Game changing

I read David Jones' blog this morning with incredulity. Not so much the story in the Telegraph—that Gordon Brown is thinking of bringing the LibDems into government—but at the complete naïvety of his argument.

His logic is that the polls now show the Tories at 40%, Labour at 22% and the LibDems at 25%. If there were a general election now, the LibDems would gain an extra 15 seats ... so why on earth would they prop up the current government?

The answer is simple, and is contained in what David Jones wrote: those percentages would mean (and Electoral Calculus might be wrong, but not so far out) that the Tories get 376 seats, Labour 161 and the LibDems 82. I'll put it in a table:

Con ... 40% of vote ... 58.2% of seats
Lab ... 22% of vote ... 24.9% of seats
LDs ... 25% of vote ... 12.7% of seats

I hope that makes things as obvious to the MP for Clwyd West as they will be to everyone else. That sort of distribution of seats is a political obscenity worthy of a banana republic.


Put yourself in Nick Clegg's position (or that of any other LibDem or Liberal leader in the last 80 years) ... what will 15 additional seats in an immediate general election give him in terms of political influence? Absolutely nothing. The Tories will sit pretty on an undeserved overall majority, and what all the other parties do or say will be quite irrelevant. 25% of the vote means that the LibDems should get roughly 162 seats, 100 more than they won in 2005 ... yet David Jones wants them to be happy with an extra 15.

No, David Jones is not that naïve. He's poo-pooing the idea because he wants his party to have an artificial, undeserved majority. Though, to be fair, Labour have been just as guilty of the same thing in the past.


OK, let's look at the Telegraph's story in a bit more detail. It is only a "rumour mill" piece; no names, no sources. It might be more fancy than fact. But anyway:

MPs' expenses: Gordon Brown considers Lib-Dem deal in 'reshaping’ reshuffle

... it has emerged that senior Cabinet allies are urging [Gordon Brown] to deliver a “game-changing” reshuffle in the aftermath of next week’s local and European elections.

One Cabinet minister said last night: “We have to be looking at reshaping the whole Government and not just a simple reshuffle of the Cabinet that rarely means anything to the wider public.”

The expenses scandal has brought constitutional reform back to the top of the political agenda. It is understood that a sizeable number of the Cabinet—possibly as many as half—favour a new voting system, with the single transferable vote form of proportional representation very popular.

Any move to involve the Liberal Democrats would be treated warily by some close advisers to Mr Brown, but he is being urged to think boldly to try to recapture the political initiative.

One radical idea would be to bring senior Liberal Democrat MPs into Government, the most obvious being Vince Cable. That would involve a series of deals behind the scenes involving Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader. Last night Labour sources suggested that any such deals were still a long way off.

Telegraph, 30 May 2009

The key statement is that "a sizeable number of the Cabinet—possibly as many as half—favour a new voting system." Electoral reform must be the bottom line for the LibDems to have anything to do with this Labour government.

I commented on Alan Johnson's call for electoral reform in this post on Monday, so I won't go into the reasons why I am in favour of PR again here. I'd perhaps only re-iterate that, even though I support STV rather than AV+, I think it might be asking too much to get STV through in less than a year ... which is all the time this government has left.

From Labour's point of view things are going to look very bleak when the European Parliament results come out on Sunday. The Tories will of course howl for the Prime Minister to call an election straight away. He has got to resist these calls ... and I am sure he will, because he has shown himself to be nothing if not stubborn. Labour still have a large enough majority to survive until May 2010, and they would be fools not to. But Labour do have to do something, and a reshuffle will not be enough.

From the LibDems point of view, they have got to avoid being suckered in without any firm commitment to change the electoral system. I think they should only play ball if Labour commit themselves now to a binding (not consultative) referendum on electoral reform before May next year. That still leaves open the possibility of negotiating to present a number of choices in that referendum, and there would be nothing wrong with having a two stage referendum: one to narrow down the alternatives, then a final one to decide which of two most favoured options we should adopt.

Of course there is nothing to stop a range of other changes. Fixed term parliaments seem to have support even from the Tories, so there is probably no need to include that in a referendum.


The UK has just under a year to change the way Westminster works, because once the Tories are in we will only get a few cosmetic changes centred around procedures and practices. But the only change that ultimately matters is that the number of bums on seats fairly reflects the way that people voted ... only then can Westminster claim to be a representative democracy.

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Jonathan Morgan on borrowing powers


I've just read Jonathan Morgan's speech to his local Conservative Association. Most of it wasn't so surprising: he can hardly fail to mention expenses, nor fail to attack Labour in Westminster for such bad management of the economy that UK borrowing has gone through the roof.

And, as I'd would also expect, he's still hurt quite badly about Nick Bourne shuffling him out of the shadow cabinet.

But what particularly struck me was this paragraph:

We should also open our minds to Wales raising its own money in the future, as an addition to the Barnett grant. There would have to be a number of caveats on additional borrowing but if a local authority is allowed to borrow money, then why not the Assembly Government.

But what on earth does "open our minds" actually mean? This appears to me to be typical political doublespeak. It's very easy to say that you will think about doing something. It makes you look good, but it gives you the opportunity to say, "Yes, we did think about it, as we said we would, but we decided it wasn't such a good idea in the end" ... even if you never had the slightest intention of doing it in the first place.

Come on JM, don't hide behind such cheap words. This issue has been on the political agenda for some time now. It is one of the things the Holtham Commission was set up to consider. Surely you must have worked out your position by now!

Please let's have some clear statements on what you think:

• On borrowing, what are these "caveats" you mention?

• As the vast majority of the block grant is revenue rather than capital spending, do you envisage Wales "raising its own money in the future" by assigning some taxes raised in Wales directly to the Assembly in place of some of the block grant?

• To you want to see the Assembly have tax setting powers?

There's no chance that I'm ever going to vote Tory. But if you want others in Wales to vote for you—or indeed if you have any hopes of being part of a future coalition Welsh Government—then surely you need to think these things through and make your position clear.

If you can offer a better position on increased fiscal responsibility for Wales you might just find all the support you need in your quest to be Tory leader without having to snipe at Nick Bourne over iPods.

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It might be a good idea for England, but not for Wales

Dylan Jones-Evans in his blog yesterday hailed David Cameron's speech on reform as "groundbreaking" saying that we needed smaller and more accountable government.

He thought that this captured the mood "across the country" ... though I'm sure he was thinking of the UK as a whole, rather than of Wales. In fact I doubt very much whether he even thought about Wales, and in particular whether we in Wales might have our own ideas about the way we are governed.


Hardly anyone could doubt that government in the UK is over-centralized, and that devolution of powers from Westminster is a good idea. In that respect the Tories are exactly right. But DJE then wanders off along this line of thought:

For Wales, there are a number of mixed messages. For example, despite the promise of greater devolution from the UK central government, there is no indication that this will be through the existing bodies alone. Indeed, there are a number of statements that will send shivers through the corridors of power in Cardiff Bay.

"Could we let individuals, neighbourhoods and communities take control? How far can we push power down?"

i.e. if local government is going to get more powers, will this mean more devolution downwards to councils from bodies such as the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament? Rather than increased powers from the UK Government to devolved bodies, will we also see further decentralisation from the devolved bodies to local authorities?

I trust DJE to have a better insight into the mind of his party leader than I do. I also note that Glyn Davies seems equally enthusiastic about the shift towards local authorities. So perhaps that is what the Tories have in mind. This might well be the reason why the Tories have point-blank refused to tell anyone except a few chosen party insiders what position they are going to take on primary lawmaking powers for the National Assembly.

I think they won't tell us for the simple reason that they know we won't like the answer. And I think it is no coincidence that taking power from the National Assembly and giving it instead to individual councils is the "solution" advocated by many in True Wales.

This is also, if you remember back to the days of Thatcher, what prompted the Tories to do away with the Greater London Council and give powers to the London Boroughs. Simple divide and rule tactics. No local council is big enough to stand up to the Government in Westminster ... it was a way not of "devolving power downwards" but of giving central Government yet more control. Nothing changes with the Tories.

No, scrub that. Nothing changes with the Tories in Westminster. Tories in Wales, particularly those who I respect for their pro-devolution views (and that includes both Glyn Davies and Dylan Jones-Evans) should be careful about getting sucked into the machine.


Anyway, that's opinion. I want this post to be about facts. In both 2008 and 2009 the BBC's St David's Day poll has asked the asked the same question:

Which level of government do you think SHOULD have most influence over Wales?

Welsh Assembly Government ... 61%
Westminster ... 21%
Local Councils ... 14%
The EU ... 2%

BBC/ICM Poll, 2009

Which level of government do you think SHOULD have most influence over Wales?

Welsh Assembly Government ... 61%
Westminster ... 22%
Local Councils ... 11%
The EU ... 2%

BBC/ICM Poll, 2008

That's clear enough, isn't it?

Good governance is about placing power at the most appropriate level, not necessarily the smallest level. For us in Wales, it is clear that we want our Assembly to have most influence over the way we are governed. That's not to deny the role of local government—in fact I think it should be reformed and enhanced—but to recognize that we think it is not the best level to deal with most things in Wales.

We are a nation of 3m people. That is a good, effective size for much of the decision making that affects our daily lives: for health, education, law and order, energy, transport and the like. 60m is much too large—the Tories are right about that—but local councils with populations of between 56,000 and 307,000 are much too small.

It is up to the people of England to work out what's best for England. But it is surely up to us to decide what levels of government are best for Wales. One size does not fit all.

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The BBC does the right thing ... well, sort of ... in the end

In my post entitled Lost in Translation on Friday I noted that the BBC had mistranslated the English version of its story about the Welsh Language Survey conducted by Beaufort on behalf of Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg.

I'm delighted to say that they've just got round to correcting it.

     Welsh rated same as green issues

But I notice the header at the top still says that the page was last updated on 22 May 2009 at 11:15. Sneaky. The original version (for reference purposes) is available as an mht here:

     Language rated above green issues

But on a more general point, very often the Welsh version of a story on the BBC's website is an obvious translation of the English. All too often it also a condensed version which contains less information than the English equivalent. I believe that doing this is detrimental to their otherwise laudable attempts to provide a news service in Welsh on the web. Who on earth would read the Welsh version when there was a fuller version in English? It's counterproductive to provide a second-rate version.

What happened on Friday, however, was one of the much rarer instances when the boot was on the other foot. It was those who read the English version who were disadvantaged (misled, to be blunt) by an inadequate translation of a much fuller piece originally written in Welsh.

I would urge the BBC to do two things:

• The first is to ensure that both the Welsh and English versions of a story are treated equally in every respect, and indeed that more of their stories are available in Welsh as well as English ... not just the ones they deem to be "of Welsh interest" but their UK and international stories as well. Welsh speakers pay their licence fees too, are we not equally entitled to read what is happening in the world in Welsh?

• The second is to encourage the BBC to produce more original journalism in Welsh first (which should also be translated into English, of course). The best way of improving their standards of written Welsh is to allow their journalists to write more news stories and articles in Welsh.

My fear is that somebody in a layer of middle management in the BBC has now written an internal memo to the effect that all stories should be written in English (and translated afterwards) so that those reading in English never have to suffer another unfortunate mistranslation of this sort. That would be entirely the wrong response.

At a time when a new daily news provider has stepped into the arena in the form of Golwg 360 (even with its teething troubles) the BBC should be raising the quality and scope of its news service in Welsh, not looking to lower it.

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An open letter to Green Party supporters in Wales

I hold no official position in Plaid, and what I'm writing is entirely my own opinion, written on my own initiative. I am going to ask you to do something difficult, but something I believe is in the best interests of both Wales and the political values and policies that I trust both you and I share.

I am asking you to vote for Plaid Cymru in the European Parliament elections on Thursday next week, rather than for your own party.


If we had a fair voting system, there would be no problem. You would number the Green candidates first, and I believe a very good number of you would number the Plaid candidates after that. But we do not have a fair voting system. We just get one vote for one party.

Wales has four European seats. The first three seats will almost certainly go to Plaid, Labour and the Tories, who will each get a share of the vote somewhere in the mid-twenties. The fourth seat would go to the fourth placed party if they were to get more than half the vote of the first placed party. That would mean getting around 13 or 14% of the vote. I do not think that either the Lib Dems or UKIP will get that in Wales, which means the fourth seat will go to the first placed party.

To put it bluntly, and with the highest respect for Jake Griffiths and the rest of your team of candidates in Wales, the Greens will not get anywhere near 13 or 14% of the Welsh vote. Therefore, unjust though that is, a vote for the Green Party will simply not count. So I'm urging you to vote tactically instead.


Of course the situation is completely different in England. England has larger constituencies, therefore it is perfectly possible for the Green Party to win a seat in several of them with around 8% of the vote. The latest YouGov poll showed support for the Greens at 7%, but at 9% of those who said they were certain to vote. So in England you have everything to fight for. There is every chance of Jean Lambert and Caroline Lucas holding their seats, and of you adding a couple of additional MEPs from other regions.

In particular I wish you every success in the North West, where the Greens and the BNP are running neck-and-neck and where voting for Peter Cranie is the best way of to stop the disgusting Nick Griffin winning a seat. And, as I'm sure there must be some Welsh ex-pats reading this in NW England, this video explains how close that race might be, and why voting Green is a more effective way of stopping the BNP than voting for one of the big three parties. I could even overlook the fact that Ynys Môn was left off the map!


But back to Wales. In asking you to vote for Plaid I would not insult your intelligence by pretending that voting Plaid would be the same as voting Green. Although all parties have to an extent come round to understanding the importance of environmental and ecological issues (call that jumping on the bandwagon if you want, but it's so obvious that no party could avoid the issue) very few have understood the idea of sustainability, and fewer still that the ecomony needs to be fundamentally rethought away from the idea that unsustainable "growth" is the panacea for all problems. Nor would I want to hide away from the attitudes and actions of some in Plaid which are definitely less than Green. For example, even though Plaid is an anti-nuclear party, we have a leader in the Assembly that supports a new nuclear station at Yr Wylfa. And in my opinion we made a mistake by not passing on the fuel duty rebate to bus companies, when we should have done all we could to help public transport.

But despite those things, I would not support Plaid Cymru if our policies on environmental issues were not better than those of the other main parties. Our record may not be perfect, but it's not too shabby either.


On a European level, as I'm sure you know, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru are both part of the Green-EFA Group in the European Parliament. We sit together, we work together, we lobby together, we vote together.

If there were any possiblity of the Green Party winning one of the four Welsh seats you would of course be right to go for it. But there isn't, so voting Plaid is the next best thing. But I would not ask you to do this unless there was something concrete to be gained. I need to persuade you that your vote would make a practical difference. So we need to look at some electoral maths in Wales.


Labour's share of the EP vote has slumped to 22% in the UK as a whole. In Wales, which is a more left-leaning country, Labour's slump will not be so bad. I reckon they will get somewhere around 26% of the vote.

In the last Euro election the Tories got 19.4% of the vote in Wales, compared with 26.7% in the UK as a whole. So even thought the Tories are doing relatively well in the UK as a whole, their performance will be about 7 percentage points lower in Wales, putting them again no higher than about 25%.

It's very hard to gauge Plaid's support, because none of the main polls includes Wales as a separate region. We got 17.4% in 2004. We got over 22% in the Assembly elections in 2007, but that is not the same thing. One recent poll put us at 27% in Assembly voting intentions, 5% more than in 2007, which seems to indicate that our support has grown. What I can say with certainty is that Plaid MPs have not been tainted by the expenses scandal in Westminster. So my best guess would be that Plaid's support will be at least in the low to mid 20s. Say 23 or 24% of the vote. I think it might well be higher, but there's no way of being sure about that. That's why we need your support.

At the last Assembly elections the Greens got 3.5% of the vote. That was two years ago. The polls show that your support has increased since then, but it's hard to give a figure specific to Wales. However it must be at least 5 or 6%.

If most of you can bring yourselves to vote for Plaid, our share of the vote goes up from around 24% to around 27 or 28%. That would be enough for us to narrowly beat both Labour and the Tories and therefore win the fourth Welsh seat. The Green-EFA group in the European Parliament therefore gets one more seat. That benefits both our parties, but more importantly it benefits Wales.


Thank you for bearing with me. I know I'm asking you to make a difficult decision, but I trust that the reasons I have given are enough to persuade you. I can only ask.

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Alan Johnson proposes REAL parliamentary reform

It's hard to figure out what the Labour party should do about its leader. There is no doubt that Gordon Brown is an electoral liability, and that Labour will lose the next election because of the thirteen years he has been in charge of the economy. But would they become electable if they changed their leader? That's the dilemma.

I'm sure the Milibands of this world would love it if Alan Johnson stepped up to the plate. Let him bring a glimmer of hope to the party, then let him take the bullet when Labour lose the general election (the fate of all failed party leaders) ... it would let David Miliband in almost unopposed.

If I cared about the fate of Alan Johnson (who seems to be the more acceptable face of Labour) I'd have urged him to keep his powder dry. But something has happened that has made me change my mind.


As reported in yesterday's Times, Alan Johnson has come out strongly, pitching for reform at Westminster. He doesn't mean reform of expenses, because that no longer needs much reform. All that is needed to solve the expenses scandal is the same sort of transparency that we already have in the Senedd and Holyrood. Transparency is what MPs were fighting for so long to prevent; but now that MPs expense claims will be available for everyone to see (as they surely will be) we can be quite sure that no MP will in future make bogus, unjustifiable claims. Expenses are yesterday's news ... even though the Telegraph will spin the story out until the Euro elections on 4 June.

Reform needs to go much deeper than that. Westminster faces some far more fundamental problems which undermine its democratic legitimacy. The principle that has been steadily eroded over the past few decades is that Parliament should be able to hold Government to account for its actions, and exercise scrutiny over proposed legislation to make it better than it might otherwise be. But under Westminster's arcane electoral system a party that gets a minority of the vote invariably gets an artificial majority of seats in the Commons. Therefore government can push through legislation even when a majority of people in the UK object to it. Parliament is effectively sidelined.

A second problem is that the FPTP system effectively disenfranchises most of the electorate. The result of any general election depends almost entirely on what happens in fewer than a hundred marginal seats. All the parties concentrate their resources on those seats ... and the votes of people in the other 500 plus seats are taken for granted. Consequently, because people know their votes won't make any difference, they tend not to bother to vote at all.

Changing the voting system so that the number of seats won more closely reflects the percentage that votes for each party is the one big thing that will go furthest to making Westminster more democratically accountable.


But how do we make this happen? ... because it won't happen until there are enough people in the House of Commons to vote it through, or at least vote to allow us to have a referendum on the issue. Westminster operates on the "Buggins' Turn" principle. It suits both of the two big parties to have total control some of the time, then let the other big party have total control next time, knowing that in ten or fifteen years they'll be back again. It shuts out everyone else, and reinforces the dominance of each party's internal machinery, because no-one can get to any position of power in Westminster without going through the party system.

The only parties who really want PR are the ones who are perpetually disadvantaged by the system (the poor Lib Dems) and—and this is the important part—one of the big parties when they face a long period in opposition. Labour are now in that position ... and that is what gives Westminster a once in a lifetime opportunity to change things.


When New Labour first came to power, they set up a Commission under King Jean XV * to examine the options for electoral reform. Why? Because that's what they had long promised to do while they were in their 18 years of opposition.

We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed early to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system.

Labour Manifesto, 1997

The Commission was put into an impossible position because, now that Labour were in power, the very last thing on their mind was to change the system that had just given them such a huge artificial majority (63.4% of the seats on just 43.2% of the vote). But, nonetheless, they tried hard to come up with a system that introduced a very, very small degree of proportionality, knowing that anything more radical would be squashed.

They came up with something called Alternative Vote Plus, which would keep 80% of MPs elected on a "one MP per constituency" basis (but elected on an order of preference basis, with the winner being the first to get 50% of the vote) with the remaining 20% through top up seats on a closed party list.

Even that most moderate of proposals was rejected (the first of Labour's broken referendum promises) but the second part was introduced for regional seats in the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament. Not much, but better than nothing.


Alan Johnson is now proposing to revive this proposal and put it to a referendum. Let's not kid ourselves; the reason he is doing this is only partly because he believes in PR. It is mostly because Labour are facing two or three parliamentary terms in the political wilderness, so having this form of PR will reduce the impact of what would otherwise be a a series of Tory landslide victories. He is proposing it for the sake of Labour, not for the sake of democracy. But, even so, democracy will benefit.

I think the Alternative Vote Plus system is a very watered-down version of what PR should be. I would much rather see the introduction of Single Transferable Vote in multi-member constituencies ... as is used in Ireland, both north and south. But the chances of getting that for Westminster are almost certainly zero. So the pragmatist in me has reluctantly accepted that it has to be either this (the Commission has already done all the spade work, and made its recommendation) or nothing.

I won't pretend that this is being done for altruistic reasons. It is being done because it benefits the Labour Party. And it will only make it through Westminster because Labour MPs know that they will (at least in the short term) be the prime beneficiaries of the change. Of course they wouldn't ever put it that way; they would say it is a matter of principle. They might even say that they are belatedly offering the referendum they promised for New Labour's first term. Why not let them have that fig leaf? The long term benefits of moving even a little way from the unfair first-past-the-post system will far outweigh the sanctimonious posturing we'll have to listen to.


This means that a form of PR for Westminster is now achievable. The Tories will oppose it, of course. It is not in their interests to support it because Buggins is just about to give them their long awaited turn. The other parties will, I hope, support it. In particular I would urge the LibDems not to play silly buggers over points of principle. Of course STV is much better. But we will need Labour votes in the Commons, and for Labour to campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum. It is better to be united around a workable compromise than to split the vote by holding out for something better. I'd urge people in my own party, Plaid Cymru, and in the SNP to do the same.

So Alan, be bold. Step up to the plate. Under your leadership, I think you can persuade the Labour Party to adopt PR. And by doing so, you will have done more than anyone else to fix the broken political system at Westminster.


* Le Roi Jean Quinze - a pun so old that it is thought to date from pre-revolutionary France

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Welsh Language Survey, part 3: Final thoughts

Most of what is in the survey is very positive, but not everything in the garden is so rosy. The biggest negative is this:

Welsh is heard less frequently in this area these days

Agree strongly ... 19%
Agree ... 38%
Neither agree nor disagree ... 15%
Disagree ... 18%
Disagree strongly ... 6%

Net agreement ... 33%

The number of Welsh speakers has risen, in the main because of a large increase in the numbers of Welsh speakers in areas where the language has been most weak. But one of most disturbing trends is that there are fewer communities where Welsh is spoken by nearly everybody (80% or more). This is largely because of population movement ... both outwards because of limited employment opportunities for the young, and inwards because of people moving in to retire.

Personally, I would not want to see anything done to restrict free movement of people. I think the answers lie in better economic opportunities, better use of planning controls to prevent the sort of developments that would have a detrimental effect on communities, and better controls on holiday homes (both through the planning process and by rates of tax).


But that is the only big negative. Most of us believe that Welsh is not irrelevant to modern life, and that it is not dying. But it still needs help:

Welsh is relevant to modern life

Agree strongly ... 15%
Agree ... 31%
Neither agree nor disagree ... 19%
Disagree ... 21%
Disagree strongly ... 9%

Net agreement ... 16%

Welsh is a dying language

Agree strongly ... 9%
Agree ... 27%
Neither agree nor disagree ... 17%
Disagree ... 32%
Disagree strongly ... 11%

Net disagreement ... 6%

Finally, these are some of the statistics I found intriguing, although not especially meaningful:

Welsh is hard to learn

Agree strongly ... 33%
Agree ... 35%
Neither agree nor disagree ... 12%
Disagree ... 9%
Disagree strongly ... 2%

Net agreement ... 57%

Welsh can be awkward socially

Agree strongly ... 9%
Agree ... 28%
Neither agree nor disagree ... 22%
Disagree ... 25%
Disagree strongly ... 8%

Net agreement ... 4%

But the bottom line is this. We are moving in the right direction, and we will reach the goal of a fully bilingual Wales in the end:

Welsh will be stronger in 10 years' time than it is today

Agree strongly ... 13%
Agree ... 28%
Neither agree nor disagree ... 22%
Disagree ... 20%
Disagree strongly ... 7%

Net agreement ... 14%

Future generations will be grateful to us for maintaining and reviving the Welsh language

Agree strongly ... 30%
Agree ... 39%
Neither agree nor disagree ... 16%
Disagree ... 6%
Disagree strongly ... 4%

Net agreement ... 59%

Because learning any langauge as an adult is not easy, the best way of changing things is by ensuring that our children and grandchildren become bilingual when they are young. That means it will take a generation or two to get a fully bilingual Wales. But this is something that we want, and something that we are acting to bring about ...

... therefore it is something that we will achieve.

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Welsh Language Survey, part 2: Strong business support

This next group of questions is generally related to the use of Welsh in business.

If an organisation wants to offer customers bilingual services, how important do you think it is that an organisation should ensure that self-service tills offer the customer the choice of using Welsh?

Very important ... 21%
Important ... 33%
Moderately important ... 19%
Of little importance ... 13%
Not important at all ... 8%


If an organisation wants to offer customers bilingual services, how important do you think it is that an organisation should ensure that their marketing materials and advertisements are bilingual (Welsh and English)

Very important ... 23%
Important ... 35%
Moderately important ... 19%
Of little importance ... 12%
Not important at all ... 6%


If an organisation wants to offer customers bilingual services, how important do you think it is that an organisation should ensure that staff who can speak Welsh wear badges to show they can speak Welsh?

Very important ... 27%
Important ... 34%
Moderately important ... 17%
Of little importance ... 11%
Not important at all ... 6%


If an organisation wants to offer customers bilingual services, how important do you think it is that an organisation should ensure that their products have bilingual packaging?

Very important ... 18%
Important ... 29%
Moderately important ... 22%
Of little importance ... 18%
Not important at all ... 9%


If an organisation wants to offer customers bilingual services, how important do you think it is that an organisation should ensure that their web site is bilingual?

Very important ... 21%
Important ... 36%
Moderately important ... 17%
Of little importance ... 11%
Not important at all ... 8%


If an organisation wants to offer customers bilingual services, how important do you think it is that an organisation should ensure that staff training is available so that staff can learn Welsh?

Very important ... 30%
Important ... 35%
Moderately important ... 16%
Of little importance ... 10%
Not important at all ... 4%


These responses show that there is very strong support across Wales for Welsh to be more used and more prominent in the sphere of business and commerce. In every case there is an absolute majority of people who think the use of Welsh is important. That should act as a sobering reminder to our AMs and MPs as they look at the Welsh Language LCO.

One point to note is that each of the questions starts with "If an organisation wants to offer customers bilingual services ... " The more astute among us would realize that there must of course be some businesses and organizations which do not want to offer their customers any sort of service in Welsh.

But think about it. What we have seen fairly consistently over the past decade or so is that most large companies do at least pay lip service to offering a bilingual service. Some of them boast about it. But anybody who has tried to use the services provided knows that they are often patchy and second rate.

Some of the questions, about badges and bilingual self-service tills for example, are completely uncontentious no-brainers. They cost virtually nothing. But marketing and packaging materials in Welsh are a step beyond what we currently do. I think there is every case for saying that all statutory information (nutritional information, lists of ingredients, return policies, guarantees and the like) that currently has to be provided in English should also be provided in Welsh.


However the last question above strikes me as being most important, because it recognizes the practical steps that need to be taken in order to provide a proper bilingual service. I've kept one proposition back as a "trump card", which is this:

When staff want to learn Welsh to use at work, the government should help their employers to provide training for them

Agree strongly ... 33%
Agree ... 39%
Neither agree nor disagree ... 13%
Disagree ... 6%
Disagree strongly ... 4%

Net agreement ... 62%

This is important because it again falls into the overwhelming support category. Only 10% disagree. The vast majority of us agree that public money should be spent on helping staff learn enough Welsh to be able to provide a proper bilingual service.

Far from complaining about public money being used to help people learn Welsh, it appears that the vast majority of us will support our tax money being used in this way.

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Welsh Language Survey, part 1: Overwhelming general support

The survey I linked to in the last post takes the form of propositions which people are invited to either agree or disagree with, either strongly or not.

There's quite a lot of information, so I thought I'd group things together under some broad headings. This first group comprises general statements about how people in Wales regard Welsh, and I'm pleased to say that the response is one of overwhelming support.

Welsh is an asset to Wales

Agree strongly ... 35%
Agree ... 39%
Neither agree nor disagree ... 11%
Disagree ... 7%
Disagree strongly ... 4%

Net agreement ... 63%

Welsh is something to be proud of

Agree strongly ... 44%
Agree ... 38%
Neither agree nor disagree ... 10%
Disagree ... 3%
Disagree strongly ... 3%

Net agreement ... 76%

Welsh belongs to everybody in Wales

Agree strongly ... 36%
Agree ... 37%
Neither agree nor disagree ... 14%
Disagree ... 6%
Disagree strongly ... 2%

Net agreement ... 65%

Welsh is important for Welsh culture

Agree strongly ... 45%
Agree ... 36%
Neither agree nor disagree ... 10%
Disagree ... 4%
Disagree strongly ... 1%

Net agreement ... 76%

The responses to these propositions show an overwhelmingly high regard for Welsh. This is not particularly new news, but it's always good to confirm what we already know.

In essence there is a broad consensus about how important Welsh is to people in Wales, and that is why all the main political parties pursue policies aimed at promoting and strengthening the language. No serious political party is going to oppose public opinion which is so unequivocally clear.

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Lost in Translation

The results of the Beaufort Survey for BYIG were published today. Quite a wait, seeing that the survey was conducted in November last year, but fascinating reading which I'll discuss in more detail in another post. However one thing I noticed was a marked difference between the Welsh and English versions of the same story on the BBC website.

     Yr iaith 'mor bwysig â'r amgylchedd'
     Language rated above green issues

I understand that the Welsh version came out first thing this morning and the English followed later. But I happened to read the English version first and, as someone who cares passionately about both Welsh and the environment, it seemed rather like asking whether my left leg was more important to me than my right leg.

Anyway, I checked the BYIG website, and the full survey is available to download here. The actual wording of the question was:

To what extent do you agree or disagree with - Protecting the Welsh language is as important as protecting the environment in Wales?

Agree strongly ... 27%
Agree ... 28%
Neither agree nor disagree ... 15%
Disagree ... 17%
Disagree strongly ... 9%


In other words a net agreement of 29% (i.e. 55% minus 26%)

So where did the writer of the English version get the headline from? I can only assume that s/he took the mor in "mor bwysig â'r amgylchedd" to mean more important than the enviroment rather than as important as the environment.

I always knew you didn't need to be able to speak Welsh to get a job at the BBC ... but I reckon this proves it.

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Glasgow North East

Now that Michael Martin has announced he is stepping down, there will have to be a by-election in his seat, although probably after the summer recess.

The political battlelines there will be very similar to next door Glasgow East, where John Mason of the SNP last year overturned a Labour majority of 13,507 to win by 365 votes ... a swing of 22.54%


I'd have thought that Labour would at least be up for it, but from this article in the Scotsman (which is most definitely not an SNP newspaper) it would seem they are already resigned to taking one on the chin.

Nationalists poised to break Labour's grip on Glasgow North East seat

The SNP are strong candidates to snatch the traditionally safe Labour seat of Glasgow North East in a by-election, political analysts have said. Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University said Labour would be fortunate to hold the seat if the SNP ran as competent a campaign as it ran in Glasgow East last summer.

The constituencies are very similar. They are both deprived, working-class areas with traditionally solid Labour votes, where no other party has done well for decades.

Having won in Glasgow East last year, however, the Nationalists will be confident of doing the same in Glasgow North East, particularly as Labour has become embroiled in the expenses scandal, while the SNP has avoided the worst of the fallout.

Prof Curtice said: "This is traditionally a very safe Labour seat but, at the moment, one would say that the SNP would win it if it can campaign as effectively as in Glasgow East."

Senior sources within Glasgow Labour have also admitted defeat. One said: "It is going to be brutal, and I think we are stuffed. We will either have to put up somebody with a lot of ability and fortitude or somebody who is willing to take the bullet. Willie [Bain] would fall into that category."

Another senior source said: "The party is reeling at the moment. We will fight this hard, but it's going to be very difficult to hold it."

The Scotsman, 20 May 2009

Labour are in free fall. The Euro elections will prove that. But far from bringing on an early general election, it means that there is no possibility of them calling it before next May. No government would call an early election unless it thought it would win. So, like the Major government, they can only limp on to the inevitable, bitter end.

There is however one important difference between 1996/97 and 2009/10. Labour currently have a comfortable working majority in the Commons. This means that they have a year left in which to put through whatever legislation they think is important.

One of those things must be to put through the legislation for the referendum on primary lawmaking powers for the National Assembly. If Labour do it, they have a chance of implementing their manifesto commitments in Wales. Not just as part of One Wales now, but after the Assembly election in 2011 too. That isn't certain, of course, but it is at least within the realm of possibility ... something Labour could fight for and have a fair chance of achieving.

The choice for Labour in Wales is simple. Say yes to having a referendum, and we can to some extent protect ourselves from the next Tory government at Westminster. Say no, and we're stuffed.

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True Devolution

This is a short interview with Katie-Jo Luxton of Cymru Yfory and Rachel Banner of True Wales on the Politics Show on Sunday.


Rachel Banner started as she always does, reminding me of an annoyingly cute doll which instead of saying "let's go out to play" when you pull the cord at the back of her head, invariably says a Yes vote will be "the slippery slope to independence."

Nothing new there, then. But what interested me was the idea that True Wales now wanted what she called "True Devolution". What she seemed to mean was that True Wales do want devolution, but for it not to be "heirarchical" like Westminster ... that local people should make decisions for Wales instead.

Who should these people be? She gives a list of possibilities: teachers, nurses, construction workers and factory workers. That sounds nice.

And who get to decide who would be chosen? Watch again. These people would be "brought in". And what would they be brought in to do? As she says, "into making decisions on politics".


Now that raises a fairly obvious question. Who is going to do the choosing? There are only two alternatives: either we vote for them, or some other body or group decides who they will be. No prizes for guessing which body that will be - it can only be the government of the day at Westminster.

So let's get this straight. If you are against devolution on principle, the only option is for Wales (let's leave aside Scotland and NI for the moment) to be treated just like any region of England. If that is the case, then MPs at Westminster should be the ones directly responsible for making the decisions that affect Wales. They do not need to choose another group of people to "make decisions on politics" in Wales.


It's very easy to think that True Wales are making this up as they go along. They probably want to give the impression that if they can come up with some so-called new idea, but are fuzzy on the details, some people will say, "that sounds good, let's have that instead."

But True Wales are not as naïve as they like to make out. Their intention is quite deliberate: to try and turn the clock back to a time before devolution. Their idea of an appointed council (whatever they chose to call it) is not so very different from the Council for Wales set up in 1949. From a historical point of view, it's possible to think of that as one of the first steps towards devolution, because it treated Wales as a distinct country for the first time in centuries.

But it was a short lived compromise, and was eventually replaced by the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office in 1964.


And as for this new idea of "true devolution"? Again, it's just another instance of trying to turn the clock back. This time to the Consevative Conference in 1994, where someone said:

Conservatives were not against true devolution 'because we practise it, removing tiers of administration and giving individuals choice over their own lives ... The other parties believed in an entirely different form of devolution to institutions acquiring power for themselves. 'We don't need an assembly, an ersatz parliament in Wales, to maintain our nationhood.'

Independent, 15 October 1994

And "true devolution" cropped up again just a few months later:

Being just one day after St David's Day, the Commons yesterday debated Welsh affairs. An English Tory minister lectured Welsh MPs, almost all of a different political hue, on what was good for the Principality and they, in turn, heaped him with opprobrium. This has been the pattern of the annual Welsh affairs debate since 1978 when the dearth of Conservatives with seats in Wales forced Baroness Thatcher to appoint an English MP as Secretary of State ...

Opening the debate, Mr Redwood said he believed in true devolution, in a Wales where free institutions - the family, churches and companies - should also be sources of strength and moral consideration.

Independent, 3 March 1995

Well, the people of Wales didn't agree, but True Wales haven't quite given up on the idea of taking us back to those halcyon days, when there just weren't enough Tories in the Commons for them to have a Secretary of State for Wales that was voted into Westminster by anyone living in Wales.

Plus ça change. They still don't have enough. Cheryl Gillan, their current Shadow Secretary of State, represents Chesham and Amersham; and the third Tory seat on the Welsh Affairs Select Committee is taken by Mark Pritchard - who is the MP for the Wrekin.


True Wales aren't nearly as muddle-headed as they want us to think. They know exactly what they want to take us back to. But in contrast to their idea of "true devolution" a rather more obvious way of achieving it is for us to carry on electing people to "make decisions on politics" in Wales ...

... and for us to ensure that they get the right to legislate on those subjects that are already devolved to the National Assembly. For, despite all True Wales' smokescreening, this is what the referendum will actually be about.

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Re-opening rail lines

There is an article in the Scotland section of the BBC website about the successful re-opening of a disused branch line from Stirling to Alloa.

More than twice the number of commuters are using the new Alloa rail link than predicted, latest figures from Transport Scotland have revealed. The 13-mile stretch of track is marking its first year in operation since being re-opened after a break of 40 years.

Since May 2008, more than 400,000 passengers have used the service, far in excess of the 155,000 predicted.

BBC, 15 May 2009

This of course mirrors our own experience in Wales, where virtually exactly the same thing happened after the re-opening of the Ebbw Vale line. This was the story after the first four months:

More than 200,000 passengers used the Ebbw Valley rail line in its first four months - smashing Assembly targets for the number of people set to use it.

The service was used by 201,000 passengers up to mid-June, 50,000 passengers more than the National Assembly projected would use the service in the entire first year. Assembly figures projected the demand for the service would be 150,000 in the first year, rising to 453,000 after four years.

South Wales Argus, 17 July 2008

And this was the story after the first year:

The revived Ebbw Valley railway line celebrated its first birthday last week.

The £30million project, which saw the reopening of 18 miles of existing freight track to provide hourly passenger services from Ebbw Vale to Cardiff, reopened on February 6 2008, when the first train departed from Ebbw Vale Parkway at 6.40am.

Since then the service has proved highly popular, exceeding user expectations with 573,442 journeys in the first 12 months.

South Wales Argus, 10 Feb 2009

There's a lesson to be learnt here. Neither the Welsh nor the Scottish Government invented figures out of thin air. They made decisions on the advice given to them by civil servants and outside consultants. If these figures had been so wildly out just once it might be explained by unique circumstances, but when the same thing happens twice it strongly suggests that the models being used to predict rail use are inadequate.

There are at least half a dozen other opportunities to re-open old sections of track in Wales. The cost is usually quite minimal because the major civil engineering works such as cuttings and embankments are still there.


Pound for pound, it is much more cost effective to be looking to re-open closed sections of railway. We need the boldness of vision to look further ahead than we currently are. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean:

The new Ebbw Vale service has a limited capacity due to the decision to make it single track. At present the service runs from Ebbw Vale to Cardiff because the signalling upgrade work necessary to run a direct service to Newport (the responsibility of Network Rail) has not yet been done. But when that has been completed, the capacity of the new line will not be enough to run a full service to both Newport and Cardiff - just half the current service to each.

To dual that track or provide passing loops from Cross Keys to Llanhilleth would now cost about £11m. But if it had been done before they started running trains on it, it would only have cost £1.5m. The huge difference in cost is explained by the fact that it is far harder to build new track alongside an already operating railway.

We can see exactly the same thing on the Merthyr to Cardiff line. Only yesterday the rail service between Merthyr and Cardiff started operating a half hourly service, where previously there had only been an hourly one.

Merthyr-Cardiff trains increase

But this was only made possible at a cost of £19m, most of which was accounted for by the difficulties of improving an already operating line.


Now I'm not for one moment suggesting that we don't do such upgrades. Of course we must do them ... but we must do a lot more. The main point I'm making is that we mustn't let these very necessary upgrades divert our attention from the task of creating a much more integrated rail network in Wales ... in particular, one that joins up the broken ends of the lines we have in order to re-create new rail links between North and South Wales.

This is something that requires a political lead because it is not part of Network Rail's remit to consider anything other than the stretches of railway that currently exist. Their Route Utilization Strategy for Wales doesn't even address the issue. It is up to us to put these things on the agenda.

Things are different in Scotland. In addition to the Alloa line they are undertaking two other similar projects. The Ardrie/Bathgate link, which will provide another rail route between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the Waverley Line, which has the potential to extend to Carlisle.

If Scotland can do it, why can't we?

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Emulating my hero


The ayes to the right have it!

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Electrification from Paddington to Swansea


Network Rail have just published a consultation document on electrification. The Financial Times has a good summary of what it contains:

Network Rail says big electric scheme would cut costs and journey times

A compelling case for the first big electrification programme for 20 years will today be presented by the company that runs Britain's railways - a move that would cut rail costs and lead to faster, more reliable and cleaner journeys.

The Network Rail consultation will say electrification of much of the Great Western route from London to western England and Wales and of the Midland main line from London to Sheffield makes most sense. Neither project would need any government grant or subsidy.

Geoff Hoon, transport secretary, last night welcomed the report, calling it a "valuable step". The Department for Transport is due to decide later this year on a resumption of rail electrification.

"The government is committed to electrification because of the benefits it brings to rail passengers, through more reliable and comfortable electric trains and a reduction in the country's carbon emissions and the cost of running the railway," Mr Hoon said.

Electric trains cost 33 per cent less per mile to maintain than diesel trains, the document says. They cost 45 per cent less in fuel, 18 per cent less to lease and produce less damage to track. Passengers should also enjoy shorter journeys thanks to electric trains' superior acceleration.

While emissions vary between train types, carbon dioxide emissions per mile from electric trains can be less than half those for comparable diesels.

The cost of putting up electric wires on the Midland main line from Bedford to Nottingham and Sheffield, and on the Great Western route from Maidenhead to Bristol and Swansea is likely to be relatively low. The Midland route cost would probably be about £100m and the Great Western about £120m.

Financial Times, 15 May 2009

Well, I'm certainly not going to disagree. The cost and environmental benefits are self evident, and I think it should have been done years ago.

Network Rail say that the projects don't need any grant or subsidy. That leaves me with mixed feelings: it means it will be paid for by rail fares that are already mile for mile higher than nearly everywhere else in Europe ... but at least it gets done, and that's the most important thing for now. The financial parameters are set by Westminster, we'll have to leave it to another time and a better government to properly factor in the cost of carbon emissions from road journeys and put that money into public transport instead.


Skimming through the full consultation document, the thing that we in Wales have to be most aware of is highlighted here:

The business case for the Great Western Main Line is most efficient when brought in line with the introduction of the Super Express fleet as part of the Intercity Express Programme, thereby enabling purchase of electric rather than diesel IEP and allowing the benefits of electrification to be taken from day one of their introduction.

The business case for electrification from Maidenhead (where the Crossrail electrification is assumed to stop) to both Bristol and Swansea is in the range of high value for money to financially positive. Not surprisingly, the case is stronger for Maidenhead to Bristol given that it involves the conversion of less mileage and carries more traffic. The incremental electrification from Bristol Parkway to Swansea is a relatively low value for money element of the overall scheme. The extension from the main line to Oxford is high value for money and would be recommended for implementation.

The section of line from Paddington to Maidenhead is going to be electrified as part of CrossRail. To put it bluntly, electrification from there to Bristol is a no-brainer. However, although going on to Cardiff and then Swansea is still financially positive, it is less so.

There has been a lot of behind the scenes negotiation going on. Even a few weeks ago things looked bleak. But to quote Chris Franks today:

“The Welsh section of the Great Western line was not included in the original draft of these plans but Plaid has put a strong case forward and managed to get it changed. Plaid’s Ieuan Wyn Jones has been taking this battle to the highest level and all the effort is now paying off.

“This is a huge boost to south Wales and if these plans are carried out, there will be significant improvements in services for businesses and ordinary travellers alike. But this is just the beginning of our campaign on this issue – we’ll continue to argue at Westminster and European level to get investment for other lines which are equally as important.”

Plaid website

But it's still not completely cut and dried. There is a 60 day consultation period, ending on 14 July 2009. The task for all our politicians, from all parties in Wales, is to now make sure that this electrification scheme does not get "rationalized down".

And I'm sure responses from us, the general public, won't go amiss either. Network Rail say they are "seeking feedback and comments to support and inform our further analysis".

So don't let them down. Especially if you are a passenger who uses the line. We have to give Network Rail no excuse not to electrify the line as far as Swansea.


A late addition, 11.21pm. There's another article here. It says that electrification would bring journey times to London down from 1hr 48min to around 1hr 25min.

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Plaid to win two Welsh seats


With less than three weeks to go to polling day for the European elections, it's time to focus on what is going to happen. Most opinion polls headline what is happening in the UK as a whole, rather than what will happen in each country, but I'm going to start by looking at Scotland.

In the latest published YouGov poll (for the Sun, 13/14 May) the headline European voting intention in Scotland is:

SNP ... 40%
Labour ... 21%
LD ... 14%
Con ... 13%
Greens ... 4%
UKIP ... 4%

That is an amazing lead. Scotland's representation has been reduced to 6 seats in this election (if Scotland were independent it would probably have 14 seats, and if we were independent we'd have 11 ... but that's another story). It would give the SNP 3 seats, with Labour, the Tories and the LDs on one each. That will be a big success for the SNP.


From the same data it's hard to work out what would happen in Wales because Wales is included with the Midlands. Before the Telegraph got into full swing I thought that Plaid, Labour and the Tories would all poll in the mid-twenties, but I wasn't at all sure what the order would be. Each of these three parties will win one seat. The only real question is who will win the fourth (and final) seat. It's very hard to see either the LDs or UKIP getting more than half the vote of the biggest party, so the fourth seat will be won by the party with the biggest vote. A week or so ago I didn't have much confidence that it would be Plaid.

But since then the scandal over MPs' expenses has deepened, leading to a large part of the population baying for political blood. I might question the direction in which some of that anger is aimed, but the anger is genuine and justified. The YouGov poll shows a huge surge in support for UKIP as a reaction against the three big UK parties. But what does that mean for Wales?

As Vaughan Roderick noted in his blog today, UKIP draw their support from the right. So any growth in their support will be at the expense of the Tories. A week or so back I genuinely feared that the Tories might get the biggest share of the vote in Wales, but if that gets split with UKIP they won't.

Labour, it goes without saying, are in freefall. Their UK figure is now 20%. In Wales that will be higher, but maybe only 25%. The champagne socialism of the likes of the Kinnocks and Touhig, which has got up my nose for years, has now got up everyone's nose!


Which of course leaves Plaid. These may be "famous last words" on my part, but none of Plaid's MPs has been doing anything other than making reasonable claims for accommodation that nobody would question they need because of the distance and travelling time to London. After all, if UKIP are getting kudos for being seen as "clean" (even though, as VR points out, one of their MEPs was jailed for making false claims and another is facing fraud charges) then Plaid are certainly cleaner.

All this can only push Plaid's vote up, to the point where I now believe we can and will get somewhere around 27% of the vote, and therefore win the fourth Welsh seat. As support for Labour plummets, what other party will people with generally left leaning views vote for? The biggest challenge is to get people out to vote rather than stay at home in disgust, because not voting means that nothing will change.


Finally - even though, sadly, it seems that this election is going to be focused more on the misuse of privilege and the integrity of our elected representatives than it should be - we need to remember that elections are about policies. Irrespective of the candidates the parties put up, it is the policies they enact which effect our daily lives.

So with that in mind, I'd invite people to click on the picture and read the Plaid manifesto.

But if manifestos aren't your thing, then ask yourself this question instead:

Is it better to have MEPs from a UK party in the European Parliament ... or MEPs from a party that stands up and fights for Wales?

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Golwg 360 ... the countdown

It was at the end of May last year that Golwg were selected to develop a new web-based daily news service in Welsh. A lot of work has been going on behind the scenes, and the good news is that the service is due to launch tomorrow under the name Golwg 360


For the last week or so there has just been a big digital clock counting down to the launch, but now there's this promotional video which provides the first taste of what to expect:


It looks good to me. Can't wait!

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Welsh-medium Education Strategy ... first thoughts

I've held back from commenting on the WMES while I tried to get to grips with all 116 pages of it. If anyone wants to do the same, it's here:

Press Release
Full Consultation Document

I've only read it once, so I might well have missed some important things, but here are my initial thoughts.

One thing that puzzled me from the news reports was the target of 25% of 7 year olds being in WM education by 2015. The percentage of primary school children in WM education is very close to that already (23.07%) so it appeared to be a case of setting so easy a target that you are guaranteed a pat on the back for achieving it.

In fact the target is for 25% of KS1 assessments to be made in Welsh. That figure is currently 21.0%, so it is a slightly harder target to meet, but still not all that ambitious.


The Consultation Document sets out six strategic aims:

Strategic Aim 1: To improve the planning of Welsh-medium provision in the pre-statutory and statutory phases of education, on the basis of positive response to parental demand

Strategic Aim 2: To improve the planning of Welsh-medium provision in the post-14 phases of education and training, to take account of linguistic progression and continued development of skills

Strategic Aim 3: To ensure that all learners develop their Welsh-language skills to their full potential and encourage sound linguistic progression from one phase of education and training to the next

Strategic Aim 4: To ensure a planned Welsh-medium education workforce that provides sufficient numbers of practitioners for all phases of education and training, with high-quality Welsh-language skills and competence in teaching methodologies

Strategic Aim 5: To improve the central support mechanisms for Welsh-medium education and training

Strategic Aim 6: To contribute to the acquisition and reinforcement of Welsh-language skills in families, in the workplace and in the community

I think these aims are quite sound. One thing I wasn't expecting which is included is an examination of the way that we teach Welsh as a second language in EM schools. That is very welcome. We mustn't lose sight of what the end result should be, namely that every child who grows up in Wales should be able to speak both English and Welsh.

WM education is only a means to that end. It should, theoretically, be possible for EM education to deliver that end result too. It does do that for some children, but only a small percentage. The growth in demand for WM education is largely the result of EM education failing to deliver what it should have started to deliver when Welsh was made a core subject in the national curriculum in 1990. In marked contrast WM education nearly always produces children who are proficient in both languages. That's why the demand is so high.

There is a long standing consensus in Wales about the importance of teaching children to speak Welsh. This is from a survey in 2000:

[Welsh] is important for Welsh culture ... 89% (84% net)
[Welsh is] something everyone can be proud of ... 83% (78% net)
It is important that children learn to speak [Welsh] ... 81% (74% net)
[Welsh] belongs to everybody in Wales ... 80% (71% net)


The net figure is obtained by subtracting those who disagree from those who agree, so only 7% think that it is not important for children to learn to speak Welsh.


The two things I was expecting: namely the requirement for local authorities to survey demand among parents of very young children, and the need to dramatically improve the supply of teachers able to teach in Welsh, are both there.

My only comment is that it is appears to be putting the cart before the horse to set a target of 25% without knowing what the surveys are going to reveal. It would be far more useful to make the commitment to meet the actual surveyed demand. But in practical terms we know (from the few surveys that have been conducted to date) that the parental demand is going to be far higher than 25% ... so the real problem is logistics: providing enough staff and enough suitable school buildings to meet that demand.


One thing that isn't included that I would have liked to be there is some revision of the statutory mechanisms for consulting on school amalgamations and closures in order to provide sufficient physical capacity to meet the increase in demand for WM education that they are aiming for. It goes without saying that if the percentage in WM education goes up by 4 points, the percentage in EM education will go down by the same amount.

There is a mention of it here:

• To expect local authorities (as provided for in the draft circular on School Organisation Proposals) to consider demand for, and access to, Welsh-medium provision when planning and bringing forward statutory proposals to change school provision.

But I think that's far too vague. To give a concrete example: in Canton, West Cardiff there is a real need to increase WM primary age provision. There are 4 EM schools, each one of which could be closed with the remaining three easily able to meet the local demand for EM places between them. But instead of being able to put forward a proposal along the lines of "which one of these schools would it be least disruptive to close?" (which would encourage a consensus among parents in the whole community) the formal statutory process must single out just one school for closure. A few years ago Cardiff chose Radnor (and failed to get it through) now they have chosen Lansdowne. To the parents of children in either this must appear to be some sort of arbitrary choice ... as if they, and they alone, have been "picked on". Choices like this are always going to be difficult, but as a matter of principle they must surely include the whole community affected. That's my greatest disappointment in the document.

But it is only a consultation document at this stage, so I have twelve weeks to make my points in the hope of revising the final strategy document ... and so does everyone else. We can even do it online.

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The minimum wage ... what will the Tories do?

In my post last night I was angry enough at the fact that the minimum wage was only going to be increased by 7p. But I was even more angry when I read of a Bill introduced in the Commons to allow workers to "opt out" of receiving the the minimum wage. It is due to receive its second reading this Friday.

Christopher Chope calls for minimum wage opt-out

Of course this particular bill is going to fail. But it does raise the question of what the Tories intend to do when they win the next UK general election. Tories don't introduce such bills for fun, they do it because they want to test out the water to help frame the policies they will adopt when they are in power.

It would be very bad for their image if they abolished the minimum wage completely, and they could easily not increase it allowing its relative value to fall over the years. But they obviously want to see if they can go further.

The idea of an "opt out" is deviously clever. It allows them to spin it along the lines of "widening choice" or "increasing employment opportunities to help aid recovery". So the language they use is that of freedom and rights. This is how Christopher Chope began his speech:

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to introduce more freedom, flexibility and opportunity for those seeking employment in the public and private sectors.

Two months ago we were celebrating the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights. Article 23.1 states:

“Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

Article 6 of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, to which the United Kingdom is a party, states:

“The State Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right to work which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work, which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.”

It may come as a shock to many Members of this House to know that, currently, many people are not given the rights to work enshrined in those important United Nations articles.

But, after all the fine idealism, the bottom line is this:


This must be a comedy routine. I can't believe that anybody could really believe this, and I can only admire the consumate professionalism of someone able to deliver this sort of speech with a straight face.

Yet ConservativeHome said:

He made a very persuasive speech, and it should be noted that no-one rose to speak against it ...

So, pound to a penny, I reckon that this concept of an "opt out" along these lines will become a reality when the Tories are elected. Of course I could say that this is a reason not to vote Tory ... but that would be superfluous. It wouldn't matter if no-one in Wales voted Tory, there would still be a Tory government in Westminster, because more people in England vote for the Conservatives than for any other party (that was true even in the 2005 election, by the way).

So I'll say this instead: If we in Wales think that a minimum wage is an important tool to help reduce poverty and create a fairer, more equal and more inclusive society, we need to make sure that we have the ability to legislate on the matter through the National Assembly.

In particular I'd say this to Labour, because they can do something to help protect the minimum wage in Wales now, while they are still in power at Westminster.

But will they ... ?

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The minimum wage rises ... by all of 7p

First, credit where it's due. In my opinion introducing the minimum wage was one of the better things Labour did. If we want to move people out of poverty (something that we are singularly failing to do) this is one of the best tools by which to do it, not least because it should act to make being in work more attractive than being on benefits.

But only 7p? It works out at about 1.2%, but that is pretty derisory. To put this year's rise into perspective the minimum wage rose by 17p in 2007, and by 21p in 2008. Even in these difficult economic times the government should have insisted on it being more. What would another 10p add to the wage bill of someone working a 35 hour week? Only £3.50 ... plus a little more for employer's NI.

To put that into the prespective of this week's big scandal, would that really bump up the price of having your moat cleared, or the Wisteria on your chimney removed?

The only silver lining is that the rate will apply to those 21 and over, as opposed to the current 22 or over, from 2010. But for the life of me I can't see why it shouldn't apply to everyone over 18.


And, while on the subject, it's also worth noting that the minimum wage is not very well enforced. There have only been a handful of prosecutions in the UK as a whole. Yet in Wales there were nearly 800 instances of firms not paying it and all the signs point to the situation actually being far worse than that. In 2005-6 the rate of non-compliance in investigated cases was a huge 32%. Wales had just 8 investigators, all based in Cardiff.

For references to the figures, look at this post I made in the Wales Online forum last year.

Leanne Wood has also raised the issue here, here and here on her blog.

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Easing the way for expansion of WM education

On Cymru'r Byd today there is an interesting piece on Carmarthenshire Council's decision to revise its plans for a school in Llanelli in order to meet the ever-growing parental demand for Welsh-medium education. It was in the local papers last week.

BBC, 12 May 2009
This is South Wales, 6 May 2009

Sir Gâr is in an odd position with regards WM education. Across the county about 60% of its primary school children go to WM schools, but that disguises that fact that in most of the county the figure is much higher, with a pocket in urban Llanelli where most education is EM - and it is here that the increase in demand has been most marked. Things have been lurching from crisis to crisis for the past few years (last year one school had 128 applications for only 60 places) and the only way to meet that demand has been to put more and more children in temporary classrooms.

The proposal is now to make the new Ffwrnais school a two form entry designated WM school, and attach a nursery. This has been on the cards for some time. But will building this school meet the increasing demand? The answer is almost certainly no. All it will do is provide permanent accommodation for children who are now being taught in portacabins. Of course this is welcome, but it doesn't really answer the long term need.


I think there's a better answer. In this county many of the primary schools are community schools. These are generally small, and the medium of education reflects the existing community language which, in urban Llanelli, is usually English. For those parents who want their children to have a WM education, the option is to travel a bit further and go to a designated WM school.

But, as more and more parents opt to do this (and with the general demographic decline in the number of children) these community schools are attracting fewer and fewer pupils ... and are themselves threatened with closure or amalgamation as a result. A double whammy.

As we're seeing all over Wales, there is nothing more guaranteed to stir up resentment than closing schools. They are focal points of the community, and it is always a good thing to be able to walk to a local school only ten minutes away rather than have to travel a few miles to get to one of the designated WM schools.

The key to solving both problems must surely be to let some of these community schools turn themselves from EM to WM. This very rarely happens but, ironically, Ysgol Ffwrnais itself was one that did so a few years ago, and set a very good example of how things could work without disrupting communities.

Basically all that needs to happen is for the school to teach its next yearly intake in Welsh rather than English, and so on, so that in six years the transition will be complete. This can happen relatively easily in a place like Sir Gâr, because a high number of the teachers who teach in English can also speak Welsh. The school structure and ethos therefore remains intact, and if there are teachers who don't speak Welsh, they have at least five years in which to make an adjustment. The community is very likely to accept it, not least because even in urban Llanelli 29.69% of people speak Welsh (the average for Sir Gâr as a whole is 50.03%) ... and that was back in 2001.

In other words, I believe a new model for expanding WM education is necessary in this part of Wales. I'm not suggesting that every community school becomes WM, perhaps only a third or a half need to. I firmly believe that parents who want EM education for their children should have that choice, even though it might mean having to travel further to get it (which, after all, is only what happens now for many children in WM education).


One of the big failures in planning for WM education up to now has been the failure of some local authorities to take the very simple step of surveying the demand for WM education among parents of very young children ... thus giving themselves a few years in which to respond to demand. For some inexplicable reason the Independent/Labour council in Sir Gâr refuse to do so. But in every authority that has (Newport, Wrexham, Swansea and Caerffili to date) the survey has shown that more parents want WM education than the authority had provided for.

One of the things that should be in tomorrow's WMES is a requirement for all local authorities to regularly make such surveys. But it is just part of what should be a more comprehensive and flexible way of responding to the ever-increasing parental demand for WM education. What we have to break away from is the current framework which dictates that the only way of getting more WM capacity is to either build a brand new WM school (which is expensive), or wait for an EM school to close because of surplus capacity and then move in (which often means that the WM school ends up in the wrong place) or to take the decision to close and take over an EM school (which causes unnecessary resentment, not to say anger, in local communities).

There is more background on the situation in Sir Gâr on the Syniadau Forum.

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A Transfer of Powers

Just last month responsibility for education and training in Welsh prisons was transferred from Westminster to Cardiff Bay. It didn't require an LCO or an Act of Parliament ... just a mutual agreement that this was something that could be better handled by the Welsh Government rather than the UK Government under a Transfer of Functions Order. Here are the details:

     Welsh Government website, 1 April 2009

As far as I can remember it wasn't reported in the media, and I only stumbled upon it today while I was looking for something else on the Assembly website. I googled to check, and found nothing except this.

But I found this story on the BBC only the day after the powers had been transferred.


Prison has 'inadequate training'

Inspectors have criticised Parc Prison in Bridgend for not having enough resources to carry out its role as a training prison for Wales. An official report said there were only 70 education spaces for 1,200 male prisoners at the private jail. The Prison Reform Trust said prisoners needed to learn adequate skills to be properly prepared for their release.

Parc said it was reviewing the matter but the local MP said inmates must have up to 40 hours a week on training. Bridgend MP Madeleine Moon told BBC Radio Wales: "We've all got to be worried about that because if we don't use the opportunity while these people are in prison to give them access to the skills that they need to have a different life on the outside, we're wasting the time in the prison."

She said academic staff at the prison were "working their guts off" but they had too much to do.

[There were also] only 289 work places, some of them in contract workshops with too few opportunities to gain work-related skills. At any one time, there were at least 400 officially unemployed prisoners, and many of those in the contract workshops were in fact unoccupied, the report added.

BBC, 2 April 2009

This is just about as damning an indictment of how not to do things as you can get. Prison is not just a punishment, it is also an opportunity (perhaps the only opportunity) to change a person so that they don't re-offend when they get back into society at large.

Most people in prison have poor educational standards, and many probably don't have the skills to hold down a decent job. So education and training must be a priority, but instead they are in chaos. As Wales Online reported in their version of the same story:

The management of the prison promised to address the issues but Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers said training at the prison had never been properly funded.

She said: "Welsh prisoners therefore either need to leave Wales or to miss out on the education and training opportunities they need in order to increase their life chances outside prison. This is unsustainable."

Wales Online, 2 April 2009

So, now we get a clearer idea of why Westminster were quite happy to get rid of the problem. And why they gave us a half decent budget for it ... some £2.65m.

But transferring responsibility for prison education and training to the Assembly is no silver bullet. There is no guarantee that we will do any better, but then again we can hardly do a worse job than Westminster has done with the only training prison in Wales, can we?

We in Wales have been willing to embrace several new ideas in education in the ten years since devolution, such as the Welsh Bac and the Foundation Phase. I would like to think that we can be bold enough to grasp this issue by the horns too.

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