I am also pleased to welcome the debate, in which there has been a lot of agreement about the plan and its refreshed priorities.
Each party has taken time to highlight its commitment and contribution to Gaelic.
Kate Forbes pointed out that every party has been supportive, but members should indulge me for a moment as I highlight the Labour Party’s commitments and what we have done in the past.
It was a Labour council that opened the first Gaelic-medium unit, a Labour council that opened the first Gaelic-medium school, and a Labour-led Government that introduced the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, which was guided through Parliament by my colleague Peter Peacock.
As Lewis Macdonald pointed out, its aim was to provide equal status for Gaelic.
I am proud of that record and proud that those initiatives had cross-party support.
That must continue if we are to protect our language, and our heritage, with it.
The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 gave life to the national plan for Gaelic, and we need to build on it.
The Conservative amendment, which was moved by Liz Smith, highlights education issues.
Liz Smith and Iain Gray spoke about the shortage of Gaelic-medium teachers.
The Scottish Government needs to ensure that it has enough teachers.
It is great to have buildings for Gaelic-medium education, but unless there are teachers to staff those schools, they will not serve the purpose for which they were designed.
The culture and education have changed. Iain Gray talked about the “othering” of islands pupils at his Inverness high school and how that school system discouraged use of Gaelic.
John Finnie talked about growing up without Gaelic being available, and how that has changed in Fort William with the Gaelic-medium school there.
Claire Baker said that our communities kept Gaelic alive while the Government and education discovered it.
Lewis Macdonald pointed out that the survival of those very communities and the survival of Gaelic are so closely interlinked that we need to protect both in order for both to survive.
Why do we need the Gaelic language?
The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 came about because the number of Gaelic speakers was falling. We can read in our history books about the rich and famous, but the people’s history is held in song, poetry and storytelling.
For much of Scotland, those stories are told in Gaelic—the history of the Highland Land League, for instance, as Lewis Macdonald pointed out.
It is not just the Gaidhealtachd that has its culture and heritage held in that way.
Because of the contraction of the language from many parts of Scotland, we have already lost part of that history and culture, so we need to stop that happening. Willie Rennie’s story about the green room made that very point.
Gaelic was the language of most of Scotland; indeed, its use stretched into northern England.
However, much of that has been lost and, with it, the history of those areas and the history and culture of the ordinary people in them.
I think that, if we can trace some of that, that would revive interest in Gaelic in those areas.
There is also an economic argument for protection and growth of Gaelic.
Angus MacDonald talked about BBC Alba and Radio nan Gàidheal and what they have meant to many parts of the Highland and Islands.
Those self-sufficient media outlets encourage training in all aspects of the media, which creates jobs.
Many of those who have benefited have moved on to English-speaking media, which has made way for other young creative people.
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig is the Gaelic college in Sleat, on Skye.
That area was devastated by depopulation, but the college has grown a new and vibrant community around it.
That investment, which continues to build the local economy, has, arguably, done more for the economy than any investment solely in jobs could have done.
Claire Baker talked about Cnoc Soilleir in South Uist.
I hope very much that that facility will do exactly the same for that area.
However, we must go further than culture and education in order to protect the language—there must be a language for everyday communication.
Feumaidh sinn dèanamh a h-uile càil as urrainn dhuinn airson a’ Ghàidhlig a chumail beò. Feumaidh sinn a cleachdadh airson nan nithean a tha sinn a’ dèanamh a h-uile latha. Is e seo an dòigh airson Gàidhlig a chumail beò.
Following is the simultaneous interpretation:
We must do everything that we can to keep Gaelic alive. We need to use it for everyday things.
This has been an excellent debate on a vital issue, and I thank members across the chamber for their insightful and knowledgeable speeches and their strongly felt views.
Waiting times are always difficult.
When a patient is suffering from an illness or an injury, any time between cause, diagnosis and treatment is unwanted, because it prolongs the pain as well as putting additional stress on the patient’s mental and physical wellbeing.
Members such as Jackie Baillie, Anas Sarwar, Ross Greer, Alex Cole-Hamilton, Edward Mountain, Kate Forbes, Neil Bibby and Michelle Ballantyne have illustrated that perfectly by citing dissatisfied constituents who felt let down by the system — a system that put in place the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011 to guarantee a 12-week treatment time.
The treatment time guarantee allowed hospitals and boards to manage expectations and gave patients a known timeframe.
We must not forget that waiting times are not just simple facts and figures.
Behind every delay in an operation or a consultant’s appointment, there is often an individual who is experiencing anxiety, pain and stress.
I remember when 80-year-old Inverness writer Bette McArdle came to see me because she was told that she had to wait 11 months for a relatively simple cataract operation.
“It is vital that we octogenarians are able to lead independent lives and still contribute to society.
"And it has to be remembered that many are still caring for a partner or family member.
"Without the basic support of maintaining adequate eyesight we can rapidly become even more dependent on the NHS and care services and cost the state.”
Every statistic holds similar stories.
Although I cannot fault NHS Highland for trying to clear the backlog and reduce waiting times, it is concerning that procedures are having to be outsourced to private companies and other boards at great cost.
For the second year in a row, NHS Scotland failed to meet seven out of eight key performance targets, according to Audit Scotland’s report.
One of the key problems identified is the widespread difficulty in meeting demand and the impact that that is having on waiting times.
Front-line NHS staff work tirelessly to try to ensure that staffing issues, lack of resources and underfunding do not compromise patient care, but they do so in the face of growing pressure.
No one has to take just my word for that, because Audit Scotland said in its 2017 report:
“People are waiting longer to be seen with waiting lists for first outpatient appointment and inpatient treatment increasing by 15 per cent and 12 per cent respectively in the past year.”
The other big issue is that the life expectancy gap is increasing, with men from the most deprived areas now living on average 12.2 years less than their more affluent counterparts, and women from those areas living 8.6 years less than their more affluent counterparts.
Those from deprived areas are increasingly likely to spend more years in ill health: nine more years for men and 11.5 more years for women.
On top of that, in one key area where waiting times were missed, there are higher cancer rates among disadvantaged communities but the lowest detection rates.
Those from deprived communities are most likely to be diagnosed with breast and lung cancer at stage 4, whereas those from the least deprived areas are most likely to be diagnosed with cancer at stages 1 or 2.
With those from the most deprived areas being diagnosed later, early access to treatment is key to improving outcomes and reducing the life expectancy gap.
That disparity must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The NHS turns 70 on 5 July and we are still having to fight to protect it.
Its founder, Nye Bevan, said that
“discontent arises from a knowledge of the possible, as contrasted with the actual.”
Debates such as this one are frustrating because we know that we can do better for the NHS, the front-line staff, the patients and the families of patients.
I ask all members to support our motion at decision time.