Caithness councillors harden resolve against Gaelic signs

Published: 24/10/2008

Caithness councillors are more united than ever in opposing the addition of Gaelic to new road signs in the county.

It seems likely all but one of the 10 councillors will back a motion agreeing to a compromise allowing just four bilingual signs at key Caithness landmarks – the Ord, Wick, Thurso and John O’ Groats.

The only dissenter appears to be Wick Caithness Independent councillor and education, culture and sport chairman Bill Fernie, who maintained yesterday that he was prepared to fight for an officially-registered language, no matter how few speakers it has.

The debate has fuelled some of the council’s most fiery exchanges in recent times amid allegations of “racism” on the part of far north councillors who argue that most of their constituents oppose Gaelic signs locally, citing additional cost and local history as the reasons.

Landward Caithness Liberal Democrat David Flear said: “They don’t want Norse names of ‘Wick’ and ‘Thurso’ translated into Gaelic, or ‘John O’ Groats’, which is Dutch.”

All but one of the area’s nine community councils agrees.

Independent councillor David Bremner, who gave a history lesson on the county’s lingual heritage during a passionate full debate in March – but failed to secure Caithness an opt-out – said: “The council should respect the differences that exist within the different counties of the Highlands. We’re not anti-Gaelic, but let’s not waste public money on something the public don’t really want here.”

Colleagues backing Thurso councillor John Rosie’s motion to next week’s full council meeting are Katrina MacNab, Marion Thurso, Robert Coghill, Willie MacKay and Donnie Mackay.

Independent Graeme Smith has not signed it, but said: “I do not think Gaelic signage is appropriate in most of Caithness, in places where there is absolutely no Gaelic connection.”

A spokesman for Bord na Gaidhlig said: “One thing we have always said is that we’re not trying to foist the language on anybody, but to encourage its use across Scotland, where appropriate.”

Gaelic committee chairman Hamish Fraser pledged to continue council support for the Gaelic language plan, including the introduction of bilingual signs.

He said: “We’ll develop guidance and support materials to assist in the interpretation and implementation of the policy, including the establishment of an internal council reference group, which will seek guidance from appropriate outside bodies, to address any unresolved matters.”