Nation.Cymru

I've just noticed that Nation.Cymru—a news website for Wales set up and edited by Ifan Morgan Jones—is now up and running.

     

Nation.Cymru is a news service by the people of Wales, for the people of Wales. And its success depends entirely on the people of Wales.

It is an attempt to set up a national, popular, not for profit news service, with the aim of answering the central question: ‘How can we become a better nation?’

Anyone who believes they have something to say is invited to contribute to it.

Why do we need Nation.Cymru?

We have never had a national English-language news service. The Western Mail and Daily Post are regional news services, while BBC Wales is a regional arm of a British corporation.

The Welsh media has deteriorated even further in the last few years. What remains of Wales’ regional, commercial English-language press is in sad decline.

The print circulation of our English-language papers continues to dwindle, and websites struggle to produce revenue.

As Welsh newspapers are bought by larger companies, editorial decisions are increasingly being made outside of Wales’ borders, with less and less relevance to Wales.

It is no surprise therefore that surveys have consistently shown that the people of Wales do not know what is going on in their country.

Many people do not understand what powers our parliament in Cardiff has or what can be done with them.

Meanwhile, the tectonic plates of the United Kingdom are shifting. Post-Brexit, Wales faces a turbulent economic and political future. Our nation’s very existence could be at stake.

Wales has to decide where its future lies within this new order, and Nation.Cymru can be a platform for that discussion – free from the commercial pressures that drive other newspapers and websites.

We want to include everyone in that discussion. We want to include YOU.

Starting with a bang, one of their first posts is about a YouGov survey conducted earlier this month which shows that a quarter of the population support Welsh independence, details here.

Happy reading.

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Rhodri Morgan

Like many others, I was saddened to hear of the death of Rhodri Morgan yesterday. He, more than anyone else, was responsible for our National Assembly becoming widely accepted and respected by the people of Wales, after a rather uncertain start. That's a huge legacy.

     

My condolences to his family and friends.

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Labour will devolve policing ... and more

Labour's manifesto was published yesterday, and I will probably write something more about it later. But in this post I would like to concentrate on what it says about Wales specifically, rather than policies which might benefit Wales as part of the UK.

At first glance, the answer would appear to be "not very much". This is page 105.

     

But the brevity of this page actually hides some quite significant developments in Labour's policy position on devolution. The "Alternative Wales Bill" is more correctly known as the Government and Laws in Wales Draft Bill, which was published by the Welsh Government in March last year. Two documents are available from this page: the first is a draft of the sort of Wales Bill the Welsh Labour Government would have wanted to see enacted—as opposed to the one the Tories actually gave us—and the second is some explanatory notes. The notes are more helpful than the draft Bill.

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I don't think anyone who reads Syniadau will be surprised at me saying that there has always been a certain degree of "tension" between Labour AMs and Labour MPs in Wales. In broad terms, Labour's AMs have wanted to extend more devolution to Wales, but their MPs have tended to be far more reluctant about it, if not blatantly obstructive.

On the subject of policing and the administration of justice, Labour's manifesto for the 2015 Westminster election was, to put it at its most positive, half-hearted. I wrote about it in this post, saying that it was better interpreted as a commitment to devolve some powers over policing, than a commitment to devolve policing.

This time round, even a few weeks ago, Labour had not made up their mind about what their manifesto for this Westminster election would contain on the subject. Glyn Morris wrote about it here, quoting Diane Abbott as saying:

"We don't think it's right at this time to devolve policing, but this is something there's constant discussion about inside the Labour Party". She later said: "We will make our position clear on this in the coming weeks."

Fair play to them, they now have; and, to put it bluntly, Carwyn Jones has won a major internal victory over the more sceptical Labour MPs. Labour at UK level have now committed themselves to implement exactly what Carwyn wanted, with no caveats or exceptions.

To be clear, this does not just involve the matter of devolving policing to Wales, but also the justice system in the form of a distinct, although not separate, legal jurisdiction for Wales. Carwyn's "ploy" was to make these what he called "deferred matters", i.e. they would not be devolved immediately, but would be devolved from March 2026, unless the Welsh Parliament (note the change of name) and UK Parliament agreed to a different timetable.

Now of course I'd prefer to see things happen sooner. But, equally, it is a simple fact that the laws of Wales are becoming more and more different from the laws of England, not just because of a dozen or so pieces of different primary legislation passed each year in Cardiff Bay and Westminster, but also by thousands of pieces of secondary legislation. The present "England and Wales" legal jurisdiction is unsustainable in the long term, and some change would have to come at some time in the future. Yes, 2026 is an arbitrary date, but it is as good an arbitrary date as any other and gives everyone plenty of time to adjust.

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It would be interesting to speculate on how Carwyn achieved this victory. We all know that the majority of Labour's MPs were and probably still are opposed to Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party. In Wales, where Labour are facing serious opposition from the Tories for the first time in living memory, Labour's Welsh MPs have decided that they stand more chance of holding their seats if they portray themselves as being led by Carwyn Jones rather than by Jeremy Corbyn. In doing that, they could hardly stand in the way of giving Carwyn what he wanted in terms of devolution. I can't help but think that these MPs have been hoist by their own petard.

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Reaping the whirlwind

I was going to write a post on some of the strange things that have happened elsewhere in the world over the past year, but having started with the EU, it might be better to stay on the subject.

The obvious question is what relationship the UK should seek, or expect, to have with the EU.

For me, the starting point is to look at the options that were presented as being available before the referendum last June. Although these options weren't on any ballot paper, the media and the Leave campaign presented us with about four or five alternative options if we chose not to remain in the EU. For example here and here.

I don't want to go into the merits of the different options, but only want to make this point. 51.9% of the vote was to leave and 48.1% to remain. For me, it is impossible to imagine less than 2% of that 51.9% would have wanted us to have a similar relationship to the EU as the ones that Norway and Switzerland have, i.e. to remain an integral part of the single market, paying a fair fee to be part of it and accepting its four freedoms. In other words, I'm quite sure that a majority of those who voted in the referendum would have been in favour of the UK remaining in the EU single market.

In my opinion, what should have happened after the referendum was for David Cameron to have remained as Prime Minister and negotiate for that sort of model. The UK's model wouldn't have needed to be exactly the same as that of either Norway or Switerland, but either would have been a good starting point. But he didn't, even though he could easily have claimed a mandate for doing so on the basis I've just outlined. Instead, he chickened out, leaving the hard-liners in the Tory party who wanted a more extreme form of Brexit to fill the vacuum he left.

Sadly, Labour did not argue for that alternative either. So we got to a position where there was no effective opposition to a hard Brexit, even though there could easily have been one if the Labour, SNP and Tory MPs who wanted us to remain in the single market had come together to vote for it as a pre-condition for triggering Article 50.

Under a scenario where Cameron had not resigned, he would have been in a fairly similar position to that of the Norwegian government following their similarly narrow vote to stay out of the EU in 1994 (they, like him, wanted to their country to a be a full member of the EU). I am sure that the other EU member state goverments would have looked favourably on such an approach and granted the UK that sort of arrangement.

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But we now have to accept that this isn't going to happen. The UK government has chosen to confront the other 27, rather than co-operate. And there are no prizes for predicting the outcome: whether you look at it as 27 states against 1, or 450 million people against 65 million, the EU will get its way because it is in a much stronger position. Anyone who thinks "they need us more than we need them" is deluded.

The UK government (aided by the lack of any concerted opposition in Westminster) has led the people of the UK into a hopeless position where there is no chance of getting a deal with the EU that is anywhere near as good as the one we have now. To be honest, I think the Tories realize this, and that they've called the general election on 8 June as a smokescreen to mask a different agenda. For even if, as they hope, they get an increased majority, it is not going to make the slightest bit of difference to the other members of the EU. Their negotiating position will, obviously, be based on their interests.

So what, then, is the real reason behind calling this general election? I believe that it is to give Theresa May a mandate for creating a radically different type of UK. In order to survive economically outside the EU, the UK is going to have to be much more aggressive in the way it seeks to trade with other countries. As they hinted at before, it means reducing workers' wages and workers' rights in order to make UK goods cheaper, so that companies can still sell them after tariffs have been applied. It also means getting rid of environmental protections because, in the same way, it's cheaper for companies not to bother about polution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU is based on the European values and standards that a vast majority of European countries share, including at least one (if not more) of the countries that currently make up the UK. Trying to undercut these values in the hope of giving your country a competitive edge is a cheap, tawdry thing to do, and the pursuit of this sort of UK will inevitably result in the disintegration of the UK.

If you reap the wind, you sow the whirlwind.

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What a year!

It would probably be a good idea to make some sort of comment on what has been an extraordinary year in politics. So I'll start with the European Union.

I don't suppose anyone will be surprised to learn that I voted for the UK to remain a member of the EU. On balance I think the EU is a good thing, and in particular good for its member states ... although not so good for those countries who deal with it from the outside. It is protectionist in nature and, as a block of half a billion people in some of the richest countries in the world, it can afford to be.

But I wasn't totally surprised at the outcome of the EU referendum. The state of politics in the UK, and perhaps in the West as a whole, has reached a low ebb in which reasonable debate and discussion is drowned out by slogans, soundbites and personalities. In these circumstances politicians can get away with telling more blatant lies than they would usually be able to get away with. That was true on both sides. But the main factor was that the ground for Brexit had been carefully cultivated for decades, in particular by the media. However the media aren't to blame for pushing any particular agenda. If people on this island choose to pull the wool over their own eyes, then we have no-one to blame but ourselves for the outcome.

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Talking of "big picture" things; until the EU referendum campaign I used to think that the ever-rightward shift in political opinion that we've seen in the UK over the past thirty or forty years was primarily the legacy of Margaret Thatcher and her heir, Tony Blair. Now I'm more inclined to think that it is just as much to do with our membership of what is now the EU. In particular the move away from the state being a major player in economic activity in favour of the private sector. It's not hard to see why. For the EU to operate properly as a single market, to the extent that a member state of the EU is involved in economic activity, it becomes very hard to separate what the proper boundaries of such involvement should be, and it is all too easy for it to cross the line (wherever that line is) and become state aid. The denationalization of our state-owned industries and mass privatization of state assets owes as much to the EU as it does to Thatcher and Blair. In fact the two go hand-in-hand. We shouldn't forget that Thatcher was ardently pro-EU, and one of the main drivers of the move to create the EU single market.

It might also be worth saying that, so far as the EU is concerned, it has never "imposed its will" on us. The EU is much more of a democracy than the UK has ever been. Its policies are decided by the governments of each member state in the Council of Ministers, by the Commissioners that each government appoints, and by its citizens through those we elect to the European Parliament. I'm sure most people reading this will know that already.

I'm definitely on the left in terms of my politics and I listened carefully to, and had quite a bit of sympathy towards, the argument made by some on the left that if the UK left the EU, we would be able to do things that we would not currently be able to do as EU members: such as renationalize the railways or the power companies. But in the end I was much more persuaded by the arguments of people like Yanis Varoufakis and DiEM 25 that it is better for us to reform the EU through its democratic institutions than to walk away from it. Equally, if you agree with me that the EU treated countries like Greece shamefully, the way to change such policies is from within.

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But all that is water under the bridge. The UK did vote to leave, and that decision should be respected. I do not have a lot of time for the position that we should have another referendum to decide whether we want to accept the terms of any settlement of agreement. For any that do, I would simply ask whether you would want the same two-stage procedure to apply to a positive vote in a future referendum on Welsh or Scottish independence. It isn't right to change the rules half-way through. If, say, Scottish independence were to be subject to a two-stage vote from the outset, it seems clear to me that a large majority would vote for independence at the first stage in order to see what sort of constitution and institutions Scotland would have, and what sort of settlement could be negotiated with the RUK ... knowing full well that the only vote that really mattered would be the second. The whole exercise would just be a waste of time, effort and resources for all concerned.

That said, I would certainly not rule out another "straight" referendum on EU membership, if it became clear in future through opinion polls or general elections that enough people wanted to rejoin. It might be two years away, or ten years away, or never. In other words, I reject the idea of a two-stage vote, but don't object to another vote. That's democracy. In case anybody thinks I'm being inconsistent, I would apply the same principle to independence. I would have no objection to people in an independent country voting to rejoin the country from which they gained their independence ... but I would note that none of the 54 countries that have gained independence from rule by Westminster has shown any interest in doing that.

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I don't think it is likely that the UK will ever vote to rejoin the EU. But please don't think I'm being pessimist. Quite the contrary, it won't happen because I don't think the UK will exist (at least in its present form) for much longer. Scotland will be independent and Ireland will be reunited. I believe both of these events have always been inevitable, but the EU referendum will act as a catalyst to make both happen sooner rather than later.

This is the silver lining to the dark cloud of collective stupidity and self-harm called Brexit.

Perhaps an England whose leaders have finally been disabused of the idea that it is entitled to greater privileges than other countries will come to its senses and rejoin its neighbours. I hope so ... but that will be up to England. It's up to us in Wales whether we are content to go along with whatever England decides to do, or make our own decision as an independent country.

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Back home again, blogging again

It's been nice to see that one or two people have missed Syniadau while I've taken a break from blogging. I never did give any sort of public explanation for disappearing over the horizon, and I'm sorry about that.

My main reason for not blogging is that I decided, just over a year ago, that it was time to move back to Wales. This is something that I'd always intended to do but, like many other exiles I know, you put down roots in the place you move to and, with each few years that pass, it becomes that much harder to leave.

I realized that it was now or never for me, and I thought it would take a few months. So I put everything on hold to concentrate on the move, including Syniadau. I was wrong about the timescale. It all proved to be far more complicated than I thought it would be, and it took me more than a year to sell up in London and sort everything else out. But in the end everything did get sorted, and I finally made the move about six weeks ago. I'm loving it. It has definitely been the right thing to do, and I really should have done it years ago. Gwell hwyr na hwyrach.

These are some views from my balcony. For those of you who don't recognize the best place in Wales, I'm back in Llanelli, my home town.

     

     

     

I still haven't really settled yet. Most of my stuff is still in boxes, and I reckon that about 3,000 books need to find a space on new shelves, as I wouldn't dream of throwing any of them away.

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Anyway, why am I writing something today? The answer is that I've spent the day at something called a Hackathon organized by Yes Cyrmu in Abertawe. The others (Leia, Sandra, Tricia, Owain and Chris) have been making videos, but I'm nowhere near photogenic enough to believe that I could enhance the cause of Welsh independence by a posting a video of myself ... in fact, it would probably have the opposite effect. So you'll have to make do with words instead.

Although there is a twitter account called @YesLlanelli, I've been told that there isn't actually a Yes Cymru group that meets in Llanelli. As lovable as the Jacs undoubtedly are, I'd like to be a part of a group on this side of the Llwchwr if there are enough other people who'd like the same thing. So please get in touch with me at michaelhaggett@live.com and let's see whether we can make it happen.

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Happy St David's Day

Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus i bawb ohonoch chi.

     

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