A Party of Bigots

For me, the fact that the BNP is a party that bases its policy on race is quite sufficient in itself to condemn them.

But last night, at a local hustings at which candidates from all parties spoke, the BNP candidate gave some very definite policy statements—which he clearly stated were BNP policy rather than simply his own opinion—to a number of questions, which made me realize that the party is even more extreme than could be explained merely by their racism. He said:

•  Abortion is infanticide, it should banned

•  All current civil partnerships should be repealed

and, most bizarrely, that

•  Teaching gender equality can only confuse children about their gender identity

The person who said this was Richard Barnes, who is standing for the BNP in Merthyr. "Bigoted" is a word that has received rather a lot of media attention in the last couple of days, but I have no hesitation in saying—and saying it loudly—that the party this man stands for is a party of bigots.

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What Paxman couldn't understand

I quite like Jeremy Paxman but he's a BBC man through and through, and the BBC's rather limited view of Britishness—as we have seen in the fiasco over Plaid Cymru and the SNP not being given any place in the leaders' debates—seems hardwired into him. Would he have got his job if it wasn't?

Perhaps things are slightly different in BBC Cymru and BBC Scotland, but at BBC HQ in London the misconceptions about Wales and Scotland are all too apparent. The particular blindspot that surfaced on Newsnight last night was the complete inability to comprehend that public spending per head is actually much larger in London than it is in either Wales or Scotland.

When Eurfyl ap Gwilym disabused that misconception with hard figures, Jeremy Paxman found himself backed into a corner because he simply hadn't done his homework as well as he thought. No doubt some poor researcher at the BBC got it in the neck afterwards. As he phaffed about, Paxman even made the claim that London wasn't an English region. Incredible. And the scurry while Eurfyl left him to look through the figures for himself was one of those golden moments that will no doubt be replayed for years to come. So here it is again:


OK, it's all very well to laugh at a Jeremy Paxman who was out of his depth, but the point at issue is a serious one. Plaid Cymru is not asking for Wales to be immune from the public spending cuts that are certain to come. We are asking to be treated more fairly than we currently are. As I have shown on a number of occasions, Wales' share of public expenditure relative to England has fallen sharply in the thirteen years that Labour have been in power:


But over recent years, while relative expenditure in Wales has gone down, expenditure in England and Scotland has gone up relative to the UK as a whole.

So what Wales needs first is for the mechanisms which have resulted in this shortfall to be corrected. This means replacing the Barnett Formula with a needs-based formula. But in the short term—as an emergency fix in order to prevent things getting even worse—Gerry Holtham recommended putting a floor of 114% under future payments. Labour had every opportunity to implement this, but refused to make any firm commitment on it. In figures, this is £300m for this coming year.


However, cuts are bound to come over the next few years, whether under Labour or the Tories. To our cost, both under Thatcher and Major before and Blair and Brown after them, we know all about those two parties. But exactly the same will be true of the LibDems who will have to make even more cuts to pay for the tax break of £700 a year they plan to give every taxpayer ... even those who are on comfortable salaries. They too—just like the two parties they are trying so hard to be like—think that the UK can get out of this financial mess primarily by cutting spending on public services rather than by getting those who can afford it to pay more in taxes.

I'm all in favour of adjusting the tax bands so that more people in low paid employment don't have to pay Income Tax. Plaid also wants that. But if the starting point is increased by as much as the LibDems propose, the basic rate of Income Tax would need to be increased as well so that the overall tax take from those who pay the basic rate remains broadly the same. To put this into perspective, the £17bn that will be lost to the UK Treasury by doing this means that Wales will have to make do with about £850m less to spend on public services. That would be a disaster for Wales.


So what's the choice? The Tories and the LibDems alike say that they will "look at" a fair funding formula for Wales ... but won't commit themselves to anything despite the fact that an independent commission has done the hard work already, and come up with firm proposals about how things should be changed. Labour think they don't need to do anything. That leaves only Plaid to fight Wales' corner. The other three parties are much more concerned about winning votes in middle England than to actually do anything for this little corner of the island of Britain.

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Saturday in Aberystwyth

A superb performance by Ron Davies in Aberystwyth on Saturday deserves a wider audience:


And there are more speeches on this page.

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A sunny day in Merthyr

Not that much time for blogging today. I'm taking a much needed coffee break from helping at the Plaid stall in Merthyr, where Glyndwr Jones is standing for Plaid.


Not many people I've spoken to today have much time for the sitting Labour MP Dai Havard ... or Dai Basra as he's known locally. It's not meant as a complement. Going to war in Iraq was hardly our finest hour on the international stage, and the damage done to our reputation in the world will take years to heal. Nor have we treated our servicemen and women at all well. We failed to equip them properly when fighting, and fail to take proper care of them when they return.

Plaid's Elfyn Llwyd has been in the forefront of highlighting this issue, as this video from a few weeks ago shows:


I'm pleased to say that this is one of the main points in Plaid's manifesto for this election. For more details about what we want to see happen, please read our policy paper.

     Support for Veterans


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One lap round the sun

I put up the first post on this blog one year ago today. It feels like a long time has passed since then, but I've enjoyed it immensely.


So to all the friends I've made through it—and that includes those who disagree with me as much as those who agree—to those who have made guest posts, to those who have contributed with their comments, and to all who have just read and I hope been stimulated by what has been said ... thank you.

Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi i gyd.

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Wrexham Council at its worst

I've written a few posts about how Wrexham need to meet the ever increasing parental demand for Welsh-medium education, and have been particularly critical of their lackadaisical approach to the problem. This was highlighted by the Council's Chief Learning and Achievement Officer, John Davies, in December last year when he said:

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

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

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

Wrexham Leader, 12 December 2009

As I said at the time in this post:

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

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

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

However the situation has turned out to be even worse than that. The breaking news on the Plaid Wrecsam blog is that the Council's Children and Young People's Scrutiny Committee has now been told that their officers do not even want to make an application for the money.

Mae angen i'r cyngor roi cais gerbron Llywodraeth y Cynulliad i gael arian o gronfa "Ysgolion 21ain Ganrif" a does fawr o amser er mwyn gwneud hynny mae'n debyg. Oherwydd y prinder amser i wneud achos teilwng, doedd y swyddogion ddim am gyflwyno cais i ariannu ysgol Gymraeg newydd.

The Council need to make an application to the Assembly Government to get money from the 21st Century Schools fund, and it appears that there's not much time left in which to do it. Because of the short time available to make a proper case, the officers were not willing to submit an application to fund a new Welsh-medium school.

Plaid Wrecsam, 21 April 2010 • Translation

I find this almost unbelievable, not least because they have been aware of the need for new WM schools since 2007. It is nothing short of an insult to the parents of children who are now crammed into portacabins because of the lack of space in the existing WM schools, and provides no solution at all to the parents of a hundred or so children each year who want WM education, but for whom there is no hope of a space.

It reflects very badly on the Council and in particular on its Liberal Democrat leader, Aled Roberts, who only last month said he was against things that would "damage Welsh identity and language" in Wrexham. What greater threat could there possibly be to the language in Wrexham than to deny parents who want it the right to send their children to Welsh-medium schools?


The scandal of the situation is that Wrexham have nearly three thousand surplus spaces in their English-medium primary schools (2,809 according to their SEP in 2006) ... yet they have the barefaced cheek to only contemplate providing more WM places if the Welsh Government pays for it! The much simpler and more obvious solution is to make better use of the stock of school buildings they already have – either by setting up WM starter classes in EM schools that have plenty of surplus space, or by converting one or two EM schools to WM. Doing that does not require any money, it just requires better management of resources.


Is this what we are to expect from a LibDem council? Is it a coincidence that in Swansea, another LibDem council, we get an almost exactly parallel approach? It seems strange that each of these councils started by doing the right thing: they were among the first local authorities in Wales to conduct a proper survey of parental demand for Welsh-medium education. In both cases the demand was many times greater than the actual provision available, yet in both cases they have not set up the additional Welsh-medium schools necessary to meet that demand.

What looked like positive action in the first instance has simply not resulted in a willingness to deliver the sort of education a growing number of parents not only want, but have the right to expect, for their children.

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A liability matched only by his ability to lie

Peter Hain did one of the things he does best in the Welsh Leaders debate on ITV last night: repeating the same lie over and over again in the belief that repeating it will make it true. The subject was replacing the Barnett Formula with a fairer way of funding Wales, using the sort of needs-based criteria by which departments allocate funding to the regions of England.

A wiser person might have thought twice before opening his mouth, especially when each of the other parties agree that the current system is unfair and needs to be replaced. But not Peter Hain. No, he wants us to believe that he has already sorted out the problem and secured fair funding for Wales.


Hain has secured no such thing. His vanity has got the better of him yet again. He can't bring himself to say that he tried to do this, but failed. So he must instead make out that his failure to do it was in fact a success.

Peter Hain's problem is that he has no idea how to fight for Wales at the Cabinet table. The Treasury have been able to run rings around him and, as a direct result, Wales has got far less of an increase in public spending than either Scotland or England. This graph, from the Holtham Commission's first report, shows just how much Wales' share of spending has declined relative the amount of money Labour has spent in England in the thirteen years they have been in power at Westminster.


Peter Hain did respond to this by going to the Treasury to ask for Wales to be fairly treated. But the Treasury ran rings around him again. In the debate he claimed that he had negotiated "a detailed reform of the Barnett Formula". But he's deluding himself and trying to mislead the rest of us. This is the final agreement in its entirety. It includes absolutely no figures or detail at all:

The Government welcomes many aspects of the Holtham report, which it continues to study in detail.

The new arrangements are as follows:

•  the Government agrees that the Barnett formula could lead to convergence to an extent that would be regarded as unacceptable although further convergence is not currently expected in the coming years;

•  the Government will make a full assessment of the extent of convergence with consideration of Wales' position relative to other parts of the United Kingdom as part of each spending review; and

•  following this assessment the Government would be prepared to take action if appropriate to ensure Wales is not disproportionately disadvantaged.

Wales Office, 26 November 2009

All of us can clearly see that this is only an agreement that the Treasury will assess the situation in future. Consider the three things I highlighted:

Regarded as unacceptable
To whom? The Treasury and the Wales Office obviously both regard it as acceptable for Wales' share of spending relative to England to have dropped from 125% to 113% in the thirteen years Labour have been in power. So at what point would it become "unacceptable"? So far as most people in Wales are concerned, it was surely unacceptable for there to have been any fall at all. So far as Plaid are concerned, the point of unacceptability has already been reached, because Holtham has confirmed that the absolute bottom line correction figure that should be applied to the existing Barnett Formula is 114%.

If appropriate
But why the "if"? If Peter Hain had won a firm agreement from the Treasury, there would be no "if" about it. This agreement leaves the matter entirely at the discretion of the Treasury. What if the Treasury thought there were circumstances that made it inappropriate to treat Wales as a special case ... for example, because public borrowing is out of hand and they think the UK can therefore not afford it?

Disproportionately disadvantaged
We can all see that Peter Hain conveniently misquotes this part of the agreement. This is not the same as the "disadvantaged" he now keeps quoting. Wales has already been systematically disadvantaged over the last 13 years. This agreement would allow that to continue, and could easily be taken to mean only that the Treasury would do something if the rate at which we have been disadvantaged over the past 13 years—about 1% per year relative to England—were to accelerate to more than 1% a year.


In other words the agreement does not deliver what Peter Hain claims it delivers. But he simply appears too stupid to understand that. He very obviously doesn't know enough about the subject to understand that the Treasury has made a fool out of him. This is most clearly illustrated by the fact that the Welsh Labour Manifesto makes the ridiculous claim that the Barnett Formula is already based on need ... it is simply not true.

Peter Hain is a liability to Wales. He has already cost Wales huge amounts of money, money that we would have secured if we had someone who knew how to fight Wales' corner. But the rest of Wales' Labour MPs aren't much better. They could have kicked up a fuss about it, but instead they just kept schtum; in part cowed by the Treasury, in part in the hope that the subject would be too complicated for the average person to understand.


Finally, it is encouraging that both the Tories and the LibDems want the Barnett Formula to be replaced with a "fair" needs-based formula. That's all well and good, but what does "fair" actually mean to them? Neither of them will say.

It is only Plaid that has put a figure on it, based on what the Holtham Commission has recommended. We are the only party that is prepared to put hard numbers against the shortfall ... 300 million reasons to vote Plaid.


I've written about the Holtham Commission and its report in a number of posts on Syniadau. Please click here to bring them up.

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LibDem Maths

It's clear enough from the headlines in today's Western Mail:

Lib-Dems £3.1bn plan for green jobs

The Liberal Democrats yesterday launched a £3.1bn plan to create green jobs and bring £125m to Wales.

Western Mail, 20 April 2010

Yet the first thing that struck me was that this was far from being a good deal for Wales. Nobody needs a calculator to work out that our rightful 5% share of £3.1bn is £155m ... so we in Wales would immediately be short-changed relative to the remainder of the UK by £30m. On second thoughts, perhaps the LibDems do need someone to buy them a calculator.


But let's leave that to one side, because any additional spending on the Green economy is something I would welcome. Let's look to see if this still a good idea ... even if the rest of the UK will benefit from the money more than Wales. Their version of the story is here.

Did I say additional spending? Well, it turns out that it isn't additional spending at all. This is what they say:

The plans target £3.1bn of public spending that can be stopped and the money used to create jobs and protect the environment.

But as we might expect, there is absolutely no mention of what particular areas of public spending are in line to be "stopped". The Health Service? Education? Police? The Fire and Rescue services? Who knows? ... for the LibDems certain aren't telling us! We are simply expected to trust Kirsty Williams when she says these are "credible and costed plans". My guess is that these must yet more of the fabled "efficiency savings" that spring up whenever an election is called ... but haven't the LibDems banked on these savings at least once already? Perhaps we should just marvel at how a new batch of these savings can be plucked off the tree whenever the LibDems want to publicize a "new" idea.


But let's still give them the benefit of the doubt and look at how they intend to spend this money. As it happens, the MPs that we are about to elect to Westminster are not going to spend it at all ... they're going to give this £125m to the Assembly with "suggestions" about how it should be spent, since most of the things they want to spend it on in England are devolved matters in Wales and Scotland.

But here we hit a snag. For even though the LibDems aren't specific about which public spending budgets they will "stop" in order to create this new "Green" package, the Welsh block grant will have to be reduced by 5% of the £3.1bn they intend to save in the UK as a whole, because the Barnett Formula works both ways. So in fact this loudly proclaimed £125m—which would have short-changed Wales by £30m if it were additional money—is in fact a £30m cut in the block grant Wales would otherwise get ... a block grant that we already know is going to be cut back, and in all likelihood will be cut back further no matter which, or which combination, of the three UK parties forms the next Westminster Government.

In short, you couldn't make it up! Unless you're a LibDem, of course. This is the sort of maths that only makes sense on planet Clegg as seen from its attendant moon, Kirstopia.


Now at this point I want to be clear. I do agree that we should invest more money in the sort of things that the LibDems "suggest" the Welsh Government should spend things on. But devolution doesn't work that way. Those decisions are not for our MPs to take in Westminster ... the LibDems should save their "suggestions" for the Assembly elections next year, because it will be up to the AMs we elect to the Assembly to decide how we spend our block grant. That will include, if the LibDems get into a position to implement this new plan of theirs, the headache of how to do things with £30m less than we would otherwise be getting.

And many of their suggestions turn out to be things the Welsh Government is already doing. For example, the LibDems suggestion to expand the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme would be fine but, on a pro-rata basis, we would not have £20m more to do it with, but about £5m less.

The LibDems might have their hearts in the right place, but as soon as you look at what they propose in any degree of detail it doesn't take long to realize that it's the disconnexion from their heads that is the problem. It's all very well to put a "Green label" on any idea you come up with. But to really create a more Green economy, our thinking needs to be much more radical ... and our maths much more accurate.

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The Nightmare Scenario

In the 1983 Westminster Election, Labour got 27.6% of the vote and 209 seats (32.2%) while the then SDP-Liberal Alliance got 25.4% of the vote and only 20 seats (3.5%). This illustrated the unfairness of Westminster's electoral system more starkly than anything I can remember, and public outcry at such obvious unfairness was probably only averted because both those parties were well behind the Tories who got 42.3% of the vote and 397 seats (61.1%).

The next few weeks will tell us if the recent upsurge in support for the LibDems following last week's debate will fade to black or not. But one thing is clear: even if the LibDems do get the largest share of the popular vote on 6 May, that will certainly not be reflected in the number of seats they win.

Because there are so many local variables it is difficult to be precise, but here are some of the possibilities:

Con ... 33% of vote = 254 seats (39%)
LibDem ... 30% of vote = 101 seats (16%)
Lab ... 28% of vote = 263 seats (36%)

Lab ... 33% of vote = 351 seats (54%)
LibDem ... 30% of vote = 99 seats (15%)
Con ... 28% of vote = 169 seats (26%)

Lab ... 33% of vote = 334 seats (51%)
Con ... 30% of vote = 196 seats (30%)
LibDem ... 28% of vote = 89 seats (14%)

Con ... 33% of vote = 245 seats (38%)
Lab ... 30% of vote = 289 seats (44%)
LibDem ... 28% of vote = 84 seats (13%)

LibDem ... 33% of vote = 127 seats (20%)
Con ... 30% of vote = 215 seats (33%)
Lab ... 28% of vote = 276 seats (42%)

In every case Labour will get many more seats than their share of the vote warrants, so that even if they come third, they will get more seats than the parties ahead of them. Similarly the LibDems will always get less than their share of the vote should entitle them to.

The last result would be the nightmare scenario: the party with most votes comes third by a long way, the party that comes third gets many more seats than the parties above them. If that doesn't persuade people how iniquitous the first-past-the-post voting system is, nothing ever will.


We know that the Tories are against any change to the voting system. And perhaps that's understandable, because their share of seats tends to tally with their share of the vote fairly well. Labour, it goes without saying, will obfuscate the issue. Diane Abbott gave a masterclass in the eighth comment of this post. They talk about electoral reform but nearly all of them will do absolutely nothing to move towards any form of proportional representation for the simple reason that they benefit most from the current unfairness.

As I've mentioned on a number of occasions Labour have had every chance to change the system in their thirteen years in power. They put a commitment to a referendum on changing the voting system to the Commons into their 1997 manifesto ... but failed to honour it. They did not even respond to the Jenkins Commission which they set up to look at and recommend various options.

In other words, Labour said one thing but did something else. As with everything else they do in constitutional terms, experience has taught us that they will move to change things only when they believe it is in their own interests to do so.

And again, even though the commitment to a referendum on the Alternative Vote is in their 2010 manifesto, it doesn't take any great genius to realize it is only there now because they know they are likely to lose even the unfair Commons majority they have held up to now. But we need to remember that, even though the Alternative Vote is one step better than FPTP, it still has no element of proportionality, so Labour will still benefit from it more than any other party.


Like Plaid Cymru and the SNP, the LibDems have long been in favour of proportional representation in the specific form of a Single Transferable Vote in multimember constituencies. But the way the LibDems have worded their manifesto for this election is hardly as clear cut as I would expect it to be. PR has always been their hallmark policy, but it doesn't even get a mention in the opening letter from Nick Clegg and Kirsty Williams, the introduction talks only of "embracing fair votes" and the eventual commitment is put in these rather muted terms:

Liberal Democrats will:

•  Change politics and abolish safe seats by introducing a fair, more proportional voting system for MPs. Our preferred Single Transferable Vote system gives people the choice between candidates as well as parties.

And it has struck me as strange that in interviews over the past few weeks the LibDems have been very reticent to say that electoral reform will be one of their red line issues in any post-election agreement they might make with another party. It has always been a red line issue in the past.

OK, I can understand that when the manifesto was written the LibDems could not have imagined the boost Nick Clegg would get by being invited to take part in what were originally billed as the Prime Ministerial Debates. But they have no excuse not to be strong if these polls turn out to be an anywhere near accurate reflection of what happens on 6 May. For if the electoral system isn't reformed now, while the unfairness of the current system is so obvious to the general public, I think it will be many years before the chance will come again.

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Nuclear fall out

The launch of the Welsh Labour manifesto was a carefully choreographed piece of showmanship. Peter Hain and Carwyn Jones stood side by side, Westminster and the Assembly supposedly equal.

This is what the manifesto they presented has to say about nuclear energy:

•  We are committed to delivering a diverse, flexible and more secure energy policy for Wales that recognises the very real threat facing our planet. Wales has the potential to produce twice the amount of electricity it currently uses from renewable sources by 2025.

•  We will make Wales a leading provider of green energy, produced not only by wind, but also from biomass, marine and microgeneration. This will not only combat climate change but generate thousands of new jobs, for example through Anglesey's vision of an 'energy island' with offshore wind and other industries located there, and construction of the Wylfa B Nuclear Power Station which Labour fully supports.

Welsh Labour Manifesto

Is that really true?  No of course it isn't ... it's just another example of Labour being Labour. Nuclear power in Wales is most definitely not what the Labour AMs in our Assembly want. This is the Welsh Government's definitive position on the matter, reaffirmed only last month:

We remain of the view that the high level of interest in exploiting the huge potential for renewable energy reduces the need for other, more hazardous, forms of low carbon energy and obviates the need for new nuclear power stations.

Western Mail, 16 March 2010

Yes, the Welsh Government—comprising far more Labour AMs than Plaid AMs—is very firmly against nuclear power in Wales. Not only that, but it has resisted the attempt to bulldoze through a new nuclear station at Wylfa B, repeating its call for a public inquiry into it only three weeks ago, as this report shows:

     WAG to press for a public inquiry into N-plant proposal

So how did Carwyn Jones, standing alongside Peter Hain, react to the patently absurd claim that Welsh Labour "fully supports" a new nuclear station at Wylfa B? Well, rather than fall out in public, he just fell in, grinned sheepishly and hoped no-one would notice that Peter Hain was riding roughshod over what Labour's AMs want.


Once again we see Labour in Westminster imposing what it wants for England onto Wales. Once again we see what Labour really thinks about devolving decision-making power to Wales: devolution is fine ... providing, that is, you only decide to do what we in Westminster agree with.


Plaid's position on the issue is perfectly clear: we are against nuclear power in Wales. This is what it says in our manifesto:

We reaffirm our opposition to the construction of any new nuclear power stations in Wales.


We would create green electricity through renewable energy projects.

Plaid Manifesto

Now it's true that a small minority in Plaid Cymru do not share this view. Ieuan Wyn Jones may well be personally in favour of nuclear power in Môn ... but that doesn't make any difference to Plaid's policy. Thankfully, he was outvoted by the rest of us.

And, for what it's worth, even the LibDems are against nuclear power:

In both the National Assembly and Westminster, as appropriate, we would:

•  Say no to a new generation of nuclear power stations; nuclear power is a far more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions than promoting conservation and renewable energy.

LibDem Manifesto

So we have three parties in the Assembly who are opposed to nuclear power in Wales, about two-thirds of voters altogether. Yet if you vote for Labour you will get what their leaders in Westminster want in order to meet England's energy needs ... for even Labour acknowledge that Wales can produce twice the electricity we need from renewables.

If England needs the energy, and the people of England decide that they want nuclear energy to be a part of that, then they should be free to do so. But if they do, those power stations should be built in England, and England must pay for all the risks and costs involved.


In writing this, I am aware that many people will think that a new generation of nuclear power stations is a done deal in the wake of Horizon's (a joint venture by E.On and RWE npower) recent announcement that they intend to make a planning application for Wylfa B. This isn't true. So I now want to concentrate on how best to ensure that it doesn't happen.

It is certainly true that Labour in Westminster have been pressing hard for the nuclear power industry. It's true that they have done all they can to change the rules so as to fast-track a the new stations they want. I wrote about the new Infrastructure Planning Commission here, but in essence this body only exists to implement the decisions already made in what are called "National Policy Statements". So it is in many ways too late to prevent new power stations being built by means of the planning process. The only hope of preventing companies who want to build nuclear power stations is by a change of policy at UK level. The most obvious and direct way of doing this would be to devolve decision making on energy to Wales, where the majority of Welsh AMs would reject it.


But there is another way of fighting to stop nuclear power: the Tories in Westminster have said that any new generation of nuclear plants must not be subsidized by the taxpayer. This is what it says in their manifesto:

To limit harmful emissions from UK power stations, we will take steps to encourage new low carbon energy production, including:

•  clearing the way for new nuclear power stations – provided they receive no public subsidy

Conservative Manifesto

Now of course the Tories may have a whole raft of ways to by which they can hide such subsidies if they chose to. But Labour have already done precisely that by including the potential nuclear power industry within the scope of Strategic Investment Fund and also intend to use the Green Investment Bank they would set up to help finance the nuclear industry. That certainly constitutes "public subsidy". At a time when we are up to our ears in public debt, we certainly can't afford to increase public debt even further by bailing out energy firms to provide a source of electricity that Wales doesn't even need.


The major issue is not the cost of building the stations (although that is of course an issue, although it would be one for the companies concerned) but the cost of cleaning up the waste they produce and of decommissioning the site when it has come to the end of its productive life. These costs are much, much greater than the cost of construction. In principle, the government's idea is that the power companies would set aside money each year so as to pay the costs of decommissioning and clean up. The fundamental flaw in that approach is that a private company can either go bust or refuse to honour its contract commitments at any time, in much the same way as happened when National Express walked away from the East Coast rail franchise last year. The taxpayer will be left to pick up the bills. The very nature of private companies is that they make a profit when they can ... but when they can't they can be wound up, leaving others to pick up the pieces.

In these situations, the only way to guarantee that the costs will still be met if the company folds is for them to put the money up front, in the form of some sort of bond, perhaps backed by insurance. This happens in the construction industry, but the costs involved in nuclear clean up are way beyond that scale ... not least because it's virtually impossible to predict how much something will cost in maybe 40 years time. So the Labour Government have been trying to run with a compromise mechanism called "Funded Decommissioning" which, in order to make the cost in any way affordable for private companies, seeks to put limits on their liabilities.

At present this is the subject of a public consultation which began last month and is set to run until June. The details are on this page. But this is the stated aim:

The purpose of this consultation is to seek views on whether or not the proposals within this document provide clarity for both operators of new nuclear power stations and the public on the financing arrangements the operator of a new nuclear power station will have to put in place to meet the full costs of decommissioning and their full share of waste management costs.

In my opinion these are the best grounds for fighting against nuclear power in Wales. We should by all means fight to stop permission to build new power stations from being granted, and that might still prove successful. But as things stand, the outcome has already been stitched-up. I have no doubt that if we are mad enough to re-elect them, a Labour government in Westminster would try and stitch this up as well by setting unrealistically low costs.

But if we stand firm on the basic principle that whoever wants to build a nuclear power station must ensure that the full cost of decommissioning and waste storage is met without public subsidy—irrespective of whether they go bust at some time in the future—no private company will go ahead with construction because they simply would not be able to afford to provide that sort of binding, enforceable guarantee.

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For England

I don't think it's any great secret that if I didn't vote Plaid I would vote Green. The Green Party launched their manifesto in Brighton yesterday and I don't think anyone who watches the video could fail to notice how many similarities there are between their policies and those of Plaid. Not just on the obvious environmental issues, but on the fundamental principles of a fairer, more equal and more just society. The two are intrinsically linked.


What was said by the very impressive Caroline Lucas, as well as Darren Johnson and Adrian Ramsay, was music to my ears. In fact I would go so far as to say that some aspects of their policy are more radical and better than Plaid's ... but we can each judge that for ourselves by glancing through this policy list or reading through the full manifesto, for the sake of cross-fertilization of ideas if nothing else. We in Wales are sometimes prone to look at things only from our own point of view, so this should help remind us that the Wales we want to build is not unusual from a wider global, continental or even island perspective ... just that our version is tailored so that it suits what is unique to our specific circumstances.


So I would urge any Welsh exile living in England (... well anyone living in England, for that matter) who can't vote for Plaid to vote Green instead. Their main target seats are Brighton Pavilion, Norwich South and Lewisham Deptford, and they do seem to have a real chance of making a breakthrough. This is what Betfair said about the Brighton Pavilion seat:

This is the first time since betting began that a candidate in this contest has been odds-on in this election. Caroline Lucas now has a 51 per cent chance of winning the seat, say [our] customers. The Conservatives are 15-8 (a 35 per cent chance) and Labour third on 9-2 (19 per cent), whilst the Lib Dems are seemingly out of the race at 59-1 (2 per cent).


If the Greens do win this and the other two seats, I think there will be plenty of common ground on which we will be able to work and vote together ... as we, and also the SNP, already do in the European Parliament.

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Labour Spread Lies and Confusion

Right at the top of Labour's promises at the launch of their manifesto for Wales today was a commitment to fair funding. Peter Hain said:

"Today's fair funding guarantee means that, with Labour, Wales will not be disadvantaged in the future."

Well, I've just read through their manifesto, and it is quite clear that this is not only the most blatant of lies, but that Labour either do not understand the basis on which Wales is presently funded ... or that they do, but want to spread confusion and disinformation about it. This is what they say:

Right now, for every £100 that is spent on schools, hospitals and other vital services in England, £114 is spent in Wales under the ‘Barnett Formula’ because of the relative sparsity, ill health, deprivation and age of our population compared with England. This formula has served Wales well these past Labour years: for example, funding for the Welsh Assembly Government’s health and hospital programmes has more than doubled, in real terms.

Welsh Labour Manifesto, page 30

This is completely wrong. The Barnett Formula has nothing whatsoever to do with the "relative sparsity, ill health, deprivation and age of our population compared with England". It is based simply on population, nothing else.

Gerald Holtham and his colleagues have recommended that the Barnett Formula be replaced with a needs based formula that would take account of these and other factors, but Labour point-blank refused to commit themselves to that sort of change, as I explaned here. And this manifesto is most certainly not a promise that Labour will change their minds and introduce a replacement for the Barnett Formula, they are just repeating the fudge that they made previously.

So in short this is deliberate mendacity—blatant lying—of the very worst kind. The manifesto is peppered with lies and innuendo, but this is simply too big a lie to be ignored.

     It is disgusting and shameful that Labour are telling us
     the exact opposite of what is true

On the same page of the manifesto, Labour make much about how much spending in Wales has increased. Now it is true that public spending in Wales has increased. But what Labour don't say is that they increased spending in England and Scotland much more than they increased it in Wales. This graph, which I make no apology for showing yet again, shows just how much spending in Wales has gone down relative to the UK average:


In short, Labour have deliberately and systematically used their 13 years in power at Westminster to see spending in Wales fall from about 125% to 114% relative to the UK as a whole. The biggest injustice is that relative spending levels in Scotland have been and still are much higher than in Wales. But, as the PESA figures in the table below show, over the past six years relative spending in Scotland has in fact gone up from 117 to 118, and in England from 96 to 97.


Put bluntly, we have been unfortunate to have Secretaries of State for Wales that have proved themselves completely incapable of standing up for Wales at the Cabinet table. The Scottish Secretary has managed to keep Scotland's advantageous position, but we have been lumbered with a second-rater who would rather praise himself than fight for the people he is meant to represent.

And, just in case anyone thinks that this was some sort of misprint in the Labour manifesto, Labour candidates have been putting out precisely the same lies in their leaflets. Nia Griffith in Llanelli is another perfect example of a Labour candidate lying through her teeth in the hope of trying to hold on to her seat, as I wrote about in this post.


But finally, I do not want to be critical of Labour without putting forward a better alternative:


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Plaid's Manifesto

Plaid's manifesto launch yesterday doesn't appear to have made it onto iPlayer, so I thought I'd put it up here.


Just click the images below to read the full manifesto in either Welsh or English. The seven key policies are highlighted first, followed by Plaid's other commitments.


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Alun Cairns' Gem

Continuing the theme of Welsh-medium education, an article about it was front page news in this weekend's Barry GEM, and was also in a number of the other local papers in the Vale of Glamorgan.

"Find solution to demand for Welsh medium education"


Demand for places at a Welsh medium school in Barry is outstripping supply. There are 63 Vale youngsters hoping to go to Ysgol Gymraeg St Curig in the town but just 60 places available.

The Conservative parliamentary candidate for the Vale, Alun Cairns AM, said that while he was pleased that demand for Welsh medium education was increasing locally, it was causing a headache to both schools and education officers.

He explained: "We have an issue at St Curig’s where in September there will be 63 children competing for 60 places. Strict rules about class numbers mean that it may not be possible to accommodate the three extra children, although I am hoping that a sensible solution can be found."

Last month, The GEM reported on how a temporary classroom was likely to be sited at Ysgol Iolo Morgannwg in Cowbridge to accommodate all the pupils who want to start there in September.

Mr Cairns, a Welsh speaker himself, said: "The Vale Council is doing its best to cater for this demand for Welsh medium education with news of a new Welsh unit in Llantwit Major, which will ease pressure on Ysgol Iolo Morgannwg. I understand that there are also plans for a new Welsh medium school in Barry, so in the long term this issue will be addressed. I am calling upon the local authority, the school and parents to work together in a bid to deal with this problem in the short term. Although free school transport would be laid on for any pupils who have to attend a school outside Barry, I can understand the anxieties of parents on this.

"Everyone must put their heads together to come up with a solution that satisfies all parties."

The head of strategic planning and performance at the council, Paula Ham, said, "The council has worked closely with schools and parents to accommodate all applications for Welsh medium school places for September, 2010. We are currently consulting on the establishment of new Welsh medium schools in Barry and Llantwit Major, with the aim of meeting growing demand in the future."

Glamorgan GEM

The situation itself is hardly a great surprise, but I'm less than impressed by Alun Cairns' contribution. When a politician comes up with, "I am calling upon the local authority, the school and parents to work together in a bid to deal with this problem in the short term" he is in effect saying that he hasn't got a clue how to solve it, so will everybody please else get together and do it and leave him to get on with his campaigning. When a solution is found, he will no doubt claim that it was all down to his intervention. Thanks for that sparkling contribution, Alun. A gem for the GEM.

For me, the thing to do is to suggest ways of actually solving the problem.

In particular, I think it's unreasonable for him to think that parents have to make compromises for things that are outside their control. If parents want their children to have a WM education, it is up to the local authority and schools to ensure that they get it. It simply isn't the parents' problem. In the main it's down to the local authority, though the schools affected also have role.


As I wrote in this post last year, the Vale of Glamorgan came up with some good plans to increase WM provision in the Vale as a result of a survey of parental preferences which they conducted. Paula Ham, who was quoted in the article, deserves particular credit for working out a plan as soon as VoG recognized the extent of the parental demand ... and I have to say that this is in marked contrast to Swansea, who conducted surveys in 2007 and 2008, but who have only recently come up with a proposal to convert one very small school in Morriston to WM.

VoG proposed the introduction of "seed schools" which they intended to be set up in September this year, but their good intentions got caught up in the complicated procedures necessary to set up new schools, and therefore they had to put their plans back by a year, as I mentioned here.


But in spite of the administrative delays, the parental demand is of course still there, so VoG have a short term crisis on their hands. Reading between the lines, it appears that VoG have decided to set up a temporary classroom at Ysgol Iolo Morgannwg in Cowbridge as a short term measure before the seed school in Llanilltyd Fawr (Llantwit Major) starts in September 2011. What Alun Cairns said about busing children from Barry to Cowbridge seems to imply that VoG have not yet made a similar decision to set up temporary accommodation in one of the three WM schools in Barry before the introduction of the new seed school proposed for the town. They seem to be hoping that the one new classroom will be big enough to cope with the increased demand from both the Rural Vale and Barry at the same time ... and that the inconvenience of travelling can be put up with for a year.

I do not think that this is a satisfactory answer. We are still only in April, and it seems that not only is Sain Curig full, but that the two other WM schools in Barry must also be full, as it is obvious that parents would be given the choice of going to one of the two other WM schools in Barry (Sant Baruc and Gwaun y Nant) if they had spaces available, rather than having to travel all the way to Cowbridge.

But in the messy everyday world, the problem is that not all parents plan for their children's education so far in advance. In conversations I have had with RhAG, it seems that some parents will still turn up at a WM school on the first day of term expecting a place, only to be told that the school is full and that they would have to go elsewhere. Another example of this is Llanelli, where extra temporary accommodation had to be put up at the very last moment because the demand had been underestimated. So, if VoG has a situation in which applications for WM schools in Barry have already exceeded the space available in April, I think it is almost certain that the crisis will get a lot worse by September.


I think the only reasonable solution is for VoG to say that they will put up an additional temporary classroom in one of the Barry schools. I fully understand that space is at a premium and that some play space will be lost as a result. That is something that the school concerned will have to compromise on, but it is better than the alternative. The cost to the local authority will not be all that much, either. The new seed schools will be made up of temporary accommodation to last for a few years while new schools are being planned and built. So it's simply a question of buying or hiring one more demountable classroom a year early, and moving it to the new location over next year's summer holiday. Sure, moving it will cost money, but not that much money.

The sad reality of WM eduction in many parts of Wales is that although the local authority has a duty to provide WM education, they are under no specific obligation to provide it locally. That means that parents who want it for their children have often had to send them long distances to get it. Not every parent is willing to do that, and the VoG survey shows that 6% of all parents do not send their children to WM schools simply because of the distance and inconvenience involved. If VoG are serious about respecting parental choice, they owe it to parents to provide the necessary temporary accommodation locally in Barry itself.

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A proposal for two new Welsh-medium schools in Swansea

About a month ago, I wrote this post about the need for expansion of Welsh-medium education in Swansea, especially in the light of the decision to close Cwm Primary. A week later, Leighton Andrews approved the closure of Llanmorlais Primary, and this week he confirmed that Arfryn Primary (shown below) would also be closed.



To my mind, these were each very obvious decisions. Llanmorlais is a smaller rural school, which sadly was in the same situation as many rural schools across Wales; but in the case of Cwm and Arfryn there are other schools very close by that have enough surplus spaces for the children concerned. No child is going to be very inconvenienced by having to travel what is only a few hundred metres further, and indeed for some children the journey to the alternative school will be shorter.

The decisions mean that there are now no outstanding matters awaiting Welsh Government approval (the proposal to amalgamate Pentrepoeth Infants and Juniors and convert Craig Infants to a small WM primary is still in the early stages of consultation) so I thought it would be good to see what possibilities these decisions open up for the much needed expansion of WM education in the city.


The map above shows the existing WM primaries in the Swansea urban area (there a a few outlying WM schools off the map) together with the positions of Craig Infants, Cwm Primary and Arfryn Primary. From the survey conducted by Swansea in 2007 we know that there is considerable unmet demand for WM education, and Heini Gruffudd of RhAG identified five areas of the city where new WM schools were needed in this document. These were:

•  Morriston (the top priority)
•  St Thomas/Bonymaen
•  Cwmbwrla/Landore
•  Townhill/Mayhill (not Mayals, it must be a typo)
•  Killay/Dunvant

So how do these areas of need match the school premises which will otherwise be vacant in September? Well, it's not 100% perfect, but there are some very good matches.

The most obvious match is that the Cwm Primary site will meet the demand from Bon y maen, and will make it very much easier for children from St Thomas, who would otherwise have to travel nearly twice as far to Lôn Las. All the details and numbers were in the previous post, so please click here to read it.

The picture for Morriston is more complicated. At present children from Morriston mainly go either to Lôn Las to the east or Tirdeunaw to the south west. This is an extract from the RhAG report:

Morriston is special because it has a large number of children attending Welsh medium school, without a Welsh medium school in the area.

The call for Welsh medium education in Swansea originated in Morriston in 1947, but although this is still the largest Welsh speaking ward in Swansea, there is still no Welsh medium school there.

The Council’s recent statistics show that nearby Welsh medium schools have the following numbers of children from Morriston ward:

Gellionnen ... 15
Lôn-las ... 51
Tirdeunaw ... 38
Felindre ... 2
Total ... 106

There is every sign than Morriston will be able to sustain a Welsh medium school successfully. 39% of people asked in Morriston said they wanted Welsh medium education for their children.

In total, there is the equivalent of seven primary schools in the Morriston area: Ynystawe, Glyncollen, Cwnrhydyceirw, Pentrepoeth Infant and Junior and Graig Infants, Llangyfelach, Morriston and Clase ... all are EM schools. So if 39% of parents want WM education, this means that about two and a half of these schools would need to become WM schools.

Swansea's recently announced plan is to make Graig Infants a WM school – which is effectively the "half" school (less, in fact, since its capacity is only 115 ... the equivalent of a 0.5 form entry school). Although that is a welcome development, it is obvious that it is a long way short of what is required. We also know that it won't happen quickly. Swansea are not envisaging it happening until September 2011, but it is almost certain that there will be objections which make it highly likely that it won't happen until September 2012. Things need to happen before then.

Looking again at the map, it should be obvious that Lôn Las is drawing pupils from both Morriston to the west and its more immediate catchment area to the east and south. If a new WM school is established at the Cwm building, Lôn Las will be able to provide more places for children from Morriston. Similarly Tirdeunaw is drawing pupils from Morriston to the north east as well as the areas to south, so if a new WM school is established at the Arfryn building, Tirdeunaw will be able to provide more places for children from Morriston.

That's not a complete solution, but it's half of the solution. The other half of the solution would be to either build a new WM school in Morriston, or to convert one of the other EM schools to a WM school. But the timescales for that are obviously much longer, irrespective of the matter of finding the money to build a new school.


Timing is an important factor. Both Cwm and Arfryn are going to be vacant from July this year. Because of the statutory procedures, it takes time to establish a new school ... even if there are no objections. A good example of this is what has happened in the Vale of Glamorgan. In November last year, they produced a very good plan for expansion of WM education, and intended to set up new starter schools for September this year as I mentioned here. But the red tape involved has meant that they have now had to delay things for a year, as detailed here. So it's fairly obvious that Swansea will not be able to establish two new WM schools in their own right at Cwm and Arfryn for September 2010.

But the key is "in their own right". Schools need things like boards of governors and head teachers, as well as their own budget ... so it is understandable and right that this isn't done at the drop of a hat. But there is a better solution.

Cardiff Council wanted to set up a new starter class at Gabalfa last September, but couldn't go through the procedures in time. So instead they set up a class at Gabalfa, but not as an entity in its own right. Instead they set it up as temporary accommodation for Ysgol Melin Gruffudd ... which just happened to be on a separate site. The very same could happen in Swansea. Cwm Newydd could be set up in the first instance as temporary accommodation for Lôn Las, and Arfyn Newydd set up as temporary accommodation for Tirdeunaw.

This strategy has other advantages. It means that Swansea can adopt a "suck it and see" approach to both. Because it is a temporary arrangement it can be set up for, say, two years in the first instance. If the demand proves to be real, then they can be set up as permanent schools in their own right, with plenty of time to go through all the statutory procedures. But if the demand isn't there nothing much has been wasted, because the school buildings would only have stood empty otherwise, and the current economic climate means this is hardly the right time for selling off the land. If that is Swansea's intention, they would get a much better price if they waited a couple of years.


So all in all, setting up temporary starter classes in the two vacated buildings—but administratively part of Lôn Las and Tirdeunaw respectively—will be a win-win situation for everybody concerned. But it is a decision that Swansea needs to take and announce quickly, because parents are already planning what primary schools to send their children to this September ... and they can't make the choice unless they know that these options are available to them.

This is an opportunity that is too good to be squandered. Councillor Mike Day is Swansea Council's Cabinet Member for Education, and his email is mike.day@swansea.gov.uk. He's a LibDem, but this isn't a party political issue and shouldn't be made into one. It is simply a matter of respecting what parents in Swansea want for their own children, something which all politicians would surely agree on. The proposals I've set out here are intended as a practical way of meeting the demand that Swansea Council's own survey has already identified.

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Western Rail Corridors in Ireland and Wales

Having just posted about reinstating disused rail routes in Wales, I thought I'd check out what was happening on the west coast of Ireland, where there have been plans to reopen the route between Limerick and Sligo—the Western Rail Corridor—for some years. In 2005 it was included as part of a comprehensive €34bn transport infrastructure programme called Transport 21.

Serendipity was smiling. I found that the first part of the route has just been completed, and that the first direct service from Limerick to Galway ran just before Easter. The article in the Irish Times is here and this is the news item from TV3 on 29 March:


And I also found this 25 minute video of a programme from March last year called EcoEye, which should give some idea of the overall scope of the project, and even how it might be extended:


But for those who'd prefer to read about it, there's a Wiki article about the WRC here and a lot more information on the West on Track website here.


First, I don't think anybody could fail to be struck by the similarities between western Ireland and the western half of Wales. In the not too past Ireland, like Wales, had railways that ran north-south, but these were abandoned several decades ago, so now there is a rail network that radiates from Dublin in the same way as the British network radiates from London, leaving relatively good east-west links by rail, but nothing running in a north-south direction.

The second thing to note is that re-instating this railway will bring significant benefits to the area – both in terms of expanding the economy and in terms of environmental benefits to a predominantly rural area. That same argument must surely hold true for the western half of Wales as it does for western Ireland.

The third thing I would note is that the cost of reinstating the rail link has been extraordinarily low. The sections of rail from Limerick to Ennis and Galway to Athenry already exist, so this first stage involved reinstating 58km (36 miles) of track at a cost of €106.5m (£93m) including four new stations and associated works:

•  renewal of 36 miles of track, including all necessary fencing and drainage and installation of points and crossings at Gort and Ennis

•  a 90m platform with furniture, signage, shelter, Automatic Ticket Vending Machine, lighting, car park, PA, Customer Information Systems, help point and CCTV provision at Sixmilebridge, Gort, Ardrahan and Craughwell. These stations will also be accessible to the mobility impaired

•  At Ennis and Athenry stations, PA, Customer Information Systems, help point and CCTV has been provided

•  Repair and improvement work has been undertaken on bridges on the route to allow rail services to operate:
- modernised signalling systems
- improvement to level crossings, and elimination where practicable


That works out at £1.6m per km or £2.6m per mile. To put that into perspective, the same sum of money wouldn't build more than three or four miles of motorway ... probably even less. The thankfully aborted M4 relief motorway would have cost £1bn, which worked out at £45m per km or £70m per mile.


Yet there are some things about what has been done in Ireland that cause me concern. First is the low speeds. It takes two hours to make the journey between Limerick and Galway but, on a clear road, the car journey would take 90 minutes. Although the track was already there, most of it had to be taken up and relaid, I would have thought that would be an opportunity to iron out some of the slower sections. But Irish railways are not particularly fast anyway, the train from Dublin to Galway takes about 2hr40m to cover 208km. That's only about 80km/h or 50mph. When we reinstate our railways, we should spend more to get a higher standard of track capable of supporting faster speeds.

There are some very wide variations in predicted passenger numbers. The video reports pointed to about 300,000 a year, but this report in the Irish Independent put the figure at only a third of that, meaning that the service would run at a €2.4m a year loss. As the service has only been running for a week, it's much too early to tell. However one encouraging sign is that Iarnród Éireann have upgraded the train from a two car to a four car unit, as reported here. As I mentioned in this post, other rail reinstatements have attracted many more passengers than were originally predicted.


My main reason for reporting this is to give us in Wales an idea of not only what can, but what is being achieved in a country that is very similar to our own. To look forward to the day when our own Minister of Transport can ride on the first train in fifty years to link Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog or Bangor, or Carmarthen to Aberystwyth.

In total, the WRC in Ireland is or 185km (115 miles) in length. The length of track it would be necessary to reinstate for us to get a west coast main line is 89km (56 miles) between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth, plus either 40km (25 miles) between the Cambrian Coast line and Pont Britannia or 18km (11 miles) between it and Blaenau Ffestiniog, although part of the second would be new rather than reinstated. So it's a smaller project, but just as important for just the same reasons.


Even though it is election time, I don't want to be overly political about this since the project in Ireland had support from across the political spectrum, although the more right wing Fine Gael seem to be lukewarm about future phases now. I would like to think that all parties in Wales could unite around a reinstated west coast main line for Wales ... but at the moment it seems that it isn't even on the radar of the other parties.

So much of this election seems to be about two parties making a big deal over what are really just minor variations on the same overall policies. On transport, for example, both the Tories and Labour are going to spend £16bn on a high speed line to Birmingham and more on extending it to Manchester and Leeds. The only difference between them is the exact route. If that sort of money can be spent by a UK government entirely in England, who else but Plaid is going to fight for our share of transport investment in Wales? Who else but Plaid has the vision to plan for it? We pay our taxes too, and our fair share of £16bn is 5% or £800m. A west coast main line for Wales would cost much, much less than that.

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I guess that's why they call it the blues

Wales' new NHS uniforms are being rolled out for the first time today in west Wales, and they are of course a good thing. But I was bemused by this description of the colours on the BBC website:

•  Hospital ward sisters/charge nurses and their deputies - navy blue
•  Clinical nurse specialist - royal blue
•  Staff nurse - hospital blue
•  Staff midwives - postman blue
•  Healthcare support workers - green
•  Nursery nurse - aqua green

BBC, 8 April 2010

I don't think anybody will have trouble with navy blue and royal blue ... but what on earth are "hospital blue" and "postman blue"?

Will be at all helpful to say to a woman who's just arrived at hospital after her waters have broken, "Just wait here a moment, the midwife will be along soon. You can't miss her, she'll be the one in postman blue"?

And yet, even though she will have no idea of what that colour might be, she couldn't help but marvel at the logic of putting the person in charge of deliveries in postman blue.

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Wales must plan its future rail network now

In the Daily Post yesterday was a story that gave me major cause for concern. It is about proposals to reinstate the rail link between Bangor and Caernarfon.

Moves to build new rail link between Bangor and Caernarfon

A new multi-million pound rail line re-connecting Caernarfon with the national rail network could be built if campaigners can prove it’s financially worthwhile.

The old line closed in 1970 and part is now a cycle track, with other stretches up for sale to householders. But re-opening the 10-mile long line – possibly along another route – is now an aim of the North Wales transport plan, drawn up by the region’s six county councils.

Gwynedd council – which looks after the track – agrees it would help ease road problems, but is now negotiating the sale of part of the old route to householders in Felinheli because nobody has presented a viable scheme for reopening the railway. Green campaigners have accused Gwynedd of harming Caernarfon’s chances of rejoining the UK rail network ...

Daily Post, 6 April 2010

The part of the story I particularly want to highlight is the proposed sale of part of the land on which the old route ran. It is short-sighted lunacy to sell land in this way, and Gwynedd Council should be severely criticized for wanting to do it. I say that in full knowledge that my own party runs Gwynedd ... but this is far more than a party political issue.

As the Daily Post report goes on to say, councils all over Wales have done exactly the same sort of thing, using the routes of old railways for roads or other forms of development. But policy has changed in recent years, and experience has shown that when old rail routes are reopened, the passenger numbers using them have been much greater than anticipated. For two concrete examples of that, we have the Ebbw Vale line in Wales and the Alloa line in Scotland. The figures for both are here. To me, this suggests that the models that we use to calculate passenger numbers, and therefore the economic viability of reinstating the routes, are still outdated, and that it should therefore be possible to reinstate rail services and rebuild old lines on a larger scale than we have done so far.


But we need to think clearly about what we want to achieve. As I see it, there are two separate goals. One goal is to put more places back on the rail network: a local goal bringing local benefits. But in my opinion the more important goal is join together the various fragments of railways we have to create a network that will make it possible to make longer journeys from one part of Wales to another by rail: a strategic goal rather than a local goal.


The map above (click it to open a larger version) shows the rail network in north west Wales. The lines in black are in operation. The two lines in red have existing track, but no rail service. The reinstatement of the branch from Llangefni to Amlwch has already been identified for reinstatement of services, which is very welcome.

The line shown in green is the existing track bed of the dismantled railway between Pont Britannia and Caernarfon, which is now used as a cycletrack. Building it will certainly provide a local benefit, especially to Caernarfon and Y Felinheli. It is a question of whether the cost/benefit ratio stacks up. However the line could also be part of a strategic link between the north coast line and the Cambrian Coast line. The old railway ran along the route shown in pink on the map.

The ideal, of course, is to meet both local and strategic goals. I'm not suggesting that we have to do both at the same time, only that we make decisions now based on the possibility of doing more in the future. It is relatively easy to reinstate the old line from Pont Britannia to Caernarfon, and in my opinion it should go through Y Felinheli so that the people who live there can benefit from a station within walking distance. It is possible to take another route, roughly along the line of the new main road, but that will mean that any station will be some distance from where people live.

But what is much more critical is that if the line is to be extended south beyond Caernarfon, there is only one route it can take. At present this is used as a road which runs under Castle Square, but I think the road can be sacrificed as Caernarfon now has a better through road. The only place where it is impossible to use the old rail alignment is where the new Morrisons store has been built. But it should be possible to divert the line slightly to run between Morrisons and the Victoria Dock development, though that will mean reconfiguring some roads.

The other thing that must be done is to ensure that we reinstate the railway between Pont Britannia and Caernarfon to normal rail rather than light rail standards. It might well be cheaper to build it to light rail standards, but that will make it impossible to use it as part of a strategic north-south rail link in the future.


However, even though I think the through route is a good idea, I believe that we can achieve a link between the north coast line and the Cambrian Coast line more effectively via Blaenau Ffestiniog. On the map above, the 8km red section south from Blaenau Ffestiniog is existing track in good condition, and it would require only 10km of brand new track to complete the link. More details are here. In contrast, the green section to Caernarfon is about 11km, and the pink section 29km, making 40km in total. Although it might well be better not to follow the old route but to shorten it as shown by the dotted blue line.


This is just an illustration of the issues as they apply to one area of Wales. There are exactly the same issues in other parts of Wales too. So in short what we need is a comprehensive review of what we would like the rail network in Wales to look like ... irrespective of cost or the ability to build it in the medium term. We simply need to identify the routes we want and then, after evaluating the routes in detail, take the necessary steps to safeguard those routes from development. We can then implement that plan in stages as and when we can afford it.

What this story shows all to clearly is that local authorities simply will not do this if left to their own devices. Most of them are so strapped for cash that it is quite understandable that they would look to sell whatever land they can for the best price they can get.

This is an evaluation that needs to be done at a national level by the Welsh Government, and done now. If we fail to do it now we may find that it is a lot harder, if not impossible, to get the rail network Wales needs ... and will need even more as the cost of motoring becomes ever more expensive, both environmentally and as the world wide demand for oil outstrips the supply.

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Baile Mor nan Gaidheal

That's the Big City of the Gaels ... or Glasgow. I was very encouraged to see this report on the BBC Scotland website about the city's plans to increase the prominence and use of Gaelic:

Gaelic language plan for Glasgow

A three-year action plan to increase the use of Gaelic throughout Glasgow is being launched by the city council. The strategy will be unveiled at the first board meeting in Glasgow of Gaelic agency, Bord na Gaidhlig. It will see the opening of a second Gaelic school in the city as well as wider use of the language on signs and official council communications.

Councils are legally obliged to prepare a Gaelic Language Plan under the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005.

Glasgow City Councillor Aileen Colleran said: "We have a vision for Gaelic in our city and this plan sets it out. By 2020, the place of Gaelic will be obvious to all. We'll see it around us - in our buildings, on our streets and in our shops - we'll hear it in conversations, in our schools and in the media. Our young people will be speaking it in Buchanan Street without feeling self conscious about it and people will recognise the language as Gaelic."

BBC, 6 April 2010

It's good to see such a positive attitude. We are not alone in wanting to see our languages thrive, and Scotland seems to have followed up on some of the same methods and strategies that we have used in Wales.

There's some more info on Glasgow City Council's website here, and the Language Plan itself is here.

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A week or so back, BlogMenai posted a copy of a letter sent out to every voter in Llanelli by the sitting Labour MP. I've nothing against Nia Griffith as a person, but what was said in her name was something else again:

You understand that Assembly funding and, to a large extent County Council funding, depend on Westminster, and only a Labour Government can deliver for Llanelli.

Liam Byrne MP, Alistair Darling's right-hand man, has agreed that we need to revise the Barnett funding formula to deliver a better deal for Wales. But only a Labour Government in Westminster can actually deliver that money for Wales.

... I'm counting on you to help me get the best deal for the people of the Llanelli constituency.

So let's have a look at those claims in a little more detail. Let's look at what the Labour Government in Westminster has actually delivered for Wales in their thirteen years in power.


This is a chart showing how spending in Wales relative to the remainder of the UK has fallen, taken from the Holtham Commission's report on finance and funding for Wales. We can see that Wales is now much worse off compared with the other countries of the UK than it was when Labour came to power. So Labour's claim to be the only party that can actually deliver money for Wales is nothing other than a barefaced lie. Precisely the opposite is true.

What has happened is this: Labour have spent a lot of money on the UK as a whole, and a lot of that money has been spent in Wales. The problem for us is that Labour were increasing their spending more per head in England and Scotland than they were doing in Wales. Yet Labour expect us to be grateful to them because we have received half a share, rather than a fair share. They rely on the fact that people in Wales won't look beyond the immediate horizon to see the bigger picture.


As we can see from this table, 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, and in England from 96 to 97.

So why has this happened? It is simply because Labour Secretaries of State for Wales have not taken the same care to fight for Wales as their counterparts in Scotland, or the departmental Secretaries for England.


But the real scandal is that Labour won't do anything to change this unfair situation. Why do you think the letter mentions Liam Byrne rather than his boss Alistair Darling on one hand, or Peter Hain on the other? Simple, it's because Alistair Darling has refused to make any commitment to change things ... and that Peter Hain, rather than fight for Wales, prefers to take this snub and spin it into something else.

Back in November last year, the Wales Office—headed by none other than Peter Hain, never reluctant to bathe himself in the orange glow of self-praise—proudly proclaimed:

     Hain secures fairer funding agreement for Wales

But it was nothing of the sort. Hain was lying through his teeth. All he got was from the Treasury was the non-committal statement that everything to do with funding for Wales was essentially all right, that it always has been, and that nothing is going to change ... but that they might look at it in future if things get worse.

Gerald Holtham himself said that Labour were acting like "silly billies" for not doing anything to change the system while they could. If he wasn't on television I think he might well have used the sort of language I used when I looked at the Wales Office statement in detail in this post:

     Silly billies ... or yet more silly buggers?

So instead of actually fighting to "actually deliver that money for Wales" Labour meekly gave up the fight without winning any commitment from the Treasury other than to "look at it".

So why the hell should anyone in Llanelli actually vote Labour? In the thirteen years that Labour has been in power their track record has been precisely the opposite of what they claim.


And as for Nia Griffith herself? Yes, she probably does care about her constituents, I don't doubt that. But the real question is whether she has been able to make any difference for them in Westminster. Like so many Labour MPs, she's fine at standing up for things like keeping post offices open when she's in the constituency, but in Westminster she will do what the Labour whips tell her to do ... and vote to close them.

That's just one example of why what it says in her letter about a Labour MP being able to make a difference is so pathetic. Most Welsh Labour MPs are just lobby fodder to vote through what the Labour government in Westminster decides.


But Llanelli has a far better choice than to vote for Nia Griffith. Llanelli is going to be a contest between Plaid Cymru and Labour and I can guarantee that Plaid's Myfanwy Davies will stand up and fight for Llanelli and for Wales, rather than meekly turn into lobby fodder for the issues that matter to middle England.


It's a big ask, but she can do it. Labour's share of the vote in the 2005 election was 46.9% with Plaid at 26.5%. So it would take a straight swing of just over 10% for us to win. But that's quite close enough to mean that many of those who voted LibDem and Tory (12.9% and 13.7% respectively) will turn to Plaid simply in order to break Labour's hold on the seat.

Only by voting for Myfanwy will people in Llanelli be able to get rid of a Labour Party that does precisely the opposite of what it claims to do for Wales, and a candidate who isn't strong enough to stand up for her constituents when the Labour whips in Westminster tell her to do the opposite of what she told them she would do.

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