Wales – A Country Divided Part I

BY MARCUS STEAD

Wales is becoming a downright hostile place for the more than 80% of us who don’t speak the Welsh language. We are treated as second class citizens and it intensifies with every year that passes. In this article, I outline how Wales is run by, and for the benefit of, a small elite of Welsh-speaking middle class people known as the Crachach, and of how their power base has increased substantially over the last 50 years.

We cannot afford to drive out our best and brightest graduates because they feel shut out of the jobs market on the basis they cannot speak Welsh. Wales is a small country with a small population of just three million people. In the public sector, the ability to speak Welsh is a requirement in an ever-increasing number of jobs. Our economy is grossly under-performing, with a lack of a skilled private sector. We need the best available people in the best jobs if we are to fulfil our potential as a country and as a people.

The Welsh language is being dogmatically imposed on the people of Wales. It is used as a divisive weapon with which to alienate and ostracise vast swathes of the Welsh population, and as a means of promoting the worst kind of identity politics.

A (very) brief history of Wales

The terms ‘Wales’ and ‘Welsh’ derive from Germanic root as a term used to describe the Gaulish people known to the Romans as Volcae, and which came to refer indiscriminately to all non-Germanic peoples. The Old English Anglo-Saxons used the term ‘Waelisc’ to refer to the Britons in particular.

The Welsh language word ‘Cymru’ can be traced back to the seventh century and descended from the Brythonic word ‘combrogi’ meaning ‘fellow-countrymen’ and was used to describe the location of the post-Roman era (after the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons) of the Welsh (Brythonic-speaking) people of Wales as well as northern England and southern Scotland. It has the same origin as the words Cumbria, Cambria and Cumberland (a fact that sits uncomfortably with those who try to portray English people as ‘foreigners’).

We should put our ‘Welsh’ identity into context and keep it firmly in perspective. When ‘Welsh Nationalists’ talk about ‘restoring’ Wales’s independence, what do they actually mean? Only once, for a brief period more than 1,000 years ago, was Wales an ‘independent nation’. That was between 1055 and 1063 AD, when under the rule of Gruffydd ap Llewellyn.

Aside from Grufydd ap Llewellyn’s eight-year reign, Wales has never been an independent ‘nation’, let alone one conquered by England (a narrative repeatedly pushed by Welsh nationalists). The terrain made it very difficult to govern (north-south transport links remain poor to this day), and internal rivalries made meant the term ‘Wales’ really referred to a geographic entity rather than an independent nation. Wales’s history until the Industrial Revolution can be summed up as one of rivalling princes, each with their own territory, who would fight each other, and were willing to both fight against and co-operate with English sovereigns, depending on the circumstances.

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Neil Kinnock, who dismissed the idea of a ‘Welsh identity’

Neil Kinnock, Labour Party leader between 1983-92, shares my scepticism about the ‘Welsh identity’. Kinnock campaigned successfully against the creation of a Welsh Assembly in 1979, and said of the Welsh identity: “Between the mid-sixteenth century and the mid-eighteenth century Wales had practically no history at all, and even before that it was the history of rural brigands who have been ennobled by being called princes.”

It is also important to keep a sense of perspective about just how small a population Wales had before the Industrial Revolution. In 1536, the population was around 278,000. By 1620, it had risen to 360,000. In other words, only 400 years ago, the population of the whole of Wales was about the same as that of modern-day Cardiff.

The ‘start date’ of the Industrial Revolution is widely accepted to be 1760, and this, really, is where the story of modern-day Wales begins. It is one of waves of immigration – people who came to work in the coal mines, quarries and steel works over the following 200 years.

By 1770, when the Industrial Revolution was gathering pace, the population of Wales had risen to 500,000, and by 1850 (ten years after the Industrial Revolution’s broadly-accepted ‘end point’) the population had rocketed to 1,163,000.

In other words, the population of Wales more than trebled in an 80-year period, due to the need for workers in heavy industry. These new arrivals came predominantly from Devon, Herefordshire and Ireland, along with smaller influxes from other parts of England. They were English-speaking, and usually Nonconformist Christian.

The population surge continued as the Welsh mining industry enjoyed its boom years, and by 1911 the population of Wales had more than doubled yet again to 2,421,000. As with before, these new arrivals were predominantly from Devon, Herefordshire and Ireland, along with a substantial number of arrivals from Italy, often from the town of Bardi.

In the early 20th century, the area around the Cardiff Docklands experienced an influx from more than 50 countries, including Somalis, Yemenis, Greeks and Afro-Caribbeans, and it remains one of the oldest, most racially-diverse areas anywhere in the United Kingdom. This was followed by further waves of immigration across the South Wales area following the First and Second World Wars, and more in the years since, which continues to this day – there have been many arrivals from Poland since the early 2000s (though a smaller Polish community has existed in Cardiff for far longer).

And that is the story of modern-day Wales, which, according to the 2011 Census, has a population of around 3,063,000 people. It is predominantly English-speaking, and has been for at least the last 150 years.

It is worth taking a moment to assess the cultural divides that exist in modern Wales, which are largely due to geography and terrain. I think it can be divided into four, which is by no means detailed or comprehensive:

The South Wales cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport: These are cities in a post-industrial era, with racially-diverse populations cosmopolitan in outlook. They are usually proud to be Welsh and British, but English is overwhelmingly the main language. One of the main challenges they face in the modern era is an over-reliance on the public sector for employment. There is a lack of an entrepreneurial culture and a skilled private sector when compared to other parts of the United Kingdom.

The South Wales Valleys: Again, predominantly English speaking, but they are culturally very different to the cities. Still influenced by their Nonconformist Christian heritage, these are close-knit communities, and the people have a warmth and sincerity about them that is often lacking in the cities. Trip and fall in the street, or look lost, and people will go out of their way to help you. These areas have serious social and economic problems that came about following the decline of coal mining and heavy industry. They usually consider themselves both Welsh and British. Their problems are the same as those in the mining towns of Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, and they are in many ways culturally similar.

North East Wales: People in the area around Wrexham and Chester are proudly Welsh, the vast majority speak English as a first language, and have strong cultural and economic ties to Merseyside, Lancashire and Manchester. Historically, television aerials usually pointed to Granada and to this day, BBC Radio Two has TEN TIMES as many listeners as BBC Radio Wales in the area.

West and North West Wales: These is the Welsh-speaking heartlands with a tension between the Labour-voting unionists and the Plaid Cymru-supporting Welsh nationalists.  When English tourists refer to receiving a less-than-warm welcome in pubs and cafes in Wales, the chances are they are referring to West or North West Wales. Indeed, Labour Assembly Member Vaughan Gething revealed that the bulk of the abuse he received while a student in Aberystwyth was NOT over the colour of his skin, but for being a Labour member and for the perception that he was English, not Welsh. 

wales political map 2017

Political map of Wales at the 2017 General Election. Plaid Cymru’s four seats are in GREEN

These are the only areas where Plaid Cymru is represented in Parliament (they currently hold 4 of the 40 Welsh seats in Westminster). There is an internal divide in South West Wales, known as the Landsker Line, below which English has been the main language for centuries, following the Norse, Norman, Flemish and Saxon settlements. The Conservatives are strong enough to win seats ‘south of the line’.

Of course, this analysis does not provide the full picture. There are cultural differences between Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, and I haven’t really addressed the status of the seaside resorts of North Wales. And there are differences between the east and west valleys in the south. But it gives a brief outline as to how terrain continues to influence the cultures (note plural) of Wales. And this, in itself, is one of the problems I have with Welsh nationalism. I consider it absurd that I, as a Cardiffian, should be expected to feel a greater kinship with somebody 190 miles away in Ynys Mon than I do with someone a 45 minute drive away in Bristol.

The Welsh language

The Industrial Revolution and the influx of immigration that followed was absolutely terrific news for enthusiasts of the Welsh language. The 1911 Census showed a record high of 977,000 people were able to speak Welsh. In other words, around one in four of the Industrial Revolution immigrant population to Wales and their immediate descendants had learnt Welsh, many of whom will have married Welsh partners.

But an enormous increase in population in such a short space of time meant that Wales had been changed forever. The arrivals during the Industrial Revolution vastly outnumbered those whose family roots were in Wales beforehand, and therefore, English had surpassed Welsh as the main language of the Principality.

By 1911, somewhere in the region of 617,000 of those who settled in Wales as a result of the Industrial Revolution and their descendants had learnt Welsh. That’s not far off twice the entire population of Wales pre-Industrial Revolution! So much for the Welsh Nationalist cliche that ‘the English’ were trying to oppress the Welsh language in the 19th and early 20th centuries!

The 1901 Census showed 929,800 Welsh speakers, that was 49.9% of the population (though how many used it as their ‘main’ language is another matter – see below). By 1911, that figure had jumped to the aforementioned 977,000 people, which paradoxically was a reduction in the overall swollen population to 43.5%.

welsh-language-map-1911.png

These were boom times for the Welsh language, and it was to be its ‘high water mark’, but as this map from 1911 shows, even at that stage, English was by far and away the main language of Wales.

By 1921, the figure had dropped to 922,000, or 37.1%. There are several potential reasons for this. One was the significant loss of young males in World War I. The other was that, in many instances (and quite possibly in my own family), parents deliberately spoke English rather than Welsh to their children as they felt that confident, fluent use of English would enhance their ability to ‘get on’ in life. The ‘Welsh Not’ and its influence is often somewhat overstated. The 1931 Census recorded a modest drop to around 909,000, but 20 years later, just 714,000 said they could speak Welsh.

My father’s parents were young adults in 1951, and I don’t recall either of them being able to speak Welsh. I suspect the deaths of their parents’ generation was a large contributory factor, as was the increasing popularity of radio, which was mainly broadcast in English (more on that later).

The decline of the Welsh language continued until it reached a record ‘low water mark’ of 500,000, or 18.5% of the population, in 1991. Ten years later, in 2001, that figure had reached 582,000, before dropping to 562,016, or 19% in 2011.

The revival of the 1990s and 2000s ought to be taken with a pinch of salt for a variety of reasons. For example, the Welsh Language Act of 1993 saw the language being imposed upon schools across Wales, including in areas with no real history of Welsh speaking in living memory for even the oldest people.

By the turn of the millennium, taking Welsh to GCSE level was compulsory. Yet those who’d passed the exam could presumably be counted as ‘Welsh speakers’ even if they barely remembered most of it a year or two later, and never intended using it again. Dodgy statistics and dogmatic imposition of the Welsh language have gradually become a hallmark of Welsh life. In some cases, saying ‘bore da’ to the postman means you count as a Welsh speaker. It seems highly likely that of the 19% of the population who can apparently speak Welsh, for many it is ‘pigeon Welsh’ and far fewer use it as a living language. Who is behind it, and what is their agenda?

Crachach

The term Crachach is used to describe the Welsh establishment. They are Welsh-speaking, middle class, nepotistic, usually have family ties to West and North West Wales, and are seen to hold many of the key positions in the Welsh media, arts, civil service and higher education. Not all Crachach can necessarily be described as ardent Welsh nationalists, quite a few are not immune to receiving gongs from the Queen, but they do not miss many opportunities to increase their power base, which increased substantially around the time of devolution in 1999.

The journalist Carolyn Hitt wrote an amusing parody of the Crachach in 2006 (though she has become much more of an ‘establishment’ figure in Wales in the years since, and a steady stream of work at BBC Wales has followed).

The late former First Minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan, believed the Crachach to be very real, and upon the creation of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999, he called for ‘An Assembly of the people, not an Assembly of the Crachach’.

Former Welsh Cabinet Minister Leighton Andrews also referred to the Crachach on a number of occasions during his time in the Assembly. He once said that higher education governance had become ‘the last resting place of the Crachach’.

This article by Roger Dobson from the Independent in 1997, about how William Hague was marrying into a Crachach family, gives further depth as to the extent to which this unelected elite exerts influence over Wales, though it has increased substantially in the 22 years since the piece was written.

The late Ian Skidmore, a witty writer and broadcaster who lived in Wales for much of his life, wrote this blog article in 2011. Scroll down to the piece that begins ‘Wales is a limited company run by a small group of families’ for a beginner’s guide to the grip the Crachach has on the media and arts in Wales. Ex-HTV Wales current affairs journalist Paddy French has carried out a number of detailed investigations on his Rebecca Television website into the influence this small group of families has in public life in Wales.

Leigh Jones is hardly an ideological soulmate of mine, but his summary of the Crachach and their sense of superiority and entitlement is accurate. He writes:

“[The Crachach] maintains their control over Welsh cultural institutions with a jobs-for-the-boyos culture. Their sense of self-righteous entitlement in their attempts to preserve the language at the cost of the country’s rich English-speaking heritage have a negative effect – putting monoglot Welsh people off learning about the language.

“Wales’ cultural identity is at loggerheads. To the English-speakers, the Crachach are snobs controlling the language in their own interests. To the Welsh-speakers, the English-speakers aren’t really as Welsh as us and shouldn’t have an opinion on the language unless they’re willing to learn it.”

So how did the modern-day Crachach come about? Its origins can be traced back to a series of events that took place in the very early days of the BBC, and its effects can be felt to this day.

Plaid Cymru co-founder Saunders Lewis perceived the early development of radio broadcasting in Wales to be a serious threat to the Welsh language, and as time went on he even went as far as to accuse the BBC of ‘seeking the destruction of the Welsh language’. At the same time he also recognised that if he could exert influence and pressure on the BBC, the Corporation could become a useful tool to serve Plaid Cymru’s political ends.

In October 1933, the University of Wales Council, which had been lobbying for more Welsh language broadcasting, appointed a ten-man council to press the case with the BBC, which included Lewis, his fellow Welsh nationalist W.J.Gruffydd, former Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George and his nephew William George. (I would welcome any help with names of the other six members of the Council, as I have been unable to trace them so far.)

BBC Director General John Reith described the Committee as ‘the most unpleasant and unreliable people with whom it has been my misfortune to deal’. Yet the Committee gained ever more influence on the BBC in Wales. Appointment of staff at BBC Wales was delegated to the Committee by the Corporation, and as newspapers of the time noted, appointees seemed primarily drawn from the families of the Welsh-speaking elite including “the son of a professor of Welsh and the offspring of three archdruids”.

Lewis’s campaigning succeeded in cementing a strong Welsh nationalist influence at BBC Wales that continues to this day. The BBC’s Welsh Advisory Council was established in 1946, which included several Plaid Cymru supporters, one of whom was Lewis’s successor as Plaid Cymru president, Gwynfor Evans.

And so the seeds were sewn. Aneirin Talfan Davies was one of the early Head of Programmes at BBC Wales. His son, Geraint Talfan Davies, was controller of BBC Wales for ten years from 1990. Geraint’s son, Rhodri Talfan Davies is the current director of BBC Wales, having been appointed at the age of 40 in 2011, despite having never made a TV or radio programme in Wales. Paddy French’s in-depth investigation on the matter can be read here. In the intervening years, the role was held by Menna Richards, a close friend of the Talfan Davies family.

Since leaving BBC Wales, both Geraint Talfan Davies and Menna Richards have held a number of prominent directorships of Welsh companies and organisations, including, controversially, Welsh Water (though there is no suggestion BBC Wales has been influenced by these connections). Mr Talfan Davies was the head of the ‘Wales Stronger in Europe’ campaign in the lead-up to the 2016 referendum.

A particularly absurd example came in mid-2018, when Rhuanedd Richards, a former Chief Executive of Plaid Cymru and special adviser to former party leader Ieuan Wyn Jones was appointed Editor of BBC Radio Cymru. The moral equivalent of this in England would see Alastair Campbell or Andy Coulson being appointed to the top job at BBC Radio 4. Yes, that sounds far-fetched, but the equivalent happens at BBC Wales.

To put this incredible level of influence into perspective, Plaid Cymru only has around 8,000 members, which is an increase on the 6,000 they had before the autumn of 2018, when they experienced a spike which often happens when parties choose a new leader. But it is a minuscule number when compared to the 125,000 members of the SNP, its equivalent party in Scotland, or even compared to the 25,000 members of the Labour Party in Wales alone.

But this example is by no means unique. Veteran journalist and broadcaster Paul Starling summed up the culture at BBC Wales in this 2001 article in the Daily Mirror following the sacking from BBC Radio Wales of a popular presenter because he had an English accent. Starling begins:

“THERE is something sinister lurking in BBC Wales. It feeds off fear, does untold damage to the country and the notion of truth, drives many of our most talented people to leave and hides under the cloak of silence. 

The case of Radio Wales presenter Lionel Kellaway is something we should all take very seriously. After 15 years at the top of BBC Wales he was dumped. The reason – because BBC Wales is a racist organisation. 

That’s not just my view, it’s the view of many people there. And yesterday it became the official view of the Commission for Racial Equality.  I have worked as presenter, journalist, and producer for BBC Wales. I could list many people, whose names you would recognise, who would agree with what I am writing. 

But they will not say it publicly – for fear they would never work again for the BBC in Wales. The Welsh media is a tiny pool. If you want to move upwards and into Broadcasting House you never criticise BBC Wales.”

Towards the end of the article, Starling writes: “Is it a good policy that BBC Wales’s Head of News, Aled Eurig, was chosen despite having a fiery background as a militant Welsh nationalist and later as a paid worker for Plaid Cymru?”

The Crachach culture is at the heart of everything that is wrong with BBC Wales, from the unreliable news coverage to the lousy quality of most of its ‘entertainment’ offerings. BBC Radio Wales recently ‘celebrated’ its 40th anniversary with the lowest listening figures in its history.

By the 1960s, as the Welsh media scene developed, there was a gravitational pull of the Crachach away from the Welsh-speaking heartlands towards the west of Cardiff (most notably the district of Pontcanna) and Cowbridge in the Vale of Glamorgan. Indeed, the phrase ‘Pobl Pontcanna’ has become a colloquialism to describe the Welsh-speaking chattering classes.

Prior to the 1979 general election, both the Conservative and Labour parties promised a Welsh language fourth television channel if elected to government. This was broadly welcomed by many non-Welsh speakers, because both BBC and HTV Wales showed Welsh language programming, which meant that programmes that the rest of the UK was watching in prime time were relegated in Wales to times when viewers were either in work or in bed.

For this reason, many aerials in the South Wales area pointed towards the Mendip transmitter and, as has already been said, viewers in North East Wales pointed their aerials towards the Granada transmitters, indeed Granada’s news programmes covered stories from North Wales until well into the 2000s. Those in East Wales often pointed their aerials towards ATV/Central’s transmitters, but for those in the Valleys, having popular programmes shifted to graveyard slots to accommodate Welsh language programming was a nuisance they had to put up with.

William Whitelaw 1

William Whitelaw

Shortly after the Conservatives won the 1979 election, the new Home Secretary William Whitelaw  backtracked on the plan. There was to be a new, UK-wide fourth channel, but, except for occasional opt-outs, the service in Wales was to be the same as for the rest of the UK.

The following year, the then-President of Plaid Cymru, Gwynfor Evans, threatened to go on hunger strike unless the Government climbed down and created a Welsh-language TV channel.

It should be pointed out that Evans had a long history of extreme, fanatical behaviour. The previous year, he was so distraught by the people of Wales’s decision to overwhelmingly vote against proposals to create a devolved assembly that he had to be talked out of committing suicide by friends on St David’s Day as a symbolic act of ‘national sacrifice’.

But Evans got his way, and a Welsh language TV channel was to be created, ‘instead of’, rather than ‘as well as’ Channel 4 in Wales. Many people viewed the prospect of S4C as a mixed blessing. On the one hand, all Welsh language programming on BBC Wales and HTV Wales would be transferred to S4C, so viewers across Wales would be able to enjoy popular English language programmes at the same time as the rest of the UK. But on the other hand, S4C was committed to broadcasting a near-entirely Welsh schedule during prime time, and for large portions of the daytime. Popular Channel 4 programmes such as Brookside were relegated to off-peak slots, while the flagship 7pm Channel 4 News programme was not shown on S4C at all.

Inevitably, viewers in coastal areas continued to point their aerials at English transmitters so they could view the new Channel 4, and those in mid and west Wales and the valleys were forced to make do with late-night screenings of Channel 4’s most popular programmes. This situation continued until the 2000s, when digital switchover meant Channel 4 became available across Wales for the first time, at which point S4C became an entirely Welsh language channel.

S4C used to receive an annual government grant of £100 million. Today, that figure is £80 million, most of which comes from the licence fee pot, with plans for all of it to come from this source by 2022/23. The big problem is that hardly anyone is watching S4C’s content, including the vast majority of Welsh speakers.

S4C viewing figures w-e 6 Jan

On week ending 6 January 2019, the most-watched non-sporting programme on S4C had just 24,918 viewers!

In a typical week, very few programmes get more than 30,000 viewers. Live rugby and football matches get substantially more, mainly because they are not available to view free-to-air anywhere else, rather than because they’re on S4C. In a good week, long-running soap opera Pobol y Cwm and farming show Cefn Gwlad might break the 30,000 barrier (both programmes pre-date the creation of S4C), but virtually nothing else does.

Audience-gathering service BARB releases the highest-rating top 15 programmes each week. The programme in 15th place typically has around 18,000 viewers. That implies that the number watching their 20th, 30th and 40th most popular programmes each week must be minuscule.

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Mike Flynn, who hosted a daily show on BBC Radio Wales between 1978-89

This is not a recent problem for S4C. Journalist and broadcaster Mike Flynn had a daily show on BBC Radio Wales from its launch in 1978 until 1989. As a non-Welsh speaking North Walian, he didn’t exactly fit in with the Crachach set or the culture of the Llandaff building. He points out that S4C’s viewing figures were pretty lousy even in the days of four-channel TV. He said: “It was always a jobs-for-the-boyos channel. There was lots of money being given to independent production companies run by veteran Welsh language campaigners from the 1970s who produced programmes that no-one watched.

“Anyone who was connected got on the gravy train when S4C was launched. The ability to speak Welsh was a passport to public money.

“Going back to the year after launch the joke at BBC in Llandaff was that most of the programmes would have been cheaper to mail out on video!”

In 1978, just a few years before S4C came into being, Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf was set up a stone’s throw away from the BBC Wales building in Llandaff, to accommodate the children of the expanding Crachach community in the city.

In 2015, Daniel Glyn, a Glantaf pupil from its inauguration, made this short video for the BBC Wales current affairs strand The Wales Report, in which he talks about his experiences at the school. In the video, he admits that the Crachach isn’t some figment of the non-Welsh speaking population’s imagination, but is something very real indeed. Speaking of protests at the opening of the school, he said: “I think they were worried that by opening a Welsh language school in Cardiff, it would create this weird little middle class clique that was going to get all the best jobs. Thankfully, they were absolutely right!” 

Mr Glyn, whose background was in children’s television and stand-up comedy, went on to take a job with the National Assembly until he was appointed station manager at city TV station Made in Cardiff in 2016, despite having no obvious qualifications for the role. Under his tenure, the station’s studio base has been sold off, and daily Cardiff-based output has been reduced to a news bulletin presented from the streets of Cardiff, filmed by a small team of student reporters and Glyn himself (despite having no formal journalistic training) on smartphones before being sent to the Made TV group’s Leeds headquarters for playout.

Yet it has been made clear to me that being a Welsh-speaking Glantaf pupil is not in itself enough for you to ‘fit in’ at the Crachach set. At a friend’s wedding a few years ago, I was making conversation with a young woman who had begun her career in journalism before switching to PR. She was intelligent, attractive and charismatic, and has gone on to have a very successful career.

I casually said to her that to ‘get on’ at BBC Wales, it helps if you’re a Welsh speaker who went to Glantaf, to which she replied, as quick as a flash: “Well, I am a Welsh speaker who went to Glantaf, but I was always treated as an outsider when I worked for BBC Wales. The right family connections help.”

I strongly suspect Wales has lost a potentially superb journalist and broadcaster, who could have been very popular with the public, but their loss is the PR industry’s gain.

This article continues tomorrow in Country Squire Magazine.

Marcus Stead is a journalist, author and broadcaster, working mainly in political journalism and sport. Other writing by Marcus can be found here.