The Energy for a Better Future

On the anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster five years ago, what could be more poignant than this picture from the exclusion zone:

     

The sign over the road has been dismantled, but the weathering shows that it used to say: Nuclear Power - The Energy for a Better Future.

Bookmark and Share

The Greens will be in the BBC leaders' debate

Following my previous post—though perhaps not because of it—I received an email this afternoon saying that the BBC has invited the Greens to take part in the televised leaders' debate on 26 April.

We Won! BBC Wales have invited the Greens

Hi Pawb

Thank you so much for signing the petition BBC Wales: Don't exclude the Greens / BBC Cymru: Peidiwch ag eithrio’r Blaid Werdd. We are delighted to announce that BBC Wales will be including the Wales Green Party in the televised leaders debates that will be taking place on the 26th of April, ahead of the National Assembly Elections for Wales in 2016.

We could not have done it without your help, so thank you very much.

Diolch yn fawr

Kim Bryan

That's definitely a win. So well done BBC Cymru Wales.

Bookmark and Share

Will BBC Cymru Wales follow BBC Scotland?

In the run up to the Scottish Parliament election, BBC Scotland have agreed to host two televised leaders debates. As well as the main parties—the SNP, Labour and the Tories—the LibDems, Greens and UKIP will also take part in the first on 24 March, and the LibDems and Greens, but not UKIP, in the second on 1 May. The details are here.

     

BBC Cymru Wales have not announced their plans, but I would urge them to follow BBC Scotland's lead. For the sake of fairness, the voices of UKIP, the Greens and the LibDems need to be heard alongside those of Labour, the Tories and Plaid Cymru in the campaign for the Senedd too.

Bookmark and Share

Labour and the devolution of policing to Wales

As there seems to be some doubt over whether the devolution of policing to Wales is, or is not, Labour Party policy, I thought I would look more carefully at the subject.

Labour is a party that puts great store on its manifesto commitments. Being cynical, this is because there are often very different policy proposals within Labour, and because there are sometimes conflicts between what conference decides and what Labour leaders want. So the current definitive guide to what Labour's policy is on any issue relating to Wales is Labour's Welsh manifesto 2015, which is here.

These are the relevant quotes from it:

Foreword
We will strengthen devolution once again, guaranteeing fair funding for Wales, as well as powers over policing, energy, transport and elections.

Page 13
We will help make communities safer, by protecting and strengthening neighbourhood policing and will devolve to the Welsh Government the powers to shape the priorities and the governance structures for policing in Wales.

Page 52
We will devolve powers over policing so that Welsh Ministers can devise an all-Wales policing plan to ensure it reflects Welsh priorities.

Page 62
The Welsh Government has long demonstrated that locally made and locally accountable decision making is both more legitimate and effective. So we will give more powers to the Welsh Government, legislating early in the next Parliament to devolve to Wales powers outlined in the cross party Silk Commission, including on policing and elections, energy and transport.

This is not an absolutely unequivocal commitment to "devolve policing", but better interpreted as a commitment to devolve some powers over policing ... specifically so that Welsh ministers "can devise an all-Wales policing plan" and set up appropriate "governance structures for policing in Wales".

-

Some of us might well be concerned that this does not go far enough, and would like to see policing devolved in its entirety. That is a simple thing to say, but things are more complicated than that. The quote from page 62 of the manifesto commits Labour "to devolve to Wales powers outlined in the cross-party Silk Commission, including on policing ..." so it is worth looking to see what the Second Silk Report says. These are its precise recommendations on the subject:

Recommendation
R.24 On policing, we recommend:

a. policing and related areas of community safety and crime prevention should be devolved;

b. existing levels of cross-border police cooperation should be maintained;

c. powers in respect of arrest, interrogation and charging of suspects, and the general powers of constables, should not be devolved unless and until criminal law is devolved;

d. the National Crime Agency should not be devolved;

e. police pay should be devolved, but police pensions should not be devolved; and

f. the two Governments should agree charging systems and terms of service provision for the Police College, Independent Police Complaints Commission, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and common services such as the Police National Computer system.

Second Silk Commission Report, Page 111

So it seems clear to me that Carwyn Jones is perfectly correct to say, as he did today in response to Andy Burnham, that Labour's policy is to devolve policing ... to the extent recommended by the Silk Commission.

-

To understand where the boundaries of what is and what is not devolved lie, this quote from David Hanson, Labour's shadow police minister in 2013, is useful:

"... but there are some really complex issues around this in relation to serious organised crime, counter terrorism, the legal system, justice, probation, which need to be examined in very great detail before such a major step would even be considered to be taken. It isn't just a simple matter of devolving policing to Wales because counter terrorism, serious organised crime, cross-border issues, much of the crime in my part of Wales derives from people who live in England."

Mr Hanson stressed that he was not arguing against the idea: "I'm just saying there are many challenges to this."

BBC, 19 February 2013

Remember that his contribution was made before Labour's policy was settled in the 2015 manifesto. Nonetheless, his points are valid, but easily answered. With regard to policing, things like serious organised crime, counter terrorism and border control would be handled on a UK-wide basis though the National Crime Agency, a body that was set up later that same year. This is how things already work in the Six Counties and (to a large extent) Scotland, and therefore explains why Silk II specifically recommended the NCA should not be devolved.

Bookmark and Share

The drip-feed of more powers will continue

As always, we have to wait a few days before the full details of the BBC St David's Day poll are published on the ICM website; but they're now available here. This is the BBC's report from last week:

     

I thought it would be good to look at the broad trend on devolution arrangements over the past few years. Click the year for access to the relevant poll.

 201620152014
Independence6%6%5%
More Powers43%40%37%
Same Powers30%33%28%
Fewer powers3%4%3%
Abolish Assembly13%13%23%

The percentage wanting independence has stayed about the same, and I would only repeat the point that one reason why it is so low is because of the unnecessary addition of the word "separation" to the question. Wording does matter, as the next paragraph will show.

There has been a marked decrease in the percentage wanting to see the Assembly abolished. Whether this represents a change of sentiment is debatable. Up to and including 2014, the exact working of the option was: "Wales should remain part of the UK and the Assembly should be abolished", with this being the only option to include "remain part of the UK". Since 2015 the wording of the option has been: "The Welsh Assembly should be abolished and Wales governed directly from Westminster". The change of wording is probably responsible for most of the decrease in those choosing this option, though not all of it, for the percentage wanting the Assembly to have more powers has steadily risen by some 3% each year.

For me, it would have been good to ask a question about which additional powers people wanted the Assembly to have; but the only specific question was about income tax (54% wanted Cardiff to control some income tax, with 42% against). There was, however, one question asked which wasn't featured in the BBC reports. As well as asking people whether they thought the Welsh health service was run by Cardiff or Westminster, the poll asked the same question about the welfare and benefits system. 50% thought it was run by Cardiff, with 45% thinking it was run by Westminster.

I have commented before on the high, perhaps surprisingly high, percentage in Wales that want to see control of this devolved to Cardiff. One poll showed that 59% of people thought decisions about welfare and benefits should be devolved to the Assembly, with only 23% thinking these decisions should continue to be made at Westminster. This, combined with the fact that half the people in Wales think it is already devolved, means that the subject should be very much higher up the political agenda than it currently is. If the 50% which thought it was already devolved had been made aware that it wasn't, then it would surely have increased the percentage who think the Assembly should have more powers than it has at present.

-

In the recent discussions over the draft Wales Bill, one recurring theme voiced by both politicians and experts has been the desire for Wales to get a stable, long-lasting constitutional settlement ... particularly in view of the fact that none of the previous settlements has lasted for more than a few years. Frankly, I don't hold out any hope of this happening.

The only possible way of creating a stable settlement would be to devolve such a comprehensive package to Wales that only a small minority (say less than a quarter) would want more. It would put any talk of further devolution off the table for maybe the next twenty years. Stability would be bolstered if our devolution settlement were to be linked to that of Scotland and the Six Counties, because that would make devolution more monolithic across the UK and therefore harder to change.

But, bless 'em, the current crop of politicians in the governments of both Cardiff and London don't think in such terms. They are primarily concerned with what suits their immediate political agenda. In broad-brush terms, this is where each of the parties stands.

For the Tories, the only thing that they really want to see devolved is tax setting powers. They have always been a party of low taxes and low spending on public services. Therefore, so long as the Welsh Government is only able to make spending decisions rather than decide how much money to spend, the Tories will always be at an electoral disadvantage. The reason they now intend to give Wales tax setting powers without a referendum is because they realize that Labour in Wales wouldn't support a Yes vote in such a referendum any time soon ... and who can blame Labour for this? Why would they want to give away their main electoral advantage to the Tories?

For Labour, devolution of more powers to Wales is more nuanced. On the one hand, they want to be in charge of more areas so that they can pursue their policy agenda in those areas in an unbroken way. At present, they can't do that in non-devolved areas when the Tories are in power in Westminster. But, on the other hand, they need to have enough policy areas reserved to Westminster for them to be able to blame the Tories in London for what is wrong in Wales.

The LibDems are more principled about wanting equality of devolution, but have dropped to such a low level of support that it hardly matters.

Plaid Cymru will say that they want everything to be devolved, although it's hard to be sure if they mean it, particularly when it comes to how things will be paid for. It's easy, for example, to be in favour of new nuclear power stations if either tax- or bill-payers across the UK are the ones subsidizing or underwriting the investment. But if these things had to be paid for only by Welsh tax- and bill-payers, they would have no choice but to pursue a less expensive, more cost effective energy policy.

I pragmatic terms, what matters is what governments in Westminster choose to give Wales rather than what the people of Wales want ... which means either Labour or the Tories. As one example, as things stand at present, the Tories are unwilling to give Wales control over policing, but Labour want policing to be devolved. This simply means that if policing is not devolved in this Wales Bill, there will be a new Wales Bill devolving policing when Labour are next in power in Westminster. This pattern will continue, requiring a new Wales Bill at every change of government.

I would say that it has now become an ingrained into our way of thinking to expect this, and it will keep the constitutional question on the agenda despite Labour and the Tories saying they wish it would go away.
 

 
Update - 15:22, 7 March 2016

Right on cue, there has been a very significant development today. The Welsh Government has published its own version of a draft Wales Bill. It's clever, in that it introduces the concept of "deferred" areas of devolution – areas that will not be devolved to Wales immediately, but will be devolved by 2026. The best document to read is the Explanatory Summary. The full draft bill is here.

Bookmark and Share

Big Field Windfarm

It looks like onshore wind has now reached the point where new windfarms can be built without subsidy. Good Energy has submitted a new application for planning permission for an eleven turbine wind farm near Bude in Cornwall. The Guardian report is here, and the company's information brochure is here.

   

In this case, the key seems to be that wind turbine technology keeps advancing. The previous application was for eleven 2.3MW turbines, a total of 25.3MW; the new application is for eleven 3.5MW turbines, a total of 38.5MW ... but, critically, without any increase in size. Presumably the higher-capacity turbines will cost a more, but the construction costs will be just about the same. The 50% increase in output is what makes the financial difference.

I'm sure that some will see this as a justification for the UK government slashing support for onshore wind under either the Renewables Obligation (RO) or the new Contract for Difference (CfD) subsidy schemes. For me, there has never been a problem about phasing-out subsidies. As originally envisaged, the purpose of the subsidies was to support an emerging technology until we reached a point where they were no longer required. The problem is that the UK government has chopped and changed the financial framework, making it difficult for companies to plan ahead. I have little doubt that their primary motivation for this has been to discourage onshore windfarms in principle, because they believe—wrongly—that most people don't like them.

For proof, we just need to consider that the Tories continue to offer substantial subsidies for nuclear and fossil fuel generation. By any standards, this is contradictory and unjustified, but particularly for a party that is meant to champion the market.

There is much to like about Good Energy's proposal in terms of community benefits. They are going to offer electricity to local customers at a 20% discount, as well as a community fund. They also want locals to invest directly, and become majority owners of the project. It is a model which would work very well for Wales.

-

The problem that Good Energy face is that their previous planning application was rejected, and is now being appealed. But in terms of visual impact, nothing has changed, so it is far from clear whether the appeal will be successful. But different arrangements apply in Wales, and if a similar projects were to be proposed in Wales I have little doubt that they would be approved.

Bookmark and Share

No one should be sent to prison for their ideas

It's good that Arnaldo Otegi has finally been released from prison. This report in the Irish Times quotes him as saying:

"They say that in Spain there are no political prisoners, but you just have to look at the number of cameras here to see that yes, they do exist.

"I went in as a Basque speaker and I come out as a Basque speaker. I went in as a socialist and I come out a socialist. I went in wanting independence and I come out wanting independence."

Irish Times, 1 March 2016

He also received this support in the form of a tweet from Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos:

      The release of Otegi is good news for democrats.
      No one should be sent to prison for their ideas.

What might happen next? There is no doubt that Otegi is the towering figure of the pro-independence left in the Euskal Herria, and he is bound to take a prominent role with EH Bildu in the Basque Parliament elections scheduled for November this year. The only problem he faces is that when he was sentenced for his role in reviving Herri Batasuna after the Spanish State banned it, he was himself banned from public office until 2021.

For the moment, however, the focus lies elsewhere. The Catalans are steadily setting up the institutions necessary for Catalunya to function as as independent state, and Spain itself is in political limbo after the elections of December last year. The Spanish situation will, probably, be clear in a few months ... either because a new government will have been agreed, or because new elections will have been held. Once we know how that situation pans out, the battle lines for November will be that much clearer. But there is little doubt that independence for the Basque Autonomous Community will be on the agenda. As Otegi said recently in a written statement from prison:

"Sooner rather than later we will use the right to self-determination and thus transform ourselves into a new state of Europe."

New York Times, 29 February 2016

Bookmark and Share