An interesting programme on Radio Four today about the Welsh language activists of the Sixties and Seventies. They were right about English ignorance of Celtic matters. But it was a shame that they all seemed to Plaid Cymru types. In 1977, North Wales voted No to devolution by the same colossal majority as did South Wales. And in 1999, the split was east-west, whereas the split on the language is north-south.
Leo Abse's warning against rule by a bilingual elite is now an only too obvious reality for the overwhelmingly English-speaking majority in South Wales. But that elite is no more a friend of the people of the Welsh-speaking areas; on the contrary, it consciously refuses to live in such places, where its utterances would be understandable by waiters, bartenders, shop assistants and taxi drivers. Opposition to, or at least grave doubt about, devolution remains relatively strong in Gaelic-speaking areas and absolutely strong in Welsh-speaking areas, far as these are from the centres of power in Scotland and Wales respectively. On occasion, even Lib Dem MPs from the Highlands and Islands express it publicly, albeit in nuanced terms from which it is not hard to guess what they really think.
Other than those in Patagonia who are completely bilingual in Welsh and Spanish, native speakers of the Celtic languages are all completely bilingual in their native tongues and in English. Just as the existence of a common tongue understood by all, whether or not they happen to speak it at home or in a given town or village, is how there can be a government of the United Kingdom, so it is how there can be a Scottish or Welsh devolved body, or for that matter a government of the Irish Republic; the problem with the devolved body in Northern Ireland is not this. It is also the reason why London is permitted only the trappings, and very little of the power: London is the only city in these islands where it is no longer possible to assume that anyone in the settled, permanent population has English.
Speaking of Northern Ireland, what to say about the use of "dissident Republicans" (who would be dead if they were actually any such thing) to speed along the Unionists over the devolution of policing and justice? Or about the staggering complacency of Sinn Fein, no longer faced with any serious opposition in its own community, as the Tory-brokered consolidation on the other side offers to remove the SDLP from Belfast South and Sinn Fein itself from Fermanagh & South Tyrone, to do the Tories considerable good in the coming hung Parliament, and to give their UUP inner and DUP outer allies, even allowing for losses to Jim Allister, enough seats between them to secure the position of First Minister after all, doubtless in the person of Arlene Foster, embodiment of the takeover of the DUP by integrationist Tory refugees from the UUP, even down to her membership of the Church of Ireland?
Well, why say anything, beyond that last point about the staunchly Unionist Conservative Evangelical wing of the C of I, predominant, or at least still very substantial, within that body's Northern Irish half (it is now much more liberal in the Republic)? Whereas early Nationalist leaders were often highly scornful of the Irish language as a bar to progress, no small contribution to saving it was made by enthusiastic C of I clergymen who were staunchly Unionist and who would now be classified as Conservative Evangelicals. Douglas Hyde, the son of an County Sligo rector and born in an Ascendancy "Big House", became the first President of the Republic while remaining an observant Protestant, a dedicated Irish-speaker and educator in that medium, and an adherent to a political position fundamentally Unionist rather than Nationalist (which was probably why Fine Gael, pushed into declaring a republic by a coalition partner, gave him the job).
Sinn Fein may be creating a network of publicly-funded Irish-medium schools in order to banish the Catholic Church from the education, first of the Green side in the Six Counties, and then of almost everyone in the Twenty-Six. But at least as sterling, in its way, is the work for the language being done by the The Reverend Dr Eric Culbertson, country parson in County Tyrone, Honorary Clerical Vicar Choral of Armagh Cathedral (not the Catholic one), Deputy Grand Chaplain of the Orange Order, member of the Council of the Evangelical Protestant Society, and outspoken critic of the Good Friday and Saint Andrews Agreements. He stands in a long, long line.