BY MARCUS STEAD
Two further developments that helped the Crachach consolidate their grip on public life in Wales occurred during the 1990s. The first was the expansion of the universities sector in the early part of the decade, which was a boon for Crachach seeking senior status in academic institutions.
(This article follows on from Part I here)
Then, in 1997 a referendum was held on creating a National Assembly for Wales. There was a 50.3% Yes vote, well within the margin of error, on a turnout of 50.22%. In other words, fewer than one in four of the people of Wales actually voted for the Assembly to be created.
Between 1997 and 2011, the number of Assembly/Welsh Government civil servants trebled, and this led to a further swelling of the Crachach in western Cardiff, centred around the Pontcanna area, with younger, less affluent Crachach settling for nearby Grangetown. They are sizeable enough in number for Plaid Cymru to win seats on the local council in these areas, but they are nowhere near large enough to even come close to winning the Parliamentary seats of Cardiff West (where Pontcanna is) or Cardiff South and Penarth (in the case of Grangetown).
The growth of the ‘Cardiff Crachach’ in the years since devolution was reflected in the results of the 2011 Census, which showed a decline in the number of Welsh speakers in West Wales but an increase in Cardiff. This is not a coincidence.
Is it possible to ‘join’ the Crachach? I am not sure. I have certainly seen many examples of people behaving in a deferential way around people from Crachach families with the hope of currying favour, particularly in Welsh media circles. Professor Dylan Jones-Evans appears to believe it is possible to join the Crachach, but you have to sell your soul in the process. In this blog article, he wrote: “Well, make sure you don’t rock the boat, keep your mouth closed when faced with any inequality, and be prepared to keep your eyes firmly shut when everything is falling to pieces around you. As a result, others in your elite club will look the other way and eventually reward your incompetence.”
The Crachach tentacles spread well into other spheres. In this short blog article, the former Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Peter Black outlines how the Crachach gravy train operates in the Welsh civil service.
In literature, millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money goes to Welsh publishers, poets and authors for books on such bizarre subjects as ‘Independent Bus Operators in North Wales’ and ‘Welsh Airfields’.
A Welsh writer can obtain up to £10,000 to stay at home and write a book, regardless of whether it is published or not. However, such grants do not go to young, up-and-coming writers, or to nurture new talent. They go to BBC Wales staffers, Welsh establishment figures and ‘celebrities’.
For example, Geraint Talfan Davies’s autobiography, ‘At Arm’s Length’ was subsidised by a Welsh Books Council grant to Seren Books. According to Nielsen Book Data, it sold 179 copies in four years!
Gwyneth Lewis, the ex-national poet of Wales, wrote a piece in the Guardian defending these subsidies, but was too shy to mention that she received £11,000 from the taxpayer for her work.
The BBC Wales entertainer Owen Money received £6,000 from the WBC to write his autobiography, ‘Money Talks’, and another BBC Wales presenter, Mal Pope, was given £4,000 by the WBC to write his memoirs, ‘Old Enough to Know Better’.
In the five years to 2013, the WBC received £39m of taxpayers’ money, with another £3.85m going to Literature Wales. In 2012 alone, the Welsh Books Council received £7.6m of taxpayers’ money. It distributed £1,853,500 towards the publishing of Welsh language books, including £365,272 which went directly to authors. Another £751,465 was spent on English language books by authors living in Wales. Meanwhile Literature Wales spent £703,000 promoting Welsh literature through festivals, roadshows, grants and ‘services to writers’.
Authors who are part of the ‘in crowd’ do not even have to produce a book to receive a grant, they only have to show that they intend to write one. By contrast, in England, people who are given arts grants have to give up their time to teach two days a week. In an age where absolutely anybody can publish an e-book for very little money, or self-publish for only slightly more, how on earth can such grants to Welsh establishment figures be justified?
The National Eisteddfod takes place during the first week of August each year. It is treated with a deep reverence by a section of the Welsh speaking community, most notably the Crachach set. They take it very seriously indeed.
When watching the proceedings in the main hall (known as ‘the maes’), one could be forgiven for thinking one’s witnessing an ancient religious-like ceremony steeped in tradition. It is right and proper to the great faiths of the world with respect – if you are in a church, mosque, synagogue or temple, it is quite correct to follow the protocols and to behave appropriately when you are in their buildings. But the Eisteddfod and the Gorsedd of the Bards does not come from some ancient tradition.
In reality, the Gorsedd was created in the 1790s by Iolo Morganwg (actual name Edward Williams), an opium addict and scholar who forged a number of his claimed manuscripts. The first Gorsedd of the Bards was formed in 1792 in, erm, Primrose Hill, London.
Members of the Gorsedd wear robes depending on their area of contribution (until just a few years ago the colours represented rank), and they’re dressed in green, blue or white robes. The initiation ceremony appears to involve them kneeling and a sword being pulled from its scabbard behind them, then put back in again, with a horn of some sort playing a part. To me, and to those of us who aren’t part of the Eisteddfod set, it all looks very strange indeed.
The Eisteddfod portrays a Welsh Nationalist’s image of Wales and what it is to be Welsh. It attracts around 150,000 people on a good year (though many of those will be the same people returning day after day) with below 60,000 watching the wall-to-wall coverage on S4C. In other words, it very clearly does not connect in any meaningful way with the vast majority of the population of Wales.
I am well aware that many Welsh speakers won’t have anything to do with the Eisteddfod, believing it to be cliquey, full of factions, snobbery, and rivalries. Accusations of bias in the judging of competitions is never far away.
One prominent former Welsh language broadcaster (and a talented one at that), who was not part of the ‘in crowd’, told me some years ago, confidentially, that he has no time for the Eisteddfod set. In his words, “They think they own the Welsh language. They hate learners, they hate anyone who does not speak Welsh as though they are on the Eisteddfod stage. That week where anyone who is not a middle class Taffia is not welcome, they are so racist.”
I have taken the expletives out of what he told me because, well, this magazine is ‘family friendly’. You can be an ‘outsider’ at the Eisteddfod for speaking the ‘wrong kind of Welsh’. Apparently ‘Carmarthen Welsh’ is the required dialect to fit in.
The overly-serious nature of Eisteddfod was epitomised by what would by normal standards have been a very minor incident witnessed by somebody close to me who took part in the 2010 Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale. Heavy rain caused the ground to be waterlogged, and following the conclusion of the afternoon’s events, somebody took to the stage and announced, in English, that shuttle buses would be available to take spectators to the main car park. There was a huge gasp in the audience, as though the announcer had said something completely outrageous. In reality, their terrible crime had been to make a safety announcement IN ENGLISH from the stage. These people really do get worked up about such trivialities.
It appears that the Eisteddfod week is all about the Welsh establishment talking to itself. As for the competitions themselves, my mind harks back to around five years ago when I tuned in to the S4C coverage for about ten minutes, and saw a man dressed as a farmer dancing with a garden rake in his hand. This ‘Mind Matters’ column in Wales Online in 2006 summed it up, slightly more crudely than I would, with the words: “It’s a mind-achingly banal cross between a Women’s Institute convention, a Morris Dancing championship and the annual Conservative Club summer fete. Harp-playing, dancing with brooms and tedious speech choirs may have their place in our national tradition but are they really going to keep the youth of tomorrow thronging to get in?”
During the 2018 Eisteddfod, I tried very hard to watch a few hours of the coverage one afternoon and despite 12 years having passed since that article was written, I found it difficult to argue with that definition. The site was just a short walk away from Butetown, one of the oldest and most racially-diverse communities anywhere in the UK, yet I didn’t see a single non-white face in the Wales Millennium Centre main hall or in the surrounding area outside throughout. This screenshot demonstrates that there were empty seats and a disproportionate number of those in attendance were elderly.
It doesn’t feel like a festival that celebrates all that is good about Wales – English speakers, Welsh speakers, different racial backgrounds, many faiths and so on.
I don’t want to spoil anybody else’s enjoyment, and if a pseudo-pagan fancy dress party floats your boat, by all means carry on. But if there is to be a festival so narrow in scope, why should the public purse be expected to subsidise it? I do not demand that the taxpayer subsidises my tastes in entertainment.
Last November, it was announced that the 2018 Eisteddfod in Cardiff Bay made a record loss of £290,000. This was spun by organisers as an ‘investment in the Welsh language’, a claim that went unchallenged by the sympathetic reporters at BBC Wales and elsewhere. A record 500,000 people attended the free event in Cardiff Bay (there is normally an entrance fee), but as usual, these figures should be taken with a pinch of salt. How many of these people were returning day after day? How many of them were tourists who happened to be in the area and drifted onto the ‘maes’? How many of them were people enjoying the bars and restaurants of Cardiff Bay and walked across for a brief glance? Unless there were huge queues to sign up for Welsh language classes as a result of it, any claims that it was an ‘investment in the Welsh language’ should be treated with deep suspicion. The organisers and the Welsh establishment are the ones making the claim. It is therefore up to them to prove it.
I live in the area, and spent much of the week working in the centre of Cardiff, just a mile or so up the road from the ‘maes’. The talk in the shop queues and cafes was about the new football season starting (Cardiff City had just been promoted to the Premier League), holiday plans, Brexit and so on. I didn’t hear people discussing the Eisteddfod taking place in close proximity even once. To English-speaking Cardiff, it was considered largely an irrelevance.
The Eisteddfod promotes a parochial, insular image of Wales, that is not shared by most people in the country. Many of us who are proudly Welsh like to think of Welsh culture in different ways – our industrial and mining heritage, music – from classical, to Tom Jones to the Manic Street Preachers, various sporting achievements, Brains beer, Welsh cakes, a night on the town, our spectacular coast and countryside.
To put some ‘intellectual meat’ on the bone, we think of the art of Augustus John, acting giants such as Richard Burton, Rachel Roberts (nominated for an Academy Award for This Sporting Life), and Sir Stanley Baker (arguably a greater actor than Burton).
We think of novelists such as Gwyn Thomas (who is often rightly described as ‘the true voice of the English-speaking valleys’), John Morgan (who helped set up HTV) and the still very much alive Mavis Nicholson, probably TV’s greatest interviewer, who has been disgracefully under-appreciated since the mid-1990s. There’s Ian Skidmore, born in England, whose journalism, radio work and in later life blogging brought the best of Welsh wit, intellect, humour and warmth to the world for half a century.
In heavyweight journalism, we think of John Humphrys, a working class, English-speaking boy from the Splott area of Cardiff who passed his 11 Plus, got into Cardiff High (then a grammar school) but left aged 14 because he didn’t fit in with the middle class atmosphere of the place. He worked on local papers in the South Wales area where he quickly gained a bit of a reputation, then went into TV at TWW (the ITV contractor in Wales pre-1968) before joining the BBC, where at his peak he was one of the very best political interviewers the UK has ever known. Indeed, Mr Humphrys has, on occasion, been a vocal critic of the Welsh Crachach establishment.
Alan Watkins was a brilliant political commentator and raconteur during the second half of the 20th century and early 21st century, as well as being a witty rugby writer.
There’s Jan Morris, one of the great historians and travel writers of this or any other era, perhaps best known for her Pax Britannica trilogy, and continues to produce interesting and thoughtful work at the age of 92.
In high-brow music, there was Sir Geraint Evans and Dame Margaret Price, as well as the versatile Sir Harry Secombe, who was a first-rate singer, actor and TV presenter. He also had that very rare ability to be a master of comedy and of more serious roles, both in character and as his real self.
Dame Shirley Bassey is perhaps the best example of a performer who epitomises 20th and 21st Century Wales at its most rich and diverse. She was born in Bute St, Butetown, to a Nigerian father and a mother from Teeside, and grew up in unglamorous surroundings in the aforementioned Splott. Her powerful voice was discovered at a young age, and her career has seen her remain one of the world’s most popular female artists for six decades and counting.
These are all incredible people with extraordinary life stories. All of them inspire me in their different ways, and all have earned the respect and admiration of people in the United Kingdom and throughout the world.
I’m aware that Richard Burton flirted with Welsh nationalism (though never very seriously) has an Eisteddfod award named after him (though I can find no evidence that he ever had anything to do with it), but beyond that, all of these people represented the best of Wales both to the United Kingdom and the wider world without having anything to do with the Eisteddfod, and, to my knowledge, without the huge subsidies that the Crachach cliques grant to their favoured performers (nearly always from Welsh language backgrounds and with far more Welsh-sounding names than nearly all of the above mentioned).
It seems likely to me that all of the above would be appalled at how provincial Wales has become, where the all-powerful Crachach hand out jobs, grants and privileges to the favoured few at the expense of the non-Welsh speaking majority.
A pertinent example of how exclusive and cliquey the National Eisteddfod is came in the summer of 2016. Less than a month beforehand, the Wales football team reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016, their greatest ever run in a major competition.
I have never known anything that brought Wales together to this extent. It came just weeks after the Brexit referendum, in which the majority of participants in Wales voted Leave, following much the same pattern as England. The UK was divided and ill at ease with itself. But in Wales, for that brief few weeks, it seemed as though the whole country, north and south, united behind Chris Coleman’s men as they exceeded expectations.
The open top bus parade that greeted them when they returned home was something I shall never forget. In the weeks that followed, there were accolades, TV appearances and celebratory dinners. This was a great time to be Welsh. Everyone wanted to be a part of it and heap praise and honours on the team. Everyone, that is, except the National Eisteddfod.
In late July, Archdruid Geraint Lloyd Owen, head of the Gorsedd y Beirdd association, came under increasing pressure to nominate the team for an award at the National Eisteddfod. But just days before the festival was to begin, he rebuffed the team because some of the players don’t speak Welsh. He said: “If they can’t speak Welsh I don’t see how we can welcome them in [Gorsedd], because Welsh is the biggest, strongest weapon we have as a nation and without it, we have nothing.”
Charming. Three members of the team, Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies and Joe Allen are known Welsh speakers, which is more than proportionate to the overall percentage of the population who speak the language.
Dean Thomas-Welch, a sports reporter for ITV Wales, summed up the sentiments of many in Wales when he said: “The Welsh national anthem was sung in front of a global audience on the biggest stage thanks to the Welsh football team and still the Eisteddfod ignore them.”
I do not wish to associate with an event that is so snobbish and discriminatory. It does not represent Wales or most people who live here. It is a Welsh Nationalists/Welsh language image of Wales, to which most of the population do not subscribe.
Indeed, Plaid Cymru itself was founded during a meeting at the 1925 Eisteddfod in Pwllheli. The party’s co-founder, the aforementioned Saunders Lewis, was an ardent Monarchist and devout Roman Catholic. He didn’t care much for political independence, even going so far as to say that Wales was a nation (as in a people with a culture and, most importantly for him, a language). His ultimate vision was of a Welsh-speaking, monoglot Wales of small-scale farmers as part of a united Catholic Europe.
Lewis was far from universally popular among the Welsh nationalist movement. A significant number were suspicious of his conversion from Nonconformism to Roman Catholicism. He was pretentious and snobbish, with a reedy voice, cerebral style and aristocratic contempt for the proletariat. Many Welsh language literary critics don’t hold his extensive writings in high regard.
But there was a far darker side to Lewis, one which modern-day Plaid Cymru prefers not to talk about. Lewis’s writing is littered with numerous grotesque examples of anti-Semitism. A repeated phrase of his is ‘Hebrew Snouts’, which he uses when referring to Jewish financiers, with Alfred Mond being a favourite target of his.
Lewis had an affection for the politics of Franco, Salazar and Petain. Plaid Cymru officially remained neutral during World War II. Some senior figures openly advocated that a German victory would be better for Wales. Lewis’s anti-Semitism and support for fascism became a target for opponents of the party and an embarrassment to some of its supporters, including the writer Ambrose Bebb (the grandfather of current Conservative MP Guto Bebb).
Of Hitler himself, Lewis declared: “At once he fulfilled his promise—a promise which was greatly mocked by the London papers months before that—to completely abolish the financial strength of the Jews in the economic life of Germany.”
Plaid Cymru’s stance did not stem from Christian pacifism but from their own nationalist opposition to Britain, which they saw as a greater threat to Wales than Hitler. In the late 1930s, the party’s internal newspaper cited Jewish influence over the British media as a source of the drive to war.
Of English children being evacuated to Wales to avoid the bombing of their homes during the war, Plaid Cymru said that this would
completely submerge and destroy all of Welsh national tradition. Saunders Lewis went on to say that the
movement on population is ‘one of the most horrible threats to the continuation and to the life of the Welsh nation that has ever been suggested in history.’
So, there we have it. Hitler and Mussolini were friends of the nationalists, but English children escaping the ravages of war were the enemy.
Plaid Cymru doesn’t like to mention or discuss, let alone condemn its own murky past. Indeed, former party President, Lord Dafydd Wigley, who will have known Lewis personally, called for the ‘character assassination’ of him to end during a 2015 interview, as though Lewis’s abhorrent views were some kind of minor character flaw.
Yet there are far more recent examples of similar sentiments coming from senior figures in the party. In 2001, Gwilyn ab Ioan, then-Vice President of the party, was reported to the Commission for Racial Equality by Ian Skidmore for saying that Wales was becoming a dumping ground for England’s “oddballs, social misfits and drop-outs” and that Wales was being overrun by an “alien culture” which was making it “a land full of foreigners”.
The same year, Plaid Cymru councillor Seimon Glyn appeared on BBC Radio Wales where he described retired English people moving to Wales as a ‘drain on our resources’ and of the English said: “These people are coming here to live to establish themselves here, and to influence our communities and our culture with their own.”
During the same interview, Mr Glyn said that English incomers should be ‘made’ to learn Welsh.
During the last decade, it has become clear that such attitudes are not confined to Plaid Cymru. Huw Thomas, the leader of Labour-controlled Cardiff Council, grew up in Ceredigion (once known as Cardiganshire) where, as a student, he advocated the vandalism of cars belonging to English people in Wales and called for incomers from England to be forced to pay additional income tax if they fail to learn Welsh within a year of their arrival.
He wrote: “I agree that it’s completely sickening how many England flags are to be seen around Wales. It truly shows the degree our society has been infiltrated by incomers who are not ready to integrate.
“Very often, from what I see, some flying English flags are young people, who have been brought up in Wales, but who are loyal to England. This raises questions about us as Welsh people as well.
“It’s true that the parents are at fault, but it’s obvious that the education system has failed to create a Welsh Nationalism in these people, and I wonder also how many of us Welsh people, in our school days, tried to bring these people (aka chavs) into the Welsh circle.
“I can’t speak with a clear conscience by a long shot, so don’t think that I’m preaching, but it’s something to consider I feel.
“The retail sector is also responsible for making the situation worse I think, and all across Britain not only in Wales. The World Cup, to a large extent, is just an opportunity for high street shops to ‘cash in’, using special offers and social pressure to create a fake group mentality – Nationalism Asda style!
“Having said this, I had the opportunity, when I had the opportunity to buy an England flag for half price in WH Smith, Oxford, to answer with the phrase: ‘Since I am neither a simpleton nor a casual racist I must decline your offer’. Poor ‘Stacey’ didn’t know where to look!”
Thomas has expressed his regret over these comments, and says they are no longer his views, but his actions as leader of Cardiff Council suggest he still has a lot of enthusiasm for forced Welsh language imposition.
Welsh language imposition
The story of the last 40 years in Wales is one of a group of small, but vocal Welsh language campaigners demanding more and more, and being given exactly what they want, regardless of cost or benefit to wider society.
It began with road signs in English-speaking parts of Wales being produced in both English and Welsh after a stupid and dangerous campaign by Welsh language campaigners of painting over English-only road signs. This was followed by Gwynfor Evans threatening to starve himself to death unless S4C was created in 1982.
This was followed by the Welsh Language Act of 1993, which led to a massive increase in the use of Welsh in the public sector, regardless of demand. This was followed by the creation of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999, which fewer than one in four of the people of Wales actually voted for.
This was followed by another Welsh Language Act in 2011. In that same year, the Assembly’s powers were increased, which fewer than one in five of the people of Wales actually voted for in a referendum.
To bring the story up to date, since 2016 there has been a policy of ‘Welsh first’ road signs being gradually rolled out, regardless of the fact that in many cases these are in an area where only a tiny minority actually speak Welsh. There was little to no public consultation or debate about this. It was imposed upon the people of Wales by the Welsh Government, or more specifically, the Welsh civil service, where the Crachach classes pull all the strings.
It appears that Welsh language imposition is now taking priority over road safety. When people are travelling at high speed, the purpose of road signs is to convey information as quickly and as succinctly as possible. Putting signs in a language only a small minority speaks over a language pretty much everybody speaks compromises safety. Indeed, I have heard a number of anecdotes of electronic motorway signs being only in Welsh, or switching between Welsh and English periodically, by which time the car has passed the sign. Was it telling us to slow down? Was it telling us there was an accident ahead? Or was it wishing us a Merry Christmas? When rain is lashing down on your windscreen, and there is heavy traffic on the motorway, the purpose of electronic motorway signs is to convey messages to keep drivers safe, and that means using a language close to all drivers understand.
Road signs are an important example of how public money is being wasted, and safety compromised, to appease the Crachach and Welsh language campaigners. But in day-to-day life in Wales, we see many subtle, more trivial signs that non-Welsh speakers are now to be considered second class citizens.
For example, I have been attending Cardiff City matches, on and off, since I was eight years old. During my childhood, the stadium public address announcements were made in English, and English only. For many years, the announcer was the late, great Phil Suarez, who also commentated on matches for local commercial radio. There were periods when the announcements were made by other English language radio personalities including Steve Johnson and Darren Daley.
There was no controversy whatsoever about English-only announcements at the time. The club was in the lower divisions, crowds were rarely much above 2,000, the overwhelming majority of whom were non-Welsh speakers from Cardiff and the South Wales Valleys.
In the early 2000s, the excitable Ali Yassine was appointed as stadium announcer. Yassine, from the city’s Somali community, learnt the Welsh language in his 20s, and would use a small amount of Welsh during his announcements.
Shortly before the start of the 2015/16 season, Yassine was relieved of his duties, and as a temporary measure, author, club historian and veteran former radio commentator Richard Shepherd took over announcing duties. Shepherd announced in English only.
The following January, the club pledged to reinstate Welsh language announcements following an online petition signed by fewer than 300 people. To put this into perspective, at that time, the club was typically attracting crowds of around 24,000. So in other words, below 1.25% bothered to sign the petition.
But hang on…..there was no way of verifying that those who signed the petition actually attended matches. Many of the signatories could easily have been Welsh language activists who spread the word via social media. Some (many?) could either have had no interest in the club at all, or had been living hundreds of miles away in Porthmadog. Even if we are to give the benefit of the doubt and assume that every single signatory was a dedicated season ticket holder, the club changed its policy to appease a minuscule number of its supporters.
Welsh football international home matches are nearly always staged in one of the two stadiums of Cardiff. During most of the 2000s, into the 2010s, stadium announcements were made by Yassine, who behaved in much the same way he did at Cardiff City games.
At some point around early 2018, Rhydian Bowen Phillips became the stadium announcer. Bowen Phillips is a Welsh language entertainer, as well as a militant Welsh nationalist with an enormous tattoo on his arm of his hero, the fourteenth century prince, Owain Glyndwr. Phillips is a Conservative Party-hating, Thatcher-loathing, pro-EU republican who never misses an opportunity to voice his ‘Welsh not British’ credentials.
Upon taking on Tannoy duties at Wales games, Bowen Phillips took to announcing in Welsh first, and English second. Did he bother to ask the permission of his employers at the Football Association of Wales before doing this? Or did he just decide to do it and see if the FAW would dare to challenge him, in which case he would likely kick up a fuss? If the FAW did give him permission, why did they do so? The vast majority of fans who have paid good money for a ticket have come from English-speaking communities, and they deserve to have their main language given preference when attending matches. Bowen Phillips is entitled to his opinions in his personal life (however distasteful one may find them), but it is not acceptable to impose these values on his workplace, or on thousands of people who have paid to watch a football match.
Welsh language announcements in football stadiums may seem like a minor matter in the grand scheme of things, but they are symptomatic of what is happening in an ever-increasing number of areas, some very important, others trivial.
For example, during 2018, Transport for Wales became the new rail operator in Wales, and their livery began to appear on trains and at stations. Station signs now appear in Welsh first, in thick black, and English underneath, in faint grey. It’s yet another subtle sign to the majority that we are now second class citizens and less important than the Welsh speaking minority. At railway stations, commuters have to endure long, rambling pre-recorded announcements by Transport for Wales in Welsh first, and English second, in which they tell us how wonderful the rail service will be in five years’ time (‘believe it when it happens’ is my advice!).
The 2016 Welsh Government implementation plan stated that all road signs were to be in Welsh first, with the existing “English-priority” signage (in those areas where the local authority previously had such a policy) being replaced whenever they otherwise would (life expiry or altered road conditions). The Welsh Government states in its Welsh Language Standards, Article 119, page 17, that; ‘Where a sign contains the Welsh language as well as the English language, the Welsh language text must be positioned so as to be read first.’ and; ‘Replacement signage on Welsh Government trunk roads will be taken forward as part of general rolling programme of renewals with priority given to main routes.’
Democracy played no part in this. It was not a Welsh Labour party policy at the last Assembly elections. There was no public consultation. It just ‘happened’, with minimal media coverage or publicity. The document was published by the Crachach-controlled civil service, and it was rolled out from there. Road safety and the swift communication of information when travelling at high speed now comes a distant second to appeasing the Crachach and Welsh language campaigners.
Huw Thomas says he has renounced the Welsh language extremism of his youth, but upon becoming leader of Cardiff Council in 2017, a policy was rolled out of ‘Welsh first’ in official council correspondence. The 2011 Census showed that 84.25% of Cardiffians have no knowledge of Welsh, and 89.25% of the city’s population were unable to speak Welsh, yet Welsh is now the first language on official council emails. Why? Who authorised this? Who benefits from it? It’s just another subtle way of letting the non-Welsh speaking vast majority know they are now second class citizens.
By making the ability to speak Welsh a requirement for an ever-increasing number of public sector jobs, the council is excluding the most suitable candidates for the jobs, in favour of candidates who may be of inferior ability in all other respects, but have the ability to speak Welsh. This inevitably has an impact on the quality of public services in the city. This is by no means confined to Cardiff, and surveys claiming there is sufficient demand for Welsh language provision should be treated with suspicion.
For example, in December 2018, Newport Council created an online survey seeking people’s requirements for school services in English and Welsh. The survey was flawed for much the same reasons as was the case with the petition about Cardiff City stadium announcements. Those filling in the questionnaire were at no time required to provide their names or address so that it could be verified that they lived in the Newport Council area. In other words, there was nothing to prevent Welsh language activists from organising themselves online and distorting the survey for their own agenda.
Activists, or worse?
It is not always easy to define where the line is crossed between general Welsh nationalism, Welsh language activism, the Crachach and the darker elements that have been around in Wales in their various forms for decades.
Between 1979 and 1990, Meibion Glyndwr carried out an arson campaign in which there were 228 attacks on English-owned holiday homes. As late as 1993, the organisation gave 19 English families an ultimatum: leave Wales by 1 March or be burned out. It is of course wrong to say that all Welsh nationalists are sympathetic to their agenda, a very large number have no time for them, but someone as high-profile as Gwynfor Evans was tempted to voice his support, which led him into conflict with his next-but-one successor as President of Plaid Cymru, the more moderate Dafydd Elis-Thomas, who was unequivocal in his condemnation of them, and refused to consider them Welsh nationalists. Yet there is a blurring of the lines, insofar as there appear to be rather a lot of books and folk songs in Welsh language culture eulogising their efforts.
Nowadays, the main Welsh language pressure group is Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, who are not involved in anything as dangerous as arson attacks, but are certainly not immune to committing acts of vandalism and thuggery, such as the 2001 spraying of graffiti on shops in Cardiff city centre, or the 2011 break in and trashing of the constituency office of prominent Welsh Conservative Party politicians Jonathan Evans MP and Jonathan Morgan AM.
Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg does appear to have a certain level of support among the Welsh language establishment, and they are frequently reported in a sympathetic way by BBC Wales and others whenever they are looking for a quote on a story about the Welsh language, and prominent Welsh language entertainers such as Geraint Lovgreen have donated money to the organisation.
On a lower level, it is clear that there is a significant ongoing problem, especially in parts of North Wales, of hatred, abuse and insults being aimed at non-Welsh speakers.
This chart, which came following a Freedom of Information request to North Wales Police, gives a comparison of the number of such incidents aimed at Welsh speakers and English speakers from 2005 until March 2016.
It is clear that in every single year, the incidents against English speakers by far outweighs those against Welsh speakers, though for some reason, a disproportionally low number of incidents against English speakers were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. It’s also notable how little we hear about this from BBC Wales or other Crachach-controlled Welsh media outlets.
In recent years, this sort of behaviour has extended to social media. It can be found on all the main platforms, but by far the worst is, unsurprisingly, Twitter. It follows a peculiar pattern: Very few of these accounts use their real names or include a profile picture. A tiny number have a sizeable following in the thousands, and those that have a decent number of followers often define their account as an unofficial body combining support for the Wales national football team and Welsh nationalism. Yet beyond this handful of accounts, the vast majority only have a few hundred followers (if that), most are based in West or North West Wales, and all behave in a very similar way.
They find a particular ’cause for the day’. That could be broadcaster Jeremy Vine composing a tweet of which they do not approve, Iceland supermarkets refusing to put Welsh language signs in their stores, or Virgin Trains refusing to give Welsh language announcements when West Coast trains briefly cross the border into Wales to stop at Wrexham and Chester. They then bombard the company or individual with threatening, abusive tweets for a day or two, before moving on to their next cause.
At best, the behaviour of these anonymous trolls can be described as babyish, or school playground behaviour. Gutter language is banded about freely. Words like ‘English’ are used as casual terms of abuse. At worst, it is extremely menacing, and the content of their tweets could fairly be described as deviant. The fact that such thoughts go through their heads, let alone make it into a tweet, gives cause for concern about their mental state.
Mr Vine and others have felt the need to apologise to the mob, wrongly believing that they represent the people of Wales. In reality, the anonymity of almost all of these accounts, combined with the low number of followers and similar use of language strongly suggests that they are an organised mob, rather small in number, but have numerous Twitter accounts, by which, to the untrained eye, their support base may appear far bigger than it actually is.
One of their most recent targets has been celebrity chef James Martin. A recent episode of his programme, ‘James Martin’s Great British Adventure’ contained several glaring errors about Welsh geography, but the issue that most seems to have riled the mob is his referral to Wales as a ‘principality’. The International Organisation for Standardisation has defined Wales as a ‘country’ rather than a ‘principality’ since 2011, but Wales is still commonly referred to as a ‘principality’, and Prince Charles is still very much the Prince of Wales. Indeed, former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Elis Thomas, currently the Welsh Government’s tourism minister, promotes Wales as ‘a principality within a United Kingdom’.
To the outside world, this organised mob of Twitter trolls appear ludicrous and childlike, but these people appear to live in an echo chamber by which they judge a two or three-figure number of ‘likes’ for their tweets as validation for their behaviour (known as ‘confirmation bias’). They seem to have no comprehension as to how their behaviour is being viewed by those outside their bubble. It risks Mr Martin, Mr Vine and potentially millions of others viewing the Welsh as hypersensitive, humourless bullies. Of course, the vast majority of people living in Wales don’t behave in that way and really aren’t that bothered by any of these matters. As Neil Kinnock cautioned in the House of Commons during a speech on 15 March 1979: “Never mistake the enthusiasm of the minority for the support of the majority.”
From what I can tell, a lot of these accounts are operated by young males. It may well be the case that they have lived their entire lives within small Welsh-speaking communities in West and North West Wales. This may be clouding their judgement, or may go someway towards explaining the paranoid suspicion they appear to have towards English people, or even non-Welsh speakers in Wales.
I have a policy of not engaging with the mob, and would advise others to do the same. There is no point in trying to debate rationally with someone who hides not only behind a keyboard, but also behind a pseudonym and a picture of bacon and eggs, or a cartoon of some obscure Welsh prince from the Middle Ages. A good rule to live by is that if people are not willing to debate with you using their real identity, they are not worthy of your time or attention.
One has to ask why the mob resort to such aggression and gutter language? I put it down to them not knowing how to debate sensibly. They live their daily lives entirely among their own small community, and are not used to having their attitudes and opinions challenged. The internet, in particular social media, exposes them to viewpoints they have seldom encountered before. They have also had 40 years of successive governments giving them more and more of what they want, so are not accustomed to having to explain why they hold the views they do.
I very much doubt many of the mob are interested in listening to advice from me, but to those that are, I suggest they take steps to broaden their horizons. Paranoia and fear of ‘the other’ appears to be widespread in their communities. My advice? Go and spend a few years at a university in England. If you are not academically-minded, move to a town or city in England for six months, live in a cheap bedsit, and get a job in a bar or a restaurant. You will be mixing with English people day in and day out. You will soon realise that these people are not a different species – there are good and bad people everywhere you go in life, and it’s certainly not the case that people from England are involved in some bizarre plot to suppress Wales or undermine the Welsh language.
England is not ‘out to get’ you, and English people are not involved in some grand conspiracy against you. Hatred of English people is moronic and irrational. Even if you choose to return to your towns and villages in Wales after a period away, you will do so greatly enriched and with much broader horizons as a result of your experience.
Education in Wales – a system in crisis
One of the major changes that has taken place during my lifetime has been the dogmatic imposition of the Welsh language on schoolchildren in areas where there is no modern history of the language being widely used, and little evidence of parental demand for Welsh language education.
I attended Holy Family Primary School in Pentrebane, Cardiff, between 1988 and 1995. Until around the time of the Welsh Language Act 1993, I barely heard a word of Welsh at school. Parents who wanted their children to be taught in Welsh could send them to a Welsh language primary school a short walk away. Parents had the freedom to choose the language in which their children were educated, which, in my view, is how it should be.
Things really began to change a few months into the 1994/95 academic year, when once a week, a teacher came in for one hour a week to teach us Welsh. In reality, it didn’t extend much beyond her teaching us to count to ten, the days of the week, colours, and a few children’s songs. Beyond that, a policy was introduced of ‘Welsh being used in a classroom context’. When the register was taken each morning and afternoon, we were no longer told to answer, ‘Yes, Mrs Sullivan’ but ‘Uma, Mrs Sullivan’ (is that even the correct Welsh word to use? I am not sure). Little stickers started appearing above classroom objects saying ‘cyfrifiadur’, ‘teledu’ and ‘bwrdd du’.
I recall on one afternoon, the older classes were taken into the school hall to learn the national anthem. It succeeded (I can sing it word-perfectly), but we were taught ways of remembering it that some may consider crude and unsuitable, for example, ‘mae hen’ became ‘my hen’. Even at the age of 11, I could tell that all this was essentially a box-ticking exercise. It wasn’t a meaningful gateway to the Welsh language or Welsh language culture.
From 1995-2000, I attended Corpus Christi High School, where Welsh was a compulsory subject until the end of year 9. For the first year, I ‘got by’, but in year 8, with the same teacher, I really struggled. Then, in year 9, something extraordinary happened, which I still can’t quite understand. I was in a much smaller class of about 12 pupils, with a different teacher. Welsh lessons became fun and a good laugh. I quickly made enormous progress, and it wasn’t long before I was near the top of the class.
At the end of year 9, we had the option of taking Welsh to GCSE level or dropping it. My year group was the last to be able to do so, as after that Welsh to GCSE became compulsory. The said teacher was mildly disappointed that I wasn’t continuing with it to GCSE level. Maybe if I knew for sure that she would be my teacher for the following two years, I’d have continued with it. Instead, I decided to take French and Spanish, which I was also fairly strong at, and both would enable me to communicate with potentially hundreds of millions of people around the world.
And that marked the end of me learning Welsh. In the years since, further top-down measures to impose the Welsh language upon the education system have been introduced by the Welsh Government, under pressure from the Crachach in the civil service and elsewhere.
In July 2017, Educations Minister Kirsty Williams (who is, in theory, a Liberal Democrat) introduced a strategy aimed at creating a million Welsh speakers by 2050. No great effort has been made to explain what the advantages will be of doing this, nor has the strategy been properly costed, probably for fear that it would lead voters to conclude that the money could be better spent on improving our public services and creaking infrastructure.
This was followed in January 2019 by an announcement that from 2022, all pupils will follow the same curriculum for the Welsh language, but English-medium pupils will not necessarily be expected to meet the same standard as Welsh-medium students. The Welsh Government has announced that there will be an intensive training programme for primary school teachers in particular, to ensure they have the required skill, but once again, they haven’t reviewed how much it would cost, how much time it will take, whether the aim is realistic (it almost certainly is not) nor have they explained what the tangible benefits of this measure will be.
A number of local councils have claimed that there is increasing demand for Welsh language education in their areas, and have created new schools to meet this. We have already seen how these ‘surveys’ can be skewed (such as the above example with Newport Council), but that aside, it is very often difficult to obtain accurate data on how they reached these conclusions. Freedom of Information requests are often met with responses along the lines of how they do not have specific data, which is often followed by a platitude about their ‘commitment to bilingualism’.
Despite all these measures, the Census of 2011 showed that the number of Welsh speakers actually fell in the previous decade. In 18 of the 22 local authority areas in Wales, a minimum of 67% of people were classed as having ‘no knowledge of Welsh’. The lesson that can be taken from this is that dogmatic measures to impose the Welsh language on children do not work. Those who are genuinely interested in seeing the Welsh language thrive on its merits should watch this short film by journalist Eoin Butler which provides us with interesting parallels with the Irish language. One particular segment stands out. Butler says:
“I think the truth is that compulsory Irish is a failed policy, but that a network of vested interests have grown up around it, keeping it in place. This network acts as a support system, not for the language, but for itself. It does nothing to really promote the language, or to broaden its appeal.”
Ireland appears to have its own version of the Crachach. Replace the word ‘Irish’ for ‘Welsh’ in that package, and every single word will ring true for the situation in Wales.
Butler offers an interesting solution, by comparing it to the revival and modern-day popularity of the Gaelic games. For 70 years the GAA had a closed, defensive mentality. Its members were banned, not just from playing, but from even attending soccer or rugby matches. Back then, the GAA didn’t have the confidence to believe that their games could survive in open competition with other sports. Archive footage from that time shows that Gaelic games were pretty unsophisticated.
Today, the ban is long gone, and GAA players are elite athletes. GAA, with minimal state involvement and zero compulsion, has never been more popular. GAA was once a minority interest, the way the Irish language is now. If children were encouraged to embrace the language, the way they do the sport, not out of duty or obligation, but out of genuine affection, the Irish language could thrive. The same applies to Welsh. Growth happens by consent, not compulsion or imposition.
A likely explanation for the decline in the Welsh language in the decade to 2011 is one based on economics. A lack of jobs opportunities in West and North West Wales is resulting in Welsh-speaking young people permanently leaving the area, often to English-speaking parts of Wales or to England itself, and English inevitably becomes the main language with which they lead their lives.
It is right and proper that we acknowledge that it is important to some parents in some parts of Wales that their children are educated primarily through the medium of Welsh. We should respect that and ensure that sufficient school places and resources are made available to them.
But many other parents have very different priorities, particularly in areas of Wales where the Welsh language has not been widely spoken for many generations. Many of these parents consider it essential that their children are educated primarily in the English language. They consider the English language to be a tremendous gift, and one that will open doors for their children in the ever-more-global jobs market they will be entering. Not only is English the language of the family home and local community, it is the international language of business, and of the internet, and of science and technology.
Yes, it is true that Welsh language schools also teach English as well, but English is a complex language that is best mastered through frequent, daily use. In my experience in the workplace and elsewhere, people who were educated in Welsh often have difficulties with English grammar and comprehension, with a tendency to spell words phonetically. One frequent example I’ve encountered is when the Welsh nationalist bullies look to throw a cheap insult at me on social media, they frequently use my lack of hair as a target (something I couldn’t care less about), but they often use the word ‘bold’ instead of ‘bald’.
Parents who wish for their children to be taught in English very often consider it important that their children have the opportunities to learn foreign languages, which will open doors to them in the global jobs market, such as Mandarin, spoken by 1.2 billion, Spanish, spoken by 437 million, French, spoken by 220 million, German, spoken by 95 million, or Russian, spoken by 166 million. By contrast, Welsh is spoken by around 600,000 people (at a most generous estimate) in Wales (almost all of whom can speak English), and by below 5,000 people in Patagonia, and, erm, nowhere else. The Welsh language, not part of their family or community culture, will not enable them to communicate with millions of people around the world. Modern languages will. The sole advantage of learning Welsh is that it will enable them to apply for an ever-increasing number of public sector and media jobs in Wales where there is a Welsh language requirement, not due to public demand, but to fulfil a political dogma.
Proponents of Welsh language education often argue that it is not a case of ‘either/or’ and that children can learn both Welsh and foreign languages. Indeed they can, but there are a limited number of hours in a school day and something has to ‘give’ in the timetable to accommodate Welsh lessons. In my case, I would have needed to drop French or Spanish to accommodate Welsh, which would have limited my ability to communicate with a vast section of the global population. To put it bluntly, many parents in English-speaking parts of Wales regard every hour their child is forced to spend learning Welsh as an hour that could be better spent learning a language vast numbers of people actually speak in the wider world.
As Gwyn Thomas put it: “Every active Welsh speaking nationalist is denying the Welshman the chance to fulfil his glorious function upon this world, that is to be a man of great imagination, great compassion in the language that would reach more people than any other.”
We should also not overlook the reality of Welsh medium schools under-performing in terms of English and foreign language academic attainment. According to the international PISA rankings, exam results in Wales are lagging behind those of all other UK nations. Since 2011, the percentage of Welsh medium teachers going into secondary education who have a degree in Welsh is 38%, the highest percentage of any subject for an initial degree. By comparison, just 2% have a degree in English.
In Welsh language schools, English results suffer and modern foreign language teaching is reduced. Gwynedd has 13 Welsh language secondary schools and just one English. Just 10% of pupils entered a modern foreign language GCSE in 2018. Gwynedd has the worst GCSE results in the whole of Wales. Only ONE school achieved above the national average – yep, you’ve guessed it, the English language secondary school. The worst school in Wales was Ysgol y Berwyn in Bala, where just 23% of pupils reached level 2 in English.
This Freedom of Information request reveals just how truly appalling Welsh medium GCSE English results were in 2018. Parents who choose to send their children to Welsh medium schools should do so with an understanding of how they could hinder their child’s ability to speak, write and comprehend English. The complete results for every school in Wales are available via this FOI request here.
Wales needs to have an honest conversation with itself. Many people know and understand what the problems are, and of the influence the Crachach has over public life in Wales, but choose to remain silent, for fear of it affecting their jobs. The Welsh economy is hugely reliant on the public sector for employment. Many other people work for third sector bodies, who are dependant on the benevolence of the public sector for their continuation. For these reasons, many people are reluctant to ‘bite the hand that feeds them’.
This is entirely understandable, but it comes at a cost. No man is an island. He (or indeed she) may choose not to rock the boat, but, for example, when his child is forced to attend an under-performing school, there is a price to be paid for his silence. When that child becomes older, and is excluded from vast sections of the jobs market due to Welsh language imposition, wider society suffers. We have now reached a stage where remaining silent is no longer a luxury we can afford.
Wales requires huge subsidies from elsewhere to sustain its standard of living. This comes in many forms, including the Barnett formula and EU grants. The United Kingdom is a net contributor to the EU, however, Wales is a net beneficiary. Post-Brexit, many of the EU grants that come to Wales will be replaced by subsidies from the English taxpayer. This will leave the English taxpayer in a position of being made to subsidise Wales, but having no democratic say in the composition of the Assembly, who have power over devolved matters. This is constitutionally dangerous and risks becoming the source of increased friction between England and Wales.
At our best, we the people of Wales, are people of great imagination, creativity, wit and ambition. But we cannot fulfil our potential for as long as a small, self-serving Crachach elite are using the Welsh language as a weapon with which to ostracise vast swathes of the population and consolidate their own narrow self-interest.
Marcus Stead is a journalist, author and broadcaster, working mainly in political journalism and sport. Other writing by Marcus can be found here.