GAELIC is now a minority language in the Western Isles for the first time despite an overall skills uplift across Scotland. 

The latest 2022 census data found that just 45% speak Gaelic in the language’s heartland, compared with 52% in 2011 and 60% in 2001.

The majority of people in the Western Isles still had some non-speaking Gaelic skills (57.2%) – a far greater level than the next highest council areas, Highland (8.1%) and Argyll and Bute (6.2%).

This comes despite the census finding an overall Gaelic skills uplift across Scotland.

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The census found that 2.5% of people aged three and over had some skills in Gaelic in 2022, an increase of 43,100 people since 2011 when 1.7% had some skills in Gaelic.

The percentage of people with some skills in Scots also increased, to 46.2% in 2022 from 37.7% in 2011, and was higher in the north east of Scotland.

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Deputy First Minister and Gaelic Secretary Kate Forbes said the increase in people with some Gaelic skills is “another important step in securing the future of the language”.

She added: “The forthcoming Scottish Languages Bill will build on this progress, along with continued Scottish Government funding for Gaelic arts, education, broadcasting and community initiatives.

“My appointment as Scotland’s first Cabinet Secretary for Gaelic is a further sign of this Government’s determination to preserve Gaelic as a vital part of our culture.”

Following the publication of census data, the official Twitter/X account of the Scottish Parliament’s Education, Children and Young People Committee asked whether Gaelic communities are in crisis.

Language campaigner Rhoda Meek responded: “Of course it's still in crisis. The numbers are almost entirely useless. The census question was so lacking in nuance it's laughable. It's almost like we want to make ourselves feel better whilst ignoring the broader issues.”