just the chance to acquire Gaelic, but to access the cultural treasures that are connected to the language. Who would deny a child the chance to learn “Hò bhàn ‘s na hò bhàn hò” before going on to read the genius that was Somhairle MacGill-Eain in the original, as well as singing all the Dotaman songs with full aesthetic appreciation?

Oddly enough, Gaelic-medium education is quite a modern phenomenon. Or maybe not oddly enough, for what else should we have expected from an education system established at the height of the British Empire except monolingualism: to teach all natives, from Lahore to Lochboisdale, the Queen’s Beurla. No wonder we all became British subjects. Or was it objects?

I know people who were punished for speaking their native language in school. The most moving account of this abuse is given in Alexander Carmichael’s majestic collection, Carmina Gadelica. Writing in Edinburgh on St Michael’s Day 1899, Carmichael, a Gaelic-speaking scholar from the Isle of Lismore, tells of a young woman who told him:

“When we came to Islay, I was sent to the parish school to obtain a proper grounding in arithmetic. I was charmed with the schoolgirls and their Gaelic songs. But the schoolmaster – an alien like myself – denounced Gaelic speech and Gaelic songs. On getting out of school one evening the girls resumed a song they had been singing the previous evening. I joined willingly, if timidly, my knowledge of Gaelic being small. The schoolmaster heard us, however, and called us back. He punished us till the blood trickled from our fingers, although we were big girls, with the dawn of womanhood upon us.”

That single historic testimony should not only shame Scotland, but drive it to thoroughly repair the damage. For damage it has been: the Education Act of 1872 gave official permission to discriminate against Gaelic. It was then officially a second-class, peasant, backward-looking language not fit for the drawing rooms of power.

Good enough for a cèilidh at the hearth, or for dying in the Empire’s wars, but not fit for learning, or progress, or industry, or anything remotely modern. It was discarded as a sorry strand within the Scottish cringe, and generations grew internally colonised in classic fashion: ashamed of their own language and culture, and aspiring to become like the coloniser.

Gaelic-medium education and all the other cultural developments of the past 30 years or so have been a belated, and fragile, attempt at redressing the balance. Folk began to realise that languages don’t just die quietly in their bed from old age: they are suffocated along the way by the forces of history. By political, educational, cultural, economic, social and existential decisions. Externally and internally. It can be beaten out of you as with the young woman above, or educated out of you as with so many of my generation, or shamed out of you by your peer-group.

That whole process can be reversed: a nation can alter its ways. Despite all those trolls who regard Gaelic as an expensive weapon of mass destruction (rather than a weapon of mass instruction), seemingly forgetting the billions we spend annually on English-language services.

I rejoice in the multi-cultural varieties of modern Gaelic. Of course there was, once upon a time, a linguistic Eden (situated, strangely enough, in my childhood in South Uist) though my friend John Murdo claims that it was near Fionnsbhagh in the Bays area of Harris. Nowadays it is everywhere and nowhere, from Pollockshields to Paible. Dialects are merging; sometimes it’s difficult to make out whether someone is from Boisdale or Bearsden. Maybe it doesn’t matter: one is as legitimate as the other. Speaking Gaelic with a Lewis accent is as post-modern as speaking it with a London accent.

The sorry fact that there is no room at the Gaelic Inn in Glasgow for children wanting to enter should in itself be the catalyst for the Scottish Government to take properly-funded and resourced action on Gaelic. We cannot continue to raise expectations while not fully resourcing the means. Gaelic is more – so much more – than just rugby on BBC Alba. Without our own words we are silenced.