News - Naidheachdan

Alasdair Allan MSP has commented on new research on the state of the Gaelic language in the Western Isles.

‘The Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Communities’, published last week, assesses language usage within the last remaining areas where Gaelic is spoken as a community language. The research reports that the use of Gaelic in the home and among young people in their social lives has almost halted, and calls for a review of public planning and policy to support the language.

Alasdair Allan MSP has written to John Swinney, the Minister for Gaelic, expressing his concerns about the language’s future in island communities.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“This new research presents a stark picture of Gaelic’s future in our communities and it is important that we take the time and energy to fully consider its analysis. The message of the report is challenging, and at times painful, for anyone who loves Gaelic.

“In the first instance I have written to John Swinney, the Minister with responsibility for Gaelic, highlighting some of the principal findings of the research. I have also asked the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee to consider taking evidence on the subject.

“Good progress has been made in supporting the language within society, not least with the growth of Gaelic-medium education. But the research is clear, education alone will not sustain Gaelic as a community language. There need to be accompanying initiatives to promote the language at a family and community level too. 

“Going forward, we must make every effort to engage all sides of the debate to move to solve this crisis collectively. The Gaelic language, and the culture and identity which it underpins are of irreplaceable importance to the Western Isles and Scotland more widely. We cannot afford to fail our last remaining Gaelic-speaking communities.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan earlier today met virtually with Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP to discuss ferry services to the Western Isles.

Ferry travel to the Western Isles has been restricted since 22 March. Last week it was announced that CalMac will be moving from a winter-style timetable from 1 July to a ‘shoulder’ timetable over subsequent weeks, with an aim to match the expected return of tourism by July 15. Physical distancing measures will mean reduced capacity across the network and concerns have been raised over how that reduced capacity will be managed.

Alasdair Allan MSP said:

“Many jobs in the islands depend on tourism, so we all need to see the industry operating again here as soon as it is safe.

“At the same time however, people in the islands who have been in lockdown for four months have a legitimate concern to be sure that they can get a ferry ticket to see family members again, now that this is an accepted reason to use the ferry. This is an issue I have been raising this week with ministers.

“Today’s meeting with ferries minister Paul Wheelhouse was very useful and it became much clearer what the plans are for booking tickets going forward.

“While exact details are to be confirmed, at the end of this month, ferry tickets will only be booked out for either one or two weeks at a time. Which of these it is will be confirmed in the next couple of days. This will, I hope, prevent the ferry becoming booked out for weeks into the future, and will allow the situation to be reviewed regularly to ensure islanders are getting fair access to ferry services.

“20% of places on the ferry will be kept back so that they can be accessed on a “show and go” basis, which is most likely to of use to local residents.

“This is a changing picture, but with restrictions on ferry capacity being eased in coming weeks, I hope that we are now seeing a clearer picture of how the ferries will operate, and how a balance will be struck to ensure safety, maintain a lifeline service, and restart our local economy as soon as that is safe.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has welcomed the Scottish Government's announcement of extra financial help for students facing financial hardship over the summer months.

The Scottish Government has brought forward early access to £11.4 million of discretionary funds - which will be administered by colleges and universities - to support higher education students.

Students are, due to UK government rules, unable to claim Universal Credit or other benefits.

Scottish students studying in Europe as part of EU Portability or historically arranged schemes will also be able to access a £100,000 emergency fund administered by the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS).

Commenting, Alasdair Allan MSP said:

“Many students in the Western Isles will have expected to find paid work over the summer, often in our hospitality or tourism sectors, to cover their rent or save for the following term. Through no fault of their own, they are now unable to do so.

"This Scottish Government support will be welcome news for those students who rely on part-time jobs after coming home over the summer months, and who could find it difficult to cover their living costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"No student should face financial hardship as a result of this crisis - and these new measures will support students until the start of the next academic year when bursary, grant and loan payments will begin again."

Angus MacNeil MP and Alasdair Allan MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar have both laid motions, respectively, to the House of Commons and Scottish Parliament this week to remember the 80th anniversary on June 12th 1940 of the capture of 10,000 men of the 51st Highland Division taken prisoner near St Valery en Caux, 6 days after the Dunkirk evacuations. The 51st Highland Division were attached to French defence forces, facing the onslaught of the invading Germans.

Commenting Angus MacNeil said:

“It is important that we remember those who tragically lost their lives when they were forced to surrender, after they had been left behind following Dunkirk, as they were fighting with the French at the time in defending the retreat from the Somme. Later, in 1941, 134 of the 219 returned escapees to Britain were from the 51st Highland Division, of this three men were Ballachullish who used Gaelic to confuse the Germans to convince them that they were from a part of the Soviet Union.

“The bravery and heroism of the soldiers is most notably captured in the memorial in St Valery en Caux “La a bhlair is math na cairdean” - “On the day of battle it is good to have friends/relations”.

"A gripping account of events at St Valery, capture and captivity is given in the book by Donald John MacDonald of South Uist "Fo Sgail a Swastika" (Under the Shadow of the Swastika) and I would recommend it for anyone interested in further reading about the 51st Highland Division.”

Commenting Alasdair Allan said:

“While the anniversary of the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk draws significant national attention, what happened to members of the British Expeditionary Force who were left behind in France is less well known.

“The soldiers of the 51st Highland Division, made up of men from the Western Isles, North and West Coast of Scotland, were charged with the task of recapturing a strategic position on the Somme after the rest of the Allied Forces had been evacuated. Under heavy bombardment, outflanked and greatly outnumbered by Rommel’s 7th Panzers, the 51st fought a retreat to the coastal town of St Valery where, when all hopes of evacuation faded, they were forced to surrender.

“Their story deserves much greater prominence. On the 80th anniversary of their capture, it is important that we remember the courage of 51st Highland Division, the sacrifice of the fallen, and the suffering endured by captured soldiers who would spend the next five years as prisoners of war.”

The full text of the motion in the House of Commons can be found here: https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/57083/80th-anniversary-of-51st-highland-division-at-st-valery

The full text of the motion in the Scottish Parliament can be found here: https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx?SearchType=Advance&ReferenceNumbers=S5M-22025&ResultsPerPage=10

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has welcomed the reintroduction of flights between Stornoway and Inverness. 

Flights to Inverness will be added to Loganair’s emergency schedule from Monday 15 June. The route had been suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Since 30 March, the Scottish Government has contracted Loganair to operate daily services between the islands and the mainland to maintain essential connectivity.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“This is very welcome news, especially for cancer patients in Lewis and Harris who have been making long and arduous journeys by road and sea to Inverness and back while the plane service has been suspended.

“I have been raising this issue with the Scottish Government in recent weeks, as I know this has been extraordinarily difficult for many patients and their families.

“There is still a long way to go before we return to anything like a normal air service in the islands, but this is an important and careful step.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has called on the UK government to extend the Brexit transition period in light of the coronavirus pandemic – with new analysis showing billions of pounds could be wiped from the Scottish economy.

The transition arrangements currently keep the UK close to the EU and can be extended for two years – beyond 31 December - if the UK Government asks for an extension by the end of this month.
But a new study from the Scottish Government says if an extension is not agreed, Scottish GDP could be up to 1.1% lower after two years. The cumulative loss of economic activity from leaving the EU would be up to £3 billion over those two years – on top of the devastating effects of the Coronavirus outbreak.

The paper indicates there will be further major costs from Brexit for years to come, and also highlights that without an extension or having a free trade deal in place, Scotland’s agriculture, fisheries and manufacturing sectors will be especially badly hit.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented: 

“Coronavirus is causing enormous economic disruption and people rightly expect government to be putting all of its energy into protecting public health and the Scottish economy. 

“It would be reckless in the extreme for the UK government to allow us to crash out of the transition period at the end of this year.

“The SNP believe the best future for Scotland is as an independent member of the EU. But regardless of your opinion on Brexit or independence, it makes no sense to crash out of the European single market at the same time we are trying to get to grips with coronavirus. 

The islands’ economy was already going to be disproportionately hit by crashing out of the single market. But right now, island businesses are focused on securing their future – they simply don’t have the capacity to prepare for Brexit on top of a pandemic.

“The UK government must do the sensible thing, protect jobs in the islands and extend the transition period.”

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