David Ross, Highland Correspondent / Saturday 4 July 2015 / News
Published Saturday 4 July 2015 / News
Updated Sunday 5 July 2015
Visitors are denied a real understanding of Scotland because the tourism industry obscures the true story of Gaelic Scotland and allows historical nonsense to be promoted, important new research has found.
The author challenges VistScotland to take steps to prevent “just any Tom Dick and Harry setting themselves up to take money from unsuspecting tourists” by talking rubbish to them about the Highlands and Islands, when they know little.
Former Deputy Chief Executive of the National trust for Scotland (NTS) Coinneach Maclean, is a Gaelic speaker from South Uist, who trained as an archaeologist.
But also worked in deer farming, community business development and housing investment in the Highlands and Islands, before joining the NTS.
In his late 50s he embarked on a doctoral thesis at Glasgow University, examining the treatment of Gaelic history and culture in the Scottish tourism narrative of the 21st century. His research involved taking a series of bus tours round the Highlands, when listened to repeatedly distorted and highly flawed accounts of the very landscape Scottish tourism promotes.
On one trip visitors were told that Loch BÃ on Rannoch Moor got its name from ‘the noise sheep make’ when ironically it means loch of the cattle. On another one they were told that the Picts had eaten Roman soldiers who had ventured north of Loch Earn through Glen Ogle.
Maclean’s decision to write the thesis had followed his taking a course, validated by Edinburgh University, for advanced ‘ Blue Badge’ tourist guides. He was shocked by the course content.
“I was surprised and increasingly irritated by the almost total blanking of a Scottish Gaelic presence from both history and landscape. When reference was made to Gaelic culture it was treated as though it belonged to the Iron Age.”
He even heard one tutor say that when asked to speak a few words of Gaelic, any old gibberish would do.
“It was one thing for the university to allow such nonsense to be peddled but what mattered more was that the students had paid good hard cash for the privilege, were being denied any knowledge that might have enabled them to effectively guide their clients through the Highlands. ”
He says that all important global tourist destinations today high priority to delivering an authentic experience, but Scotland falls short.
“It would help if VisitScotland might consider paying a little more than lip service to Gaelic, given its absolutely central role in Scotland’s story.”
He says its Gaelic plan gives no strategic thought to how Gaelic might be used in offering visitors an authentic experience.
He suggests VisitScotland supports guide training initiatives. “Such support for quality training should be accompanied by an accreditation scheme which might prevent any Tom Dick and Harry setting themselves up to take money from unsuspecting tourists by spouting arrant nonsense about Gaelic Scotland. ”
But VisitScotland Partnerships Director Riddell Graham, is responsible for co-ordinating the organisation’s Gaelic language activity, said: “We have already made great strides to develop and promote Gaelic, but we recognise that much still needs to be done to fully embed the language into all parts of VisitScotland in a way that it becomes an integral part of our strategic thinking, decision-making and delivery plans.”
Our revised Gaelic Language Plan, which includes the introduction of a ‘Gaelic Spoken Here’ Welcome Scheme and promoting the story of Scotland’s Gaelic heritage and language in our consumer-facing marketing activity, is currently with Bord na Gaidhlig. We look forward to receiving their feedback and to working with the wider tourism industry to continue to promote Gaelic and further enhance the authentic experience available to visitors.”
A spokeswoman from the University of Edinburgh said the university no longer administered the Blue Badge course.
“However, the University’s Office of Lifelong Learning is fully committed to the promotion of Gaelic language and culture. In addition to its Gaelic language course it runs a number of short courses throughout the year that place