Today's Western Mail has gone big on questions about Edwina Hart's suitability to serve as First Minister because of her inability to speak the Welsh Language. I'm really sorry to see this issue being raised. But Betty Williams, retiring Labour MP for Conwy has done so. Does she not realise that instigating this debate damages public support for bilingualism, and probably damages Carwyn Jones, the only Welsh speaker in the race to succeed Rhodri Morgan - the opposite of what she's reported to want. The best comment in the article comes from Menna Machreth Jones, Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith (The Welsh Language Society) who's reported as saying "Speaking Welsh is an important skill for anyone, including the First Minister, but just as important, if not more so, is their attitude to the Language. Is that person committed to delivering the cross party vision of a truly bilingual country?" Spot on.
I have to admit that Edwina doesn't help herself by comparing the Welsh Language with Bengali or Chinese. What on earth was she thinking when she said that? When I was a young man, there was much division in Wales about the language. It was all deeply unpleasant, and reflected very badly on Wales. A few hotheads even set fire to houses of non-Welsh speakers. But over the years, wiser heads prevailed, and depoliticised the debate. They realised that if the language was to prosper, it needed the support of those who did not speak it, as well as those who did. Eventually, the now Lord Roberts of Conwy secured a successful future for the Welsh Language by means of adaption of the 1988 Education Reform Act to encompass the linguistic distinctiveness of Wales. It became part of the National Curriculum in Wales. This was the single most important development in the long battle which halted and then reversed the seemingly inevitable decline of Welsh.
Edwina's honesty sometimes gets her into trouble. She could so easily have said that she was going to learn, and arrange to have a few lessons. I know plenty of people who have done that, and then pretended that they can speak Welsh - when they can't. That's not Edwina Hart's style, and its to her credit. We do not want to see the future our Language being put at risk by stoking up an unnecessary row - if its all right with you Mrs Williams.