Tuesday, 20 September 2016

An idea: A more Representative Voting System that keeps the Constituency link

How can we have an electoral system that retains the local constituency link between the voter and MP but which is more representative than the First Past the Post/Winner Take All system?  My answer:
         In this system which has popped into my mind (for all I know other people may have thought of it before me), single member constituencies would be retained but the candidate with the most votes will not be guaranteed to be the new MP if he receives less than 50% of the vote.  Should no candidate receive a majority of the votes cast, whoever is to become the new MP would need the endorsement of another candidate who himself has enough votes to bridge the gap.  For example, if the candidate with the most votes gets 42% of the vote (candidate X), he or she will have to enter an agreement with another candidate who has received at least 8% of the popular vote (Candidate Y) for Candidate X to be over the line and become the new MP.

 ,Under this system, if within a year of X becoming the MP, Y feels that X, has not been keeping the promises that he made in their agreement, Y can withdraw his endorsement and the post of MP for the constituency will now be vacant.  A new MP will have to be selected from the list of candidates at the last election, and that new MP will need the endorsement of himself and a fellow candidate who received enough votes at the last election to get him over the 50% line.  If no such agreement can be made within, say 3 weeks of X being removed as MP, then a by-election will have to happen and the process will start fresh from there.

The benefits of such a system are great, in my opinion.  For starters, tactical voting would be unnecessary; every vote would count and that is, after all, what Democracy is all about .  It would also require common ground to be made whenever no single candidate gets a majority of votes cast; and that is only fair.  The link between the constituency voter and the serving MP will be preserved but more importantly the way the constituency voted at the last election will be relevant throughout the parliamentary term and the sitting MP, should he have been elected with fewer than 50% of the votes cast, will have to remain in touch with how his constituency voted.  Don't forget that due to tactical voting no longer being necessary under this system, there would no doubt be fewer constituencies in which single candidates get a majority of the votes cast.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Just how Welsh speaking is Anglesey?

After the blog on the Welsh Language in Gwynedd was completed, I thought 'Next Stop:Anglesey'.  And why not? The isle of  Anglesey, or Ynys Môn, as it is known is Welsh, is the only local authority area apart from Gwynedd where a majority of the population can speak Welsh as of the 2011 Census;  namely 57.2% in Anglesey's case.  But I, like with Gwynedd, wanted to find how widely Welsh was spoken as a mother tongue on the Island, and by the youngest generation, namely Primary School Children.  Primary school inspection reports, produced by the regulatory body Estyn, give both the pupil population and the percentage who speak Welsh at home.  I therefore retrieved such information from the latest inspection reports on all 45 primary schools and keyed them into excel.

The results showed that of the just over 5100 primary school pupils in Anglesey, 37.3% speak Welsh at home compared to 59% in neighboring Gwynedd.  While Gwynedd is still majority Welsh speaking in every sense, Anglesey is not since although a majority can speak Welsh, a majority of children on the island don't speak it at home.  Like in Gwynedd however, the schools range spectacularly; there are 5 schools on Anglesey where  more than 80% of pupils speak Welsh at home (WAH) and there are 10 schools where it is less than 10%.  Of those pupils educated in schools with WAH majorities, 66.6% spoke WAH while of those in schools where a majority didn't speak Welsh at Home, only 16.4% spoke WAH.  Anglesey can therefore be described as a 'Belgium County', the island is sharply divided into areas where Welsh is very much the venacular, and areas where it isn't anymore.   

So how are these schools distributed? Schools where less than 10% speak WAH are found mainly in Holyhead or near the RAF base in Valley with the other two being in Beaumaris and Cemaes.   Schools between 10 and 30% are mainly on the East Coast but also in Porthaethwy/Menai Bridge and Rhosneigr.  Those between 30 and 50% are largely clustered around the South West of the Island but do exist elsewhere while schools where a majority speak WAH dominate the middle, the north and north west (excluding the coastal towns of Amlwch and Cemaes) but can also be found near the south, east and Menai Strait coasts but here they are less numerous than schools with more anglicized home backgrounds.  But looking at urban areas, how Welsh speaking is each town?  In the island's administrative centre, Llangefni, 63% of primary school children are from Welsh speaking homes while in the largest town, Holyhead it is only 8.4%.  As for the other towns, Amlwch is at 30%, Benllech is at 27%, Menai Bridge is at 20% while Beaumaris is at 5%.  

Thus the island is strongly divided. While the interior, North West coasts and a few areas on the Menai are still majority Welsh mother tongue, most coastal areas, along with Holy Island, are now majority First Language English.  To add an anecdote, I once met someone who had grown up in an anglicized area of Anglesey who did not even seem to be aware of the fact that much of the island is still Welsh speaking;  in his village primary school only around 10% of pupils spoke WAH according to Estyn an he stated that he became fluent in Welsh while at school due to it being Welsh Medium but had since lost fluency while on the island since he never used it in everyday life.  The question is, therefore, for how long has Anglesey been a divided island? How far back do you have to go for the whole island to be homogeneously Welsh speaking?

A bit of History
Since I was unable to get hold of reports on pupil mother tongue dating back much more than 10 years (with one exception), the Census is what I have used to see how the vitality of Welsh changed on Anglesey during the twentieth century; the percentage of people over the age of 3 speaking welsh at Parish, District and County level being given.  Clearly, the island was almost homogeneously Welsh speaking until after the second world war.   In 1961, areas where more than 80% of the overall population could speak Welsh covered nearly the whole island but significant enclaves below 80% had emerged, all of which were coastal.  By 1971, with the exception of the North West coast and two small areas in the south West and Menai Coasts, respectively, nowhere coastal was above 80%; Welsh was strongest in inland areas while most coastal areas had become more anglicized.  Thus the linguistic divide that we see today had already come into existence by 1971, with the sixties being a decade of significant territorial change and the decades since seeing much less change. The fact that, on the whole, the areas that were still above 80% in 1971 still have a majority of their school children speaking Welsh at Home now, shows how resilient the Welsh language has been territorially in the past 46 years.  A question thus arises; why did most of Anglesey's coastal areas become English speaking in a relatively short period of time when Welsh as a living vernacular has managed to survive relatively unscathed on the rest of the island?

Of course, the Census's age breakdown is far more useful because it allows you to see the position of Welsh as the language of the home and family by revealing what percentage of 3&4 year old children spoke the language.  In 1961, 60.5% of 3-4 year olds in Anglesey could speak Welsh but by 1971, it was only 50.0%. If you compare that to the 37.3% of primary school pupils today speaking it at home, you will notice how fast Welsh declined between 1961 and 1971 (1.05% points a year) but how much slower it has declined in the 45 years since (0.28% points a year). This is no doubt due to the fact that it was during the 1960s that Welsh lost ground in those coastal areas but that since then the geographical divide has changed very little.

But how has the strength of Welsh as a mother tongue changed in Anglesey's towns? Unfortunately, after the 1921 Census, age breakdowns stop being available for any district, either urban or rural, where the population was below 20,000 at the time.  Simply, none of Anglesey's towns were large enough for the 1931 Census and later censuses for such information to be provided, which is annoying to be honest.  So what was the situation in 1921? As you can imagine, much more Welsh speaking but even then, one of Anglesey's towns had already become an enclave of English; in Beaumaris, only 43.1% of 3&4 year old residents could speak Welsh, down from 46.8% in 1911. In Holyhead 81.4% of 3&4 year olds could speak Welsh in 1921 (practically unchanged since 1911), in Menai Bridge, 73.8% (compared to 87.5% in 1911,) in Amlwch the figure was 98.8% in 1921 while Llangefni was at 93.5%.  Thus the picture in 1921 is of an almost entirely Welsh speaking island but in which Beaumaris had already become an English speaking enclave while the town of Porthaethwy/Menai Bridge, still Welsh speaking then would likely have become an enclave of English within a few decades.  

What I do know is that by 1968, only 23.3% of primary school children in Holyhead spoke Welsh at home (A figure I found on the website Syniadau.)  This is surprising, since there wasn't a very sharp decline in the percentage of the population of Holyhead (all ages) able to speak Welsh before 1961; such a figure stood at 73.6% in 1951, 71.4% in 1961 before falling to 60.9% in 1971.  However, it must be said that overall percentages can be very misleading. A notable example of this is in the large town of Llanelli, Carmarthenshire. 70.1% of the town's population said they could speak Welsh in 1931, and the consensus seems to be that as long as the percentage speaking Welsh is above 70% in any given area, the language is safe there.  What that 70.1% doesn't reveal is that only 45.9% of 3&4 year old children in the town could speak Welsh, down from 61.5% in 1921.   Since the census doesn't reveal when such a generational decline occurred in the town of Holyhead, that is again something that I would welcome some ideas about.  

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Murder on the Streets of Harlow raises Serious Questions for us as a Country.

This Saturday, a 40 year old citizen of Poland, Arkadiusz Jóźwik, was brutally attacked by a group of six teenagers on the streets of Harlow, Essex, and died later in hospital.  He was living in Britain and employed as a factory worker and was assaulted merely because he was speaking Polish in the street.  

This appalling and barbaric attack, just like the ultra-nationalistic murder of Jo Cox, immediately raises questions about what has happened to our country.  A country which I, and people across the world have seen as a key example of multiculturalism working well.  To say that each of those six youths had to be 'not well-educated' to commit such an act is an understatement.  They can only have been educated/propagandised in the wrong direction; their attitudes and beliefs didn't just appear out of nowhere.

We, as a nation, cannot just sit on the knowledge that xenophobia and attacks driven by xenophobia and ultra-nationalism have risen since the referendum on leaving the EU.  Because I can tell you this, both the hate crimes themselves and the attitudes that drive them can only belong in an uncivilised country. How has this all happened? There is no doubt about the role of the Brexit referendum.  But when it comes to the notion that foreign nationals shouldn't be speaking their mother tongue on our streets, Nigel Farage's remarks, two years ago, that he felt awkward hearing other languages on a train, come to mind.  I assume therefore, that the rule is that whenever two people, for example, travel to another country, they should only communicate to each other in the language of the country they are in and therefore have to refrain from talking the language of their home country?

That means therefore that whenever UK Nationals travel to the Costa Del Sol or Ibiza, they should only be allowed to speak Spanish, or Catalan in Ibiza's case, to each other in the street.  Why don't we start by demanding that those of British descent in New Zealand should only speak Maori in the street and on trains? The truth is that I don't seem to remember Nigel Farage demanding that British Nationals on the continent integrate as eagerly as he demands that Foreign Nationals do so in the UK.  Would the murderous youths in Harlow have agreed to forfeit their right to speak English in France? 

There is no doubt in my mind that the argument that foreign nationals shouldn't speak their mother tongue on British streets is at its core an Anglo-Supremacist argument.  It is the idea that English speakers have the right to move  anywhere in the world (such as Australia or the Costa Del Sol) and bring their language with them (and even impose them on the indigenous population in certain cases) , while non-Anglo-Saxons shouldn't have the right even to speak their own language to each other while in Britain.  It is the same attitude which has English speakers who have moved to other countries referred to as expats while Polish Nationals in the United Kingdom are referred to as immigrants.  It even seems that some people believe that the world belongs to the Anglo-Saxons and that everybody else is second class.  Any country in which such a self-supremacist attitude has any influence at all is a country with a problem it needs to deal with.   I personally put the blame not only with UKIP but also the legacy of the British Empire and prejudices towards continental Europeans which seem all too prevalent in certain sections of British Society.  It is worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of British Nationals on the Costa Del Sol don't learn Spanish, while I personally have not yet met a single adult Polish National in Britain who doesn't speak good English.  

With regards to people moving from one country to another, we can't have one rule for some people and another for others.  The one rule for everyone should be that you are allowed to speak the language of your Home Country to other people from your Home Country no matter where you are, but you must also learn the language of the country you have moved to.  As for the perpetrators of such a crime, a just sentence would have them spend at least 20 years in Polish Prisons where they would be separated from each other and banned from speaking English.  The British government should pay for their imprisonment and not the Polish taxpayer.