The change from Welsh Assembly to Parliament is overdue

The Senedd. Picture: Smoobs (CC BY 2.0)


Ifan Morgan Jones

There has been some predictable blowback to the Welsh Assembly Commission’s decision that the Welsh Assembly should change its name to Welsh Parliament next year.

A lot of this has come from those who just don’t want to see the institution flourish. Their objections alone might suggest that it’s a good idea.

But some has also come from those who are supportive of Welsh devolution, who either:

  • Think it’s pointless
  • Think it’s a waste of money
  • Believe it doesn’t have the public’s backing
  • Bristle at the idea that the word ‘Parliament’ has more authority than ‘Assembly’
  • Would rather the Welsh-language name Senedd was used all the time
  • Believe it will lead to confusion between the Welsh and Westminster Parliaments

Although I understand these concerns, I’m fully behind the change as I think it will help solve the problem of a lack of understanding of devolution we have here in Wales.

The public consultation carried out by the Assembly found that the public felt that parliament was the best name for the institution.

But the name change is really a belated response to a far bigger poll: The 2011 Referendum in which 63% backed giving the Welsh Assembly law-making powers.

People understand that this is what a Parliament does. It passes laws and makes decisions that govern our lives. Unless they’re au fait with French (or Bulgarian) politics, the function of an Assembly needs far more explanation.

The Assembly has struggled to get the attention it deserves in the British (or even at times Welsh) press, and so anything that makes it easier to explain what it does is worth doing.

No confusion

I’m sympathetic to the argument that Senedd should be used in all contexts in order to normalise the use of the Welsh language, in the same way as Oireachtas is in the Republic of Ireland.

Using the name ‘Senedd’ all the time might represent a small victory for the Welsh language.

Giving their political institutions Irish-only names doesn’t seem to have done the Irish language much good, however.

And there is a danger that it could further confuse or alienate non-Welsh speakers who don’t understand what the legislature does.

I’m not convinced either by the argument that people would confuse the Welsh and Westminster Parliaments.

The Scottish Parliament has never suffered as a result of such confusion. There are also over 50 other parliaments around the world that are easily distinguished from Westminster.

Some countries, such as Australia, have a number of devolved parliaments and the public understand their function perfectly well.

The name of the country denotes the unique brand, while the ‘Parliament’ simply makes it clear what the body’s function is.

No-one confuses the Welsh Rugby Union with the RFU, or the Welsh FA with the FA, so there’s no reason to believe that the Welsh Parliament would confuse anyone either.

One step

Changing the Assembly’s name to Parliament isn’t a silver bullet that will dispel people’s ignorance of what the institution does.

It’s one of a range of measures the Assembly must employ in order to ensure that the public understands its function.

The report of the Assembly Commission’s News and Digital Information Taskforce, published next week, will hopefully suggests further measures for tackling this problem.

The Assembly’s Culture, Welsh-language and Media committee are also looking at ways in which the media in Wales could be further strengthened.

Solving the problem of ignorance of Welsh devolution will be a long and difficult journey – changing the name is just one step. But it’s a step in the right direction.

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  1. Totally agree Ifan. This is long overdue. I do agree also that given the politics of the UK, the word parliament carries much more weight and authority. I understand that France has an Assembly, but that’s irrelevant. The peoples of the British Isles only have experience by and large of being represented in a parliament, and establishing a Scottish Parliament, but a Welsh Assembly, hardly did anything to expell the myth that an assembly is a lesser institution. Given the lesser powers the Assemblies in NI and Wales were given compared to Scotland may have confirmed that in the British experience an Assembly is a sub-standard institution

    I also agree with a bilingual name. The Welsh Language Society of course have kicked off, and needed reminding yet again that in 2017 Wales has two languages that deserve recognition in the nation’s polity. This name change is being carried out to raise public awareness of the gravity of the what the institution can now do. Calling it a Senedd will only obviate that new gravity to those of us fortunate to speak (and read) Welsh. The argument that calling it a Senedd would facilitate greater use of Welsh and raise its esteem would hold water, if it were not for the fact that has categorically not happened in Ireland. I also think it’s important that the name is bilingual so that people who do not speak Welsh feel just as close to the Welsh Parliament as Welsh speakers do, something that is not garenteed with a Welsh online name.

    I await the wrath of the Grangetown zealots.

    • Llywelyn ap Gwilym

      I fully agree with Cymdeithas yr Iaith that calling it “Y Senedd” could be an opportunity to normalize the use of Welsh, for Welsh-speakers and non-Welsh-speakers alike. One example (Ireland) does not negate this possibility. Wales does have two languages, however only one is at a structural disadvantage. And disagreeing with you doesn’t make me a “Grangetown zealot” …

      I would also argue that Welsh or English the name should be “Y Senedd” (or “The Parliament”), not “Senedd Cymru” (“Welsh Parliament”). It’s in Wales – it does not need this descriptor. If anyone gets confused we can always refer to the one in Westminster as “Senedd San Steffan” (“Westminster Parliament”) or “Senedd y DU” (“UK Parliament”).

      • Only one is at a structural advantage, that I agree with. But in the specific context of our devoloping independent polity and public political space, respecting both languages should be the priority. It’s not as if it’s not bilingual. There are other spaces and spheres in which we can work to further normalize Welsh. It’s important that all understand what this institution does: on the whole only to Welsh speakers can Senedd mean parliament: not all English speakers will know this. I strongly believe a Welsh only name will put a certain amount of emotional distance between the institution and those who do not speak Welsh; we cannot afford this. You’re welcome to disagree.

        It doesn’t make you a zealot. I was referring to that small group who just cannot seem to fathom that we need to accept both languages in this context. The Eisteddfod, Welsh speaking communities and institutions such as the Urdd and so on are different. These should remain monolingual. This is different because this parliament is meant to serve everyone, in a modern bilingual society, not sub-sections thereof. What annoyed me about the Welsh Language Society is that one or two individuals mocked my opinion and even questioned my support for Welsh. I taught myself Welsh, earned a first class degree in it, have a written a PhD in Welsh due to be handed in and speak Welsh at home now. A record some in Cymdeithas cannot match. The fact remains though that Wales has two languages and in the political/devolution context, we’d be stupid to ignore that.

        • Llywelyn ap Gwilym

          In this context I think of, say, “Y Senedd”, as a name rather than as a Welsh-word describing what the institution is (even though it serves both purposes). Which is why I think that it could be inclusive to all speakers of both languages in Wales. That being said I can appreciate that it may be something of a hindrance to monoglot English-speakers, I just don’t have a feel for how big an issue it would be, if it is an issue. And I’ll admit that having a Welsh-only name pulls at my heartstrings. Either way there needs to be a concerted push to better explain what the Assembly/ Parliament actually does vs. Westminster.

          I hear you on the language thing. I’d love to have every person living in Wales a Welsh speaker, and for Welsh to be the usual language of life and work. But you don’t get there ramming it down people’s throats – you need to be inclusive and to bring them along with you.

          Finally, if you have any tips on how I can improve my Welsh please let me know! I’m desperately trying to broaden my vocabulary!

          • Firstly on the vocabulary, from my experience of Welsh and German, read as much as you can according to your level. Read read read. That’s the way to build up knowledge of vocabulary in my opinion. Confidence can only be improved by using the language though and nobody will care if you make mistakes.

            While I absolutely detest the phrase, a monolingual Welsh name wouldn’t be tantamount to ramming it down people’s throats, but it would be tantamount to saying that the English language in Wales should be marginalised in the political context just so we can normalise Welsh. There are contexts in which that can be done.

  2. “Parliament” would help people understand more of what it’s all about, but I think “Y Senedd” would also be good as just one title. And it’s not a complicated word for non Welsh speakers. I suppose it depends how much weight needs to be put on using parliament to help people understand devolution – or could changing it to Y Senedd also act as an education?

    • Sibrydionmawr

      I agree with you, and I think already people are very familiar with the word senedd because that’s what the building is already referred to. I’d go further to suggest that those who could potentially be confused or hostile by just using the Welsh term would only be those who don’t have any interest in politics, or those who rabid anti-Welsh bigots who foam at the mouth on hearing anything in the Welsh language, ( and paradoxically also confirm their Welshness, as I know of no other nationality who exhibit such pavlovian reflexes in response to hearing the Welsh language). Having two names would, I suggest, have even more potential to cause confusion for monoglots.

      It’s really about PR, and would provide a good opportunity to educate people. As it stands, many people are confused about the difference between the National Assembly of Wales, and the Welsh Assembly Government, two separate, but related institutions. But much of all this confusion and lack of appreciation of the role of the Welsh government is down to the simple lack of a Welsh based media that focuses predominantly on Wales, and Welsh perspectives.

      I don’t actually think the language issue is much of a problem. Even changing the language of adminstration, i.e. the internal language of the institution to Welsh would create any real backlash, so long as ordinary people’s, (and those of current workers who may not wish to learn Welsh) fears were allayed. If you’re a council tenant with a broken lavatory you don’t actually care whether your landlord operates in English, Welsh or Latin, so long as where you interface with the council you can use their preferred language and get your loo repaired. If the Welsh language is ever to be ‘normalised’ then such policy as transforming the administrative language from English, to Welsh over an extended period is essential. It is probably the Irish government’s failure to implement such a policy in Ireland that has led to the decline of the Irish language. Keeping a language on life support, or providing education in it isn’t ever going to ensure that a language is normalised. If a language has to have an economic value, that goes a long way to explaining why English predominates. Again, it comes back to the lack of a home grown media that could educate in the widest sense, and create an idea of who we are. In the lack of that, we have the rumour mill that spreads FUD about Welsh being ‘forced down people’s throats’ (a physical impossibility!) when that proposition is ludicrous. It also has led to crazy allegations that only have currency because of the general ignorance about countries that have their own national language, and an education system delivered in the national language, and yet also manage to to turn out a majority of people who are also largely fluent in English – Scandinavia excels at this, though they are very proud of their own language and attendant culture are well. Wales is a different society, and needs to develop it’s own solutions, but I think we, as a nation, could learn so much from the Scandinavian countries.

      There is also a case to be argued, which hasn’t really successfully been done, that the Welsh language is something that is every Welsh person’s birthright, and that it has a symbolic meaning. Do crowds sing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau at Wales international matches, or do they sing Land of My Fathers? And even if they do sing Land of My Fathers, there is an acceptance that the Welsh language version is the ‘authentic’ version, and seems to be pretty uncontraversial, simply because everyone knows that the significance is symbolic, and one of the rare situations where people express a national unity. I really don’t consider that the Welsh language is problem it’s made out to be, once the fears exploited by the bigots are dealt with. Take Welsh medium education, for example, if it really was provided according to demand, I doubt there would be that much English medium education available in Cardiff. It’s true to say that in many areas where ordinary people live there may not be much demand, but that’s not down to hostility, but more do do with it not being an option because there is no Welsh medium school in the area. Provide one, and it seems to miraculously fill up! There is also the question of what happens subsequently to people who have completed their entire education in Welsh. I’ve met many people, often due to my insistence on demanding services in Welsh from companies contracted to provide services in Wales, where they are obliged to provide services in Welsh, who received all their education in Welsh, only to stop using Welsh after leaving school. Often said company has had to scramble, almost in panic mode, to find a Welsh speaker, or at least someone who, due to their Welsh medium education at least understands what I’m saying to them, even if they’ve lost the confidence to speak Welsh after years of not having the opportunity. I’ve met Welsh speakers from ordinary Cardiff backgrounds, (i.e. genuine Cardiff people, and not Welsh speaking bourgeoisie) who have said to me that they’d love the opportunity to be able to use their Welsh as part of their everyday work life, but there simply isn’t the demand, and yet whenever I go to a reception desk in Cardiff Council someone has to go running off to find the Welsh speaker, simply because it isn’t regarded as an essential that everyone staffing reception desks should be a Welsh speaker.

      Okay, I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent for long enough, but basically it should be Senedd. I quite understand the sentiment behind being slavishly bilingual, but unless you are of a mind that simply using a Welsh word is a conspiracy to impose the Welsh language on everyone that doesn’t speak Welsh, I don’t really think you’re going to give that much of a damn. Besides which, even if it is bilingual, those who go into fits of apoplexy over Welsh are still not going to be happy; they’ll start complaining about the cost, and that it confuses people – and there I’d actually agree with them!

      Keep it simple, keep it Senedd, and explain it properly.

  3. As a Grangetown Zealot perhaps I could link to my blog post where I talk about the name change

  4. I commented on the name change survey to say that I thought there should be a place for state occasions or our equivalent of Whitehall further up the Taff, perhaps close to it’s origin in sight of Pen-y-fan, called “Tŷ-Gwyn-ar-Daf”. This alos being the name of the place in Whitland, where Hywel Dda drew up his laws of Wales, but equally apt to place it on the other Taff or Taf and effectively call it (but in Welsh only of course) the White House, which seems to work for the USA. It is too good a play on words and history, not to do something.

    I don’t think the building is changing name is it – still the Senedd? So the Parliament is in the Senedd and Senedd will have the same status as the term Westminster does for the other one.

  5. I was all for just “Senedd” without the English but I can see the argument that for better or worse “Parliment” might give an impression of more power or raise awareness of the powers it does have. Which will of course only be of any real use if actually backed up with some!

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