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.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Suggestion: Elections to the House of Commons should be staggered by region/nation within the UK

   The United Kingdom is, in spite of devolution, a rather centralised state and it is one where a sufficient number of people feel that power is too centralised in one corner of the country.  We also have a voting system which many regard as unfair.  I have a suggestion that I do not claim will cure any of these, but I do feel that it would be of some help:

What I propose, is that instead of having nation-wide General Elections every five years in which every seat in the country is up for election, we should have a system whereby elections to the House of Commons are staggered so that the different parts of the United Kingdom elect their MPs during different years in a five year cycle.  One year, for example, it might be Wales and Northern Ireland electing their MPs, while the next year it might be Scotland and East Anglia.  Therefore, Scotland, Wales, Northern and the nine Regions of England will each have an election every five years, meaning that during three years of a five year cycle, there will be two elections in the year, while in the remaining two years, there will be three elections in the year to the House of Commons.  By-elections will happen as normal with the duly elected MP serving until his/her division of the United Kingdom next has an election.

Such a system would, in my opinion, by beneficial for several reasons.  One, it would serve to greater incentivize governments to be more accountable since the next election would always be soon and they may well loose their majority in the House of Commons in any year.  Two, it would force politicians in Westminster to pay attention to every region and nation within the United Kingdom, albeit with different regions/nations being in the limelight at different times.  Three, it may well even reduce tactical voting, since in a potential scenario where the outcome of an election in a certain region will not impact who has a majority in the House of Commons as a whole, the voter will feel more able to vote with their conscience.

Before each election, there would be be a mandatory televised debate in which every political party contesting a majority of seats within that nation or region would be invited to send a representative, with that representative having to be someone who is standing for the election in that nation or region.  Said debates would also help to 'zoom in' attention to each part of the country, more so than UK wide televised debates do, of course.

Thus that is a suggestion of mine.  Feel free to express your views on it in the comments below.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Remain Campaign should not have argued that the EU was what had kept the Peace

Leading up to the referendum on whether or not to leave the European Union, many on the remain side argued that the EU had kept the peace in Europe ever since its existence.  I feel that this particular argument should never have been used, and indeed, it was obvious to me that Brexiters were quick to take advantage of this obviously floored argument and ridicule us on the remain side.  The truth is that however undesirable we may feel the consequences of an EU breakup may be, a European war would never one of them.  Were those speakers and politicians representing us on the remain side seriously saying that were the EU to collapse, France would suddenly find itself at war with Germany again? I sincerely hope not; since anyone who can make that argument without questioning it would clearly need to think it through a bit better. If anything, the willingness of Western European countries to found and cooperate within the European Coal and Steel Community, along with its successor organisations, was caused by a collective desire to avoid war; not the other way around. In this blog, therefore, I will try to argue why I think European history since 1945 has been so comparatively peaceful.

100 years ago, Europe was in the middle of the First World War.  In many ways, not much had changed since the 4th Century BC when Alexander the Great was fighting the Persians. Whereas in that war you had two main Empires fighting each other for a greater share of the pie, in the 1910s, you had opposing Empires fighting each other for a greater share of the pie.  Wars were in no way a one off in the thousands of years before the 20th century, and even when they weren't happening, war was more often than not, in the air, with different powers most often viewing each other as rivals to be contained.  Today, the situation is totally different; the nation states of Europe now see each other as neighbors to cooperate with and not rivals to be contained.  Yes, arguments between neighboring countries do happen but they are no comparison in any sense; whenever, say, France and Britain have had a disagreement, it has been over border control at Calais and the Common Agricultural Policy; not over the Channel Islands or colonies in Africa.

That, I believe, is at the heart of it all.  Conflicts over territory are far less common in the world today than they used to be; territory is no longer something that you simply acquire, and with that, territorial expansionism, a leading cause of war, is (almost) unheard of.  But just why have our attitudes territory changed so much?  First of all, we live in a Europe, and a wider world, where the vast majority of countries are nation-states, and in Europe, for the most part, international borders reflect ethnic and linguistic countries.  Therefore, it doesn't make sense to go round annexing territory where the population is of a different nationality.  The belief in territorial self-determination has been critical, stating that the population of any given area should have the final say, meaning that traditional ways of acquiring territory, such as through marriage or conquest, are now seen as illegitimate.  This change, along with the related belief that all men are created equal, has replaced expansionist ideologies such as social Darwinism and Lebensraum.  Lebensraum, for example, was a German belief, that they, the Germans, were superior to the peoples of Poland, Russia and other Slavic countries, and that they therefore had to right to conquer and enslave them and steal their land.  It was perhaps the most important cause of WW2, and therefore its demise as an ideology, and of any similar expansionist ideologies, has made any kind of repeat of WW2 completely out of the question. The end of colonialism, in which certain European countries had large Empires on other continents, has meant that nations such as Britain and France have one less thing to fight over.  It is no coincidence then, that the demise of Empire and this long lasting period of Peace have come about at the same time.   Then of course, there is Constitutional Democracy and the fact that under such a system, governments can no longer go to war on a whim and expect their populations to unquestionably serve up.  The idea that Democracy brings peace is as old as Thomas Paine.  It can only be a good thing, then, that Constitutional Democracy is the dominant political system across Europe and the wider industrialized world today.  But in addition to the important political changes that have just been described, I also remember someone arguing on youtube that the post-war economic miracles that took place in Europe, South Korea and Japan, helped to prove once and for all that territorial expansion was not a prerequisite for economic expansion. Today, when countries do compete, it is to attract foreign direct investment, to get to the top of the PISA rankings, eetc, and to out-perform each other in ways that do not involve any kind of territorial aggrandizement.

 The three main Europe-centered conflicts of the Twentieth Century, the First World War, the Second World War and the Cold War, did a lot to bring about the conditions described above.  Not only did the first two show just how destructive war can be, and thus act as a deterrent against future wars, a notable achievement of the Cold War was that it served to further consolidate unity between nations which were on the same side.  In the West, the capitalist nations realized that they had to pull together and become allies in the face of the communist threat while in the East, the Red Army made sure that no conflicts broke out between the Warsaw Pact countries.  Thus, when the Iron curtain finally came down, the allied countries in the West, for example, were now so used to being allied with each other, that they weren't going to suddenly start fighting each other again, while more importantly, the factors described in the previous paragraph were now firmly established.

Thus, while I was a staunch remainer in the lead up to the referendum, and count myself as a pro-European even now (though I do accept the result of the referendum), I feel that it was neither wise nor correct for the Remain Campaign to go so far as to say that the EU was what had prevented war breaking out.  Such an argument only allowed Leave supporting politicians to get another chance at ridiculing the Remain Campaign, a chance which individuals such as Nigel Farage and Daniel Hannan most definitely took.  

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Opinion: Britain's Pro-EU parties should change their tactics

 In the wake of the Supreme Court rejecting the appeal made by the government against the High Court ruling in 2016 (that Parliament would have to vote on triggering article 50 for it to be triggered), the Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, has announced that the Liberal Democrats will vote against any triggering of article 50 in parliament until there is a 'vote of the people on the final deal'.  While I agree with the Lib Dems' stance in principal, it seems to be the case that Brexiters have been quick to portray the Lib Dems as negating the will of the people by demanding a second referendum.  Similarly, Plaid Cymru are campaigning to keep Wales in the single market, on the grounds that Wales sells exports more to the EU than they import (which they do), and similarly, Plaid are being portrayed by their critics as being anti-democratic, (despite the fact that notable Leave Campaigners, an example being Daniel Hannan, are recorded on camera before the referendum stating that an exit from the EU would not necessarily mean an exit from the Single Market.)  In this particular blog article, I will argue that both parties should have followed a different post-referendum strategy, namely one which would have denied their opponents any opportunity to portray them as ignoring the result:

While I supported the remain cause before the referendum, and sympathize with the above stances of both Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems now, I personally would have taken a different approach since the referendum.  I believe that both parties should have tried to find a way of staying true to their internationalist and anti-Little Englander values without appearing to be ignoring the referendum.  They should have criticized the government, the leave campaign and UKIP for their ultra-nationalist, neo-imperialist and Little Englander attitudes, along with the incompetency of the government since the referendum, without publicly advocating any alternative policy which resembled ignoring the result:

For example, I'd have condemned Nigel Farage's speech in the European Parliament on the day after the referendum in which he arrogantly taunted the other deputies that they jolly-well ought to give Britain a preferential tariff-free deal, because if they didn't, the other countries would be hurt far more than Britain would, but that the other deputies wouldn't understand that because none of them had 'ever had a proper job,' for its naked arrogance and rudeness. Equally, I would have spent my time since condemning other examples of that 'Brexit attitude' by other Europhobic politicians.  I'd have criticized the comedy trip, on the 21st of January by former minister Owen Patterson and chair of Leave Means Leave John Longworth, travelled to Berlin, in which they tried to persuade German business leaders to lobby Chancellor Angela Merkel to give Britain a preferential free trade deal, arguing that the continent and Germany needed Britain more than Britain needed them, and described Britain as 'a beacon of open, free trade around the world' (despite choosing to leave the world's largest free trade area,) only to be met with 'sniggers' and 'audible mutters of irritation' from the audience. I'd have also criticized the comedy incompetence of the government, and any examples of that, but I would not have campaigned for anything which could be interpreted by their Brexit supporting critics, and by the public in general, as ignoring the result of the referendum.

The point is this: if they had criticized both the government and the Brexit politicians generally but not actually announced any alternative policy, they'd have succeeded at criticizing their opponents while not giving their opponents, or the public, as much to criticize them about in return.  That's better than coming up with policies, such as having a Second Referendum, or anything which appears to want to 'water down' the government's Brexit plans, which only allows the other side to label you (however wrongly) as undemocratic.  If Plaid and the Lib-Dems had, say, gone about condemning the attitudes and values of the leave campaign, and their displays of arrogance and parochialism, both political parties would have stayed true to their internationalist values, those being tolerance and respect for other countries, without seeming undemocratic.  That is what both Tim Farron and Leanne Wood should have done, and that's what they should start doing now.  Also, put it this way; both Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats know that they are not going to be in government before Article 50 is triggered, so what benefit are they going to draw from announcing any alternative policies to the government, with regards to Brexit, anyway?

Sunday, 22 January 2017

The State of the Welsh Language in Ceredigion

Having just finished my one exam this semester on the 13th I thought that perhaps I could continue my blog 'series' on the state of the Welsh language and write one on Ceredigion.  So far, I have covered Gwynedd and Anglesey and given that Ceredigion is where I've been studying for nearly three years now, I thought why not?

The county of Ceredigion, located half way up the coast of West Wales and before 1974 referred to, in English, as 'Cardiganshire', is one of the four counties (by current boundaries) of Wales considered traditionally Welsh speaking.  Indeed, a majority of the population of the county could speak Welsh until as late as the 2001 census; 51.8%, although by 2011, this had fallen to 47.3%.  I, however, just like with Gwynedd and Anglesey, proceeded to look at the latest Estyn inspection reports on the county's primary schools to see what kind of percentage of children in the county came from Welsh speaking homes.  They showed that of Ceredigion's primary school population of just over 5000, around 26.6% speak Welsh at home.  

This did not surprise me.  Not only did I know that the 2011 Census had shown that Welsh was no longer a majority language here anymore, it was immediately obvious, of course, from the day I arrived in Aberystwyth, that Ceredigion was not Gwynedd and that Aberystwyth was not Caernarfon. Compare Ceredigion to Gwynedd, where, just under 60% of primary school children come from Welsh speaking homes, and a few questions and observations come to mind; mainly, why Welsh has survived so comparatively well in Gwynedd and and declined so much further here in Ceredigion?
All 47 Primary Schools in Ceredigion.  Dark Green = Above 70%
Light Green: 50-70%        Yellow: 40-50%
Orange: 30-40%                     Dark Red: 20-30%
Grey: 10-20%                Black: 0-10%

Before looking at the 'why', it is worth looking at the geographic distribution of the language within Ceredigion.  First of all, it is worth saying that 14 out of its 46 primary schools had Welsh-at-home majorities but that only 3 of these 14 were above 70%.   , Whereas in Gwynedd, there are large areas of that county where most schools are above 70%, in Ceredigion, no such areas exist anymore.
As you can see above on the right, however, 7 of those 14 Welsh-at-Home majority schools appear to be clustered in the countryside just east of the town of Aberystwyth, in the north of the county, perhaps indicating a genuine survival of Welsh as the majority home language in that area. Before we get too exited however, it is worth pointing out a few things.  1) None of these 7 schools are above 70%. 2) Those seven schools have an average pupil population of only 51.9, compared to an average size of 60.3 for WAH majority schools across the county in general and 133 pupils for non-WAH majority schools in the county.  3) While some of these seven schools, such as Ysgol Gymunedol Pontrhyfendigaid seem to be the main schools for their respective villages, and in that particular case the only school for miles around, others, such as Ysgol Gymunedol Penrhyncoch are dwarfed in size by nearby schools with much lower percentages from Welsh speaking homes.  One must wonder, therefore, whether the reason why there are nearby schools in the Bow Street-Penrhyncoch area which have such vastly different WAH percentages could be that a De Facto segregation system may have emerged there, with Welsh speaking parents and English speaking parents deliberately choosing to send their children to schools where the other children are of the same linguistic background.  

Some History
The obvious question to ask is, how far back do you have to go for Welsh to be predominant as a mother tongue in the homes and streets of Ceredigion? Until when did a majority of the county's children speak Welsh at home? Unfortunately, only the more recent Estyn reports on the county's primary schools are available online, and so the Census is what I have looked at, and in particular, the percentage of 3&4 year old inhabitants recorded as speaking Welsh at each Census, rather than the entire population.  There is however, a catch, which is this; as the census results across Wales show when compared to Estyn reports, we have reached a stage now where many parents register their 3&4 year old children as Welsh speaking merely because the latter are attending Welsh medium nurseries and schools, regardless of their actual home language.  That is why, for example, in the county of Gwynedd, the percentage of 3&4 year olds speaking Welsh was recorded at around 72% in 2011, despite only 59% of children there, according to Estyn, actually speaking it at home.    In neighboring Carmarthenshire, it is interesting to see that the percentage of 3-4 year olds speaking Welsh drops between every Census until the decade between 1981 and 1991, when it rises despite Welsh only declining further as a home language during that time.  I therefore assume from that instance that percentages for 3&4 year olds remain a mostly reliable indicator of home language until that period, and will therefore only look at censuses leading up to that of 1981.

% of 3-4 year old children able to speak Welsh
Change in % points per decade

      *Note that this is the drop between 1951 and 1931 divided by two due to there being no Census during the Second World War

I have to say that I was very surprised when I found these figures.  Contrary to what is widely believed, namely that everything was rosy in the Welsh Heartland counties until the 1960s,when incomers and retireers pursuing the rural idyll started arriving, these results show that Welsh lost significant ground in the county between 1911 and 1951 when the percentage of 3&4 year old children speaking it fell from 90% to 60% during those forty years.  The census figures for the overall population do well to hide this decline; the percentage of the overall population, regardless of age, speaking Welsh, only falls from 89.6% in 1911 to 79.5% in 1951, and then to 74.8% in 1961 and thus favors the view that the decline has only really happened in Ernest since the 1960s.

 What is interesting is that the decline  in 3&4 year old Welsh speakers appears to have slowed down significantly after 1951.  Why is that? Did the phenomenon, of parents reporting their children as Welsh speaking even when it wasn't the home language, start as early as the 1960s, or was there a genuine slow down?  We need not necessarily be suspicious, since, it could be that the drop between 1911 and 1951 represents a shift to English that only effected certain communities/areas of the county at the time, and that once they had been anglicized, there was a certain 'lag time' during the period 1951-1981 in which  Anglicization had temporarily stopped encroaching on new areas before a second wave of Anglicization impacted the rest of the county from the 1980s onwards.  That is indeed possible, since it is known that Welsh held out longer in certain areas such as Aberaeron, Lampeter and Tregaron than in other areas, most notably the town of Aberystwyth.  Unfortunately, we can't know for sure, since age break-downs for people speaking Welsh are not available for any individual district or parish (with a population below 20,000) beyond the census of 1921.

What about Aberystwyth?
Being both a seaside resort and a university town, its no surprise that Aberystwyth was the first place in the county to be anglicized.  What did surprise me, was quite how early it happened; by 1921, only 43.3% of 3&4 year olds in the town could speak Welsh, compared to 64.9% in 1911.  Another way of looking at it, however, is that Welsh managed to remain the majority home language of the town's children until 5 decades after the arrival of the railway, and 4 decades after the creation of the University College here.  Welsh also survived as the majority home language in Aberystwyth longer than in some other seaside resorts, such as Llandudno and Beaumaris, both of which already had less than half of their 3&4 year old inhabitants speaking Welsh by as early as 1911.  On the map above, one will notice a strong concentration of schools where fewer than 20% of pupils speak Welsh at home in the Aberystwyth area.

Conclusions and Questions
Thus, it is regrettable to say that Welsh is, unfortunately, no longer the principal home language in the county.  It should therefore be understood that for the 73.4% of primary school children who don't speak it at home, Welsh is a second language and not their mother tongue.  That is something that should be born in mind by policy makers no matter what future Census results state are the percentages of people able to speak Welsh.  So far,  the Census, which asks nothing about Welsh being the home language or one's mother tongue, appears to be the main sauce of information that the council, and other public and non-public bodies, turn to when drawing up their language analysis and plans.  Until a Census is taken which does ask one a question on whether Welsh is one's mother tongue, I do believe that the information I have looked at could be of benefit to anybody interested in the position of Welsh in the community, but then I would say that wouldn't I?

For any readers and certainly for me, however, the fact that only 26.6% of children in the county speak Welsh at home raises the obvious question; 'why?'  Why is it that in the northern county of Gwynedd, Welsh has survived as the home language for a majority of primary school pupils while here in Ceredigion, it has not? Not only do 59% of primary school pupils in Gwynedd speak Welsh at home, there are significant areas within Gwynedd where more than 70% speak it at home, notable urban areas, such as Caernarfon and Blaenau Ffestiniog where more than 80% speak it at home while there are some villages, such as Frongoch and Trawsfynydd, to name two, where more than 90% of pupils in their respective village schools come from Welsh-speaking homes.  In short, since Welsh has managed to survive so well up there, why has it failed to do so down here? Clearly, anglicizing influences such as Television and the Internet are not the main cause, since if they were, Welsh would have declined just as much in every home with a TV set and broadband connection.  As for the answer to that question, it will be interesting to see what you, readers, think.