Sunday, 31 July 2016

Just how Welsh Speaking is Gwynedd today?

Gwynedd, the home of Snowdon, has for the centuries been a bastion for Welshness.  Whether as the last unconquered Welsh principality in the 13th Century or as the Heartland of Welsh language newspapers, novels and poets in the 19th and early 20th, to say that the region has punched above its weight with regards to Welsh culture would be an understatement.  And of course, in the twenty-first century where Welsh is now a minority language in Wales as a whole, Gwynedd is Wales's most welsh speaking area.   Thus, I, myself a learner of the language originally from London but now living in Wales, wanted to find out just how Welsh speaking Gwynedd is in the second decade of the Twenty-First Century.
             The 2011 Census recorded that 65.4% of those enumerated in Gwynedd on Census day could speak Welsh, compared to 72.1% in `1991.  However the Census is not always the best guide to the state of Welsh as a Mother Tongue; the question is on whether or not you can speak Welsh; not whether or not it is your mother tongue.  This is significant since, A Survey Commissioned by Gwynedd Council on secondary schools in 2014, showed how the home language, along with the Home Language of his or her friends, had the greatest impact on a child's use of the language socially.  A far more accurate indicator of the status of Welsh as a mother tongue and community language, than the Census, are school inspection reports by Estyn, the Welsh equivalent to OFSTED in England, which will state the  percentage of pupils speaking Welsh at Home under the section entitled 'Context'.  Thus in a spare weekend this Summer, I noted down the relevant numbers and percentages given in the latest Estyn reports in all 96 of Gwynedd's primary schools into one spread sheet, and, since they have smaller catchment areas than secondary schools they give quite an accurate picture of the town or village in which they are located.  I must add however, that for the primary schools in the Bala catchment area, I used a 2014 language impact assessment report available online via google search instead of going onto the school's individual estyn reports.
            The results showed that of Gwynedd's Primary school population of just under 9500, 59.2% speak Welsh at home (WAH).  This did not surprise me; the survey referred to earlier concluded that 59% of secondary school pupils came from either wholly Welsh speaking or bilingual homes (the former 44%, the latter 15%).  What astonished me about the Estyn results,however, was the variation: The school with the highest percentage of pupils from Welsh-speaking homes (Ysgol Bro Tryweryn in Frongoch) stood at 96% while the 3 most anglicized schools had no pupils from Welsh speaking homes.  In 7 schools the percentage exceeded 90% while in 10 schools it was less than 10%.  There's no other way of putting it, that is an astonishingly wide variation.  Furthermore, Schools above 50% averaged 73.6% while those below 50% averaged 14.4%. Clearly, the state of Welsh as a living vernacular in Gwynedd today varies spectacularly depending on which part of Gwynedd you are in; there are areas where nearly child has Welsh as their mother tongue and areas where literally no child does.   So how exactly does the strength of Welsh vary across the county? I will thus delve into each of Gwynedd's three territorial divisions; Arfon, Meirionydd and Dwyfor: 
          Arfon, in the north of Gwynedd where 60% of pupils speak Welsh at home, contains Gwynedd's two largest towns: Bangor and Caernarfon.  In Caernarfon's primary schools, 81.6% speak Welsh at home; Welsh is clearly the town's living vernacular.  In Bangor, however, it is only 24.3%.   Clearly, although the influx of university students in Bangor does have some impact on the percentage who can speak Welsh there, what matters more is that it simply doesn't seem to be the town's vernacular any more.  Of Arfon's 41 Primary schools, in only 13 do less than half of pupils speak Welsh at home, and of these, 10 are in or around Bangor.  Thus Arfon can be described as an essentially Welsh speaking area in which Bangor is an English speaking enclave.
        In Meirionydd, essentially Southern Gwynedd, only 47% of pupils speak Welsh at Home and only 16 of its 31 primary schools have WAH majorities.  For much of the twentieth Century, before the area of Gwynedd was created as an administrative area, Meirionydd was the most Welsh speaking county in Wales.  The results show that it is now sharply divided and so I will deal with the two halves of Merionydd separately:  the North and East of Meirionydd (essentially mid-snowdonia) is still Welsh speaking with 76.5% of the primary school population there speaking it at home; in Trawsfynydd and Frongoch's primary schools it exceeds 90% while only one school in this region has a WAH minority, Ysgol Bueno Sant in Bala.  Although mostly rural, this region does include two towns; lakeside Bala and the post-industrial slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog.  Bala has two primary schools, one, Ysgol Bro Tegid where 64% come from WS homes and the other, Ysgol Bueno Sant where only 36% do.  Blaenau Ffestiniog, the largest of Merionydd's towns has 80% of its pupils speaking Welsh at home and none of its primary schools are below 70%.  It is tempting to think that the Blaenau's slag heaps may have deterred Anglophone incomers from settling there while it will be interesting to see what effect the town's regeneration will have on the survival of Welsh there in the years to come.   
              As for the South and Western half of Meirionydd, there, only 20.5% of pupils come from Welsh-speaking homes.  Essentially, everywhere on the Meirionydd coast south of Harlech has been anglicized.  A key example of this is the seaside resort of Barmouth, where in its primary school, Ysgol Y Traeth, no pupils speak Welsh at home. Although centred on the coast, this area of anglicisation does, unfortunately, extend inland and cover much of southern Snowdonia.   In the beautiful town of Dolgellau below Cadair Idris, only 25% of pupils speak Welsh at home and interestingly this is neither a seaside resort nor a university town.  Dolgellau is a key example of how the Census can give a false impression; in 2011, 64.8% of the town's inhabitants reported that they could speak Welsh, inducing one to think that Welsh is still a majority language there while estyn shows otherwise.  Although Welsh is stronger in Dolgellau's surrounding mountainous hinterland than in the town itself, even there, anglicisation is most definitely happening.  In the mountain-village school in Dinas Mawddwy, 73% of pupils came from Welsh speaking homes in 2007, but by 2010 this had fallen to 40%.  Similarly in Ganllwyd, the figure was 72% in 2008 and 50% in 2014.  However, in the villages of Pennal and Corris, for example, the demise of Welsh as the main vernacular for children has already occurred; their percentages were 14 and 6%, at their latest inspections, respectively.   Thus, the future for Welsh in Southern Snowdonia does not look good.
        On a more cheerful note, however, the division of Dwyfor, consisting mainly of the Lleyn Peninsular, is the most Welsh speaking of Gwynedd's three divisions; there, 70.4% of pupils speak Welsh at home.  In 12 of its 23 schools, more than 70% of pupils speak the language at home while in only 3 of its 23 schools is Welsh not the majority mother tongue: Abersoch, Borthyguest and Beddgelert with these 3 schools averaging at 26%; Beddgelert now being at 7% (compared with 50% in 2005).    To me, it's ironic that the attention of organisations such as Cymuned and Meibion Glyndwr were so focused on the Lleyn when this is the by far the language's safest territory.  Even so, it does appear that WAH may become a minority in the seaside towns of Criccieth and Porthmadog in the near future; WAH will be a minority in Ysgol Treferthyr in Criccieth by the next inspection if the current trend continues, while in Porthmadog, it was noted in Ysgol Eifon Wyn's latest inspection report (from 2010),  that although 60% of pupils overall spoke WAH, in the nursery class it was only a third.  Should the percentage in these two schools fall below 50%, Welsh will still be a majority in 18 of Dwyfor's 23 schools but no longer be the majority pupil mother tongue in two of its four urban centres.  
        Thus, Gwynedd can be described as an area in which Welsh is still a majority mother tongue, but in which there are significant areas where it is not, namely much of Meirionydd and the City of Bangor.  As for why Welsh has survived so well in certain areas but not in others, this is something I would welcome some input on.  Feel free to comment; maybe you live in Gwynedd or have a contribution to make, or just want to join in the discussion.  

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Strange Death of Labour Britain?

Labour has entered its new wilderness years.  Yet these are not going to be like those of the 1980s; unlike in the days of Margaret Thatcher, when Labour was the opposition but just as much part of the political debate as the Tories in government, now it looks like Labour is actually disappearing off stage, and could it be for good?
       During the not-fondly-looked-back-upon 'Wilderness Years' of 1979-1997, the Labour Party was out of power in Westminster and they remained in opposition election after election.  But however much Labour might not want to look back on its past during those years and for all their nickname, the 'Wilderness Years,  they weren't actually that wild a wilderness for Labour; Labour was, with the Tories, on Centre stage.  Whether it was Michael Foot vs Thatcher, the Miners vs Thatcher or Kinnock vs Thatcher and Major, on the stage before the Country's eyes was the struggle between left and right, between the two parties and the two ideologies they upheld, while the miners and the Unions too, were at the centre of attention, particularly, of course, during the Miners' strike. Labour and its ideology were out of government and for ever it seemed, but they weren't beyond mainstream attention; quite the opposite.
        Now however, Labour really is in uncharted territory, and that's being quite positive about their situation.  At the 2015 general election, they lost almost the entirety of their traditional Scottish heartland and as of the Scottish Parliament election this May, they are now the third largest party in the said institution, where nine years ago they were the government.  South of the border, Labour's internationalist and pro-European core principals were found to have not been shared by the majority of their working class constituents across most of their industrialist heartlands in the North of England and South Wales, the working class being the very people the party was founded to represent.  The party now faces a leadership election that might only lead to further catastrophe and it was widely agreed that their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, did not do enough for the remain side in the lead up to the referendum.  What ever becomes of the leadership election, whether Corbyn survives or is replaced, whether Labour stays as one party or splits into Pro and Anti-Corbynite parties, it may well be too late; the marginalisation of Labour from the mainstream of political debate may well be permanent, although this may well depend on how Brexit turns out.
        Whether it is Labour's fault or not, the party, or at least the leadership, didn't seem to have a very high profile in the referendum debate, a debate which consumed nearly all of the country's political attention.  It was of course, in many ways, a 'Tory Debate'; it was called by David Cameron and it was his party which was divided on the issue there and just as it had been the Tories for whom Europe had been a hot-potato issue for 25 years.  In the Wembley debate, the key figures who stood out most notably for me were Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsome on the Leave side, and Ruth Davidson for Remain; all Tories.  UKIP, it goes without saying was central to the debate, while the Lib-Dems as an internationalist party threw all their effort into the Remain campaign.
       It just seems that the old debate between Capitalism and Socialism just doesn't exist any more.  Now it's nationalism vs Internationalism, or rather Pro-Europeanism vs British nationalist Europhobia, that is the play before the country's eyes.  Celtic Nationalism in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be a third force which will of course be Centre-stage again if there's a second independence referendum in Scotland.  Where's Labour's socialism's place within that two/three way struggle? Obviously firmly within the internationalist camp but is it possible for Labour to have the starring role there? I'm not so sure.  Corbyn's inaction doesn't seem to have helped.  Perhaps we need a new progressive but non-socialist force to embody Internationalism in Britain.  The Lib-Dems are the obvious party for the job, and they have been capitalising on that opportunity.  Nevertheless, having May rather than Leadsome as Tory leader will make it less easy for them to attract remain voting Tories.  Either way, I wish them good luck.
      As for Labour, if they are not careful, crises such as their loss of support and even retreat from the mainstream in Scotland, their ideological detachment from their working class constituents south of the border (who are their raison d'etre) and, not to mention their savage infighting after the referendum, might end up leading to, if such problems don't constitute it themselves, a strange death of Socialist Britain too much like the Strange Death of Liberal England, so described by George Dangerfield writing in 1931, which occurred a century ago, seeing the Liberals fall from being the governing party before and into the First World War, to what it has been in the century since.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

New Prime Minister, New Blog

It was six years since we last had a change of Prime Minister and so today was not a normal day to put it mildly.  And it happened at such short notice; I certainly didn't foresee Andrea Leadsome pulling out of the race.
        As for who I wanted to win during the Tory Leadership race, I did have the odd reservation about having someone who had been a pro-remain campaigner lead the country out of the European Union and I certainly had been impressed by Andrea Leadsome when watching her at Wembley Stadium, even though, as you can see from my previous blogs I was/am in thorough disagreement with the Brexiters.  Nevertheless, when it was reported that she had used the fact that she had children and her opponent didn't.  I immediately shifted my support to Theresa May.  
       Theresa May herself has many admirable qualities.  She has served as Home Secretary for six years and has built up a reputation for being competent and was described by the Financial Times as being a 'non-ideological politician who gets on with the job'.  Efficiency can only be a good quality in a Prime Minister.  As for some of her political stances, I agree with her support of marriage equality and her support of a remain vote ahead of the referendum; she also identifies herself as a liberal, One Nation Conservative and this is the side of the Tory Party I have the most understanding for.  I also now feel that, as someone who was a remainer, that she will not let Britain get too carried away in its Brexit journey; yes she will trigger article 50, and has pledged to do so after the end of 2016, but that she might be better at negotiating an amicable deal with the EU on the best possible terms than someone who had actually supported Brexit.  Sure she has been criticised for her immigration policies, including those towards foreign students, and I sympathise with that criticism, but at least she's better than someone from the Europhobic right of the party or someone like Boris Johnson.
      I also feel that it was extremely courageous of her to decide to run for a post which may well be, and in my opinion probably is, a poisoned chalice; particularly so since she now has to take her country down a road she wouldn't have wanted it to take.  How will she handle the recession that has been predicted, and the withdrawal of large employers from the United Kingdom so that they can be inside the European Union? At least if the new Prime Minister were a true Brexiter, the only people to blame for such economic woes would be the Europhobic right of the party and of course UKIP, and perhaps British Ultra-Nationalism itself.  If such a recession does happen, to what extent will all the blame fall on those shoulders, or will she inevitably take some of that blame simply for being at the top if and when it comes?
      At least for her she will be facing an opposition that will have little energy to for fill its role.  The Labour Party, after being hit by the reality that its internationalism has been rejected in its working class heartlands, is tearing itself to pieces.  In short, the party membership appears to be at war with the MPs even though they are both overwhelmingly internationalist and Pro-European.  My view is that Corbyn should have resigned once he had blatantly lost the confidence of his MPs.  How on earth can you function as an opposition, let alone govern, if most of the MPs within your own party don't even support you?  Even Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP in the House of Commons has more MPs supporting him than Corbyn and so technically, should the SNP should be given the title of leader of the opposition?
      If Corbyn does win the leadership election within the Labour Party, I definitely believe that the Labour MPs should break away and form their own left-of-centre party.  As left wing collumnist Owen Jones argued in one of his youtube videos, both the Tories and Labour should split in two, and many comments argued that UKIP could join with what has been the Eurosceptic wing of the Tory Party, for example.  I am strongly in favour of at least a four party system, and Germany is an example of a country where there on the left there is a moderate and a more hardline party, the SPD and Linke, respectively.  There is however little such evidence that the Eurosceptic Tories will join with UKIP or that there will be any fracture on the right, May's election and promise to proceed with Brexit healing many wounds there, and so a split on the left would definitely be problematic under our First Past the Post electoral system.  Whether or not the Labour Party survives, I definitely believe that Socialism is becoming,  at least in the mean while, an irrelevant element in British Politics; the main conflicting ideologies are those of Nationalism and Internationalism  while a key centre of attention will be the future of our Union, in particular Scotland as Sturgeon no doubt plans for a Second referendum after the Scots voted against Brexit.  Effectively, Labour has been driven of the stage of British Politics, both in Scotland and south of the border, whether due its own fault or not.  Perhaps its time for a new, liberal internationalism to enter stage and for the Lib-Dems to shine as the chief progressive force.