Saturday, 7 July 2007

The Labour-Plaid Cymru Coalition

There are many, many reasons why the Labour Party needs to be replaced. But going into coalition with Plaid Cymru in the Welsh Assembly is easily among the most urgent.

Imagine, if you will, that around one fifth of the population of the South East spoke a very ancient (if, in its vocabulary, greatly Latinised and then greatly Anglicised) language called, say, Elvish. However, Elvish-speakers were very heavily concentrated in one corner of the South East, and every single one of them was completely bilingual in Elvish and English.

There had been elderly monoglot Elvish-speakers in living memory, but they were all long dead now. And since the nineteenth century, there had been a colony of Elvish-speakers in Patagonia, but everyone in that colony was now completely bilingual in Elvish and Spanish.

So there was no one in the world who could only speak Elvish. And, I repeat, eighty per cent of people in the South East could not speak it at all, with its use unknown (beyond centuries-old surnames and place names) in great, densely populated, swathes of the region.

Now imagine that there arose a political movement to enforce the use of Elvish throughout the South East. And imagine that it sometimes took more votes than the Lib Dems, but never anything approaching as many as Labour or the Tories. Yet imagine that all street signs in the South East had to be taken down and replaced with ones twice the size (and therefore costing the taxpayer twice as much) in both English and Elvish. Imagine that Elvish was made absolutely compulsory right through school in the South East.

And imagine that it was made illegal to employ anyone in the public sector, and in many parts of the private and voluntary sectors, who could not produce a paper qualification in Elvish, even if the job in question was in a entirely English-speaking community. As a result, a bilingual (all-white) élite arose, ruthlessly preventing the English-speaking working class from getting on (since no one ever really speaks a second language quite like a native speaker), and doing so at public expense. A South Eastern Assembly was set up in an English-speaking city and to serve that eighty per cent English-speaking area, but it routinely conducted its business only in highly technical Elvish, which was sometimes even invented for the purpose.

Imagine that that was just the reality of life in London and the Home Counties, and remorselessly portrayed by the élite-staffed media there as a thoroughly good thing.

Is this remotely credible? Of course not! Yet, ultimately because of Plaid Cymru, this is what has happened to the English-speaking working class, black and white, in Wales, exactly as predicted by Leo Abse during the devolution debates of the 1970s.

1 comment:

  1. The Aberdonian9 July 2007 at 15:29

    They used to have this problem in the Slavic parts of Austria-Hungary. Germanisation had led the populations of what is now the Czech Republic and Slovenia to be largely German speaking (particuarly in urban areas amongst the middle classes) with the Slavic languages largely spoken by the peasentry - although they were educated in German.

    Only from 1848 were the use of Slavic languages were allowed (in the Austrian half from 1867 whilst the Hungarians repressed Croatian, Slovak, Ruthene and of course Latin-based Romanian in their half) and given parity with German.

    However in practice German speakers could hold jobs without learning Czech etc whilst Czech speakers etc had to learn German to get ahead.

    In Bohemia the Czechs managed to persuade the Austrian Prime Minister Badeni (a Pole of Italian extraction) to make it obligatory for government officials there to learn both languages. This led to rioting by German speakers and Badeni's dismissal.

    The opening of Czech schools in Vienna probably did not help (by 1914 just under 10% of the popuation of the city spoke Czech as a first language).

    Two prominent Czech figures came from German speaking backgrounds. One was Franz Kafka, the son of a Czech speaking jew and his German speaking wife. Kafka himself was educated at the German-speaking Gymnasium.

    The other was Tomas Masaryk, the father of Czechoslovakia. Born on the Czech side of the Czech/Slovak border, he was the son of a Slovak blacksmith and the daughter of a Czech innkeeper. His maternal grandmother was a German speaker.

    Masaryk once pondered how he had founded a state whose primary language was Slavic (Czechoslovakian it was called - in reality Czech) even though he had been raised in a largely German speaking household. He said this to a the Chancellor of Germany, a certain A. Hitler.

    Hitler later declared this was an admission that the Czech lands had been traditionally been German speaking before the creation of Czechoslovakia and that these lands would be again in 20 years time.