Montréal, le 26 juin 1999
Numéro 40
  (page 6)
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 by Ralph Maddocks
          The above unpronounceable name is that of a Party that won some 17 seats out of the available 60 in the Welsh election a few weeks ago, an election held allegedly to devolve power from London to Wales and to create a Welsh assembly.  
          About one seventy-fourth the size of Quebec, Wales has been united with England since 1536 and has a population of 2.9 millions, which is somewhat less than that of the metropolitan area of Montreal. In addition to English, about one third of the inhabitants speak Cymraeg (Welsh). This is down from around 50% in 1900, but both languages are official for legal and administrative affairs. 
Speak Welsh 
          The language is now growing again slowly as a result of the Welsh Language Act which, in 1993, without the aid of anything coercive along the lines of a « Bil cant-un », proclaimed that the Welsh and English languages were to be considered « on a basis of equality ». All Welsh speakers were to have access to all public services in their own language if they wished. Government institutions had to draw up plans to accommodate and promote the use of the language. These plans are then presented to the Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Board) for approval. Private enterprise may do the same thing if they wish, and some groups such as Barclays Bank, Marks & Spencer and General Electric have done so. Interestingly, the latter’s plant is near Cardiff where few of the workers are Welsh speaking. In fact, the voters of Cardiff even objected to the location of the new assembly in that city.  
          As in other places with which we are familiar there are militants for whom none of this is satisfying and stores are picketed and management harassed into providing Welsh language lessons for the staff. Wales has its own nationalist party whose name adorns the heading of this piece, The National Party of Wales. In the 1960's, Wales even had a few bombing incidents. Perhaps there was something in the air in those days.  
          Most of us are familiar with the Welsh through their poetry, their male voice choirs and their love of singing; but there are other aspects of this race which may not be quite so familiar to North American readers. For example, there are many claims as to who was the first European to discover America. Apart from Columbus, claims have been advanced for the Vikings and even the Chinese! However, for reasons which may become apparent, I prefer to believe that it was a Welshman. According to a document published in the 16th century, Prince Madoc (or Madog) the son of Owain Gwynedd, King of North Wales, a convinced pacifist, grew tired of the fighting between his brothers following the death of his father. Towards the end of the 12th century he set out across the Atlantic and landed somewhere in New Spain, the place we know today as Florida. According to this legend, he returned to Wales and assembled ten ships to convey the people with which he intended to colonize his new found land. However, the fleet seems to have been lost in the ocean, and nothing more was heard until the 18th century when rumours of the existence of a tribe of blond, blue eyed, Welsh speaking American Indians gained currency. 
 « The referendum on devolution, forced upon the Welsh by Tony Blair, showed only one in four voters supporting the idea of an assembly. Nevertheless, Father, in the shape of Mr Blair, Knows Best and they are getting one anyway. »
          The theory advanced to explain all this is that the colonists under Prince Madoc reached the New World, married Indian women and then emigrated to the Dakotas where they were known as the Madogwys. Of course the legend has many detractors, most notably the British historian Geoffrey Ashe who said that many of the places where these « Welsh Indians » had allegedly been discovered, were never reached by the so-called colonists. Others, even more incredulous, feel that the period when the legends were resurrected, corresponded to a time when Britain was striving to  justify its claims to its North American territories. 
          It would also be nice to believe that the name America could be ascribed to Richard Amerik (ap Meurig or son of Meurig) a Bristol merchant who supported John Cabot's second voyage. Whatever the truth of these legends, there is no doubt that the Welsh have played a role in the discovery of other parts of North America. For example, there are the place names; Mansel Island and New Wales in Hudson's Bay, named by Robert Mansel of Margam and Thomas Burton of St Lythan's who followed Cabot in his search for the north-west passage.  
          At a time when Nova Scotia and New England were coming into existence an attempt was made by Robert Vaughan of Llangyndeyrn to establish a New Wales in Newfoundland. Had he been successful all three flags of Great Britain would have flown over the eastern part of North America.  
Unpronounceable names 
          To return to the Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru or Plaid Cymru as it is more commonly known. The party is still seeking independence within the European Community, a yearning which some may find has a familiar kind of ring to it. The party has been around since 1925 when it was formed by the combination of three different groups each with similarly unpronounceable names. The majority of the Welsh people have not yet become enthusiastic about the idea of separation which Plaid Cymru espouses. The referendum on devolution, forced upon the Welsh by Tony Blair, showed only one in four voters supporting the idea of an assembly. Nevertheless, Father, in the shape of Mr Blair, Knows Best and they are getting one anyway; an Assembly of 60 members (36 men and 24 women were elected), which has no law making ability or taxing powers. Just a place to provide an opportunity for the full flow of Welsh oratory and spend more of the taxpayers money paying their salaries. Legislation affecting Wales will still come from London and does not, as the nationalist’s hoped, offer more control over things like health care and education. 
          The Labour party, supported by only one in five of the voters, had intended to control the Welsh Assembly. Things didn’t quite work out the way they had hoped, and they wound up with just 28 seats compared to 17 for Plaid Cymru, nine for the Tories and six for the Liberal-Democrats. Now they have to try to find a coalition partner; most likely the Lib-Dems. Blair foisted a First Secretary, as he is called, on the assembly in the person of Alun Michael, when Ron Davies, his former tame designate, unable to explain his activities with some strange people on Clapham Common a few months ago, resigned. The Welsh Labour Party is rightly mistrustful of the London leadership because they have poured cold water on the hopes for devolution promised by Blair’s predecessor, the late John Smith. 
          In the Rhondda valley, where it used to be said that Labour could put up a donkey and get it elected, Plaid Cymru took the seat along another one held by the former Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock. Now that the shock has registered, Mr Blair will have to consider if the tiger he is now holding by the tail is going to prove the precursor of a nationalist resurgence of just a minor hiccup before the electorate returns to its normal somnolent state. 
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