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The National Library’s “100 Years of Broadcasting” Festival brings Gaelic and Scots speakers together to learn from each other’s struggles for better media representation.

From left: Hugh McLennan, Mary Ann Kennedy, Lana Pheutan, and Alistair Heather during the discussion on the history of Gaelic and Scots in broadcasting history. (Photo: Vincent Tan)

The National Library of Scotland’s lecture theatre at Kelvinhall, Glasgow, was abuzz as attendees greeted and conversed with each other in Gaelic and English.

They had gathered there as part of the National Library’s Festival of Broadcasting event “Broadcast Conversations: Gàidhlig and Scots On Air," which examined the history of Gaelic and Scots in Scotland’s broadcasting history.

The panel, hosted by writer and journalist Alistair Heather, featured broadcaster and sports commentator Hugh Dan MacLennan, actress and director Lana Pheutan, and musician and broadcaster Mary Ann Kennedy.

The discussion, peppered with archive film clips or sports commentary in Gaelic and Scots, centred on early efforts to unite and form a solid Gaelic bloc to lobby for the language’s inclusion in public broadcasting.

Additionally, one segment of the discussion also centred on how Scots speakers could lobby for similar representation in broadcasting without detracting from Gaelic representation as well.

Speaking to Breakthrough Press after the discussion, Ms. Kennedy explained that although Gaelic was now spoken on broadcast media, its history of suppression over several centuries meant the language was still in a parlous position.

Noting things such as Police Scotland’s “Poileas” on police cars and the bilingual station names, Ms. Kennedy said such issues mattered as part of Scotland’s national and cultural fabric.

For Mr. Heather, himself a Scots speaker, the discussion was useful as Scots began to have a better cultural understanding of themselves and discovered how Gaelic, Scots and English speakers could fit and work together in a multilingual and multicultural Scotland.

“English has been prioritised over both languages (Scots and Gaelic), but Gaelic got organised faster than Scots.”

“So they got much more politically active, and they got themselves great broadcasting. We haven’t achieved that yet in Scots,” Mr. Heather added; hence, discussions such as the one on Wednesday night were instructive in learning from Gaelic speakers how they had achieved so much in media representation.

The discussion was peppered with clips of Gaelic and Scots-language films from the National Library of Scotland’s archives. (Photo: Vincent Tan)

Tommy Clarke, who travelled from Hamilton to join the audience, also expressed his interest in learning how Gaelic speakers had united to form a solid lobby.

By contrast, he said, Scots speakers were proud of their local tongues, pointing to the different Scots dialects, from Glaswegian Patter to Doric to Teri Talk in the Borders.

“That’s fine, that’s great, but it does mean that if you’re trying to create a lobby, then you’re dealing with lots of tiny, disparate groups rather than one big group that’s pushing for something national,” Mr Clarke said.

By contrast, Mr. Heather pointed out that although older Gaelic speakers were initially uncomfortable hearing different accents, younger Gaelic speakers had “simply gotten over it”.

For Ms. Kennedy, though, the evening’s discussion had been fruitful in terms of optimism and healthy discussion.

“Even though we’re looking back over a hundred years, what the National Library has in its archive of Gaelic and Scots broadcasting is such a treasure trove to let us understand where we came from and who we are today, and that is the potential to move forward and look positively at the future,” she said.


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