Newsnet Scotland – ahead of the curve


By Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond has been ahead of the curve, as more and more people now use online media sources for their news.  It is already the first stop for many in the morning, and I have no doubt, with the new look and expanding content, that more and more Scots will be visiting the site in the months ahead: and if you visit it once, you will be back!

What is most encouraging about the Newsnet Scotland way is not just that it views the world through Scottish eyes, but that it does so with just the right touch of hope and optimism.  It isn’t in business to talk people or indeed Scotland down.  Scotland’s traditional news outlets should pay attention.  In news as in politics, hope will always beat fear.  Scotland deserves a media that doesn’t always assume the worst or see the worst: and Newsnet Scotland is in the vanguard.

It is important that the Scottish media act as an open forum in the debate about Scotland’s future – social, economic and constitutional.  And I look forward to Newsnet Scotland’s activity in this area.  Now our nation needs to have an open and honest debate on our future.  Do we give in to a decade of Tory cuts from London or do we choose a better way?  Scotland needs job creating powers for our parliament, and that is a message that must ring out.  It is a debate we must have, now more than ever, with a second Scotland Bill going through Westminster: a Bill that will threaten jobs not create them, a Bill that will give Scotland’s parliament not a single extra power or lever to turn back the Tory cuts.

In the weeks ahead, I know Newsnet Scotland will be reporting with relish the campaign for Scotland’s election.  The SNP campaign is now well under way, with key pledges to protect the NHS, continue the Council Tax freeze and maintain the 1000 extra police on our streets (police who have delivered 32 year low levels of crime).  And we have plenty more to say in a campaign that will be positive and optimistic, a campaign that will be about our team, our record and our ideas to make Scotland better.  As they say, watch this space.

I want, finally to say something about the recent Scottish Language series on the site.  It has been a welcome and fascinating fixture.

The SNP Government, too, shares a passion and commitment to all Scotland’s languages, enabling them not only to survive, but to thrive into the future.  But Scotland’s languages can only survive if they are given their rightful place in the media.  That is why it is so good to see them promoted and discussed in outlets such as  BBC Alba now on Freeview is a major step in the right direction.

A sense of validation also helps, which is why it’s a positive step to recognise these languages in our Scottish Government buildings signposts and official government material.

We have published the Gaelic Language Plan, which will play an important part in helping secure the future of the language.  Gaelic signs are now on Scotrail trains and stations, 25 local authorities and public bodies have their own Gaelic Plans and importantly, 21 local authorities are teaching Gaelic.  I was delighted to open the Inverness Gaelic School in 2008, and now the Scottish Government has committed funding towards the expansion of the Primary School.  We have also committed funding towards new schools in Portree and Lochaber.

The Education Secretary Mike Russell recently used Gaelic for the first time at EU meetings, and Gaelic has secured co-official status for in the institutions of the EU.  All these steps together will help to secure Gaelic’s place in Scotland’s future, which is important, as in addition to being a cultural strength, Gaelic has the potential to be a powerful economic asset for Scotland, attracting people to visit and learn the language.

This week I was delighted that the University of the Highlands and Islands was granted University status.  I am certain that being able to study at world-class, and not to mention stunning campuses such as Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI that I have visited several times, will be a major boost to Gaelic culture and will be a particular attraction to the Scottish diaspora.

It’s the only Gaelic-medium college in the world.  Set in the breathtaking scenery of the Isle of Skye which has a state of the art Fàs Creative Industries Centre now too, thanks to Scottish Government funding.  Such institutions are helping to forge the international reputation for regenerating the Gaelic language and not to mention the local economies of the Highlands and Islands.

This is a critical time for the future of Gaelic, and a new generation of Gaelic speakers will be key to securing the future of the language.

And then there’s Scots – growing up one of my earliest memories was speaking Scots with my grandfather, who taught me about Scottish history when out and about on his plumbing jobs in Lithgae.  I’ve had my fun using Scots over the years at Westminster too, slipping in some Scots at Prime Minister’s Questions and in debate, thoroughly confusing the Hansard team, not to mention the Ministers in question!

As Celtic Connections opened this year, research published showed that 85 per cent of respondents say they speak Scots.  This was the first government-funded research on public attitudes to the Scots language and shows a clear recognition of the language’s importance to contemporary Scotland.

Just over two-thirds of the sample (67 per cent) consider it important that Scots continues to be used in Scotland, with the language regarded as integral to Scotland’s culture, heritage and local identities.  I couldn’t agree more.  That’s why the Scottish Government established a Scots Language Working Group, which published its recommendations on 30 November.  The Scottish Government also directly funded the Scottish Language Dictionaries and Scots Language Centre in February 2009.

For the first time the 2011 Census will include a question on the Scots Language.  We also have a Working Group established in September 2010 to develop an actions plan to raise awareness of Scots.  And of course, having represented Banff and Buchan since 1987, I know all too well how Doric plays an important role in the local culture and community.  It is spoken at extraordinary speed and still catches me out from time to time.

All of these languages play a vital role in Scotland, in our communities, in our culture, in our sense of identity and also our economy.

I think the SNP government has achieved a lot in the past four years to promote awareness and usage of Scotland’s languages, among our other achievements.  Only with your support can the SNP government continue to make good progress on our commitment to their future survival and success.