Saturday 11 April 2015

How things change?

The Llanelli Young Leaders Debate was a good opportunity for young people who are interested in politics to get their message across. Freya Amsbury [Green], Sion Davies [Labour], Brett John [Plaid Cymru], Llyr Powell [UKIP], Mathew Williams [Conservative] and our own People First rep, Ari Caiach presented their opinions at Llanelli Town Council on April 1st. All were able to discuss issues and generally a good time was had by all.

One incident took me back to my own youth. I was brought up a Tory by my parents who in times of social mobility and general prosperity had abandoned their own parents' Labour loyalties. At the age of 16 I was pressed into service putting out election leaflets in the two elections of 1974. Years later, at London University, I joined Plaid Cymru and spent 33 years in the party. One constant irritation to me was the criticism I received for not being fluent in Welsh. In the 70's you had to be pretty thick skinned. The personal criticism was frequent and for me, although it reduced as more English speakers joined, it never entirely went away. When I was elected as a Plaid County Councillor in 2008, it was the first time that non Welsh speaking Plaid Councillors had been elected to Carmarthenshire County Council.

Having done several courses in Welsh over the years, I'm not ignorant of the language but can't follow it easily at the speed of normal conversation or formulate answers quickly enough. I'm now despairing rather than angry at the appalling habit of some Welsh speakers who correct your language mistakes rather than answering you, something I would never think of doing to a French person speaking English, for example. However, being treated as a second class Welsh person if you don't speak fluent Welsh was something I hoped had left Plaid Cymru, at least in public anyway.

Apparently not. When Brett John revealed in answer to a question on the Welsh Language that he did not speak Welsh, Sion Davies, NUS Wales' Welsh Officer, from the audience forcefully criticised the young man for representing Plaid Cymru and not speaking Welsh. Sion himself learned Welsh at secondary school. He saw no reason why Brett could not speak Welsh and clearly disapproved of Plaid's choice of representative. Brett was a little taken aback by the criticism but handled it very well. It is saddening, though, that a young man can put himself in a stressful, public position in order to support his party, only for his greatest critics to be his own people.

Plaid has good support amongst Welsh Speaking People generally, but as 80% of Welsh Residents don't speak Welsh they do need to broaden their appeal. Although their current leader is their first leader not fluent in Welsh, she is always described by the party as a 'Welsh learner," as if she is a fluent welsh speaker in waiting. A sop to the culturalist wing which suggests that you must learn welsh to get on in Plaid, the message given to Brett.

As a County Councillor I have consistently criticised the poor standard of Welsh teaching in the English medium schools in Carmarthenshire, especially in the primary schools. There is some progress in that area .The emphasis on Welsh Medium Schools as a tool for preserving the Welsh Language has, in Carmarthenshire, lead to few youngsters being good welsh speakers after English-medium education, my own children included. A fellow Plaid Councillor accused me of hating the Welsh Language, because my children were educated in the medium of English. She does genuinely believe that any parent who doesn't send their children to a Welsh medium school is, by definition, anti-Welsh language. In fact most Welsh residents I find are pretty sympathetic to the language and the accusations of some people deliberately not learning welsh to a high standard are very unhelpful. Its ironic that people like  Sion who have learned Welsh well as a second language are unforgiving to those who have not had his opportunity or linguistic talent, but not uncommon.

It is sad that Plaid continues to harbour archaic linguistic prejudices. The truth is that Welsh will only survive with the encouragement and good will of the majority of the people who live here.  More importantly, without an economy to employ them, our Welsh speaking children will be speaking welsh outside of Wales, not building Welsh speaking communities and culture here.

I left Plaid over five years ago, not because of language policy but because of Plaid's political failings. It is the politics that mater. Very little will remain of any Welsh culture if the economic degradation of Wales, resplendent in greed, corruption and outstanding mismanagement of resources is allowed to continue. Another decade of economic collapse will not sit easier with the people of Wales just because the First Minister presiding over it can speak Welsh. Time is running out.


  1. I Joined Plaid aged 17 in Newport without a word of the language. I have remained a member, on and off, to the present day. I have experienced being a Plaid member as a non-Welsh speaker, a learner and as a fluent speaker. I have been an active member in branches throughout Wales. I can honestly say that I have never once experienced anything negative regarding my linguistic ability from any Plaid member, nor have I witnessed any such negative behavior or heard of it from the hundreds I have met and known in the Party. Regarding my personal linguistic journey, I only ever received encouragement. I can only conclude Sian, that it has something to do with you.
    Dr Robert Llewellyn Tyler

  2. Thanks for your comment Dr Tyler.
    The incident I described was webcast and certainly not a deliberate act on my part. Perhaps I do have the power to magically make people act like idiots in public? This could explain a lot about the the meetings of Carmarthenshire County Council too.. Sian

    1. Thanks for the response, Sian and please excuse my rather abrasive tone.
      I note that things appear to be going well in Llanelli with Plaid's campaign. I understand and respect your differences with the party in recent years, but would regard it as a tragedy if Plaid were to just miss out on this seat and end decades of Labour hegemony on the area. Could you possibly find it in yourself to stand aside just this once? A lot to ask, I know but, perhaps, worth it to see the Labour Party ousted.

  3. Posting here very late having only just discovered this blog.

    It is worth pointing out Sion Davies the NUS Welsh officer is in fact a Conservative. He is nothing to do with Plaid Cymru. What was his game, as a Tory, in barracking a Plaid Cymru rep over that?

    It would be very interesting, considering who is influential in Plaid Cymru, what would happen if a Plaid member pulled up another member for not speaking Welsh. It wouldn't be possible now. You couldn't do it front of Leanne or McEvoy.

    Sian's point on how badly Welsh is taught in English medium schools is completely sound. Also her point on describing Leanne as a "Welsh learner" is sound. Plaid Cymru does not believe everyone has to learn Welsh, only that everyone is given the opportunity to choose.


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