While most eyes and ears were focused on the headline-grabbing announcements in the November budgetary review by the UK’s aristocratic finance minister, George Osborne, more seasoned observers were analysing the lesser discussed passages in the chancellor’s financial plans for 2016. Thanks to the diligence of Plaid Cyrmu and other interested parties it quickly emerged that the hereditary indifference or antipathy amongst Britain’s metropolitan elites to the indigenous Celtic languages of the island was once again being reflected in aspects of government policy towards the peoples of Wales and Scotland.
The Daily Post carries news of deeper reductions in the budget of the formerly independent Sianel Pedwar Cymru or S4C, the sole public service television channel broadcasting entirely in Welsh, which the Tories have been transferring to the financial control of its anglophone competitor, the dominant BBC, since 2010
“Welsh language campaigners Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg have accused the UK Government of “telling lies” after it announced a 26% cut in its grant to the Welsh language channel despite a manifesto promise to “protect” its budget.
In 2010, the Government announced a cut to its grant to S4C of 94% over four years from £101 million in 2010-11 down to £7 million in 2014/15.
And in yesterday’s autumn statement Chancellor George Osborne announced the money S4C receives will be further cut from £6.7million to £5million by 2019.
Jamie Bevan, chairman of the group, said the Conservatives had broken a manifesto pledge and have lied to the Welsh people.
Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts said her party had issued several warnings over cuts to S4C’s budget.”
Even members of George Osborne’s own party have criticised the slashing of S4C’s relatively small state support, as reported by BBC Wales:
“A Conservative MP has criticised cuts on Welsh broadcaster S4C’s funding by his party at Westminster.
Guto Bebb’s comments follow yesterday’s Spending Review…
The Aberconwy MP said it sent a “very negative message” about the party’s commitment to the Welsh language.”
It now seems certain that within a decade future funding for the channel will be sourced entirely through the BBC-administered TV licence fee, an arrangement which makes S4C an inferior partner to the London-headquartered corporation. Ironically the controversy arrives just as a new survey shows an increase in the number of Welsh-speakers outside the traditional heartlands of the language, particularly in the capital city of Cardiff, underlining the importance of S4C’s contribution to the national culture of Wales.
Meanwhile in Scotland the Herald takes a strong editorial line against the revelations that BBC Alba, the only Scottish (Gaelic) language television station on the island, will soon witness the complete removal of all British government contributions from its already minuscule budget:
“Chancellor George Osborne didn’t actually announce to Parliament his intention to slash all UK Government funding to Gaelic broadcasting – it was left to supporters of the Welsh language to work it out – but the fact remains that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will no longer provide the £1m a year to the broadcaster as it has done for some time.
In financial terms, this contribution was relatively small – 95% of all Gaelic broadcasting funding comes from the Scottish Government and the BBC. But the fact that this represents a 100% cut in UK Government funding of the language cannot be overlooked. The £1m was, if nothing else, a recognition that Gaelic exists, that it matters.
Those of a cynical disposition may suppose that the No vote in the referendum may have played a part in this decision – perhaps there is now less need to keep Scottish voters “on side”. Others may surmise that in austere times, culture always ends up topping lists of proposed cuts.
But let’s be honest – a million pounds is a drop in the ocean. This silly political decision on the part of the Conservatives simply bolsters existing SNP accusations that Scotland does not get value for money when it comes to public service broadcasting. Was it really worth it, Mr Osborne?”
In yet more irony news of the story followed hard on the heels of some optimistic census results indicating that there had been a modest increase in the number of foreign-born people in Scotland learning its indigenous language. The Scotsman newspaper two weeks ago:
“The survival of Gaelic speaking in Scotland is being helped by a band of new speakers from Eastern Europe and Africa, it has emerged.
A second report on the 2011 Gaelic Census, released last week, has found a “notable” increase in speakers from new EU member states.
The overwhelming majority of the 56,500 Gaelic speakers in Scotland (95.6 per cent) were born in the UK
However, the number of speakers from new EU countries has risen from 0.03 per cent in 2001 to 1.1 per cent in 2011.
The share from Africa also rose, from 0.2 per cent to 0.4 per cent, the census found.
Just under one per cent (0.9) of Gaelic speakers in Scotland were born in the Middle East or Asia.”