I came across this picture a while ago, and St Andrew's Day is the perfect time to show it.
I'll take a dram of Ardbeg and leave the politics to another post.
I came across this picture a while ago, and St Andrew's Day is the perfect time to show it.
I'll take a dram of Ardbeg and leave the politics to another post.
I mentioned in this post that 130 municipalities in Catalunya had arranged to hold non-binding referenda on independence on 13 December. I've been following events (thanks to Google Translate) from the site below, and think it's high time for an update.
A good number of additional districts have managed to get arrangements in place to hold their own referendum on this date, and the total number has reached 161. Together these represent an electorate of over 700,000 people. Early voting arrangements (people can vote up to twenty days before the polls close on 13 December, although most will probably leave it until the final day) mean that polling has now begun, and that no further municipalities can join. But it is anticipated that a few hundred more will hold referenda between February and April next year, bringing the total to over 400.
As I mentioned here the Spanish Constitutional Court is due to publish a final ruling on the legitimacy of certain aspects of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalunya which was approved in 2006 with 73% support. This is has been delayed for some time, but is due in the next week or so.
It is being widely reported that the Court will rule against the Statute of Autonomy. In anticipation of this, the following joint editorial was published by twelve Catalan newspapers last week. It's worth reading:
The translation may not be perfect, but we can get the gist. It doesn't take a genius to work out that the timing is perfect. If the Constitutional Court overturns the Statute, very large numbers of people will be out on the streets in protest ... and even more will go to the ballot box on 13 December. If the Court holds off giving the expected decision until after the vote, they then bring double trouble onto the Spanish State ... because people then would be able to say that even more people would have voted for independence.
Their only real hope is to announce that they will uphold the Statute in its entirety, but after the vote ... and then claim that they have dealt with what they could spin as "the problem that led to the referenda being set up". Somehow I don't think they're even that clever, or that it would wash. And anyway, the next wave of 250 referenda in the Spring (coupled with any municipalities that might re-vote to test whether that claim is in fact justified) should clearly reaffirm what the people of Catalunya think.
When Betsan Powys reported that Gerry Holtham was "clearly on side" about the Labour Government in Westminster's response to his report, I must admit I was a little dismayed.
I didn't see how he could possibly be happy with it. Especially when I looked at Peter Hain's press release on the Wales Office site which, as we might have come to expect by now, trumpeted:
It essentially said that everything's all right, that it always has been, and that nothing is going to change ... but we might think about it in future if things get worse. The graph and table I put in this post yesterday shows just how much public spending in Wales has dropped in relation to that of England and Scotland.
Then I saw what the man himself had to say on Dragon's Eye last night:
Sanity returned. Although Hain had let us down, Holtham clearly hadn't. As he said, he was welcoming "a step in the right direction ... a chink in the wall". But only a step.
By failing to set out a principle—and Holtham had given them a principle that they could have adopted without having to do away with the political simplicity of Barnett, namely the 114% floor—the UK government is inviting a free for all. It stores up problems for itself in the future.
The ultimate irony is that they could adopt this principle without any immediate financial implications because public expenditure is not going to rise in the next few years. As he said, they are acting like "silly billies" for not doing so.
What would it take for the Secretary of State to stop blowing his own trumpet for doing nothing and actually fight Wales' corner in cabinet? And what would it take for a Labour First Minister to stand up to him for failing to do it?
I would much prefer to have a SoSW that had the humility to say, "I did try my best, but they wouldn't listen to me" than one who tries to make out that the failure to stop this ten year long slide is a "victory". At least the people of Wales would then be more aware of the situation, and public outrage would add to the pressure on Westminster to put things right.
... or yet more silly buggers?
I wrote the above based on what the Wales Office press release said, but have now read this article in the Western Mail, which says completely the opposite thing:
It says that there will be a floor and hints that it will be 113% ... which probably isn't too bad. But I don't understand where the WM got its quotes from, though I assume they're accurate.
But if they are, why the sudden change? Why didn't what the Wales Office press release said match the quotes in the Western Mail?
It looks like we might have yet another example of a hasty backtrack on a Peter Hain press release, accompanied by claims of "that's what I really meant all along". Gerry Holtham very clearly didn't think that a floor had been agreed when he gave his interview, and neither did Betsan Powys in the introduction.
And how does this make any sense:
Mr Hain said that if Labour won the general election, a new minimum level will be set to ensure Wales does not lose its advantage. It would be introduced from 2011 as part of a Comprehensive Spending Review.
An incoming Tory government would find it difficult to backtrack on the deal agreed with the Treasury, he suggested.
The exact minimum level has not been decided, but Mr Hain suggested it should be around the current point, with Wales getting 13% more per head than England.
The first paragraph doesn't match the second. If the deal has been done with the Treasury now then that deal must be in black and white. But the third paragraph makes it clear that no figure has yet been decided. And it should be obvious to everybody that any "incoming Tory government" would have come in long before the 2011 Comprehensive Spending Review.
This is not a deal, it is just spin ( ... not even Tomos Livingstone could be that confused!) This story is nothing more than talk about a possible deal.
We're back to square one. Hain must actually do a deal and get the precise, agreed figure in black and white now, while Labour still can. Talk about leaving it until after they win the Westminster election is not worth a penny. Literally.
A great feeling of relief. I'm sure that's how it feels for the three Labour leadership candidates, and even more for their campaign teams. And of course for Wales Home, who have valiantly given saturation coverage to a contest that hasn't really caught hold of the imagination in Wales as a whole.
That's explainable simply by the fact that it is an internal contest (despite some unions sending out ballot papers to members who do not pay the political levy) and that whatever their differences, what binds the three candidates together is far stronger. It's only been a question of whether you want chocolate, strawberry or nuts on a synthetic white goo that is marketed as ice cream.
Personally I've taken a fair bit of interest in the campaigns, but I haven't commented on the relative merits of the candidates because it's not my place to. Let Labour choose their new topping ... I'd much rather focus on saying that the synthetic white goo may look like ice cream, but that it isn't a patch on the real thing.
Now that the voting is over, I think it's time to say something. I can do it now because it won't affect the results but, just as importantly, I don't want what I say to appear to have been a response to the result; as if I was simply attacking whoever had come out on top.
I have said, and sincerely believe she is a very good minister. She has rightly been able to say that she has a tough job; in marked contrast to Carwyn Jones who must, as Counsellor General, be fairly aloof from day-to-day matters; or from Huw Lewis, who essentially disqualified himself from a ministerial role because of his opposition to the One Wales Agreement.
I think the ideas in her manifesto were sound, but each manifesto was by nature only going to be a "motherhood and apple pie" document designed primarily not to offend, rather than to put forward any distinctive approach. The far tougher test is how you react to questioning, and in that she showed herself on more than one occasion to be not only more defensive than was warranted, but almost to take offence at the question.
In short, if she were to become Labour leader and new First Minsiter, she would be able to competently see through the One Wales programme of government and pursue policies that are good for Wales, but I doubt that she would be able to inspire Labour enough for them to make any sort of recovery at the next Assembly elections. That might make her a very good choice so far as Plaid are concerned.
I have no doubt that Carwyn Jones is a very able and affable person. Others might feel that being shunted into a ministerial job that didn't require him to make any tough decisions was a negative because it has given him no chance to shine, but the other way of looking at it is that this was what he actually wanted.
Carwyn has always been the heir apparent, and it seems clear to me that he fought a deliberately anodyne campaign. It was designed not to hurt or offend anyone in Labour, not to rock any boats, to just try and keep calm and hope to stay on top. He felt he didn't need to do anything to win, he just had to avoid mistakes.
Consequently we are left with someone who obviously has an "agenda" but who hasn't actually said what it is. You get glimpses of it, for example his commitment to "bilingual" education rather than Welsh-medium education suggests he wants to follow the line we can see developing in Sir Gar in which Welsh medium education is watered down, English medium-education is cranked up, and you are left with a situation that doesn't really satisfy anybody. That might make him a horse designed by a committee.
So will he be any good as First Minister? I think he will stick to the One Wales Agreement faithfully, but perhaps not particularly enthusiastically. As for leadership, he does have gravitas, but without charisma. He'll be just like John Major. Rhodri will be just as hard an act to follow as Maggie was.
Rhodri is someone that we all loved to bits. Being despised by Tony Blair is actually one of the things that made him so loved in Wales. Yet, for all his sharpness, he was not in fact able to do anything to halt, let alone reverse, the situation in Wales.
To give a topical example, today saw the Labour Government in Westminster's response to the first part of Gerald Holtham's report ... which has been on the table since July. I commented on Hain's response to it here, but this is a graph of how spending in Wales has gone down relative to England.
In the twelve years that Labour has been in power, it has been the conscious policy of the Labour government in Westminster to drive down public spending in Wales relative to England.
But at the same time relative spending in Scotland over the last few years has been rising. The PESA figures show that over the past six years relative spending (the UK as a whole is 100) in Wales has gone down from 114 in 2002-03 to 110 in 2007-08. But for the same period relative spending in Scotland has in fact gone up from 117 to 118.
What I'm saying is that despite Rhodri's personal popularity, he hasn't been able to do a thing to get Wales a fair slice of the pie. It doesn't matter if we blame Peter Hain and Paul Murphy as the Secretaries of State for Wales for not fighting Wales' corner in cabinet, or whether we blame the Labour leader in Cardiff for not complaining loudly about them not doing it. It was a hand and glove operation, and as today's announcement makes clear, nothing is going to change.
Back to Carwyn. He will just carry on with this "more of the same". Can you imagine him actually taking Peter Hain to task for not standing up for Wales' interests? I could see Edwina doing it, but I don't think he will. The freudian slip on his manifesto cover was that he was confidently striding downhill. Just a gentle downhill, just a bit-by-bit decline ... but Carwyn offers no hope of any change. Again, as a Plaid supporter, that's just fine by me. Labour have been loosing more votes election after election. If they want to carry on, why should I stop them?
Now you might think that I am against Screwloose because of what I said about him here, or even think that it was an attempt to influence the campaign. But, as I hope I made clear, if he's prepared to take time out of his campaign to make ridiculous accusations against a blog post, I'm equally prepared to publicize just how misguided such behaviour is.
In fact I have a good deal of respect for many of his policies. In contrast to his two opponents, he does at least have some charisma. If he became Labour leader he might just make Labour popular again. He would be a David Cameron for Wales: young, right image, good pedigree as a Valleys boy, slick with the soundbites. Given that politics as fought out in the UK media seems to be much more about personality than substance, he would make an ideal Labour leader.
But what of the substance? Well yes, he has some good policies. He obviously cares about things like child poverty ... but who doesn't? Perhaps it was all down to too many nights with little sleep, but his campaign seems to have an idea of itself which left others wondering if they, and he, had completely lost touch with reality. As if the spin was the substance.
"Let Labour be Labour" was a brilliant line, perfectly designed to appeal to what Labour once was. Perhaps that's why it seemed he was the darling of the older generation of Labour supporters who can actually still remember what Labour once was. But he would have a Herculean job to do, because the party has become something else. If you "let Labour be Labour" then today's version of Labour will come out with stuff like Aneurin Glyndwr.
After Tuesday's events I watched Peter Hain's performance in the Senedd yesterday with great interest, and I have to say I was relatively impressed. I'm not going to call it a U-turn, because a lot of what he had to say is not very different from what he has always said. But the one big—and crucial—difference is that he is now no longer saying that the referendum will be lost if held on or before May 2011. That is very welcome and makes all the difference.
He said a lot of things (after all, this was meant to be a debate on the Queen's speech, not the referendum) and he said similar things in different ways in answer to different people. But I would précis what he said as:
If the Assembly decides to vote for a referendum, I will not stand in the way. I will lay it before Parliament without taking 120 days to do it. When the referendum comes I will vote Yes and I will actively support the Yes campaign. But be warned, the result might well be a lot tighter than you think.
That is quite reasonable. Now of course it won't stop Peter Hain spending the next few weeks doing all he can behind the scenes to convince Labour AMs not to vote for the referendum. But it does mark the end to his one man campaign of outspoken public opposition to a referendum. Or at least I hope it does. This new, more reasonable attitude might just be a short lived reaction to yesterday's fiasco.
There was, however, one constant element in what he said yesterday which demonstrates just how different things are between Westminster and Cardiff. I don't mean his aggressive, confrontational tone, which was quite out of place in the Senedd (... though Mark Isherwood sank to the bait!) I'm talking about his constantly repeated "It's-either-us-or-the-Tories" mantra, something which is so deeply ingrained that it can probably be called an obsession. It simply isn't true that voting LibDem is a vote for the Tories, or that voting Plaid is a vote for the Tories ... and that's why he was laughed at when he said it.
Another refrain is that "Labour delivered devolution". Well yes, but that's a bit like giving a midwife all the credit for delivering a baby rather than the mother for going through the ordeal. Surely the point is that the people of Wales wanted devolution and voted for it. In fact if Labour had proposed a better devolution settlement, they wouldn't have had to keep trying to put it right bit by bit over the last few years ... but let's leave that to one side.
Labour's blind spot seems to be that devolution is an issue that depends entirely on them. If others want to tag along, that's OK, but Labour must call all the shots. As a result Hain brings with him all his "It's-either-us-or-the-Tories" baggage ... and he is therefore particularly dismissive of the contribution that Tory supporters will make to winning the referendum.
Two quotes demonstrate this perfectly. He talked of:
... the vast majority of Tory voters who are implacably opposed to further powers
and later said that Nick Bourne
... is not able to deliver his own Conservative voters. They'll all go in for a No vote.
The man is deluding himself. He simply can't see past his own tribalism ... but the bigger problem is that he expects everyone else in Labour to see things in the same way.
To try and cut through this and analyse the problem more objectively I need to make a distinction. There are two very different issues. The first is what the political parties think about a referendum, the second is the way their supporters will vote in a referendum.
Peter Hain can say with some justification that it is almost entirely up to Labour politicians whether we get a referendum. We need the votes of Labour AMs to get a two-thirds majority in the Senedd, and the votes of Labour MPs to get the referendum through Westminster. But he is completely wrong to think that ordinary voters will vote along party lines.
Ian Titherington beat me to it with the figures in this post. So let me put those figures in a different way.
Firstly I'm going to use the YouGov/Aber poll, which found a 42% - 37% margin in favour of a Yes to "full" lawmaking powers.
Westminster voting intentions
Lab ... 34% ... split 44% - 41%
Con ... 31% ... split 32% - 53%
Plaid ... 15% ... split 80% - 9%
LD ... 12% ... split 38% - 44%
This gives Yes percentages of:
Lab ... 44% of 34% = 15.0%
Con ... 32% of 31% = 9.2%
Plaid ... 80% of 15% = 12.0%
LD ... 38% of 12% = 4.6%
Now let's repeat that same calculation using the YouGov/ITV poll which found a 51% - 30% margin in favour of a Yes to "increased" lawmaking powers.
Westminster voting intentions
Lab ... 34% ... split 57% - 27%
Con ... 31% ... split 41% - 47%
Plaid ... 14% ... split 93% - 7%
LD ... 14% ... split 48% - 26%
This gives Yes percentages of:
Lab ... 57% of 34% = 19.4%
Con ... 41% of 31% = 12.7%
Plaid ... 93% of 14% = 13.2%
LD ... 48% of 14% = 6.7%
Now, I want to emphasize that the second sets of figures may look like a precise calculation, but this isn't strictly true because there are factors (such as don't knows and weighting) that it's not easy to work backwards from. They can, however, be taken as a rough indication that a very good number of Tory supporters will vote Yes. In fact there will be roughly twice as many Yes votes from Tory supporters as Yes votes from LibDem supporters.
This clearly shows that the Yes campaign simply cannot afford to sideline the Tories. We need those Tory votes and the Yes campaign must include them.
Now let's do another calculation, but this time with Assembly voting intentions:
Assembly voting intentions (FPTP)
Lab ... 32% ... split 43% - 40%
Con ... 25% ... split 33% - 54%
Plaid ... 24% ... split 74% - 13%
LD ... 12% ... split 36% - 44%
This gives Yes percentages of:
Lab ... 43% of 32% = 13.8%
Con ... 33% of 25% = 8.3%
Plaid ... 74% of 24% = 17.7%
LD ... 36% of 12% = 4.3%
Again the same "health warnings" apply, but this shows that Yes votes from Plaid supporters (for the Assembly) will quite comfortably outnumber Yes votes from Labour supporters.
Please understand that the purpose of doing this is not to set one party against another, it is simply an attempt to demonstrate that although getting a referendum depends almost entirely on Labour politicians, winning the referendum is not anywhere near as dependent on Labour supporters. It won't be about those who vote Labour, nor even about those who don't vote Tory. It has to be about Yes campaigners from all parties working together.
That's why Peter Hain's "us and them" attitude—and in particular the strange idea that no (or hardly any) Tories will vote Yes in a referendum—is completely crazy. I would even go so far as to suggest that his previous statements about the referendum being lost if held before 2011 can only be explained (if a delusion can ever be explained) by him not properly taking the Yes votes from non-Labour supporters into account.
The GoWA 2006 puts us in the strange position of knowing in exact detail what we will get if we vote "Yes" in the referendum, but it doesn't actually set out the precise wording of the question. There was quite a bit of debate in the Senedd about it in yesterday's debate, but according to Nick Bourne the Electoral Commission have already started asking the parties, and I guess other interested bodies, for their views on what the question should be.
This is something I have though hard about for some time, and commented on in a few blogs and forums in the past year or so and in the last few days. But I thought it would be good to put my thoughts together in one place and invite comments and criticisms.
I think it should be possible to express everything in a single question, without having to rely on a preamble. That question would be:
Do you believe the National Assembly for Wales should have primary lawmaking powers in the areas devolved to it, as listed in Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006?
Let me now explain exactly why I have chosen these words. The two critical parts are "primary lawmaking powers" and "Schedule 7 of the GoWA 2006".
Primary lawmaking powers
I have already commented several times about how terms such as "full" lawmaking powers and "increased" lawmaking powers are capable of being misunderstood.
My belief is that we cannot educate the public to accept that "full" lawmaking powers has a certain particular meaning, even in the context of this referendum. The All Wales Convention has tried hard to do that and failed. Attached to their report was a survey by GfK NOP which showed that "full" lawmaking powers not only can be interpreted in various ways but is still interpreted in various ways. So, for example, even at the second time of asking:
49% thought it meant "lawmaking powers in all areas of Welsh life"
28% thought it meant "will be able to change the basic rate of income tax”
26% thought it meant "Wales will be independent of the UK"
"Increased" lawmaking powers is a more correct way of putting it, but what that means is rather like asking, "How long is a piece of string?" It needs to be more precisely defined. It might benefit us in the Yes campaign to say "like Scotland", but that isn't actually true. That's a perfectly reasonable point for us to make when campaigning, but it is not precise or neutral enough to be the basis of a fair question.
What we have now is "secondary" lawmaking powers, which means that we can only make laws if another legislature (i.e. Parliament at Westminster) allows us to. If we win the referendum the Assembly will get "primary" lawmaking powers, which means that we can make laws without asking permission first. Therefore "primary" is the most precise term to use.
However, a successful referendum will only give us primary law-making powers in certain areas. So it is important to be precise about exactly what these areas are.
In general terms, the Assembly will only gain lawmaking powers in the areas which are already devolved to it. What we now have is best described as either "executive devolution" or "administrative devolution". This means the Welsh ministers in the Assembly can make decisions about how we manage the areas devolved to Wales, such as health, education, the environment, tourism, planning etc, etc. Our ministers essentially make "executive" or "administrative" decisions about how we allocate the budget and organize these government departments, or the other bodies and organizations we give money to.
Even after a "Yes" vote in the referendum, we will not be able to legislate on everything in the areas that are devolved to the Welsh ministers in the Assembly. There are many exceptions to the general rule in the previous paragraph. However there is one document which lists out the twenty areas in which we will be able to legislate together with the things that are excluded for our MPs in Westminster to legislate on, if they choose to. This is Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, which we can read here.
Many, if not most, people tend to think of the change as moving from Part 3 of the Act to Part 4 of the Act. This is of course true. But Part 4 deals with the technical details of how legislation is enacted ... of the steps that need to be taken to pass "Acts of the Assembly" instead of "Assembly Measures". It describes procedures and is therefore going to be mind-numbingly boring to 99.9% of the population.
My contention is that it doesn't matter what the technical details of how we pass legislation are. All that really matters is what areas the Assembly can and cannot pass legislation in ... and Schedule 7 is that definitive list.
Now of course I wouldn't expect many people to know all the detail in that list. But it is actually only a few pages long, and it is broken down into 20 main headings. So, at it's simplest level, it can be "the twenty devolved areas" ... which everybody should be able to understand. But each of us can go into the detail to whatever level we choose.
For this reason I think it is much better to frame the question in terms of "Schedule 7" rather than "Part 4" of the GoWA 2006. I had thought it should be put as "as set out in" Schedule 7, but on second thoughts it is probably better to say "as listed in" ... if for no other reason than to make it clear that Schedule 7 is a list.
So these are my latest versions:
Do you agree with the following proposition?
The National Assembly for Wales should have primary law-making powers in the areas devolved to it, as listed in Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006
YES, I agree
NO, I do not agree
I was criticised for making a phrase in my previous Welsh version too "Biblical". That happens to be almost literally true, since I'd lifted it from a Church in Wales bill (Barry Morgan will love that). So this time I've taken "as listed in" from this Statutory Instrument.
A ydych yn cytuno â'r cynnig canlynol?
Dylai fod gan Gynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru pwerau deddfu cynradd yn y meysydd sy'n cael eu datganoli iddo, fel a restrir yn Atodlen 7 o Ddeddf Llywodraeth Cymru 2006
YDW, dw i yn cytuno
NAC YDW, dw i ddim yn cytuno
At the first hint that Plaid might dump them for reneging on their promise in the One Wales Agreement, Labour's spin machine has been hurriedly reclaimed from the Aneurin Glyndwr shed and is now desperately trying to make out that they didn't really mean what they said earlier today in this press release:
JOINT STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO ALL WALES CONVENTION REPORT
GARRY OWEN, Chair Welsh Labour
RHODRI MORGAN AM, First Minister
PETER HAIN MP, Secretary of State for Wales
1. We welcome the detailed report by the All Wales Convention and reaffirm Welsh Labour’s commitment to primary legislative powers for the Welsh Assembly (under Part 4 of the 2006 Act), and to campaign for these in a successful referendum.
2. Because a ‘No’ vote in a referendum could set back devolution for several decades, triggering the referendum process needs to be based on a firm prospect that public opinion is ready to respond positively in the referendum.
3. Our internal policy process has already begun: Welsh Labour’s Welsh Joint Policy Committee has met, prioritised the need to campaign for a General Election victory, and agreed to start considering the All Wales Convention report in detail as a prelude to stepping-up wider Party consultation with AMs and MPs, councillors, trade unionists and members as soon as the General Election is over.
But by far the most enlightening part of the BBC's story on today's merry-go-round of events is this:
It is understood the wording of Mr Morgan's [subsequent] statement to AMs was agreed in an hour-long meeting between Mr Morgan, and the Plaid leader and Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones in the morning, before the Labour news release was issued.BBC, 24 November 2009
So what was going on? Whatever else Rhodri might be, he is not stupid. His memory for detail is legendary.
So why the contradictory statements? We can each draw our own conclusions. But the clear reaction to the earlier press statement was that Plaid would put the knife into Labour if they failed to honour their firm commitment in the One Wales agreement. So my guess is that Labour were either testing our resolve ... or that Peter Hain was making yet another of his last-ditch attempts to the scupper the referendum.
As that other avid anti-devolutionist in the Labour ranks said last summer, Plaid are definitely "running rings around us".
Thanks to Betsan Powys for breaking the news that Labour's Welsh Joint Policy Committee have decided not to make up their minds about whether we have a referendum on primary lawmaking powers until after the Westminster election.
The reason for this is obvious, but it is not the reason Labour will give.
Labour's line is that they only want to focus on one thing at a time; that they'll be so busy fighting the Tories that they can't possibly think of campaigning for a Yes vote in a referendum. This is, of course, simply a smokescreen. The referendum itself can be held in Autumn 2010 or even Spring 2011. All that is necessary now is a commitment to set a suitable date. The process of getting that through the Assembly and then through Westminster will in itself take several months. So if we are going to get a referendum in Autumn 2010 we have to start the process by January at the latest.
The real reason Labour will not make a commitment to a referendum is because they only want the Assembly to get primary lawmaking powers if they themselves are not in power at Westminster.
They like the current system ( ... after all, they designed it) because it gives them a "double lever" over every new area of legislation that affects things devolved to Wales. At present, Labour have a majority at Westminster, resulting in a Labour Secretary of State and a Labour majority on the WASC. No party in power would give up one of its levers of power.
Therefore, while Labour are still in power at Westminster they are more than happy to keep everything as it is. They will only want to change it when and if another party comes to power. Simple self-interest.
Labour Secretary of State = keep things just the way they are
Tory Secretary of State = transfer powers to Labour in Cardiff
Labour have allowed themselves to be duped by the Tories. When Cameron said he would not stand in the way of a referendum, Labour allowed themselves to believe they had an extra shot to nothing. Shot one was to hope to win the general election, and so keep things just as they are. Highly unlikely, but perhaps just possible. Shot two was that, if they lost the election, they could then ask for law making powers because Cameron had promised he would not veto it.
It was Cameron's master stroke.
I will repeat what I've said before: I do not think the Tories will do it. Why on earth should they? Once they have their own Secretary of State in place, s/he will be able to veto any new areas of legislation s/he doesn't like. If Labour in the Assembly want to do something that is against Tory policy, the Tories will simply veto it. Why let go of that lever of power?
Labour have allowed themselves to fall for the oldest trick in the book. What are David Cameron's promises worth? What's to stop him changing his mind about this referendum in the same way as both he and Labour Prime Ministers have done over the Lisbon Treaty. If Cameron is minded to find a pretext for not holding a referendum, he won't find it too difficult, will he?
Then where will Labour be? Labour will jump up and down and scream all they like, but Cameron will be able to say, in exactly the same way as he has done over the Lisbon Treaty, "Why blame me? You had your chance but failed to take it. The situation has now changed."
And it will be five years, or ten years ... or maybe even fifteen years before Labour get back into power at Westminster.
Well, how do you think people in Wales are going to react to that? Fast-forward a few years as the Tories embark on yet another round of spending cuts that will slice just as deeply into Wales as they did in the 80s ... while at the same time saying that all their investment in London and South East England is justified because it will "stimulate the economy and lead the whole country out of recession".
And as the new Tory Secretary of State keeps repeating, "I am all in favour of law-making powers for the Assembly, how could anyone question that? ... but not for the next few years." Sound familiar?
Sure, the voters of Wales will soon come to regret their current flirtation with the Tories. But will the alternative be to go back and vote for the party which had the chance to protect Wales from the Tories ... yet failed to take it?
Michael Foot's "longest suicide note in history" has just been replaced with a Welsh version that is shorter, but just as final.
I was pleased to see a story in the Western Mail today about the Vale of Glamorgan's plans to expand Welsh-medium education:
Council to act on language demand
The popularity of Welsh language schools has forced a South Wales council to launch starter primary schools in two separate areas to meet the growing demand. The Vale of Glamorgan council is launching what it has dubbed “seed” primary schools in areas where parents cannot access its existing five Welsh medium primaries.
Demand for Welsh medium education in the area has grown steadily over more than two decades and council leaders have now produced a strategy to increase the number of places to meet anticipated demand from September 2010 onwards.
He said a survey last summer of parents with children under the age of three showed that 26% were very likely to require a Welsh medium school place for their child. The survey showed that 44% of respondents believed that their children would benefit from a Welsh medium education.
Mr Jeffreys [said], “The survey highlights an unmet or latent demand for Welsh medium education due to the existing distribution of Welsh medium primary schools across the Vale and the travel distances involved.”
The proposed Welsh medium strategy in the Vale involves:
• Building demountable seed schools in Barry and Llantwit Major and extend Ysgol Pen y Garth by September 2010
• in the longer term, depending on available funding, a new 420 place school is to be built in Barry to accommodate increased pupil numbers and relocate Ysgol Sant Baruc
• a new 210-place school in Llantwit Major including a new nursery
• the existing Ysgol Iolo Morgannwg to be replaced with a new 210-place school in Cowbridge
• Ysgol Pen y Garth, in Penarth, to be remodelled to increase pupil capacity from 350 to 420 places
Naturally I looked to see if I could find more detail, and found it here. It is the agenda for the Vale's Cabinet Meeting of 18 November 2009, and it includes links to three documents that are worth reading.
The most important factor in driving this increase in provision is the detailed survey of very young children due to start school in 2011 and 2012 (Appendix A). The headline figures are actually that 32% of parents would be likely (26% very likely and 6% fairly likely) to send their children to WM schools based on where schools are located at present, but that this would increase to 38% (the same 26% very likely, but double the number who would be fairly likely) if a WM school were available within two miles.
It should be noted that not everyone returned the survey, and the Council's working projection is therefore only for demands of 17.7% and 29.7% respectively. The current position is that only 11.7% of primary age children are in WM education so, even when the figures are downgraded to take account of non-respondents, there is still a very significant gap between supply and demand.
To the Vale of Glamorgan's credit (not that they have much choice, they're obliged to provide the type of schools parents want) they seem to have taken this on board ... although if they had done this sort of survey a few years ago, they wouldn't now be faced with a crisis. They have come up with some fairly straightforward proposals to address the problem. They divide the county into three areas, and examine to options and make proposals for each in Appendix C. Here is a map, click it for a larger version:
The Barry Area
There are already three WM schools in Barry. The two 1 form entry schools (Ysgol Sant Baruc and Ysgol Gwaun y Nant) can't be expanded. Ysgol Sant Curig is already a 2FE school, and it wouldn't be a good idea to make it any bigger. So the only reasonable option is a new school. So far so good.
However, what is being proposed is a "seed school" which is, to put it bluntly, just a set of portacabins. In other words it can only be a temporary solution. To be fair, VoG recognize this, and in the long term plan to replace Ysgol Sant Baruc with a new 2FE school.
My only comment is that the direction of parental demand is obvious, so it would make sense to start planning for that new school now. As it would take a year or two to design and build any new school, I'd suggest that a decision has to be taken within the next twelve months.
At present there is only one WM school to cover the whole rural Vale area, Ysgol Iolo Morgannwg, and this is too small. In the rural Vale the biggest factor is travel distance, so the obvious choice is to set up a new school in the next biggest centre outside Cowbridge namely Llanilltud Fawr (Llantwit Major). That's a no-brainer.
Again VoG are proposing a seed school, but this time don't mention any plans to build a new school in the agenda, although a new 210 place school is mentioned in the Western Mail report. That needs a bit more research.
I would imagine that VoG are waiting to see what decision is going to be made on the expansion of the military base at nearby Sain Tathan. If it does get the green light the population of the area would rise and that would justify building a new school. It could either be the new WM school, or it could be new premises for one of the EM schools, leaving the "seed school" school free to take over their old building.
Penarth and Dinas Powys
At present there is one WM school, Pen y Garth, located in the north west of the town relatively close to Dinas Powys. It is a 1.5FE school and the proposal is to add two permanent classrooms to make if a 2FE school.
Although I don't entirely object to this proposal (because it does at least address the capacity issue) I think this is the weakest part of the VoG plan, because it doesn't actually improve travel distances for any child, and therefore fails to take account of the increased numbers of parents who would sent their children to a WM school if one was available more locally. The official catchment area of the school extends as far as Sully. To my mind it would be much better to put another "seed school" in Lower Penarth, which is only just within the two mile circle from Pen y Garth and which would draw children equally from Lower Penarth and Sully. That would, in the short term, mean that the £440,000 needed for the permanent extension need not be spent, and that money could instead be used for a new "seed school". If that seed school fills quickly, it would result in surplus space in EM schools which might make it possible for one of them to become a WM school without having to pay for a new building.
I suppose two out of three isn't that bad. The package is generally very welcome news, even though it has come a good few years later than it should have. The critical factor has been to conduct a proper survey of what the parents of very young children want. This is something that Plaid has urging every council to do for years, and it is now likely to become a requirement for all councils to conduct them.
Surveys of this sort have been done in Newport, Wrexham, Swansea, Caerffili and Torfaen as well as now in the Vale of Glamorgan. Without exception they have shown the actual demand to be at least twice as great as the current provision, often more. The inescapable conclusion is that neighbouring councils are not providing sufficient WM places to meet parental demand either, and that they have avoided conducting these surveys because it would be too much hassle for them to change the status quo. Or, to put it even more bluntly, if they simply refuse to find out what the demand actually is, they think they will be under no obligation to provide for it.
That's a game that some local authorities have played for far too long.
On more than one occasion in the last few weeks, reporters have gone round the streets of our towns and cities in Wales with photographs of three politicians ... only to find that very few people had the slightest idea who they were.
Some people have tried hard to put memorable names to one of those faces. "Huey Lewis" was an obvious choice, but already taken. Betsan Powys—although not the first to do so—came very much closer with "Who-he Lewis" ... but even that valiant effort to make the name of the AM for Merthyr and Rhymni stick in the memory failed.
Last week the Cambria Politico blog carried a post called "Screwloose looses the thread". Yet before many of us had a chance to notice—let alone read it—it was withdrawn. It was withdrawn in response to this email:
Further to my phone message this afternoon and my conversation with Clive Betts, I’m writing to inform you that I am making a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission regarding defamation in the above piece and in regards to how the article relates to the following sections of the PCC Code.
1. (i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
4. (i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
12. Discrimination (i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
Leaving the entirely puerile tone to one side, there is a clear implication running through the piece that Labour AM, Huw Lewis, suffers from a mental health problem. This is an extraordinarily serious allegation made in a totally unacceptable and staggeringly crass fashion.
I would like to know what your publication guidelines are for Cambria Magazine and the accompanying blog, which is registered to the magazine.
Where does editorial control lie?
I am also reporting this matter to Claire Clancy, the Head of the Assembly Commission in order that she may review ongoing concerns in relation to the conduct of Cambria Magazine in relation to Members of the National Assembly for Wales, with particular regard to article 4 of the PCC code.
I am also asking for legal advice in relation to taking the matter forward relating to the specific blog post.
For your information, Clive Betts today denied to me directly that he wrote this piece and is therefore not responsible for its content. I have to accept his word on that matter.
Mr Betts also denied knowing who did write the piece and who was responsible for the publication of the blog. A statement which I believe to be untrue. I look forward to your clarification on who the blog author is.
Whilst these matters are being taken forward, I would like this blog post removed immediately.
Office of Huw Lewis AM & Lynne Neagle AM
Tel: 029 2089 8752
Fax: 029 2089 8387
National Assembly for Wales
Cardiff Bay CF99 1NA
At this point, I did take notice. Not so long ago George Monbiot published a frightening article on the way England's libel laws can operate in practice. This is one paragraph from it:
Eady’s clerk tells me that the judge doesn’t want to comment, but I expect he would answer that he was merely applying the law. And, though his interpretation is draconian, the sad truth is that he would be right. Long before Eady’s reign of terror began, gangsters like Robert Maxwell were using the defamation laws to sue the backside off anyone who tried to investigate their crooked affairs. Such are the perversities of this law that the English courts can be used by criminals to prevent exposure of their crimes. With average costs 140 times higher than those of other European countries, libel proceedings here can be defended only by people – like the admirable Mr Singh – who have a lot of money and a lot of guts. Until the law is changed, men like Mr Justice Eady will continue to hold free speech to ransom.
By clicking the link, we can see the full article and its footnotes in context, but the part that is of particular concern is that English libel law, even though it might be justified in principle, actually operates in a way that is completely out of balance. The law is weighted, by a factor of 140, in favour of one party ... and this in effect means that free speech can much more easily be silenced by the mere threat of taking action, rather than by whether such action has any reasonable basis.
For that reason, I thought that the formal complaints and threat of legal action from Mr Lewis' office needed to be brought to wider attention. So I wrote this post:
I was not the only one who wrote about it. Che Grav-ara, on Guerrilla Welsh-Fare, posted about it here and here. At the time neither of us knew, or at least could not recall, what the original post had said, but I felt certain that it would come to light somewhere.
And indeed, that is exactly what happened. The original article was republished, and we can all read it here.
It is quite obvious that nothing in the original post could by any normal stretch of the imagination imply that the AM "suffers from a mental health problem". Nor could it, by any normal stretch of the imagination, be called "an extraordinarily serious allegation made in a totally unacceptable and staggeringly crass fashion".
It was merely ridicule ... though perhaps it was a little crass.
The way things progressed from there can be followed in the comments on the respective blogs. I was angered by what Mr Lewis had tried to do but, even so, I thought it would be wise to allow him the opportunity to either dissociate himself from the email if it was not instigated by him, or to apologize for it if it was. Either way, of course, he is the one responsible for what his own office sends out ... but it would have been to his credit if he had seen fit to take any action to defuse the matter.
Several days have passed, and he has chosen not to do so. Perhaps—and with some justification—he could argue that he was in the middle of an election campaign. But equally, if he was so busy campaigning, why on earth would he let time be spent in telephone conversations, in emails, in making a formal complaint to Press Complaints Commission, in reporting the matter to the Head of the Assembly Commission and in taking legal advice? If his campaign could find enough time to do all that, then he could certainly have found enough time to act to put things right.
I think there can only be two explanations. The first is that Mr Lewis never really intended to either make a complaint nor seek legal advice; that he was instead simply trying to intimidate Cambria Politico into a temporary silence while the campaign lasted in order to get the votes of those he was trying so hard to win over. The second is that he was pompous enough to believe that he was too important to be lampooned.
It was probably a mixture of both. But what does either say about the character and judgement of Mr Lewis? It shows him to be either a bully or a pompous oaf. The day we are not allowed to laugh at our politicians will be a dark day for us all.
Starting with Lleu Llaw Gyffes, we in Wales have a long tradition of people getting a name not chosen by their parents at birth, but earning it in later life as a reflection of their true attributes or character.
Screwloose has now earned his own name from his own actions.
I'm sure he won't like it. But tough. He fully deserves all the ridicule he is going to get for showing such poor character and judgement.
I would urge everyone who this blog has any influence over to now call him by the name he has earned for himself. People can read everything I've written on Syniadau, as well as what I've posted elsewhere. I trust you will see that I am not someone who usually resorts to name calling or gratuitous insults. If I have earned any credit for that, I would now like to cash some of it in by encouraging you all to make sure that this name sticks. We cannot allow politicians to get away with this sort of behaviour.
I certainly do not intend any malice towards him. He has advocated many policies which I agree with and respect him for. It is merely a name. Perhaps in future he will mature into a politican whose ego has become a little smaller and whose character has become a little larger. I hope, when he has matured, that he might even come to regard it as a term of endearment. But every time he hears himself called Screwloose, it will be a salutary reminder of the day he was foolish enough to think he could threaten to use the law to silence someone who laughed at him.
I want to comment on a speech that Huw Irranca-Davies made last night about the referendum on primary lawmaking powers, at least in so far as it was reported in today's Western Mail:
I don’t think we can have just a sterile passage of time where we entirely park the results of the Convention. This is why the Labour Party will be expected to take a lead in describing the process that needs to be taken forward.
The most essential part of that process is finding a plan to engage with the wider public in Wales and ask their views on these issues, not to launch into some sort of Yes campaign solely driven by the political elite.
Huw is a Labour MP who I have some time for, and I believe I can understand the concerns he expressed about what Labour's response to Sir Emyr's report should be. There is no doubt in my mind that Labour need to reach a common position in the next few weeks, and then come out firmly on one side of the fence or the other.
What concerns me is the phrase "finding a plan to engage with the wider public in Wales and ask their views on these issues". It concerns me because that seems to be a very good description of what the All Wales Convention has spent the last year-and-a-half doing.
That is how most people will understand his speech, yet I wonder if that is what he in fact means. From my perspective, the publication of the AWC's report has already set out the case for a referendum in clear and decisive terms. But the way that referendum campaign is now fought is another matter entirely. This is what we need to concentrate our minds on.
Daran Hill wrote what I thought was an excellent piece about it yesterday. This is an extract of what he said:
... there remains a degree of disconnect between the Assembly and the population of Wales – who also happen to be the Welsh electorate.
This should worry everyone who supports more powers for the Assembly. Because in as much as yesterday’s report from the All Wales Convention provides a solid evidence base on which to build, it also illustrates the huge knowledge gap that still exists. The worry – and it is the same worry as in 1997 – is that, come a referendum, lack of knowledge will lead too many people into the camp of resisting change. When in doubt, stay at home or stay with what you know – or don’t know, actually.
When we move to referendum, which looks and feels increasingly like Autumn 2010, our actions and strategy need to reflect what has gone before.
As National Organizer of the 1997 Yes Campaign, Daran probably has a better idea than anybody about what will we need to do in order to win this referendum. For even though lots of people have talked about it, we do not yet have any sort of Yes Campaign for this referendum.
We must not fall into the trap of thinking that we have to wait for public opinion to come round, nor that we should fight the referendum only when we know that the outcome is a foregone conclusion. We have to make the case for a Yes vote.
This is not something that can be done by another few years of consultation. Consultations are neutral, but the time for neutrality has passed. It is now time to unashamedly move on.
Now of course this will involve engagement with the public, as Huw I-D rightly said. We need to know exactly what people think and why they think it. The most fundamental part of trying to persude or convince anybody to vote Yes is to listen to them, to understand them and to and respect them. Without that, we do not have a hope of convincing them.
We know, from what the GfK NOP Social Research Report tells us, that a very substantial part of the public have a basic understanding of the issues involved, and that more people will vote Yes than vote No, by a margin of some 10%. But those same surveys reveal that a very significant number do not understand the issues. Here is an extract from their report:
The research demonstrated that there was a poor understanding of a number of the terms surrounding the debate on increased powers. Critically, the term ‘full law-making powers’ was not well understood.
• Findings from the second wave of quantitative research suggested that understanding of the concept of ‘full law-making powers’ has not increased since Wave 1. The majority of respondents recognised that full law-making powers mean that the Assembly “will have more powers in certain areas of Welsh life such as health, education, housing and tourism” (80% in Wave 1, 81% in Wave 2);
• Confusion was evident over whether the Assembly “will have law-making powers in all areas of Welsh life”, 48% of respondents in Wave 1 and 49% in Wave 2 incorrectly thought this was true;
• Three in ten respondents incorrectly thought it was true that the Assembly “will be able to change the basic rate of income tax” (30% in Wave 1, 28% in Wave 2);
• A quarter of respondents seemed to equate full law-making powers with independence. Twenty six per cent of respondents in both waves incorrectly believed it was true that “Wales will be independent of the UK”.
The qualitative research also shed light on the effects of poor understanding of ‘full law-making powers’, which was frequently misinterpreted as meaning that the Assembly would be able to make decisions in all areas of Welsh life. This could result in an impression that the debate on increasing law-making powers was one of independence, a less popular option. In this sense, poor understanding hindered the debate on increased powers.
28% think that voting Yes will give the Assembly tax setting powers
26% think that voting Yes equates with independence
Personally, I can't blame people for this "misunderstanding" of what "full lawmaking powers" means. It was always the wrong way of putting it, and this goes a long way to explain why the final poll showed a margin of 47% to 37% in favour, but that when YouGov asked the question in terms of "increased" rather than "full" powers this week for ITV Wales the margin was 51% to 31% in favour.
What is now different is that it's no longer up to the AWC, or any similar neutral body, to present the options. The AWC have taken things as far as they can. It is now up to us, as non-neutrals, to present our respective cases either to vote Yes or to keep things the way they are. As these polls show, the way we present our arguments when we set up the Yes Campaign will make all the difference. The ball is in our court.
There is no room for politicians to play some sort of role as an "honest broker" as another Huw, Huw Lewis, said yesterday. An honest broker is by definition on neither side of the argument ... and anyway, who would trust any politician who set himself up as being "neutral" on this issue? Not least someone who hopes to become the leader of his party.
To make a case, you have to take sides. Any politician in Wales who claims that he hasn't got an opinion one way or the other simply cannot be taken seriously. Like Peter Hain, to pretend to be in favour of the Assembly getting primary lawmaking powers in those areas for which it already has devolved responsibility, yet to qualify it by always saying " ... but only in a few more years" is not going to fool anyone.
I must admit that I'm not such a great fan of the style of some posts that appear on the Cambria Politico blog, but in comparison to many blogs I have read it usually contains nothing I would take any great exception to. There are many blogs that I would take exception to.
At present, the blog has taken down a post in response to an email from Huw Lewis' office in the Assembly. The crux of the allegation made by Matt Greenough was:
Leaving the entirely puerile tone to one side, there is a clear implication running through the piece that Labour AM, Huw Lewis, suffers from a mental health problem. This is an extraordinarily serious allegation made in a totally unacceptable and staggeringly crass fashion.
I am in no position to know what the original post said, but a redacted version with the supposedly objectionable content removed is here.
I find this a very sad development. Politicians, by virtue of putting themselves in the public eye, are obvious targets to be lampooned for what they say and think. In fact I would go so far as to say that the media has a moral duty to do it, and that it has been an established part of our political tradition for centuries.
Perhaps the now-removed article did go too far, I can't judge. But the way the issue has been handled, to judge by the rest of Matt Greenough's email, would certainly appear to be heavy handed.
It might also be self-defeating. I think that once the threat of legal action, namely:
I am also asking for legal advice in relation to taking the matter forward relating to the specific blog post.
... has been resolved, the original article is likely to resurface. And so, by trying to stifle what may have been only an expression of opinion, Huw Lewis could find that what his office has done has backfired on him ... and he might just find that he has hung himself with a name that he will never be able to shake off.
Perhaps—and I hope it is just perhaps—this sad escalation was merely an attempt by an over-zealous member of Huw's staff to "control things" as part of his current election campaign. Perhaps it was never seriously intended as a legal threat, but was merely an attempt to take the article out of circulation for the next week or two ... until after the election is over.
I myself picked up a mistake in Huw's manifesto, and Huw took it in good humour when he could have reacted much more defensively. I think that was the right response, and very much to his credit.
It would add to his credit if he could bring himself to make it clear that this email from his own office was a regrettable over-reaction.
Wales needs lively political debate. Lampooning our politicians has just as important a part to play in that as more serious stories, articles ... and even what we post on blogs.
I've just come across a new blog by Alan Trench called
Alan certainly seems well qualified to blog on this subject. Here is how he describes himself:
I am an academic, associated with the University of Edinburgh and the Constitution Unit at University College London. I am also a solicitor admitted in England and Wales, now non-practising. My work on devolution has concentrated on intergovernmental relations and how devolution affects the UK state at the centre, though I’ve also done a good deal of work on Wales. Friends say I have a unique knowledge of how devolution affects all parts of the UK.
I’ve published numerous papers and book chapters on various aspects of devolution, and edited several books too, including recently Devolution and Power in the United Kingdom and The State of the Nations 2008. I’ve written for papers such as The Herald, The Scotsman and the Western Mail, and made broadcast appearances on various programmes mainly in Scotland or Wales. I’ve also contributed sections on intergovernmental relations (and sometimes also finance) to the Devolution Monitoring Reports co-ordinated by the Constitution Unit at UCL since 2005.
As well as devolution in the UK, I’m interested in how federal and decentralised systems of government work in other countries around the world. I’ve carried out work on Canada, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and Spain, and have a working knowledge of other systems including the United States, Belgium and Italy.
I have been specialist adviser on aspects of devolution for two House of Lords select committees – the Constitution Committee for its major inquiry on Devolution: Inter-Institutional Relations in the United Kingdom in 2001-03, and more recently the Ad Hoc Select Committee on The Barnett Formula. I’ve also submitted evidence to many other inquiries, including recently the Calman Commission in Scotland, the Holtham Commission in Wales and the Commons Justice Committee’s inquiry into Devolution: A Decade On. I am constitutional adviser to Tomorrow’s Wales/Cymru Yfory.
Definitely one to add to our bloglists.
... and if Cymru Yfory could get their feed to work, their blog would be on my bloglist too.
When it comes to the referendum, we know that if the decision were simply up to AMs we would easily get the two thirds majority required to trigger a referendum. In fact, if Nick Bourne is able to hold his party together, there is a fair chance of the Senedd passing it unanimously.
That's not where the debate lies. What matters—and it is the only thing that matters—is how the wider Labour Party in Wales party react to Sir Emyr's report and its recommendations. They have to take the next few days or weeks to work out their response. They need to think clearly.
Although Labour's AMs are in favour, their MPs are divided. Some are absolutely against having a referendum, unless it is in several years' time. It's pointless naming names, I'm sure most of us know who they are anyway. Some are and always have been unequivocally in favour of a referendum ... but most are somewhere in the middle.
I have always said that the main purpose of the All Wales Convention has been to give Labour time to make up their minds about whether and when to hold the referendum. After the One Wales government was formed, the AWC was a very expedient way of giving everyone a good reason not to speak out on the issue. Expediency is vitally important in politics, because once a politician has been put on the spot and forced to declare their views on a particular matter, it becomes very difficult for them to later change their minds when circumstances change.
If anyone needs an illustration of this, just think of the promises given about the EU Constitution that was and the Lisbon Treaty that is. Both Labour and the Tories made firm promises, but then had to back away from them. Both parties could with some justification use the line that "circumstances had changed" ... but did that stop other parties making political capital out of it? Of course not. Politics is for grown ups.
Yes, there will always be outspoken politicians who can't help but make their own opinions public on every occasion. Every party has its sprinkling of those. But the majority of politicians learn when it is best to be vocal, and when it is best to keep quiet ... to wait and see how things pan out. If you can do that, you won't look a prize fool when circumstances change.
That is why the AWC was such a good idea. It gave the more sensible politicians a perfect opportunity to say that they would wait to see what the report recommended before taking a position. And in practical terms, it left them to get on with the day to day business of politics rather than be sidetracked onto constitutional issues by reporters anxious to create a battle for the sake of "newsworthiness".
That was back in 2007. It is now late 2009 ... and guess what? Circumstances have changed. When the AWC was set up, there was every chance that Labour would win the next Westminster election (few doubt that Gordon Brown would have won a general election if he had called it back in 2007). Even fewer of us were thinking about any sort of banking crisis and such massive public borrowing. And no MP thought their expense claims would be made so public.
The political landscape has been turned upside down in the past two years.
And that, for Labour, means that they now look unlikely (to put it at its mildest) to win the General Election in May 2010. Of course that won't, and shouldn't, stop them fighting as hard as they can against the Tories. And perhaps some miracle will happen. But even the most optimistic Labour MP must know that the prognosis is not good.
What the AWC's report has demonstrated is that—even if the LCO system is working better than it used to—the rate of progress is almost entirely determined by the Secretary of State for Wales, who has an effective veto. It can only work if the party in power in Westminster is favourably disposed to the legislation being proposed. At another level, Westminster currently makes extensive use of Framework legislation (because it's so much easier and simpler than the LCO system) ... but most of that has been used to confer powers on Welsh ministers directly rather than legislative power to the Assembly. Think, what Tory in their right mind would simply hand over more power to a Labour minister in Wales?
Now that the report has been published, there is no need for any division between Labour's AMs and MPs in Wales. Surely you all want what is best for Wales? True, your idea of "best" may not be the same as ours in Plaid, but they're close enough for us to be able to work together in a common programme for government in Wales. Of course it would be better to have a Labour than a Tory government in Westminster ... but with only 40 MPs out of more than 600, Wales doesn't get to have much of a say in the outcome of the Westminster election, does it?
For the past two years you've been able to work with "Plan A" ... but now it's time to dust off "Plan B". Plan B is to make sure that even if you lose power at Westminster, you can still carry though a radical programme of government in Wales. It really is a no-brainer.
Sadly some of your more outspoken MPs have made their opposition to lawmaking powers so obvious that they can't change their minds now. But most of you—all but a small handful of you—have been wise enough to keep your head down on the issue, to see how things would work out.
The AWC has now given you overwhelmingly positive evidence that we should move to a referendum of primary lawmaking powers. The public is in favour of the move by a margin of 10 percentage points. You can properly say that circumstances have changed to the point where the move is desirable, practical, and above all achievable. It's the only way of protecting Wales from the Tories. The public, whose opinion of you is what matters, will wear it.
So join your AMs and make sure it happens. If you can come together and present a united position, the referendum will be won easily. And if that means sidelining a handful of refuseniks, so be it. They will come round simply because it is more important for the party to remain united. Don't allow a small tail to wag the dog.
The name of the game is simple. You must set the terms of the referendum while you still can. The exact date, the exact form of the question, are important. You cannot safely leave any of that to the Tories. You don't trust them on anything else, so why take the risk of trusting them on this? You do not have the luxury of leaving it until June, you need to get it through Westminster before you leave office in May.
The referendum itself can be any time from Autumn 2010 to Spring 2011. You don't have to think about fighting the public campaign until the general election is over.
Neither do you have to make a decision right now. Don't panic. Wait until you have your new leader. Wait until he or she has reshuffled the cabinet over the Christmas break. Talk it through with other party leaders. Persuade Rhodri to lead the Yes Campaign as a well-deserved final chapter in his service to Wales.
Then come to the Assembly united and ready to put things into gear in January. Aim to get it through Westminster by the end of March, so that you still have a bit of leeway on the date of the General Election.
It's been quite amazing to see the reaction to Martin Shipton's story in the Western Mail today. I thought I'd wait until I'd actually seen the programme before commenting, although what John Dixon said this morning turned out to be just right.
The first and most obvious thing to note is that this was all sparked by what Betty Williams said. She is currently the Labour MP for Conwy ... although she will step down at the next election, to coincide with the boundary changes that will put the western half of the constituency into Arfon. She said that speaking Welsh was the reason why she was supporting Carwyn Jones.
That seems a fairly insignificant reason for supporting him rather than one of the other two candidates. I would have thought that his policy ideas and his ability to deliver them, his ability as leader of the party, and his appeal to the people of Wales at the next election should all have ranked more highly than whether or not he could speak both Welsh and English.
But Betty Williams obviously doesn't. Perhaps she thinks (and this is the kindest interpretation I can put on it) that Labour needs to do more to connect with their lost voters in the western half of Wales, and that this is what will do it. But if so, I believe she has very much misjudged the way people think. On that basis, people might just as well vote for a Tory—or even someone from the BNP—just because he or she can speak Welsh! To me, that speaks volumes about how disconnected Labour have become from what really matters to people. What matters is policy and how well you are able to deliver what you promise ... not the language in which you make those promises.
But that said, Edwina Hart rose to the bait in a completely disproportionate way. This is all the more surprising because any fool could have told her that sooner or later someone would question her about the fact that Carwyn Jones could speak Welsh, but that neither she nor Huw Lewis could.
As Mercher said on the WalesOnline forum:
To come out it smelling of daffodils rather than leeks she might, rather than dismiss any importance the ability to speak Welsh has to the job, have said:
1. She didn't get the opportunity to learn when she was young but thankfully things are different for children today.
2. That she has tried but with work commitments it is very difficult as many other people in Wales will know from personal experience.
3. Confirm that Welsh is an asset to the job but that her commitment to bilingualism is actually more important than her ability.
But instead, her reaction can only cast even greater uncertainty about what her rather strange manifesto statement about Welsh-medium education actually means. She prides herself on being straight-talking, but straight talk is about saying what you mean in a simple, straightforward way. It is not about taking umbrage at the question and snapping some sort of angry answer. She is normally very good at being direct: her one word "No" to an enquiry about the allegation that £1bn of the NHS budget was being misspent is a good example of it, and her decision over the location of neurosurgery in both Cardiff and Swansea is another. So why does it all fly out of the pram when it comes to Welsh?
Perhaps it can all be best understood in the context of the audience she is playing to. This is an internal Labour leadership election, and she is therefore saying only what she thinks will go down well with those whose votes she needs to win it. But that brings us right back to Betty Williams, though from the other direction. One of them thinks that being bilingual is what Labour needs to win votes ... the other thinks that pointedly justifying not being bilingual is what will win her and her party votes.
Both attitudes are wrong. What matters to people who speak Welsh is that they have the right to use it—and receive the same level of service as is available in English—when dealing with the types of organization that provide the services we all must use. What matters to those who want to see Welsh flourish (and that is the vast majority of people in Wales, by a margin of 81% to 7%) is that their children and grandchildren are fully bilingual by the time they leave school.
These are the lessons about Welsh that Labour clearly still needs to learn, irrespective of which of the three candidates gets to be their leader. If Labour continues to be half-hearted—or to send out ambiguous messages—on these two issues, then it won't actually matter one bit whether their new leader can speak Welsh or not. It isn't as easy for "old dogs" to learn new tricks, so it will be perfectly understandable if Hart or Lewis don't manage it. But it will be impossible for voters to understand or tolerate a party that fails to ensure that our "young dogs" learn these skills while they are at an age to ...
... soak it up!
Update - 18:00 Tuesday
I thought it would be a good idea to show the programme itself. There aren't any subtitles, but two of the interviews are in English.
The All Wales Convention will present its long-awaited report and recommendations on Wednesday, and every blog and media outlet in Wales will of course have something to say about it.
I'm quite sure none of us would want to have an uniformed view of the constitutional situation of either Wales or of the UK as a whole, so to put things into some sort of overall context I'd like to recommend a little light reading for the weekend. Just click on this picture:
And if my recommendation isn't enough, this is what some others have said about it:
Democratic Audit’s spoof constitution is very funny on the way we are governed until you realise with a shiver just how real it all is. Those of us who wish to improve and deepen our democracy must find ways of doing so in the face of the major obstacles that this satirical document all too clearly identifies.
Hilary Wainwright, editor of Red Pepper
This is a brilliant document — and a searing lampoon of the ridiculous state of our political arrangements. It exposes all the glaring faults and the silent assumptions that deform our system, preventing it from ever functioning in a way that we, the people, deserve.
Helena Kennedy QC, member of the unreformed House of Lords
It is difficult not to read this brilliant exposé of the traditions of cant, deception and arrogance that serve as Britain’s constitution without feeling admiration for the authors and a profound anger for the self-perpetuating political classes that continue to rule.
Henry Porter, political columnist and novelist
For centuries, the UK state simultaneously ran a despotic empire overseas and a liberal constitutional polity at home. Democratic Audit’s spoof constitution brilliantly captures how the constitutional schizophrenia this induced in our governing elite continues to shape the fabric of modern British politics and to undermine the lives and liberty of every citizen.
Professor Patrick Dunleavy, London School of Economics
To echo the first quote, let's not fail to take the opportunity this referendum will give us to, if only in a small way, "improve and deepen our democracy" in Wales.
Network Rail have today announced that they are going to spend £85m over the next five years on improvement works to more than 120 stations in Wales.
Great news, it's badly needed. But look at the last paragraph of the story:
The firm has announced £3.25bn spending over five years on 2,000 stations across Britain.
Now do the maths. £85m is just 2.62% of the total investment. By share of population Wales should be getting 5% ... which would work out at just over £160m.
Where's the other £75m?
The LibDems came nowhere (sixth) in Glasgow North East, and it would be cruel to say that's because they don't have any particularly relevant political policies. But the one thing they are consistently good at is pressing for electoral reform, and STV in particular. They deserve praise for that.
I watched the coverage of the Glasgow NE by-election last night on the other STV. Scottish Television's coverage was very good, and the delay in announcing the result meant that the discussion became quite wide-ranging. It eventually got round to the subject of electoral reform and my title comes from this quote:
This is just Liberal Democrat heaven ... I mean, talking about proportional representation at half-past-one in the morning.
This is what we live for!
As we've had a few discussions about how STV would work in Wales in the past week, I thought it would be good to show an extract of that part of the discussion. It's particularly relevant to Scotland since they have four different electoral systems—First-Past-The-Post for Westminster, a National List for Europe, an Additional Member System for Holyrood, and Single Transferable Vote for local elections—and therefore have some first hand experience from which to speak.
As not many people will recognize all the faces, the four politicians are, from left to right:
• Bill Aitken, MSP - Conservative
• Alex Neil, MSP - SNP
• Iain Gray, MSP - no excuses for not recognizing the Scottish Labour leader
• Willie Rennie, MP - LibDem
Bernard Ponsonby was in the chair and the anorak was Prof Bill Miller.
A couple of things I would pick up on are what Iain Gray said about grouping of candidates from the same party on the ballot paper, and that the order should be randomized so that no party or person is alphabetically disadvantaged. These are things that I agree with completely and mentioned in the previous post. You will note that Mr Aitken disagreed, but I think (at least I hope) it was meant humorously. I was saddened that Iain Gray said that these proposals had been rejected by the other parties.
I also agree with what Alex Neil said regarding a possible referendum on the Alternative Vote system for Westminster, namely that it should include options such as STV as well.
Yet I can't help but be cynical enough to think that by the time a politician is in a position of power, his or her views on the merits of various options for electoral reform are shaped more by which one is likely to be most beneficial for their own party than by what is fair.
And that perhaps explains why the LibDems are so consistently right on the issue of electoral reform. They never get into power, so they are never tempted to compromise the impartiality of their position by manipulating the system so as to keep them in power.
I only hope that my own party—now that we are at last in government, and looking likely to increase our share of the vote—never compromises its position on STV.
I've just read this bizarre film preview in the Guardian. Here are a couple of quotes from it:
When I was a kid, I used to watch this guy on television wearing a cape, riding a horse, and singing Welsh in a strange accent. I asked my grandmother who he was and she said, "That's your uncle."
"It's remarkable that I can play a gig of Welsh language songs in South America and they understand what I'm singing about, even if they find the music a bit suspect," says Rhys, failing to mention that he performed much of it in a red spaceman's helmet while singing into an orange plastic cup.
These are the words of Gruff Rhys, of the Super Furry Animals ... and this is a still from the film, just to give some idea of what he failed to mention:
I guess we'll have to imagine the orange plastic cup.
It confirms what we all know: Wales is the strangest of places ... though we seem to have exported it with remarkable success.
If you think—using the words of another of our exports—that it's not unusual, Separado gets its first showing in Cineworld, Cardiff on 19 November. There might be some tickets left.
Much of what will appear on this blog will also appear in the Syniadau Forums, but the emphasis on this blog is slightly different. The forums are focused more on the structures and institutions that Wales will need to develop in order to become a successful independent nation, arranged on a subject by subject basis, but the blog will have more of an emphasis on day to day political news and developments.
People are welcome to reply or leave comments either here or on the Syniadau Forums. If anyone wants to initiate a new subject they are very welcome to do so there.