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.