On the renaming of the National Assembly

The Welsh Government wants to give the National Assembly for Wales a new bilingual name instead of a Welsh-only moniker.”

This shouldn’t be what ‘bilingualism’ is. ‘Bilingualism’ should have the confidence to give our institutions one name that everybody is empowered to use; not concocting a situation whereby two languages live parallel lives and never intersect.

It is incredibly patronising to suggest that having one Welsh-language name makes it difficult for people to understand the Welsh Assembly’s purpose. The recent open letter to the Western Mail, which I co-signed, is still correct on this point:

We are concerned that a number of the arguments used against a Welsh-only name are patronising to hundreds of thousands of people in Wales who support the language but cannot speak it.

In a similar vein, we don’t want an English name for the Eisteddfod, Mudiad Meithrin or groups like Chwarae Teg. These names, and the names of our towns and villages — from Pontypridd to Pontarddulais and from Llanelli to Llangefni — are not misunderstood by us because they are just in Welsh.

This change does not reflect the lived experience of people in Wales: the Welsh language is part of our material culture whether we are fluent speakers or not. It is deeply misguided to suggest there’s a widespread unfamiliarity with the phonemes of a language we interact with every day. It is also deeply misguided to suggest that this supposed unfamiliarity in any way contributes to widespread disengagement and voter apathy, rather than deeper political and economic problems that many in the National Assembly are unwilling or unable to tackle. It’s very telling, therefore, that many anti-Welsh-language bigots and Welsh-speaking centrists appear to agree that this change is a positive step (albeit, perhaps, for slightly different reasons).

This is a superficial fix that assumes the institution just needs a few tweaks, rather than being totally structurally flawed. If people (Anglophone, ‘uneducated’, ‘non-Welsh’ people, as is the implication) are unaware of what the Senedd does, it’s not because they’re too thick or uninformed to know what that word means, but because the whole institution is extremely limited in terms of the power it wields and the influence it actually has over people’s lives.

This change won’t fix the inherent flaws of devolution (which I’ve written about before), and won’t foster a greater bond between the two languages in this ‘bilingual’ state. It solves no problems whatsoever: it’s just neoliberal, technocratic tinkering that can’t comprehend (or refuses to accept) that radical, material change is needed if Welsh self-governance is to become viable and meaningful.

(This article is also available to read on Medium)