Linking the language to policy making

Simon Brooks explains the thinking behind today’s launch of a new movement Dyfodol i’r Iaith

Perhaps it is the season for pressure groups and think tanks. The celebrations this year to mark 50 years of the language movement, at least in its modern guise; the Forum on the Changing Union set up by the Wales Governance Centre, IWA and Cymru Yfory back in January to push the devolution agenda forward; a new think tank for the Welsh centre right, Gorwel, launched in June. And most importantly, of course, the IWA passing the milestone of 25 years of public service in good cheer and with typical understatement.

This is hardly a Welsh Spring, but the continued growth in the number and variety of NGOs in Wales is a prerequisite if Welsh democracy is to fully mature. It is one of the ironies of Welsh devolution that a specifically Welsh civil society is weak, as the continued decline of Welsh media attests. Perhaps the oddest irony of all is that the most uniquely ‘Welsh’ groups in the political landscape, namely those rooted in the social movement for the Welsh language, have responded the least to devolution, and have been marginalised in terms of policy impact as a result.

Those who’ve already committed to support Dyfodol include the following:

Nick Bennett, Angharad Dafis, Cynog Dafis, Beti George, Heini Gruffudd, Robat Gruffudd, Dr Bleddyn Huws, Ron Jones, Emyr Lewis, Gwion Lewis, Dr Huw Lewis, Angharad Mair, Dr Barry Morgan, Adam Price, Elin Royles, Hywel Williams, Elin Wyn and Richard Wyn Jones.

Nothing is more symptomatic of this failure than the astonishing fact that 13 years after devolution, no Welsh language pressure group has ever seen fit to appoint a member of staff to lobby full-time at the National Assembly. With Leighton Andrews, the Minister with strategic responsibility for the language, so obviously sincere in his support for Welsh, and widespread support across the political spectrum, Welsh language activists might want to consider coming in from the cold. If the door appears closed, it might be because nobody has bothered to knock.

There have been successful individual initiatives (in Welsh-medium education and in achieving official status), but there has been no concerted effort to lobby for the interests of the language across the broad swath of devolved public policy fields. Now that we have primary legislative powers, this situation can no longer be tolerated. The Welsh language needs an organisation committed wholly to making Welsh devolution and Welsh policy-making work as effectively as possible for the growth of the language.

This is the context for the advent of Dyfodol i’r Iaith (A Future for the Language), a new organisation to be launched at this year’s National Eisteddfod. Its core aims are to provide a voice for the Welsh language, to ensure it is central to national and community life, and to make sure it remains at the forefront of the political agenda in Wales.

Operating as a constitutional pressure group to both develop and champion public policy initiatives, Dyfodol i’r Iaith will be an advocate for the Welsh language within the context of the Welsh Assembly and Government. It will lobby politicians, the Language Commissioner and leaders of public, private and third sector organisations to ensure that Welsh is at the heart of policy-making.

Supporters include the Archbishop of Wales, academics like Professor Richard Wyn Jones, well-known broadcasters such as Angharad Mair and Beti George, leading lawyers like the constitutional expert Emyr Lewis. They also include a selection of figures who represent the main political strands of the Welsh-language community, from both the nationalist and non-nationalist Left through the centre ground to those, like the historian Hywel Williams, associated with the right.

There is a change of emphasis here to language campaigns in the past, which on the whole have tended to be associated with the rhetoric of political nationalism, and used a variety of non-constitutional campaigning methods. This remains an important strand within Welsh-language culture, However, it is also important that a language movement exists which is inclusive and reaches out – and is as welcoming to members of unionist political parties as it is to members of Plaid Cymru.

As regards civil disobedience and direct action, the position of Dyfodol i’r Iaith as an organisation is clear, unambiguous and irrevocable – there are no circumstances in which the movement would break the law.

Pursuing policy change via constitutional channels does not mean that Dyfodol i’r Iaith will be a soft touch. The movement will be defined by its objectivity. Its members have not been appointed by Government. Building a constructive relationship with the Assembly does not mean that it exists to promote the status quo. All professions, be they teachers or politicians, improve their performance under the microscope of independent scrutiny. Dyfodol i’r Iaith will examine the extent to which the Government’s various language strategies work in practice. Professional expertise will also be on offer, and Dyfodol i’r Iaith will use the extensive knowledge base in universities and among other experts to provide Assembly committees and inquiries with evidence-based research.

Following the launch at the Eisteddfod, Dyfodol i’r Iaith will be holding its initial AGM in early Autumn when board members for a not-for-profit company, and officers, will be elected. A political strategy will be put in place, and a National Language Plan is in the offing. Like all good pressure groups, Dyfodol i’r Iaith will retain a think tank function – and some of this work will be speculative, challenging orthodoxies within the Welsh language movement itself.

The medium-term goal is to raise sufficient funds to employ a member, or members, of staff in Cardiff Bay. The Welsh political classes have been calling for a constitutional language pressure group for some time. Now that one is on its way – a sort of birthday present to mark 50 years since Tynged yr Iaith – it needs support from all who wish to see a considered approach to language advocacy. And for language activists who believe that the hour has finally come to face up to the challenges of devolution, it’s time to roll up, join up and get the job done.

Dr Simon Brooks is a Lecturer at the School of Welsh, Cardiff University, and a member of Dyfodol i’r Iaith.

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