Language provision in Scottish public services: inclusion in policy and in practice
McKelvey, Róisín Rhiannon
Increased international mobility has resulted in language planning initiatives by a range of different actors in Scotland, in order to respond to the growing linguistic diversity of the population and to promote greater equality of access to public services. The ways in which public service providers accommodate language needs among service users offer valuable insight into equalities issues at the local level and into the interplay between policy and practice. Following an analysis of the international, UK and Scottish legal and policy instruments that comprise the equalities framework within which Scottish public bodies operate, this thesis evaluates local, language-related strategies and practices in selected public sector organisations which provide particularly important services to the public. Language support, primarily in the form of interpretation and translation, allows public sector service providers to accommodate the language needs of service users. This thesis evaluates such provision in core Scottish public services, through the analysis of strategy and guidance documents and public information with regard to multilingual provision, and a series of semi-structured interviews that were conducted in Edinburgh and Glasgow with service providers from NHS Boards, local authorities (with a separate focus on education) and the criminal justice system. The extent to which these policies and practices respond to the international, UK and Scotland-wide legal and policy frameworks is also evaluated. Although it is addressed more explicitly in international law and in some domestic legislation and policy, the position of language in the framework of UK equalities law is to some extent ambiguous. This research found, however, that public service providers deem multilingual provision to be important to their efforts to meet equalities obligations, as they appear to perceive language support as a responsibility under equalities legislation. While this inclusive interpretation of the law was a relatively consistent approach in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, and there was also evidence of good practice and of efforts to consolidate strategies across services, discrepancies and limitations were also identified. At present, domestic legislation remains vague with regard to language, which contributes to such gaps and inconsistencies in provision. In the absence of clear, centralised legal requirements, the nature of language support tends to be determined at the local level, and could be improved if language-related equalities requirements were clarified and strengthened. This thesis concludes that a more rigorous, inclusive approach to equalities law, one that explicitly extended legal protection to language, would demand greater consistency from public service providers, promote good practice and facilitate inclusion. Coherent approaches to language provision in the public sector could significantly improve accessibility and inclusion. If guidelines with regard to practice became more standardised across sectors and geographical areas – through the publication of up to date language-related strategies by national bodies in Scotland, for instance – this would also facilitate consistency in provision. Furthermore, public service providers themselves could, through increased collaboration with one another, expand interpreting and translation services through the sharing of resources and good practice.