Mrs Windsor and her son

Thanks to a link on John Dixon's blog, I found myself reading through some posts on the Carmarthenshire Planning Problems blog. I came across this:

Pickets and the Prince; Contrast in a Small Town

Driving through Llandovery this morning I was struck by a sharp contrast. Just past the supermarket was a huddle of cold postmen and women, picketing outside the sorting office, trying to preserve their jobs, get few more quid, have better working conditions and whatever else. I expect they would rather be inside working, or off in their vans fending off sheepdogs and wading through mud.

A few hundred yards further on I met a queue of traffic at the level crossing. Normally the wait is about 30 seconds as the single carriage train passes through. This time the wait was longer. Then I realised it was the 'Royal Train', eight or more carriages long (I couldn't tell exactly as it seemed to stretch the entire length of Llandovery).

How bizarre, why on earth is this enormous train needed to transport one man, Prince Charles? The massed police presence, complete with helicopter, enures a continuing royal carbon footprint roughly the size of Wales. It rather cancels out the noble efforts of the 'organic' mattress factory he went to visit.

23 October 2009

I simply smiled and thought nothing more of it ... until, by some wonderful quirk of serendipity, I saw this in the Times:

Sporting 'anonymous' headscarf, Queen catches the 10.45 to Kings Lynn

It is a relatively little known fact that when the Queen travels to Norfolk for her Christmas break, she travels by scheduled train.

... it is a regular service used by regular passengers. No helicopters for her, or chartered flights. Although this has been her chosen mode of Christmas travel for a few years now, this was the first year that Buckingham Palace has allowed the press to take a photographic record of the event.

The Times, 18 December 2009

I have to admit that the woman has gone up in my estimation. I certainly don't believe in a monarchy, but if that's what people want it is certainly better to have a monarch who behaves in this way than a successor who behaves in the way he does.

Whatever the opinions of the current Head of State are, she manages to do a fairly good job of keeping them to herself. That at least makes the unfairness of a hereditary Head of State bearable. Her son, in complete contrast, can't help but make his opinions known on any subject that enters his head ... and, much worse, seeks to use a position that he hasn't earned and has done nothing to deserve to influence political decisions. He's done it repeatedly in the past, and he's still doing it now. There is no place for that in a democracy.

So I wish his mother a long and happy life ... at least into the early 2020s, by which time I fully expect we will have decided to be an independent nation. When we've done that, we'll be in a position to decide what sort of Head of State we want. The Black Prince had a certain ring to it, and the Black Adder was at least funny ... but the Black Spider! Do we have so little self-respect?

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Wrexham still haven't grasped the nettle

There is a story on the BBC website today about increasing the provision of Welsh-medium education in Wrexham.

     Cynghorwyr Wrecsam yn ystyried codi ysgol Gymraeg arall

The essence of the story is that the Council are tonight going to consider three options for increasing WM provision:

• building a new 1FE (210 place) school at Gwersyllt

• increasing capacity at Ysgol Plas Coch from 1FE to 2FE (420 places)

• building a new 1FE school at Gwersyllt and increasing capacity at Ysgol Plas Coch from 1FE to 1.5FE (315 places)

The detailed report for consideration, with full details of the options, is available here.


Using figures from here, which are slightly out of date but which should be enough to see the big picture, there are at five WM primaries at present with a total of 877 pupils. There are 10,387 pupils in total, so the proportion in WM education is 8.44%. There are in total 2,809 surplus primary spaces, the vast majority of which are in EM schools.

To their great credit, Wrexham were one of the first Councils to conduct a survey parents of very young children to determine their preferences. This is a quote from the Council's report:

A survey of the future demand for Welsh language primary Education was carried out for the Council, and published by Opinion Research Services in October 2007.

This survey was focused on parents of children born between September 2005 and August 2006.

Included in the key results were that 36% of respondents were very or fairly likely to send their child to an existing Welsh-medium primary school, and that 44% would be very or fairly likely to send their children to a Welsh-medium school if it were within 2 miles of their home. 67% of respondents felt that their children would benefit from a Welsh-medium education, whilst 89% would like their children to speak Welsh. The distribution of respondents indicates areas where provision is required, particularly in the North West area of the County Borough which is currently not well served.

This means that the current WM provision needs to be at least four times, if not five times, greater than it is at present.


My first reaction is to say that it's taken a long time for Wrexham to pull their finger out. It has taken them over two years to come up with these three options when, to be frank, they could have reached the conclusion within a few weeks or months of getting the report.

But worse, in the meantime parents who wanted their children to have a WM education ended up sending them to EM schools simply because there were no spaces available in nearby WM schools. Also parents are not able to get their children into WM nursery places, which then makes it all the more difficult for them to start at a WM primary ... even if their parents were prepared for them to travel miles to get there.

And even worse than that, if we read the Wrexham Leader's version of the story, we find that the Council's Chief Learning and Achievement Officer, John Davies, said:

In October we went out to public consultation with a wide range of options for having Welsh language education. We have now decided to consult more specifically on three. After that we will carry out a feasibility study on available sites and see what’s possible.

Once we have come up with an identified solution to this, we will come back to the executive board then use the information to make a bid to the Welsh Assembly Government for the project.

It could take at least another three months to carry out the feasibility study and then present a bid. The whole process could take up to three years.”

Wrexham Leader, 12 December 2009

So it will be another three years before anything happens!

Look at the figures. What if Wrexham do decide on Option 3? That will only mean an extra 210 places somewhere in Gwersyllt and an extra 105 places at Plas Coch. It will take the percentage of children in WM education to something like 11.5% ... still less than a third of what parents in Wrexham have said they want it to be! Why bother to do a survey and then not take its findings seriously?


I don't think it takes any particular genius to work out what is going on.

• First, the council is just trying to drag things out as long as possible.

• But second, they are trying to shift the focus away from their own responsibility to provide WM places onto the Assembly government. They are, in effect, saying they'll only do it if the Assembly pays for it. They'll just sit on their hands until then.


In the report, one of the other options on the table was to convert one or more English-medium schools into Welsh-medium schools. There are, after all, over 2,500 spaces sitting empty in the Council's EM schools. This is far too many and it means that some schools would need to be closed irrespective of the fact that aren't enough local places for those who want WM education.

It is not up to the Assembly government to give Wrexham the money to build brand new schools as the only way of solving the problem of lack of WM spaces. Sure, new schools need to be built because a lot of old school buildings are in poor condition ... but that is a different issue. The immediate priority is to make the best use of the buildings you've got. Wrexham could solve the problem much more easily and far more cheaply by converting a few EM schools to WM.

Yes, that is a tricky process, because it means parents will object to having to walk what is often only a few hundred yards further to the next nearest, not quite so empty, EM school. But in the end, after it's been referred to the Welsh Government for a final decision (as it always is) that's what has to happen. So why should Wrexham think that they should be exempt from doing the same as nearly every other local authority in Wales has had to do?

I'm sure Wrexham Council think that people should be grateful to them for taking one step closer to what might eventually turn out to be a new WM school. But I think it's gone way past that. The real question is why Wrexham are still not grasping the nettle.


I don't want to criticize without trying to offer a solution. Perhaps Wrexham might learn a thing or two from the Vale of Glamorgan. As I mentioned here, they too have plans for building new schools to cope with the increase in demand for WM education. They know that it takes two or three years to plan for and build a new school. But in the meantime they are putting in place WM "starter schools" to cope with the immediate demand. In places like Cardiff, they have put starter streams in EM schools that have a high number of surplus places.

If Wrexham could do the same sort of thing, it would at least be a sign that they are starting to take their responsibilities to parents in their area seriously.

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Catalunya ... A win on a turnout of 52.4%

It's slightly annoying that the full results of the independence referenda held yesterday in Catalunya haven't yet been announced. But we do have 94.04% of the result, and from that I think it's possible to be accurate to within about a hundred votes by projecting the percentages we already know.

Electorate ... 696,883
Turnout ... 190,360 (27.316%)

Void votes ... (0.34% of 190,360) = 647
Valid votes ... (99.66% of 190,360) = 189,713

Yes ... (95.21% of 189,713) = 180,620
No ... (3.22% of 189,713) = 6,110
Abstain ... (1.57% of 189,713) = 2,983

Now I'll be the first to admit that 180,000 Yes votes is somewhat short of the 250,000 that I said would be necessary to claim a convincing victory. But it is in fact by no means a defeat, because everything would depend on the turnout in an official poll.

The best way of thinking about it is to ask: How many people would need to turn out and vote No in order to defeat the referendum? The answer to that is 174,511 in addition to the 6,110 that actually did vote No. But if only 174,509 had turned out to vote No the referendum would have been won with these figures:

Yes ... (95.21% of 189,713) = 180,620
No ... (3.22% of 189,713) = 6,110 plus 174,509 = 180,619
Abstain ... (1.57% of 189,713) = 2,983

Total valid vote ... 364,222
Assumed void vote ... (0.34% of 364,222) = 1,239

Turnout ... 365,461 = 52.4% of 696,883

In other words, with the same number of Yes votes, a full, official referendum would have been won if the turnout was 52.4% or below.

Now of course 52.4% isn't a particularly splendid turnout. But it is in fact higher than the turnout for the European Parliament elections in June 2009 (46.0% for Spain as a whole) and for the referendum on the Catalan Statute of Autonomy in 2006 (48.85%). It is also very close to the turnout of 56.77% in the Catalan Parliament election in November 2006.

And, for the sake of a rather similar international comparison, it is worth remembering that we narrowly won the 1997 referendum to establish our Senedd with a turnout of just 50.1%


In short, there is every reason to be very positive about the result. We need to remember that this was a set of referenda run on an entirely voluntary basis, with no public funding and no use of public facilities. Yet it seems to have been done with professional standards of fairness, security and transparency, as I'm sure will be confirmed by the international observers who were there.

Perhaps the biggest question now is what the response will be, not just from the Spanish authorities, but from the political parties in Catalunya itself. The debate has now moved on from the previous level of arguing an appropriate level of autonomy to one in which independence is now right at the heart of the Catalan political agenda. The Catalunian parties will now need to come clean on what their position on independence is, and this should result in realignments and new alliances adding organized political force to popular pressure.

On top of that, many more independence referenda are due to be held next year, including one in Barcelona itself. The pressure is building. To use my analogy from my post on Saturday, the dam is cracked and water is streaming through. I'm disappointed that the dam didn't burst completely ... but it will.

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Catalunya ... Live results

Voting in the independence referenda held today in over 160 municipalities in Catalunya will close at 7pm and, thanks to the widget below, we should be able to see the results as they unfold, automatically updated every five minutes.


     Full table of results, by Comarca (County) and Municipality
     Map of Comarques

The precise wording of the question was:

Està vostè d’acord que la nació catalana esdevingui un estat de dret, independent, democràtic i social, integrat en la Unió Europea?

Do you agree that the Catalan nation should become a legal state,
independent, democratic and social, integrated within the European Union?

I think I should give some explanation of the figures, since they will not be as straightforward as they might appear.

Because this is not an official poll, very few of those who would vote No or register an abstention by leaving the ballot paper blank (that's what "Vots en blanc" means) are likely to turn out. That means the Yes vote will probably be around the 90% mark. So the figure that really matters is the absolute number of Yes votes in relation to the electorate as a whole.

In every normal election or referendum there will be those who either abstain or simply do not turn out to vote. It is impossible to be precise about how many would do so on this issue, but a figure of 25% was indicated in the OUC poll last weekend. However it should be noted that all opinion polls overestimate turnout because saying something is quite different from actually doing it, and in other elections and referenda in Catalunya the turnout has been lower, sometimes less than 50%. So in order to say the referendum has been won beyond any reasonable doubt, the Yes vote would need to be more than half of a high turnout of say 75% ... i.e. 37.5% or 263,000 as a round number. If we use a lower turnout figure, the number necessary to win will be correspondingly lower. I reckon that anything over 250,000 would be enough to claim victory.

A Yes vote of 290,000 would equate (on the same 75%) to 55% of the vote. This is the threshold that the EU set in order to recognize the validity of the Montenegrin vote on independence from Serbia in 2006. Setting that figure was a controversial decision, since in most democratic situations only a simple majority of the vote is required. However, it seems obvious that if the vote (when conducted on a Catalunya-wide basis) were to be above 55% the EU would have no alternative but to accept Catalunya's independence.

A Yes vote of above 350,000 would be a majority of the total electorate, and would justify dancing in the streets (not that dancing ever needs to be justified) until Christmas.


The population of Catalunya is about 7.3m, so at a guess the total electorate is probably about 5.5m. These referenda therefore represent a sample of about 13% of the total electorate. As noted here, a further 250 municipalities were expected to conduct their own referenda next Spring taking the total to over 400.

However, only a few days ago, Barcelona decided that its Comarca (with a total population of about two million) would hold a referendum on 25 April 2010. This means that a large majority of the population of Catalunya will by then have been given an opportunity to vote on independence. If things go according to plan, this will be enough to say with certainty whether or not there is a democratic mandate for independence ... irrespective of whether the Spanish State chooses to recognize it as legal.

Update - 20:06

I've been searching for preliminary indications. They seem to show turnouts of over 30% in smaller towns, but lower than that for larger towns.

El Periodico said 21.4% overall = 155,000 voters at 18:00 ... i.e. with two hours still to go.

Update - 20:35

El Mundo are saying turnout "hardly reached" 30% overall = 200,000

Results due to be released after 22:30 (1 hour time difference = 21:30 GMT)

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Spain, the UK, and the nations within them

Right now, as people who read this blog regularly might be able to tell, I'm excited by what's happening in Catalunya. Not least because I see what Catalunya is doing as trailblazing. If they manage to become independent, taking their own place in the EU and the UN, they will set an example which other countries will be able to follow. I want Wales to be one of them.

But there will be nothing automatic or inevitable about that, so I don't want to raise anyone's hopes (or, if you don't want to see an independent Wales, fears) too much. What is now happening needs to be seen in perspective, but I think we will look back on these events in Catalunya as the most significant step towards independence for stateless nations in developed democracies in Europe.


There are a good number of parallels between Spain and the UK. Each is a multinational state, in that their territories comprise a number of distinct nations in which there are substantial (though not necessarily majority) movements for them to cease to be a part of the state. In Spain these are Catalunya, Euskadi (the Basque Country) and to a lesser extent Galicia. In the UK these are Wales, Scotland, to a much lesser extent Cornwall ... and Northern Ireland, which is not a nation and where the corresponding movement is for reunification with the south.

As I see it, the most significant difference between Spain and the UK is that Spain has a constitution but that the UK does not. In saying that, I imagine many reading this will be keen to claim that the UK does have a constitution, but that it's not written down. People are free to believe that, of course, in just the same way as they are free to believe that the Emperor is in fact wearing clothes ... but bear with my line of argument.


Spain had to define itself anew after the Franco era, this time as a democracy rather than as a dictatorship. Its primary means of doing that was by its constitution. So in a very real sense "Spain" is what its constitution says it is. In contrast the UK has always thought of itself as a democracy, so the UK has never seen any real need to define itself by means of a constitution. Tradition and precedent are much more important factors in defining what the UK is. This approach does have advantages. It means that as circumstances change, the UK can adapt itself to them while—in line with its emphasis on tradition—claiming that the essential nature of the UK has not really changed.

To illustrate this, look at the way in which what was the British Empire has managed to divest itself of nearly all its territories in the past century. It just calls itself something slightly different, and carries on as if nothing much has happened. What was the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland can slip-in the word "Northern" without having to change the flag. The Empire becomes a Commonwealth, and no-one particularly seems to mind ... as long as enough of those who were its subjects love the Queen and turn up to wave flags when she visits, nothing important can be said to have changed. For some that's been an achievement to take pride in (at least Britain slowly learnt not to fight war after war to hold onto its territories, which is no small thing) though for others the picture is much more like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.


OK, so much for the illustration. There is a serious point: namely that because the UK is well used to this process, it is unlikely to have any serious problem with it going further. If Ireland is reunified, the UK will just drop the "and Northern Ireland" from its name. If Wales becomes independent, the RUK (remainder of the UK) still won't need to change the flag. And this is not something that affects only what we used to call "the establishment" but now tend to call "the elite" ... it is an attitude that is now widely held by most ordinary people. If a majority of people in Scotland or Wales want to leave the Union, not only will the establishment not stop us (both Labour and Tory Governments have said that they will respect that democratic decision) but the people in the RUK will just shrug their shoulders and say: Good luck, mate. You make your bed, you lie on it. There is a growing number of people who would in fact welcome the move.

There'll obviously be hard negotiations over debts and assets, but there are international rules that can be used if mutual agreement can't be reached. The important thing is that the principle has been conceded. Both we and Scotland can leave the UK whenever a majority of us wants it, and Ireland can be re-unified when a majority in NI wants it. Whatever remains of the UK will just carry on being pretty much what it thinks it always has been. It will obviously involve some upheaval, but the UK has been through far worse in the last hundred years.


What I've described is an "end game" situation. But the same attitude prevails in the steps that are taken to get there. The way things have happened so far in the UK is that the Unionists have decided that Wales and Scotland will get whatever degree of devolution they think is necessary to stop the people of Wales and Scotland opting for independence instead ... even though each time the stated intention was to kill nationalism stone dead, or to fix the constitutional situation for a generation.

There are pluses on both sides. For Unionists, the plus is that this approach slows the process down to just one step at a time. For those who want independence, the plus is that a process of getting more autonomy bit by bit develops, thus establishing—in words that will appeal to Unionists—a precedent or even a tradition of ever-evolving devolution. It establishes an expectation that what we don't have now, we will in all probability get in a few more years. It builds up a sense of momentum.

There are some Unionists who show more foresight than their more pragmatic colleagues. They see the problem of momentum all too well and therefore, rather than wanting to fight a continual rearguard action, they think the better approach is to decide what an "ideal" UK should be, and to set that sort of UK up now. The most common vision they have seems to be for a loosely federal UK; one in which each country has a very large degree of autonomy over its own affairs, but yet pools resources for a small number of matters of shared interest.

In other words, by establishing the sort of constitutional arrangement that they expect to exist in twenty or thirty years time anyway, they hope to take out the crucial element of a momentum that can only gather pace. That arrangement then has time to become entrenched, defendable by virtue of the fact that it will have existed unchanged for a generation, and which therefore can (so they will argue) probably exist for several generations more without needing to be changed.

It's a clever idea. But isn't that exactly the situation that Spain is currently in? By many objective standards the degree of autonomy enjoyed by Catalunya, Euskadi and even Galicia is wider than that enjoyed by Scotland ... with Wales even further behind.


Whatever we think of Spain's attitude to its nations, it has made a serious attempt to construct itself as a State that allows for a good deal of diversity. It has also managed to show a good degree of consistency of approach by giving other regions of Spain that do not regard themselves as nations—and who have never really shown much desire for autonomy—a similar sort of status as has been given to Catalunya, Euskadi and Galicia. In UK terms, these would be the equivalent of the English regional assemblies. For the UK, the biggest problem with devolution has been its asymmetric nature; in contrast Spain has created a constitutional arrangements that are reasonably coherent and consistent. They're not fixed in stone because the relationship between the autonomous regions and the Spanish State is capable of being revised, and has been revised ... but only within the overarching framework of the Spanish Constitution, since that is what defines what "Spain" is.


In the opinion polls shown at the bottom of this page we can see that there is only 20% support for independence for Catalunya when people are offered a multiple choice that includes a "more autonomy" option. In that respect, things are not that different to the way they are in Scotland, or Wales. A majority of us, in each of our countries, wants more autonomy than we currently have.

The crucial difference is that this "next step" option can be made available in Scotland and Wales, because there is no fixed constitutional arrangement to stand in the way of it. But in Spain, there is. Moreover, because Spain's Constitution is such an essential part of its identity as a democracy, this is what Spain "is" in the eyes of its citizens (or at least its Castilian-speaking citizens) as well as its establishment ... and, as I see it, neither its elite nor its population at large will want their Spain to become something else. For them, it will be better that they lose Catalunya and remain a "Spain" that has its own national character, even though it will be a smaller one in terms of territory.

Because of that, I think it is highly likely that Catalunya will become independent some time next year, because any half-way option will be acceptable to neither Castilian Spain nor Catalunya.


The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang alt agley. The ruling "establishment" in Spain thought they had it all under control. They could say: There's no way you can have a referendum because you don't have the power to call one. If you do, we'll decide that's it's illegal and prevent it from happening. After all, it worked to scupper the Ibarretxe referendum in Euskadi this time last year; so playing the same hand should have been enough in Catalunya too.

But a little town found a way round the ruling, not through the political process, but by means of ordinary people who would not be held back. Their action released a tide of pent-up frustration with the political and constitutional chicanery that the Spanish authorities have been using. The lesson must surely be that power ultimately rests with people ... with what they decide they want, not with what the powers that be do or no not "allow" them to do.


The Unionist parties in the UK should sit up and take notice of this. In Scotland, for example, a large majority of the Scottish people has been in favour of holding a referendum on independence for some time. The Scottish Government is now trying to deliver one, but the opposition Unionist parties are determined to prevent it from happening at all costs. Yet if you try and hold back the tide of public opinion in one place, there is a very good chance that the tide will break through in another place, in a manner you didn't foresee, and at a speed too quick for you to respond to.

It seems utterly crazy for the Unionist parties—and in particular Labour, since they are in power at Westminster—to be dragging their heels on implementing the Calman recommendations. Yet it's no different from the way they have kept putting off the referendum for a Senedd with primary lawmaking powers in Wales, or of them trying to plant the idea that we will in future need a referendum on something as uncontroversial (in the eyes of most of the legal profession) as transferring administrative responsibility for the justice system to Wales.

By continually making a song and dance of granting us even the most modest set of additional responsibilities for our own internal affairs, they will leave more and more people in Scotland and Wales convinced that independence is the only sensible option left open to them. I'm quite sure that both Labour now, and the Tories when they are in power in Westminster next year, think they can just open the sluice gates a bit more at the last minute to stop pressure building up, but the difficulty they will always face is that although "more powers" is a very easy thing to put into a question in an opinion poll, it is a very hard thing to precisely define. Independence is easy to define. So when the dam holding back the tide of public opinion begins to crack, there will be no time to prepare a comprehensive or coherent "more powers" option. The choice will be between independence and whatever the status quo is at the time ... and the majority will then vote for independence.

What has happened in Catalunya in the last couple of months shows just how quickly the dam can crack.


P.S. I'm going to run a live results service on this blog tomorrow (Sunday) evening for anyone who wants to see how events unfold.

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Unique and priceless and part of the patrimony of humankind

As more or less the final part of its grindingly slow progress through Westminster, the Welsh Language LCO was debated in the House of Lords Grand Committee yesterday.

The debate itself was slow too, not least because of the ages of some of the participants, but for me the contribution by Lord Elystan-Morgan stood head and shoulders above the rest. It is worth repeating:

My Lords, like all other noble Lords, I welcome the draft order. I wholeheartedly agreed with the Minister when he said that if ever there was a devolvable responsibility—that is not how he put it, but that was the thrust of it—that should be transferred as generously as possible to Cardiff, this is it.

Indeed, I doubt whether there can be any challenge to that fundamental reality. There are 20 headings in Schedule 5 to the 2006 Act. Many of those, you might say, are almost exclusively Welsh, but in all those cases, there will be some cross-border effects, some knock-on effects that will not be totally confined to the land and nation of Wales. This is the exception. This is the 20th and this is exclusively a Welsh matter.

I want to disabuse anybody who subscribes to the idea that commitment to the Welsh language is in some way a sentimental or emotional matter. It may very well engender sentiment and emotion, but I would say that it is much more than that: it is a matter of truth and principle. The way that I would put the case would be this: I would say that every language is unique and priceless and part of the patrimony of humankind. That strange scholar, Dr Johnson, said that he was always saddened to hear of the death of any living language. When one thinks of it, every language in the world is a work of genius. Its nuances reflect the hopes, aspirations, fears, attitudes, mores and standards of those people who have spoken it and espoused it. It is as much a work of human genius as the best that has ever come from the hand of the artist, the sculptor or the architect.

It is in that light, I respectfully say, that one has to look at the responsibility of humankind in general for the Welsh language, as it has for every other language, and for the people of Britain in general, let alone the people of Wales. The generality of status is at the basis of our attitude to the language. The Welsh language is one of the oldest spoken languages in Europe. It has existed for about 1,500 years, and has a history that goes back, some say, to an origin as far back as the Himalayas. It is of Indo-European origin. It is a living language, spoken by 500,000 people. As the Minister rightly said, that is only one-fifth of the Welsh people; 80 per cent of them—2.5 million—do not speak it. In my case, it was a pure accident of birth and geography that I speak Welsh, as is indeed the case with one or two other Members of the Committee. I only hope that I would have had the courage and assiduity to learn it otherwise, but it was a fortuitous accident. It is still my main language when I am at home. It is the language in which I live practically the whole of my life when I am at home in Cardiganshire.

Nothing gives me a greater thrill than to hear people who are not Welsh-speaking, but who are members of the Welsh nation, refer to the Welsh language as "our language". That is the attitude that will gives the Welsh language a possibility of remaining a vibrant, living thing in British life. The language has enjoyed a renaissance over the past 20 to 30 years, but its life is far from safe. The pressures on it are very considerable and only our best efforts will safeguard it. So if one lays down any conditions that stultify that possibility, one is doing the language a great disservice. There is a school of thought that says, "Well, you can make all the pious declarations you like in relation to the Welsh language. You can weep oceans of sentimental tears, but you shall not spend a penny of public money and you shall not place a single imposition on anyone. You shall not impose any burden that makes life even marginally more difficult for businessmen". Saying that effectively writes "finis" to the life of the Welsh language. I am not suggesting that such a case has been deployed in the Committee today, but it is essential to remember that if we want a priceless treasure of humankind to remain, we have to pay for it. One appreciates how difficult it is to preach a sermon like this in the strained financial circumstances that exist at the moment, but it is right to remember the central reality of the situation.

On the content of this legislative competence order, I appreciate that it is very much the product of a compromise, but so many things in politics and in life are. For myself, I would probably have wished for a somewhat more adventurous approach than this, but we have to achieve the fine balance referred to by the Minister and the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Roberts. It is very much a matter of balance. However, if on the one hand there is stodgy, unimaginative passivity, you will achieve nothing. You might as well say right now that we will let the Welsh language go. On the other hand, an overly aggressive and adventurous approach may create a wholly counter-productive situation.

No Act of Parliament or piece of delegated legislation can of itself save a language. All that statutory provision can do is create the conditions that make it possible for a language to thrive better than it would have done had one not resorted to the provision. It is on that basis that this matter takes the situation forward a little from the 1993 Act, which I regard as a very important milestone in the journey of the Welsh language through life. I appreciate that it gives quite substantial powers to the Assembly, which I am sure it will use sparingly and reasonably, bearing in mind all the time that goodwill will be the oxygen of life for Welsh in the years to come.

The one matter I would contend with is this. Nothing that we are doing today creates any legislation at all. If this order passes through the House of Lords without challenge, as I hope it will, all we will have done is peg out an area. It is for the Welsh Assembly to build a legislative edifice upon it. If the Assembly has no plans to start on that edifice soon, then this exercise will have been useless. However, I am sure that that is not the case and that the Assembly has plans that one trusts will be brought to fruition in the near future.

Hansard : Column GC100 - 9 December 2009

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Life on the receiving end

I realize I might be in danger of overcooking my coverage of what's happening in Catalunya ... though if Wales Home can do that with their coverage of the Labour leadership campaign, I don't see why I shouldn't put Wales' situation into an international perspective.


Life on the receiving end is a short essay by Matthew Tree, an Englishman living in Catalunya, based on a speech he gave at the London School of Economics last year. It's a very well written explanation of the situation in the country, and it brought a tear or two to my eye as I read it. Some of the parallels between Catalunya and Wales are remarkable.

Well worth half an hour of anyone's time. Please read it and let me know what you think.

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Half marks for David Jones MP

I do read David Jones' blog. It is a perfect example of trying to create the impression you have something important to say, then saying things which are usually inane.

Today he advertized the fact that he had spoken in the Commons about renewable energy. Good. I agree that it is an important subject. But speaking is usually of little use if you haven't a clue what you're talking about. This is what he said on his blog:

However, I was disappointed that more was not being done to encourage the development of reliable renewable technology.

The biggest obstacle to progress is the way that Renewables Obligations certificates (ROCs) are structured, giving developers every incentive to opt for wind power, a relatively cheap and well established but inefficient technology, rather than invest in potentially more reliable renewables such as tidal power.

ROCs are very blunt instruments. One ROC is awarded for every megawatt hour of renewable generation, irrespective of the technology used to produce it. This tends to favour wind farms and to discourage investment in new technologies.

The Government recognises the problem and intends to address this by "banding" ROCs, giving additional ROCs to innovative technologies. However, onshore wind will continue to attract ROCs at the current rate, providing an attractive return that will mean that wind farms will continue to proliferate and the development of tidal power, like CCS, will probably go overseas.

Waste of Energy - 8 December 2009

David is a year behind all the rest of us. Last December I posted this:

     Change in the way ROCs are calculated

And the changes duly came into force on 1 April 2009 by means of this SI.

Poor man. At least his heart is in the right place, even though his knowledge isn't up to the job. Who knows, perhaps there's a thriving internal market in recycled Tory research papers, and he bought a job lot without looking at the date.


But I agree with his sentiments. I am all for wind power, but believe that the financial incentives that were designed to promote its development have outlived their usefulness in the case of onshore windfarms. It has become an easy, cheap option and therefore there is a temptation to develop windfarms anywhere and everywhere. I believe onshore wind has its place, but will be much more readily accepted when communities take ownership of them, so that the financial benefits are localized. There is a huge difference between this and some large, multinational company making all the profits by building on a site which is easy and cheap to develop against the wishes of the local community.

If I had my way—and on the basis that we are now stuck with the ROC system for many years to come, 2037 in fact—I would band small scale community developments more highly, using the mechanism of the total number of ROCs held by a company to essentially price out large companies from small scale projects. Of course the local communities would probably still need to rely on large companies for their expertise and commercial clout, but the community would own and therefore control everything that was done.


Offshore wind is different. Winds are generally stronger and more reliable and there is no problem with noise or flicker. The new generation of far offshore sites in Round Three means that the turbines will be hardly visible too ... although I think they're quite beautiful and have never minded their impact on either land or seascape.


However, as an example of a more progressive way of handling the need to devolop tidal and wave energy, we need only to look to Scotland. Indeed the BWEA (who care just as much about other renewables as they do about wind) produced a report in October:

The report also expressed a fear that because of the more generous support given to marine technologies in Scotland, and abroad, developers will look to base projects outside England and Wales.

Since 2006, the Scottish government has supported nine projects through its £13.5 million Wave and Tidal Energy Support Scheme (WATES) and plans to increase support available to three ROCs per MWh for electricity generated from tidal devices and five ROCs per MWh for wave energy.

New Energy Focus - 26 October 2009

As I've said before, Scotland is a country that has got its act together on this and is way ahead of us. I find it hard to escape the conclusion that Westminster's plans for England and Wales are less committed to developing renewables, and particularly marine renewables, for the simple reason that they are too focused on nuclear power.

Of course I don't object to Westminster making those decisions for England, but I'm quite sure that we in Wales would be doing the same things as Scotland is doing if we had the power to do so. Why should we put up with a situation where investment flows into Scotland and not into Wales? We are blessed with geography that gives us every bit as much marine energy potential as Scotland ... our waves might not be quite as big, but our tides are a good deal better!

We must devolve responsibily for energy to Wales. It's not a matter of more powers for the sake of more powers, but the ability to set the rules so that they work in our favour. To bring development, and therefore jobs and profit, to Wales.

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Latest opinion poll in Catalunya

As I've mentioned here and here, unofficial referenda on independence are due to take place in 161 municipalities in Catalunya this coming Sunday.

An opinion poll by OUC was published over the weekend, and the results are very encouraging:


In the Arenys de Munt referendum in September, the Yes vote was 96.2% on a turnout of 41% ... which represents an absolute figure of 39.4%. So this poll shows that opinion in Catalunya as a whole is even more firmly in favour of independence than in that single town.

The second thing, and something that surprises me, is the very high percentage of people who said that they would not vote; nearly a quarter. If that remained the case in a Catalunya-wide official vote on independence it would mean that the Yes percentage would be between 66.8% and 76.4% of the vote, depending on how the don't knows would split. If the don't knows are factored out, the Yes vote would be 73.9%.

In any referendum there will be those that vote Yes, those that vote No and a group that doesn't mind one way or the other. If they did, they'd get out and vote. But there is something very satisfying about getting an absolute majority of the electorate as a whole.


Now we just need to see if the results on Sunday match this poll. The sample size was 2,600, so the margin of error should be lower than the polls we are used to here ... 2% instead of 3%

The poll found that a total of 82.6% want to have an official referendum on independence. As I see it, the key factor in the impending ruling of the Spanish Constitutional Court will not be over the "headline issue" of whether Catalunya can call it self a "nation" or not. The key part of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy is whether the Catalan government is able to legally hold official consultative referenda.

If that principle is upheld (the Spanish State was able to block the Ibarretxe referendum in Euskadi this time last year) the EU had better start shuffling the chairs to make room for an extra member next year.

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Should devolution mean fewer Welsh MPs?

There's an interesting article by John Osmond on the IWA blog that considers the number of MPs Wales should have. This is in response to the suggestion by Robert Hazell of the Constitution Unit at UCL that Wales and Scotland might have fewer representatives at Westminster to reflect the fact that devolved issues are decided in Cardiff Bay and Holyrood.


I don't have any particular objections to a general reduction in the size of the Commons of 10% or so. I think the Commons is too big to function effectively, in fact I don't think it is even possible for all MPs to fit into the chamber at the same time ... though maybe they can if they all stand and squeeze up.

And yes, it is undoubtedly true that Wales is over-represented in comparison to other parts of the UK in the same way that Scotland was until 2005, when the number of MPs was reduced from 72 to 59 to reflect the fact that Scotland had a law-making Parliament. It is difficult to be sure (because of large, sparsely populated constituencies) what the new number in Wales would be after the Assembly gets primary law-making powers, but my guess is that it would result in a reduction of 7 or 8. Taking this with the general 10% reduction (resulting in even greater sparsity) would probably leave a figure of about 30.


The argument that Wales and Scotland should have even fewer MPs than that (a figure of 22 was suggested) because their workload will be less than the workload of English MPs is not sound. I agree that their workload is less because devolved matters are dealt with elsewhere, but many decisions that affect the UK as a whole (defence, foreign affairs, benefits, taxation, the economy, broadcasting, etc) need to have equal representation from all parts of the UK.

Also, as things stand at present, decisions on spending for matters which are devolved are made on the basis that Wales and Scotland get a percentage of what Westminster decides to give England. So that spending levels for things like health and education in England are in fact decisions that affect the devolved administrations every bit as much as they affect England, and should therefore be taken by the UK as a whole.


The only equitable solution that doesn't involve major constitutional reform is to have broadly equal representation from all parts of the UK, but to pay MPs from Wales and Scotland less than MPs from England to reflect the fact that they do less work (though slightly more in the case of Welsh MPs than Scottish ones). That isn't so very radical a proposal. MPs who are also ministers get paid more to reflect the fact that they have a greater workload than backbench MPs. It is merely an extension of the same principle.


The better solution would be to have an English Parliament with exactly the same devolved powers as Wales and Scotland meeting in the current Commons chamber, but to elect a completely different class of MP so far as England is concerned (though in fact very similar to what Welsh and Scottish MPs are at present) from all over the UK that would meet in the current Lords chamber to decide on matters that affected the UK as a whole. These would be far fewer in number, to reflect the fact that a majority of issues would be decided at a national rather than UK level ... perhaps 250 or 300 for the whole UK.

This would also be the only reasonable solution to reform of the House of Lords. Yes, it is easy and simple to say that the Lords should be elected, but the more intractable questions are by whom and for what? If an elected HoL were to do exactly what the current HoL does now, we would have two sets of politicians with an equal electoral mandate from the public. The current idea of the supremacy of the Commons over the Lords is based only on the fact that the Commons has a democratic mandate that the Lords does not have. The UK would end up with the same messy situation as Wales currently has with LCOs ... namely two sets of politicians squabbling with each other over the same issues, because there is no clearly defined list of which set of politicians is responsible for what.


I think the best solution would be for each country to be independent, of course. But somehow I suspect you might have guessed that from the header on this blog.


P.S. I didn't reply on the IWA blog because last time I did so it took a week for the comment to be approved. Glyn Davies has posted on the subject here and Change of Personnel here.

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A blatant Tory threat: Vote No ... or else!

I'm not entirely sure of the circumstances that prompted David TC Davies' statement to the BBC today, but what he said was quite unequivocal:

"... Providing of course that Wales remains a part of the United Kingdom. And it's Labour that gave us devolution and then the new Government of Wales Act without a referendum and they are now talking about trying to give the Welsh Assembly even further powers through some sort of referendum, which I suspect will be heavily rigged.

"The more powers Wales develops and the closer to independence it gets the harder it will be justify large amounts of English taxpayers' money being given to the Welsh Assembly.

"There are obviously going to be public spending cuts throughout every area of the public sector. That's going to happen whether we have a Labour or Conservative government. There's no point in shying away from that because we are borrowing at a rate of £200bn a year and we are not going to be able to get the money for much longer.

"But there's no reason to fear specific cuts in Wales providing of course we don't go any further down the route to independence."

BBC - 5 December 2009

We know from what True Wales has consistently said that TC regards any additional powers that the National Assembly gets as a move towards independence. In fact he and the movement he leads regards this referendum as a referendum on independence, and openly campaigns for a No vote on that basis.

Therefore, instead of seeing it as a simple move towards the powers already agreed with Parliament and listed in Schedule 7, he prefers to make out it is "some sort" of different referendum ... and a "heavily rigged" one at that!


So what's his message? Simple: that if we dare to vote Yes in the referendum, the Tories will regard it as a move towards independence and a reason to cut the block grant we get from Westminster. Not just in line with the cuts that will affect the whole of the UK (which is only to be expected) ... but to make "specific cuts" for Wales.

And, to make it crystal clear, he says we have "reason to fear" these specific cuts if we vote the wrong way.


I think that's a blatant enough threat in anyone's language. But he's more of a fool than even I thought he was if he thinks people in Wales can be bullied by such threats.

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Bilingual juries put off again ... and again ... and again ...

Alan Trench has posted here about Jack Straw's speech to the Law Society in Cardiff last night.

The full speech is here, but I'd like to highlight just one part of it, since I've raised the subject before on this blog.

I could not discuss bilingualism in the context of justice without mentioning the longstanding issue of bilingual juries. I am conscious that we consulted on this some considerable time ago, and it would have been reasonable to expect a response by now. But the issue has not been easy to resolve.

The main difficulty is that this would involve interfering with the fundamental principle of random selection of juries from the population at large. Random selection guarantees the diversity and representative nature of juries on which so much of the authority of the jury system is based. Of course, in strong Welsh speaking areas random selection will already tend to produce Welsh-speaking juries, but I acknowledge the strength of feeling among some in Wales who would like to see bilingual juries everywhere. I hope I will be in a position to make an announcement on this shortly.

Jack Straw has been repeating this line for quite some time. This was his position back in April this year:

29 April 2009

Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the use of bilingual juries in courts in Wales. [270729]

Mr. Paul Murphy: I have discussed this issue with the Secretary of State for Justice and with the First Minister and an announcement will be made shortly.


And this is what he said way back in July 2008:

22 July 2008

Hywel Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice when he plans to publish his response to the consultation on bilingual juries in Wales. [211285]

Mr. Straw: The Ministry of Justice will make a statement on bilingual juries shortly.


Jack Straw now says he "hopes to be in a position" to make an announcement on this shortly. He is Secretary of State for Justice, therefore he is already in a position to do so ... the only real problem is that he's too weak and indecisive to do it.


As for the so called "problem" of being able to choose random juries, the straightforward answer is to put a question on the annual electoral registration form about ability to speak Welsh, in the same way as we already ask a question about age on the very same form for jury selection purposes.

From then on, it's just a simple administrative matter to arrange for a pool of bilingual jurors to be called when trials that need a bilingual jury are required. In areas with higher percentages of Welsh speakers, trials that involve critical evidence in Welsh can probably be heard at any time. In areas with lower percentages of Welsh speakers, the number of such trials will of course be very much lower anyway, but trials that involve critical evidence in Welsh would simply need to be grouped together every month or couple of months. For more, see here.

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I really enjoy reading Stonemason and his "friends" ranting on Betsan Powys' blog. In the last week or so on his own blog he has been trying to get to grips with Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006. He's just reached Subject 11, Housing.

This is what he had to say:

GoWA 2006, Schedule 7 Subject 11

Housing and housing finance. Encouragement of home energy efficiency and conservation, otherwise than by prohibition or regulation. Regulation of rent. Homelessness. Residential caravans and mobile homes.

There are no exceptions, the Lords and Ladies of misrule at Cardiff Bay have no excuses, every needed house for the Social Housing market to fill the housing need in Wales could have been built or ordered by now ...


Silly man. Schedule 7 lists what the Assembly will be able to legislate on after we vote Yes in the referendum (... and yes, he didn't quote the latest version, which is even more restrictive.) Schedule 5 lists what the Assembly is currently able to legislate on.

Let's take a look at it, here. The field is blank, which means that the Assembly isn't able to pass any laws about housing. But the Assembly is trying to get an LCO to enable it to pass some laws in this field.


Now this is what's strange. Stonemason has already spent many happy hours over the past year telling his readers what he thinks about housing, and especially what he thinks of the Housing LCO. So what do we conclude? That all this time he hasn't had the first clue what he was talking about? Perhaps.

The other explanation is that did know about the LCO process, but is now engaged in a process of deliberately trying to mislead his readership into thinking that Schedule 7—even with all its exceptions—is what the Assembly can already do ... thus spreading the impression that after a referendum the Assembly will be able to legislate on even more.

Idiot or liar?

What do you expect from True Wales and their activists?

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Alternative Vote Referendum

An amazing political development on Newsnight last night. Apparently Labour are likely to put in place legislation before the election in May 2010 to hold a binding referendum on the Alternative Vote after the election. The story is also here in the Guardian.


As I've said before here, here and here, I think STV in multimember constituencies is a much better way of voting. But anything is an improvement on the current system, and therefore welcome.


And—should the parallel have escaped anyone's notice—if Labour can set up one referendum before the election in May next year, they can just as easily set up another to give primary law-making powers to our National Assembly, can't they?

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Schedule 7

In a discussion about Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 here on Betsan Powys' blog, I discovered something that was news to me. Ednyfed Fychan [#7] said that Schedule 7 as originally enacted had been amended by means of this Statutory Instrument:

     Statutory Instrument 2007 No. 2143

Some of the changes are quite minor, some not, but they are important because Schedule 7 is the definitive list of what the Assembly can and cannot legislate on after a Yes vote in the referendum.


OPSI (the Office of Public Sector Information) should update the online version of all Acts of Parliament that are subsequently amended, with notes that explain the changes. Unfortunately they haven't yet done it (it should be available here) for the Government of Wales Act 2006. Schedule 5—which changes every few weeks as new Matters are added—is kept up to date on this page of the Assembly's website. But not Schedule 7, presumably since it is not yet in force. Consequently there is no "clean" version of Schedule 7 in its current form officially available anywhere.


I thought I should rectify that, so I've produced an up to date version of Schedule 7 to read and download here:

     Schedule 7 to GoWA 2006 (as amended by SI 2007 No. 2143)

Of course it's not official but, in the absence of any official version, this is all there is. People are free to copy and distribute it as they wish. And who knows, perhaps someone with more influence than me can persuade the powers that be to produce an official version.

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Strawberry it is!

Congratulations to Carwyn Jones on becoming leader of the Labour group in the Assembly.

It's a victory for "steady as you go" and "more of the same" and the subliminal message on the cover of his manifesto was there for all to see: Labour will simply continue to go downhill under his leadership.


Just a gentle downhill, just a bit-by-bit decline. Perfect. May 2011 can't come too soon.

P.S. The title of the post will make more sense if you read this.

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