It may surprise some readers to see one of the Vice Presidents writing in the comment section and not just being commented upon. However, this topic is of such importance that a balanced argument should be presented. Last week this section featured an article outlining why we should have a full time VP Welsh Language and thus why the referendum is important. However, the full story wasn’t displayed, and the argument was one sided.
The current Union Welsh Language Campaign Officer (WLCO), Steffan Bryn Jones, tabled a motion originally to Student Senate to have a referendum for full time paid Vice President Welsh Language. This was debated and narrowly defeated by the body of students who have been elected to represent the student population.
Interestingly the motion wasn’t submitted to the Union’s AGM, the highest decision making body of the Union, save that of the Trustee Board. Here it could have been debated in front of 650+ students with both arguments being vigorously examined and fiercely defended. Yet, by the WLCO’s own admission, it wasn’t tabled at AGM for fear it wouldn’t pass, which in my opinion is clearly damning evidence that the full time role isn’t a popular choice. Don’t get me wrong, we must hear the voice of our minority communities, which is exactly why we have the campaign officer role. However, in my opinion, it isn’t necessary to launch this into a full time paid sabbatical position.
So as explained last week, a petition was launched which, over the period of an entire month, only secured 513 signatures: scraping over the minimum of 500. As a result, time and money will be put into launching a referendum that must secure 1500 votes within 5 days, in order to be binding. Many previous referendums have failed to reach this binding minimum and I imagine this will be the case once more. Nevertheless, I agree this shouldn’t be an argument not to have one. However, it is an argument for it going to the next AGM, and not a referendum.
Before I launch into the reasons why we shouldn’t have the role full time and therefore why you should vote ‘No’ in the referendum, let me first dispel some of the “misunderstandings and prejudice” that last week’s article attempted to address.
As a Welshman myself I am fully in support of the Welsh Language and its use. Whilst my own proficiency is ashamedly somewhat limited, I agree it is an important foundation of Welsh culture and key to living in Wales. I would, however, question the proposition that using Welsh is deemed perverse or threatening. In my experience this certainly isn’t the case. Moreover, having a full time VP Welsh Language will not normalise it but drive the Welsh speaking community further away. I appreciate that poor translation is frustrating, but I am unsure as to the “lack of service” and “arrogant and dismissive attitude” which was commented on last week.
The Union has recently taken on a member of staff to be Welsh translator. Most University services can be accessed through the medium of Welsh if requested. The Union has simultaneous translation at AGM and Senate meetings and has in its 3 year strategy “To improve welsh language provision” as a top priority. Furthermore the Union has adopted the Welsh Language Charter and recently set up a Welsh Language Steering Group to drive the Welsh agenda.
What concerns me most is last week’s author felt Welsh speakers were not represented and were “An invisible minority” with the need for someone to pass on the community’s feedback. Clearly they think little of the work done by the current Campaign Officer, as this is precisely what they should be doing. Never mind the fact that the current President is a fluent Welsh speaker himself.
Last week’s statement that Cardiff and Swansea Students’ Unions are the only Unions that don’t have a full time Welsh Language Officer is simply untrue. In fact it is quite the opposite: the only HE institutions with a full time role are Aberystwyth and Bangor, which both have entirely separate Welsh Unions and a much higher percentage of Welsh speaking students. The other 7 institutions do not have a full time role.
So why shouldn’t we have one? Simply put: because it would change little and be a waste of time and resources. That may sound stark and rather harsh but allow me to elaborate. It is my understanding that the main remit of the officer would be to drive the Welsh agenda, but also be the contact point for all issues pertaining to Welsh students. Effectively they would become the VP Societies, Sports, Welfare, Education, Postgraduate and indeed President, for Welsh speaking students. This goes directly against the suggestion of normalisation but causes a divide. It would also be impossible to effectively represent those students on the 30+ groups I alone sit on whilst also campaigning of welfare issues, improving sports and society provision, and translating.
It seems to me to be far more effective to write into all the current positions’ job descriptions a need to improve Welsh language in their respective remits or something to that effect. That way in all areas of activity the Union could create effective change. The Campaign Officer role as it stands should be to advise and feedback to the current officers on issues affecting their cohorts. Is this not exactly what is trying to be ‘reinvented’? The resource for this role could then be put to the cost of translation and double printing.
Scrutiny committee would then be able to hold all the ull time Officers to account should it be felt that enough wasn’t being done. Moreover, one of the full time team could be designated as lead on the Welsh provision strategy to further ensure this agenda was driven forward and the Welsh Language Charter fully achieved. As covered above, the Union is already making great strides towards achieving this with some very positive steps, including the taking on of a translator and the setting up of a steering group. Rather than pushing back against this progress, I am of the opinion that this should be celebrated and highlight how well the current system of having a campaign officer is working.
For all the above I urge you to vote ‘No’ in the upcoming referendum.