Dai Lloyd in full flight

Dai Lloyd was in full flight in yesterday's short Senedd debate on Welsh-medium education in Swansea. Here are the untranslated and translated versions. It's worth watching the first because no translation could quite do justice to his introduction ... and for the delight of once again seeing Leighton Andrews delivering his response as Education Minister in Welsh. Well done, Leighton.



OK, it might just be fair to say that Dai majored on the rhetoric at the expense of some of the detail ... but this was a speech; and the details, facts and figures will mean nothing to most people unless a politician can convey why they matter so much, and rouse others to share that vision and take action to make sure it is fulfilled.

And to show that he's not alone, let me do my bit to appeal to our sense of outrage at the scale of the injustice of what was done in the past:


But that was the past. The point at issue is what we do now. As far as Swansea is concerned, Leighton Andrews said that Swansea's commitment is to provide 500 additional WM places by 2011. The new building for Llwynderw has a capacity of 315 (it should have been bigger, but Jane Davidson restricted it to a 1.5FE rather than 2FE school) which was an increase of about 200 on the temporary accommodation Llwynderw used to be in. That still leaves Swansea to find another 300 places by September next year to meet their own previous commitment, irrespective of the much greater demand revealed by the surveys.

But as I said in this post, Swansea's present proposal—currently on Leighton Andrews' desk—is just a paperwork exercise to make out that the three WM schools have more capacity, but without actually doing anything to physically increase the space in these schools. As such it is nothing more than a sham by which the council can say they've increased WM capacity while actually doing nothing at all. For this reason, I'd again urge Leighton Andrews to reject it, or to set a condition that the admission numbers cannot be increased unless enough additional physical space is provided so as to prevent further overcrowding.

Of course, providing that additional space will cost money, even if it takes the form of additional temporary accommodation in portacabins. That is why I think it is better to save that money, and use the three existing empty buildings that used to house the schools at Arfryn, Cwm and Llanmorlais instead. This doesn't mean a commitment to new schools, for they can legally be part of the existing WM schools at Tirdeunaw, Lôn Las and Pontybrenin, sharing the same headteacher and governors. This is exactly the mechanism used by the LibDem/Plaid administration in Cardiff for Gabalfa, so why can't the LibDems in Swansea do the same thing as their colleagues in the capital have done?


As regards local education authorities elsewhere, I was pleased to hear Leighton Andrews talk tough about getting the more reluctant of them to properly survey parental demand for WM education and act on it. And that they would each be required to set up a Welsh-medium Education Forum and present an annual strategic plan.

I hope that will be enough, but past experience shows some local authorities to be very resistant to giving parents a choice. There now needs to be a sharp change of attitude; and if there isn't, it is encouraging to hear that legislation will be introduced to make it happen.

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Welsh-medium education in Swansea

If any of us have time to watch it, Dai Lloyd is going to lead short debate in the Senedd on the state of WM education in Swansea at 6pm today. It will be on senedd.tv and the BBC's Democracy Live both live and on demand later.


I don't know exactly what he'll say, but I'm sure he won't disappoint me. I've written about the situation in Swansea on several occasions, for example here, here and here. I would highlight these facts:

•  Swansea have surveyed the demand for WM education, but have not acted to make provision for it

•  that there are three currently unused school buildings (Arfryn, Cwm and Llanmorlais) that could be used for new WM starter classes now, with the aim of making them new schools in due course

•  but that Swansea have instead embarked on a paperwork exercise to cram more children into the existing buildings when there clearly isn't the physical space available in them to do so

Something else to look forward to is a report by the Assembly's Enterprise and Learning Committee entitled "The teaching and acquisition of Welsh as a second language". It will be published tomorrow and will be downloadable from here. For a taste of what it will say, read this.

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Designed to be Leaked

I've just read Defence Secretary Liam Fox's letter to the Prime Minister on the subject of cuts to military spending. The full text is here in the Telegraph.

One thing seems very obvious to me: that this is not the "private letter" it purports to be. Sections like this:

If [the SDSR] continues on its current trajectory it is likely to have grave political consequences for us, destroying much of the reputation and capital you, and we, have built up in recent years. Party, media, military and the international reaction will be brutal if we do not ...


This will be exacerbated by the fact that the changes proposed would follow years of mismanagement by our predecessors.

... are clearly designed for media consumption. These are things that spindoctors say. Anybody who only intends to drop a quiet note on his leader's desk on the eve of a key meeting can make the point much more succinctly and without turning it into a party political broadcast.


So what is its purpose? The first signs of open rebellion? The idea that some services are too important to be cut? Maybe. But it certainly isn't a surprise that a Tory is going to pick the military as something that is too important to cut back on rather than the front line public services our society depends on.

Yet I have to say that cutting military spending at the same time as the UK is in the middle of a war does strike me as being a particularly stupid thing to do. So Liam Fox is probably making a good point by saying:

Frankly this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR (Strategic Defence and Strategy Review) and more like a “super CSR” (Comprehensive Spending Review).

More than anything seen so far (though I expect other rebellions to come to the surface before too long) this clearly exposes the folly of a government which has set out to cut public spending as its main, probably only, policy. Financial cost seems to be the only yardstick by which they know how to measure anything. What they should do first is ask what it is they want to achieve, assess how much it will cost to do it, and then raise the money to do it through taxation. It is ridiculous to do it the other way round. And this applies to every area of public spending, not just the military.


The idea of a Strategic Defence and Strategy Review is sensible, but it needs to look five, ten or twenty years into the future. To cut £4bn or more a year out of a £37bn budget right now, in the middle of a war, is ideology gone mad. The sensible thing is surely to get out of Afghanistan as soon as we safely can ... and by that I mean the safety of our servicemen and women rather than the stability of the country, for the attempt to fight for one corrupt government just because we think it's slightly better than the alternative has been doomed to failure from the very start. And of course we need to make sure that we don't get dragged into the USA's next military adventure which currently looks like it's going to be in Iran, Yemen or Somalia. If we can but do that, we save money.

I am certainly not against maintaining strong defences, and I would want an independent Wales to do exactly that, as I outlined here a few years ago. But whatever decisions a government takes need to be framed in the context of what we want to achieve. As I see it, the priority must be to defend ourselves first, and be prepared to use the armed forces necessary to do that elsewhere in the world on UN or similar missions when our own security is not immediately threatened. But the one thing we should not attempt to do is maintain the sort of armed forces that are necessary to invade or occupy other countries half way round the world. If we get those principles right, we get effective and affordable defences. It concerns me greatly that NATO, which was set up to be a mutual defence organization for Europe, is fast becoming a tool for fighting aggressive wars in other continents.

I only wish the UK shared this sort of attitude, but it doesn't. Successive UK governments still hold on to the idea that it's the UK's job to be a major world power, and to project military might all over the world whether the world wants it or not.

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Signs of a Switch

When the Western Mail published a story about a 20% drop in the number of vehicles using the Severn Crossings last week it was presented as a "bad news" story: it would take that much longer for the tolls to pay off the construction cost. So it is good to see that they have now done a little investigative journalism to see what lies behind that fall.


Their findings, in this story today, are that a good number of people have switched from using their cars to using either train or coach services instead:

New facilities and extra parking spaces at Severn Tunnel Junction station are enticing more people in Monmouthshire and east Newport to park and ride, rather than drive to Bristol or London. The number of eastbound rail passenger journeys from Severn Tunnel Junction to the Avon or London areas has increased by 16.5% over two years – and 10% in the last year.

First Great Western has also seen an 8% growth in the last three months on its trains between Cardiff and Bristol, and 1.5% on its trains between South Wales and London.


In June, National Express added two extra return services per day between Cardiff and London, reflecting growing demand. It provides 28 return departures most days of the week, rising to 36 on Fridays and Saturdays.

Stagecoach managing director John Gould said demand for the Megabus services had grown steadily. “We put more services on about 12 months ago. We now have 11 per day,” he said.

Now it wouldn't be right to say that the fall in the number of vehicles using the crossings is entirely explained by the increased use of public transport—most of it has been caused by the recession—but it should be clear that part of it has. This is something to be welcomed. It's evidence that station improvements and park and ride facilities do work. And of course if they work one way, they should also work for journeys elsewhere, for example in the other direction to reduce pressure on the Brynglas Tunnel for those travelling towards Cardiff. That's good reason to build more of them.

It was also very encouraging to see the increase in rail freight through the Severn Tunnel:

The recession affected rail freight as well as lorries crossing the Severn last year. But rail freight firm DB Schenker said: “We are seeing an increase in demand to supply industry in South Wales. We are seeing some flows of goods switching to rail that otherwise were sent by road.

Freightliner Heavy Haul runs six trains per day through the Severn Tunnel, up from none five years ago. Each train carries as much as about 70 lorries.

That's 400 fewer HGV journeys a day, not only across the Severn but probably off the M4 completely, which again is a very welcome shift. And it is one more justification that shows the wisdom of Ieuan Wyn Jones' decision not to build a parallel motorway.

The lesson to learn seems to be that we may be forced to change our transport patterns because of economic hardship, but having changed them and having seen the benefits of doing so, the chances of moving back to the old pattern are that much less. If that applies to individuals, as Stuart Cole says, I hope it also applies to the way we look at our whole transport strategy. This evidence shows that shifts that we've made recently are working, so we need to keep doing more of the same.

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Labour's membership and electoral system

I don't make any claim that this is unique, but I have taken the data on the Labour leadership election from the Google spreadsheet here, and highlighted/extracted the Welsh data in a spreadsheet here.

This data shows the membership of the Labour Party in Wales; which is the first time I've been able to find figures for it, though that might be down to ignorance on my part. But Labour do publish their total membership in their annual accounts to the Electoral Commission (page 14 of this document). As can be seen in the table below, which I've supplemented with figures from this article in the Guardian in 2007, their figures have been dropping like a stone:

End 2001 ... 272,000
End 2002 ... 248,294
End 2003 ... 214,952
End 2004 ... 201,374
End 2005 ... 198,026
End 2006 ... 182,370
Jun 2007 ... ~180,000 (deputy leadership election)
End 2007 ... 176,891
End 2008 ... 166,247
End 2009 ... 156,205
May 2010 ... ~145,000
Sep 2010 ... 177,559 (leadership election)

If what Harriet Harman said about Labour's membership increasing by 32,000 since the May election is true, it shows that membership must have slumped to about 145,000 when the election was being fought. However 32,000 is a remarkable increase in itself, and this shows that the leadership campaign has been used as a recruiting drive ... and, in the circumstances, quite a successful one. I remember reading that receptions/parties were being hosted with the dual aim of getting people to join the party and at the same time trying to get them to vote for the host's preferred leadership candidate.

But 177,559 is still a very long way short of the 272,000 Labour had in 2001. Labour are nothing like the party they used to be, and we should keep that in mind as we gear up for the Assembly elections next year.


There's one other observation that I'd like to make with regard to the unions, especially in the light of the criticism that Ed Miliband was unfairly elected because he relied more heavily on union support than his brother. The total number of party members that voted was 127,331 out of a total of 177,559 (71.71%) but the total number of people in unions and other affiliated organizations who voted was 247,339 out of 2,747,030 (9.00%). Now I do accept that there are substantial anomalies in the way the vote was organized in the unions, as highlighted by Ian Titherington here, but it is clear that nearly twice as many union members voted as did party members (although I'm sure that a lot of individuals cast a vote in both electoral colleges ... and a few in three) but a union member's vote counted for only half as much.

How Labour organize themselves is up to them, of course. But it goes without saying that I don't think very highly of their electoral college system (one member one vote is much better) because of the way it arbitrarily inflates or deflates the importance of various voters. MPs and MEPs benefit hugely. However if we worked on the premise that each person who was able to vote (whether as party member, affiliated union member or elected representative) had just one equal vote, then it seems that Ed Miliband would have won by a wider margin than he did.

But even though I think their electoral college system is rubbish, I do think that the single transferable vote used within each electoral college is fair ... and it would be the ultimate of double standards if Labour contrived to vote against a referendum on AV, and campaign against AV in that referendum, when they themselves use it for their own elections.

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Rod Richards calls for Nick Clegg's resignation

Thanks must go to Martin Shipton of the Western Mail for drawing our attention to another extraordinary example of bigotry and prejudice:

Anger as Politician chats in German

Former Welsh Office Minister Rod Richards has called for the resignation of Nick Clegg after he told the Daily Mail that he sometimes spoke in German to stop others understanding.

Mr Richards said: “A charge often levelled unfairly against German speakers is that they deliberately speak in German so that non-German speakers cannot understand them.

“By revealing that he and Lena Pietsch speak in German in circumstances where they don’t want people to understand them, Nick Clegg is confirming the view of many non-German speakers that German is an exclusive, secretive language.

“This is damaging to the German language and damaging to Germany. The best thing Nick Clegg could do would be to resign.”

Full Story in the Western Mail, 25 September 2010

Hear, hear. Martin has given us one more example of why the sinister usage must be utterly extirp'd. Thank goodness that the usual double standards are still alive and kicking.

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Catalunya: The Future is Another Country

As some of us will have noticed from the blogroll on the right, the Catalonia Direct blog has just highlighted a talk by Matthew Tree in which he gives an overview of the situation as he sees it, primarily from a cultural and language perspective.

Matthew is English and has lived in Catalunya for 26 years. Last year, in this post, I linked to an essay he had written based on a talk he gave at the London School of Economics. This year, he was one of the speakers at an event called the Emma Dialogues at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Col·lectiu Emma is a group of academics that seek to correct some of the more misleading articles that appear about Catalunya in the world media.

His essay gave a very moving account of the "low-level conflict" that exists between Catalunya and Spain, and this talk covers much the same ground; but it's nice to hear him say it rather than just see it in print. Unfortunately the video on the VilaWeb site streams very slowly (at least it did for me) and that made it almost unwatchable, so I've taken the liberty of putting it on another server which should stream much better. It's a 40 minute talk with a question and answer session at the end.


Alternatively you can listen to just the audio here:


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Déjà vu ... now in French and Dutch too

For those of us who are following the situation in Belgium, I thought this article from De Tijd shows striking similarities to the discussions of the Calman Commission in Scotland and our own Holtham Commission in Wales:

Parties start discussions on new financing act

The work group assigned to draft a new financing act set to work yesterday. The seven parties deliberating on state reform scrutinised the principle agreement for an amended financing act, which was concluded at the end of August. The principles include, among others, more fiscal autonomy for the federated entities without structurally impoverishing the regions. The latter was discussed in depth yesterday.

The Flemish parties are in favour of more fiscal autonomy for the regions, believing it could be done through a transfer of a portion of personal income and/or corporate tax for the regions, making them responsible for their own income and fiscal policy. In their view regions with a good policy must be rewarded, but those with a poor policy will be penalised. The possibility of the corporate tax being transferred to the federal states is however minimal. The Flemish parties SP.A and Groen! made it clear yesterday that they were not in favour of such a transfer, making rebates on corporate tax more of an option.

As far as a partial transfer of personal income tax is concerned, all Flemish parties seem to be in agreement. The Flemish Nationalists of N-VA defend the most far reaching fiscal autonomy. They want to scrap the existing dotations to the regions and communities and offer the regions and communities responsibility for the collection of a large portion of corporate and personal income tax.

The French-speaking parties are keeping a distance, pointing to the fact that as yet the regions could grant a 6.75 percent rebate on personal income tax, but that they failed to use it to the full. If an agreement is reached on the new financing act during the course of next week, an independent institution will calculate the financial impact on each region. Should the work group manage to make significant progress next week, government formation could be addressed.

De Tijd, 23 September 2010

The issues are almost exactly the same for them as they are for us in Wales and Scotland. The obvious main taxes to devolve are personal income tax and corporate taxes. There seems to be more of a consensus for devolving a proportion of income tax ... but more of a resistance to devolving corporate taxes, particularly from the left. My view is that it's essential to be able to control both, because it is only the balance between different sorts of taxation that enables government to have effective control of the economy.

However the sentence about "rebates on corporate tax" as an alternative to devolving those taxes does strike me as interesting. I've no doubt that details will unfold in due course. However, what emerges might well be a model for how we deal with our own corporation tax. As I've commented before, one of the few good things about the ConDem coalition's programme for government is the promise to consider a mechanism for reducing corporation tax in the north of Ireland. But a different rate cannot be imposed by central government, it can only be done within the parameters set by the Azores Ruling, which mean that the rate has to be set by the devolved government itself and that it must bear the financial consequences of its decision. But there is no reason why the mechanism that is eventually decided should not be applied to Wales and Scotland so that we can make our own decisions about corporation tax as well.

So it appears that Belgium has something to learn from us, and that we have something to learn from them. Perhaps my Dutch-speaking friend in Plaid's research team (you know who you are) would like to be a fly on the wall for this one.

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An end in sight for the Treganna Saga

I first became interested in the saga of Treganna a few years ago, easily long enough to remember the Capital Vision programme agreed between Plaid Cymru and the LibDems in 2008. Plaid's idea was to do everything possible to avoid creating unnecessary conflict in Canton, and the essence of what we wanted was that a new Welsh-medium school would be built in order to ease the overcrowding problems in Treganna. The actual words of the agreement were:

While respecting fully the current consultation, [we will] fast track as a priority the provision of a new primary school within the community of Canton to deal with the overcrowding at Ysgol Treganna, on a site yet to be identified, and subject to consultation, statutory processes and Welsh Assembly Government approval, aim to open the facility in 2011. We will – again, subject to the outcome of consultation – seek to retain Radnor and Lansdowne Primary Schools without prejudicing short term measures to cater for Welsh-medium demand in the area.

One immediate action for the short term will be to secure a more equitable share of teaching space for Welsh-medium education at the Treganna/Radnor site and to examine the possibility if needed of temporary new Welsh-medium classrooms in the area.

I am not sure that even now I can put my finger on why that agreement wasn't implemented straight away. I guess the obvious answer is money, and of course I have no objections to saving money. But it appears that money became too big a problem, and so various other options were pursued instead. One of them was a proposal for a new building to house Lansdowne as a one form entry English-medium school in the grounds of Fitzalan School. This, along with the EM schools at Radnor, Severn and Kitchener, would have easily provided easily enough space for not only the current numbers of children in Canton whose parents want them to have an EM education, but for any reasonable growth in future. Treganna would have moved to the old Lansdowne buildings. But that plan was not supported by Lansdowne, and so the council then took the decision to close Lansdowne altogether. The numbers supported that decision, but Carwyn Jones refused to let Lansdowne be closed.

So the proposal now being put forward as a solution to creating space for the increasing demand for WM education in Canton has brought a wry smile to both sides of my face:




     BBC, 21 September 2010

On one side, why did Cardiff not press ahead with the plan that had been agreed in the Capital Vision document? If they had stuck with what had been agreed then, the new school would now be under construction. But on the other, why is the talk now of building a three form entry school? I don't think anyone in 2008 envisaged the new WM school being more than two form entry, and if a new Lansdowne had been build it would only have needed to be one form entry ... and it would also balance the EM provision by providing an EM school in Canton south of the railway.

The only rationale seems to be that everyone has got heartily sick of the whole sorry saga; and that Cardiff have got the nod from the Welsh Government that they will cough up the majority of the £9m necessary to build this new 3FE school. Great. It's a solution. Cardiff will be pleased to get the money from the Welsh Government; the Welsh Government will be relieved that it's avoided a damaging judicial review; Lansdowne will be delighted that they can continue to occupy a building that has much more space than they need; Treganna will no longer be squeezed into inadequate and substandard accommodation. Everybody gets what they want. So yes, it's a good solution ... but it's one hell of an expensive solution. It's proof once more of the adage that you can always solve a problem if you throw enough money at it.


Don't get me wrong. I'm happy enough with this outcome ... if indeed it is carried through, though I think the manner in which it is now being put forward suggests it will be. The situation has not just been a political farce, it has meant real inconvenience for the children and staff at Treganna, and worse for those who were not able to get a WM place in the area at all and opted for EM education rather than to have to travel elsewhere. I can therefore take comfort that one part of Cardiff will have the additional WM places it needs ... at least for the current demand. I am certainly happy at the idea of the new school having plenty of green open space to play and learn in, for that in itself should make up for the extra distance that children in the centre of Canton will have to walk to get there. What parents of children at Lansdowne turned down, I'm sure most parents in Treganna will be delighted to take instead.


However I hope people will forgive me for trying to inject a few notes that are not on the hymnsheet. First, this solution does nothing to solve the problem of surplus places. In fact it creates 630 additional surplus spaces. I have no doubt that the new school itself will rapidly fill up, but Cardiff will be left with not only Lansdowne's surplus places, but now Radnor with a whole new empty building to add to the surplus it already has in its current building.

It's all very well for Cardiff to justify this by saying that the projections show that the population of this part of Cardiff will rise. I'm sure it will. But I'm willing to bet that although the numbers of school age children in Canton will rise, the number of those in EM education will continue to go down. The trend towards WM education is quite clear, so any overall increase in the number of school age children will be offset by a greater increase in those whose parents want them to have a WM education. I predict that in a few years one EM school in Canton will close simply because the demand for EM education will fall and Cardiff will not be able to justify the expense of keeping them all open. That will be the ultimate irony.

But looking at the wider picture, this solution will only reinforce the idea already prevalent in a good number of local authorities that the they do not have to make tough decisions about closing EM schools to get rid of their surplus places in the EM sector and set up new WM schools to meet the ever increasing parental demand for them. Why go through that all that hassle when the Welsh Government has given other councils the money to build new WM schools instead? I can imagine many education departments now using the excuse that they will only address the problem of meeting the growing demand for WM education if the government gives them the money to do it.

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A funding model for S4C ... and more

When I wrote this post about the funding of S4C a week or so ago, I had a fairly good idea of the sort of tactics Jeremy Hunt would use to try and bully the S4C Authority into accepting the cuts the ConDem coalition wants to impose on it. From what Betsan Powys has said here on her blog, and in this BBC report, it now looks as if he was every bit as much of a bully as I thought ... and a liar too!


     BBC, 21 September 2010

However, although it is quite clear to me that he tried to press ahead with his first round of illegal cuts (it is not clear whether that cut was made or whether he simply intended to pay that much less in the next DCMS payment) the situation was not helped by the attitude of the S4C Authority. Why on earth did they not make the position crystal clear to everyone back in May? Why on earth did they make statements about not "volunteering" the cuts? It is obvious they wouldn't have volunteered them, but the point at issue is whether they acquiesced to them. I have to say that it certainly appeared that they had. They make the mistake of preferring to keep everything behind closed doors rather than call Jeremy Hunt's bluff in public.

The lesson that they must learn is that there is plenty of support for S4C throughout Wales. Think, if even Peter Hain makes a point of voicing his opposition to the cuts, then it should surely be obvious that S4C is not as beleaguered as the Authority seems to think it is. Yes, of course Peter Hain is doing it primarily because he wants to give the Tories as much grief as possible, or even claim a scalp ... but so what? The point is that he and his party are prepared to fight these cuts alongside the rest of us.

And, as Blogmenai says in this post today, if Jeremy Hunt wants to change the law in order to be able to make these cuts, it means that Welsh Tory and LibDem MPs in Westminster are going to be forced to take sides. Will they vote for that change? Will they suddenly develop an embarrassing illness that forces them to be away from the Commons when the vote takes place? Or will they develop a spine? By letting this happen behind closed doors, S4C are letting too many politicians off the hook.


However, it has to be acknowledged that the funding of S4C is an issue that we need to look at in some detail. At a time of general cuts in public expenditure I don't expect any organization that receives public money not to come under scrutiny. My position was that S4C should not be singled out. The most obvious organization with which to compare it is the BBC ... so any cuts in funding for the two organizations should be broadly equivalent.

But I can't help but think that S4C has allowed itself to get too comfortable with its funding arrangements. One matter that has never adequately been addressed is the BBC's obligation to provide Welsh language programmes out of the licence fee we pay it.

When S4C was first set up in 1982 there were only three other free-to-air channels available (BBC1, BBC2 and ITV) plus non-peak Channel 4 programming. I'm afraid my memory is not good enough to remember how many hours programming was put out by the BBC each day back then. The very most it could have put out is 48 hours, but I'd be surprised if it was more than 36 hours. However I've just counted the total number of hours being broadcast today on the Freeview channels available in Wales. In total the BBC has broadcast 139 hours of programming to Wales, i.e. about four times as much as it broadcast in 1982.

But the BBC's obligation to provide Welsh language programmes to be shown on S4C hasn't changed. The legal requirement is 10 hours a week, although the BBC currently provide an additional two hours per week. In essence, the BBC's licence fee has risen over the years to allow it to broadcast on no fewer than 9 channels (BBC1, 2, 3, 4, News, Parliament, CBBC, CBeebies and HD) plus additional bandwidth for interactive services probably equivalent to about two channels. But instead of providing an equivalent proportion of Welsh language programmes, which would be about 40 hours a week, we only get 12. We are very clearly being short changed.

In other words if the BBC provided S4C with this programming, S4C would need to commission that much less from other sources and would therefore require that much less of a grant from the DCMS to broadcast the same amount of programming as it does now. Or alternatively it could improve the quantity and/or quality of the programmes it currently broadcasts.

So, if the Broadcasting Act is to be repealed to change S4C's funding formula, then the other thing that must change with it is the number of hours of Welsh language programming the BBC provides out of the licence fee. There should be a fixed percentage link.


The second factor to consider is the huge expansion in the number of free-to-air channels available. Although Wales has fewer channels on Freeview than some other parts of the UK, there are still 37 of them (although not all of these are available everywhere, but that is another problem). I counted the total number of hours broadcast on Freeview to Wales today, and it comes to a huge 735 hours.

What happens is that broadcasters bid for licences to broadcast on the available channels, and the terms of those licences set out certain obligations about the sort of programmes that are broadcast. If broadcasting were devolved to Wales, we would be able to set the terms of those licences. The requirements would take a number of forms: for example it could be the amount of educational programmes broadcast, or the amount of local news and current affairs ... or indeed the amount of Welsh language content on these channels.

Now of course the practicalities of broadcasting are such that most broadcasters will find it easier to broadcast the same mix of programming as they broadcast in England. They will simply relay that same content to the Welsh transmitters. So the model we should adopt is to either require them to make their own additional programmes for Wales to be broadcast on a different channel (just as the BBC does for S4C at present) or to provide a sum of money equivalent to the cost of doing it, which would be given to the S4C Authority to enable it to commission those programmes independently. In short, in return for a licence to broadcast on a channel in Wales, the broadcaster must provide either additional programming or money in lieu of it. Remember that we are talking about 600 non-BBC hours of broadcasting a day; 6 hours of additional broadcasting would only add 1% to their costs, twelve hours would add 2%.


The beauty of this sort of arrangement is that it need not be a model only for Welsh language programming. There is no reason why the same model should not be used to provide English language programming specific to Wales as well.


Now of course there are commercial implications to any such arrangement. This isn't a way of getting free programming, because there's no such thing as free programming. However commercial organizations will most definitely pay money for the right to broadcast in Wales, and at present the money paid for these licences goes into the coffers of the Treasury in London. What would change if broadcasting were devolved to Wales is that our share of this money would come to Wales instead. If we decide to impose onerous requirements on the broadcasters, they will bid correspondingly less for the licence. And yes, we may well not get the same number of bids. But is that such a bad thing? If we end up with three or four fewer channels in Wales this will provide the bandwidth necessary for the new channels we want: such as, for example a new English language channel with specifically Welsh-interest programming ... as well as a second Welsh language channel, and probably money for new radio channels.

Of course this will not entirely pay for funding S4C or indeed any of the other things the DCMS funds. But it will go a little way to reduce the burden on taxpayers. As I said in one of the comments in my last post about S4C, we are dealing with the same DCMS that spends £9.3bn in London on the Olympic Games, but claims it is for the benefit of the UK as a whole. But that's a wider issue than broadcasting. The point is that we in Wales will be able to set our own priorities for spending. If Peter Hain and Carwyn Jones kick up such a fuss about cuts to S4C while the DCMS is in the hands of the Tories and LibDems in London, they could hardly be two-faced enough not to agree to fund S4C properly when responsibility for broadcasting is devolved to Wales ... well, not without being seen to be hypocrites!

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Hergé's adventures in Belgium ... continued

Capten Hadog has just given me another update on the situation in Belgium over negotiations to form a federal government. Since Elio di Rupo of the Walloon Parti Socialiste gave up the role of preformateur, causing the talks to officially break down, the Belgian king appointed two "elder statesmen" from the two largest parties to sound things out on a less formal level and take the spotlight away from the two leaders in the hope of cooling things down.

At that time, and for the first time, the PS started talking openly about splitting Belgium. Not their favoured option by a long way, but what the francophone press started calling "Plan B". The "B" stood for Brussels, and the idea was that they would be happy for the Flanders region to become a separate state provided they left Brussels to Wallonia. Needless to say, this wasn't really taken seriously by the Flemings ... and it since seems to have died a quiet death.

The Flemings were non-plussed with this for the fairly obvious reason that the Brussels region relies on more money from the federal coffers than it contributes (that's why the the PS wanted an additional €500m a year for Brussels) and Wallonia also receives more than it contributes. Although I'm sure he wouldn't actually say it out loud, I can imagine Bart De Wever thinking, "Go on, make my day."


Since then Di Rupo and De Wever have resumed talks. They don't have any real choice but to deal with each other, since the opinion polls show that both leaders are supported by a very large percentage of their respective communities. But these talks haven't been pleasant. The PS was talking of "perjury" and the N-VA talking about the PS wanting to survive on "pocket money" from the federal government. But the important thing is that they're talking again ... even if only just. Here are a couple of reports:

     Open war between PS and N-VA
     Two biggest parties at loggerheads

There was one piece of very disturbing news yesterday. The Speaker of the Flemish Parliament, Jan Peumans, was beaten up in Wallonia. But I sincerely hope (and have no reason to believe otherwise) that this was just an isolated incident. There is no civil unrest and no demonstrations in the streets.


I'm not too pessimistic. Talk about constitutional principles isn't too difficult; things only start to get heated when money is at stake. It's hard to make out what the detailed figures they're haggling over might be. Belgium, like the UK, is a state where all except local taxation goes into a central federal treasury, and is then distributed to the three regions. I've heard rumours that the PS are talking about that being reduced to 85%, with 15% being set and retained by the regions from which the tax was collected. The N-VA would be looking for something much more like a 50%-50% split. No prizes for guessing that they'll probably meet somewhere in the middle. But the devil is in the detail: what percentage of which particular taxes ... and for that a lot of financial geeks will be running computer models late into the night for the next few weeks.

The final outcome? If this was to be a one-off settlement I'd expect a 67%-33% split, but if it were linked to an agreed review every five years or so I think the N-VA might settle for something less. I'd emphasize that this is nothing more than my own feeling. I think the split of Brussels from Halle-Vilvoorde and additional money for Brussels is fairly certain, as these had essentially been agreed a fortnight or so ago; but for obvious reasons nobody will confirm this until there is a final agreement on finances.


Finally, for those who might be asking why I keep posting on what is happening in Belgium and in Spain, it's for two reasons. First, because those of us who want independence for Wales and Scotland need to be aware that we are far from alone in wanting this for our countries. What we want is shared by people in Flanders, Catalunya and Euskadi.

But secondly, we need to be aware of the political processes by which we are going to get there. We have to look at what the particular issues that drive the desire for independence are, how support for that option or alternatives to it grows, how those who do not want a split react ... and, most importantly, what methods actually work and what methods don't work. By learning from what others in similar situations do, we'll make our own path to independence that much easier.

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Right to Cry

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this story in the Guardian:

'Right-to-buy' council house policy reviewed to appease Lib Dems

Exclusive: Key Margaret Thatcher policy could be ended by coalition looking for ways to increase available housing stock

Guardian, 16 September 2010

It looks like the ConDem coalition might be about to put an end to Right to Buy in order to increase the stock available for the increasing numbers on housing waiting lists. And of course, if it ever came to a vote in the Commons, most Labour MPs would be fighting among themselves to be the first into the lobby to vote to abolish it.

So what do we have? We have the LibDems in favour of abolition; the Tories probably prepared to give it up, because they don't want to spend a penny more on new housing than they have to; English Labour MPs keen to hammer one more nail into the undead effigy of Margaret Thatcher ...

... and Welsh Labour MPs?

Ah yes, Welsh Labour MPs. They were the ones that managed to hold up the Housing LCO for a whole three years to make sure that we couldn't even suspend Right to Buy in Wales, let alone get rid of it.

They thought they'd managed to pull it off, too: by leaving it all until it was too late to get it through Westminster in the normal course of business—even though they had a large majority, and could have passed it without trouble if they'd wanted to—in an attempt to point the finger of blame at the Tories for not including it in the wash up. Little did they know that the Tories would not only back down on the LCO ... but they'd think about scrapping the whole policy.

Poor Peter Hain, he must be in tears. He does his very best to stop us in Wales getting the powers to do things better ... but then even the Tories show themselves to be less enthusiastic about the Right to Buy than he and his colleagues in Welsh Labour had been. I look forward to him explaining that the abolition of Right to Buy in both England and Wales is what the Labour Party had really wanted all along. There won't be a dry eye in the House.


I can't wait for March. By finally getting over the obstacle to a proper Parliament that Peter Hain has so carefully constructed, we will be able to move on from his dog's breakfast of a Government of Wales Act 2006 to a new Act. One that will give us the same sort of Parliament that Scotland has had from the beginning.

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Salmond looks up in Euskadi

Alex Salmond has just paid an official visit to Euskadi, and has in particular singled out the tax arrangements that the Basque Autonomous Community has with Spain as a model which could be applied to Scotland.

Basque tax system sets example for Scotland

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond with the President of Iberdrola in Bilbao

Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, during an official visit to the Basque Country on Monday, took the opportunity to call for a similar tax system in Scotland to that established in the Autonomous Community. The First Minister believes the system has enabled the Basque Country to maintain an economic situation which is currently the most favorable in the Spanish state.

EITB, 13 September 2010

It is certainly true that the Basque Autonomous Community is the wealthiest parts of Spain in terms of GDP per capita, and the headline news there today is that its exports have risen 34% on the year. The BAC is responsible for setting its own taxes, which it retains, and then negotiates a settlement with the Spanish State for services that are provided centrally. In this respect it has greater autonomy that Catalunya.

I read an interesting article about the parallels between Euskadi and Scotland on Joan McAlpine's blog here:

     From the ashes of Guernica: what we can learn from the Basques

This is a short extract which describes the fiscal arrangements.

The Basque country, which enjoys the widest and deepest autonomy of all the Spanish regions, is an attractive model for Scotland.

Holyrood politicians send all taxes south then squabble over how to cut up a shrinking cake returned by Westminster. The Basques set, raise and collect all their own taxes, then negotiate an annual “cupo” with Madrid for central services, usually around 12%.

You might think anyone keen to extend Scotland’s economic powers should avoid discussions of an Iberian nature. Spain is in meltdown, with Europe’s third worst deficit after Greece and Ireland. Austerity measures so far announced are unpopular. Savings banks are collapsing. The federal socialist government want to restructure the labour market, to end infamous “Spanish practices”. Red flags will be raised in Bilbao as well, But while the Basque country is not immune to the global crisis, it is better placed to survive. The area outperforms Spain on nearly every indicator. Its GDP per capita is 34% higher and it has half the rate of unemployment. The credit agency Standard and Poor’s gives the Basques a better rating than the central government – because of its low debt burden, wealthy, diverse economy and “special system framework granting the region control over most of its tax revenues”. That’s a recommendation – CBI bosses take note.

The Basque arrangement is similar to the system devised by the economists Andrew Hughes-Hallett and Drew Scott, which forms the basis of the Campaign for Fiscal Responsibility. Business leaders like Jim McColl and Tom Hunter and trade unionists such as Campbell Christie have backed the campaign, believing that fiscal powers offer Scotland its only option of growing the economy. The tax regime would be designed to meet specific, local, needs. The Basques for example, set a lower corporation tax than the rest of Spain and have borrowed to upgrade their infrastructure.

The two things I would particularly like to highlight are lower corporate taxation and the ability to borrow money to invest in infrastructure. These are two essential elements of what I, and Plaid Cymru, see as the main powers necessary to reverse the economic decline of Wales caused by decades of over-centralization in the UK economy.

And although there are parallels between Euskadi and Scotland which I certainly wouldn't want to detract from, I think there are even more similarities between the Basques and the Welsh. The Basque Autonomous Community is very slightly smaller than Wales has a similar heavy industrial heritage. The language situation is also very similar.

It is remarkable how their degree of autonomy has led to such prosperity, and provides an example of what we in Wales could do if we had control of our own economy.

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Old news, but good news

I've just come across an article from last week on the UCAC website which reported on a meeting held at last month's Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale. The meeting was about the growth of Welsh-medium education in the south east, and I discovered one or two things that are news to me, and which sound very encouraging.

     Twf Addysg Gymraeg yn y De Ddwyrain?
     Google Translation

•  The Education Policy and Research Officer at Newport, Ruth Salisbury, said that the city is now actively planning to open a third WM primary school.

•  The Deputy Director of Education in Blaenau Gwent, Richard Parsons, said that there is a definite commitment to introduce immersion classes at Abertillery Comprehensive with the aim of teaching subjects like history, geography and music through the medium of Welsh. And that the county will conduct a survey of parental preferences in the next year, which I think is almost certain to lead to a second WM primary being established.

Excellent news, and the second part goes some way towards softening my criticism of Blaenau Gwent in this post last week.

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A better oath to a better allegiance

I've just read about what I think is a remarkable offer from Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland Secretary, reported on the BBC's NI news section:

The Secretary of State has said that he has asked Sinn Féin for an alternative text to the oath of allegiance to allow their MPs to sit in Westminster.

Owen Paterson was speaking during his first appearance at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

BBC, 8 September 2010

This offer from the Government has provoked some very strong reaction—as we can read here—but Owen Paterson explained the Government's reasoning like this:

"There is no reason for [Sinn Féin MPs] to stay away," he said. "I have said if the oath is an obstacle, come to me with an alternative text, we already do it for people who are not Christians. So far they have not, the ball is in their court."

He added: "A date sets up all sorts of pressures and dramas. I would like to do this by talking it through."

The current situation is that MPs—and a whole host of other office holders in various different ways—are required to either swear an oath or affirm allegiance to the queen. For MPs, the exact forms are:

"I, ———, swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God."


"I, ———, do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors according to law".


It will not be news to anybody that Sinn Féin MPs have always refused to do this, and I commend them for sticking to their principles. But it is equally true that there are many MPs who do swear or affirm, but very clearly don't mean what they say. Some of them, like Dennis Skinner, make quite a show of it, and there are more than just a handful who have voiced their objections. In 2008 an early day motion was signed by 22 of them, but came to nothing.


What has happened now is rather different. It is the UK government itself—rather than just a group of backbenchers—that is offering elected MPs who refuse to swear or affirm an oath to the queen an opportunity to do something different. It is obvious why the government is making this offer: they want to make a show of having been reasonable (while at the same time hoping that the offer will be refused) so that they can use the refusal as a reason to no longer pay these MPs their salaries or give them access to offices.

And yes, I think it might well be a hollow and insincere offer that has been made simply for show, but ...

When you suspect someone of being insincere, a good way to find out for sure is to call their bluff. I'm not convinced that Sinn Féin MPs really do want to sit in the Commons, and for that reason they probably won't respond. But this presents the perfect opportunity for other MPs to speak out and demand that they are offered the same choice that the government says it is prepared to give Sinn Féin.

The form of words I would suggest is:

"I, ———, swear by Almighty God that I will faithfully represent all the people of my constituency with fairness and impartially, to the best of my ability, according to law. So help me God."


"I, ———, do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully represent all the people of my constituency with fairness and impartially, to the best of my ability, according to law".

I find it impossible to imagine that any MP could object to this or something like this. I believe it also serves the very useful purpose of confirming that MPs are primarily accountable to their constituents. I specifically wouldn't want to introduce any reference to country, as that is likely to be just as objectionable to some MPs as the monarchy. I would address that problem by suggesting that an MP in government should additionally take a Pledge of Office, as is required of Ministers in NI.

At present we have a system which encourages insincerity. What could and should be an important statement of principle is being turned into a meaningless ritual. But it is not just those that take the oath insincerely who make it meaningless; those who tolerate it being trivialized and allow it to continue to be trivialized are just as much at fault. Now is the time to change it.

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Sophie's /Choice

Well done Rhodri Glyn Thomas for presenting the clearest picture of what is going on between S4/C and the DCMS:

Former Heritage Minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas said: “I believe Jeremy Hunt is being clever. By telling S4C to come up with cuts of their own, he is hoping to bypass any legal challenge that could be made to a cut imposed by himself.

“Because of recent events including the poor way in which the departure of former chief executive Iona Jones was handled, those running S4C have put themselves into a weak position.

“In these circumstances it is the responsibility of the Assembly Government to step in and tell Jeremy Hunt firmly that he should not be forcing S4C to cut its own budget in a way that would put it at a disadvantage to the BBC, whose budget is protected for the next two years. If he refuses to listen, the Assembly Government should threaten to challenge his actions in court.”

Western Mail, 11 September 2010

I'd imagine Jeremy Hunt said something like this:

“If you come up with a plan under which you can cut your budget by 15% over four years, then I'll only cut your budget by that amount. But if you refuse to come up with a plan, I'll cut your budget by 30% over four years. Choose.”

As Rhodri Glyn points out, the advantage to Mr Hunt is that if S4/C comply, he manages to get that part of DCMS spending down without the Con-Dem coalition needing to amend the Broadcasting Act that sets out its funding formula. If he ignores the Act and simply imposed a cut, this would be challenged in court and the DCMS would be certain to lose. That's why it's so important for him to get S4/C to “agree” to a cut.

For Jeremy Hunt, it's Hobson's Choice. He will be under orders to cut the DCMS's overall spending budget by a certain percentage come what may ... though I suspect he's an entirely willing participant.

But for S4/C, it's Sophie's Choice. If the film isn't already ingrained in your memory, this is the critical scene:


Sophie Zawistowski, after telling her story a few years later, killed herself and her son. She couldn't live with the guilt of having made that choice, or the horror of knowing that she was capable of making it. I'd hope that S4/C is made of sterner stuff.

S4/C should not let themselves be pressured into thinking they have to make this choice. It's our channel, it belongs to us in Wales. Make it clear what pressures you are being placed under. Explain the situation so we can debate the issues openly. We might not like all the details of the way S4/C is run, but plenty of us will stand beside you to make sure S4/C is not unfairly singled out.

Alun Davies put it this way, and I agree with him entirely:

“S4C is not a public body but a public broadcaster. It is wholly unacceptable for a debate over its future and its funding to be conducted in secret.

“I believe that we have the right to understand what discussions are taking place within the DCMS and we expect the DCMS to make statements to Parliament and to discuss these matters with the National Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government before any public consultation takes place on any potential changes to the status or funding of S4C.”

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Frieda Brepoels, the N-VA ... and Martin Shipton

Martin Shipton seems determined to stir up a row about Plaid inviting Frieda Brepoels to speak at our conference, but I'm pleased that we did. The N-VA promote an inclusive civic nationalism, as opposed to the exclusive race-based nationalism of many other parties, and that is reason enough to work with them as part of the Green-EFA group in the European Parliament even though they are a centre-right party.


But he certainly makes a surprising number of blatantly incorrect statements in his attempt. Let's look at some of the claims his article makes.

Recently the Wall Street Journal reported that the party, which is in power in the Flemish Parliament, had ordered libraries to stock at least 75% Flemish books, and was insisting that blood donation drives should be conducted among people who were mono-lingually Dutch.

This isn't true on two counts. First, the N-VA has only 16 members in the 124 member Flemish Parliament. The Christian Democrat CD&V, the Liberal Open VLD, Vlaams Belang (a far right nationalist party that does make race and religion an issue ... and probably the party Shipton was trying to confuse the N-VA with when he described it as "the controversial Flemish Nationalist party") and the Socialist SP.A each have more seats ... though that probably won't be the case after the next election. So whatever policies the Flemish Parliament has voted for have more to do with these parties than the N-VA.

But second, look at Martin Shipton's careful mangling of a sentence to give it a completely different meaning. The Wall Street Journal article says:

... blood drives to be monolingually Dutch

Martin Shipton alters it to:

... blood donation drives should be conducted among people who were mono-lingually Dutch

Nice try Martin, but you refer to a newspaper report, you should expect someone to check out whether or not you are distorting it. It's a reference to the language of the campaign, not that only mono-lingual Dutch speakers are encouraged, or allowed, to give blood.


Now let's look at the claim of Bart De Wever:

... denying that people from Antwerp assisted in deporting Jews from Belgium during the Second World War.

Again, that's demonstrably wrong. He did exactly the opposite. He said that the authorities in Antwerp did assist the Nazis in that deportation, but that:

Antwerp did not organise the deportation of the Jews, it was the victim of Nazi occupation ... Those who were in power at the time had to take tricky decisions in difficult times. I don't find it very courageous to stigmatise them now.

Economist, 31 October 2007

So why on earth did Martin Shipton turn a statement about not being keen to blame the authorities in Antwerp for their role in the deportation into an outright denial that they had any involvement in it? Sloppy journalism, or another example of distortion?


Now let's look at the claim made by Labour MEP Derek Vaughan on education:

What these right-wing separatists have to teach the people of Wales is a question worth asking? Are Plaid seriously thinking about replicating some of their domestic policies? The N-VA, for example, think that preferential choice in schooling should be given to Belgian families who have at least one Dutch-speaking parent.

Derek has jumped at his opportunity to take hold of the wrong end of the stick. The N-VA policy applies to Brussels, not the whole of Belgium. It is very difficult for people in the supposedly bilingual Brussels region to get their children educated in Dutch. The N-VA want at least those who have one parent who speaks Dutch to be able to insist that their child gets a Dutch-medium education. Strange that a Labour politician in Wales should criticize that, not least because we allow every parent, whether they speak Welsh or not, the right to choose a Welsh-medium education for their children. In due course, I'd like the same to be true in Brussels ... as, I'm sure, would the N-VA.

Our big problem is that some Local Authorities still make it very difficult for parents to exercise that choice without having to travel inordinately long distances to get it ... but we can't single out Labour in this respect, for the LibDems can be just as bad where they are in control. Swansea in particular.


Now of course, since the N-VA are a centre-right party, you wouldn't expect someone like me to agree with all their policies. But for a balanced view of what Frieda Brepoels actually stands for, this article should be of some help.


Finally, I've just taken some time to find out more on the question of Alexia Philippart de Foy being refused permission to buy a house in Flanders. The law in question is "Wonen in eigen streek" which means "Live in your own area". It applies to social housing and to new developments built on land that was in public ownership, for period of twenty years. In that sense, it is not unlike a planning condition. It does not apply to ordinary private sales of existing housing. There are three criteria by which someone would qualify:

•  6 years continuous residence in the municipality or an adjoining municipality;

•  At least a half-time job in the municipality;

•  Having family, social or economic ties with the community.

Any one of the three would be sufficient.

That does not strike me as being particularly unreasonable, and indeed it might be a model for protecting the character of an area. It doesn't seem so very different from these sort of criteria for the Lake District National Park Authority in England.

I should also remind people again that this law was passed by a 124 member Parliament in which the N-VA has only 16 seats. The policy was championed by CD&V, as we could read on this site if our Dutch were up to it, but can all read here. That doesn't mean to say that the N-VA doesn't agree with it, but that it is a policy broadly agreed by a majority of Flemish parties, not just the N-VA.

It's also worth noting that language is not one of the legal criteria, and that the CD&V spokesman cited problems with people from the Netherlands moving to the area around Antwerp, as well as the general problem of people from cities moving out to smaller surrounding communities, pushing up prices and making it harder for young local people to buy a home in their own community. It is primarily an issue of localism, not language.


Yet of course language is one of the most noticeable casualties in certain situations, so I don't want to shy away from that subject. Personally, I think the idea of competing monolingualisms in Flanders and Wallonia has been a mistake. Bilingualism is a much better model, but it only officially applies to Brussels.

In fact, the language situation in Brussels is not so dissimilar to that in some parts of Wales. First, there has been language shift through which Flemings whose parents and grandparents spoke Dutch have lost the language because the language of administration was French; and second, there has recently been a high level of immigration from French speaking areas of Belgium, and they have been much more reluctant to learn Dutch than Dutch speakers have been to learn French. A third factor in Brussels is the high level of immigration from ex-colonial French speaking countries, which is not particularly mirrored in Wales.

But even though Brussels is officially bilingual, it is often very difficult to get any satisfactory provision of public services in Dutch, a situation which is exactly mirrored in many parts of supposedly bilingual Wales ... even 17 years after the Welsh Language Act. That is why initiatives such as the right to Dutch-medium education in Brussels, even if limited at first, are so important.

It is also (as I'm sure one or two readers of this blog might have noticed ;-) why I focus so much on us taking the steps we need to take in order to ensure that everyone who grows up in Wales is competent in both Welsh and English. I might berate how slowly we are moving to achieve this goal, but I am convinced that we in Wales—in a consensus shared by all parties and started before Plaid Cymru was ever part of government—have chosen a much better path than to draw a line and call one area Welsh-speaking and one area English-speaking.

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Ingrained assumptions

It wasn't too much of a surprise that ETA announced their ceasefire this week, for some sort of announcement had been expected for some time. More telling was the reaction to it.

One advantage of the video being released exclusively to the BBC was that the BBC made the most of their scoop, and that meant that the heavier papers tried to keep up. But there were some aspects about the coverage that really weren't up to standard, and I'd like to pick up on some of those first.


The map above is from this page on the BBC website. The geography is accurate enough, it shows the Basque Autonomous Community, alongside Navarre in Spain and Iparralde (the northern side) in France. Together they make up Euskadi, the Basque Country. The problem is that the BBC caption suggests that it is only ETA who claim more than the BAC as part of Euskadi. That's not true; most Basques do. Some Basques might not necessarily want to see it as a unified independent country, but most Basques recognize these shaded areas as their homeland, certainly in historical and cultural terms, even though they might disagree over the political status of the various provinces.

Then on this page, there was a paragraph which says:

But despite the fact that Spain's Basque country today enjoys more autonomy than any other – it has its own parliament, police force, controls education and collects its own taxes – ETA and its hardline supporters have remained determined to push for full independence.

In the video on this page, the BBC reporter goes over the same list, but follows it up with this tagline:

But none of this has been good enough for ETA.

Again, part of it is true. The Basque Autonomous Community does have more autonomy than any of the other Communities: control of taxation is one thing it has that Catalunya does not have. But once again, why does the BBC not say that there are many more Basques who are equally determined to push for full independence, but who reject using violence as a way to pursue it?

So on two counts the BBC seems determined to present a picture of Basque nationalism and the desire for Basque independence as something limited to ETA and those who support it. Either that, or its ingrained assumptions about nationalism lead its journalists to write things that don't stand up to scrutiny, and its editors to allow them to stand.


There is a certain two-facedness about the way states think that they are allowed to pursue their political ends by means of force while others are not, and perhaps that's why the BBC report in the way they do. Not so much out of sloppy journalism, but simply to reflect the assumptions that are ingrained into the way that the British establishment looks at things.

As an example of that way of thinking, our Coroners Courts routinely deliver verdicts of "unlawful killing" for service personnel killed in Afghanistan. But what on earth is remotely "unlawful" about killing an enemy solder in your own country? I don't want to in any way detract from these deaths, but every soldier knows that being killed is one of the risks of going to war, and each is brave enough to accept that being killed is a possibility. Yet if a exploding a bomb that kills a British soldier is routinely being described as "unlawful", then surely the bombs we drop from aircraft to kill those who are fighting against us must be unlawful too. What else but a two-faced self-righteousness would see it as lawful for our forces to kill their enemy, but unlawful for that enemy to fight back? Perhaps pointing the finger to condemn those who fight us is merely designed to make the UK's decision to use violence to support its own political ends seem "lawful"? It's the sort of sophistry that any child should be able to see through.

So we're embroiled in double standards about violence. As I've said before, I do think there are times when using violence might be justified, but I would never condone the use of indiscriminate violence. That means I have no time for those tactics when used by ETA—nor for their network of intimidation and extortion, either—although I fully support the independence they are fighting for.


So what is going to change as a result of this declaration? Right now, probably nothing. The Spanish reaction to the ceasefire was to dismiss it:

Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, Spain's interior minister, said, "The Interior Ministry will keep its anti-terrorism policy intact, absolutely intact. We are not going to change that policy one bit, not a single comma," he told Spanish National Television.

Independent, 7 September 2010

But that's not really where the problem lies. The problem is not Spain's attitude to terrorism, but Spain's attitude to democracy. It's all too easy to say that ETA should stop using violence as a means to gaining its political aims, but ignore the fact that Spain makes it quite explicit, through its Constitution, that it can use violence for its political aim of keeping Spain together. It's all too easy to say that the cause of Basque independence should be pursued purely by democratic means, but pointless to say it if you then close off the normal democratic means by which it can be pursued.

Spain is at fault on two counts: first, it has denied the people in the BAC the opportunity to vote in a referendum to determine the future they want; and second, it routinely bans the political parties through which those that have supported violence as a means to independence could express their support for the same political goals through the ballot box instead.

As for the first, nothing that's likely to happen in Euskadi will change that attitude much. Violence and democracy are not things that either the Spanish Government nor most Spanish people can distinguish between. In their eyes Basque independence is too tied to violence for a concession to democracy not to be seen as a concession to violence. That's why I think it's far more likely that the right to democratic self-determination will depend on what happens in Catalunya. If the pro-independence parties and groups win the Catalan election in November this year and unilaterally declare independence, Spain will either have to accept that independence or try to negotiate a completely new constitutional arrangement—some sort of federalism or confederalism—with the nations within it. In that case, it is unthinkable that the Basques would not get the same.


But, much as I would like to see that happen, they might not get a majority; and if they don't, it's hard to imagine why Spain would want to change anything. Yet one thing that has struck me in the last few months is that the Spanish Authorities are not really making any warning statements about the election. They're not saying, "You can't turn the election into a matter of independence." Instead they seem to accept that people can vote for whatever parties they want, no matter what platform they're standing on, even if it is to unilaterally declare independence.

Now, this might well be because they reckon the Independentists won't get a majority, and they will then use the result as proof that the majority of Catalans want to stay part of Spain. That will effectively knock Catalan independence back by a few years ... but it's pretty blindingly obvious what the Basques will then do in their next elections in 2013. Having played it one way in 2010, the Spanish State will find it very hard to come up with a reason for doing something different three years later.

And the result should be positive. Juan José Ibarretxe would hardly have called for the 2008 Referendum if he didn't think it would be won, nor would Spain have blocked it unless they thought the same. The maths from the 2009 Basque election is pretty simple:

•  just under 39% voted for the centre-right EAJ-PNV, the Basque National Party.

•  just under 10% voted for the two pro-independence left parties that reject violence, Eusko Alkartasuna and Aralar. EA, alongside Plaid Cymru and the SNP, are part of the EFA in the European Parliament.

•  and just under 10% would vote for various left wing independence parties alleged to be sympathetic to ETA, although these keep changing as they get banned. In the 2009 election, D3M and Askatasuna were banned at the very last moment, after the ballot papers had been printed, and their votes were counted as void. There were over 100,000 void votes in total compared with a normal void vote of under 5,000. This was about 9% of the vote.

It's worth commenting that if the last minute ban had not been imposed, D3M would have won maybe six seats. These seats made all the difference to the balance of the Basque Parliament, and resulted in the socialist PSE-EE and right wing PP being able to form a government. Of course it is never presented in that way, the first non-nationalist government in 30 years was instead presented as evidence of a fall in support for independence.

Such blatant gerrymandering shows the lengths to which the Spanish authorities will go to deny democracy to those who want independence. But it could only have been done under the pretext of an alleged connexion to ETA. The mere mention of the word "terrorism" now seems to be accepted as an excuse for governments all over the world to do draconian things like this. And that is the importance of ETA's declaration. In itself, it will not achieve any response from the Spanish State, and we shouldn't expect it to. But—if ETA can indeed restrain itself from using violence until the 2013 election—this declaration will make it very much harder for the Spanish to use terrorism as an excuse to once more interfere with the democratic process.

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New school year, new Welsh-medium schools

As we have just embarked on the start of a new school year, I thought it would be good to celebrate the extension of Welsh-medium education, as a number of new schools have either opened or moved to larger premises.

Ysgol Bro Helyg, Blaenau Gwent

Pride of place this year goes to a brand new school at Nantyglo/Blaina, built to replace the appallingly bad accommodation that Ysgol Brynmawr has had to put up with until now. The appallingly bad pictures are the best the Council have to offer, it is much better in the flesh.


However this is still the only WM school in Blaenau Gwent, and its new location is such as to make it a few more miles remote from the major population centres in the county. It highlights, and in fact will increase, the need for new WM schools in Ebbw Vale and Tredegar. However, BG are still thinking terms of this being the only WM school in the county, as this quote from their website indicates:

A competition was held at the existing school, and pupils were invited to suggest possible names for the school. 30 entries were received, and after careful consideration, it was decided that the new school would be called “Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Helyg”. Reasons for this choice are outlined below:

•  the name makes reference to the roots of the existing school – the original name for the Brynmawr area being “Gwaun Helygen” – “Meadow of the Willows”.

•  “Bro” is Welsh for “area”. The name therefore represents the whole catchment area of Blaenau Gwent, and not only the Brynmawr and Nantyglo areas.

So it looks like education officials at BG still have the same old intransigent attitude, and begs the question why it was only built as a 1.5 FE school with a capacity of 315, rather than as a 2FE school with a capacity of 420. The old Brynmawr school was at bursting point with 253 pupils, plus 50 in the nursery which is itself more than the admission number of 45 that this new school could accept. So even though this new building is very welcome, it will still be inadequate to meet demand.

Does anyone seriously think that Blaenau Gwent, with a population of 70,000, has such an unusually low concentration of parents wanting a WM education for their children, when Torfaen immediately to the east now has three WM Primaries for a population of 90,000 and Caerffili immediately to the west has nine WM Primaries for a population of 170,000?

Blaenau Gwent badly needs another couple of WM primaries: one in Ebbw Vale and one in Tredegar. I had hoped that an announcement about a second school in Ebbw Vale would be made last month at the Eisteddfod. Watch this space, I'll present a proposal I've got in mind soon.

Ysgol Panteg, Torfaen

Griffithstown Infants School has been amalgamated with the junior school on the junior school site, leaving its old building for use as a new WM school. These are some pictures:



This is now the third WM primary in Torfaen, and although the school will only have room for about 150, this does represent a very welcome increase in capacity which Torfaen must be congratulated for providing. However it does need to be offset against Ysgol Bryn Onnen reducing its intake slightly in order to increase its own age range from 4-11 to 3-11.

Ysgol Nant Caerau, Cardiff

Caerau Infant School, Caerau Nursery School and Cwrt yr Ala Junior School have been amalgamated into a single English-medium primary school with nursery on the Cwrt yr Ala site. This frees the existing Caerau Infants and Nursery buildings to become the permanent home of a new WM primary called Ysgol Nant Caerau.



The previously established starter classes at the Holy Family RC Primary School have been transferred to these buildings, and this will enable the new school to expand to a one form entry school with a capacity of 210, plus nursery. There will be a transition period while some children in the EM sector continue to use part of the building.

Ysgol Pen y Pil, Cardiff

The pattern here is similar to Nant Caerau. Trowbridge Infants and Junior Schools have been amalgamated on the Junior School site, leaving the Infants School building to become a new WM primary.



In this case the starter classes at Oakfield Primary will transfer to the new school, which will also have a capacity of 210 children, plus nursery.

All in all Cardiff have responded in a half-decent way to the increase in demand, but there are still areas of the city where the demand for WM education is much greater than the places available: Canton being the most obvious example, with Whitchurch not so far behind. The proposal for a new WM secondary on the old St Teilo's CiW site is currently on Leighton Andrew's desk, but the funding package for it has already been approved.

Ysgol Rhyd y Grug, Merthyr Tudful

In this instance a brand new English-medium school has been built in Aberfan to replace Ynysowen Primary. This leaves the old Ynysowen building available for the existing small school to move from Quakers Yard to larger premises. There will be room for about 100 more children.


Yes, hand-me-downs aren't ideal, but they're better than "t'corridor" or a "small shoebox in middle't road" with no green space and a tiny playground half taken up by temporary classrooms. So the children who go there will in due course come to realize that this is more than "luxury", it's "paradise" ... as these veterans of Yorkshire-medium education can tell them in no uncertain terms.


These are the ones I know of, but if anyone can tell me of any more, please do. I would guess that on top of this there would be at least half a dozen WM schools that have had to bring in additional temporary accommodation over the summer.

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