MIGRATION AND GAELIC COMMUNITY DILUTION
Since questions on Gaelic were first asked on the population census in 1881, there has been a rapid contraction of the Gaelic-majority area in Scotland. At the end of the nineteenth century the area where the majority of the local population spoke Gaelic extended across the whole of the mainland Highlands, Arran, Bute and the Cumbraes, and the Inner and Outer Hebrides. By the inter-war period this had contracted to the Inner and Outer Hebrides and the north-western coastal fringes. By 1981 this area comprised Tiree, Skye and the Outer Hebrides only. In the 2001 census the Outer Hebrides and northern Skye were the only areas with 50% or more of local residents speaking Gaelic.
Local majorities do not necessarily mean that the majority of local speech encounters are likely to be in Gaelic. For this to be the case it is necessary for at least 70.71% of local people to be Gaelic speaking. The likelihood of one Gaelic-speaker encountering another is thus 70.71 x 70.71% = 50%. These conditions pertained over most of the mainland Highlands, Hebrides and Clyde islands at the end of the nineteenth century but had retreated to the Western isles outwith Stornoway and Benbecula by 1991. By 2001 such predominantly Gaelic areas were only to be found in five of the sixteen census wards of the Western Isles: Dell/ Port of Ness, Shawbost, Uig/Carloway, Harris W/E, and Daliburgh/ Eriskay--with close approximations in Barra/Vatersay 69.9%, Lochmaddy/Paible 68.6%, and Coll/Gress 68.1% (GROS Census 2001 Table 27).
However, since the end of the nineteenth century public rhetoric from official sources has considerably changed. Today at the outset of the twenty-first century highly supportive utterances come from national and local government spokespersons. It may be questioned, however, whether this public rhetoric is fully informed of the extent of language-shift that has taken place, or the reasons for it. Likewise whether the social and economic processes affecting Gaelic in society, their nature, scale and impact, are fully understood.
These processes have brought about considerable movement of population from the Highlands and Islands to the Lowland area from the nineteenth century to the present day. Continuing and increasing migration and mobility have affected all, including Gaelic speakers, who have been as much--if not considerably more--affected by these processes. Policies have gradually, since the 1960s, begun specifically to tackle these matters; and in recent years have begun to have a specifically Gaelic focus. If support policies are framed just for the 'Gaelic areas', they will affect a diminishing proportion of Scotland's Gaelic speakers. In 1881 87.2% of all Gaelic speakers lived in the Highlands, Hebrides and Clyde Islands. By 2001 this proportion had fallen to 49.4% (GROS 1881 Census Gaelic Return; GROS Census 2001 Gaelic Report Tables 2A, 3). We have thus passed the 50/50 point, with over half of Scotland's Gaelic speakers now living outwith the traditional Highlands and Islands area.
The policy implications of this are twofold:
* This is our last chance to retain majority Gaelic-speaking local communities;
* Secondly and importantly, these alone will not provide the necessary demographic "mass" to ensure a continuing Gaelic-speaking language-group.
Unless policies provide for the reproduction of Gaelic speakers both in the traditional communities and wherever else the …