Bad reporting from the Guardian

Yes, from the headline, I guess most of you will have thought that I was referring to this article yesterday on Ysgol Llangennech and Welsh-medium education generally.

However what I had in mind was this report on a poll commissioned by Chatham House on what position the EU should take in Brexit negotiations. The Guardian's headline reads:

Two-thirds of Europeans believe EU should take hard line on Brexit – poll

But look more closely at this graphic from the article:

   

Yes, it is technically true that two-thirds of those outside the UK said that the EU should not compromise its core principles ... but what about the additional 20% who said that the EU should not compromise at all?

Do the maths. The truth is that more than 80% of those questioned think that the EU should not compromise over its core principles. In fact, even a majority in the UK think that the EU should not compromise its core principles. If we needed proof that the UK government is not going to get the outcome it says it wants, this survey should add to it. Twenty-seven democratically elected governments are not going to ignore such overwhelming strength of opinion in their respective countries.

So what are we to make of such reporting? Is it sloppiness? Maybe. Or is it that the Guardian, like every other media outlet, is inclined to write stories that support its own agenda, or (being more charitable) has an inbuilt, unconscious bias that it simply isn't aware of?

I don't share the general anger that I can see in many of the pro-Welsh-language comments on the Guardian's Llangennech article. I think it would be better to accept that every news outlet operates this way, and to filter what any article says accordingly. I'm glad the Guardian wrote what it did, simply because exposing such bias (whether intended or unconscious) is the best way of dealing with it.

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Eleven points

As so much of what is currently happening to shape the new UK government is in flux, I thought I would make a list of the points I see as important.
 

1. The Tories will not call another election anytime soon

This is because they'd lose it. Their previous pitch was that Corbyn was unelectable, he clearly isn't. Labour have the momentum. They'll comfortably win any election held in the next couple of years.
 

2. The DUP don't want another election either

They will do everything they can to make the Tory/PUP agreement last as long as possible. All their wishes have come true. Every day is Christmas for them from now until the next election.
 

3. Theresa May will not lead the Tories into another election

She simply isn't cut out for elections, and every Tory now knows it.
 

4. But the Tories won't get rid of her yet

The very earliest she would go is at the party conference this autumn. But I doubt she will go that quickly for two reasons: First, the electorate won't tolerate a second unelected leader. Whoever becomes leader will have to face a general election within a year or so. Second, the Brexit negotiations are going to be a humiliation for the UK, so no ambitious Tory is going to want to be leader until the negotiations are over. The next Tory leader will let May take all the humiliation, then emerge as a fresh new face who has learnt from her mistakes.
 

5. Labour want an early election

They will do everything possible to destabilize the Tory/DUP agreement ... but that will just make them more determined to hold on. Labour will only get in by attrition, if the number of by-elections in the next few years is higher than usual.
 

6. The UK will end up with a soft Brexit

The UK will be part of the EU single market and customs union, and the will continue to pay a fair price for it. Maintaining an even playing field costs money. However the payments will be disguised in all sorts of ways to save Tory blushes.
 

7. Immigration will not be a big issue

It never was. Having "control" of immigration sounds fine, but was never going to equate to having less immigration. Despite promising they would, the Tories didn't do anything to curb immigration from outside the EU even though it alone accounted for more than the limit the Tories said they were aiming for. They realize that the UK economy relies on immigration. For example, it's cheaper to hire a doctor who has been trained at someone else's expense in another country than to train a doctor here.

The Tory media will not make an issue out of immigration, because criticizing the government for conceding on the principle of free movement to the point of destabilizing it will only bring about an election that will bring Labour into power ... something they're much more afraid of than immigration. Hardline Tory MPs will not make an issue of it for the same reason ... they cannot afford to cause trouble because their seats will be at stake. And any criticism from UKIP will be ineffective because this election killed them off as a political force.
 

8. The Tories are still a right wing party

Irrespective of what happens in negotiations with the EU, domestic economic policy is decided by each member state individually. A Tory government propped up by the DUP might be a little gentler than a Tory majority government (triple lock pensions, winter fuel allowance, etc) but the overall thrust of their economic policy will still be to give tax cuts to the rich and restrict spending on public services. Teresa May will try to implement as many parts of her manifesto as she can, regardless of having fewer Tory MPs. In fact she'll probably be more doggedly determined to do it because she won't be around as leader to answer for the consequences at the next election.
 

9. Scottish independence

The SNP won the general election in Scotland handsomely, winning 34 of the 58 seats. That's a much higher percentage of seats than the Tories gained in Britain. The SNP already had a mandate for a second independence referendum following the 2016 Scottish election and the SNP/Green vote in the Scottish Parliament. So they didn't need another mandate from this election, but they got it anyway.

However EU membership is not, in itself, going to hold all that much sway in deciding the outcome of the vote for independence. What will make a difference is that Scotland is a left-leaning country in which most of the economic levers of power are held by a right wing UK government. This has always been and will always be the main reason why the Scots will eventually vote for independence. Incidentally, this is true for Wales too.

The problem the SNP have is that they must hold this referendum while pro-independence parties command a majority at Holyrood. There's no guarantee that this will still be the case after 2021. But they need a to justify a second referendum, and the EU is a far more black-and-white reason (it was specifically mentioned in the 2016 manifesto) than the differing political make-up of Holyrood and Westminster, which is no different now from what it was in 2014. It's a tricky balancing act because if, as I now expect, the UK as a whole ends up with a soft Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon will have got what she said she wanted following the EU referendum.
 

10. Irish reunification

The only way that a soft border could be achieved in Ireland is if the Six and Twenty-six Counties were both in the EU single market and customs union. If the Tories still held majority at Westminster, they would have ensured Britain was out of both, but would probably have made an exception for the Six Counties, because it wouldn't matter very much to voters in Britain. This would effectively have moved the economic border between the UK and EU to the Irish Sea.

     (Actually, that's not strictly true. The other alternative would have
     been for the border to be at ports and airports in the Republic, and for
     Ireland to operate the UK's border policies ... but this would effectively
     put Ireland outside the EU in economic terms and make it part of the UK,
     and there's no way the Irish would accept that. However that didn't stop
     some Tories floating the idea, and I wouldn't be surprised if
     they try it again.)

If the border had been at the Irish Sea, it would have been a huge step towards the economic integration of the Six and Twenty-six Counties, and brought formal reunification closer. But with the Tories now reliant on the DUP to stay in power in Westminster this won't happen.

Much has been made of the idea that the UK government cannot act as an "impartial intermediary" to implement the Good Friday Agreement if it depends on the support of the DUP. That's a fair comment, but the other side of the equation is that it's quite likely that Sinn Féin will be in government in the Republic some time soon - perhaps after the next Irish general election in coalition with Fianna Fáil. If that happened, then the Irish government wouldn't be an "impartial intermediary" either. In truth, the UK government has always favoured the Unionists and the only difference is that the pretence of impartiality can no longer be maintained.

As I see it, the most significant result of the agreement between the Tories and the DUP will be that the both parties will find out just how little they have in common ... which I think will come as a bigger shock to the DUP than to the Tories. Much has been made of how socially conservative the DUP are in terms of issues like abortion and equal marriage, and the DUP are painted as dinosaurs from a bygone age. While I don't support the DUP, I would say in their defence that they represent the views of a large part of the population of the Six Counties. It isn't so much that the DUP are out of step with mainstream social views—if they were, they wouldn't have won 10 out of 18 seats—it's that there's a significant gulf between Irish social attitudes and British social attitudes. To their horror, the DUP will realize that when the Tories talk of "the United Kingdom" what they mean by it is very different from what the DUP want it to be. It hardly needs to be said that religion plays a bigger part in society in the Six Counties than in Britain. Britain is a much more secular society. I think the Protestant community in the Six Counties will come to realize that they have more in common with the social and religious conservatism of the Twenty-six Counties than they do with the liberal secularism of Britain. A generation or two ago, when more people held Christian views than they do now, which version of Christianity you adhered to was important, so much so that Protestants like Ian Paisley—who founded the DUP—saw Catholics as their polar opposites. But in a Europe which has become much more secular than it was, Protestants and Catholics in Ireland are finding that they have much more in common with each other as Christians in the face of a growing secularization that threatens to make practising Christians of all denominations a minority. In short, I think Protestants in the Six Counties will gradually come to see the reunification of Ireland as a more attractive option for helping to maintain their way of life than remaining part of the UK.

Make no mistake, public opinion in Britain might have been tolerant of the socially conservative views of the DUP while it was safely kept on the other side of the Irish Sea, but it will not be tolerant of people holding those views having a direct influence over UK government policy. The Unionist community as a whole will be made to feel, both through mainstream and social media, even less part of Britain than they think they are now. It will be a rude awakening.

I'd also mention two other factors. The first is just how far the Unionist vote has fallen, as shown in this post. It is now less than 50% for the first time. The second is the ground-breaking statement from the EU that there will be no obstacle to the Six Counties becoming part of a united Ireland in the EU.

If anything, I am more confident of a united Ireland happening in the next decade than an independent Scotland. The event that will trigger it is the death of Elizabeth Windsor.
 

11. Wales

We in Wales will be bystanders in most of this. However I think we will gain a few crumbs from the deal to form a new UK government. Apart from the DUP's constitutional red lines, they will of course extract a hefty amount of extra "pork" for the Six Counties. But it will be difficult to give one devolved (even if suspended) administration more money without the other devolved administrations getting more too. The Six Counties have greater public spending per head, and getting significantly more again would have to be justified on the principle of need. So we might finally see the Barnett Formula (even with a floor) replaced by a needs-based formula. This would benefit Wales, as our needs are greater than the UK average too.

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The DUP save our bacon

The result of yesterday's election wasn't too far away from what I expected. I had put the Tories on 310 and Labour on 275. So I'm disappointed to some extent, but I can see a bright side.

In the Six Counties, two things coincided to produce a perfect storm. The first was that the DUP did well in the Unionist community, gaining two seats, but the second was that Sinn Féin did even better in the Republican community, gaining three seats and wiping out the SDLP. Because Sinn Féin do not take their seats in Westminster, the result is a solid block of MPs who are prepared to support the Tories, and who have just come to a deal to keep Theresa May in a weak and wobbly position of power. The SDLP would, of course, have opposed the Tories.

There is only one thing that the DUP really want from this deal, which is that the Six Counties are not treated in any way differently from the rest of the UK. If the DUP were not in such a pivotal position, I would have put money on the eventual solution to the problem of the border between the Six Counties and the Twenty-six being that the effective border between the EU and UK post-Brexit would be the Irish Sea, and that customs and immigration checks would have been carried out at the ports and airports rather than at the land border. Logistically, that is by far the best way of handling things because the tickets of any people or goods would have to be checked anyway when they boarded the ferries or planes to cross the Irish Sea, so discretely checking their customs/immigration documents at the same time as their tickets would result in no additional inconvenience.

However this arrangement is the one thing that the DUP will absolutely oppose, because in the event of a hard Brexit it will make the Six Counties—in practice if not in name—part of the EU single market and customs union and therefore economically, as opposed to politically, part of a united Ireland.

The only alternative to this is for the UK as a whole to remain part of the EU single market and customs union. And for me this now looks to be the most likely outcome. Essentially, the UK will have a similar relationship with the EU as Norway, and the border between the Six and Twenty-six counties will become as irrelevant for day-to-day purposes as the border between Norway and Sweden. Such an arrangement will also solve the problem of the border between Gibraltar and Spain, allowing Gibraltar to remain British without taking a massive financial hit from the loss of thousands of workers who make the daily commute from Spain.

Those who wanted a hard Brexit (UKIP and the Tory hardliners) were well and truly defeated in yesterday's election, so the UK having a Norway-style relationship with the EU can now be politically justified. And the Tories, if they have any sense, will grasp the fig leaf of spinning this compromise as the only practical way of ensuring that their precious UK stays together and that Gibraltar remains British.

The huge benefit for people in the UK is that we will remain part of the EU for economic purposes, and will only have opted out politically. It means that when Wales and Scotland become independent, we only need make the political decision whether we want to be part of the EU, because there will be hardly any economic consequences either way.

If I'm right in this analysis, the DUP have saved our bacon.

Now for those of you who will argue that this means that the UK will have to continue paying money to the EU, my answer is that we would always have had to do this if we wanted seamless access to the EU single market. We were fooling ourselves if we thought the EU27 would allow us any other deal.

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Two upcoming independence referendums

I want to briefly highlight two pieces of political news which will have a very significant influence on independence for Wales and Scotland, because they'll almost certainly be drowned-out by current political events on these islands.

The first is the announcement on Wednesday that there will be a referendum on independence in south Kurdistan on 25 September this year. By south, I mean that part of Kurdistan which is currently part of Iraq, to distinguish it from the western part of Kurdistan currently in Syria, north Kurdistan in Turkey and east Kurdistan in Iran. They will vote Yes.

The second is today's announcement that 1 October this year has been set as the date for the independence referendum in Catalunya. As a parallel, I suppose I could say that by Catalunya I mean the current Spanish Autonomous Community, sometimes called the Principality, as distinguished from the other Catalan countries of Valencia and the Balearic islands which are also in Spain and North Catalunya in France.

The Catalan election in particular will be enormously important as the EU's reaction to the inevitable Yes vote in Catalunya will set a precedent for how the EU will react to similar situations in Europe such as Scotland.

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I'm voting Labour tomorrow

It probably won't surprise anyone that I would never vote for the Tories or for UKIP, but I have seriously considered the others. Under a preferential voting system, my first preference would go to the Greens; Plaid and Labour would vie for second and third depending on the particular circumstances of the election and the quality of the local candidates; and the LibDems would come fourth, although at present their policy of holding a second referendum on Europe (even if for the wrong reason) makes them a rather more attractive proposition than they would usually be.

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At present, Wales is part of the UK. At a UK level Plaid Cymru are all but irrelevant. Even if Wales elected 40 Plaid Cymru MPs it would probably not make any difference in a House of Commons that has 650 members.

Plaid Cymru have developed two particular conceits which annoy the hell out of me: that they are the only party that speaks for Wales and that they are the only party that represents Welsh interests. Plaid Cymru will only ever be able to claim that it "speaks for Wales" when more people in Wales vote for them than for any other party. If you want to use that sort of language, the party that "speaks for Wales" is, and has been for generations, Labour. Plaid needs to do the hard work of winning more votes before it can make that claim. Additionally, no party can claim that it uniquely represents Welsh interests. What is in our national interest is a matter of political opinion, and election campaigns are all about presenting different political positions and persuading voters about the merits of each. Even parties like UKIP and the Tories stand in Wales because they believe that their policies are in the best interests of Wales and, even though we might not like it, a good number of our fellow countrymen and women vote for them ... and are no less Welsh because of it. For me, Plaid Cymru's current leadership has given up on trying to persuade people about the merits of their policies, and instead started to go down the very dangerous road of suggesting that some parties (and by implication the people who vote for them) are anti-Welsh.

My advice to Plaid is to give up on this approach and concentrate instead on how and why their vision of what they want Wales to become, and their particular policies for getting there, are better for Wales than those of other parties in Wales.

Plaid's manifesto for this election was cringeworthy. Time and time again they promised to deliver on things which they couldn't possibly deliver .... even if Plaid were to win every single seat in Wales.

In contrast, Labour are a far more realistic choice at a UK level. For the first time in several decades, Labour have put forward a manifesto which will move the UK more to the left. Under Jeremy Corbyn, there is a glimmer of hope that the UK might become a significantly better place in which to live. That's good while we're part of the UK and good if the UK breaks up, because the people of England will always be our neighbours.

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I want Wales to be independent for two reasons. The first is that Wales is a nation, and we deserve to stand on our own two feet as a nation, side by side with all the other nations of the world. However I realize that this is a sentimental view, perhaps more a matter of the heart than the head.

But the second reason I want Wales to be independent is that I do not like the political direction that the UK seems determined to travel in. The UK, and specifically the welfare state and public ownership of key sectors of the economy, that our parents and grandparents built after the second world war was something to be proud of. I benefited from it enormously. But over the past few decades it has been, and still is being, systematically dismantled. A Labour-led government under Corbyn, McDonnell and their colleagues offers the hope that this will be stopped, and perhaps even reversed. In my opinion that is worth voting for, although I half fear that it's already too late.

Will Labour deliver if elected? Who knows? I don't think any government achieves everything it sets out to achieve, but it might succeed in changing some things for the better and pointing the UK in a different direction of travel. Perhaps I'm being sentimental in this too.

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Being more hard-headed, it is still unlikely that Labour will win tomorrow. To form a government they will probably need a supply and confidence arrangement with the SNP. Perhaps all that voting Labour will achieve is to give the Tories a couple of dozen fewer seats, which hopefully will force the Tories to take their foot off the accelerator so that the car crash which is Brexit will be a little softer.

However, I'm sure of this: if the Tories do form the next Westminster government, it will be a catalyst that helps bring about a united Ireland and an independent Scotland more quickly than would otherwise be the case. If I were more Machiavellian, I might encourage people to vote Tory for that very reason. But it would be like voting to leave the EU knowing that Brexit would make a united Ireland and an independent Scotland more likely. I can't in all conscience do something bad in order to bring about something good. No, I want to be able to argue for an independent Wales as the only way left for us to be part of a society which values public ownership and control of key sectors, rather than ever-increasing privatization and marketization of things that should be held by us all for the common good.

This election might well be the last chance the UK has to reverse its ever-rightward direction of travel and the inevitable self-destruction it will bring. For that reason I will be voting Labour tomorrow. I want to be able to say that I tried.

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Theresa May’s plans on terror: they are wrong

I largely agree with this editorial from the Guardian yesterday, so I thought I'd repost the first paragraph from it.

Mrs May wants us to believe that we face a threat from doctrines that do not espouse violence but somehow mutate into terror. Confusing extremism with terrorism risks dividing us as a people when we need to be united
 

     

 
Theresa May’s “enough is enough” speech is an attempt to reshape dramatically Britain’s policy to thwart terror after murderous attacks. Mrs May gave her most explicit pitch today to policing thoughts rather than acts. This is a bad idea. It rests on a strategy to counter ideology rather than one that counters terrorism. It penalises people for holding unspoken beliefs and promotes a form of thoughtcrime. Such a move would end up with Britain losing the fight against terrorism in a legal minefield of dogma and piety. Mrs May wants us to believe that we face a threat from doctrines that do not espouse violence but somehow mutate into terror by contingency. The conclusion of her speech is that a non-violent person who harbours anti-British, extremist thoughts – to be defined presumably by a future parliament – could be blacklisted, maybe even criminalised. This is a leap away from current policy, although Mrs May has been heading in this direction for years. It should worry us all. What of animal rights, ecological defence or anti-arms-trade activists who do not subscribe to violent belief systems when criminal acts – sometimes amounting to terror – have been carried out in their name? Will they be banned too?

Guardian, 4 June 2017

This woman is a danger to us all, and she will become even more dangerous if we don't get out and vote against her party on Thursday.

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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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