by Theo Davies-Lewis
Tuesday, 16
February 2021

Cymrophobia thrives at the heart of the British establishment

Think Wales would never seek independence? Don't be so sure
by Theo Davies-Lewis
Could independence mean avoiding bigotry toward the Welsh language for once-and-for-all? Credit: Getty

The Welsh have always felt an element of difference from our neighbours and friends. This is largely because of the Welsh language, although it is worth noting that Cymraeg is a modern descendant of a language once spoken across these Isles. It is a beacon of national identity, a vehicle for social cohesion and a beautiful cultural relic of Britain when it deserved to be called Great, now many years ago.

Instead of being championed for its cultural, economic, and social benefits, or indeed being made the official language of Britain, Cymraeg has in recent years become a political football for the British establishment. The latest player to give it a good-old kicking was Max Hastings, arguing in his Bloomberg column that only a tiny minority in Wales speak it daily and “hapless children” are forced to learn “their” language despite its “tortured spellings”.

Hastings is no expert on Wales. In the same piece he incorrectly refers to the nation as a principality that houses an assembly rather than a parliament. He also claims the energised and highly-organised Welsh nationalist movement is a mere reaction to the failure of English Tories.

This is tantamount to xenophobia towards the treasure of Welsh culture. It must always be called out as such, particularly when readers of Bloomberg are not just here in the UK but around the world. What is most striking and concerning is that it is not a one-off.

Hastings’s attack is just the latest from a member of the British establishment on Cymraeg. The Sunday Times has previously run a poll asking readers whether the Welsh language should be taught in schools. The Guardian’s Zoe Williams has deemed my mother tongue pointless. Rod Liddle regularly enjoys attacking it too. Mocking the Welsh is still the last permitted bigotry in British society, after all.

Some will call me a self-pitying and nostalgic Welshman, but in reality the people of Wales — whether they speak Welsh or not — support the language and want increasing provision to ensure it survives and thrives. The Welsh Government’s strategy for one million Welsh speakers by 2050 is one such ambitious method to reverse centuries-old initiatives, such as the 1847 Blue Books, that damaged the language’s standing in education and society.

Hastings’s belittlement and arrogance can be explained by the exceptionalism that still permeates this country’s ruling class. ‘How on earth do those curious Celts think speaking Welsh has any benefits in OUR WORLD?’ I can hear them ask in dining clubs draped with union jacks as their emblem of ‘Britishness’.

As a Welsh speaker, the language certainly makes me take pride in my culture and history, and believe or not, helped me get a degree from Oxford too. I always use it in social situations — in Wales and in London, which has a thriving bilingual Welsh community — and teach it to my English girlfriend, who rejoices at the vibrancy of Welsh descriptions of colours and numbers.

Unsurprisingly, Hastings’s brief reference to Wales in his column concludes with the assertion that the Welsh are not going anywhere as the UK disintegrates, of course. The argument is so well-rehearsed it should be the epitaph for Welsh unionism: Wales is too stupid and too poor to be independent.

Macsen bach, with such flagrant and naked Cymrophobia continuing to be espoused by the British ruling class, I wouldn’t be so sure. And if an independent Wales means we can avoid bigotry toward the Welsh language for once-and-for-all, that will certainly swing my vote.

Join the discussion

  • Fortunately Max Hastings doesn’t speak for the English or the British. As for me, I’m tired of all the anti-English rhetoric that we get from the Scottish, primarily the SNP and their cultish followers but also from a small section of the Welsh. I married a Welsh girl, spent a lot of time in Wales and I’ve found almost no bigotry towards the language and what I have found has been mostly from other Welsh. I also find that any odd attitude towards it is because it sounds so different to every other language.

  • Welsh was on the way out and has had a British state sponsored revival. However artificial cultural props never last long. Welsh is important and is older than English. It will live or die all by itself. The Tudors were Welsh and the Stuarts, Scots. Now we’ve got the Germans, everyone has their turn. But victim indulgence is for the faeries.

  • I lived in Wales for 32 years and saw plenty of ignorance and bigotry towards the Welsh language when visiting in England: “Do people really still speak Welsh? Why can’t they all just speak English?” But I also saw bigotry by the Welsh towards the English.
    Teaching RE to Year 9 in a Welsh comp, we rewrote the parable of The Good Samaritan. An England supporter is beaten up after a Six Nations game and left lying in the gutter. A policeman and a First Responder ignore him. OK so far. Then a Wales supporter sees him lying there and goes to his aid. Response from the class? “But Miss, that would never happen!”
    Oh dear.

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