by Huw Morgan
An independent Wales could help minority languages across Europe says Welsh leader Dafydd Iwan In a Eurolang exclusive Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Iwan says that an independent Wales would not only safeguard the Welsh language but would also be able to help other minority languages in Europe.
Last year Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party, under its new president Dafydd Iwan, reiterated its commitment to independence for Wales. Over the last few years the party had been wary of using this phrase as it had been used by its political enemies to accuse them of leading Wales into unknown territory, with the Welsh people being worse off economically. Its former leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, had emphasised that independence as such was not on the cards, after all which country is really independent these days?
But Dafydd Iwan has strongly stated that an independent Wales is the long-term aim of the party; law-making powers being the first step and then a seat in Europe. He sees that Wales being part of the European Union would help not only the Welsh language, but also other minority languages within Europe.
Plaid Cymru was established in 1925 with the aim of securing independence for Wales with a seat in the then League of Nations. Most if not all of its early members were cultural nationalists with economic aims taking second place. It was not until the early 1960s that the party began to gain ground in Wales, especially in the Anglicised industrial southern part of the country, where Labour had dominated for over half a century and where many Welsh people had become disillusioned with the party.
The 1960s was also an important time for Plaid Cymru for two other reasons. It won its first parliamentary seat, in rural Welsh-speaking Carmarthenshire, in 1966, but earlier, in 1962, one of its founder members, author and playwright Saunders Lewis, delivered a lecture called Tynged yr Iaith (The Fate of the Language) on BBC radio. He said that saving the language was more important than having a 'free' Wales. If the language died then it would be extremely difficult to revive it in the future; independence could be gained at any time.
This lecture led to the forming of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society) a few months later, which used direct action, such as refusing to fill in English forms and the daubing and destruction of English road signs, to further its aim of saving the language.
One of its earliest members was architectural student and folk singer Dafydd Iwan. Mr Iwan led the society through the turbulent years of the road signs campaign and was imprisoned for his activities. In September 2003, he was elected president of Plaid Cymru.
Where does Plaid Cymru now see Wales' future? What will be the effect of some of the smaller nations of Europe (some smaller than Wales) joining the European Union? Eurolang asked these questions to Dafydd Iwan.
“People tend to connect me with the strengthening of the party's policy on independence because I was elected president of Plaid Cymru in the same conference as this motion was passed. We felt that there was a need to make the situation clear, using the latest terminology. That is, small countries like Malta, Slovenia and Estonia will be independent countries within the European Union.”
Could Wales realistically be an independent country under this definition. “I cannot see that we have to stop half way [that is, the Welsh Assembly having law-making powers such as the Scottish Parliament as proposed in the Richard Report published recently]. I see this as a gradual process. I believe that the Assembly should be strengthened in the short term. Then, it should be proposed in a referendum to the Welsh people that Wales should be independent. And if supported, we should apply to become a full member of the European Union.”
The Richard Report sets a timetable of law-making powers by 2011. Dafydd Iwan sees that there would have to be at least two elections (i.e. another eight years) afterwards before Wales would be in a situation to declare itself independent.
But what of the language? How would independence help the Welsh language?
“The future of minority languages depends on raising their profile on a European level. These languages may struggle for status within their own areas, but it is possible to have status within Europe if we all work together. There are millions and millions of people in Europe speaking a minority language, really we are in the majority! By working together, the speaking of a minority language in Europe could be normalised. If Wales was a full member of the European Union, we could press for legislation to help minority languages. The larger countries do not really know what to do with these 'small languages'.”
Would Plaid Cymru wish for Welsh to be one of the official languages in the Union?
“Yes, we would want Welsh to be one of the official languages, but it is not realistic to have everything published in every language. But I would want everything that relates to Wales to be published in Welsh and possible a summary of other matters. There would probably be a two tier of languages; two or three working languages and the others, although official languages, being used mainly with matters relating specifically to the countries where they are spoken.”
“I believe that saving a language should be part of the political process. All of us in the same situation should help each other, and that would be one of the advantages of Wales being independent within Europe.”