Thursday, 10 August 2017

Debunking Jacques Protic: 'Bangor has never been a Welsh speaking town.'

Jacques Protic, an English incomer to Anglesey who runs an anti-Welsh language website called 'Glasnost UK', has just made another shocking truth-dodging assertion - that Bangor, Gwynedd, 'has never been a Welsh speaking town.'  First of all, there should be a hyphen between 'Welsh' and 'Speaking' and secondly, Bangor is officially a city, and not a mere town.   But the main thing wrong with that sentence is that actually, the city of Bangor, was in fact majority Welsh speaking until relatively recently, and I have just decided to start writing this blog to show that his assertion is a tad historically inaccurate.

First of all, it is worth saying that a lot of what comes out Glasnost UK should be taken with a very large pinch of salt.  As Jac O the North once remarked on his blog, Mr Protic's views appear to be that the Welsh language is to blame for everything in Wales, such as its poverty and poor pisa rankings.  My instant reply to that would be that, as shown in the last blog, countries like Finland, Switzerland and Ireland have more than one official language, including compulsory language lessons as part of the school curriculum, yet Ireland and Finland both have the best education systems in Europe, and all three countries are very rich.  Anyway, I digress.

Welsh in Bangor
As is obvious, Bangor is not a very Welsh-speaking city today.  In the 2011 Census, only 36.4% of the city's population claimed to be able to speak Welsh, although this does include students at the university. However the percentage of primary school children who actually speak it at home is significantly lower; it is more like 20-25%.  Thus Bangor can be considered to be an enclave of English surrounded by areas that are still mainly Welsh-speaking; in the nearby town of Caernarfon 78% of primary school children speak Welsh at home and the percentage of the overall population able to speak Welsh in 2011 was 85%, for example.

So how far back do you have to go to find a Welsh-speaking Bangor?  The city still had a majority of being its population speaking Welsh into the 1970s; the 1971 census recorded that 53.4% of the population said that they could speak Welsh.  But how far do you have to go for a majority of children in the city to speak Welsh at home?  Unfortunately, the reports from the censuses of 1931, 1951, 1961 and 1971 don't provide an age breakdown for percentages of Welsh speakers at a district level except for districts with a population of over 20,000 at the time.  However,  in 1921, 68.4% of 3-4 year old children could speak Welsh, with 75.8% of the overall population doing so.  In 1931, 76.1% of the city's inhabitants could speak Welsh, and it is highly unlikely that the figure for 3-4 year olds would have fallen below 50% until the Second World War or after.

So, Mr Protic, it turns out that your assertion is completely false, Bangor has indeed been a Welsh-speaking city.  I don't know where exactly you got that assertion from, but I enjoyed debunking it on this Friday afternoon.  Although I was shocked when you made that assertion, I really shouldn't have been surprised; most Welsh language naysayers that I've come across seem to have got into the habbit of re-writing history and claiming that certain areas of Wales 'never' spoke Welsh, even though the grandfather of Welsh was what was spoken throughout the whole of England and Wales before we Anglo-Saxons arrived.

So, I hope that I have cleared up any doubt.  But even if you are 100% convinced, click here for a video of Bangor in 1960s and you will notice that nearly everybody interviewed could speak Welsh.

Monday, 7 August 2017

There is no reason why Wales has to be so poor.

As you can see on the right, Wales is the only place in Western Europe aside from southern Spain, Italy and Portugal where the GDP per capita is under €20,000.  In fact, even when you compare Wales to many countries further east in Europe, it is obvious that Wales has currently got a rotten deal; Wales's GDP per capita is €19,876, that of Slovenia is over €28,000 and that of Estonia is over €26,000.  Both of these nations, are, like Wales, small countries but don't forget that they have the added disadvantage of having suffered under communism until less than thirty years ago; their economies had to grow from a low base after they gained their independence in 1991.

It is even starker when you compare Wales to her nearer neighbours.  Take the Republic of Ireland, for example; their GDP per capita is some €61,490; more than three times that of Wales.  Ireland, like Estonia and Slovenia, used to be much poorer; only thirty years ago it was as poor as Greece.  

Something has clearly not worked for Wales.  At a time when small nations across Europe have got a lot richer, Wales clearly has not.  It's not that Wales is too remote, since Ireland and Iceland are much further from continental Europe and yet they are very rich.  It's not that Wales is too mountainous, since other countries like Switzerland and Austria, also have high mountains.  It's also (Welsh-language naysayers take note), got nothing to do with Wales having two languages; countries like Ireland, Finland, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg each have more than one official language yet, as you can see, they are not as poor; quite the opposite.  We should also not blame everything on the fact that Thatcher closed the coal mines - other post-industrial places in Europe aren't so poor, and as you can see, North and Mid Wales (with the exception of Powys), are also mostly red, despite heavy industry having not been as widespread in mid and north Wales. What must it be?

Should I be surprised?
When Theresa May's government announced that it was going to plough ahead with HS2, an insanely expensive high speed line to link the already well connected cities in England, and at the same time cancel the much cheaper electrification of the South Wales Mainline west of Cardiff, it was one of those moments when I was again reminded of the answer.  Successive governments in London have neglected Wales, and not given it the right tools and infrastructure that nations from one end of Europe to the other take for granted.  To use that one example again, the last time I checked, the only country in Europe, which like Wales had none of its railways electrified was Albania.   What is the difference between Wales and all these other small nations in Europe?  All those other countries rule themselves and decide what to prioritise within their own countries.  Wales on the other hand, has found itself on the periphery of someone else's country, and the government of that someone else's country has its own centre as its priority.  You don't have to only look at investment to see what I mean, you can also see how Welsh villages have been flooded to provide English cities with water, and how Wales has been used as a dumping ground for nuclear power stations, among other things. Ireland, when it was on the periphery of the United Kingdom, was very poor, now 100 years later as an independent country, it is the 6th richest country in the world.

Capitalism or Socialism?
Most Welsh nationalists that I know appear to be socialists by default.  This is entirely understandable, given that Welsh nationalism is by-definition, anti-establishment and anti-Westminster elite, that it is opposed to Anglo-British Nationalism which is inherently right of centre, and given that Wales has, for over a century, been a left-leaning country in which first the Liberals, and then the Labour Party were the most popular parties.  It must be understood, however, that, what has made all these other small European nations rich, is not socialism.  On the contrary, it was after nations such as Slovenia and Estonia got rid of communism that their economies boomed.  Likewise, the Celtic tiger happened in Ireland precisely because Ireland embraced capitalism and low corporate tax rates.  And put it this way, having Labour in power in the Welsh Assembly has hardly made Wales's situation much better.

What Wales needs is the right kind of capitalism - the kind of capitalism that would enrich its valleys like it has enriched the valleys of the Alps and the Pyrenees (without I must add, destroying their different languages); and not the kind of capitalism that treats North and Mid Wales as peripheral hinterlands of Liverpool, Chester and Shrewsbury to be anglicised and yet kept poor at the same time.  Its time that people in Wales start looking at other small nations in Europe; Wales's situation shouldn't just be accepted as it is.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

'Welsh is a useless language.' No it bloody isn't.

How many of you readers have encountered someone who has said "Why are people in Wales trying to speak Welsh, when everyone else in the world is trying to learn English?" I certainly have, to which my immediate thought was "they just don't get it."  Yes there are hundreds of millions of people worldwide who have learnt English as a second language, but that doesn't mean that they have to speak only English.  Most people in Sweden speak fluent English, but that doesn't mean that they have to stop speaking Swedish.

The reality is that the Welsh language is very necessary.  Three years ago, I was woofing with a host family in France to improve my French, and one day, we travelled to the beach and there we met another foreigner who turned out to be Irish.  After talking to this lady, the host family kept referring to her as l'anglaise - the English woman.  I explained that no, she wasn't English, and that she was in fact Irish, to which their reply was that the English and the Irish were the same.  This way of viewing the British Isles seemed to be very commonplace whilst I was there.  And if you think about it, it's quite strange isn't it?  After all, Ireland has been independent from the United Kingdom for nearly 100 years, and there are many countries which have only gained independence much more recently than that.  Countries like Estonia and Kazakhstan were part of the USSR until 1991 yet nobody ever confuses them with Russia.  So why is that? One word: Language.  In Ireland they now speak English whereas in Estonia they still speak Estonian, not Russian.

Thus the Welsh language is beyond important when it comes to preserving Welsh identity and distinctiveness.  As the writer Martyn Ford said in the book, For Wales See England, Wales has non-conformist chapels and it has rugby and socialism, but those are not unique to Wales, whereas the language is.  Whenever I've met people in Wales who are opposed to the Welsh Language they always seem to be the very same people who are opposed to Devolution, and who, dare I say it, would not object to an Iron ring being put up at Mold Castle.  Chances are that if you against one thing that is Welsh, you are against all things Welsh.  As the blogger Jac O the North once remarked, anti-welsh views tend to come in a boxed set.  The problem that the naysayers seem to have towards the Welsh language is that it is too Welsh.

Yes there may be a minority of Welsh language naysayers who are not against all things Welsh.  I once had a conversation with semi-native Welsh speaker from Southern Gwynedd who remarked that it would have been so much more useful if her Welsh Granfather had spoken Mandarin to her and not Welsh, to which the first thought to enter my mind was that people in Iceland don't groan about the fact that they speak Icelandic and how useless Icelandic is abroad.

But surely the fact that English, the International language, is now Wales's majority mother tongue must do wonders for Wales's economy? Well, no, it seems.  As you can see on the right, Wales is the only place in Western Europe apart from Southern Italy and Southern Spain to have an annual GDP per capita of less than 20,000.  And put it this way, anyone who is a Welsh speaker in today's Britain, can also speak English (unless they're of pre-school age), whereas most English speakers will be monoglots.  So if you're going to speak perfect English either way, what is the benefit of not speaking Welsh? The truth is, there is none.

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?

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.

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.

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.