GAELIC campaigners have accused the SNP Government of "sidelining" the crisis facing the language as they called for urgent talks over its future.

In an open letter, new campaign group Guth nan Siarach said speakers are "effectively excluded from the decision-making processes for our native language in its own place". 

It comes after experts warned Gaelic policy will soon outlive Gaelic communities in Scotland.

Last year, a major study led by the University of the Highlands and Islands found Gaelic-speaking communities are unlikely to survive anywhere in Scotland beyond this decade unless urgent action is taken. 

Researchers found the social use and transmission of Gaelic is at the point of collapse in the remaining “vernacular” communities where it is still in regular, day-to-day use.

Guth nan Siarach, which is composed of Gaelic speakers in the Western Isles and elsewhere, has now published an open letter to new Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville, who has responsibility for the language. 

It backs proposals for a community trust to support Gaelic speakers in the islands, and accused the Government of failing to engage with the proposal.

The group criticised "undefined" plans in the SNP's election manifesto to explore the creation of a recognised Gaelic-speaking area, or "Gàidhealtachd".

In their open letter, they said: "Clearly, this response sidelined our crisis in a very high-handed way, and has only added to the alienation already felt by many islanders with regard to our native Gaelic more than any other aspect of our already challenging lives.

"Furthermore, Gàidhealtachd status, if it is ever to happen and indeed whatever it means, will take many years to establish and as we know from Ireland the success of such a status with its related infrastructure is variable, often disproportionately costly, largely symbolic, and generally benefits its incumbent state officials more than those they serve. 

"While establishing another expensive mechanism on this scale may serve to secure tenure for any number of socio-linguists and public servants it is not likely to serve our needs. 

"It is critical to us that any officially backed re-organisation of Gaelic be focused on our communities and the challenges we face, as well as on the quite separate progression of Gaelic as a national language."

The campaigners said the Outer Hebrides are "still in the unique position of having a rooted and self-sustaining Gàidhealtachd" despite centuries of "cultural and linguistic oppression".

They added: "While Scotland, its academic institutions and its tourism sector benefit enormously by association with our linguistic cultural group in our Islands setting, we are effectively excluded from the decision-making processes for our native language in its own place."

The group urged Ms Somerville to revisit the concept of a community trust "as a matter of urgency" and to enter into further talks with locals to discuss last year's study.

It said: "We ask that you support us in our endeavour to save our mother tongue by agreeing in principle to a discussion with us, as a cultural and linguistic group, of the value of establishing a community trust for vernacular speakers of Gaelic in the Western Isles, in whatever form we deem suited to our needs."

The open letter has so far attracted more than 500 signatures. 

A spokeswoman for Bòrd na Gàidhlig, Scotland's Gaelic quango, said it has "participated in a number of conversations held by [the] Scottish Government with representatives from the traditional Gaelic communities and have also held meetings ourselves with a range of groups and individuals".  

She added: "We continue these dialogues with our series of open meetings next month, the first of which is for the island and rural communities.  

"Earlier this year we were delighted to announce a number of initiatives which are focused particularly on providing additional resources for these communities, building on existing structures and putting more building blocks in place.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are working closely with a range of groups to ensure the views of Gaelic communities are heard. 

"Recent announcements by Bòrd na Gàidhlig , including Gaelic development officer appointments, a fund to support Gaelic projects in community trusts and a network to support Gaelic development officers, are building on this work to help deliver a sustainable future for the language.

“We, along with Bòrd na Gàidhlig, have already met with the community [group] to discuss their concerns and remain open to continuing these discussions.”