Friday, 7 July 2017

Welsh Independence: What if Wales had 'been'?

Having read the book Why Wales Never Was by Simon Brooks, which sets out to explain both why Wales didn't become an independent nation like Ireland or Estonia, and why the Welsh language collapsed, makes me wonder what Wales would be like if it had actually 'been'.  What if, in a timeline different from our own (ATL), Wales had, following the European norm, namely preserved its language during the long nineteenth century and gained its independence after the First World War, so that it entered the interwar period as an independent Welsh speaking nation?

Background
As Simon Brooks explains, Wales's divergence from the European norm can be traced from the mid-19th century onwards, when other European stateless nations, from Central and Eastern Europe to Ireland, were asserting themselves, and their distinct identities, to an extent to which Wales wasn't in our timeline (OTL.)  They experienced cultural awakenings, demanded language rights, and developed their own autonomist and separatist political movements.  Also, while the respective languages of these stateless nations were increasingly enhanced during this period, Welsh experienced the opposite; it was not championed in the same way, did not achieve the same language rights (such as being the medium of state primary or university education), and by 1914 became a minority language in Wales itself.  But what if the Welsh in the long nineteenth century had followed the route that the Fins, Estonians and Czechs took, for example?

In this ATL, nineteenth century Wales, like Bohemia or Flanders, manages to industrialise without the Welsh language being eroded, and language campaigning manages to make Welsh the language of education in Wales just like it did other stateless languages in Central Europe.  In addition, Wales like Ireland, sees the growth of its own Home Rule (ie political autonomy) movement from the 1870s onwards. In this ATL, the two general elections of 1910 still happen, and the House of Lords has its veto power removed, despite the fact that in this scenario, Lloyd George, rather than being the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer, is the leader of the Welsh nationalist party.  These two elections, just like in our timeline, give the nationalists the balance of power, and Welsh and Irish Home Rule get passed into law in 1914.  Now this is where Wales would be different from Ireland.  There would be no Welsh Easter Rising since a key lead up to it was the creation of the two paramilitaries in Ireland during the Home Rule Crisis which was, of course, caused by Protestant Ulster's resistance to Home Rule.  Wales does not have its own equivalent of Ulster which means that it is highly unlikely that a 'Welsh Volunteers' would be formed, and that guns would have been imported, like in Ireland.  Without a Welsh Easter Rising, it is unlikely that Wales would have followed Ireland in rejecting moderate Home Rule-ism in favour of outright separatism.  In other words, there would be no Welsh equivalent of Sinn Fein winning the election in 1918, and no Welsh war of independence.  Wales would thus enter the 1920s with Home Rule, and not full independence.

However, let's for the sake of this scenario, say that Wales does elect a Welsh equivalent of Sinn Fein in 1918, and does proceed to fight a war of independence, and is granted Dominion status as the 'Welsh Free State' in 1922, before becoming a Republic after the Second World War, just as Ireland did.

What if?
First of all, it seems obvious to me that 21st century Wales would be a much richer place than it is in our own timeline.  Wales's GDP per Capita in OTL is only £18,000 pounds a year, or about $23,000.  Compare that to other small nations, like its neighbour, Ireland, which is at about $70,000, and even many small Eastern European countries like Estonia and Slovenia, both of which have GDPs per Capita above that of Wales, despite both having smaller populations and having been under communism.  It is therefore, in my opinion, a no-brainer that an independent Wales would be much wealthier than in OTL, and quite possibly more than three times richer per head of the population.

But while I am sure that such a Wales would be doing very well now, the early years would have undoubtedly been difficult for the young nation.  Ireland, after it gained its independence, had a civil war between those who accepted Ireland's Dominion status and partition, and those who settled for nothing short of a 32 county Ireland republic.  Would ATL Wales also experience such tragedy? More certain though, is the fact that the Welsh Free State would have experienced significant economic hardship; Wales in the 1920s and 30s suffered particularly badly with its heavy industries being hit disproportionately hard by the downturn in international trade.  There is no reason why an independent Wales could have changed this, and so in my opinion the first two decades would have still been a period of poverty and emigration, with a Welsh speaking diaspora in neighbouring England.  Given the demographic of Wales and the success of the labour party  in our OTL, it is highly likely that the Welsh Free State would have had a socialist government.  Would this help Wales's situation? If not, would Wales's communist party and inter-war 'little Moscows' be more powerful in this independent Wales? Would a labour-ruled Wales be a 'one-party state', and if so, for how long? How would Wales's party political system develop?

Who ever would have been in power, they would have faced longer-term challenges as well; for example, how to make Wales more of a cohesive country that is better connected to itself.  Even before the Beeching Cuts in the 1960s, it was remarked that Wales's north-south railway lines were not as good as the east-west routes - in short Wales's Victorian railway network was primarily designed to link north, mid and south Wales to England rather than to each other.  If you are in north or Mid Wales, in OTL, one is often more likely to look to Chester, Liverpool, or Shrewsbury than to Cardiff.  I would like to think that a Welsh government would chose to move the capital from Cardiff to Aberystwyth so as to make the country's population more evenly distributed, and give North and Mid-Wales a more natural economic and urban centre that is located within Wales itself.

However challenging its early years would have been, I imagine Wales today, like most small European countries, very wealthy and successful.  In addition, this ATL Wales would not be on the 'edge' or 'periphery' of anything; Wales is located at the centre of the British Isles, between England and Ireland, and such an independent Wales would have been able to use it to its advantage in a way that it hasn't been able to as a peripheral part of the UK. But as an Englishman, I also feel that an independent and Welsh speaking Wales would have been good for us too.   The five 'Anglo-Saxon' nations of the UK, New Zealand, Australia, the US and Canada are unusual compared to the other western nations in that only one of them, the US, shares a border with a non-English speaking country (one whom President Trump does not hold in high regard), and only in Canada does English share a country with another, non-minority, language.  Every mainland European country, on the other hand, shares a land border with a foreign country that speaks a different language.  This, I believe, has impacted us 'Anglo-Saxons', namely our outlook on the world, and has made us be more exceptionalist.  Brexit, I believe, is an obvious result of this.  I therefore believe that were England to share a border with an independent Welsh speaking Wales, it would have had a positive impact on us, and certainly changed our 'island mentality.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Will the Welsh Language Survive? My thoughts.

The question "Will the Welsh Language survive?" has been on people's minds for at least a hundred years, and so one day I thought that I might try to answer that question from the year 2017.    To do this, I have looked at the School Censuses from the years 2013 and 2016, and also at school Estyn reports, available online, where they mainly date back to the mid 2000s, to see how the percentage of children speaking Welsh at home in Welsh speaking areas has changed in recent years.  But first things first; where are the remaining Welsh speaking areas?  In other words, where is Welsh still alive today?  On the left is the percentage of state primary school children speaking Welsh at home in each local authority area in Wales according to the school Census of 2013.  As you can see, Gwynedd is the only area left where a majority of children still speak Welsh at home, but as those of you who have read my other blog articles will know, Welsh speaking areas still exist outside Gwynedd, in neighboring Conwy and Anglesey, and so those two counties will also be looked at.  Let's start with Gwynedd.

Gwynedd
For those of you who have read my earlier blog on Gwynedd, you will have seen that although Gwynedd is majority Welsh speaking overall, there are areas within Gwynedd where Welsh is no longer the main language spoken at home by a majority of school children.  These areas include the city of Bangor, west-coast Meirionydd south of Harlech and much of Southern Snowdonia, such as Corris and Dolgellau, while anglicised enclaves elsewhere include Abersoch and Beddgelert.  But what about those areas where WAH still is in the majority?

First, it is worth saying that there is quite a lot of good news.  The towns of Caernarfon, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Nefyn, all of which had more than 75% of their children speaking Welsh at home in 2016, and actually had higher percentages in 2016 than in 2013, and with the exception of one catholic primary school in Caernarfon (Ysgol Santes Helen), none of the schools in those towns showed any sign of serious deterioration over the previous decade.  Pwllheli too, appears to be safe, the percentage of children speaking Welsh at home in the town's primary school appears to have remained in the mid 60s over the last decade.  Porthmadog, too, apears to be quite safe, with the exception of its anglicised suburb of Borth-Y-Gest, and in fact in Ysgol Y Gorlan, in Tremadog, the percentage of children speaking Welsh at home increased from around 50% in 2008 to over 70% today.

Outside these towns too, the picture appears to be not that different.  Northern Meirionydd as a whole appears to be stable (with the exception of Bala town), as does rural Dwyfor and most areas within the Dyffryn Nantlle and Brynrefail catchment areas (I'm partly going by secondary school names). So far quite good, however there is also some very bad news.

In 2004, 64% of children in Criccieth's primary school spoke Welsh at Home, by 2016, only 40.6% did.  Although the Dyffryn Nantlle is mainly stable, school playgrounds that seem to be experiencing Anglicization include those in Nebo and Talysarn, while the primary school in Pontllyfni appears to have gone from 57% in 2007 to 73% in 2013, only to fall back down to 59% in 2016.  The town of Bala appears to be approaching the brink literally as we speak, in 2013, 60.3% of children in the town's two primary schools spoke Welsh at home, by 2016, the figure was 52.9%.  Llanberis, at the foot of Snowdon, appeared pretty safe in 2013 when 69.1% of the pupils in Ysgol Dolbadarn spoke Welsh at home, but by 2016 this had fallen to 53.6%.  But more worrying perhaps, is what appears to be happening in the Ogwen Valley.  The post industrial town of Bethesda is one of the key strongholds of the Welsh language, and is served by two primary schools, Ysgol Abercaseg (Babanod) which serves 3-7 year olds and Ysgol Penybryn, which serves 7-11 year olds.  In 2013, the figures for the two schools were 72.4 and 70.6%, respectively, but by 2016 the figure for Abercaseg had fallen to 53.6% while Penybryn had stayed more or less the same.  It may well be that the forces of Anglicization that had already effected the lower reaches of the valley have now reached Bethesda; Tregarth, located further down the valley, has already fallen; in 2008 half the pupils there spoke Welsh at Home but 8 years later barely a quarter did.  Likewise the figures for primary schools elsewhere in the valley, such as Rhiwlas and Mynydd Llandegai, point to a grim future for the language in an area that has been so important to it.  It could also be, however, that the construction of Zip World may have had an impact, given that 2013 was the year that it opened in Bethesda.

The situation in the remaining Welsh pockets of Southern Snowdonia, located near the now anglicized town of Dolgellau, isn't actually that grim, despite this Welsh speaking area being much smaller than the others.  Ysgol Dinas Mawddwy as well as Ganllwyd and Brithdir all saw substantial increases in the percentage of children speaking Welsh at home, so much so that in Dinas Mawddwy, it was above 50% again (having previously fallen from 73% in 2007 to 40% in 2010), although its worth saying that the figure for Rhydymain's primary school fell from 69.2% to 44.4% between 2013 and 2016.

Anglesey and Conwy
Those of you who have read my blog on the state of Welsh in Anglesey will know that, judging by the percentages of children speaking Welsh at home, it is mainly the interior of the island, and the north west as well, that is still Welsh speaking, and that coastal areas from Holyhead clockwise to Cemaes, with the exception of places like Llanfairpwll, have been anglicized.  So the question is, are the remaining Welsh speaking areas holding out?  Let's start with Llangefni, the last Welsh speaking town on the Island.  Things there seem to be pretty good; both primary schools are above 70% Welsh at Home and there appears to be no deterioration during the past decade.  Looking at the wider picture, in all the island's 23 WAH majority schools in 2013, 67.5% of pupils in those schools spoke WAH, and this fell to 65.9% in 2016.  However, the decline does appear to be concentrated in a certain few schools, although said schools themselves are not concentrated in any particular area.  The future for Welsh on Anglesey in those areas where it is still a living language appears to therefore be quite good.

Although only 10% of primary school children in Conwy still speak Welsh at home, those of you who have read my blog on that subject will know that there are significant rural areas where Welsh still prevails, some still in the Snowdonian portion, but mostly in the countryside to the east which isn't as popular with incomers.  Like with the Welsh speaking areas on Anglesey, there does not appear to be any approaching catastrophe - of the 12 primary schools there, more actually saw an increase in WAH between 2013 and 2016 than a decrease, an in fact, in 2016, Conwy was home to the only school in the country, it seems, where every child speaks Welsh at home, Ysgol Pentrefoelas. (!!)  It is, however, worth looking at Cerrygrudion, there the percentage of WAH fell from 85% to 77% between 2013 and 2016, and this cannot be solely explained by the school's merger with Ysgol Llangwm.  However, 77% is in no way close to the brink, and of course, in rural schools, numbers do fluctuate.

Other Areas of Wales
You may have wondered why I decided not to look at Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and north Pembrokeshire in this blog; those areas, of course, having comprised the southern half of the 20th century Fro Gymraeg.  That is because, and I hate to say this, the future of Welsh in Dyfed is much grimmer - those of you who have looked at my blog on Ceredigion will know that such Welsh speaking areas don't truly exist anymore in Ceredigion, while the situation with Welsh in Carmarthenshire and North Pembrokeshire is even worse than in Ceredigion.  Welsh speaking children, do exist in such areas, but they are surrounded by children who don't speak it at home, and thus the language of play in these areas now, is English.  Again, I hate to say this, but to me it seems that the future of Welsh in Dyfed, like outside the Fro Gymraeg, is as a second language.  Please prove me wrong if you can.

Why have I done it this way?
You may have noticed that I have not used the UK Census results to help me do this research, despite the fact that the Census is what the authorities and academia have been using for the past 120 years.  This is because the Census only asks you if you 'can' speak Welsh, not if you speak it fluently, or at home. This is absolutely critical.  For Welsh to be a living language, it needs to have children who speak it at home, and they need to be surrounded by other children who also speak it at home, or else in the playground, they will just speak English, as the table on the right shows.Thus, for Welsh to truly be a living language, its needs to have actual communities where the language is dominant, not just Welsh speakers present in the community.  Thus I wanted to see what the trends were in the language's remaining territory, and to me it seems that most of that territory does appear to be in a stable condition, although worrying trends have popped up in certain areas, such as Llanberis, the Ogwen Valley, and Bala.

This is therefore what I think, but what do you think? Maybe you live in one of these areas, maybe you don't, but I would love to hear your opinion, whether you think I'm right or terribly wrong.  Feel Free to comment below.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Wales: Independence or not? It's No Contest Really.

Whenever I've heard anyone debate Welsh independence, there's always the inevitable "Wales is too small to survive on its own."  Oh really? The reality is that there are seven countries in Western Europe with a population that is lower than that of Wales; and guess what? They all have a nominal GDP per Capita that's higher than what Wales's GDP Per Capita is right now.

But I suppose the obvious question to ask is, "If Wales were not already a member of the UK, and instead an independent country like Ireland, Iceland or Slovenia, would she chose to join it?"
On the left is a map of the areas of Europe which were poor enough to receive EU funding in the period 2007-2013.  Those areas in dark red are those areas which did qualify.  Just take a look at the UK, and then take a look at France and Germany - two countries with similarly sized populations. In Germany the only area which was poor enough was the area that was once communist, while in France, nowhere was economically disadvantaged enough to qualify. The same cannot be said for the UK; The UK, it seems, has done a pretty bad job at making sure that none of its regions are economically left behind compared to how its neighbours have done.  Meanwhile, Ireland, once the poorest part of the British Isles when it was still part of the United Kingdom, has no such areas, and in fact now has a GDP per Capita higher than that of the UK. It seems that Wales hasn't benefited as much from this political union as much as the unionists like to say she has. 

But its not just about the economy, its a lot else as well.  As part of the deal of being a member of this United Kingdom, it seems you're kinda expected to give up your own language; that's of course what Scotland and Ireland (before 1922) did, and Wales has for-filled that requirement to the extent that only 8% of children in Wales now speak Welsh as their main language at home, according to the school census of 2013.  Having said that though, one of the UK's members, England, seems to have got away quite well with not having to hand in its language.  At least in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Slovenians and Czechs and other nationalities continued to hold on to their own languages right the way through.    Identity, too, seems to be something which you're expected to at least half hand in at reception; when I was in France, there were a lot of people who seemed to refer to Scottish and Welsh people simply as 'English', and yet I seriously doubt that they would now refer to any Slovenians as 'Austrians.'  

And then of course, there's the flooding of welsh villages, like Capel Celyn.  This happened despite the fact that not one Welsh MP voted in favor of the scheme, while such reservoirs, such as those which flooded Capel Celyn and Nant-Y-Moch, were created not to water Welsh mouths, but for the benefit of industries in English cities such as Liverpool and Birmingham.  Welsh villages such as Trawsfynydd and Mynydd Epynt have had to put up with military encampments on their doorstep whether they wanted them or not, while the latter community was actually forced out of their homes.  Many of the wars which Wales has been involved in since, as a member of the UK, are wars which I hardly think an independent Wales would have considered worth fighting in.  Then of course, there are the nuclear power plants, placed in areas such as Cemaes in Anglesey and again, in Trawsfynydd.  Somehow I think its hard to imagine them being placed in the Thames Valley or in Oxfordshire.   And, of course, thanks to a decision made in England, you can no longer travel by train from the north of Wales to the south without leaving the country.  I mean, what the.....?

It's very simple, folks; the difference between those other countries already mentioned and Wales is that while Wales is on the edge of someone else's country, ruled for the benefit of that other country, all those other countries, from Ireland to Lichtenstein, are countries of their own, and get to rule themselves, in the interests of themselves.  Would Wales chose to join the United Kingdom if she were already like them? Hmm, that's a hard one.  If I were a Welshman, I know what I'd vote for. 

Saturday, 29 April 2017

French Election: Food for thought for us in Britain?

Last Sunday, the first round of the French Presidential Election, 2017,  took place and the two candidates who made it into the second round are Far right leader Marine Le Pen, and the party-less centrist firebrand, Emmanuel Macron.  Neither of the two candidates from the traditional two centre-left and centre-right parties made it to the second round.  In fact, the Socialist party only got 6.36% percent of the vote, despite the incumbent being of that party.

The way I see this election, is as nothing short of a sea change in Western politics.  Or, rather, this election is the sign that such a change has happened.  No longer is the game a match between socialism and capitalism.  No longer is the main debate about whether or not workers should seize the means of production.  It is instead between ultra-nationalism and internationalism, cosmopolitanism vs parochialism. Although the French election is reflective of this, it is a change which has not merely happened in France.  In the UK, the same debate divides the nation; whether you are pro-Brexit or pro-EU - whether you want the United Kingdom to cooperate with other nations in an organisation where we are equal partners, or whether you believe that we are just too good for any of that.  In the United States too, this change has come in the form of Donald Trump.

The Elephant in the Room
Here in the UK, the issue which divides the country is of course, Brexit, and everything associated with it - immigration, our place in the world, and generally how we view things foreign, whether that be people or institutions.  But unlike in France, that is not reflected by whose in parliament.  In France, the two candidates who have made it into the second round are, 1) the most eurosceptic of the candidates (Le Pen), and 2) the most pro-European of the candidates (Macron).  By the same token, the two largest parties in the UK's parliamentary system ought to be UKIP and the Lib Dems, for they were the parties who epitomized each side of the referendum campaign the most. Yet the two largest parties in Westminster are, the Conservatives and Labour, still, as if the debate is still between capitalism and socialism.  In the referendum campaign itself, the former was neutral while the labour party only appeared luke warm in its support of remain.  Our party political system, or in particular, the makeup of parliament, has not kept up with the debate outside.

It's not just because we haven't had an election for two years.  Two years is not very long, and bare in mind that UKIP had actually won the most votes in the European elections back in 2014. No, its because of our electoral system, which favors traditional parties over any new ones.  A key lesson from the French presidential election therefore, is just how much our First past the post system is preventing the makeup of parliament from taking its natural, and most representative, course.

Now I'm not saying that we ought not to have a socialist party, for example.  What I am saying however, is that the size of political parties in parliament, and on the political stage generally, should be somewhat reflective of the percentage of people who actually believe what they stand for.  By all means, have a socialist party, just like we have a Green party, for example - I am in favour of a pluralistic multi-party system.  But the key to having a multi-party system that no party should be too big for its own ideology.  If for example, more voters believe in liberalism than believe in socialism, then it makes sense that the liberal party should be bigger and more influential than the socialist party.


Friday, 21 April 2017

This Election May Not Be a Foregone Conclusion, but the Tories Winning it does seem to be one.

On Tuesday the 19th April, Theresa May announced that she and her cabinet intended to hold a general election.  It is due to happen on the 8th of June.

Obviously, Theresa May saw that the Labour Party was 20 points behind in the polls and could not resist.  Knowing that the only possible outcome, unless she somehow suffers the same fate as Francois Fillon, is that the Tories will gain a very large majority at the expense of Labour, she has everything to win and nothing to loose;  a larger majority will give her a freer hand, should any group within her party oppose her on anything.  Given how badly Labour performed at the last election, despite its more favorable position in the polls then, one can only guess how many seats the party will loose this time round, particularly when Corbyn's position on Brexit seems to have pleased neither its heartland supporters who voted Leave in the Referendum (and particular its policies and rhetoric on immigration) nor its staunch remain-supporting voters.  At least it no longer has to worry about loosing many Scottish incumbent MPs.

As for the Lib-Dems, the future is bright.  I have read articles which suggest that they may well win 30 seats, largely from the Tories, but I see no reason why they may not also take seats from Remain supporting Labour voters who don't support Corbyn.  What I would say is this though, many of the seats which the Lib Dems lost to the Tories, such as those in Cornwall, are seats which voted to leave in the referendum.  Will the Lib-Dems manage to regain many of its traditional 'remote rural' seats or will it become much more of an urban party given the centrality of pro-Europeanism to the party, particularly now.  This election has been described as a de-facto referendum on Brexit after all.

The trouble with this election being a 'de-facto referendum' is that those who support Brexit and the new status quo have only one option to vote for, the Tories (UKIP being irrelevant now, let's face it, and excluding the Ulster Unionists) while those who support remain/don't like Theresa May have a multitude of different parties to vote for - Labour, Lib-dems, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein... have I missed any out? Either way, the Pro-Brexit vote is now as unified as ever while the anti-Brexit vote is divided, and under the First Past the Post system, this can only be bad news.  I agree that Theresa May has called this general election to be essentially a referendum on the Brexit process, and tried to make it a referendum in which the choice is either yes or yes.  The fact that she has refused to attend any televised debates shows that she does not view it as a normal election.

So what about Plaid Cymru and the SNP? If the SNP manages to hold on to all its seats won at the last election, that will be a clear green light from the people of Scotland to Nicola's Sturgeon's plans for a second referendum.  It is interesting that Theresa May has said that now is not the time for such an independence referendum but feels that it is the time to have a general election.  So what about Plaid Cymru? The fact that the party nearly won Anglesey and came 229 votes short of kicking out Labour there should be hopeful, let's hope that any leave voters who have traditionally voted Plaid Cymru will not hold a grudge against the party and instead recognize that Wales sure does need a voice right now.  What will be equally interesting is whether or not Plaid Cymru can repeat the progress that it made in the Welsh Assembly elections, particularly in the valleys, where not only did Leanne Wood win in the Rhondda but large vote increases happened elsewhere, such as in Blaenau Gwent.

Another aspect to this election is the talk of a 'progressive alliance' between the left of center parties, an idea which can count Caroline Lucas as one of its keen advocates.  This certainly seems like a good idea in which the parties involved can choose to not run against each other in seats where it looks like a split in the anti-Brexit or left of center vote could lead to the Tories getting in.  Unfortunately, it seems that Labour, in its arrogance, is not so keen on the idea.  Although I feel that they deserve all the extra disaster that comes with that decision, it is actually highly understandable that they should decline such an offer - they are used to their age old place in a two party system, and where they were able to win elections without any other parties' help, and it can only be hard for them to accept that such a position is now over for them.

This election my not be a foregone conclusion but whether or not the Tories are gonna win it, does seem to be one.  What will be interesting is 1) what progress the Lib-Dems are going to make and the extent to which they will be the flag-bearers for the 48%, 2)Whether or not the SNP are going to keep their seats, and 3) at least for me, whether or not Plaid Cymru makes any noteworthy gains in Wales.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

What Brexit was Truly About and Why it Happened

Article 50 has now been triggered and there is no doubt that it will go down as a defining moment in British, and European History, no matter what happens next.   I agree with what Guy Verhofstadt had to say; the relations between the UK and the rest of Europe can indeed by described as an unhappy marriage.  The key question that was always in my mind both long before and after the referendum was why.  Why did the UK have such an unhappy membership of the EU and why did it vote to leave on June 23rd, 2016? Why the UK, and not any other country?

At first, when I asked this question to the rest of my family, back when Cameron was negotiating reforms and Nigel Farage was sounding off against them, the answer seemed obvious.   Britain was an island, not part of Continental Europe, and therefore felt less European.  After a while, I started to scratch my head a bit more, as it became more and more obvious that the UK was, in fact, not on the 'edge' of Europe at all, in fact, it was very close to the center.  Think about it: if you consider the 'true' center of Europe in particular to be where Brussels and Strasbourg are, or to be more exact, that entire region of Western Europe including the Netherlands, Belgium, Western Germany, Luxembourg and North East France (which are arguably the economic beating heart of Europe) then we are very close to it;  Much closer, in fact, than Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean or Ireland.   Not only that, the very parts of the UK that were furthest from the Continent, namely Northern Ireland and Scotland, voted to remain.  Clearly, our physical detachment by the English Channel had little or nothing to do with our unease in being part of the organisation.

But that is not to mention that in many ways, Britain is the center of Europe.  For example, the financial capital of the EU, at least for now, is London.  In addition, Europe is known for being a wealthy and industrialized continent and was the first continent to undergo industrialization.  But where in Europe industrialized first? Great Britain.  Europe is also known for being a continent of parliamentary democracies.  Britain is the land of the Magna Carta and the 1688 Bill of Rights, with its parliament in Westminster being the icon of parliamentary democracy.    Europe is also known for its past colonization of other continents.  Which country built up the largest colonial empire? Great Britain.  Europe is also a continent in which the English language is the leading lingua-franca.  Where in Europe does English come from? England.  

It is precisely because of all this, ironically, that Britain, or rather England in particular, voted to leave the EU.  As my seminar tutor said (in a seminar on Welsh history) just over an hour ago, Brexit can be described as an English/ Anglo-British nationalist move in which the prevailing thought can be described as something like 'We invented parliamentary democracy, started the industrial revolution, built the largest Empire the world has ever seen and the world speaks our language, so why do we need to be equal partners with other European countries within this organisation?' I couldn't have phrased it better myself, and indeed the rest of the seminar group, all Welsh students (and one English guy, me), also agreed.   Yes Wales, as a whole voted to leave the EU, but I would argue that if Wales had been less connected to England, then it would have voted to remain, like Scotland, and in fact, Gwynedd, the only local authority area in Wales where a majority of school children still speak Welsh at home, voted to remain.  In the lead up to the referendum, Boris Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph that 'We are the European, if not World, Leaders...', and referred to what Britain had given to the world, and to the British Empire to argue that Britain could jolly well survive outside the EU; he did not say that we weren't European. Daniel Hannan, when debating alongside Nigel Farage on Britain's membership of the EU, closed his opening speech by saying 'That which we are, we are' and went on to refer to Britain's linguistic, military and economic power and influence.  Even David Cameron, who backed the remain side, argued that because of Britain's history and achievements, British membership of the EU should not be the same as other countries' membership.  

Thus I would argue that if England had not been the land of the Magna Carta and the 1689 Bill of Rights, had not started the industrial revolution, had not built the largest colonial Empire the world has ever known and if the English language was not the Lingua Franca of Europe and the world, then ironically Britain would be a proud signed up nation of the European Union like any other, and the English channel would be not much less of a division than the straits of ├śresund.  In addition, if the UK's 20th century had been different, say if we had been under either foreign subjugation for a portion of it, been a dictatorship or indeed had a civil war, then we would also be a much keener member of the EU.  A country like Spain, for example, which had experienced the latter two, saw the EU as a 'cool club' of economically developed democracies where as we in Britain, with our history, felt that we were already 'cool' and in 1973 didn't join up for quite the same reasons.  

With the great pride in our history and democratic traditions comes the accompanying view that the EU is an affront to all that; namely that the European Commission is akin to a continental despotism threatening Anglo-Saxon democracy in Britain.  It is the view that Continental Europe, having produced a long line of despots from Philip II of Spain to Louis XIV of France to Napoleon to Kaiser Wilhelm and Hitler, has produced the EU as an heir to this tradition.  Don't take my view for it, take Boris Johnson's own words; he himself compared the EU to the Nazi dictator.  It is interesting to note that when talking to Brexiters on Youtube/facebook or indeed face to face, I was just as likely, if not more likely, to find people who argued that the EU was a dictatorship than to find people sounding off about immigration. 


The key question is, how could we have moderated the prevailing world view among the majority of us English, and how should we, in the future, in order to allow us to be prouder European and Global citizens? Both the Press and the Education system of course have a large influence.  We need an education system that teaches us the fact that other nations also invented constitutional government; that Sweden also had parliamentary democracy during the eighteenth century, in what is known as the Age of Liberty, and that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had a limited monarchy and strong legislature while we in England and Wales were living under the despotism and semi-despotism of the Tudors and Stuarts.  We need to teach ourselves that the Kikuyu, in Kenya, for example, also had a proto-democratic system of clan governance, that is, before we British conquered them.  And of course, we need to teach ourselves that the European Commission is not a dictatorship, that in fact, the European Parliament has legislative power and that the European parliament approves the President of the Commission, as proposed by the European Council.  Until we have an education system and press which teaches us that, I am afraid that Brexit will truly mean Brexit and all that that implies.  

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Yr Iaith Gymraeg: We need to talk about Conwy

Conwy County Borough is a local authority area located about half way across the coast of North Wales (see right) and is bordered by Denbighshire to the East and Gwynedd to the south and west, and in Gwynedd, Welsh is still spoken natively by a majority of the population.  Together, Gwynedd and Conwy share the Snowdonia National Park (Parc Cenedlaethol Eyiri), known to be a bastion of Welsh culture and home to Wales's most iconic scenery, and which covers about a third of Conwy. One would therefore assume that Conwy was pretty Welsh speaking.  Yet the 2011 Census recorded that only 27.4% of the population could speak Welsh, while the 2013 school census recorded that of Conwy's primary school children over the age of five, only 10.6% spoke Welsh 'fluently at home'.  The figures for each individual primary school, however, give one an idea about how the Welsh Language is doing in different places around the county borough.

They show that of Conwy's 58 primary schools, 13 have a majority of their children over the age of five speaking Welsh 'fluently at home', of which five are above 80%, and of those five, three are above 90%.  The map below shows each of the schools in Conwy colour-coded to show the percentage of children speaking Welsh at home with the greenest colour representing schools above 80% and the gray representing schools below 20%.  Any school that is either green or 'greeny-brown' has a majority of its pupils from Welsh-speaking homes.
It goes without saying that we see a coast-hinterland divide here, with many of the schools on the coast having none of their pupils speaking Welsh at home.  Indeed, I once met someone who described the north coast of Wales as the 'Costa-Del-Scouse.'  When you look at the hinterland however,  what you see is quite bizarre; the strongest Welsh speaking areas are mostly not in the Snowdonia national park area itself, but in the less mountainous countryside to the east of it.  Mountainous areas tend to be very good at conserving languages and cultures which have disappeared elsewhere since they are less accessible to the 'outside world' yet here the countryside that is less mountainous and closer to England has conserved the language better.  Why is that? One word: Migration; English people who move to Wales are more likely to chose the scenic areas, or as already mentioned, the coastal areas; take the now anglicized Snowdonian village of Betws-Y-Coed as an example of the former, there, 43.3% of the population was born outside Wales according to the 2011 Census, and fewer than five of the twenty primary school children there spoke Welsh at home in 2013, while in Cerrigydrudion, only 22.8% of the population was born outside Wales and 85.7% of primary school children speak Welsh at home.  Similarly, in the book For Wales, See England, Martyn Ford, describes how another Snowdonian village, Penmachno, underwent rapid Anglicization starting in the 1970s; in 1971 the percentage of Welsh speakers  there was 84%, but a decade later, such a figure was only 70%, with 37% of houses being holiday homes by 1981.  By 2013, fewer than five of Penmachno's 23 primary school children over the age of 5 spoke Welsh at home.  Nevertheless, as the map shows, there are still some schools in the Snowdonian portion of Conwy where a majority of pupils do still speak Welsh at home, the three being in the villages of Ysbyty Ifan, Capel Garmon and Dolwyddelan, although the overall percentage for the primary schools in the Snowdonian portion of Conwy was only 36.6%.  The fact that a higher percentage of incomers from outside Wales appears to be linked to fewer children speaking Welsh at home suggests that it is not merely retirees moving to rural Wales, as is widely believed; after all, retirees tend not to be of the age group to be raising young children.

Despite the geographical paradox already discussed, the rule that minority languages tend to survive better in rural areas is certainly present in Conwy; although truly welsh speaking towns do exist in Gwynedd and Anglesey, in Conwy everywhere where a majority of children speak Welsh at home is rural.   Llanrwst is the most welsh speaking of Conwy's towns, but even there, only 25.6% of pupils in the town's primary school speak Welsh at home.  Llanrwst is a key example of where the Census can be quite deceptive; the 2011 Census recorded that 61% of the population could speak Welsh, potentially giving one  completely the wrong impression as to the actual state of Welsh in the town.

So how far back would you have to go to find a predominantly Welsh speaking Conwy? Figures for Conwy as a whole don't go back very far, since the area as a unit of local government only came into existence in 1996.    What are available however, are the individual figures for different urban and rural districts, and in particular, the percentages for each age group are available for the 1911 and 1921 censuses (but not after!!.)  So what was the situation then?  Below are the percentages of children aged 3-4 speaking Welsh within each town at the censuses of 1911 and 1921 with every town except for Llanrwst and Betws-y-Coed being located on the 'coastal strip' across the north of Conwy:

Both inland towns had very high percentages of children speaking welsh at home and neither of them saw a decrease at this time and thus they had not yet diverged from their rural surroundings.  The coastal strip, however, was a different story; Llandudno and Colwyn Bay had already ceased to be primarily Welsh speaking by as early as 1911, while the other four seaside towns, although majority Welsh mother tongue at both censuses. all experienced spectacular decreases during the 1910s.   I therefore think it is highly likely that none of the coastal towns would have had a majority of their children still speaking welsh at home by the era of the Second World War. The fate of Welsh in Conwy can therefore be described as having first lost the coastal strip to, it seems, seaside tourism, in the first half of the twentieth century, and then much (but not all) of the scenic and mountainous hinterland in the second half of the twentieth century with the arrival of the motorcar.

Conwy, is thus today an area where only a minority of people are able to speak Welsh overall and where an even smaller minority of children speak it at home.  However, even though it has lower overall percentages than say, Ceredigion, this is more than made up for in my opinion by the fact that genuinely welsh speaking areas genuinely do exist in Conwy.  As for why Conwy is so much less welsh speaking than Gwynedd, and has such a low percentage overall, an obvious factor is the fact that Conwy is simply closer to England, while other factors include the fact that the county has such a sparsely populated hinterland, and a densely populated but incredibly anglicized coastal strip.  The lack of a significant slate industry in the interior meant that the hinterland did not see the growth of the slate mining towns that Gwynedd has, and which provided the interior of that county with urban centres of population which are also heavily Welsh speaking.

Talking of Gwynedd, if you are interested in reading my blog on the status of Welsh there, click here, whilst I have also written blogs on Anglesey and Ceredigion.