GAELIC will be dead in its heartlands by 2030. That was the prediction in 2020, and there is no reason to doubt it right now. In fact, the cynical amongst us might think that there is a concerted effort to hasten its demise –not least by those who claim to protect it.

Bòrd na Gàidhlig, or as it is fondly known, BnaG, is the agency set up to ­deliver Gaelic development. It takes government funding and distributes it among projects. It was designed to lobby on behalf of Gaelic speakers – advocating for the language.

When BnaG was set up under Labour in 2003 and enshrined in law as a result of the Gaelic Language Act in 2005, the ­recommendation was for an annual budget of £10 million. It has never got more than a few pence over £5m and we are 21 years on.

For the last three years, an additional amount has been graciously bestowed upon Bòrd na Gàidhlig – part of which was spent on a Gaelic development officer scheme. It allowed additional jobs to be created in Gaelic speaking ­communities – ­including here in Tiree.

READ MORE: Anger as Scottish Gaelic language scheme scrapped amid funding cuts

Last week, £350,000 in funding was pulled by the Scottish ­Government. Three posts have gone at BnaG – along with the entire Gaelic development officers scheme.

This came the week after National ­Gaelic Week – supported, as you would imagine, by lots of politicians attempting to vocalise some of our more ­challenging sounds whilst smiling at the camera. As part of the celebrations, VisitScotland proudly announced a Gaelic Tourism Strategy.

No-one is entirely sure what that actually means, but at this rate, they’ll be touring nothing but graveyards.

Speaking of death, most of us are ­dreading the census results. If the ­number of speakers has gone up, it will be skewed by the fact that fluency level was not ­included in the census question. If the number is down – despite Duolingo – then we are deeply, truly, screwed.

The National:

In 2020, the research The Gaelic Crisis In The Vernacular Community showed that Tiree was one of the places where use of Gaelic in the vernacular ­community had plummeted – leaving Gaelic as a ­living language on a knife edge. Tiree is not alone.

Language loss across ­Gaeldom has been gathering pace over recent years, fueled by a political landscape which is not particularly ­interested in ­native ­Gaelic speakers or, as far as I can tell, ­islands, coastal communities or anything north of where the M9 becomes the A9.

Which is exactly why the additional funding for development officers was so vital.

Using some of that funding, Urras ­Thiriodh (Tiree Community Development Trust) had just embarked on a project to encourage greater use of the language in the community – particularly focusing on opportunities for existing speakers to use their language. The goal was to increase community usage to a level where Gaelic was regularly heard. This is vital – and we are running out of time. To put none too fine a point on it, people are old and ­dying. Their Gaelic is being lost.

For young people to use Gaelic, they need to hear it. And they are not ­hearing it. You could say that it is the fault of those who could speak it and don’t – but it is much more complicated than that.

The lack of community use is ­structural.

We are fighting the ­dominance of English mixed with self-doubt and the ­prevalence of a new register of ­Gaelic driven by ­formal learning. In short, many ­people in ­traditionally Gaelic-speaking ­communities struggle to follow the ­“new-fangled” words and phrasing. They no longer hear their own language or read it. They are experiencing a ­shadow of it. And it makes them feel like it no longer belongs to them.

In addition to community confidence, the draining of talent and young people – which started with the Clearances and ends with the housing crisis of today – plays a very real part. Add to that the idea that ­“Gaelic would never get you ­anywhere”, the ­belting of my ­grandparents’ ­generation for uttering it at school and incoming ­population demographics, you reach a point where people might speak it among themselves, but hearing it in public is less and less likely.

Some communities are standing up to the onslaught better than others – areas of Lewis and Uist are cases in point, as is Staffin – but they are battling.

READ MORE: Kate Forbes: Gaelic cuts risks ripping core out of our communities

And to top it off, we have the internal machinations of the “Gaelic World”. The Gaelic World is a shorthand for Gaelic ­careers whether working in media or teaching, or in community development.

An unwritten rule is that when you are in the Gaelic World, you don’t talk about the Gaelic World. You don’t talk about the internal politics, or the schisms between native speakers and learners or about the cliques, or the island hierarchies and ­dialect snobbery.

You don’t talk about the reams of ­Gaelic plans that lie unopened. You don’t talk about how we have funnelled thousands of kids through Gaelic medium in the last 35 years, only to find that a fraction of them become regular speakers. You don’t talk about how, in our push to fast-track teachers, we are sacrificing grammar and idiom.

The fact that questioning the way that things are done in the Gaelic World is so politically and personally fraught is hugely damaging. But if we don’t talk about it now, it will be too late.

Moit is Misneachd

I used to work in the Gaelic World. I left for many reasons and went through a long period of firmly believing there was no hope for the language somewhere like Tiree. In the last six months, I got a ­glimmer of hope back with the project we were planning. A little light at the end of the tunnel – not that we would ­necessarily “save” anything, but maybe we could get enough “moit is misneachd” (pride and confidence) going that we could inspire our youngsters to speak.

The “moit is misneachd” are long gone. Once again, we have been ­reminded that traditional Gaelic communities are ­bottom of the list when it comes to ­language planning.

Even using the word “traditional” will put people’s backs up. The research in 2020 didn’t just highlight the imminent death of Gaelic in its rural communities, it opened up a divide between Gaelic speakers in cities and Gaelic speakers in the Highlands and Islands and – as most things do these days – promptly descended into a rather unseemly row.

The crux of the debate was that city speakers felt like they were not being ­taken seriously and their considerable ­efforts on behalf of the language were being rejected, denying their identities as Gaelic speakers, whilst speakers in heartland areas were trying to explain that right now, their plight was the higher priority. No-one articulated it particularly well – especially on social media.

There is – as with most things – truth on both sides. But this funding situation clearly highlights that far too little attention has been paid to community development in Gaelic heartlands.

People are angry that the development officers funding was cut. But they are angrier that this type of work relied on top up funding in the first place. Funding for such work should have been in BnaG’s core budget. Though £350,000 is an insultingly tiny amount in the grand scheme of things, its loss will have enormous ripples.

Whilst we are getting resigned to the Scottish Government being hell-bent on losing every vote in rural Scotland, in this instance, our own Gaelic ­Development Agency is entirely complicit. They dropped the community ball some time ago and are now facing a reckoning. We are – as so often is the case with minorities – our own worst enemy.

I still regularly hear natural Tiree ­Gaelic at funerals and at the mart. Death and departure. It’s fitting. As for 2030? I have less hope this week than I had last week.