It is a great pleasure to visit Sabhal Mor Ostaig which, as Patron, I recognize not only as a centre of excellence for the Gaelic language, but also as a symbol of what can be achieved through the vision, commitment and absolute determination of individuals who care enough to turn dreams into realities.
Scotland at present faces many new responsibilities as well as great opportunities. There are few responsibilities more absolute than those which flow from custodianship of a language and culture; especially when these exist to such an extent in only one country. If Gaelic dies in Scotland, it dies in the world. If it flourishes in Scotland, then it sends out a message of inspiration and optimism to others who face similar challenges and adversities. Therein lie both the challenge and the opportunity.
We keep hearing about the “global village” which we inhabit and which is subject to enormous pressures of cultural uniformity. Yet we all know that every aspect of our environment and identity is also enriched by true diversity. A balance between these two forces is difficult to achieve. In the case of language and culture, a constant, conscious effort is required if numerical weakness is not to be translated into continuing marginalization. Sabhal Mor Ostaig offers spectacular reaffirmation of that effort in the context of Scottish Gaelic.
It is a welcome reality that we do not have to look far for a message of hope and encouragement to inspire confidence in Gaelic’s future. Within these islands, the Welsh language has resisted the process of decline and the number of speakers increased, according to the last Census, for the first time since records began. If the appropriate climate exists, then great results can be achieved. In my view, the Scottish identity as a whole is immeasurably enriched by its Gaelic dimension.
You cannot, or certainly should not, separate the spoken language from the culture which surrounds it. The beauty of Gaelic music and song is inescapable. But without the living language, it risks becoming an empty shell. That is why an education system, up to the level represented by the college here in Skye, is so important – to ensure fluency and literacy which will continue to renew the health and creativity of the language.
For those who wish to communicate through a minority language like Gaelic it must at times feel like an uphill task to maintain a spoken language to which there has sometimes been indifference and even hostility.
Against that background, the miracle is not that Gaelic is weak, but that it has survived at all – into an age when, I hope, enlightenment is the dominant theme. Sabhal Mor Ostaig offers a powerful statement of what can be achieved for Gaelic and of what Gaelic can offer to our society as a whole. In achieving even greater recognition for the language and for encouraging its development throughout Scotland and beyond I can only offer my heartfelt best wishes.