Brown bottles electoral reform

This is the second of the two things I wanted to highlight from Gordon Brown's speech yesterday.

Hearing Gordon Brown say he is in favour of electoral reform is a bit like hearing Peter Hain saying he's in favour of law making powers for the Assembly. Their thinking is exactly the same:

Do as little as possible, make sure that your own party will be the main beneficiary of any change ... and leave everything until it's too late for you to be able to implement it.

I've already said what I think about the Alternative Vote here and here. In a nutshell, it's nowhere near as good as STV, but I think that a small deliverable change is better than no change at all.

If Gordon Brown wanted to be positive he could easily have introduced legislation for a referendum on this right now, in the seven months he has left at Downing Street, with a binding referendum being held on the day of the election. It could be combined with a question on fixed-term parliaments.

Only a few months ago—when Gordon Brown's position as Labour leader was under threat and Alan Johnson was one of those put into the frame to replace him—electoral reform seemed more likely than it had been for some time. Things went quiet when he was given the job of Home Secretary instead but, from what I've picked up in a few conversations, electoral reform was being spoken about quite earnestly behind the scenes. This seemed to be confirmed in tonight's edition of Newsnight, in which Michael Crick said that some senior figures he had spoken to were taken by surprise at the announcement, but still hoped to be able to change this and adopt stronger proposals.

Perhaps it is still possible to change this but, as much I'd like to see it, I doubt it will happen. The Prime Minister has now defined "his" position, and he is likely to doggedly hold on to it at all costs.

So, far from Brown's announcement that there will be a referendum if Labour win the next election being something positive or radical, it is in fact a cop out. He bottled it.

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Free Personal Care ... an Update

I said there might be something nasty in the small print about the cost of the care proposals announced yesterday. I haven't seen anything in print, but on Sky News this morning Gordon Brown said it would cost £350m for the first year and £670m for the second ... so the total is already much higher than reported yesterday and now stands over the £1bn mark. He said the portion that isn't coming from the NHS budget would come from Local Authorities, through ... yes, you guessed it ... efficiency savings.

Nobody reading this needs me to tell them that this is a joke. It is two-faced: a UK Government proudly announcing that they are going to do something new in England, but relying on local government to pay for most of the costs. Councils won't be able to do it without increased funding from central government.

So we are left with this:

• Labour in Westminster obviously think free personal care is a good thing.

• But they have never been prepared to finance it at any time over the previous twelve years. When they had the opportunity do so so, they had other priorities.

• So they announce it within a few months of the end of their term of office, on a heavily back-end weighted programme (nearly twice as much in the second year as the first).

• They then will leave it as a headache for the Tories to pick up, knowing that the Tories will either have to water it down, scrap it, or fund it using one of the mechanisms Labour themselves had decided on only a few months ago.

• So whatever the Tories do, Labour will claim that they introduced "free personal care" and the Tories snatched it away again.

It can only be hypocrisy ... spin, if you want to use a gentler word.

Meanwhile, in Wales, we now have a situation in which care charges are capped at £50 a week. In contrast to what Gordon Brown has just promised this, although more modest, was a commitment that was actually deliverable and has now been delivered.

It is also worth noting that the figure in the BBC report for those who pay for Council-provided personal care in Wales is 14,000 out of 3m, or 4.66%. I think it's fair to say that our proportion of old people in need of care is not going to be lower than in England or Scotland, so the difference can only be that the remainder are already getting such care for free.

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Free Personal Care

This is the first of two subjects mentioned in Gordon Brown's speech today that I think are worth commenting on.


In broad terms I welcome this. It will make arrangements in England closer to those which have existed in Scotland since 2001.

One of the best reports on how things have worked in Scotland was in July 2007 from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation:

     Free personal care in Scotland: recent developments

     •   Press Release
     •   Summary
     •   Full Report

The first thing I would note is that providing free care for 350,000 of the "most needy" is likely to leave a substantial number of "less needy" people in the same position as they are now.

This is a graph of those receiving home care (as opposed to residential care) in Scotland:


40,000 in a population of 5.1m is 7.84%, and the number must have increased in the last four years. In contrast 350,000 in a population of 51m is 6.86% I'm not entirely sure of all the swings and roundabouts concerning entitlement in England as compared with Scotland, but it seems obvious that a smaller percentage of English people will benefit.


Now, as the changes in Scotland were introduced when Labour were in government there, it seems reasonable to ask why it has taken so long for UK Labour to change their minds on the issue. For me, the announcement that this is to be free is quite astounding given Labour's position only a few short months ago. This is from a BBC report in July:

Ministers are looking to revamp the way the £6bn social care pot is divided up.

The current system targets the poorest. And while they will still get extra help under the plans, the government is proposing to extend the state's contribution to everyone. But in return it wants to bring the public on board as direct contributors to the system.

Ministers ruled out raising taxes and instead put forward three options whereby the state provided a basic package and the public contributed the rest. This could either be done through paying any costs themselves, taking out insurance or introducing a compulsory fee.

BBC, 14 July 2009

As Labour's U-turns go, this is one of the most remarkable. "Free" can only mean that it is going to be paid for out of general taxation. The details are sketchy right now, but the reports are that "less than half" (£400m according to the BBC) of the £870m over two years will be found from the English NHS budget. As no-one is now talking about compulsory fees or insurance, it must (unless there's some nasty small print) mean another £470m or so will be new money from the Treasury.

And this of course will benefit both Wales and Scotland, as we will get a Barnett Consequential on this new money.


So the big question for us is what will happen in Wales. Plaid's position is quite clear. This is from our 2007 manifesto:

Free Care

Plaid believes in securing free care provision for older and disabled people, in principle and as an aim. We reject the distinction between nursing and personal care. Intimate personal care can not be described as optional or a matter of convenience for the patient. By linking entitlement to care given by nurses, the current funding structure leads to older people and disabled people being denied appropriate care thereby causing preventable health deterioration and often hospitalization.

We set this out as a two-stage process: first to cap and then to scrap care charges for the elderly.

And we did manage to get at least the first part of that commitment into the One Wales Agreement. Local authorities will only be able to charge a maximum of £50 a week for home care services, a change announced in June.

The Barnett Consequential on what was announced today will enable us to do more. It will work out at roughly £27.5m over the two years. But to make Council-provided domiciliary care free for all the 14,000 people in Wales that use it (assuming they all pay £50 a week) would cost a maximum of about £70m over two years.

So we will still have tough choices to make, and especially given the general constriction in our Block Grant over the next few years. But remember that England's "most needy" old people needing care will only be a fraction of the "all" that Plaid is aiming for.

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If anybody loses the will to live while listening to Gordon Brown's speech today, this might prove therapeutic:


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... and he's done it again!

Yes, as I said in the previous post, Glyn Davies seems very eagar to show his credentials as a potential writer for the Daily Mail. This time he's done a piece about the CellNass biomedical archive at Mochdre, Newtown.

I won't repeat it all, but I will highlight this sentence towards the end:

I do hope it's not the Assembly Government's prejudice against the private sector at work again.

Link to full post

Once again Glyn seems to want to get in a little dig against the what he wants others to think is the Welsh Government's "prejudice" against private companies like this.

In fact, this facility was set up with the help of aid from the Welsh Government, and opened by none other than Ieuan Wyn Jones himself. We can read about it in the company's own magazine which has this picture and quote on the front page:


If England wants to privatize aspects of their National Health Service, that should be entirely up to England to decide. But it gives us in Wales the opportunity to do their work for them instead ... and we have an Assembly that is proactive in encouraging companies like this to set up facilities here when they could just as easily set them up somewhere in England instead.

That isn't a narrow party political issue either (for I'm sure the aid was arranged before Plaid were part of the Welsh Government) it's simply an example of devolution enabling us to bring skilled jobs to Wales. Yet Glyn Davies wants to paint a picture of "prejudice against the private sector at work again".


Please keep this up, Glyn. I thought the odds against Heledd winning Montgomeryshire at the election were long ... but you're gallantly doing what you can to shorten them. Which is all for the best, really. I'm sure writing stories like this for the Daily Mail will be a better match for your talents than being an MP.

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Glyn Davies writes for the Daily Mail

I suppose no-one should be too hard on Glyn Davies. Faced with Lembit Opik as the incumbent MP, he probably feels that writing a piece worthy of the Daily Mail would be one rung higher on the ladder down to hell than writing for the Daily Star. This probably explains why he's chosen to write a blog entry that displays the journalistic skills the Daily Mail has honed to perfection.

Glyn would have us believe that he went to the Powys Council website to find the dates of the half-term school break:


We wanted to know when half-term fell this year, so checked the Powys County Council web site. It informed us of the following;

Non-pupil days may be varied into alternative dates within a school year, other than pupil school days, subject to a minimum of one term's notice to the Heads of Schools and Inclusion. If schools wish to vary a non-pupil day into a pupil day, this change can only operate on a catchment basis and must involve all the schools in a particular high school catchment area to avoid increasing the Authority's transport costs. Up to 3 of the 7 non-pupil days may be converted into twilight sessions, subject to a minimum of one term's notice to the Heads of Schools and Inclusion, with one non-pupil day being deemed to be the equivalent of 3 twilight sessions of 2 hours each. The calender allows for 188 school days and 7 non-pupil days in line with legal requirements.

Well that's clear enough then.

View from Rural Wales, 25 September 2009

Well yes, it does say that. But if we look at the document itself, we can see that what Glyn has quoted is only a footnote from the bottom of the page.

What the same document says much more clearly in the top half of the page is that Powys's half term is from 26th to 30th October, with the Friday before (the 23rd) as a non-pupil day.

In other words Glyn had got the information he wanted, but then went out of his way to convey the impression that Powys Council could not give him that simple piece of information, and had instead resorted to gobbledygook.


It's cheap political spin. No doubt with the sub-text of wanting to convey the impression that the Tories would make sure that residents and taxpayers would get simple, straightforward information if they were in charge.

Glyn Davies might be a decent Tory ... but he's still a Tory. And that means he'll still do all the cheap things we expect Tories to do in the run up to an election.

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Playing Silly Buggers

In my post on Tuesday about the fiasco over proposals for translation of the Assembly's Record of Proceedings and, in particular, the compromise announced on Monday, I said:

I'm only left wondering what the precise logistics will be, because they surely won't publish one version of the Record with the English translation immediately, then publish another version with both translations a week later. That would just be more work and money wasted. So I'd be willing to bet we just have the same version as we have now, but published after three days. If they leave it any longer, then those who need the translation into English will start complaining loudly enough.

I lost that bet.

As we can read on Vaughan Roderick's blog today, the Assembly Commission have gone and done exactly that. As this both unreasonable and illogical, I can only conclude that the Assembly Commission are playing a game of silly buggers.


As I said in the previous post, the obligations which the Assembly have undertaken with regard to translation are set out in their Welsh Language Scheme. In it there is no mention at all of the timescale for producing a translated Record of Proceedings. There is no obligation on them to produce it within 24 hours, or three days ... or even a week! Therefore, if they had taken the decision to delay releasing the Record for a day or two (in order to, as they claim, save money on translation) that decision would have been entirely consistent with their obligations.

However, if they decide to translate from Welsh to English first ... and then wait another few days before translating from English to Welsh, they are very clearly not treating both languages equally, and are therefore breaking not only their own WLS, but also the basic principle behind the 1993 Act.

As I said, if they had chosen to produce the full bilingual Record after a few more days, the Welsh Language Board would have had no grounds to step in. But by choosing to do it as a two-stage process, the Assembly Commission has now given the WLB new grounds to step in. Indeed it is their job to do exactly that.


But leaving obligations and legal matters to one side, the route the Assembly Commission has now taken is quite obviously perverse. The stated idea behind the change was to save money. Producing two separate documents costs more money than producing one. It is also inefficient from the point of view of the translator's time, which of course equates to even more money. Previously a translator would have worked on both at the same time, now the same translator is being asked to think in two languages but translate in only one way ... and then put that work to one side for a day or two, only to have to come back to it, do the very same thinking all over again, and translate it the other way.

No rational person could propose doing things in such a way. The decision is perverse and illogical. That is what why this decision can only, in my opinion, have been taken as some political point scoring exercise. Dafydd Elis Thomas seems to be on some sort of crusade against the WLB because they had the temerity to challenge the Commission's original proposal.


There is one other point to raise. This "saving" was first put forward as part of the budget proposals. These budget proposals need to be approved by the Assembly. They haven't yet been voted on. Yes, it is the Commission's job to make day-to-day management decisions about how the Assembly operates. But this is not a "day-to-day" decision ... and neither was it presented as such. It was presented as part of the annual budget proposal. Therefore the Commission is completely out of line to make any change to the existing arrangements before the annual budget has been approved.


But as a word of advice to any AM who might be reading this blog, I would urge you not to insist on producing a fully bilingual version of the Record within 24 hours when (as it surely must be) the matter is debated in Plenary. If the current arrangement requires overnight work (though I'm not convinced it does) then there probably is some scope for saving money by doing it during normal working hours instead. Agreeing to publish the Record on-line by the end of the next day would achieve this. So why not compromise on "within 36 hours" and let everyone come away from this sorry episode with some of their dignity left intact?

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Opportunities for Broadcasting

Although the BBC is probably not doing such a bad job when it comes to distributing both subject matter and production around the UK (at least it's trying to address the issue) it is becoming increasingly obvious that other broadcasters are not doing nearly so much. ITV is a case in point, because their current financial model is such that it cannot supply the national (or, in the case of England, regional) diversity that we used to take for granted.

In the Scottish Parliament yesterday, Michael Russell of the SNP presented a paper outlining various options for the future of broadcasting in Scotland, which can be read by clicking the image below:


To give a taste of what it contains, this is from the news release:

Tuning in to Scottish viewers

Television viewers in Scotland could be guaranteed more content relevant to their lives and interests under different constitutional arrangements, Culture Minister Michael Russell said today as he published a discussion paper on Broadcasting - an area currently reserved to Westminster.

The Opportunities for Broadcasting paper sets out - as part of the National Conversation on Scotland's future - what could be achieved in relation to broadcasting under four different constitutional options:

     • maintaining the status quo
     • implementation of the Calman Commission's proposal
     • devolution of further powers to Scotland
     • full independence

Under current arrangements broadcasting is reserved to Westminster, although there is a dispensation allowing direct Scottish Government funding of Gaelic broadcaster MG Alba.

The Calman Commission made one recommendation on broadcasting - that Scottish Ministers should have responsibility for appointing the Scottish member of the BBC Trust.

Devolution of further powers to Scottish Ministers could enable adoption of measures to strengthen accountability for broadcasting in Scotland. That could include powers to establish and/or fund public service broadcasting bodies to ensure Scottish viewers have a choice and quality of programmes which reflects their needs.

Under independence, full powers for broadcasting would transfer to Scottish Ministers. It is likely that a national broadcaster would be formed based on the existing assets and resources available to BBC Scotland.

Tuning in to Scottish viewers - 23 September 2009

I haven't read it yet, but I thought posting about it might give us some ideas and stimulate a discussion about how we address the issue of broadcasting in Wales.

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Alwyn ap Huw, in his Miserable Old Fart blog, talked about the Caernarfon prison fiasco in this post.

In it he referred to what Dyfrig Jones had written, and put a Google Translate link beside it. I couldn't resist clicking it. Dyfrig's first sentence was:

Dwi'n dal i fod yn gandryll ynglyn a phenderfyniad y Llywodraeth i beidio ac adeiladu carchar yng Nghaernarfon.

Which Google had translated:

I'm still on-Wye about the Government's determination to build a prison and not in Caernarfon.

I smiled. Of course no translation program is perfect—between any pair of languages—but having spent most of the past couple of days trying to figure out how computers think (I was having problems re-encoding some video) I could see how it had taken this strange excursion. The Welsh name for Hay-on-Wye is Y Gelli Gandryll: Celli meaning a copse or grove, and Candryll literally meaning shattered ... although that probably isn't the etymological origin of the name. Google had gone haywire and taken gandryll to mean "on-Wye".

In fact "yn gandryll" has a different modern meaning, which to my mind is best conveyed by the wonderful English phrase "incandescent with rage" ... although "furious" will do if you want to be less imaginative!

But that got me thinking. Perhaps this was how the town got its English name. They simply translated the Gandryll as "Hay-wye-er". And who knows ... perhaps that's how "haywire" became a word in the English language.


You were looking for a literary explanation ... weren't you?

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Caernarfon prison ... a bizarre explanation

I am disappointed, and in fact quite surprised, that the UK Government has today announced that the former Ferodo/Friction Dynamex site near Caernarfon is "not suitable" for a prison.


     Plans for town prison are dropped - BBC, 22 September 2009

In the first instance, this specific site was chosen as the most suitable location for a new prison in Wales by the Ministry of Justice. If there were any questions over its suitability they would have been highlighted in that selection process.

Secondly, Gwynedd Council have specifically endorsed the building of a prison on the site in principle, subject only to the reservations about design which are entirely to be expected in the planning process for any substantial building.


In fact, I'm left wondering if the decision has anything to do with "suitability" and is not instead entirely motivated by financial considerations. It is no secret that the current owners of the site, Bluefield Caernarfon Ltd, have been looking to develop the site in other ways, outlined here and here.

I must admit that I thought this was just a way of trying to persuade everybody that the site was worth more than it actually is (the buildings are full of asbestos and it would cost a lot to clear the site) in the hope of getting a better price from the UK Government.

However the problem with that explanation is that this story appears to suggest that the UK government had not even got so far as to make an offer to buy the site. If this is true, it appears to confirm that we have a government in Westminster that says one thing but then does quite the opposite.

Yet another factor would be that the UK government would certainly have wanted to build the prison under PFI, but the rules regarding PFI have changed so much that there is no way that this particular financial vehicle could be used to fund it.


Anyway, the real question now is how to move forward. In my opinion it was a good site, but it certainly isn't the only suitable site for a new prison. The criteria for choosing a site should be proximity to Caernarfon (because that is the centre for Criminal Justice in North West Wales) and good transport links.

I suggest two things are done:

The first is that the UK Government reaffirms its commitment to build a prison on suitable site in the area.

The second is that Gwynedd Council (and perhaps Ynys Môn, as a site just over the Menai might do equally well) works to identify a number of alternatives sites for consideration within the next couple of weeks.

I think that we in Wales have got to be pro-active in this. We can't leave it to the current UK government because they have no particular reason to sort this out ... they'll be out of office well before it's built. If we want this prison, we have now got to work hard all over again to get it.


For some background on the need for a new prison in North Wales, see this discussion on the Syniadau Forums.

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The Assembly Commission caves in

I haven't yet said anything on this blog about the row over translation of the record in Plenary into both Welsh and English. But I think it's time to say something now, in the light of this statement from the Assembly Commission, taken from the Politics Cymru blog:

As Wales’s principal democratic institution, the Assembly has a duty to enable all citizens and Assembly Members to be informed about, and contribute fully to, the democratic process in their chosen language – through Welsh or through English. The Government of Wales Act 2006 stipulates that “In the exercise of the functions of the Assembly Commission effect must be given, so far as is both appropriate in the circumstances and reasonably practicable, to the principle that the English and Welsh languages should be treated on the basis of equality.” (Schedule 2 Section 8(3)). Since 2007, the Assembly Commission has significantly developed and extended the bilingual services provided by the Assembly ...

In June and July this year the Commission considered its strategic priorities in relation to the draft budget which will be laid tomorrow. Our aim was to limit the budget increase for 2010-11 as far as possible, so as to make as much of the Welsh block as possible available to support public services, while still delivering effective services for the Assembly. One of the options that was considered related to the translation of the Record of Proceedings. At the Commission meeting today we took account of the representations that have been made to us by Assembly Members and others. We concluded that we should take four main steps ...

Firstly, we will continue to translate the Record of Plenary Proceedings from English into Welsh so that a fully bi-lingual written record is produced, but to do so within 3 to 10 days of each plenary meeting.

Secondly, we will introduce the facility for all proceedings related to legislation (i.e. all proceedings at Stages 2, 3 and 4 as well as committee scrutiny) to be translated.

Thirdly, we will establish an independent review to examine our delivery of bilingual services prior to the formal review of the Assembly’s Welsh Language Scheme in 2010.

Fourthly, we will take steps to bring forward legislation to put the status of the two languages used in the business of the Assembly on a sound statutory footing.

The Welsh Language Act 1993 was never intended to provide a framework within which a national legislature operates ... but the Legislative Competence Order (LCO) on the Welsh language, when made, will provide us with the power to do so. The Commission intends to consider the options which will be open to the Assembly when the LCO in question becomes law.

I would start by saying that what the Commission originally proposed went against its own Welsh Language Scheme. WLSs are generally misunderstood, and the Assembly Commission seems to have done its best over the last few weeks to add to that misunderstanding.

In particular, the Welsh Language Board does not dictate—and does not have the power to dictate—what any WLS contains. It can persuade, based on the principles laid down in the 1993 Act and the grounds of reasonableness. But in the end, it is up to the public body concerned to set out the specific things it will do in relation to the Welsh language. In the case of the Assembly, it made the commitment to translate the Plenary record into both Welsh and English (and, pointedly, the decision to only translate the record of non-Plenary sessions into English). What the Assembly Commission proposed a few weeks ago was against its own WLS, and the WLB only stepped in because it is their statutory duty to monitor how well WLSs are implemented.

So when Dafydd Elis Thomas said this on The Politics Show on Sunday:


... we don't want to be in a situation where the legislature is being told by bodies answerable to government ministers how it should operate ... and that's the basis of my deep constitutional unease about what the Welsh Language Board has been doing over the past months.

... he was being entirely disingenuous. He was just trying to muddy the waters, by deliberately confusing a simple issue of sticking to commitments into one of "constitutional principle". I'm reminded of the attitude of some parliamentarians in Westminster who take the attitude that they, as members of the body in which sovereignty ultimately rests in the UK, think it puts them above the law. Look at where such arrogance led them over the issue of MPs' expenses!

No, the truth is that any person or organization is answerable to the law. A WLS is essentially a contract, and you cannot break such contracts with impunity any more than a government can renege on a treaty.

Now of course it is open to the Assembly to renegotiate the terms of a contract, and they are quite free to do so and agree a brand new WLS. But no, the Assembly Commission thought their lawyers could argue that their WLS was just a good-will exercise and not binding on them. They were always completely wrong about that, and now they have backed down ... which is only sensible, seeing as it would have cost them more than the money they hope to save to actually take the matter to law.


The compromise is that they will take a few days longer to produce the record. Under the terms of the WLS there is no specific mention of a precise timescale, so what they propose does fall within the letter of what they agreed to do in their WLS. This compromise means there are no grounds for the WLB to step in. And it shouldn't make too much difference to most people, because all the sessions are on

I'm only left wondering what the precise logistics will be, because they surely won't publish one version of the Record with the English translation immediately, then publish another version with both translations a week later. That would just be more work and money wasted. So I'd be willing to bet we just have the same version as we have now, but published after three days. If they leave it any longer, then those who need the translation into English will start complaining loudly enough.


But that's only the headline issue. The second point in the statement is actually very positive because it addresses the obvious question of why Plenary sessions were treated differently from non-Plenary session in the first place.

My only query is what "we will introduce the facility for all proceedings related to legislation to be translated" actually means in practice. The facility already exists, the question is whether they will use it or not! Peter Black, who is the LibDem member of the Commission, is very definitely of the opinion that:

... we also extended the present service by agreeing that in future all committee records in which legislation is discussed and scrutinised will also be bilingual.

A Solution Offered

But Peter has a habit of not using words as precisely as he should. Even so, I hope his understanding is right and I'm sure it will be clarified in due course.


As for point three, it looks like the Commission is trying to have another little dig at the Welsh Language Board. As if they are hoping that someone they appoint as "independent" might just be a little less scathing than the WLB are likely to be. The fact remains that it is the WLB's job to monitor and review whether the Assembly has abided by its own WLS.

A point four is just a statement of the obvious. When the Language LCO gets through, there will be a new Welsh Language Measure.


So where does all this leave us? I think the Assembly Commission can only have been shocked at the outcry their proposal raised. And to me it is heartening to see this outcry from people in all parties in the Assembly.

Providing the statement on translation of non-Plenary sessions into both languages is actually made watertight, I think we probably come out of this wholly unnecessary mess with more than we might have hoped for.

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A Referendum in Catalunya

Although entirely unrecorded by the London-based media, I came across a story that I think will be of interest to all those who want to see stateless nations in Europe become independent.

As I'm sure many of us will know, the Spanish Constitutional Court's response to calls for referendums on independence in both Euskadi (the Basque Country) and Catalunya has been to prevent such referendums from taking place at all on the grounds that they are against the Spanish constitution. That was what happened to Juan José Ibarretxe's proposed referendum this time last year.

The situation in Catalunya has been slightly different in that the Statute of Autonomy of Catalunya was passed by the Cortes in Madrid and supported by 73% in a referendum in 2006. However its legitimacy has been challenged and it still waits to be fully implemented, pending a decision by the Spanish Constitutional Court which has been much delayed, but is now expected in only a few weeks' time.

One of the things that would be allowed if the Statute of Autonomy were to be implemented would be for the Catalunian government to hold consultative referendums. As far as I can make out, the general expectation is that the Constitutional Court will will reject the Statute of Autonomy for this very reason, which would be consistent with their ruling on the Ibarretxe referendum.

So the pattern seems pretty clear. Spain's way of handling democratic calls for independence is to refuse to allow people to vote on the issue.


This background information should help make sense of what happened last weekend. A small Catalunian town called Arenys de Munt held its own referendum on independence. The courts stepped in to ban the town authorities from holding the referendum as originally planned on the grounds that only Madrid can decide whether to call a referendum. But the town got round the ban by arranging for another group to organize the referendum instead.

The result was quite remarkable:

Do you agree on Catalonia becoming an independent, democratic and social state-of-law, integrated in the European Union?

Yes ... 2,569 ... 96.2%
No ... 61 ... 2.3%

Turnout ... 41.0%


Now of course the results are distorted in that most of those who are against independence would have seen no need to vote. But the turnout in the 2006 referendum was only 49% so, on that basis, an official referendum would still be won very easily.

The repercussions of this vote are likely to be far more significant than the way one town in one part of Catalunya voted. This is from one of the more informative blogs I read:

Future Consequences of the Arenys Referendum

The referendum of Arenys de Munt has mobilized the Catalan independentistes in a way which I have not seen since we came here in 2005. This movement - or rather, these movements, since it (quite typical for Catalans, I think) is split into many factions - has agreed on December 13 as the day to hold referendums in as many municipalities as possible. What started in Catalan heartlands - the comarques Berguedà and Osona – has spread to a hundred municipalities and will grow further. Today, Barcelona “suburbs” like Gavà and big cities like Tarragona and Reus have announced their possible participation.

The Arenys referendum has also forced a lot of politicians to “come out of the closet”. In the name of social realities and more urgent priorities, these people usually avoid demanding independence, but for their own credibility, they will have to stand up for a “sí” if there is a vote.

Finally, many until now mainstream catalanistes – including members of the ruling socialist party (PSC) - reveal that they do not accept for the autonomy charter (l’Estatut) of Catalonia to be diluted, and that is exactly what is expected to happen when the Spanish Constitutional Court’s finally makes its verdict on it.

The text of the Estatut has been ratified democratically three times: by the Spanish parliament on the highest level, but before that by the Generalitat and subsequently through a referendum in Catalonia. If that is not enough, many Catalans will ask themselves if it makes sense to negotiate about autonomy with Madrid. Before the end of the year we will have a better picture how many prefer a more far-reaching solution.

Wirdheim in Vilanova, 18 September 2009

To my mind it seems unbelievable that that even a limited degree of autonomy, backed by the Catalunian Goverentment, the Madrid Government and a referendum could be ruled as being "illegal" under the Spanish constitution. And it seems equally clear that if the democratic calls for referenda are repeatedly blocked, public opinion is only going to intensify.

So let's see what happens in the next few months. If only a half a dozen or so towns and cities organize similar referendums, maybe things will fizzle out. But if the momentum builds and twenty ... or fifty ... or a hundred towns and cities do it, then such pressure will be impossible for the Spanish authorities to ignore.


In one respect the situation in Spain right now is very similar to the situation of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom before the peace agreement. One key breakthrough was that the UK declared in 1993 that it had no strategic interest in the province, thus paving the way for its future to be decided entirely by the people who live there.

If Spain could bring itself to make a similar decision it may well not lead to inevitable independence. The opinion polls (see the tables at the bottom of this page) show figures which are roughly equivalent to those in Scotland. Given a two-way choice between independence and the status quo, between 30% and 40% of people would vote for independence. But given a three-way choice between independence, greater autonomy (in Catalunya's case as a nation within a federal Spain) and the status quo, most would take one step rather than jump two.

The issue is one of democracy. If Spain does allow the people of Catalunya (and by implication the people of Euskadi) the right to decide their own future then these countries might well continue to be part of Spain in some form. But if that basic right is denied—which I suspect will happen—it can only polarize things and therefore increase the likelihood of outright independence from Spain.


These two reports picked up the Reuters' wire on the story:

     New York Times

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Progress Politicians Forum

As she mentioned in her blog today, Betsan Powys has found out that and have both been registered in the last few days.

She wonders if this signals the start of campaigns for the Labour leadership in Wales, as when Peter Hain registered Hain4Labour in his attempt to become deputy leader of the party in Westminster.

Well, of course it does. But I would suggest that if Betsan wants to know who's really serious about getting the post, she or one of her researchers should look for a shadowy think-tank called the Progress Carwyn/Huw/Edwina/Jane Forum, and check how much money has been channelled through it.

The Progress Peter Forum was a good example of the way a Labour politician will try to progress a political career ... and look where he ended up!

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Public Spending Cuts

I just watched Newsnight talking about whether Labour or the Tories were telling the truth about cuts in spending on public services.

As always, the answer is to listen to the exact form of words used. When someone talks about "no cuts in public spending" they might just be right ... since public spending includes spending on benefits for those thrown out of work and interest payments on the loans that the UK Government has taken out to rescue the banking system, and had previously taken out to fund tax cuts. Spending on both will increase dramatically.

This is very different from "no cuts in spending on vital public services" ... because if much more money is spent on servicing the UK's debt and supporting an increased number out of work, there will—unless taxes rise—be correspondingly less for vital public services such as health and education.

There's nothing new about such "sleight of tongue". A few years ago New Labour were in fact right when they said they wouldn't put up the rate of Income Tax ... Gordon Brown just put up the rate of National Insurance instead. A perfect example of not actually telling a lie, but completely failing to be honest.


I suppose such bickering is par for the course for these two parties as an election approaches. Given the financial mess that we've been landed in, cuts in services are inevitable because a considerable proportion of taxpayers' money is going to have to pay for these other things. So don't be fooled by either Labour or the Tories, each are as good as the other at trying to convey an impression of truthfulness while at the same time blaming the other for untruthfulness.

Thankfully, people in Wales can vote for a better party at the next election.

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A tactical mistake

There's probably not much of what Adam Price says that I fundamentally disagree with, but one part of what he's quoted as saying in today's Western Mail is worth challenging.

He wants the Welsh Affairs Select Committee to be made up in proportion to the number of seats held in Wales, rather than the overall composition of the House of Commons.

On the surface this sounds fine, but it has major flaws.


The reason the WASC has an "almost statutory role" is because it, like other similar committees, represents the overall make up of the HoC. This enables these committees to make recommendations which broadly reflect how the HoC will vote on any issue. This has immense practical advantages, because the purpose of such committees is to act as a microcosm of the HoC, so as to save the whole House from having to become minutely involved in too many different areas to do any of them justice.

Ultimately power rests with the HoC as a whole, and any vote on any issue can potentially be taken by the House as a whole. Those issues that go though with just a handful of votes do so because it isn't worth the hassle of every MP voting on every issue when the outcome is going to be decided on party lines anyway. If there were a situation where a committee was balanced differently from the overall make up of the HoC, it would end up being irrelevant because they could simply vote down any proposal it makes.

The only way that could change is if some sort of convention were introduced that the HoC as a whole would not overturn the decisions of the committee. To me, that sounds very like the sort of fudge the Tories dreamt up for an English Grand Committee.

Besides that—and much more seriously—the HoC is elected by under a FPTP system which gives an artificially inflated majority to a party that represents only a minority. This is particularly the case in Wales.

Westminster Election, 2005

Lab .... 42.7% of vote ... 72.5% of seats
Con ... 21.4% of vote ... 7.5% of seats
LibDem ... 18.4% of vote ... 10.0% of seats
Plaid ... 12.6% of vote ... 7.5% of seats

I think everyone, not least the Welsh Labour MPs, knows that Labour are in for a big fall in their share of the vote in the next election. I think the moot question is whether Labour's share of the vote will be above or below the 30% mark. Yet even so I think it is a cast iron certainty that Labour will remain the party with most Welsh MPs. Again, the moot question is whether the figure will be above or below 20 seats.


So what would Adam Price's proposal mean in practice? Assuming that there was a convention that the HoC did not overturn the WASC's recommendations, it would mean that a party with say 30% of the Welsh Westminster vote gets an effective veto on any proposed new areas of legislation for the Assembly.

Look at the big picture. The big constitutional issue of the day is whether the Assembly will get primary lawmaking powers. The decision about whether we get a referendum or not rests entirely with the Labour party: their votes are necessary to get the two-thirds majority in the Assembly, their majority is needed to get it through Westminster. If we now hand the WASC veto powers on a plate, then Labour will not support a referendum. Why should they? Why would they give up their power of veto?

The major factor in focusing the minds of Welsh Labour is that Westminster, and in particular the Secretary of State for Wales, has so much power over the Assembly. That's been all well and good for them while Labour has had a majority at Westminster. It has given them a "double handle" on politics in Wales. The only reason they will now change their minds is because they know they will lose the next election and someone else will hold one of those handles.

In tactical, as well as practical terms, Adam has got this one completely wrong. He is giving Labour MPs a straw to clutch at, and some of them will reach for it. As they do so, it will divert their attention from the real task at hand, which is to transfer power to the Assembly so that a future Tory Secretary of State for Wales has less influence over our own ability to make decisions on matters which affect Wales.

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A seat for Dafydd Wigley

The first part of this post probably doesn't need saying. The system of giving people life peerages is hopelessly corrupt. Gordon Brown didn't bother even putting forward any Plaid members for a peerage. The system left it entirely up to him, and he simply chose not to. Paul Flynn made that point very well in this post.

Of course we might expect a Prime Minister to act reasonably and fairly ... but why should he? His idea of politics is not to do what's right, but to do what benefits him and his party. That's why Mandelson and Kinnock (G) were rushed in at the drop of a hat.

The question is, What do we do about it?
The answer is, Get Dafydd Wigley elected instead!


But where? Vaughan Roderick asks the question on his blog, which Simon Dyda has kindly translated:

The question that arises next of course is will Dafydd try to return to the Assembly? The party rules giving women the first place on the regional lists prevented that from happening last time. That won't be a problem in 2011 if he decides to try for a place on the North Wales list. The system was changed following the last elections.

The problem is that there is no certainty that Plaid will win any seats on the regional list for North Wales next time if support for Labour at the constituency level continues to decline. As in Mid and West Wales it's possible enough that some of the northern regional seats will become consolation prizes for Labour next time.

Dafydd could look for a seat in another part of Wales, of course. He decided not to do that last time for personal and family reasons. If he felt different this time there are a few opportunities available especially if the Conservatives in Westminster stick to their intention to overturn the rule preventing individuals from trying for a constituency seat and a regional one at the same time.

Merthyr, where Dafydd began his political career, is a possibility. It would be strange if Plaid Cymru's new development unit weren't to target that constituency. More attractive perhaps would be the constituency that Dafydd "won" in the 1994 European elections, namely Montgomeryshire. With Mick Bates resigning perhaps the Liberal Democrats will have to re-paint their "Wigley out" slogan there in Comins Coch.

Original - Translation

Yes, he is quite right to say that Plaid's regional seat will almost certainly be lost if we gain another FPTP seat in North Wales. The safe thing is to stand for a seat which Plaid already hold, but I definitely don't want to see someone die, get taken ill, or "spend more time with their family" in order for him to get it.

Yet I don't think Merthyr is right for him. He's from the north, and if he doesn't stand in a northern seat he will be seen as no better than a candidate parachuted-in. But Montgomery is, well ... awkward. These are the figures from 2007:


LibDem ... 8704 ... 39.03%
Con ... 6725 ... 30.16%
Plaid ... 3076 ... 13.79%
UKIP ... 2251 ... 10.09%
Lab ... 1544 ... 6.92%

The constituency is just too right wing. We would have to make up more than 5,000 votes. So I'd like to suggest a better seat, Clwyd West. These are the 2007 figures:

Clwyd West

Con ... 8905 ... 33.98%
Lab ... 7309 ... 27.89%
Plaid ... 7162 ... 27.33%
LibDem ... 1705 ... 6.51%
UKIP ... 1124 ... 4.29%

These are my reasons:

• First, Plaid is starting from a much stronger base.

• Second, the constituency is more left leaning than right leaning. If, as we all expect, Labour's vote is going to plummet, who are their traditional supporters going to turn to? Isn't it likely that they will vote for a party that has not forgotten the social values that Labour used to stand for?

• Third, the LibDems are nowhere. If there is going to be any degree of tactical voting, it certainly won't go their way.

• Fourth, if UKIP make good on their promise following the Euro elections they will draw votes away from the Tories rather than from any other party.

• Finally, he has at least some connexion with the consituency in that he was at Rydal Penrhos School in Colwyn Bay.

Of course that still makes nothing certain. It means only that it is going to be a two horse race between Plaid and the Tories. The Tories are probably favourites right now, but Dafydd Wigley is a "big name" candidate in a way that the sitting Tory can't possibly match ... and that should make enough difference to swing it.

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Nationality and Race

One would expect someone like Nick Griffin to deliberately misunderstand the difference between nationality and race:


But even I would have expected someone like Peter Black to understand the difference. However, from what Cynical Dragon brought to our attention today, he obviously doesn't:

Don't think that just by calling yourself 'The Party of Wales' you are actually the 'Party of Wales'. At the end of the day you are just a bunch of politicians like all the rest of us. And actually the difference between racial nationalism and civic nationalism is not that great! But yes Wales is a lot bigger than any political movement.

As for Plaid they define their nationalism by their Welshness thus their race forms part of their identity as a party.


I'm reminded of the time I enjoyed on the WalesOnline forum making fun of their BNP poster. I didn't think it needed saying again, but it evidently does. So I'll repeat one of the shorter posts I made then:

I too "want to live in my own country, amongst my own people, in my own way". My countrymen and women include:





Anyone who regards race as a component of nationality is a racist.

I'd be more inclined to think that Peter Black has let the recoil from another of his cheap snipes knock him back into a hole ... which he could yet climb out of if he chose to reframe his words. But to judge by his attitude on Facebook, he seems to want to stand by what he said. That makes him a racist.

And if he or anyone else thinks I'm being harsh on him, my answer is that woolly thinking from people who should know better is one of the things that allows racism to take hold. Being Welsh is a matter of nationality, and the things that define one's nationality (in Wales, as in the rest of Europe and the Western world) have nothing to do with race. If you mix the two things up, you can never hope to stand against racism.

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The case for a Welsh-medium school in Risca

In my last post on Welsh medium education in the County Borough of Caerffili I finished by asking where the additional WM schools should be. It would be silly to ask the question without making an attempt to answer it.

I did mention that a new WM primary school was being proposed as part of the Bedwas Colliery redevelopment, so I'll take that as a need that has already been addressed and for which there is an obvious solution. So the next priority I can identify is Risca (or Rhisga) and this post briefly sets out the case and supporting evidence for a WM primary school there.


At present the nearest WM school to Risca is Cwm Gwyddon at Abercarn, which is about 7km by road from Risca. As I mentioned before, the Welsh Government turned down Caerffili Council's application to provide three additional WM schools in 2003. One of those locations was Trinant. In the decision letter, one reason quoted for Jane Davidson's refusal was:

• Further Welsh language provision is required in the Risca and Crosskeys area, rather than at the top of the valley.


So even six years ago there was a recognized demand for WM education in Risca. Now let's see if we can substantiate that and put some hard figures against it. As it happens there is an established WM nursery called Cylch Meithrin Dewi Sant in Ty Sign. This was inspected by Estyn at the end of 2006, and this is an extract from the report:

This Welsh medium cylch meithrin is held in St David’s Church Hall in the Ty Sign area above the town of Risca. The nursery serves a very large housing estate and its surrounding area which is acknowledged as being socially deprived with a high level of unemployment.

The nursery is open for four sessions per week, with 30 children between two and a half and three years of age currently on the register.

After leaving the nursery, nearly all the children transfer to the nearby English medium primary school as the nearest Welsh medium provision is a considerable distance away and the local authority does not provide for their transport.


So, from the evidence of this one nursery group alone, in just one part of Risca, it seems clear that there is at least enough local demand to support a one form entry WM school somewhere in Risca.


Now let's turn to Caerffili's own Welsh Education Scheme for 2009-14. One of its objectives is:

• To ensure that there is a 100% transfer rate from cylchoedd meithrin and Welsh medium primary schools.

WES - Item 2.1 page 66

From the Estyn report, that is very far from being met. Of course, one obvious question to ask would be whether more parents would be prepared to let their children make the journey to Cwm Gwyddon if it were to be paid for. It's a good question, but unfortunately it's not really relevant because we can see from the WES (page 35) that Cwm Gwyddon now only has 10 surplus places in total, i.e. fewer than two spare places per year group.


The final part of the equation is of course the hardest. Having established that there is a clear need, the question is where that school should be and whether it's affordable. The three latest schools built or being planned in Caerffili (at Penallta, Waterloo and Bedwas) were, or are going to be, built under Section 106 agreements. All three are part of large new housing developments, and a Section 106 agreement is a contract under which the developer agrees to provide either a sum of money or build something of value to the community in return for getting planning approval for the development. In these three cases the Council essentially gets a new school building for free.

There is no similar derelict industrial site in Risca, and my guess would be that the Council doesn't have the money to build a new school, so we need to look at the existing provision to see if there is room for some juggling. This is a map of the area showing the four schools that feed into Risca Community Comprehensive School. Click on it to open it at a larger size.


From the 2007 figures, these are the numbers at each of the feeder schools and their capacities:

Waunfawr Primary School
132 on roll, 152 capacity, 20 surplus places

Risca Primary School
Infants building ... 91 on roll, 73 capacity, 18 over capacity
Junior building ... 254 on roll, 247 capacity, 7 over capacity

Ty Sign Primary School
458 on roll, 569 capacity, 111 surplus places

Ty Isaf Infants School
86 on roll, 150 capacity, 64 surplus places


Now I hesitate to say this because it will sound glib, but at a strategic level it is clear that Ty Isaf Infants School could be closed, with all its current pupils accommodated at Ty Sign Primary instead. Even if we completely ignored the Welsh-medium factor, the number of surplus spaces at Ty Isaf would at the very least put a question mark over its continued viability as a school. Also the two schools are only 500m apart, so there would be little inconvenience for the children concerned.

However if we do take the WM factor into account, even a modest 20 children a year choosing WM education would reduce the numbers going to EM schools by 140.


So next we need to look at whether the current Ty Isaf building would be suitable for use as a WM school. Their website has an informative video, and this is a satellite picture:


It is an infants school at present, with four teaching areas in the main building and a nursery in a separate annex. As it only caters for a nursery and three year groups, its capacity of 150 (excluding the nursery) is on the small size for a full 1FE primary. However there is room on the land between the school and the railway for either temporary classrooms in the short term, or for a permanent extension. Temporary classrooms are not ideal, but the sad fact is that an awful lot of schools, particularly WM schools, are forced to rely on them. Two additional classrooms would raise the capacity from 150 to the standard 210 for a 1FE primary school.

If it were up to me, I would not close the school and then re-open it as a WM school, but would implement the change gradually by making next year's intake entirely WM, with any children who want an EM education going to Ty Sign instead. Thus no child who is already at the school would have to change school, and when children reach the end of KS1 they move on to Ty Sign or Risca Primary anyway. The nature of the school would be a bit unusual for the first few years in that teaching in classes would be in Welsh but the communal activities would be predominantly in English. I don't think that should cause any major problem. After three years the school would become fully WM, so even the children in the first WM intake would have their entire KS2 education in a normal WM context. It would not be necessary to provide the additional accommodation until then.


Of course I in no way want to suggest that the current Ty Isaf is anything other than a very good school. According to Estyn it is one of the best. But that isn't the point. The point is that the parents of somewhere around 25 children in Risca each year choose to send them to a WM nursery but then have to switch to EM schools. Why should we make it so difficult for these children to continue with a Welsh-medium education, and why aren't they entitled to have this locally in Risca?

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Ysgol Penalltau

In the shadow of the old Penallta Colliery—almost literally, as we can see from the picture below—a new school has been built. It opened its door to children for the first time today, but it's had a bit of a chequered history.


Way back in 2003, Caerffili Council put forward plans which included building three new WM primary schools, one of which was at the old Penallta Colliery site.

The response was a lot of umming, ahhing and general grumpiness from a Welsh Government which wasn't too keen on co-operating with a council that was now Plaid-led, but at least made the grudging concession that more WM provision was probably going to be needed in the future.

Roll on a few years and a new housing development gets built as part of the colliery redevelopment, and with it a new school under a Section 106 agreement ... but still with the same old umming and ahhing about what sort of school it should be. The then Labour-run council (from 2004) had wanted it to be "bilingual" and managed to get the Welsh Government to agree to it, though without quite defining what that meant (it should be noted that bilingual is not the same as dual stream, which would be inappropriate for a one form entry school anyway). In the end, it turned out that what they had meant by "bilingual" was that "the school would essentially be predominantly English medium with significant use of Welsh." It was a con trick.

In May 2008, Labour lost control of Caerffili, and the new council asked the Assembly for permission to make the school (which would be ready for use in September 2008) fully WM. One of the things that had come out of the previous refusal to allow the new school to be WM was that surveys were conducted to establish parental preferences. These showed a strong and growing demand for WM education which, coupled with the growing number of surplus places in EM schools in the area, should have made the decision a complete no-brainer. But no, nothing so simple. Instead of accepting the obvious it was decided that the statutory procedures had to be gone through all over again, which made it impossible to open the school on the date planned. Eventually a decision was made at the end of February this year, and the school accepted its first pupils today ... after sitting empty for a whole year!

Now most people would say that this sort of ping-pong politics is not particularly edifying ... and I fully agree. Why else would I be telling the story? So let's step back and look at the bigger picture.


Welsh-medium education should be a matter of parental choice, not political pressure. The principle is straightforward: if parents want WM education for their children, it is up to the local authority to provide it. Simple.

However most councils in Wales do not do much to assess the demand for it. Instead they tend to rely on the preferences mechanism that exists for school admissions generally. The problem is that it only works for schools that already exist. There might be two or three EM schools within a mile or two of their home, so if the parents want a WM school their only choice would be to choose one that might be eight or ten miles away. Some parents will do that, but many others will opt for the convenience of a school that is within walking distance. The reticence to travel is then taken by the council to mean that the parents did not actually want WM education.

The only way round that problem is to ask parents of very young children whether they want a WM education, so that the council has time to act to provide it locally. Making such surveys compulsory is one of the key parts of the new Welsh-medium Education Strategy.

So let's look in detail at what Caerffili's survey found:

Caerphilly Local Authority has established an additional two Welsh medium primary schools since 1996 (Ysgol Bro Sannan in 2004 and Ysgol Gymraeg Cwm Derwen in 2008). Both these two schools have attracted pupils and had more nursery pupils on roll in September 2008 than the admission numbers of the schools. It has become evident that the demand for Welsh medium education in the Borough is rising. Pupil numbers at Welsh medium primary schools have increased from 1719 in 1996/97 to 2109 in 2008, an increase of 23%, with further increases forecast in the next 5 years.

At September 2007 nearly 13% of primary pupils in the unitary authority attended Welsh medium schools. In the Autumn of 2007 the Authority surveyed parents to seek their schooling preferences.

Academic Year of Birth ... Numbers wanting WM Education

2004/2005 ... 207 out of 948 = 21.8%
2005/2006 ... 222 out of 995 = 22.3%
2006/2007 ... 262 out of 963 = 27.2%

The responses relating to the Ysgol Bro Allta and Ysgol Gilfach Fargoed catchment areas in the vicinity of the new school reveal above average demand for Welsh medium education as follows:

Academic Year of Birth ... Numbers wanting WM Education

2004/2005 ... 40 out of 155 = 25.8%
2005/2006 ... 48 out of 183 = 26.2%
2006/2007 ... 58 out of 167 = 34.7%


The figures speak for themselves. Taking the Caerffili Council area as a whole, the 27.2% demand for WM education was more than twice as large as the then current provision of 13%.

The irony is that Caerffili is one of the better councils in SE Wales when it comes to WM provision (at least at primary level). This is a map showing the eleven WM primary schools they now have:


As two of these are new, we need to imagine another seven schools (to put things into perspective, Caerffili has over 60 EM primaries). Where will they be? Who is planning for them? So far as I know, the only advanced plans are for the new school at the old Bedwas Colliery to be WM. Though if anyone can let me know of any others, I'd be grateful.


So all in all, it's been a rather shabby episode; too many political games. But in the end—despite the opposition of one council administration and the procrastination of the Welsh Government—the sheer weight of numbers of local parents wanting their children to be educated in Welsh could not be ignored. That's cause for celebration!

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A seamless transition

Today is the first day of a new school year, but for one school in particular it marks a significant change.


The primary school in Trimsaran, the home of the new Ffos Las racecourse, has had a Welsh and English stream running side by side for decades. Jonathan Davies, for example, went through the Welsh stream.

I read a few months ago in the Western Mail that this was this was going to change as the demand for EM education falls. From today, the English-medium stream at Trimsaran is being phased out and the school will, over the course of a few years, become a Welsh-medium school.

I have been very critical of some of Sir Gâr's education policies—and I still am—but this is something for which I must praise them. It is exactly the sort of thing I proposed here. I'd like to see what is happening in Trimsaran happening in other schools in the county, or for schools which are entirely EM to introduce WM streams. This evolutionary approach is much, much better than having to close existing schools to open new WM schools.


This can happen more easily in those parts of Wales that have a higher percentage of Welsh speakers. To give you an idea of the latent possibilities, I recently came across a report in which the head of one EM school in nearby Llanelli said that all twelve of her teachers were capable of teaching Welsh as a second language, but that none of them were currently proficient to teach through the medium of Welsh.

I have mentioned my concerns at the poor quality of WSL teaching, and do not want to single out just one person for an attitude which is widespread in large parts of Wales: namely that the standard of Welsh required to teach Welsh as a second language is lower than it would be to teach in Welsh. I believe the exact opposite is true: that teaching Welsh as a subject requires better training than teaching in the medium of Welsh. Too often teaching Welsh in EM schools has been left to any teacher who can speak a little Welsh themselves, rather than those with specific training in the subject.


Now obviously I don't know the linguistic capabilities of every teacher in Wales, but it just so happens that I know the person who was interviewed for the Western Mail's story. She has spoken Welsh all her life and been a teacher all her working life, but she has taught the English rather than the Welsh stream. This is where the Sabbaticals Scheme can, and does, make a real difference. It does not take all that much to turn a teacher who can already speak Welsh well (but who is used to teaching in English) into a teacher who can teach children in Welsh. The same would no doubt be true of many other teachers too, and it provides one of the main keys to expanding WM provision.


None of us can be unaware of the difficulties of opening new WM schools. The demand is undoubtedly there but—unless a new school is built from scratch—the only other way of making a transition is the traumatic process of closing an EM school because of falling numbers, then opening a new WM school in the old building. It is a process that is almost guaranteed to result in unnecessary antagonism and resentment in the local community. It is also painfully slow.

It seems to me that we need as much flexibility as possible. Introducing new WM streams and letting that change work through the system as children progress from year to year is one way to make a seamless transition without the trauma.

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Will the LibDems support an English Parliament?

Peter Black said in his blog last weekend that he had been reading David Melding's book, Will Britain Survive Beyond 2020?


This is what particularly interested me:

The book particularly focussed my thoughts on present Liberal Democrat policy which has been for some time the sort of federal state that David now advocates that the Tories should support. Our policy has been based on the regionalisation of England, which of course is a valid option but does not seem to have any support amongst voters and would be difficult to implement. David makes an excellent case for an English Parliament and argues that checks and balances could be written into the constitution to ensure that England would not overly dominate a Federal Union. This would include the House of Lords becoming an elected Federal second chamber.

It is clear that it would make sense to revisit Liberal Democrat policy along these lines by updating our commitment to federalism so as to make it fit into where we are now starting from. It also appears that it would be far easier to get general acceptance for an English Parliament within a reformed UK constitution than we would for regional parliaments.

Quite frankly, I'm amazed. To me this has always been a blind spot for the LibDems, as it was for the Liberals before them.

The UK is an over-centralized state, both politically and economically. Indeed I believe that one perpetuates the other in a vicious circle. To their credit, the Liberals have always (at least in my political memory) favoured a more federalized state as a means of breaking that circle. But their problem was that their thinking was based on the UK as a whole. Therefore, devolution for Wales and Scotland was fine, but England was simply to big to be devolved in the same way. So the only solution they could see was to break England up into smaller pieces roughly equal in size to Wales or Scotland.

Although this might be seen as a "logical" solution in terms of utility, it completely failed to address people's sense of self identity. It worked for Wales and Scotland because people saw themselves as Welsh or Scottish (whether or not they also saw themselves as British) but it could never work for England because people put any identity as "North West Englanders" after their more fundamental identity as simply "English". Indeed it is impossible to describe yourself as being from "the North East" unless it is understood that this means "North East England".

But the Liberals, and then the LibDems, stuck with it as a policy. And when they managed to persuade Labour of the merits of it, Labour tried to set up directly elected regional assemblies (unelected regional assemblies already existed, consisting in the main of appointees from local councils) but people in England didn't want them. They probably saw the attempt to break up England as some sort of sinister EU plot to divide and rule.

Yet, equally, people in England are very well aware that Wales and Scotland now have a measure of self government that they do not have. Rhodri Morgan might flatter himself that the English are "jealous" of us because of things like free prescriptions, but anyone who gives the matter any thought would realize that the only thing they would really be jealous of is the ablity we have to make some decisions about our own priorities for ourselves.


Peter Black's conversion appears to have come about by reading David Melding's book. However the chances of David Melding's views becoming Conservative Party policy are virtually nil. The Tories seem set on tinkering at the constitutional edges rather than ever doing anything so radical. Their policy seems to be to keep things as they are as much as possible, so long as they deny Scottish MPs the right to vote on English issues.

But Peter Black probably does have some chance of getting the LibDems to change their policy, and I wish him luck in getting it adopted. After all they have nothing to lose, since no-one was much interested in their old policy. But would it make any difference? Would the LibDems ever have the opportunity of being in power in order to implement it? Hardly.

But maybe, just maybe, the LibDems will find themselves holding the balance of power in a hung Westminster. And even if they don't they might find themselves pleasantly surprised at the increased support they get in England ... since at present the only parties that support an English Parliament are confined to the fringes. It won't make any difference to their support in Wales.


Of course for us in Wales, the advantages are obvious. If the English decide that they want their own Parliament (or Assembly, or whatever) we can guarantee that they will not give themselves fewer powers than the Scottish Parliament has. And that means that we in Wales would get the same powers as both instead of the half-baked mishmash we have at present ... and still will have, even after a referendum that will leave us a long way short of the powers and responsibilities the Scottish Parliament has had for the last ten years.

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