Sunday, November 16, 2014

Call on "devolved nations" to have a say

I read with interest Leanne Wood's speech to the SNP conference, stating that devolved nations should have a say - on matters such as welfare.  The fact is that we do.  The "people power" that she referred to is the vote that each an every one of us has in Westminster elections.  The speech of the Plaid leader is in effect a call for independence by another name.

The fact that Plaid does not get the representation at a UK level that it gets for the Assembly is a democratic choice by the electors here in Wales.  What is being suggested by Plaid is to go behind the  verdict of voters at the ballot box.  Plaid want the position where Wales is subsidised, by a UK Government Treasury and tax take, but doesn't want to accept that a UK Government, when taking into account all the constituent parts of the UK, may have a different political guise to the one voted for at an Assembly level.

The same intellectual bankruptcy is shown by her demand that each constituent part of the UK should be required to vote by a majority to leave or stay in the EU.   I can not see why Plaid would suggest that the principle of one person one vote should be undermined.  The fact is that every voter in the UK should have an equal vote, to any other voter living in the UK, and that the "weight" of that vote shouldn't depend on where you live.  Plaid's position undermines democracy and takes away the power from people seeking to put it in the hands of a distrusted "political class".

Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Lidl Welsh Language "Ban"

Media reports are suggesting that Lidl in Wales has imposed a Welsh Language ban on its staff.  This appears to have arisen from a case in Scotland, rather than Wales, where two polish employees were asked to speak to Lidl customers in English.

Following reports of that case the BBC Welsh Language Website appears to have done an interview with a "spokesman" from Lidl who seems to have been singularly unprepared for the interview, and know little about Wales and their stores in Wales.

I am aware of a number of Lidl stores in Wales, presumably successful, as they have expanded rapidly across North Wales.  Clearly staff there have been interacting with their customers in both English and Welsh.  Welsh Language has official status, and I am certain that Lidl will not be seeking to go behind that status.  If they do they risk being investigated by the Welsh Language Commissioner and they will rightly be censured.   Public Services in Wales have to be offered both in English and in Welsh, allowing people the choice of which language they want to speak.  The same is not true of private companies, but a measure of common sense has to be applied.  One tweet suggested that no business should operate in Wales if they did not speak or offer Welsh.

Perhaps depressingly for me is the rise of the Lidl stores in the first place.  Take Denbigh for example two really great butchers on the High Street - but recently the greengrocers and a bakery have closed for business.  I hope that those outraged by the "ban", if there is one, take the chance to really support local businesses, whose £ goes back into the economy, and choose to buy local rather than supporting a foreign company where margins are squeezed to offer customers produce as cheaply as possible.

Living as I do in an area where 50% of the population speaks Welsh, I am perhaps aware of some wider issues, including the fact in the first three Assembly terms the records of committee meetings where AMs receive evidence and scrutinise policy decisions, were not available bi-lingually, due primarily to cost and practicality.  Fortunately technology advances have changed the position but that has only happened in this Assembly, and I am delighted that they are now bi-lingual.

Many of the Community Councils here conduct their business in Welsh, that is their right and their choice the meetings are held in Welsh, the minutes are produced in Welsh all pre and post discussions are in Welsh.  At the same time, unless there is accurate translation the remaining 50% of the population are effectively disbarred from taking part in matters which are directly relevant to their community.  Whilst there is a Welsh Language Commissioner who can ensure that the democratic process is accessible for Welsh speakers, there is no corresponding recourse where the position is reversed, presumably Simon Thomas and others would equally condemn that position.   When I  receive letters, as I did last week, saying that I am "English" and  a "Tory" I should "go back over the border" I regard that as racist.  This kind of racism would be completely unacceptable if I was say Afro Carribean, or Irish, or Indian  - but apparently because I am "English" it is acceptable both to put that  in writing - and to say it publicly. Similarly for the tweet that was favorited a number of times calling for "extermination" of people like me.  I didn't see any of the outraged language tweeters condemning those sort of comments, quite the reverse.

That is why it was so sad to see Lord Elis Thomas being sacked for speaking out against Plaid  calling people "un Welsh". We lost a good committee chair, who was highly effective and passionate about all things Welsh, but who dared to be open and inclusive about the concept of "Welshness".

In the meantime I have no doubt that Lidl stores will operate as they have done over many years, speaking to their customers in both English and in Welsh.