If a picture isn't enough, the thousand words are here.
Because the Times Educational Supplement is probably not too widely read outside teaching circles (and I only stumbled upon the story while doing a general search) I thought it would be a good idea to cross-post this to a wider audience:
Bilingual provision at English-medium schools deteriorating
By Darren Evans
The standard of Welsh-language teaching in English-medium schools is getting worse, according to Estyn.
Just less than two-thirds of schools inspected last year had shortcomings, compared with half in the previous two years. Only one in five of the English-medium schools inspected had good bilingual provision and Welsh as a second language remains one of the worst-performing subjects at both primary and secondary level, the report found.
Bill Maxwell, chief inspector of education and training in Wales, said that although progress is good when pupils start school and begin learning Welsh as a second language, standards soon slip. He said he hoped the Assembly government's Welsh-medium education strategy, launched last year, could help improve the situation.
Bilingualism is strong in traditionally Welsh-speaking areas, but weaker in more anglicised areas, particularly the south-east. Schools in those areas continue to face difficulties recruiting suitable teachers.
But Welsh as a first language is still one of the top-performing subjects. Rebecca Williams, policy officer for the Welsh-medium union UCAC, said the difference in the two pointed to a gap in the workforce that must be addressed with more training and professional development opportunities.
"There must be a serious review of how Welsh as a second language is taught, and a major overhaul of the subject is needed before it gets where it needs to be," she said. "The Welsh-medium education strategy is a start. It makes a lot of sensible suggestions and points us in the right direction. It was desperately needed and the sooner it's implemented, the better."
The strategy calls for every trainee primary teacher to learn Welsh to help raise standards.
As always, it's best go directly to the source of any story. In this case it was Estyn's recently published Annual Report for 2008-09, which is in three separate sections:
That should provide a wealth of reading material, which I haven't had time to go through. But the story in the TES is disturbing enough to raise some serious concerns, so I'm inviting people to make comments and start a discussion which I'll join when I've managed to do the background reading.
There were brief one line references to this on both the BBC website and Golwg 360 earlier this week, but only as a byline to a story that concentrated on general underachievement. As that story was quite big enough in itself, the language aspect didn't particularly register with me at the time.
Peter Black was definitely confused this morning about what is going on behind the scenes over the referendum. But one thing is perfectly clear, he wants to know whether the vote that Carwyn Jones said would be held on 9 February will be the vote that triggers the request for a referendum or one that is only an intermediate step towards it. Well, we all want to know that.
Just after midday I read a post on Betsan Powys' blog in which she gave us a snapshot of what was going on. But it didn't make any sense for the Tories to be saying that they needed "back pocket" assurances that the referendum wouldn't be on 5 May 2011 before they would vote for it, because the draft Referendum Order must contain both the date and the wording of the question. She then expanded the post to try and make more sense of it, but the explanation made even less sense because if the vote was merely a preliminary vote rather than the actual trigger vote, it would not need a two-thirds majority, and could be carried without needing Tory or LibDem support. I'm not in any way criticizing Betsan ... she was simply trying to present a picture of what was happening behind the scenes.
So far as Plaid, the Tories and the LibDems are concerned, October 2010 is a perfect time to hold the referendum. The Tories are adamant that the referendum should not be on the same day as the Assembly elections and the LibDems would prefer it not to be. I and others in Plaid would have no objection to it being on the same day if all else failed, but it is much better for it to be held at a time that everybody in the Assembly can agree on. If we can achieve unanimity across all the parties, it will send a very positive signal to both Westminster and Wales as a whole.
But there must obviously be a problem that prevents Labour committing to that date, otherwise we could simply go ahead without this confusion. We can all speculate about what this problem might be, but I am sure that certain elements of the Labour party are putting pressure on AMs not to commit to a date in order to "leave the options open". As I have said repeatedly, many Labour MPs only want the Assembly to get primary lawmaking powers if the Tories win the Westminster election. If Labour were, by some miracle, to stay in power they would want the LCO system to continue just as it is, because it gives a Labour Secretary of State and a Labour-dominated Welsh Affairs Select Committee power to veto any new area of legislation they do not agree with.
What they forget is that the Tories feel exactly the same way. If they win the election they are not going to want to give up their control over the Assembly through a Tory SoSW and Tory-dominated WASC either. David Cameron has only said that he will allow MPs a free vote; he knows full well that the natural anti-devolution instincts of Tory MPs—no doubt orchestrated by the likes of David TC Davies—could either prevent the referendum happening, insert additional options, or put additional conditions on it to require more than a simple majority of votes. Therefore the only safe way of getting the referendum through is to set it up before the General Election, because the Tories will be less inclined to re-visit something that has already been agreed.
The anti-devolution MPs in the Labour Party—of which there are still many—know that the best way of preventing the referendum is delay. And that is why such frantic efforts are being make behind the scenes to prevent a clear trigger vote on 9 February. Confusion is the name of the game.
Betsan reported that people were thinking that there needed to be two votes, both of which would require a two-thirds majority. This simply isn't true. There is only one vote that requires a two-thirds majority, namely the formal, final vote to approve the draft Referendum Order (technically the draft of the statutory instrument containing the Order in Council for the referendum) for the First Minister to send to the Secretary of State, for him in turn to lay before Parliament.
There is, of course, nothing to stop the Welsh Government holding a vote to decide on whether to have a vote ... but it will be a completely pointless and unnecessary exercise. When Carwyn Jones announced that there'd be a debate in the Assembly on 9 February, we were left in the dark about whether it would in fact be this trigger vote or not. The answer was a tantalizing "wait and see", but the motion that will be debated and voted on must be published by 2 February in order to give AMs time to consider it properly.
So everything now depends on what happens over the weekend. I think it is clear that Carwyn Jones wanted to pull the trigger on 9 February. In some ways he went out in a limb, hoping to bring things to a head while there was still (though only just) time to get the Referendum Order through Parliament before the election. I reckon most Labour AMs are behind him, but that Peter Hain and other MPs are waging a frantic battle trying to persuade them to delay things just a little longer ... no doubt citing party unity and the need to focus on beating the Tories in Westminster as reasons. Bogus reasons, because we will not start fighting the referendum campaign until after the general election is done and dusted.
But there is a public perception battle to be won. We all wanted to know whether the vote on 9 February would be the trigger vote or not. Everybody knew what "trigger" meant. But now, going by what Betsan has reported, it seems that some clever bastards are trying to introduce a distinction between what I will call "cocking the trigger" and "pulling the trigger". It is clear to me that the intention behind this is for Labour to be able to say that Carwyn was able to deliver a trigger vote, despite the fact that it is not looking at all likely that it will be the trigger vote he wanted.
Failure will have serious consequences for the future of the One Wales Government. If Peter Hain manages to succeed in putting the referendum off, Carwyn will be a lame duck First Minister within a few weeks of getting the job. Lame ducks do swim in circles ... they go round and round and end up getting nowhere.
This weekend will either make or break him. In fact, if he fails to deliver a "pull the trigger" vote on 9 February, there's a good chance that he may not be First Minister at all.
One or two comments made on other blogs today have suggested that Ron Davies will definitely be joining Plaid. This follows the news today that Forward Wales is going to be wound up, together with his endorsements of both Lindsay Whittle in Caerffili and Glyndwr Jones in Merthyr, as I mentioned yesterday.
In today's Good Morning Wales interview [iPlayer @ 2:34 or download clip from here] he talked about a close working relationship with Plaid, but went no further than that. So my advice would be not to jump to conclusions. It does seem certain that some sort of arrangement will be made for the 2011 Assembly election, but that need not necessarily mean joining Plaid and standing as a Plaid candidate. It is one of the options, of course, but other options would be for him to stand on a joint ticket in the same way as Cynog Dafis stood on a joint Plaid/Green ticket in Ceredigion, or to stand as an independent and for Plaid not to fight the seat.
Although the other options might seem less tidy, the latter would have practical advantages for Plaid because it would mean (all other things being equal) that Plaid would not loose a regional seat as a result of him being elected. It is a tricky issue, and it might result in queries to the Electoral Commission, but I would remind people that this is exactly what happened previously when Ron Davies and John Marek stood as independents rather than as Forward Wales candidates. Having been allowed once, it would be hard to imagine on what grounds it could not be done again. Of course the question wouldn't even arise if we had a fairer voting system ... but that's another issue.
It is an open secret that Ron's position is very close to Plaid's on a good number of things, so the obvious question to be asked is why he has not yet joined Plaid if it is his eventual intention to do so. I would guess the main issue would be independence. However as we're not likely to be voting on independence for the next ten years or so we have a lot of common ground that we can travel side by side if independence is a sticking point for him.
But who knows, perhaps Ron is coming round to the idea of independence for Wales, not least because we are beginning to see the way that independence can be achieved in an EU context, through what is now described as internal enlargement. Things are advancing on three different fronts: Catalunya, Flanders and Scotland ... and as soon as it is seen that independence will not result in "the sky falling on their heads" more and more people in Wales will realize that the sky won't fall on our heads either.
If Ron does intend to join Plaid the announcement that Forward Wales will not continue seems to provide a good opportunity for him to do so ... though we probably shouldn't expect anything soon because it will take a few weeks or months to wind everything up. The timing of any decision is of course entirely up to him, but it would surely be more newsworthy to leave it until closer to the Assembly election in 2011. If it were announced now, it would just get swamped in the run up to the Westminster election and would draw attention away from Lindsay's campaign.
I thought I'd give some shameless publicity to my friend Glyndwr Jones, who is fighting Merthyr and Rhymni for Plaid in the General Election. Click the picture to get to his website.
If there's one part of Wales that can truly be said to have been dumped on over recent years, it must be Merthyr. Trecatti tip reeks to high heaven when the wind happens to swirl in one direction ... and on the lucky occasions when it swirls in the other it will be carrying the coal dust and noise from the huge Ffos y Fran opencast mine instead.
And, unbelievably, things are set to get worse. There are plans to bring domestic waste from all corners of Wales to burn in a huge incinerator at Bedlinog ... and the preferred operator is the American firm Covanta, which has been repeatedly fined for breaking environmental laws in its waste incineration plants over there. I've been told there are plans for another opencast coal mine too.
If I lived in Merthyr I'd be angry. How much can one town be expected to suffer?
Much as I'd like to believe that voting Plaid will make everything better, it won't. But it might start to make things better. For the life of me, I can't see why continually being at or near the bottom of many indicators of deprivation results in the people of Merthyr returning Labour MPs like Dai Havard or AMs like Screwloose Lewis time after time.
Merthyr is now stuck with Ffos y Fran and Trecatti. So some of the more immediate priorities are to find better ways of dealing with waste than transport it to Merthyr, and to make sure that we don't use prevarication to circumvent the environmental safeguards that must be a requirement for opencast mining. These will bring surprisingly few jobs to the area for local people, but they come at a huge price for health and wellbeing of local people. We need to concentrate on getting better employment than this.
Other things that we should do include ensuring that the rail line from Ffos y Fran to Ystrad Mynach, which is used to transport the coal (and would be used for the new waste incinerator) is upgraded at least allow the people that live next to it to use it.
It's encouraging to see that Glyndwr has got some high level campaign endorsements. Dafydd Wigley was very active in Merthyr and knows the place well, and Dafydd Iwan says some kind things. Meic Stephens, the author and journalist, too.
You would normally expect your dad to support you, but because Gwynoro Jones used to be a Labour MP, that isn't something that should be taken for granted. He has had to come to terms with the fact that Labour has now become something very different from what Labour once used to be. And one other former Labour MP has come out with a remarkable endorsement. This is what Ron Davies—the person to whom we probably owe most for delivering devolution to Wales in the face of elements in the Labour Party that fought against it all the way, and some that still haven't given up fighting against it—has said:
I endorse Glyndwr one hundred percent
Unfortunately the Labour Party has turned its back on working people and the needs of our communities in Wales. It has squandered the rich potential of 13 years of rule and now serves only its own interests as seen from London.
Faced with a choice of Labour cuts or Tory cuts, we in Wales will have to unify and fight anew for democracy and social justice.
The fight will be led by passionate, articulate and committed patriots like Glyndwr Jones the Plaid Cymru candidate for Merthyr in the General Election to whom I offer my 100% endorsement.
Good luck Glyndwr.
Now that is interesting.
I smiled when I noticed this tweet by David Jones:
New Welsh Assembly office in Llandudno Junction looks like a stylised Prince of Wales Feathers from the air.
Well done Dafydd El!
In the same way that a Rorschach ink blot picture says more about the psychological state of the person looking at it than anything objective about the picture itself, this casual observation probably explains why David Jones sees the world so differently from other people.
From my point of view it has a far more obvious and direct meaning. It is the Nod Cyfrin ... the symbol of the Eisteddfod that represents Cariad, Cyfiawnder and Gwirionedd (Love, Justice and Truth) and is worked into the design of every Crown—and Chair—of recent times.
Well done Austin-Smith:Lord!
There was something about the title of David Jones' most recent blog post that sounded familiar. At first I wondered if "Voices of Colwyn Bay" was an old mariners' tale telling of the disembodied souls of those who had lost their lives a shipwreck on some stormy night a century or more ago. But it was a post about a meeting to express public concern for the future of Colwyn Bay pier ... an entirely good and worthy cause, and one which I hope succeeds.
But at the bottom of the post I noticed a familiar name: John Oddy.
Mr Oddy stood for election to Colwyn Bay Town Council in 2008 as a BNP candidate and, sadly, was returned unopposed. I crossed swords a few times with him on the WalesOnline forum and can assure anyone who cares to trust my judgement that he is a thoroughly nasty piece of work.
After a short while he, and two other BNP councillors who had come to office in the same way, made a show of leaving the BNP for what he would only describe as "personal reasons". I suspected at the time that this was just a cosmetic exercise designed to fool the public ... and it seems I have now been proved right, because he is openly supporting the BNP again, as we can read in this post on his blog.
As anyone who clicked the link can see, the title of John Oddy's blog is ... "Voices of Colwyn Bay".
Now of course I wouldn't want to suggest that the Tory MP for Clwyd West is in any way connected with the BNP. He is probably simply grateful for the publicity that John Oddy was able to give the campaign to save the pier. I'm sure that any little old lady would be equally grateful if a BNP supporter helped her across a busy road ... though I wonder if she would accept such help if she knew about who was offering it.
I'm quite sure David Jones chose the title of his post simply as a way of saying "thank you" to John Oddy for the publicity he was able to provide, and linked to his blog just to give it a little more publicity in return. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. But it is ... how shall we put it ... just a little unfortunate that he chose to do so.
All in all this episode probably says more about how little David Jones knows about politics in his very own constituency ... and that is something rather more unfortunate.
No, just for once I'm not talking about our referendum on primary lawmaking powers, but about Gordon Brown's answer to this question in the Commons on Wednesday.
He was quite unequivocal about it. He said that he had "given a commitment that a referendum will be held early in the next Parliament". We can of course decide whether to believe him or not, but having made such a hash of Labour's promise about a European referendum, he couldn't possibly be so foolish—seriously, he really couldn't—as to make the same mistake twice ... because failure to keep his word by setting it up before the general election is bound to count against Labour in that election.
There was also an interesting snippet from Diane Abbott in This Week about the behind-the-scenes discussion amongst Labour MPs. She is as Brownite as it's possible for a Labour MP to be, and to my mind was obviously attempting to add to Brown's leadership kudos by saying that he managed to get his way despite considerable opposition from some sections of the party. She wouldn't have said this if she was not positive about the Prime Minister being able to get this through, because she would not want to draw attention to him failing to do so.
I've make my position clear before: namely that I much prefer STV in multimember constituencies, but that changing to the Alternative Vote (which is essentially STV in single member constituencies) is better than doing nothing. Anything is better than first-past-the-post.
AV is not proportional, but it does get voters used to the idea of voting "1, 2, 3 ..." instead of simply putting a single "X" in one box. It will also put an end to the need for tactical voting; and it will increase participation because a greater range of candidates is likely to stand, safe in the knowledge that they will not split the vote of a candidate with similar views. It would not be a very big step to then extend exactly the same principle to multimember constituencies in the future.
However, what interests me far more is the timetable that is being suggested. The idea is to set a firm date for a binding referendum, and get the legislation through before the end of this Parliament. In effect, the AV referendum is going to have to go through the same process in the same timescale that it will take for our own Referendum Order to get through.
If Labour can do one, they can do the other. There can certainly be no excuses for Labour doing one but not doing the other.
This should act to focus Carwyn Jones' attention on exactly what the Assembly is going to debate and vote on in Plenary on 9 February. If the Assembly doesn't pass the formal request for a referendum on that day, it is very difficult to see how the Referendum Order can get through in the tight timescale that will be left.
The Nuffield Trust—a think tank specializing in health issues—has just published a comprehensive report on the differences between the National Heath Services in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. Data up until now has tended to be collected and published on a country-by-country basis, but without taking account of the sometimes wide differences between English regions. This report, by specifically comparing the devolved administrations with the English regions, allows for much more meaningful comparisons to be made.
I've skimmed through it quickly, and it doesn't make very good reading. However Scotland does seem to come out of the comparison even less well than Wales, as these reports from the Herald and Scotsman illustrate:
However I would caution against making the sort of hasty judgements that the media are likely to make because they, quite understandably, want to be seen as being "on top of" a report that will cease to be headline news by the time anyone has had a chance to read it properly. Bear in mind also that most of what they report will be just a reworking of Nuffield's own press release.
The big question that will be asked—and of course needs to be asked—is to what extent the different policies pursued, and different sums of money spent, by the four administrations have affected the relative standards of service in each of the Health Services. The report does this by comparing three time points, one before the start of devolution in Wales and Scotland (1996/7) and two after (2003/4 and 2006/7) and it is obvious from looking at the graphs and tables that many of the differences were just as evident before devolution as after it. It should also be obvious that our National Health Services are still using much of the basic infrastructure that existed before devolution, so the differences have not sprung up suddenly because of devolution.
One aspect of the report that I did find disturbing was that there seems to be a tone running through it that misunderstands the nature of devolution and the principle of devolved accountability. For example the report's authors call for the Treasury in Whitehall to be able to determine whether the policies being pursued by the various administrations offer value for money.
Now of course it is right that spending of all departments should be subject to rigid scrutiny to determine whether or not they offer value for money, but it most certainly would not be right for the governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to be held accountable to the government that administers the services only for England. In democracies, governments are answerable to the people who elected them.
Should any of us not like the way the Welsh NHS has been run over the last ten years, that has nothing to do with devolution per se ... the answer is to vote for a different Welsh Government at the next Assembly election.
I know it's far from being the only measure of the relative merits of universities and colleges in the UK, but it was very heartening to see how well not only Aber (which consistently does well in this survey) but other universities in Wales too, were rated in the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey published last week.
Out of just over a hundred institutions in the survey, the overall rankings were:
6th ... University of Wales, Aberystwyth
17th ... Cardiff University
22nd ... University of Wales, Bangor
29th ... University of Wales, Swansea
72nd ... University of Wales Institute, Cardiff
74th ... University of Glamorgan
These rankings included not the quality of teaching and courses, but a whole range of facilities and support structures contributing to the overall experience. Getting four in the top thirty is not too shabby.
In the crucial areas of teaching and learning Aber was rated 4th this year ... only just behind what most of us would recognize as major players: Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews.
In this post on Tuesday I mentioned that Carwyn Jones had gone out of his way to lecture Alun Cairns about how Barnett Consequentials worked, when it would have been far simpler to give a straight answer to the question he had been asked.
As a Labour politician, he should have already known what his Labour colleagues were doing in Westminster instead of claiming that he was waiting for an answer.
As it happens, the £50m that the Boiler Scrappage Scheme is expected to cost in England will be new money from the Treasury rather than taken from existing departmental budgets. That means that Wales can expect to get an additional £4m. There is no obligation for the Welsh Government to spend it on the same thing, or in the same way, although this story from the BBC yesterday shows gives us a good idea of what the policy is likely to be:
Environment minister Jane Davidson said any such scheme in Wales would put more emphasis on fuel-poor households.
"There has been a substantial amount of interest in this scheme since it was announced and I want to update people in Wales on proposals to introduce a similar scheme in Wales," she said.
"The Welsh Assembly Government is considering introducing a similar scheme in Wales, and we are currently working up a series of proposals taking into consideration the impact on those in fuel poverty, the relative carbon savings and value for money."
"If a boiler scrappage scheme is introduced to Wales, there is likely to be more emphasis on targeting fuel-poor households under a Welsh scheme."
That sounds good to me. But, as I was sure would be the case, this was already known to be spending which would attract a Barnett Consequential when the scheme came into effect on 5 January 2010. Neither did it take a Labour insider to find that out, for I've just got the information by reading this blog post made on 5 January—a full week earlier—by Patrick Harvie, the leader of the Green MSP group in Holyrood. Smoking gun.
Perhaps it would be unfair to expect Carwyn Jones to have Rhodri Morgan's remarkable memory and grasp of detail. But what gets up my nose is that instead of a simple "I don't know, but I'll write to you later" Carwyn chose instead to launch into what I can only describe as a patronizing and condescending lecture about Barnett as an elaborate cover-up for not knowing an answer he was embarrassed not to know.
There's a simple name for it: It's called bullshitting.
Carwyn, I know that as a new leader you have plenty to prove, but that was not the way to do it. A simple "I'm sorry" would certainly not go amiss.
The latest YouGov poll commissioned by ITV Wales was, as others have remarked, rather slow to get noticed (it was on Tom Bodden's blog first, I think) and much of what others have said doesn't need repeating by me. So I thought I'd try to say some things that haven't been said about it instead.
I found the regional percentages interesting, particularly when contrasted with the 2005 figures. However we should bear in mind that the sample sizes for the six regions (YouGov splits Cardiff from SWC) are very low, and that this means that they shouldn't be considered as anything more than a rough indicator of trends. If anyone wants to check my maths, the 2005 spreadsheet is here. Please let me know if I've made any mistakes.
Labour 34% ... down 6.8% from 40.8%
Plaid 17% ... up 2.8% from 14.2%
Conservative 33% ... up 8.7% from 24.3%
LibDem 11% ... down 4.5% from 15.5%
Mid & West Wales
Labour 28% ... up 1.7% from 26.3%
Plaid 20% ... down 3.4% from 23.4%
Conservative 28% ... up 4.1% from 23.9%
LibDem 14% ... down 9.8% from 24.2%
South Wales West
Labour 36% ... down 14.4% from 50.4%
Plaid 11% ... up 1.4% from 9.6%
Conservative 32% ... up 15.2% from 16.8%
LibDem 16% ... down 2.9% from 18.9%
South Wales Central (excluding Cardiff)
Labour 43% ... down 11.4% from 54.4%
Plaid 15% ... up 4.2% from 10.8%
Conservative 25% ... up 6.5% from 18.5%
LibDem 8% ... down 5.9% from 13.9%
Labour 39% ... down 2.4% from 41.4%
Plaid 12% ... up 5.8% from 6.2%
Conservative 32% ... up 8.7% from 23.3%
LibDem 13% ... down 13.2% from 26.2%
South Wales East
Labour 36% ... down 12.9% from 48.9%
Plaid 4% ... down 3.1% from 7.1%
Conservative 37% ... up 16.7% from 20.3%
LibDem 13% ... down 0.7% from 13.7%
Labour 35% ... down 7.7% from 42.7%
Plaid 13% ... up 0.4% from 12.6%
Conservative 32% ... up 10.6% from 21.4%
LibDem 13% ... down 5.4% from 18.4%
From Plaid's point of view it's good to see that in overall terms we're marginally ahead of the percentages we got in 2005. The fact that the LibDems have fallen generally, and especially sharply in MWW, will help us in Ceredigion, and Labour's fall should see us through comfortably in Ynys Môn. I don't think many people doubt that Plaid will win both.
In Llanelli, the percentages last time were Labour 46.94% to Plaid 26.48%. That's a wide margin, and the key is whether any fall in Labour's vote will transfer equally to Plaid. We'd be looking at a Labour fall of just over 10%, matched by a Plaid increase of just over 10%. The figures for MWW show that Labour's vote is holding up, but everything will depend on local variations. In particular Llanelli shares an industrial heritage with the Valleys to the east, where the drop in Labour support is consistently greater than 10%.
Our fourth target seat is Aberconwy, which will be a fight between us and the Tories. In predicting this will go to the Tories, most commentators have not really understood the effects of the boundary changes and I am quietly confident that Plaid will win this.
It is also worth looking at page two of the YouGov survey to see what people think are the most important issues ... and especially those issues which supporters of different parties see differently.
There are no prizes for guessing that the Economy is by far the most important issue identified, but supporters of all parties rate it roughly equally. Although lower down the list, supporters of all parties have roughly equal concern for issues such as Unemployment, Tax and Crime.
It is no surprise that Plaid voters rate Devolution as much more important to them than it is to supporters of other parties. But Health is another issue that rates much more highly to Plaid voters (51%) than it does to the supporters of other parties. It is comparatively low on the Tories' list (25%) ... and that might seem to suggest that Cameron's first mistake of making a big issue in Wales about not cutting NHS funding in England was compounded by the fact that Welsh Tory supporters don't really rate it as an issue anyway. The Tories in London seem to understand neither Wales, nor what Tories in Wales think ... as anyone can tell just by comparing their relatively-enlightened AMs with the rabid and irrelevant utterings of their MPs.
The thing that disproportionately matters to Tory supporters in Wales is Immigration (51%) while supporters of other parties put this issue much further down their lists. Once again this is an issue where what matters to Middle England doesn't matter very much to most people in Wales.
Tory supporters also attach very little importance to the Environment (6%) compared with supporters of other parties.
These figures might give us some ideas about how we campaign. Take for example the issue of Housing which I mentioned in my post yesterday. I suggest that the long, drawn out delays and refusals by, in the main, Labour MPs to let the Assembly legislate on Housing should not be presented as a Devolution issue (even though it is) because that won't resonate with the supporters of other parties that we want to win over. It would be much better to present it as a Housing issue (which is also is) because that will resonate with them, and therefore win them over. That approach should also highlight the fact that we want primary lawmaking powers for the Assembly not for their own sake ... but because having them will enable us to do practical, concrete things to make Wales better.
We should certainly exploit the fact that this is a Westminster election, and that there will therefore be a good number of Labour supporters who are relatively happy with the performance of their AMs in the One Wales Government ... but disgusted at the way Labour MPs have continually delayed and watered-down the LCOs that would enable their AMs to make a difference. Labour are hopelessly split on this issue ... and we should do all we can to expose that split in the election campaign.
As encouragement, it is interesting to note that voters are already beginning to see this, and that the Valley heartlands where Labour have in the past weighed rather than counted votes all show double-digit falls in Labour support, as mentioned above.
The troubles that surrounded the Welsh Government's attempt to secure the right to legislate on housing—and specifically to suspend the right to buy in some areas—are still fresh in our memory ... and the matter still has not been sorted out, even after more than two years of trying. So I thought it would be encouraging to draw attention to what is currently happening in Scotland.
Today the Scottish Government laid out their proposals for a new Housing Bill. As well as establishing a Scottish Housing Regulator and Charter for Social Housing, it will end the right to buy for new tenants of council housing, housing associations and new-build social housing.
Of course it remains to be seem whether the bill will make its way through the Scottish Parliament to become law (although it almost certainly will, because it is backed by both the SNP and Scottish LibDems) but nobody in either Scotland or the remainder of the UK is seriously questioning that this is a matter that the Scots are quite competent to decide for themselves.
Labour and the Tories are dead set against the policy, but neither of them would even dream of opposing this Bill by claiming that the Scottish Parliament shouldn't have the authority to decide these things. So why should it be such a huge problem for the people of Wales to decide how to regulate and improve housing in Wales?
Ask Peter Hain and his fellow Labour MPs. It's one more illustration of how wide the gulf between Labour's AMs and MPs has become ... and one more reason why so many Labour MPs are going to lose their seats in the general election in May.
So the new First Minister has today announced that a debate on the Referendum Order has been scheduled for 9 February. At one level this is looks like good news, for it is inconceivable that Labour would bring this up without having decided that they will vote in favour of the request.
But there is a lot about this announcement that seems strange, especially went considered against the very tight timetable that I outlined in this post. The RO request must either be approved in Parliament before it is dissolved prior a general election or it must be laid before Parliament all over again by whoever is the Secretary of State for Wales after the general election. There is no half way house.
OK, it is not absolutely impossible to get it through before the Easter recess if the Assembly votes to formally request the RO on 9 February, but it is unlikely. If there was any real intention of doing so it is rather profligate to waste a whole fortnight for no good reason. Ostensibly, the delay is to allow time to discuss the issue with the LibDems and the Tories. As if! There isn't all that much to discuss that couldn't be agreed in the couple of weeks between now and 26 January ... so why would anyone need or want the additional fortnight? The LibDems have made their position on this issue clear for the last year at least and Nick Bourne has already said that most, if not all, Tory AMs would vote in favour. So why put it on the back burner?
There are three possible explanations:
• that the Referendum Order is something that has been so precisely choreographed in its passage through the Assembly and Westminster that it isn't going to need so much time
• that it's a matter of just going through the motions without any real intention to get the RO through while the matter is in Labour's hands
• that Carwyn Jones is simply bumbling his way through the process relying more on optimism rather than hard-headed reality
So which is it? Is he being positive, disingenuous or incompetent?
Whether he likes it or not, Carwyn Jones has gained a reputation for having a somewhat languorous style ... and even though his last job as Counsellor General was not the sort of position where it was possible to be proactive, the idea was that this would change when he became Labour leader. I'm sorry to say that he didn't do anything to shake off his old image in his first exposure to First Minister's Questions this afternoon.
As it happens, the question that illustrated this was also about gas. He was asked whether Wales would introduce something similar to England's Boiler Scrappage Scheme. His answer was that he didn't know yet because he didn't know whether the scheme in England was going to be financed through existing departmental budgets or by additional money from the Treasury. If it's the latter, then Wales would be entitled to a proportionate share of additional money as a Barnett incremental; if not, the Welsh Government would have to find money to implement a similar scheme in Wales from our existing budgets ... with the fairly obvious implication that there wouldn't be the money to do it.
As we probably remember, the scheme was first announced on 9 December, and came into effect last week. So while Carwyn might be excused for not knowing where the money would come from immediately after the announcement last year, he has absolutely no excuse for not knowing how it is going to be paid for now that the scheme has already been put into effect. The UK government cannot pay out this money without taking it from a particular pot. Of course, they may not yet have published this in any official figures, but Carwyn Jones is a Labour First Minister who is very happy to be portrayed as a confidant of the Labour leadership in Westminster ... and who therefore should know.
Is he so dozy that he hasn't even bothered to ask his own colleagues only 130 miles down the M4? Or did he ask, only to be fobbed-off by an evasive answer from the Treasury. Either way, it doesn't look good, because if two sides of the same party can't liase and exchange information over something as simple as the Boiler Scrappage Scheme, what hope is there of them doing it over the Referendum Order?
So although there is a possibility that Carwyn Jones is not simply going through the motions, it seems to me that it is much more likely that this is all he is in fact doing. His refusal to answer a direct question about whether the vote on 9 February would be a formal vote to request the referendum or merely some sort of intermediate step on the way certainly tends to confirm it.
He wants to give out the impression of a united Labour Party, but that's probably true only insofar as Labour AMs are concerned. By leaving everything until it's too late, he is simply giving Labour MPs the opportunity to claim that they won't have time to consider it or make a decision when called upon to do so. And if they can avoid making a decision, they can then sit back on the opposition benches (the ones who are still MPs after the election, that is) and blame the Tories for delaying it, introducing new conditions, or voting it down in the free vote that David Cameron has said he is going to give MPs in the Commons. Labour seems to have forgotten that the Tories have not given any commitment that a Tory Government would vote to pass the Referendum Order ... a free vote means that they can simply stand to one side and let the obvious anti-devolution instincts of their MPs carry the day.
If Carwyn Jones wanted to engender any sort of confidence in his ability to lead, he needed to start by being a lot more positive and proactive than he has shown himself to be today.
Nothing to do with politics ... or Wales. Just that I was struck by the geometric strength of this etching by William Blake.
It's one of eight found in an old railway timetable. The others are shown here.
Who knows, perhaps J Howard Beynon's work isn't lost.
There's an article in the Economist on the political situation in Catalunya that's worth reading:
On one hand it's very good to see a forensic article on these subjects, but I don't think it is all that well informed, and certainly think it is making a false connexion between independence and the issue of banning bullfights. Those who are campaigning for the ban have always said that it is about cruelty and suffering to animals rather than anything to do with national identity, autonomy or independence ... and the Canary Islands (also part of Spain) voted to ban bullfighting some years ago without it being linked to these things.
I wrote a comment [# 47] and others might want to follow or join the debate.
Following recent statements by both Carwyn Jones and John Griffiths there is now every indication that Labour have decided to go for an Autumn 2010 referendum to give primary lawmaking powers to the Assembly.
Betsan Powys, in this post yesterday, set out just how tight the timetable would be in view of the issues that the Referendum Order (i.e. the process of bringing about a referendum, which is very similar to the LCO process) needs to address. These are:
• the wording of the question
• the approval of the wording by the Electoral Commission
• the amount to be awarded to each side for campaigning
• the date of the referendum
• the polling and counting arrangements
In my opinion none of these is an insuperable problem. It is possible ... just ... to get the Referendum Order through the Assembly and Westminster on the last working day before the long Easter recess, namely 26 March. It cannot be taken beyond that point because of the General Election which we now know, thanks to Andrew Marr's questioning, is almost certain to be held on 6 May ... and the minimum period for holding it is about three weeks.
The only other option is to delay the process, and ask the new Secretary of State to lay the Referendum Order before the Westminster Parliament after the general election. As I have said before, I don't think we have any guarantee from the Conservatives of any commitment to get the Referendum Order through Westminster. David Cameron's statement was merely that a future Tory government would "not stand in the way" of such a request. Crucially, he said that MPs would be given a free vote on the issue. With a majority of Tory MPs, none of them with much appetite for or interest in specifically Welsh affairs, there is every possibility that the Referendum Order would not get passed by a new House of Commons ... and Cameron will then be able to say, "We didn't say we'd support it, only that we wouldn't stand in the way."
There is also every possibility that the Tories will introduce additional conditions, as happened in the 1979 referendum when a 40% threshold was retrospectively introduced ... although, it should be noted, not by a Tory government on that occasion.
So the stakes are high. If Labour want to ensure that we get this referendum done and dusted, without any opportunity of it being tampered with or delayed (because of course it will be in the interests of a future Tory Government to delay any new areas of legislation from a left-of-centre One Wales government for as long as possible) then the only answer is to get the Referendum Order finalized while Labour still have a majority in Westminster to enable them to do it.
Let's look at the issues that need to be dealt with one by one:
The wording of the question
The question itself is not difficult. The GoWA 2006 doesn't give us any options about which areas the Assembly will get primary lawmaking powers in, nor does it give us the opportunity for additional options such as abolition of the Assembly. The choice is simply between the status quo and primary lawmaking powers in the areas listed in Schedule 7 of the Act.
The question should be straightforward, precise and neutral ... and I would only repeat the suggestion I made earlier for the reasons I set out here:
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
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
I'm not "precious" about the wording, and I'm happy for others to improve on it. In essence all that matters right now is that we get a form of words agreed to be put into the Draft Referendum Order. The question can be always be modified as the Order progresses, in just the same way as happens with LCOs.
The approval of the wording by the Electoral Commission
The Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to give their opinion on the precise wording of any referendum question. To be technical, their opinion can be over-ruled by the government, but it is highly unlikely that any government would want to do that, since it would be perceived as being partisan.
The problem is that the EC need to "road test" the question in the form of focus groups, etc. which will take time to do properly and professionally. This is what they say about it:
We should be able to publish our views on the intelligibility of a proposed referendum question around 10 weeks after finding out what the question is. This includes eight weeks to carry out public opinion research, based on getting at least two weeks' notice of the date when we will be given the exact wording of the question.
We will do as much advance preparation as we can for the research—which is the part of our evidence-gathering that will take the longest—so that we can make sure it is completed as quickly as possible.
As it so happens, the likely day on which the Assembly will pass the request for the Referendum Order will be 26 January. So it is just ... but only just ... possible for the EC to have approved the question before the Referendum Order is approved at the end of March. But crucially it means putting the EC "on notice" by next week at the latest. So what is required is a statement to the effect that the matter will be debated and voted on in the Senedd on 26 January. This statement needs to be made before the end of next week.
I'm sure there must be people who are well aware of the EC's timescale. But it would do no harm for people with more influence than I have to make sure that the EC are fully informed about what is going to hit them at the end of January. The timescale is so tight that every day will count.
The amount to be awarded to each side for campaigning
As I see it, there shouldn't be a problem with the level of funding. The North East Regional Assembly referendum in 2004 provides a good precedent of £100,000 per side for a roughly similar population (2.5m as opposed to our 3m). It could now be £120,000 or £150,000 each, given that a few years have passed since then.
In general terms, a higher amount is likely to favour the No campaign, since they have a smaller support base. The Yes campaign will be supported by Labour, the LibDems and Plaid. The Tories might or might not remain officially neutral. If it were up to me, I'd opt for the higher figure of £150,000 to avoid any argument.
There will of course be the usual free mailshot, a few election broadcasts and the use of public buildings for meetings. Nothing out of the ordinary.
The date of the referendum
I think the date of the poll should be 28 October, i.e. just before the clocks go back on 31 October. Perhaps a week or two earlier, but certainly not later, because dark evenings will have a negative effect on turnout. The summer holidays and party conferences will be over, but it won't be too cold for canvassing. By then, the Westminster election will have taken place and the dust will have settled, and there will still be plenty of time after the referendum to formulate policies and fight the campaign for the May 2011 Assembly election.
The AWC recommended a ten week campaign, which seems fine to me ... although I think that political discussion is bound to be rife long before that. But there does need to be an official "referendum period" during which specific rules about things such as publication of materials and finance apply.
The polling and counting arrangements
These don't need to be any different from any other election. The same polling stations and same counting arrangements as were used for the Euro elections last year.
The only possible alternative would be an all postal ballot. This was meant to increase turnout when used in the North East Regional Assembly referendum, but it only delivered a turnout of 47.8%. Postal ballots have also been dogged by problems and allegation of problems, and I don't think we should do anything to encourage controversy. Though obviously people who want to can still vote by post or proxy, as in other elections.
So it's really quite simple and straightforward. What we need now is the statement of intent from the Wyn Jones's (Car and Ieuan) next week, and for the debate to be put into the Assembly's timetable ... in all probability for 26 January.
It will need to be passed by a two-thirds majority in the Senedd, but there won't be a problem getting it through because Labour, the LibDems and Plaid will definitely vote Yes ... however the Tories might surprise us and make it unanimous. It would be a nice touch, and would certainly do their poll chances in Wales more good than harm.
It will then pass to Peter Hain to lay the Draft Referendum Order before Parliament, which he would do within a day or two of receiving it. Technically he could sit on it for 120 days, but he simply won't do that because Labour will already have made the decision in internal meetings over this Christmas/New Year break to get it through Westminster while they still have the chance to do so.
It will have to go before the Welsh Affairs Select Committee and probably the Lords Constitutional Committee, but there is nothing contentious about any of what it will contain, not least because the Electoral Commission will doing its own work in a separate, parallel process and because the list of subjects for which the Assembly will get primary lawmaking powers was hammered out when the GoWA 2006 was passed.
Happy New Year to everyone. It's been rather strange not to blog for the past couple of weeks. I found myself having to resist the urge to go to my keyboard on more than one occasion, but hope the rest has done me some good ... and offered everyone else some respite.
So how do I start the new decade? A decade in which I fully expect to see an independent Catalunya, Flanders and Scotland ... followed by a Wales that will be independent in the early 2020s. Not that this year doesn't have enough political fireworks of its own to look forward to, of course.
A few things have caught my eye over the holidays and so I'll do a little bit of belated catching up over the next few days.