News from Celtic League
Following some of the major changes and announcements that were made during 2011 affecting the Celtic countries, the last year has been relatively quieter generally, with the exception of Alba/Scotland, where the referendum on independence has been the focus of national and international media attention for significant periods of the year.
The General Secretary (GS) outlines below some of the more significant developments that have taken place in the Celtic countries over the last year, including those that have relevance to Celtic League campaigns. In addition, the GS discusses these developments in relation to the impact that they may have within the Celtic countries over the forthcoming year.
“In Alba the Edinburgh Agreement was signed on 15th October 2012, between First Minister Salmond and Prime Minister Cameron, setting out the terms of the referendum, which will be held no later than 31st December 2014. Under the Agreement, it was decided that there would be one question on the ballot paper and 16 and 17 year olds would have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. Importantly the Agreement has given the Scottish parliament responsibility for the referendum. In the May 2012 local elections in Alba both the SNP and Labour Party claimed victory, while the Liberal Democrat vote collapsed. Support for independence is growing, but predictions are that support currently falls short. Another interesting development in 2012 was the announcement that six pieces of the Lewis Chessmen will be repatriated to Scotland on permanent loan to the Museum and Archive at Lews Castle when it opens in 2014. The Scottish referendum on independence campaign remains one of the most exciting future events for all of the Celtic countries, even if the referendum is in 2014, because of the impact that Scottish independence could potentially have for each nation. The build up to the referendum will intensify over the next year with some commentators saying that by the time the referendum vote arrives people will be bored to death of it (but I think not!). The Yes campaign has printed over one million leaflets, which are being delivered to homes in Alba at an incredible rate. The campaign will continue with the second march and rally for independence taking place in Edinburgh on 21st September 2013 (with the first rally held in September 2012), which the League will be attending. Critics of the Gaelic language in Scotland, will no doubt continue their call for funding to be reduced to language organisations, especially as the media draw attention to the fact that there is a severe lack of qualified teachers and especially head teachers who can work through the language (although I would have thought that this situation would have had the opposite effect!).
Elections in Breizh on 10th and 17th June 2012 for the French legislative elections, resulted in the UDB announcing that they had their first Breton nationalist representatives elected to the French Parliament in the form of Paul Molac, who was elected as a Deputy (Member of Parliament) in Brittany on a joint Socialist, Green and UDB list. Jean Luc Bleunven was also elected – a Breton speaker and a parent of children attending a Diwan Breton language school – who some Breton nationalists hope will do something favorable for the language as an incumbent. The French presidential elections preceded the legislative elections in April 2012 and May 2012, where F. Hollande was elected, who had stated twice during his campaign trail that he was supportive of the French ratification of the European Charter for Regional and/or Minority Languages. To date though nothing much has happened and Breton nationalists need to lobby hard once again to persuade the French President to deliver on his promises. Wirth the addition of Breton ‘nationalists’ in the French legislative assembly, who have a tenuous allegiance to the French Socialists, there is an increased possibility that this time the French Government could take the hugely significant step in recognising the linguistic rights of the Breton people.
Political controversy in Cymru has been rather low key, in comparison with 2011, but what the year has shown is that the Welsh government’s commitment to the Welsh language, like their five year ‘A Living Language: a language for living’ strategy, is not ambitious enough for the effective protection and promotion of the language. The first figures released from the 2011 Census in December 2012 show that the number of Welsh speakers is falling (despite a previous gain as shown in the 2001 census results), in what the Welsh Language Commissioner described as a ‘shock’. The fall has prompted the Welsh language campaign group Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg to launch a manifesto in an attempt to combat what they describe as a Welsh language crisis. The organisation’s ‘Maniffesto Byw’ (or ‘Living Manifesto’) is an attempt to combat this disappointing reversal and a quadrupling of funding for the promotion and protection of the language is being demanded.
It was announced earlier in the year that the HD version S4C will be removed from Free View from 1st December 2012, as the S4C channel cuts take effect. Jamie Bevan – the Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg campaigner and Welsh Teacher – was sentenced to a month in jail for refusing to pay his fines for breaking into the offices of a Conservative MP in protest over the S4C cuts, calling his sentence ‘a privilege’. Other news included some Welsh football players causing a commotion by joining in with the controversial GB Football team in the Olympics and then refusing to sing the English national anthem. Plaid Cymru did not seen gains either, with the May 2012 local elections seeing the Labour Party brushing off Plaid’s political challenge. The local elections in 2012 demonstrate the long hard haul that the new Plaid leader Leanne Wood should be preparing herself for in time for the 2015 general elections, especially in view of her announcement that in that election she will be standing for a hotly contested constituency seat, gambling her current regional safe seat in the Welsh Senedd/Assembly. Apart from the local election in Ynys Mon/Anglesey Council, which was delayed in 2012 until 2013, no other elections are planned for this year in Cymru.
In Éire, the country is still being squeezed by taxes in an attempt for the government to fully pay back their bail out loans in a way that the other EU members who have also received bailouts – Portugal, Spain and Greece – are not. The austerity measures have affected the financial provision to large sections of the economy, with cuts in public spending and the Irish language, including `far-reaching implications’ for Irish-medium education. The League’s Convener has stated that there is great anger on the austerity being imposed on vulnerable sectors of society to pay senior bondholders and there have been many calls to repudiate these and to separate bank debt from sovereign debt. The Council of Europe has called on the Stormont Assembly to implement Irish language legislation in the latest in a series of international judgments that have recommended that the Irish language is protected and promoted in the north of Ireland. There is some optimism among campaigners over the next year that the Stormont Assembly will introduce some form of Irish language legislation that will help protect and promote the language. In 2013 there is the ‘global Irish homecoming’, which is hoping to attract an extra 400 000 visitors from around the world to take part in a year long programme of events and cultural activities in what is being billed as the country’s biggest-ever tourist initiative; an opportunity for the Irish Branch to pick up a few more members perhaps.
In Kernow there have been a number of interesting low level developments. Mebyon Kernow has picked up three more councillors and their numbers now stand at 6 Cornwall councillors, with the hope that they will get a few more elected in the elections in May 2013, provided they can find the candidates. A new Council Leader – Jim Currie – was appointed to replace Alec Robertson following his swift departure after a vote of no confidence in his leadership in October. It is hoped that the new Lys Kernow/Cornwall Council Leader, who is no proponent of the Cornish language, will not jeopardise the progress that the language has been making over the last few years. A commission to discuss the progress and development of the Standard Written Form of the Cornish language over the last five years will meet in 2013. Another significant development has been the approval of a library to be built in Redruth to accommodate the record and manuscripts that are currently being held at Lys Kernow and the books and documents held in Kresenn Kernow, Redruth. Match funding is still needed to bring the project to fruition, but it is hoped that in 2013 the money will be secured. The library is already being described as a Cornish national library and archive centre. Another success was the overturning of the so called ‘pasty tax’, which came about soon after a public demonstration and rally in Falmouth that attracted 600 people.
In Mannin the Manx language primary school Bunscoill Ghaelgagh celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2012, but there is still a shortage of qualified Manx language teachers on the Island. However, childcare and education practitioners began intensive Manx language classes at Braddon School last year, with the aim of providing more Manx language teachers for the future. Public funding cuts have plagued Mannin in an attempt to save £35 million over the next year, with the announcement that child benefit is likely to be axed for higher earners from 2014. Ed Milliband, the UK Labour Party leader caused some controversy earlier in the year by demanding that the UK government force the Manx government to tell them who is avoiding paying tax by ‘hiding’ money on the Island. To date the Manx government has not cooperated with the UK government in such requests. Whether the people of Mannin will be influenced by the growing intensity of debate about the independence referendum in Alba remains to be seen, but the question of independence for Mannin is more likely to have its roots in attempts at fiscal interference by the UK, rather than it stemming from any major political will from the Manx on the Island. It is likely that the beginnings of criminal justice reform will go ahead over the next year, to bring the system “into the 21st century”.
Internationally, with Catalunya’s parliament deciding to hold a referendum on independence in 2014, the Basque people voting overwhelmingly for two different Basque nationalist parties into their regional government and far outstripping the Spanish socialists and conservatives and with Belgium nationalists gaining an even greater lead in their municipal elections, it seems as though we are living in an European political climate where self-determination is going to happen.
Bliadhna Math Ùr!
Blein Vie Noa!
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!
Bledhen Nowyth Da!”
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The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues.