Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Is the Welsh Language about to collapse on the Llŷn Peninsula?

The Llŷn Peninsula, sticking out of North Wales into the   
Irish Sea.  For how much longer will Welsh continue       
to be a living community language here?                             
The Llŷn Peninsula has long since been known as one of the strongest bastions of Welsh Language, Literature and Culture, and  is today among the last areas of Wales where Welsh is still a living community language.  But for how much longer?

Both the 2013 and 2017 School Census data show that around 2/3 of all primary school children on the Llŷn speak Welsh at home.  You might therefore be tempted to think that the situation was safe and stable.  However, a closer look at the individual primary schools shows a very worrying trend.

You probably knew that the resort village of Abersoch was already very anglicised - indeed, many people jokingly refer to it as a seaside colony of North West England - but you may have thought that at least the rest of the peninsula remained a stronghold of the indigenous culture.  Until about a decade or more ago, that was indeed true, but now new enclaves are popping up, and the peninsula's main towns appear to be first in line.   

In 2004, Estyn reported that 64% of children in the primary school in the seaside town of Criccieth spoke Welsh at home.  In 2017, only 42% do.  Little wonder is it then, when it is remarked that English has replaced Welsh as the main language of the playground in that town so quickly.  

In Pwllheli, the largest town on the peninsula, that percentage in its primary school has fallen from 67.9% in 2013 to 61.8%, in 2017, according to School Census Data.  Two years earlier, in 2011, Estyn reported that 'nearly three quarters of pupils' spoke Welsh at Home there.  In the town of Porthmadog, on the eastern end of the Dwyfor area, the figure has fallen from 63.9% to 58.7%, and again, only since 2013.  

In both towns, overall pupil numbers appear to have stayed roughly the same during those four years, yet the number of children speaking Welsh at home seems to be dropping unbelievably fast in such a short space of time.  In Porthmadog, if the number of pupils speaking Welsh at Home continues to drop by 4 pupils a year, with overall pupil numbers staying roughly constant (as they have since 2013), then children who speak Welsh at Home will be in the minority by 2023.  In Pwllheli, if that trend continues, then children speaking Welsh at Home will be in the minority in that town by 2024.

This is not a pleasant thought - two of Wales's last remaining Welsh-speaking towns are, it seems, being anglicised incredibly fast.  If the Llŷn 's towns do become anglicised, then how long will it be before their hinterlands follow suit?  Already there are rural communities in the Dwyfor area where the demise of Welsh is happening at an even more mind-blowingly rapid rate.  In the primary school in the tourist-trap village of Beddgelert, the percentage of children from speaking Welsh at Home fell from 50% in 2005 to 7% 2015, according to Estyn, while in the village of Dolbenmaen, just north of Porthmadog, School Census Data shows that that figure has fallen from 77.5% in 2013 to 52.3% in 2017.

Racist Anti-Welsh grafitti on the beach at Tudweiliog         
discovered earlier this year.  Are the locals sometimes            
made to feel like foreigners in their own country?                    
There's no other way of putting it - that is mind-blowingly fast.  'Playground Welsh' appears to be dying a sudden death in areas where it was 'as safe as houses' only a few years ago.  Back in 2011 or 2012, I remember this trip to Aberdaron that we, a group of English holiday makers made, and the joy that we felt when we heard local teenagers with their blackberries speaking Welsh to each other by the beach.  How much longer will this last?

I refuse to believe that any of this is 'natural', 'inevitable' or 'modern'.  Where else in 21st Century Europe are minority language areas  being eroded quite so outrageously fast? On the contrary, the Hungarian-speaking areas of Romania, the Catalan-speaking areas of Spain, and the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland are not disappearing like Welsh-speaking areas are - quite the opposite.  Don't be fooled into thinking that this is something that the Welsh people, and the people of the Llŷn in particular, have to put up with this in this day and age.  As you may have gathered, I say all this as an Englishman.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Plans to Create a Second Welsh Nationalist Party: My Thoughts

Yesterday, Royston Jones, a maverick Welsh nationalist who describes himself as 'right of centre', announced, on his blog, Jac O' the north, his intention to create a new right of centre nationalist party for Wales.  He has booked a meeting in an Aberystwyth hotel for early november, although he stated that he planned no role for himself as a politician within any new political party.  

As many of you will know, I am a Welsh-nationalist sympathiser who happens to be English.  The purpose of this blog article is not to say whether or not I consider myself right or left of centre, or whether I will continue to support Plaid Cymru or not.  The purpose of this article is to speculate on what I may think may happen and whether having two Welsh Nationalist parties is a good idea or not.  


So, the first question to ask, I think, is 'Will this party go anywhere?' Can there be two seat-winning Welsh nationalist parties at the same time? The past, if it's anything to go by, is not exactly promising; there is a trail of former 'non-Plaid' Welsh nationalist parties - Cymru Goch, Cymru Annibynnol, Forward Wales, Plaid Glyndŵr to not even name all of them.  What do these parties all have in common? They're parties you've never heard of.   Arguably the most successful non-Plaid Welsh nationalist party was Llais Gwynedd, whose crowning glory was winning 13 council seats in Gwynedd at the 2012 election, a year after gaining 15% of the constituency vote in Dwyfor-Meirionydd in the Assembly Election of 2011.  The truth is, there aren't any good precedents for a second Welsh nationalist party.  

Even if a new Welsh-nationalist party is to emerge this November, it is just under 4 years until the next Welsh Assembly election, and nearly five until the both the General Election and local Welsh Council Elections happen again.  That is a long time for a small party, and plenty long enough for them to be forgotten about.  However, what could change things for them, of course, would be, if, say, elected AMs and MPs from other parties decide to defect and join them early on, à la Douglas Carswell.  Certain politicians do spring to mind; Guto Bebb, the former Plaid Cymru branch leader in Caernarfon, who is now the Tory MP for Aberconwy, and Neil McEvoy, the Plaid Cymru AM who has fallen out with his party.  Would they be willing to up-root and call their own by-elections? I'm not so sure, although it remains to be seen.  

What is certain, however, is that if this party is to become anything of a success, it will have to consider where it is going to run for election, and where not, so as to not split the Welsh-nationalist vote.  My advice would be that the party should not contest Westminster seats where they are at risk of splitting the nationalist vote so that a Unionist party wins the seat.  However, that risk is much less with Assembly Elections since a) the system is one of Mixed Member Proportional Representation, and, b) Plaid Cymru's constituency seats for the Welsh Assembly are much safer than Plaid's Westminster seats.  

Only time will tell if Royston Jones's aims come to fruition, but at least at the moment, I don't think Plaid Cymru should be too scared. 

Friday, 6 October 2017

The Collapse of Welsh in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire


As you can imagine, this is not a blog that I ever wanted to have to write but I feel that it is something that needs to be talked about.  Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire are two traditionally Welsh-speaking counties where, as of the 2011 Census, a majority of the population can no longer speak Welsh.  Worse still, the percentage of primary school children speaking Welsh at Home (WAH) in these two counties is significantly lower, as the table above shows.  Compared to their neighbouring Welsh heartlands further north, Welsh in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire has done particularly badly - in Gwynedd and Anglesey, the percentages of children speaking Welsh at home in 2013 were significantly higher - at 56% and 37%, respectively. This blog therefore tries to trace the decline of Welsh as a community language in the two through the decades.

The 1953 report entitled 'The Place of Welsh and English in the Schools of Wales' shows that, mid-century, the percentages of primary school children speaking Welsh at Home in the two counties were 71% for Ceredigion (then called Cardiganshire), and 56% for Carmarthenshire.  Back then, Ceredigion, at least, was very much in the same league as its neighbours to the north; Meirionydd and Caernarfonshire (ie what's now Gwynedd and the western half of Conwy) were at 77% and 67%, respectively, while Anglesey was at 74%.  In other words, in those days, the Fro Gymraeg was genuinely Gymraeg.  


The percentage of PS children fluent in Welsh in 1975.
Darkest Shade: 75-100%                                              
Second Darkest Shade: 50-75%                                   
Within barely two decades, however, things had changed utterly.  By 1974, the figures for Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire had fallen to 45% and 33%, respectively, as the 1977 Report entitled Welsh in the Primary Schools of  Gwynedd, Powys  and Dyfed  shows.  The report, which I only stumbled across this week, has greatly changed my understanding of the collapse of Welsh in Ceredigion, since I previously assumed that WAH children there had still been in the majority into the 1980s, as that are what the Census figures had suggested.  This again shows just how misleading the Census can be.  (!!) 

Thus, as you can see on the right, by the mid-70s, Welsh was already loosing ground rapidly in Dyfed and was doing so much faster than in Gwynedd or Anglesey, or in the Welsh speaking areas of Clwyd for that matter.  

Before the 1950s: The Lead-Up to Disaster
Although both counties in the '50s were majority Welsh in vernacular, cracks had already begun to show by then and anglicised enclaves had already existed for at least twenty years prior to that:

In 1921, according the Census of that year, there were already three towns where the percentage of 3-4 year old residents speaking Welsh was below 50%; Llandovery at 49.2%, Carmarthen at 48.3% and Aberystwyth at 43.9%.  Ten years later, the industrial town of Llanelli joined them, with the figure there falling from 61.3% in 1921 to 45.9% in 1931.  What was different about interwar Carmarthenshire compared to the other counties of the Fro Gymraeg, was that while the anglicised enclaves of the other counties appear to have all been seaside resorts, in Carmarthenshire, this was clearly not the case. 

Since the 1970s: An Escalating Catastrophe
 Despite the unprecedented disaster of the previous 20 years, there were still significant areas in Dyfed where a majority of Primary School children did still speak Welsh at Home.  In Ceredigion, the figures were above 50% in the following Secondary school catchment areas: Aberaeron (59%), Llandysul (61%), Lampeter (58%) and Tregaron (61%), but below 50%.  in the two Cardigan (39% and 44%) and Aberystywth (32%) areas.  

In Carmarthenshire, the catchment areas above 50% were Gwendraeth (61%), Newcastle Emlyn (65%) , and the Carmarthenshire half of the Lampeter area (69%) while the other six areas ranged from 49% in the Ammanford area to 13% in and around Llanelli.  In the Preseli catchment area of neighbouring Pembrokeshire, the figure stood at 59%, and ranged between 1% and 24% everywhere else.  In Gwynedd and Anglesey, catchment areas above 70% still exist in 2017, although, of course, their future is now uncertain.  

The forty years since the 1970s have of course, only seen the continued disappearance of Welsh-speaking communities in the two counties.  Sure, primary schools in the two counties where a majority of children speak Welsh at Home do still exist but they are most definitely in a minority, are seldom above 60%, and are not concentrated in particular stronghold areas.  The future of Welsh in the Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, it seems, is mainly as a second language, although please prove me wrong if you can.  I just hope though, that lessons will be learned from what has happened, and that it may further people's understanding of language shift. 


Why Catalonia Matters to Us All.

Although the month of October, 2017 is only six days old, one could argue that more has changed since it began than in many previous months for many a long while.  On the first day, the Catalan Independence referendum took place, which the central government in Madrid claimed was illegal, and video footage of Madrid-controlled policemen assaulting Catalan voters as they tried to stop them from confiscating the ballot boxes went viral internationally.  This is without doubt, a very non-Western-European-style event to have taken place in Western Europe.  I myself know many Welsh nationalists who themselves travelled to Catalonia to show solidarity with the Catalan people during the referendum. 

As you may have guessed, my sympathies are with Catalonia and not with the government in Madrid.  Sure, the Spanish Constitution says that Spain is 'One and Indivisible' but surely the whole purpose of having a constitution is to safeguard Democracy? Constitutions do indeed exist for the purpose of protecting the rights, and the democratic will, of the people, and not the other way round, and so when the two are at logger-heads, we need to ask ourselves just what that constitution is there for.  As it so happens, I do believe that written constitutions are necessary, and I believe that the UK jolly well ought to have one, but the Catalan crisis has certainly showed me that they can cause bad too.  

Assuming that the government of Catalonia will indeed declare independence unilaterally next week, I sincerely hope that the other countries of the world will recognise it, which I fear they will not.  And when different voices say that Spain's territorial integrity cannot be violated, or that an existing status quo cannot be changed unilaterally, I will raise the same argument - that existing sovereignty and territorial integrity rights along with international law, are like constitutions; they don't exist for their own sake but instead to serve the people.  When the people of Catalonia want to be independent, no amount of international or Spanish law should stand in their way ; Democracy and Self-determination should come first and international law and sovereignty rights should be built for the very purpose of serving those two ends.

I sincerely hope that the world learns all this from this crisis since there are already cases elsewhere in the world where international law and existing sovereignty rights are indeed at logger-heads with what the local people actually want.  By this I am referring to the numerous self-declared states in the world which are not recognised by the UN, or by at least one other country - Examples include Kosovo, the Republic of Artsakh and many others.  If they say that they are independent, then by the principles of  Democracy and Self-Determination who is anyone else to say that they're not.  

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Nothing 'Modern' or 'Progressive' about the Collapse of the Welsh Language

Welsh-Speaking areas in 1931
Welsh-speaking areas: 1961 vs 2001.














I was once travelling from Tregaron to Aberystwyth, when a fellow passenger, herself from outside the British Isles, described the death of the Welsh Language as 'inevitable' and 'natural' because the world was more 'modern' and getting 'better connected.' I've heard other people, often but not always from outside Wales, describe the Language as an outdated mode of communication to be replaced by English just as letters have been replaced by emails.  To some, an Anglicised Wales is inherently more 'modern' and 'progressive' than a Welsh-speaking one.

My response to this? Rubbish.  Absolute Rubbish (although I didn't say it at the time).  Is an Estonian-speaking Estonia less modern than what a Russian-speaking Estonia would be like? No, since Estonia, the country that invented Skype, is much richer and more techno-savy than Russia is now.  Estonia, Slovenia and Iceland, to name three examples of other small countries,  speak their own languages, and yet are, in my opinion, more modern.  Their respective GDP's per Capita are higher, and their Education and Transport systems are in a better state - they are, ironically, to use that lady's phrase, a lot 'better connected' than Wales.

But maybe you think, that because Wales is not an independent country, its language is therefore only a 'local' language, and not a national one, and that therefore, its demise is inevitable.  You may well point to the fact that language minorities within other countries have been assimilated, and therefore claim that in Wales's case, it is inevitable and 'natural'.  Well, it's not.  The Hungarian-speaking areas of Romania and Slovakia, the Catalan-speaking areas of Spain, and the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland, have not been disappearing in the way that Welsh-speaking areas in Wales have been since the 1960s.  If those minorities don't have to put up with their communities being assimilated, then why should the Welsh?
Finland. 'Middle-shade-Blue' Areas on the Mainland are majority Swedish-speaking, while Cyan areas have significant minorities speaking Swedish.  The dark blue Aland islands are monolingual Swedish-speaking.  These areas are not under threat like Welsh-speaking areas in Wales are.
On the contrary, the destruction of Welsh-speaking areas since the 1960s is something fundamentally old-fashioned and pre-modern.  When you have a situation where the locals are the ones being  assimilated (culturally and linguistically) by the newcomers, and not the other way round, it is not only outrageous, but, dare I say it, colonial. And because it is neo-colonial, it has no place in a democratic and post-imperialist twenty-first century. I say that as an Englishman myself who has lived in Ceredigion.

Therefore, it is the destruction of Welsh-speaking areas, and not the Welsh Language language itself, that is old-fashioned and out of date.  And put it this way, are areas that are still Welsh-speaking like Caernarfon and Llangefni any less 'modern' than anglicised areas like Barmouth and Betws-Y-Coed?


Monday, 18 September 2017

20 years of Devolution is Great but plenty still 'wrong' with Wales's situation

In spite of Devolution, Wales remains one of the poorest nations in Western Europe
It is now 20 years since Wales narrowly voted in favour of having having its own autonomy.  Now is certainly a time to celebrate but it is also high time that we discuss where expectations have fallen short, and where, I hope, the next 20 years will prove more promising than the last.

Sure Wales may have had its own political institutions for 20 years, but it could have done a lot better at developing its own political culture and popular political engagement.

One only needs to look at turnout of the five Assembly Elections to date to see what I am talking about.  For those five Welsh Assembly elections, turnout has never been above 46%, and has fallen as low as 36%.  In Westminster Elections during the same period the turnout (for the whole UK) has largely been between 65% and 70%.  In Scotland, it hasn't been so bad, with four out of five Scottish Parliament elections having turnouts above 50%, while in Northern Ireland, all five devolved Assembly elections since 1998 have had turnouts above 50%, with 4/5 being above 60%.  

This is bad, and shows that Wales ought to be doing a lot better.  When, in my first year at Aberystwyth University, back in 2015, I asked my South Walian flatmates if they had heard of someone called Carwyn Jones, none of them had a clue.  And no, it was not because they had no general knowledge - they all knew who David Cameron was, and all voted in the UK General Election of 2015, yet they also had no clue that there even was a Welsh Assembly despite growing up so near to it.  Unfortunately, their ignorance of devolved Welsh politics appeared to be more of a rule than an exception whenever I met a lot of other Welsh students.   

I have to say that I nearly fainted when I had that conversation - I seriously doubt that there is another country in this world where the average citizen can't name his or her own leaders AND doesn't know that those leaders even exist. It needs to be asked why this all is, since the current situation is nothing less than a huge insult to Wales, and an indictment of its very state of existence.

Added to those low levels of political engagement with Wales's own national politics is the fact that Wales has effectively been a one-party state ever since the first Assembly Election in 1999.  This is not normal or good for any democracy in the world and nor is it matched within the UK - Scotland's parliament saw a transfer of power in 2007 when Labour was replaced by the SNP.  

I do not think that these two anomalies - the low levels of participation, and the 'one-party-state syndrome' are a coincidence.  If a government is not being watched by its own people or the press, then the people are hardly going to choose vote it out of office based on an informed judgement of their record like they would in a 'normal' situation.  I highly suspect that when Welsh Labour voters walk into a polling booth during Assembly Elections, they are not voting for Carwyn Jones himself, but in favour whoever is the leader of the Labour Party in Westminster.  Assembly Elections in Wales, like local council elections in England, are more a referendum on the politicians in Westminster than an informed vote for or against politicians at devolved level.  That is something which needs to change, and please, in the next ten years if possible, not twenty.


Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Some People just Want a Wales Without The Welsh

Yesterday, I read the article in the Daily Post about the anti-Welsh graffitti on the beach in Tudweiliog on the Llyn Peninsular.  I'm sorry, but who the hell do these people think they are, going into someone else's country and being racist about the locals?

Unfortunately this not the first time that I have seen or heard about this kind out attitude towards the Welsh within Wales.  When I was moving house within Aberystwyth, in the summer of 2016, the removal van driver, who was from Birmingham, kept saying 'those fucking Welsh' and blamed them for any inconvenience that we had on the road.  The first thought that entered my head was 'Well if you don't like Welsh people, why on Earth did you decide to move there?'  As you can imagine though, I didn't say that to him.

That was clearly not the point.  He clearly liked Wales, he liked the scenery and he liked the coast line, but he preferred to have it without the local people.  As a history student, I couldn't help but be reminded of Hitler.  Hitler went into Poland, not because he liked Polish people but because he wanted their land, and he preferred to have it without the Poles still there afterwards.  The white Americans invaded Native American lands for much the same reason, as did the British in Australia.  A thief will approach a victim not because he likes the victim but because he wants his property, and preferably without having to see the victim ever again.  To help justify the wholesale theft of entire countries, Hitler portrayed the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe as inferior, as Untermenschen, and unfortunately this graffiti in Tudweiliog is not the first time that I have heard or encountered people in Wales who think that the Welsh are inferior.

I personally see it as no coincidence that this unspeakable act of graffiti took place in the Llyn Peninsular of all places.  The Llyn is one of, if not, the most Welsh-speaking and least anglicised area of Wales.  Indeed, in the primary school in Tudweiliog itself, 80% of children come from Welsh-speaking homes as of 2017 and, I can tell you that there aren't so many areas more Welsh-speaking than that anymore.  My guess is that whoever spray painted on those rocks didn't like the fact that the locals there had refused to be anglicised, and did not like the fact that not everyone on this island of Britain is Anglo-Saxon.

So how should the Welsh respond? I say that they should respond by being who they are; they should respond by continuing to be Welsh.  They should respond by being defiant, by refusing to give up their language and their identity, and by refusing to be assimilated.  That way, whoever spray painted those rocks on Tudweiliog beach, will have reason to be angrier than ever.  That way, we can be satisfied that whoever wants a Wales without the Welsh will not get it.    


Saturday, 26 August 2017

Will there still be a Fro Gymraeg?

A question that has been asked a lot is whether or not the Welsh Assembly Government will be able to meet its target of having one million Welsh speakers by 2050.  For me, a more burning question is whether or not there will still be any Welsh-speaking areas by then.  What I wanted to see, therefore, was whether or not Welsh was continuing the survive in its remaining heartland, and what the future might have in store.  To do this, I looked at school census data from 2013, 2016 and 2017 for primary schools across Anglesey, Gwynedd and neighbouring Conwy, seeing what percentages of pupils spoke Welsh at home, and also compared those results with contextual information produced by school Estyn reports dating back more than 10 years. 

Those of you who have read my blog about Welsh in Gwynedd will know that even there, there are areas where Welsh-at-Home (WAH) children are now in the minority – mainly Bangor, most of coastal and southern Meirionydd, along with enclaves elsewhere such as Abersoch and Beddgelert.  Similarly on Anglesey, most of the coastal areas are no longer Welsh-speaking, with WAH children being the majority mainly in the interior of the island.  WAH children are also the majority in significant rural areas of Conwy.  So how are these remaining Welsh-speaking areas doing?

The good news is that many areas do appear to be holding out, for now at least, and these areas include the notable Welsh-speaking towns of Blaenau Ffestiniog, Caernarfon and Llangefni.  However, there is not much to celebrate.  In Criccieth, 64% of the town’s primary school children spoke Welsh at home in 2004.  Thirteen years later only 42% do.  In Beddgelert, it’s fallen from around 50% in 2005 to under 10% now but that is nothing compared to Dolbenmaen, where it has fallen from 77.5% to 52.3%, just since 2013.  The town of Bala has seen the percentage of children speaking Welsh at home fall from 60% to 49% just in those last four years.  Up in Arfon, the English-speaking enclave of Bangor has stopped being an enclave; Rhiwlas and Tregarth at the head of the Ogwen valley have already fallen; in the latter, the WAH in its primary school has fallen from around 50% to 26.8% in less than 10 years. Worse still, the trend appears to have spread further up the valley; the figure for Ysgol Abercaseg (Babanod), the infants school in Bethesda, fell from 70.6% to 55.7% between 2013 and 2017.   In Llanberis, the base of Snowdon, 69% of children in 2013 spoke Welsh at home but in four years it’s fallen to 51%.   Yes, you read that right, playground Welsh appears to be dying a sudden death in areas where it was the norm as little as four years ago.  And then there are places which are being anglicised, albeit more slowly in comparison, such as in the town of Pwllheli, where 61% of primary pupils spoke Welsh at home this January but where, at the current rate, could become a minority as soon as 10 years from now.

And here is the thing, the national census that everyone focuses on is so incredibly useless at revealing such disasters when they happen, or giving any correct impression on the state of Welsh as the home language in any given community.  Who would have thought that only 32% of primary school children in Dolgellau speak Welsh at Home (2017), when the 2011 Census said that 64% of the town’s population could speak Welsh? Who would have guessed that less than 10% of children speak Welsh at Home in Holyhead when the 2011 Census said that 42% of its population could speak Welsh? The truth is that the general census, in only asking you if you can speak Welsh, can be positively misleading.  It needs to be changed so that we can stop misleading ourselves. 

Why does it matter?
The mind-blowing speed at which what's left of the Fro Gymraeg is being destroyed is, as far as I know, unparalleled in 21st century Europe; other minority language communities in Europe, such as the Finland Swedes, the Hungarians in Romania and Slovakia and the German speakers of South Tyrol, Italy, are not seeing their remaining language-territory being eroded like Welsh-speaking areas still are in 2017.  It's important that we know that what's unfolding in Gwynedd is not the 21st European norm, so that we don't feel that we have to accept it as being an inevitable part of globalisation and modernity.

I’ve heard some people say, however, that it doesn’t matter if the Fro Gymraeg disappears, and that as long as more people in Cardiff learn Welsh as their second language, that's enough to compensate. I would show them the table on the right.  What it shows is that there is an indisputably strong correlation between the percentage of children speaking Welsh at Home, and it being used in the playground.  In other words, in order for Welsh to be heard in school playgrounds and in skate parks, you need to have children who speak Welsh at home, and they need to be surrounded by other children who speak Welsh at home;  otherwise they will just speak English, regardless of the language the actual lessons are in.  For that reason, there needs to be communities of native Welsh-speakers, not just individual Welsh-speakers scattered around the place, as is increasingly the case.  Therefore, for it to truly be a living language, it needs to have a territory. 

For that reason, the survival of the Fro Gymraeg is the difference between Welsh being a fact of life, and it merely being a school subject.  And readers, ask yourselves this, if a language reaches a stage where there are no school playgrounds left where it can be heard, can it still be considered a living language; even if it does have a million (mostly second language) speakers by 2050?

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

However challenging its early years would have been, I imagine that by Wales in the 21st century would be no less wealthy or successful than other small nations such as Ireland or Iceland.  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 itself and its location 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 also been good for us over the border.   The five 'Anglo-Saxon' nations of the UK, New Zealand, Australia, the US and Canada are unusual compared to the other western nations in that only one of them, the US, shares a border with a non-English speaking country (one whom President Trump does not hold in high regard), and only in Canada does English share a country with another, non-minority, language.  Every mainland European country, on the other hand, shares a land border with a foreign country that speaks a different language.  This, I believe, has impacted us 'Anglo-Saxons', namely our outlook on the world, and has made us be more exceptionalist.  Brexit, I believe, is an obvious result of this.  I therefore believe that were England to share a border with an independent Welsh speaking Wales, it would have had a positive impact on us, and certainly changed our 'island mentality.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Will the Welsh Language Survive? My thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 5 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 29 April 2017

French Election: Food for thought for us in Britain?

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, 21 April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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