Tuesday, 13 March 2018

No, it is not the Welsh Language that's holding Wales back.

It seems that it is quite fashionable in some corners to argue that the Welsh Language is holding Wales back.  Go to any article on Wales’s Pisa Rankings, for example, and you will see hordes of Jacques Protiques lookalikes saying that it’s all the Welsh Language’s fault. 

I was once in a car journey with someone when they argued that the Welsh Language was discouraging businesses from investing in Wales, and last month, the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan argued that it was good that the Irish Language Revival had been a failure:

“Éamon de Valera, the father of Irish independence, had three ambitions for his new state: it should be Catholic, economically self-sufficient and Irish-speaking. Happily, he had little success with the second or third, and Ireland has flourished in the internet age as an Anglophone market economy.”

Now, sure, if you only compared Wales to other parts of the United Kingdom, nearly everywhere else being monolingually English-speaking, you might think that the Welsh Language was to blame for Wales’s poor economy and low PISA rankings. 

But compare Wales to the rest of the world, and you will see that that's nonsense. 

The richest country in the world by GDP per Capita, in 2017, was Luxembourg.  Luxembourg has three official languages, French, German and Luxembourgish, with, a fourth language, English also widely spoken. 

After Luxembourg, number two for GDP per Capita is Switzerland with its four official languages. Of the top ten countries by GDP Per Capita, four have at least two official languages, and many of the remainder, such as Denmark, have widespread multilingualism.   Within Spain, the richest region is the Basque country, which counts both Basque and Castillian Spanish as its official languages.

So to the lady who made that comment in that car journey, I say this.  Are businesses shying away from Switzerland and Luxembourg because of their multiple official languages? Quite the opposite – those are countries that companies chose to move to.

Moving on to education, the picture is the same.  According to the 2015 PISA rankings, the top five countries and dependencies for reading ability were Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, Finland and Ireland.  What do they all have in common? They each have more than two official languages.

So when people say that the Welsh Language is to blame for Wales’s poor education system and depressed economy, now you know whether or not to take them seriously

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

William Hague: The ‘Moderate Left’ is Dying in Europe - My Own Thoughts

Yesterday, the Telegraph published a very insightful article by William Hague (British Conservative Politician) about the recent ‘death’ of the ‘Moderate Left’ in Europe.  (Click here for it) In it he observed that:
·       As of this week, parties on the ‘moderate left’ neither head the governments nor lead the opposition in either the UK, Germany, Italy or France – something that has not happened in peacetime for 100 years.
·       In Italy, in two and a half years, the Italian Democratic Party has gone from being the party of government to a party with perhaps less than 20% of the vote while in France, the moderate Socialist Party in 2017 went from holding the Presidency to winning less than 7% of the vote in the Presidential Election that year.
·       In the Netherlands, the Dutch Labour Party lost 80% of their parliamentary seats in their parliamentary election, and in Spain, support for their centre-left party had fallen by half in the last 10 years.  In Germany, the opposition is now the hard-right AFD. 
·       In Britain, our opposition Labour Party was no longer a ‘moderate left’ party as it was being led by ‘Corbyn extremists’ and that the moderates within the party would have no easy task winning over the party again 

Hague thus argues that this constitutes the ‘death of the moderate left in Europe’ and that the radicals on both the left and right are the beneficiaries of all this, which of course they are. 

But perhaps most interestingly of all, is how he views and explains this development.  His argument is that the leading cause was that its leaders became too far detached from their core support, particularly on issues such as immigration, support for closer political union and their response to the Recession, which he argues differed little from the Centre-Right.

He also points to other, more long-term changes, such as the decline of trade-unions, of ‘class-based loyalty’, the welfare state getting to big, along with the end of the Cold War giving the hard left more respectability.

But most interesting of all, perhaps, is that, even as a conservative, he views this all as very bad news - with likely outcomes either being that centre-right parties stagnate in never-ending power, or that nationalist and populist parties will come to power and introduce abrupt changes to national policy.
He thus argues that it is up to the moderate left to get back in tune with the people, by, for example, rejecting uncontrolled immigration, arguing that otherwise, either Centre-right parties and ‘Macron look-alikes’ will get there first, or populists and nationalists will continue to ‘march all over them.’

My own thoughts

Certainly, there is no doubt that politically, we are living in ‘interesting times’, what with Brexit and Trump and the rise of nationalism across the west.  And certainly, the current collapse of traditional Centre-left parties in Europe has been quite spectacular. 

But is it without precedent? On this scale, quite possibly, but at all in history? No.  In the past 100 years, there have been many examples of centre-left politics being pushed out of the picture. 
The history of the Weimar Republic was essentially that of the ‘Weimar Coalition’ of the three Centre-Left parties losing ground to the extremes.  Another example, although no comparison of course, is that of the collapse of the Labour Party in Scotland over the past decade. 

In Poland, the centre-left party whose predecessor held the Presidency in the 1990s, now has no seats in the Sejm, while in Ireland, both major parties are vaguely right-of-centre, with the Irish Labour Party having only once been the second largest party in the Dail.

But even in countries with strong centre-left traditions like the UK or Germany, you will notice that the centre-left is much more often in opposition than in power.  Just count the number of Conservative PMs against Labour PMs in twentieth century Britain and you will see what I mean.  The same is true for Post-WW2 Germany. 

So there certainly have always been some long-term weaknesses, but one weakness that I feel has grown over time is this:

Populists vs Technocrats and the Centre-Left
On his website, The State of Wales, Welsh political analyst, Owen Donovan, has argued that political parties and movements can be largely grouped into two characteristics: Populist and Technocratic.
If you’re a populist, you appeal more to the raw emotions of the people, whereas if you are a technocrat, you are more intellectually inclined.

My theory is this - that originally, it was the traditional centre-left parties that were firmly on the populist side, being working-class parties and all, and with the centre-right parties being of the elite, but that over time, the tables have turned, and the centre-left has become increasingly ‘intellectual’ seeming and technocratic.

Now, in some ways, the right has always had the populist advantage – particularly when it comes to nationalism, for example, – it has, by definition, been more jingoistic than the left, and thus has appealed to popular passion in that particular area. 

However, over time, the traditional left-wing parties have lost their populist/emotional advantage in other areas, such as in class-based politics and themselves become seen as ‘out-of-touch intellectual middle class’ while their traditional weaknesses, such as seeming economically illiterate, or worse, unpatriotic, have not gone away, or in fact been exacerbated.

Whether the European centre-left will recover, and what the consequences will be if they don’t, however remain to be seen, and I certainly won’t try to speculate now.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Tory MEP says Ireland not Speaking Irish a good thing: My Response.

The other day, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, while writing about Northern Ireland and the Irish Language dispute in the Daily Telegraph, appears to have argued that it was a good thing that the Irish Language revival movement in the Republic of Ireland had been a failure.  Here is what he said:

"Éamon de Valera, the father of Irish independence, had three ambitions for his new state: it should be Catholic, economically self-sufficient and Irish-speaking. Happily, he had little success with the second or third, and Ireland has flourished in the internet age as an Anglophone market economy.

Readers in Great Britain might struggle to understand why the parties in Northern Ireland have fallen out over an issue as abstruse as the status of Irish – a language spoken at home by less than a quarter of one per cent of the population."

To be fair to him though, he did go on to describe it as ‘that beautiful tongue’ but all while arguing how useless and pointless he thinks it is, and of course, as expressed in paragraph one, he is thankful that Ireland does not speak its native tongue. 

Now, I happen to agree with Daniel Hannan on a lot other issues – on maintaining a strong private sector and economic liberalisation, on decentralisation and proportional representation.  However, his recent comments on the Irish Language are, to me, just so outrageous that I feel compelled to write in opposition to them.

Would an Irish-speaking Ireland have really been such a disaster?

What Daniel Hannan seemed to be arguing therefore, was that speaking English as your sole mother tongue was a prerequisite for success in the 21st century.

True? Of course not - of the 10 richest countries in the world by nominal GDP Per Capita in 2017, as listed by the IMF, only three, Ireland, Australia and the US, had more than half their inhabitants speak English as their first language.  The other seven are all content with merely speaking it as their second language, and in Luxembourg and Switzerland’s case – as their fourth or fifth language, perhaps. 
An Irish-speaking Ireland (with English merely as its second language) would therefore not have to be a single cent poorer than the Anglophone Ireland that we know in our timeline – Daniel Hannan was talking nonsense.
However, the word ‘nonsense’ is perhaps being too kind - for that kind of talk is certainly not the nonsense of the cute and cuddly variety that you’d expect a baby to speak – but rather the signs of an attitude that has the potential to offend the billions of people who aren’t native English-speakers and embarrass the hundreds of millions of us who are. 

That attitude, which believes that due to English being the preeminent international Lingua Franca, all other languages are therefore a waste of space and should be liquidated, is one that I have come across unfortunately all too often. 

When I was on a Baltic tour with some Uni friends, we came across this thuggish American tourist in Latvia who was telling the locals around him in a café to stop speaking Latvian in his presence because English was the language that everyone was 'supposed to speak' while in Welsh-speaking Wales, you’ve had English tourists and incomers telling locals to stop speaking Welsh to each other in public.

Likewise, when I was at an Anglo German wedding  back in 2014, I met someone who said that the fact that ‘everyone speaks English’ meant that German was ‘useless,’ while in 2016, BBC broadcaster Jeremy Paxman made similar remarks about French.

I however, should have expected better from Daniel Hannan.  He himself speaks French and Spanish,  and so surely he, in spite of his Anglo-British nationalism, ought to believe that having other languages on this planet is no bad thing. 

PS: Just for the record, I happen to myself be an English teacher as well as a language enthusiast who has learnt French and Welsh and is learning Chinese.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Some Good Welsh Language News that the Press just isn't Reporting

Anyone who reads one of Wales’s main daily newspapers, such as the Western Mail, the Wales Online, or the Daily Post will be well aware of the many controversies affecting the Welsh Language, such as the Llanegennech school dispute, Gwynedd’s Local Development Plan and rows over Wylfa Newydd on Anglesey, as well as numerous crises, such as Anglesey council not finding enough bilingual staff. 

But will they be aware that there is actually some good news about the Welsh Language too?

Some Good Welsh Language News
You may be surprised to learn this, but the following is completely true:
·      In the towns of Caernarfon and Blaenau Ffestiniog, the percentages of primary school children speaking Welsh at home increased between 2013 and 2017, from 75.6% to 78.7% in Caernarfon, and, from 73.3% to 77.0% in Blaenau, and in both towns, overall pupil numbers also went up.

·      In Llangefni, the county town of Anglesey, the number of children speaking Welsh at home increased from 309 to 337, although in percentage terms, the increase was small – from 72.0% to 72.2%.
·       Overall, on Anglesey, of the 25 primary schools which had a Welsh-at-home majority either in 2013 or in 2017, 15 saw an increase in their percentages speaking Welsh at home.
·       Similar news from some places in Gwynedd, such as the villages of Llandwrog and Waunfawr.  In the PS in Waunfawr, children speaking Welsh at Home rose from 66 out of 98 pupils in 2010 to 78 out of 100 pupils in 2017.  This was mirrored by an increase in the percentage of people able to speak Welsh in that village between the Censuses of 2001 and 2011.
·      Some weaker areas also saw some good news:  In Dolgellau, the percentage of PS children speaking Welsh at home increased from 27% in 2010 to 30% in 2013, and to 32% in 2017.
·      Moving on to Welsh as a second language, as of February 2018, there are 939 thousand learners of Welsh on the online app Duolinguo, more than the number of English-speakers learning either Romanian, Hungarian, Czech, or Swahili, and nearly as many as the numbers learning Chinese!

Welsh with nearly as many learners on Duolingo as Chinese,
as of February 2018.                                                               
Not bad for a language that’s supposed to be dying.  

Sadly though, you won’t see any of these news stories in Wales’s main newspapers.  In fact, when I emailed both the Wales Online and the North Wales Daily Post in November 2017, about the good news from Anglesey, only the Daily Post sent a reply, and as far as I am aware, neither newspaper provided any coverage of it.  If I am wrong then please let me know!

Certainly, the coverage that the Welsh Language is getting at the moment is making anti-Welsh language campaigners like Jack Protiques very happy.  You only have to look at the comment section of any such article to see what I mean.
One of the two emails that I sent to the two     
respective Newspapers.  The word Anglesey
is highlighted due to that being the word I keyed
into my email search bar.                               

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Happy Chinese New Year 新年快乐

The year of the Rooster has come to an end – the new year is the year of the Goat.  I therefore wish my readers a very Happy Chinese New Year, or as they say in Mandarin, 新年快 - xīn nián kuài lè!

For me, my new years’ resolutions are the same as they were for Western New Year, to live life to the full here in China, to immerse myself in Chinese Culture, to learn as much Mandarin as possible and to be a good teacher. 

The first month and a bit has been such an enjoyable experience here in China, as has meeting my new work colleagues, and dare I say it, getting tipsy with them over dinner sometimes, and of course, experiencing a new culture that is so different from my own. 

China has got to be the least Western country that I have ever been to, and of all the countries outside of Europe on that list, China, Turkey and Ethiopia are the only three to have never been colonised by a European power for any appreciable amount of time and this naturally makes China much more different from Europe, than say, Guatemala or the USA. 

Naturally, there are a lot of differences between China and my own country.  The Language barrier certainly is a challenge and there are times when I have not known what people were trying to say and had to apologise and just be at a loss, and other times when I feel proud to have been able to understand and communicate successfully in my mandarin. 

Of course, there are many social conventions which are different, and others which are more the same.  Certainly, I have found the people to be often very friendly, with some initiating conversation with me and even offering me certain things.   

Having stayed in Nanjing since I arrived in China on the 8th of January, I have now booked a day-trip for the 19th to the city of Suzhou, located between Nanjing and Shanghai.  

Suzhou, often nicknamed as the ‘Venice of the East’ is well known it’s canals, gardens, temples and pagodas, many of which date back to the Song dynasty, that which predated the Mongol invasion, and beyond.  How lucky that I happen to be so close to it.

And talking of lucky, I would also like to thank my family for posting my new posting my new blog articles online while I have been in China.  谢谢

And for the rest of you,
Happy Chinese New Year.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Why I became a Welsh Nationalist

After I wrote the article in Nation.Cymru advocating that Plaid Cymru should tune down on the Republicanism, it seems that more than a few commentators wondered what I was doing in the Welsh nationalist movement at all.  I am after all, very much a Sais – I’m London born and bred, and yes, when it comes to Republicanism, I don’t see it in Plaid’s best interest to have that as a core policy.  So why am I a Welsh nationalist?

For the simple reason that having lived in Wales before for three years, it quickly became obvious to me that she was getting a rotten deal and that her current situation wasn’t exactly serving her well.  And let’s face it – it’s not: you only have to compare Wales’s GDP per Capita to those of other countries in Europe to wonder what the hell is going on. 

Wales’s GDP per Capita is only about 70% of that of Slovenia (a country smaller than Wales and with higher mountains), and about a third of that of Ireland, her western neighbour.  Wales was also practically the only place in North Western Europe where, in 2015, the GDP Per Capita in PPS terms was less than €20,000.   

Wales ought not to be an underdeveloped place on the periphery of anywhere – she is at the centre of the British Isles and surrounded by richer neighbours on both sides.  Yet successive government policy in Westminster for decades has been to under-fund Wales compared to Scotland and Northern Ireland and to neglect her infrastructure while using her as a dumping ground for things that the locals haven’t wanted – like military bases in scenic countryside and reservoirs that have flooded villages; and now super prisons and toxic waste.

Let’s face it – if any other European country, a political party had governed that country as badly as the UK has managed Wales, then that party would be swiftly voted out of office.

And then there’s of course the language.  Before I came to Wales in 2014, many in London told me that on no account should I ‘waste my time’ trying to learn Welsh.  I instinctively took a different view – that when in Rome, I should do as the Romans.  And just because the Welsh Language has suffered a great injustice and been weakened by that injustice does not mean that we incomers should continue to do it injustice by not learning it when moving to the Fro Gymraeg – on the contrary.

The Welsh language has been one of the saddest casualties of Welsh membership of the United Kingdom – of all the independent nations of Europe, in only two, Ireland and Belarus, is the indigenous language no longer the majority language – and in both cases it was brought about by foreign occupation and not local democracy. 

As part of the UK, it seems that Wales, Ireland, and Scotland have had to sacrifice their indigenous languages in exchange for membership, while England seems to have gotten away with not sacrificing hers.  Funny that.  Integration and assimilation within the United Kingdom has been very one-way, don’t you think?

My article in Nation.Cymru
And it’s not just language, it’s also other people’s awareness of your very existence -  many people in other countries think that Wales is just another province of England, and that the Welsh people are Anglo-Saxon, with similar ideas about Scotland and even the Republic of Ireland.  A Union of Equals? You tell me.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I would have loved it if the United Kingdom had been one-big-happy-family with all the different languages and cultures thriving and equal, like in say, Switzerland or India.  But unfortunately, that isn’t how it’s worked out. 

Now, I appreciate that with greater language rights and then devolution, the United Kingdom has reformed itself greatly, and is much more like a happy family than ever before, however a lot also hasn’t changed, like, for example, the ‘dumping ground’ attitude towards Wales, and the neglect of her infrastructure, and the subsequent inter-regional inequality that still plagues these islands. 

So that, my readers, is why I am a Welsh nationalist – for the simple reason that I know that Wales deserves better.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

The Irish were Right to Vote for their Independence 100 Years ago

It is now 2018, and 2018 is the centenary year of when the Irish people opted for their own independence in the General Election of December, 1918.

That election, the first British election in which all men, and any women at all, had the right to vote, saw Sinn Fein win 73 out of Ireland's 105 seats at Westminster.

The elected SF politicians, acting on their manifesto promise, created their own Irish Parliament, rather than attend Westminster, and subsequently declared Irish Independence in January the following year.

Sadly, the British government refused to recognise the authority of the democratically elected Irish parliament (The Dail) and there began the Irish war of Independence.   It's strange isn't it, given that the British Government had just fought a World War to defend the 'Rights of Small Nations?'

Certainly, there appears to be a fair number of people who view Ireland's struggle for Independence as one that wasn't  a just war, including, it seems, revisionist historians in the Republic Ireland itself.  I, however, will argue that the Irish War of Independence was a just war from the Irish side, and I do so as a Brit myself.

And for the simple reason that the Irish had voted for Independence in 1918, and the British Government just wasn't recognising it.  All that the British Government of the Day needed to do, was to acknowledge that Sinn Fein had won the Election, and that therefore, Sinn Fein had the right to govern Ireland, or at least excluding Unionist Ulster.

Instead what happened, was that Lloyd George's government refused to do that, the Irish War of Independence therefore started, and London subsequently sent in the Black and Tans.  Even during the Treaty negotiations at the end of the War of Independence, when London was finally willing to concede an Irish Free State, the British Prime Minister threatened to wage 'immediate and terrible war' on Ireland unless they agreed to his demands,  which included having the King of Great Britain as the Irish Head of State.

Now, excluding Unionist Ulster from the new Irish State was, I feel, reasonable and right, given that the Unionists there had voted to stay in the UK, but the other demands, I feel, were not.  Forcing Ireland to be have a Foreign King as its Head of State, and making nationalist areas like Derry be part of Northern Ireland, can only be described as anti-democratic.

And it was those demands which divided Irish opinion and led to the Irish Civil War.  The British further exacerbated the situation towards Civil War by forcing the Free State Army to shell the Four Courts and kill their own countrymen.  Thus, I would argue that it was the British Government that was directly to blame for both the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, and the divisions in Irish society that the latter caused.

Ireland, no doubt made the right decision the pursue Independence 100 years ago.  The Conscription Crisis of the spring of 1918 made it clear that mere Home Rule within the UK was not enough, since it would have still allowed the Central Government in London to conscript Irishmen to fight in the British Army whenever the former so pleased.

Therefore, who knows, if Ireland had stayed part of the UK, you might have had Irishmen being conscripted to suppress the Malayan Insurgency and Mau Mau Rebellion, the latter in which we British could have incarcerated as many as 1 million Kenyans, according to research by Caroline Elkins.

At least in our own timeline, those Irishmen who joined the British Army after Irish Independence did so because it was there own choice, and not because they were forced to - and this was due to the brave actions of Irish Nationalists 100 years ago.

I therefore feel that anyone who believes in Democracy and the Rights of Small Nations would agree that Ireland's struggle for Independence 100 years ago was a just one.