Knowing a few Welsh words really isn’t too much to ask for a job with the government
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
Should the people running Wales have a basic understanding of the country in which they live?
The Welsh Government has recently come to the view that the answer to that question is yes, they should.
It has moved to ensure that ‘basic Welsh skills’ are a requirement for civil service jobs with it in the future.
And by basic they mean very basic. Being able to pronounce Welsh place names, knowing a few words and phrases, being able to read short texts, and demonstrating ‘awarenes’ about the importance of bilingualism.
Knowing a few words and phrases is a level of Welsh-speaking ability beyond which Bryan Habana has passed in two presenting stints with S4C. And he lives in South Africa.
But prospective non-Welsh speaking mandarins need not fear, because if they are not in possession of such skills, they will simply be given the time and the resources to learn them on the job.
You might think this would be pretty uncontroversial. However, it has not gone down well everywhere.
There have been howls of incredulity in certain quarters that the Welsh language and the culture it engenders is not being left to languish at the margins.
The loudest of these howls have come from the Welsh Conservatives, who have claimed that non-Welsh speakers will be prohibited from government jobs. This just isn’t true.
According to the Tories, the government’s priority “should be recruiting the best person for the job”.
Well, I’m sure no one would disagree with that. But their definition of the “best person” seems like somewhat of an odd one.
Should someone who is unable to learn a few basic Welsh words and phrases really be considered among the best and the brightest? Someone who can’t master ‘diolch’ and ‘shwmae’ in six months probably isn’t going to be queuing up for Mensa membership, chaps.
Is someone too lazy to remember ‘sut wyt ti?’ going to be the most efficient, effective and dynamic at implementing government policy? I very much doubt it.
Is it a particularly good idea to have somebody who is tone-deaf about the Welsh language and about Welsh culture in general at the heart of the government of Wales? I’m going to go with no.
This is also bad politics. Yes, it may well play well with its base. But the Conservatives need to attract more than the base if it aspires to be the governing party of Wales.
One of the central pillars of Labour’s electoral dominance in Wales is its embrace of Welsh identity. The attacks from the Conservatives simply allow them to buttress those credentials.
Being antagonistic towards Welsh identity is not a winning strategy.
But it isn’t only the Tories who are moaning. Some activists from the Liberal Democrats (a self-proclaimed internationalist party of inclusivity and diversity) have also been taking cheap shots.
One even made the outrageous claim that the new recruitment criteria amounted to an “English Not”. This is nothing less than an anti-Welsh language dog whistle.
Equating a few English speakers having to learn a tiny bit of Welsh for a job, to children being mentally and physically abused for speaking their mother tongue, is not only wholly at odds with anything resembling reality – it is abhorrent.
We should remember that what people are complaining about doesn’t even amount to equality for the Welsh language.
The new employment criteria from the Welsh Government, though welcome, and proportionate, still comes nowhere near to putting Welsh on a par with English. You have to be fluent in English for jobs, but you don’t need much more than a five-minute Duolingo lesson in Welsh.
But the Welsh language still coming off as second best isn’t enough, it seems, for some people.
The driving force behind their complaints seems to be a belief that the language is not valuable or important enough to Wales and its people to merit it being a necessary skill for certain posts.
Over the centuries, institutions have been used to marginalise the Welsh language, and to elevate English at its expense.
This has been so effective that many do not even realise that English has been elevated in this way. Its ubiquity is seen as the natural order of things.
Our institutions are now being used to redress the imbalance, but to some it feels like a disruption to that order – a threat to how things should be.
If only they realised that to lift up the Welsh language is not to push them down.