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BBC pumps 60 quid a head into Gaelic

Dead language not responding to flogging

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The BBC's Gaelic-language channel, BBC Alba, has seen its audience drop by a third since launch, with further drops expected as Scottish politicians desperately try to be seen doing something about the death of Gaelic.

The channel started four months ago, with more than 600,000 viewers, a total that has already dropped to 400,000. BBC Scotland told The Times it expects to see figures dropping to around 250,000, despite the channel showing Scottish Premier League football.

At the time of the 2001 census there were only 58,650 Gaelic speakers in Scotland, which is what prompted the launch of the Freesat and Sky available channel. That means that hundreds of thousands of viewers are tuning in to see programmes in a language they don't understand, or perhaps just to watch the football. Given that between 80-100,000 Scots brave the weather each week to watch a game in person, it's hardly surprising that BBC Alba can drum up twice that number to watch League games on TV, even if the commentary is in Gaelic.

Strangely, the channel won't be drawn on what people are watching, just that the target is 250,000 viewers, or 60 quid per viewer.

Gaelic has been on life support for years - drive up to the Highlands and the signposts are in Gaelic and English, but pull off the A9 and the Gaelic disappears along with the tourists. Schools and playgroups get government funding for promoting Gaelic, and local libraries are well stocked with Gaelic books - all in pristine condition, almost as though no one ever reads them. English migrants like to see their kids learning Gaelic, while the locals would prefer their children learn something someone else speaks - ideally someone with money.

Popular programmes are broadcast in Gaelic on the primary BBC channels - so even without BBC Alba you don't have to miss out on badly dubbed Charlie and Lola.

But Scotland has a culture quite strong enough to survive without demanding a different language. The problem is that it's hard to spend money promoting "culture" when everyone has their own idea what that is. So the Scottish Parliament, and the BBC, instead spend money promoting a language hardly anyone speaks, while forgetting that anyone who does speak Gaelic is perfectly fluent in English too - for when they're not talking to the tourists. ®

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