With the start of a New Year it is useful to reflect on some of the more political developments that have taken place in the Celtic countries over the course of the last twelve months, but more importantly it is essential to look ahead so that we can be better prepared for what is to come.
It was disappointing to read in September 2010 that the Scottish Executive decided to withdraw their plan for a referendum on independence before the 2011 Scottish elections. The Referendum Bill 2010 is still a centerpiece of the
governing Scottish National Party’s legislative programme, but we will now have to wait for the results of the 2011 Scottish elections to see if it has any chance of being passed into law. Even though the Bill lacked support from the major opposition parties in the current Scottish Government, the 5th May 2011 Scottish elections could change all of that with the election of a strong Scottish National Party (SNP) government.
Scotland, including Cornwall and Wales, will nevertheless get other referendums this year, which is highly unusual for the UK. All three nations will vote on changing from the first-past-the-post to the alternative vote (AV) system on 5th
May 2011. Like in Scotland, 5th May 2011 is also the date for elections in Wales. Scotland and Wales therefore will have a double vote on the same day, which is not ideal and was campaigned strongly against by nationalists. The AV
Referendum is linked to the UK Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, which became law in November 2010. This new law will controversially reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 at the next (UK) general election and equalise the number of constituents in each seat at around 75,000. This in effect will potentially create at least one cross border parliamentary constituency between Cornwall and England – an issue that was fought hard
against by a single issue campaign organisation in Cornwall, Keep Cornwall Whole. The territorial integrity of Scotland and Wales however will remain.
Wales will have an additional referendum in 2011 on extending the law making powers to the National Assembly. This referendum will be held on March 3rd 2011 and will be part of the One Wales Agreement made on 27th June 2007 between the coalition government that was formed in that year between Plaid Cymru and the UK Labour Party. Welsh Assembly Members had originally asked for the referendum to take place in autumn 2010, but the newly elected Prime Minister David Cameron announced without warning that the referendum will take place in 2011. This will
be the third Welsh devolution referendum in 32 years, after 1979 and 1997. First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones said in September 2010 that:
“A positive outcome for the referendum will mean the assembly can make laws for the people of Wales more efficiently and in a more cost effective manner.”
Further powers for the Welsh Assembly are supported by a cross section of political parties in Wales, including some UK Conservatives. (The Conservatives have found that campaigning on an openly Unionist ticket in Wales has left them with poor results electorally). The campaign for a yes vote is being spearheaded by `Le dros Gymru/Yes for Wales’, which was officially launched on 4th January 2011. The no campaign is headed up by the `True Wales’ group, which is funded by a Jersey business man.
In August 2010 a long standing independent politician joined Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall, raising the number of representatives from the Party in Konsel Kernow/Cornwall Council from 3 to 4 members. In their 2010 Conference in Bodmin an ambitious five-year plan to better promote MK and the values it espouses was decided upon. As part of the plan it was agreed that MK should set itself the target of fighting at least 50 seats (40%) at the 2013 Cornwall Council Elections, put up a full slate of candidates at the European Parliamentary Election in 2014 and then contest all Cornish seats at the 2015 General Election. In 2011 MK will celebrate its 60th anniversary with a
commemorative publication and a celebratory event held on 22nd January 2011 at the Lowenac Hotel in Camborne.
The economic downturn has meant that the despised South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) will be scrapped and replaced by a Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Economic Partnership, which was approved by the Westminster government in October 2010. The SWRDA covered an area stretching from Swindon in Wiltshire to Penzance and the new Partnership Konsel kernow/Cornwall Council say will involve councils, businesses, colleges and communities working together to boost the economy, employment and the standard of living of residents. Prime Minister David Cameron said that the SWRDA “didn’t work”. This is good news for nationalists and business alike.
At the start of 2010, nationalists in the Isle of Man were still being harassed by police following a graffiti campaign on the Island, which began in 2009. The Celtic League were being contacted by people who were being randomly stopped and searched as the Manx police continued to look for the culprits in an exercise that the League said was politically motivated. The Chief Constable on the Island wrongly accused the League of failing to condemn the graffiti and
dismissed claims that his officers were involved in a politically motivated crackdown.
Since the conviction of a Manx language teacher for the part he played in the graffiti campaign and the subsequent removal of the graffiti, nationalist activity has petered out in the second half of 2010. However the graffiti
campaign brought the issue of the political independence of Man to the fore, with Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, Tony Brown, telling the Tynwald last February that the wishes of the people on seeking independence as a sovereign
state would be established by a referendum. Minister Brown added that the Island was moving towards greater influence and greater responsibilities for its own affairs and that ‘ the people of the Isle of Man have to have the right to
‘Whether we go down the road of greater independence, I suppose the answer to that is time will tell.’
Other Manx Ministers, like the nationalist Phil Gawne, said in 2010 that even though he supports such a referendum he did not think the time was right to move towards full independence, saying:
‘I believe you have to work towards your goals – politics is more about shuffling forward than great leaps forward.’
Linguistically 2010 was an exciting time for the Celtic nations, especially during the second half of the year. In December 2010 alone, the Cornish and Manx languages were reclassified by UNESCO, the Welsh Assembly voted unanimously in favour of a new Welsh Language law creating a new system of placing duties on bodies to provide services in Welsh, the Irish government launched their ambitious 20 year strategy for the Irish language and the introduction of the `Regional’ Language Bill (développement des langues et cultures régionales) in France, which will bring the French state in line with European legal norms, potentially having a huge impact on the revival of the Breton language.
Linked to the revival of Breton, protesters demanded that post offices in Brittany use the language in their working practice, with a much publicised sit-in at Landerne/Landerneau Post Office – a town that has been traditionally applauded for its use of the language in the public sphere. Police were brought in to break the peaceful protest up, but the message is clear – the Breton language needs much more support if it is to survive into the future. With
estimates in 2010 showing that approximately 10 000 speakers are lost on an annual basis, something desperately need to be done.
Creating a political alliance with the Greens (Europe Ecologie Bretagne) in the French regional elections in March 2010 – which decided who was to be the Regional President for the Breton Regional Council – provided the Union Démocratique Bretonne (UDB) with one more regional councilor taking their number up to 4 representatives (the same as MK in Cornwall). Parti Breton also stood in the regional elections in their own right, but didn’t win a regional council seat. Another nationalist Breton political party, Mouvement Bretagne Progres, was formed in December 2010 by Christian Troadec, who was once closely allied with the UDB.
Before the March 2010 elections, people travelled from all over Breizh/Brittany to take part in a `Freque Humaine’ to show Breton politicians that the issue of Breton reunification should be firmly on the political agenda. The organisations responsible for the organisation of the peaceful event were Bretagne Réunie and 44=BZH, but reunification hasn’t featured much on the political scene in Brittany over the last 12 months with the exception of the arrest, verbal assault and prolonged detention of a Breton youth for spraying pro reunification
graffiti in the town of Le Mans in Loire-Atlantique. There are no major elections or political developments planned in Brittany in 2011.
Republican activity has been growing in the north of Ireland over the last 12 months and this trend looks set to continue into 2011. Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH), Real IRA and Continuity IRA have all been active, with UK Home Secretary Theresa May issuing a warning in September 2010 that possible dissident attacks in Great Britain were a “strong possibility”. Sinn Fein and the Stormont Government in general have been losing credibility with the Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson and the still high profile Sinn Fein representative Gerry Adams both suffering personally. Both resigned their seats in the north for different reasons, but it is Gerry Adams who could make a comeback in 2011following the decision to stand for the Dáil (Irish Parliament) in the elections, which will be held in 2011. Sinn Fein has five MPs in the north, including Mr Adams, and four TDs in the Irish parliament. Mr Adams said he would remain as an MP for West Belfast until the Irish general election is called in 2011.
A few months ago, Mr Adams decision to stand for election in the south of Ireland seemed unlikely, but the drastic economic downturn in the south and the large scale protests that followed has meant that the 30th Dáil will be dissolved, assigning the unpopular Taoiseach Cowen and his Fianna Fáil government to the political dustbin. This has left the Greens, who were in a coalition government with Fianna Fáil, scrabbling for political credibility in
the latter half of 2010 and will no doubt continue to suffer in the 2011 general election. This is where Sinn Fein may pick up more parliamentary representatives in the south, as was witnessed in the November 2010 Donegal South West by election win, which was the first win in a by election for the Party in the south in 80 years.
The December 2010 budget, which made a €6 billion package of cuts and tax increases, was the harshest in the history of Ireland and will have deep political and economic repercussions over the next few years, hitting many low
and middle income families hard. Fine Gael claimed that the budget was the work of a “puppet Government”, following the involvement of the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund in Irish affairs. The Fine Gael Finance spokesperson, Michael Noonan, said:
“This Budget is the budget of a puppet Government, who are doing what they have been told to do by the IMF, the EU Commission and the European Central Bank, so that the State can draw down the bail-out funds now that the country is insolvent.”
The European Commission and Irish Government strongly rejected the claim, but Fine Gael has every right to be critical, because it is they who is likely to succeed the Fianna Fáil/Green coalition government in 2011 and have to enforce the budget.
Of the six Celtic countries, three are due to hold elections this year. Unusually there will also be a referendum held across the UK and two referendums in Wales. Unfortunately there will not be a referendum held in Scotland on the
issue of independence in 2011 as planned and whether this will occur in the near future at all will depend on the results of Scottish elections in May. 2011 will nevertheless still be an interesting year politically for the Celtic nations.
Brittany and Cornwall are still lagging behind in terms of political autonomy and their assimilation into and neglect by the respective states of France and UK, is rapid and often shocking.
Scotland and Wales are holding their own and clawing back control of their respective nations. The reunification of Ireland doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon and is likely to be the last thing on people’s minds in the
south as economic hardship sets in. The Isle of Man looks set to maintain its political position as a British protectorate at least for the near future, despite forceful calls from the Celtic League to review its position.
2011 is also the 50th anniversary of the Celtic League, which was founded in Rhosllannerchrugog, Cymru/Wales in 1961. It remains a politically active organisation and even though it is not affiliated to any political party, it
nevertheless sits comfortably in the nationalist community due to the nature of its constitution. Over the next year the League will be reflecting further on the progress of the Celtic countries towards greater autonomy and its own
progress over the last 50 years.
This article prepared for Celtic News by Rhisiart Tal-e-bot General Secretary Celtic League. For follow-up comment or clarification contact:
Tel: 0044 (0)1209315884
J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information