It was THIS big ... honest

It's not often that I venture into the murky world of misinformation on the Western Mail's letters page, but this peach of a letter from a certain D Matthews must certainly be one of the favourites for this year's award.

£125m for Welsh

SIR – I note with interest and amazement that Jane Hutt, the WAG Business Manager, has given preferential treatment to the Welsh language in her draft Welsh Assembly Budget proposal.

Why does promotion of the Welsh language have a capital budget of £125m? The Welsh Assembly obviously feels it is more important to get everyone in Wales speaking Welsh than looking after our health service, education, employment etc, which have all received cuts to their budgets.

How are we going to attract desperately needed new businesses to Wales when the Welsh Assembly are hell bent on insisting that Welsh should be our first language and that all businesses will have to use it, whatever the cost to them. What sort of Welsh Government do we have, that puts the Welsh language above all else in these times of austerity. Why would we want to want to vote to give WAG more powers, when they are already abusing the powers they have?

Newbridge, Gwent

Western Mail Letters, 30 November 2010

Just one slight problem. The draft budget is here and we can see, on page 17, that the figure is not £125m but £125,000. D Matthews was only exaggerating by a factor of a thousand.

Well, make that two slight problems. The £125,000 is the figure for the current financial year. The proposal in the draft budget is for this to be reduced next year by £50,000 to £75,000 ... a cut of 40% in monetary terms, but of course more in real terms because of inflation.


But perhaps the much bigger problem is that the Western Mail is so quick to print such demonstrably obvious trash. Any junior editor who had the slightest knowledge about Wales should have been able to spot the "mistake".

Unless, of course, it was an orchestrated part of the paper's anti-Welsh agenda as we approach the referendum next March.

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Airplane ... the Final Landing

I just heard on the news that Leslie Nielsen's mother was Welsh.


Yes, I'm amazed too ... and don't call me, or her, Shirley.

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The Demand for WM Education in Newport

Two weekends ago I wrote about Newport's plan to open a third Welsh-medium primary school in the city. But I've only just read the survey of parental demand (thanks to Ceri for telling me where to find it) that helped inform Newport's decision to do so.

The survey was conducted in April and May this year by Opinion Research Services, whose previous survey for the Vale of Glamorgan was very impressive. This one is equally thorough and professional.

     Newport City Council - Survey of School Preference 2010

It's worth reading the whole thing, but I'd like to highlight a few things that particularly stood out to me.

Firstly, parents were asked if they would like their children to be able to speak Welsh and whether or not they believed their children would benefit from a Welsh medium education.

Two thirds (66%) stated that they would like their children to be able to speak Welsh, whilst over half (55%) believed that their child would benefit from a Welsh medium education.

Not bad for Newport. But the diagrams below illustrate very clearly that parents are much more likely to choose WM education for their children if there is a WM school close to where they live:


The percentage who would choose WM education increases from 28% to 53% if a WM school is within two miles of where they live. It is true that the second figure is always higher than the first, but it is very much higher in Newport than it is elsewhere in the more Anglicized parts of Wales.

This is shown in another way when parents were asked to rank four factors that affect their choice. For all parents (i.e. including those that wanted and did not want their child to have a WM education) these were, in order of importance:

•  Distance from your home
•  Another child already at the school
•  Ease of access/transport to school
•  Main language used in school

70% of parents said that their maximum acceptable journey time was 20 minutes each way. 97% thought that a journey of 30 minutes or more was unacceptable.


Now of course, as in every survey of this sort, not all parents responded. So it is wrong to conclude that more than half the children in Newport would go to WM primary schools. But it is equally wrong to conclude that those who didn't respond have no interest in WM education for their children. So ORS have done a good job of projecting both the current and latent demand, and the report explains how they did so.

At present only 3.7% of children in Newport are in WM education. But there is a growing curve: the average for children aged 8, 9 and 10 is about 2.5%, but the average for children aged 3 and 4 is about 5.4%. ORS calculate the current demand for WM education to be 6.9%, and the latent demand 14.1%.

That's why more Welsh-medium places are so badly needed; and Newport are to be congratulated for not only commissioning the survey, but for acting upon its findings. Other local authorities could learn from their example.

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Shedding Darkness on the AV Referendum

I caught up with the Politics Show on iPlayer, and was completely amazed by the level of ignorance shown by the so-called expert that the BBC interviewed on the Alternative Vote referendum. Professor Russell Deacon made one or two complete howlers; see if you can spot them:


AV is not "the weakest form of proportional representation" ... it is not proportional in any way at all. It is not designed to, as Aled ap Dafydd suggested, solve the problem of the LibDems—or the Greens or UKIP for that matter—not getting a share of seats in the Commons that more closely represents the proportion of the overall vote that they get.

Because AV is not proportional, it won't make the prospects of getting a government with an absolute majority in Westminster any more or less likely than under the present first-past-the-post system ... but both interviewer and interviewee were happy to give the impression that it was.

Finally, Professor Deakin suggested that the additional member system that we use in Wales for Assembly elections was a means of expressing a second preference ... equating it with the second vote in London Mayoral elections (which is like AV, but you are only allowed one other choice). The man quite simply doesn't know what he's talking about.


So what is the point of AV? It solves one big problem with the current system:

     It does away with the need for tactical voting

Voters who want to keep a candidate from a particular party out will no longer be put into the awkward position of voting for a second or third choice candidate instead of the candidate they really want to vote for. They can put a "1" against their first choice candidate, and a "2", "3" and "4" against any other candidates they prefer ... not voting at all for the candidates they want to keep out. This will make it almost impossible for candidates and parties that polarize public opinion to be elected. For example, virtually no-one will put the BNP second ... a few extremists will put parties like the BNP first, but almost everyone else will put every other party before them.

Because no vote will be wasted, it should also increase voter turnout at elections. This is because more parties will stand and those people who don't vote because they don't like the politics of the established parties might find an alternative that they think is worth getting out and voting for.

For these reasons I will be voting "Yes" in the AV referendum and I would urge others to do the same. Unlike the much more important referendum that will be held in Wales next March, the Yes Campaign for AV has already been set up.


Just in case anyone hasn't read what I've said before on electoral reform, I would much prefer to see STV because it has the same advantages as AV, but is also proportional. I think it is better to take one small step in the right direction now than continue with all the unfairness of the current first-past-the-post system indefinitely.

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The Opposite of Centralization

When Kim Howells says:

everywhere I go in Wales has an Assembly building – a great huge shining edifice. I'm not sure what they all do in there, and why we need so much government?

BBC, 27 November 2010

... I'm tempted to say that he obviously doesn't get to see many towns in Wales. But seriously, what would he prefer?

Devolution is not just about making the political decisions that affect Wales for ourselves; it is also about making sure that the people who work hard to implement those decisions are employed in Wales rather than being based somewhere else in the UK.

So would he prefer civil service jobs to be based in London or somewhere else in England rather than in Wales? And if they are based in Wales, would he prefer them all to be clustered in and around Cardiff? Perhaps he would ... after all Pontypridd is only a short commute away, and he surely wouldn't want to see these jobs shared out fairly among the different regions of Wales when they could all be on his doorstep, would he?


What's the opposite of devolution? Perhaps that isn't so clear in English as it is in Welsh; but the opposite of devolution is centralization. So why is it any surprise to hear that an old-fashioned state socialist like Kim Howells feels "ambiguous and confused" about decentralizing primary lawmaking powers from Westminster to Wales?

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S4C viewing figures ... in high definition

A few weeks ago, ITV Cymru produced an edition of Y Byd ar Bedwar which focused on the crisis S4C is currently facing, and included figures from a poll they commissioned from YouGov. I've embedded the video for those who want to see it again.


Some of the poll figures which struck me were that:

•  19% of Welsh speakers don't watch S4C at all

•  30% watched less TV than 5 years ago, but 39% watched less S4C

•  35% of Welsh speakers wanted S4C to remain wholly Welsh, but 36% of them thought that it should show English programmes too

•  Most people watched S4C for its sports coverage

It goes without saying that these were rather disappointing figures. So I asked YouGov for some additional information, particularly because one of the other polls they published based on the same data included a breakdown by fluency in Welsh. ITV have kindly given their permission for YouGov to publish this data and it is now available here.

YouGov in fact asked two separate questions on Welsh, in this order:

Can you understand, speak, read or write Welsh? Please tick all that apply.

•  Understand spoken Welsh
•  Speak Welsh
•  Read Welsh
•  Write Welsh
•  None of the above

How well, if at all, would you say you can speak Welsh?

•  Fluently
•  Fairly well
•  Not very well
•  Not at all

The first question was chosen because it is identical to the question asked in the census, and this was used to weight the raw data; but the second question gives a rather clearer picture of people's ability in Welsh.

In answer to the first question, 222 out of 1206 or 18.4% said they could speak Welsh, which was then weighted to 16.8%. (If this seems low, it is probably because YouGov asked adults, but the census figures are for all people over 3 years old, and the highest percentage of Welsh speakers is for those at school.) But in answer to the second, the raw percentages for ability to speak Welsh were:

Fluently ... 6.7%
Fairly well ... 7.3%
Not very well ... 33.1%
Not at all ... 52.9%

What this shows is that there is quite a flexible "middle ground" in which people's views can be characterized as falling into one of two responses, either:

"I am a Welsh speaker, but I don't speak Welsh very well."


"I don't speak Welsh very well, therefore I can't really call myself a Welsh speaker."

The purpose of giving this explanation is in order to help us understand the more detailed information within the survey. The programme itself only made mention of the breakdown between Welsh speakers and non Welsh speakers based on the first question. In fact it is almost certain that the programme makers did not know what the cross-break (to use the jargon) for fluency in Welsh was, since that information has only been put together in response to my request.

For that reason, I want to stress that I am not accusing ITV of presenting misleading information. The figures they quoted are accurate ... but just not as helpful as they could have been. So with this in mind I now want to look again at what the more detailed information shows us.

How many Welsh speakers watch S4C?


So the headline figure that 19% of the Cymry Cymraeg don't watch S4C gets reduced to only 7% of those who speak the language fluently. 93% of fluent Welsh speakers watch S4C at least sometimes, and 71% watch S4C at least once a week.

Do we watch S4C more or less than we did 5 years ago?


The way the figures were presented on Y Byd ar Bedwar was that the fall in S4C viewers was worse that the general fall in television viewing. So these more detailed figures are quite startling. Yes, it is true that people generally watch less TV than we did five years ago, but the percentage of fluent Welsh speakers who watch S4C has actually gone up ... 36% watch S4C more than before, only 23% less.

What do we watch on S4C?


It is of course true that most people who watch S4C watch it for sport, but for those who are fluent in Welsh, sport is not the main type of programme watched. Drama, news and current affairs, and entertainment programming are each higher up the list than sport.

Do Welsh speakers want English language programmes on S4C?


One of the major points made on the programme was that even Welsh speakers, even though only by 36% to 35%, wanted S4C to remain wholly Welsh. But the more detailed figures show that this was certainly not the opinion of those who speak Welsh fluently or even fairly well.


I've highlighted these points because they go some way to explain the more surprising figures presented on the programme. S4C is a minority channel, primarily aimed at those who speak Welsh ... although of course open to anybody who wants to watch. There are at least 30 other channels in English for those who want programmes in English.

What these figures seem to show is that S4C is actually doing a very good job of providing a range of Welsh language programmes for those who want drama, entertainment, news, current affairs and the like in Welsh rather than in English. The percentage of those fluent in Welsh who watch S4C is very high indeed, and these people watch more S4C now than we used to five years ago. Surely that is a mark of S4C's success.

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Speed Cameras in Wales

When I read an article yesterday which mentioned the number of fixed speed cameras in Wales, I asked a friend how many he thought there were. He said several thousand, and I too thought there would be at least a thousand or so.


But apparently the figure is 198 ... and only 68 of them are working.

I think this is scandalous. Any motorists who drives too fast is breaking the law, and speed is a contributory factor in accidents. Speed cameras are probably the most effective way of both reducing speed and freeing up the police to do other things. They are an exemplary way of using simple technology to good effect.

So it is a disappointment to read that we only have 68 of them in Wales. I for one would definitely like to see a good few hundred more.

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A Third Welsh-medium Primary in Newport

Back in this post in September, I noted that Ruth Salisbury, the Education Policy and Research Officer at Newport, had told a meeting at the National Eisteddfod that the city was actively planning to open a third WM primary school. I'm delighted to see that these plans have now been made public with the launch of a consultation on setting up a new school to open in September 2011.

New Welsh-medium primary planned for the city

Due to increasing demand, the council is moving to formal consultation on plans to open a temporary school at Maindee Primary School in September 2011. It would then look at finding a permanent location for a new school.

There are currently two Welsh-medium primary schools in the city - Ysgol Gymraeg Casnewydd in Ringland and Ysgol Cymraeg Ifor Hael in Bettws. A report to councillors says there are currently 77 places available in each of the school’s year groups, with a combined total of 89 in the reception classes. But a survey carried out by the authority found that 105 reception places would be needed in 2012 and more than 140 would be needed in 2013.

The increase in demand means that the two schools, which are already over their foundation phase capacity, will no longer be able to cope past 2011. The council is therefore seeking to create a seedling school at Maindee Primary School, which will accommodate a total of 120 pupils from nursery to Year 1 and potentially Year 2.

The report says the city centre location of the school will allow as many pupils as possible from across Newport to have access to Welsh-medium education within two miles of their home.

If it gets the go ahead the facility would be open for a maximum of three years, which will give the council the opportunity to consider plans for a permanent location for a third school under its 21st Century Schools Programme. Until then the temporary school would operate under its own name, identity, governing body and staff, the report says.

South Wales Argus, 18 November 2010

As we can see in the picture below, Maindee Primary is a fairly new building, close to the centre of Newport, just behind Rodney Parade rugby ground.


Based on the admission number of 65, the school has a capacity of 455 excluding nursery. But it currently has only 317 children, so there seems to be plenty of room for what is in effect going to be a starter school until a new permanent home is found. The best place for this will be in the west of the city, though the centre will probably do just as well.


Capital funding has taken a very severe hit in the allocation of the Welsh Block Grant, and the draft budget issued yesterday indicates that the capital budget for education will fall from a baseline of £183m this year to £173m, £161m and £144m over the next three years. That's a 21.3% fall in monetary terms, and in real terms is even worse because of inflation. But this doesn't mean that no new schools will be built ... it means that only about two out of every three schemes will be able to go ahead.

It's obviously too early to say whether the new permanent school will be one of them; but it's equally true to say that if the parents of 63 more children in Newport each year want them to have a Welsh-medium education, there will be 63 fewer children going to English-medium schools. So building a new school will not be the only way of meeting the increasing demand.

The figures also show beyond any doubt that Newport will need to set up its own WM secondary school in the next few years. At present children from Newport have to travel to Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw in Torfaen.

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Improving Our Rail Services

After two excellent articles by Mabon ap Gwynfor and Welsh Ramblings it might seem a little superfluous for me to write something else on Plaid Cymru's proposal for a not-for profit-company to take over the train operating franchise currently held by Arriva Trains Cymru; but I will, because transport is a subject that particularly interests me.


The first thing to say is that I'm very pleased with this development, not least because it's something that I have argued for, as I said here a few months ago.

Arriva Trains Wales were awarded a 15 year operating franchise in December 2003. This was before the 2005 Railways Act and 2006 Transport (Wales) Act ... in other words before responsibility was devolved to the Assembly.

One of the problems with this is that the service criteria were set when the franchise was awarded, so it is quite difficult to negotiate new services or improvements to services. As things stand, the franchise will not expire until 2018. There is a performance review due in 2013, but unless ATW do something wrong I'm not sure it can be used as a pretext to cancel the contract. However, as soon as it can be done, I would like to see the franchise taken over either by the Welsh Government, or by a not for profit company (or one which reinvests them) which can be more flexible to service improvements as laid out by the WG.

Now of course I was just one of many who wanted to see this. The context in which I said it was in answer to a question about how we were landed with Arriva in the first place. So although there's plenty to be said about profit (which I'll come on to later) for me the main reason for being dissatisfied with the present model is because it severely limits our ability to improve the standard of rail services in Wales.

Ramblings has noted that the political consensus for privatization—something shared equally by both Labour and the Tories in Westminster—is what resulted in the current model by which railways operate in the UK. Like him, I don't think very highly of the model, but we have to accept that this is the way things are, so we need to work within those parameters in the immediate term.

In setting down 15 year franchises, the idea was to provide the TOCs with a term of contract that was long enough to enable them to make a long term investment, and each tender was bid for on the basis of providing a certain level of service. Now of course there would be nothing to stop a TOC improving the level of service if it could make more money by carrying more passengers; but that model was much more suited to lines that made a profit than to those that didn't. The rail service in Wales is not one of those that makes a profit (it receives about £150m of public money a year) so the franchise holder would certainly have no incentive to do anything more than maintain the service at the minimum agreed level.

The problem is that we in Wales want to improve our rail service rather than just keeping the same sort of service as we had in 2003. In order to do that, the Welsh Government has had to negotiate with Arriva to provide new services or levels of service, which we have had to pay for in the form of increased subsidies. As with any contract, the initial bid may well have been very competitive, but the price for additional services once the contract is in place is never going to be competitive.

For this reason we have been paying over the odds for the service improvements since 2003, and will continue to do so for any further improvements we want.

Others have mentioned that Arriva Trains makes £10m net profit after tax each year. The full figures for the last two years are here. They are very healthy figures, particularly in a time of economic crisis.

But a comparison with the figures for the Arriva Rail group as a whole is very illuminating, as this article from the Western Mail shows:

Arriva Trains Wales sees profits affected by recession

Arriva has said its Wales business was "significantly affected" by recession last year.

The company, which operates the Arriva Trains Wales service, said UK rail profits slumped 64% as expectations for passenger revenues growth on its CrossCountry franchise proved too optimistic.

The rail division made an operating profit of £12.1m, down from £33.7m a year earlier.

WalesOnline, 3 March 2010

The first thing to notice is that Arriva's business in Wales was not negatively affected by the recession at all. Instead of falling, their operating profit in Wales increased by 15.4% ... or just under £2m. But in addition to the Welsh rail franchise, Arriva Trains holds the CrossCountry franchise, which made a loss. The Welsh operating profit of £13.8m more than accounts for their total operating profit of £12.1m.

Now why should this be? It seems clear to me that being able to name their own price for the service improvements in Wales must be a major factor in enabling Arriva to not only avoid the effects of the recession unscathed, but to actually increase their profits instead. The Welsh franchise has proved to be a nice little earner, because they know that the franchise system is set up so that the only way we can get service improvements is to pay through the nose for them.

And that is why it is so important to make sure that we do not fall into the same trap again. When this franchise was awarded in 2003, responsibility for rail transport was not devolved and we had no say whatsoever in the model that was imposed on us. The 15 year contract is subject to review every 5 years, so there might be an opportunity to do something in 2013. That is why it is an important issue for the Assembly elections next Spring, as it will be something for the next Welsh government we elect to deal with.

What we do then might well be limited, because Arriva are only doing what we would expect any other company to do ... they are providing as little as their contracts oblige them to provide in order to make as much profit as possible. But I believe it would be well worth buying them out of that contract in 2013 if we can, placing the franchise instead with a new not-for-profit company, because it is only when Arriva are out of the way that we can introduce new and better services at a competitive market price rather than at the extortionate price we now have to pay for service improvements.

But even without the service improvements we so badly need, Wales is losing out to the tune of nearly £14m a year. Dividends of £10m a year go straight to the state owned Deutsche Bahn in Germany, and £3.9m in tax goes to the Treasury in London.

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Nil Satis Nisi Optimum

It looks like Oriel y Parc in Sir Benfro was designed by an Everton supporter:


Only the best will do.

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S4C Poll for Y Byd ar Bedwar - Updated

For those of us who like looking at numbers, the full data for the S4C poll that featured on Y Byd ar Bedwar on Monday have just been published, here.


Update: One thing that did strike me as strange is that there is no breakdown by ability to speak Welsh. The poll was conducted at the same time as these other polls:

     Welsh Westminster Voting intention
     Welsh on deficit
     Welsh Assembly cuts

Yet the first of these had a breakdown of Welsh speakers and non Welsh speakers, and by level of fluency too. That data is far more relevant to the S4C survey than to these others, so the omission is odd. Hopefully it is just an oversight.


Update 2 [13:06 12 November]: YouGov have confirmed that it was just an oversight, and have put up a revised version with a breakdown for Welsh and non Welsh speakers, here.

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Not Only in the Assembly

Reading the reports of what Adam Price thinks of the quality and skills of elected politicians, I can't help but note that it is being interpreted as specific criticism of members of the National Assembly.

Here is the BBC's header:

Assembly Members "lack skills", says ex-MP Adam Price

A former Plaid Cymru MP often tipped as a future party leader has attacked the quality of Welsh Assembly politicians ...

BBC, 10 November 2010

And therefore, as surely as night follows day, the reaction from Assembly politicians has been completely predictable. The LibDems see it as "belittling the Assembly" and even Helen Mary Jones seemed to be on the back foot when she said the Assembly was a "better representation of Welsh society than Westminster".

I watched the piece on CF99 last night, and the clips that were shown seemed to confirm that view. But I had also watched Newyddion, and this is a clip from it:


The BBC's line in this piece too was that Adam Price was specifically attacking the standard of Assembly politicians. But that wasn't the point Adam was making. For those who don't understand Welsh, he said:

... not only in Wales, but everywhere—even in Westminster—the same thing is true.

So why wasn't that remark picked up in either the BBC's story on its website or in CF99 itself? It can only be the most amazing oversight or an attempt to misrepresent the point Adam was making. He was talking about elected politicians in general, not Assembly members in particular ... though of course the points apply every bit as much to AMs as to other elected politicians, and he is obviously more concerned about Wales than anywhere else.

In the discussion that followed on CF99, Daran Hill made the point that the problem of career politicians was in fact worse in Westminster than in Cardiff Bay. Yet he might not have needed to make that point if he had known that Adam Price had already said it, but that it had been edited out of the CF99 version.


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A strange sort of animal

I've just started reading through the proposed modifications to Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, which lists the subject areas in which the National Assembly will be able to pass primary legislation following a Yes vote in the referendum.

This one brought a smile to my face:

In this Part of this Schedule “animal” means—

     (a)  all mammals apart from humans, and

     (b)  all animals other than mammals;

and related expressions are to be construed accordingly.”.

Amendment of Schedule 7 to the GoWA 2006

I wonder what's so wrong with simply defining “animal” as “all animals other than humans”. But why should we expect the Wales Office say something in one line when they can say it in two?

Does this count as yet another example of the wasteful, unnecessary duplication that moving away from the LCO system will finally put an end to?

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Crisis in BBC Cymru Wales

The news that Menna Richards, head of BBC Cymru Wales, is to step down has sent shockwaves through the industry and has called the very future of the organization into doubt.

     BBC Wales head Menna Richards to leave in 2011

Her unexpected departure has led to speculation about a behind the scenes rift between the management of BBC Cymru Wales, the senior management in London and the BBC Trust. London has not given any reason for her departure, and pressure is mounting for Mark Thompson to resign as Director General of the BBC for refusing to explain the situation.


We should expect this crisis to dominate the headlines of the Western Mail for the next few months, and be the subject of any number of TV documentaries and current affairs programmes ...

... shouldn't we?

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Meeting in London for Catalan Independence

If anyone is in London next Monday, Albert Marti Bueno of the Catalonia Direct blog will be giving a talk in English on the Benefits of Independence for Catalunya:


First México and next stop is London. I’ll be holding the conference “The Benefits of Independence” that I already held in Mérida and Guadalajara in México but this time in English! So if any of my English speaking readers in the area are interested in knowing more about the current political situation in Catalonia and its future independence this is an excellent chance you’re going to have to hear about it first hand and ask as many questions as you want. You are all welcome to join us.

I’ll be talking about Catalonia’s history and political background, the popular movement towards independence that started a few years ago and gained strength last year after the popular referendum in Arenys that has spread to more than 400 towns all over Catalonia. I’ll talk about the financial reasons for Catalonia’s independence and how this will be achieved through democratic means.

After the conference there’ll be, as always, a round of questions and finally we’ll toast with some nice Catalan wine for the independence of Catalonia and for the good results of Reagrupament, the political association I volunteer for, on the upcoming Catalan elections that take place on November the 28th.

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S4C ... in English

Better late than later, we finally have the answers to the questions on S4C asked a few weeks ago in the YouGov poll for ITV. But is this really the "setback" that Peter Black seems so eager to portray?

As I see it, the answers to the poll questions are expected, and blindingly obvious to anyone who gives it a moment's thought. We need programmes about and for Wales in English just as much as we need them in Welsh. Is it fair that S4C should be allowed to have a whole channel of Welsh language broadcasting, when there is no equivalent to that in English?

Instead, the programmes we have about and for Wales in English are squeezed onto BBC and ITV, very often at the expense of network programmes, just as programmes in Welsh used to be before S4C was set up. Until recently, Wales had to put up with Question Time broadcast half an hour later than elsewhere in the UK. Now we have to put up with it at the same time ;-) Last night, The Apprentice, Spooks and The Sky at Night were all broadcast an hour late and we missed The Great British Bake Off altogether. OK, that's not a big loss to me or anyone I know, but last weekend Wales missed out on a wonderful New Zealand film called Black Sheep ... which, to anyone who has seen it, is ironically more relevant to Wales than any other part of the UK. On ITV, programmes about and for Wales have been squeezed to an absolute minimum over the last few years.

When this happens, it is hardly surprising that non-Welsh speakers in Wales are jealous of the Welsh language programming on S4C, and want the same for themselves.

And not just in Wales, the same is true in Scotland. People in Scotland have been campaigning for years for a "Scottish Six", a news programme on the BBC which is geared to international, UK and Scottish news from a Scottish perspective rather than the London perspective that they (and we) have to put up with from the BBC at present. What would that look like? ... well, it would be exactly like Newyddion on S4C, but in English. And what would be the equivalent of a Scottish or Welsh "Question Time" ... well, it would be exactly like Pawb a'i Farn on S4C, but in English.


For me, the way to solve the conundrum is to be clear about the distinction between S4C as an authority and S4C as a channel. I'd guess that 95% of us are not aware of the difference, but if we make that distinction clear there is an obvious way to solve the problem. All we need to do is look at Channel 4 in the remainder of the UK. It was set up at the same time as S4C as a single channel, but in 1993 the Channel 4 Television Corporation was set up in order to provide a range of additional television channels, so that the original Channel 4 has been supplemented by More 4, Film 4 and E4.

We need the S4C Authority to do the same thing; it needs to grow in order to provide more channels for Wales. Now that all TV broadcasting in Wales is digital, we can easily carve out room for an English language channel carrying programmes about and for Wales in addition to the S4C we know and love.

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Spreading misinformation about S4C

This is Keith Raffan posing a question about S4C on Sharp End this week:


What do we notice about the "question" he posed? Well, it is true that Gaelic has fewer speakers than Welsh, and that BBC Alba has a smaller budget. But does it have a bigger audience?

As it happens, BBC Alba's viewing figures are not collected by the BARB because the BBC doesn't want them collected, and therefore hasn't asked them to do it. But they have used the polling organization TNS System Three to assess the figures instead. As we can read here, they have reported that the channel has weekly reach of about 200,000 ... and another report, here, puts the figure at 220,000.

Either figure is less than half the weekly reach of S4C, as we can read here.

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Rali S4C

The picture should say it all. Not least because of the impressive number of organizations that have joined Cymdeithas in this protest to keep an independent, securely-funded S4C.


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If you don't understand ... email a friend

Like many others, I read with interest Gerry Holtham's explanation of why Wales has suffered disproportionately compared with Scotland and Northern Ireland as a result of the ConDem government's recent spending review.

     Why Wales has been hit

At the end of his explanation he added the line:

Got that? If not try reading it again!

I have to admit that I didn't understand it (or perhaps it would be better to say that I understood some of it but not all of it) and so I read it again. Still not there. So I then made myself a double espresso to get my brain into top shape for the third attempt, but finally had to admit defeat. It was at that point I emailed a friend.

We met up last night, with some others, and it was one of the things we talked about. The consensus seemed to be that a lot of people hadn't really understood the point he was making either, including those (even in the House of Commons) who we thought would have understood. But our friend didn't let us down, and I am relieved to say that I now understand the point Gerry Holtham was making.

It's not that the details weren't already there. In fact, it was probably the detail that got in the way of me seeing the big picture. But having it explained from a slightly different angle, I can now re-read Gerry Holtham's article and see that it all makes perfect sense. Therefore, in the hope that it might help some others, this is the simpler version:

•  Non-Domestic Rates are collected from businesses by local authorities. In England and Wales they are then forwarded to the Treasury in Whitehall and put into a common pot. The Treasury then adds additional money to that pot and redistributes it.

•  In Scotland and Northern Ireland Non-Domestic Rates do not go to Treasury in Whitehall, but the Treasury still forwards the same percentage of additional money to the individual pots of the governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland, who then redistribute it.

•  In both cases the collected NDRs are about 82% and the top up is about 18% of the final redistributed total.

•  The UK government has decided to cut the amount of the top up by a total of 27% over four years.

So far, everything is fine in principle. We might not agree with the cuts, but we have to live with them. The problem is that the Barnett Formula is only designed to determine what is paid out to the devolved nations from the Treasury, and doesn't take into account what these nations pay in. As a result of this anomaly:

•  Scotland and Northern Ireland get to keep all of the NDRs they collect because they didn't go into the Treasury pot, and will only suffer a 27% cut in the top up.

•  But Wales, because our NDRs have been paid into the Treasury pot, has to suffer a 27% cut over the entire redistributed total ... not only the top up, but the NDRs that have been collected from businesses as well.

Put another way, it means that the Treasury is going to hold on to a considerable proportion of the money we collect from businesses in Wales. As Gerry Holtham says:

This ... is more than enough to explain the whole difference between the Welsh total fall of 7.5 per cent in public spending, Scotland’s 6.8 and Ireland’s 6.9 per cent reduction.

I hope that those, like me, who didn't really understand the original article will now understand it. And I particularly hope this includes those in the House of Commons, because the only possible response to this is to be angry ... very angry indeed.

This can't be swept under the carpet with the excuse that the Barnett Formula will one day be replaced. This is a problem that affects us now. It is a loophole that can be fixed very easily by simply "ring-fencing" the NDRs we pay into the Treasury, so that the 27% cut only applies to the top up sum, not to the whole redistributed sum. It is an issue that should unite MPs from every party in Wales ... including the Tories and LibDems.

Come on. Let's see you stand up and fight.

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AMs in Wales

In my previous post I looked at the principles behind the proposed cut in the number of MPs in Wales and the consequent redrawing of constituency boundaries. There was a very good discussion in the comments section, and as a result I'd now like to address what I think was the major note of concern, namely that Wales would lose some of its political voice as a result of these changes.


As I set out before, I think that Wales should not be in the position of being over-represented in Westminster relative to the other parts of the UK. But I also think that the ConDem proposals are fundamentally flawed in terms of the rigidity that they want to impose. It is all very well to set out what you want to achieve just by looking at a map, but on the ground the situation is much more complicated. For those who are interested in recent history, I found a very good explanation of how previous redistributions of seats in Parliament have worked, and was struck by one passage in particular:

The Redistribution Acts of 1944 and 1958

The first House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act, enacted in 1944, adopted many of the Vivian Committee’s recommendations. The Act set the limit of toleration at plus or minus 25 per cent of the electoral quota. It guaranteed representation for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at their 1944 levels, as well as indicating a desirable maximum number of MPs for Great Britain (thereby implying a maximum for England). The Initial Review of Parliamentary constituencies, completed in 1947, was based on this Act.

Before the Initial Review was completed, however, the Boundary Commissioners claimed that they were unable both to meet the 25 per cent toleration limit and respect local government boundaries. The former requirement apparently dominated, since it came earlier in the Act’s Schedule of Rules. Parliament, however, determined that the ‘organic’ requirement to represent communities should take primacy over the ‘mathematical’ requirement of equal constituency population. They removed the 25 per cent deviation rule and replaced it with a rule that constituencies should ‘be as near the electoral quota as is practicable’. This new rule was placed after and, it was assumed, subsidiary to the rule regarding local government boundaries.

Electoral Knowledge Network - The UK System of Redistribution

If the Boundary Commission could not work within a toleration limit of 25% back then, how on earth does the ConDem coalition expect them to work within a 5% toleration limit now? They simply haven't learned the lesson of history. They think they can get away with leaving the detail to the Boundaries Commissions (we have one in each country) but they are handing them an impossible job. I mention this again in a post that focuses on AMs because I don't want us to be in the absurd position of having overlapping boundaries for Westminster and Senedd constituencies.

Bark and Bite

I don't want people to misunderstand what I said in the previous post. I do not want anyone to think that I am happy to see Wales lose any of its political "bark". I want to see a Wales which has both political bark and political bite. In Westminster, neither 40 seats out of 650ish nor 30 seats out of 600ish is going to give us any real control over what happens in Wales. It is the difference between "not very much" and "hardly any". If we rely on Westminster to make decisions for Wales, we will always get what suits the rest of the UK rather than what suits Wales.

As in the previous post, the key is to look at what has happened in the other devolved administrations in the UK. Scotland has a Parliament of 129 members for 5.1m people (39,000 per seat) and Northern Ireland has a Legislative Assembly of 108 members for 1.8m people (17,000 per seat). In contrast our National Assembly has 60 members for 3m people (50,000 per seat). Perhaps NI is not an exact comparison because their Assembly does perform some functions that we would associate with local government ( ... and it could also be argued that the special circumstances in the north of Ireland have produced two parallel legislatures, one for each community, sitting in the same building – which is why it is roughly twice as big as it otherwise would be). But we can compare ourselves with Scotland; and on a simple pro-rata basis with Scotland we should have an Assembly of 77 AMs rather than 60.

If it was right that the number of Scotland's MPs was cut from 72 to 59 because Scotland now has its own Parliament, then it must be equally right that Wales gets an increase in AMs when our Assembly gets a range of responsibilities closer to those of the Scottish Parliament. So we must be completely clear that a reduction in the number of Wales' MPs in Westminster must eventually result in an increase in the number of AMs in Cardiff. Some people talk about the Richard Commission recommending an Assembly of 80 AMs as if it were an arbitrary figure plucked out of nowhere. We have to be clear about why the Commission recommended it.

Therefore we cannot confine the argument to talking only about the fairness of reducing the number of Welsh MPs to the same pro-rata level as Scotland. We must at the same time talk about the fairness of getting the same pro-rata level of AMs as they have MSPs. The same argument cuts both ways.

Not now, but later

But that said, the time for doing it is not now. That is because Scotland's Parliament has a greater number of devolved responsibilities than we do in Wales. Two obvious differences are police and the justice system. Therefore—using exactly the same argument that we need to be treated fairly and equally rather than as some sort of special case—these must eventually be devolved to Wales as well.

By forcing a reduction of MPs on Wales, the ConDem government is in fact adding to the weight of argument for these areas of responsibility to be devolved to Wales. Every action has consequences. We should make it clear that devolving things like police and the justice system to Wales is the logical consequence of the proposal to reduce the number of our MPs by the same proportion as the number of MPs in Scotland was reduced in 2005. It might well be one of the proverbial "unintended consequences" that the Westminster government hasn't thought about ... but the logic is inescapable and ignorance is no excuse.


We all recognize that the public mood is for a decrease rather than an increase in the number of politicians. So we have to make a clear distinction between the general reduction in MPs across the UK and the specific reduction in MPs in Wales that will be the result of getting a law-making Senedd with greater responsibilities devolved to it. In round numbers, Wales is going to lose 3 MPs as a result of the general reduction and 7 MPs because of the specific reduction. So we have to make it crystal clear that any increase in the number of AMs is only balanced against the loss of those 7 MPs, not all 10 MPs.

However, we need to bear in mind that MPs cost us much more than AMs, not just in terms of greater salary but especially in terms of expenses. Last year, the average MP received expenses of £144,000 on top of a salary of nearly £66,000 ... making £210,000 per MP. This means that the money saved from not having these 7 MPs will easily pay for double that number of additional AMs.

So when the time comes to increase the number of AMs, we must use this sort of calculation as financial justification for the increase, just as the previous calculation showed the political justification for the increase. And for that reason—to make it clear that we too must take our fair share, but no more than our fair share, of the cuts—I would argue for a Senedd of about 72 members (maybe 75 at a pinch) rather than the 80 recommended by the Richard Commission.

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MPs in Wales

This clip from yesterday's Politics Show Wales serves as a reminder that the issue of the number of MPs in Wales, together with the redrawing of constituency boundaries, will be debated and probably decided this week.


I commented on the subject in a previous post here long before the current ConDem proposals were tabled, and have been disappointed with the responses of both Labour and some in Plaid Cymru who seem to have lost sight of the principles that should be applied, just for the sake of Wales having a few more seats. So now seems to be a very good time to set out again what I think these principles should be.

The Historical Context

For several decades, both Wales and Scotland were over-represented in the House of Commons. It would probably do more harm than good to go into detail about the reasons for this, except to make the general point that it was to give Wales and Scotland, as nations, a slightly louder voice in Parliament than could be justified by the size of our respective populations alone.

Scotland had 72 MPs, but after the establishment of the Scottish Parliament it was decided that Scotland's quota of MPs should be reduced, so that constituency sizes roughly averaged those in England. This change was implemented in time for the 2005 Westminster election, and meant that only 59 MPs were elected for Scotland. However a similar change was not introduced in Wales. This was not a case of inconsistency; the rationale was that Scotland was now able to make its own laws on all matters except those reserved to Westminster, but the Welsh Assembly was not set up with the power to pass primary legislation.

My view has always been that the number of Welsh MPs should be reduced to the same level as in England and Scotland, but that this should only happen when the Assembly gained primary lawmaking powers. However the ConDem government is determined to equalize the size of constituencies irrespective of whether the Assembly gets primary lawmaking powers or not, and irrespective of the fact that even when we get the powers currently proposed, we will have them in fewer subject areas than either Scotland or Northern Ireland. This determination means that principle is simply going to be steamrollered by the ConDem government in Westminster. To put it bluntly, even when over-represented with 40 MPs, the rest of the UK has far more MPs and can therefore pass whatever legislation they like, no matter what we in Wales say about it. Until we are independent, that will always be a hard fact of political life.

The only comfort is that things will probably work out right in the end, simply because all the polls consistently point to us getting a Yes vote in the referendum in March next year. In winning a Yes vote, we remove the rationale behind having so many MPs compared with Scotland and England. It will be quite indefensible for us in Wales to try to hold on to our over-representation when we have an Assembly with lawmaking powers. And if the devolution of more powers to Scotland and Northern Ireland than to Wales is an issue—which of course it is—then the answer is to press for the devolution of those same powers to Wales as well, not to squabble about a handful of seats that won't make any difference in a House of Commons that will always be dominated by English MPs because England has 85% of the UK population.

Variation of Constituency Size

Leaving to one side the situation in Wales, there is a considerable variation in constituency sizes in the remainder of the UK. Generally speaking, if strict equality were applied, more sparsely populated areas would end up with such geographically large constituencies that they would become unwieldy, with the communities at one end perhaps having very little in common with those at the other and therefore not seeing themselves as an entity. This would particularly be true where physical features such as estuaries, straits, rivers or mountains form natural divisions which have shaped the historical identities of the communities on each side.

The Boundaries Commission has always been aware of this, and goes to extraordinary lengths to strike the difficult balance between changing demographics and community identity. But it can only make the compromises it does because it is allowed sufficient leeway over sizes. At one stage the ConDem coalition was proposing that constituencies could vary in size by no more than 2.5%. The proposed figure is now 5%. But in my opinion this is still insufficient, and for this reason I have every sympathy with those who object to the unnatural constituency boundaries that would result from the rigid application of so small a variation.

One thing that particularly struck me recently was the attitude of Keep Cornwall Whole, where Philip Hosking said in the fourth comment of this post, that all parties in Cornwall were prepared to end up with Cornwall having one fewer MP, rather than end up with a constituency that did not respect the border defined by the River Tamar, not just as a physical boundary but more importantly as one that exists in historical and cultural terms.

It is therefore right that we should fight for an amendment to the proposed legislation that allows for the views of people in any region to be taken into account when deciding the size of constituencies. If people want to have fewer MPs than a strict mathematical exercise on a sheet of paper would produce, they surely must be given a mechanism by which that choice can be respected. But I have to say that the main impediment to achieving this is that MPs, particularly in Wales, seem fixated only on Wales losing seats and pleading some sort of special interest that applies to us but not to everyone else.

I repeat, if we in Wales can ditch the idea that Wales should continue to have more seats in the Commons than we deserve, we then open the way to a more constructive dialogue on getting more flexibility on the sizes of those constituencies within Wales. For this is not a Wales-only issue, but one that applies just as much to the more sparsely populated areas of Scotland and England too. We need to join together and fight on common ground, rather than hold ourselves up as a special case. One particular iniquity in the proposed legislation is that the ConDems have recognized Orkney and Shetland and Na h-Eileanan an Iar (the Western Isles) as special cases, but have not extended that recognition to more sparsely populated and geographically distinct areas of Wales or England. So we would be completely justified in fighting for this.

However, if we can't get this on a UK basis, we should accept a fair overall figure for the number of MPs in Wales, but then fight for the right for the Boundary Commission to have flexibility to vary constituency sizes within Wales beyond the 5% limit currently proposed. In fact this is what was recently proposed by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee:

The Boundary Commission, which will draw up the new constituencies, should be given a new remit to take into account Wales’ particular geography, which makes unifying existing seats in the South Wales valleys particularly challenging, say the MPs.

Western Mail, 25 October 2010

Voter Registration

Here I simply want to repeat a point made by many others, namely that we need to base constituency sizes on the overall number of people who live in a constituency, not those registered to vote.

The principle behind this is simple: MPs represent all those who live in a constituency, not just those who vote and certainly not just those who vote for them. An MP's workload is always determined primarily by the number of people s/he serves. In practice we know that not everyone who is eligible to vote registers to do so. Those that tend not to register are young adults and migrants, particularly those who move to towns and cities to find work and who think they are only going to be in their accommodation for a short time. This tends to mean that urban areas have lower levels of registration than suburban or rural areas.

The answer is to base constituency sizes on census information rather than electoral registration, though perhaps this should be cross referenced with other information such as registration with GPs. One of the few good points made by Alun Michael in the interview is that a 5% threshold will lead to frequent changes of boundaries; linking it to census information would mean that things are only revised on a ten-yearly cycle, which will provide a greater element of stability.

Linkage between Westminster and Senedd Constituencies

Labour in particular have made a lot of fuss about the linkage between Westminster and Senedd constituencies, and even presented this as a reason not to change the number of MPs in Wales. In my opinion they've blown this out of proportion as a pretext for keeping the over-representation Wales currently has.

There are a number of ways this can be solved. The first option is to redraw Westminster constituencies, but retain the Senedd constituencies as they are. This is what happened in Scotland. The main drawback to this is voter confusion, and for this reason I think it is a bad idea. It is also going to make it very difficult for political parties, though I'm sure that will matter rather less to most people. I'm sorry to say that I can't find the reference (any help much appreciated) but I recall a letter between Dafydd Elis Thomas and Cheryl Gillan which suggested that is what the Wales Office intended.

The second option is to have the same new constituencies for both, resulting in fewer first-past-the-post AMs but more regional members. I think this will not only be less confusing for the voters, but will also help to reduce the first-past-the-post bias to give a more proportional result for Assembly elections. If, as looks likely, we have 30 MPs, it would mean a balance of 30 constituency AMs and 30 regional AMs.

There are two reasons for being hopeful about this outcome. The first is what Jonathan Evans said in the interview:

... but if in due course it were the case that the National Assembly felt that they wanted to follow this change and have an alignment, then that's something that clearly could be looked at at that time

The second is something Nick Bourne said recently, as reported here:

When the Welsh Parliamentary constituencies are redrawn and cut to 30 that will have an immediate impact on the number of first-past-the-post members in the Assembly. They will also fall from 40 to 30. Unless nothing is done that will bring the number of Assembly members down to 50 ...

So it was revealing that at his weekly Press briefing this week Nick Bourne, the Conservative leader in the Assembly, confided that he had had a conversation with the Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan, about this and won an assurance that the present number of AMs would not be allowed to fall.

... The obvious way would be to follow Scotland and retain the present 40 constituency boundaries for Assembly elections, thereby making separate constituencies for AMs and MPs. However, Nick Bourne said he was very much against this. It would create confusion in the minds of the electorate and be a nightmare for party workers who would have to create separate organisations in the same area to fight the various elections. No, he was committed – indeed, adamant – to have the same first-past-the-post constituencies for both Westminster and Assembly elections. It follows from this that the only way to retain the 60 members will be to have an extra ten elected on the List, two more for each of the five regional lists.

Click on Wales, 8 July 2010

Yet I fear this is another instance where raw power will sweep principle aside. The first-past-the-post system benefits Labour disproportionately, and for that reason they will fight tooth and nail to retain the 40 constituencies for Assembly elections. So Jonathan Evans is being rather naïve to suggest that an Assembly in which Labour have more seats than their share of the vote warrants will ever "feel that they want to" change the arrangement.

For me, the answer is simple. The current legislation that determines the way AMs are elected will have to be amended at Westminster. Therefore the new arrangements have to be decided and included as part of the new legislation that Westminster is going to enact. They have to specify something for now. I would much prefer that Westminster devolves responsibility for all electoral arrangements in Wales (at both Assembly and local level) to the Assembly. So does Nick Bourne, as he said in the same article:

It was interesting on this front that, at his Press conference Nick Bourne let slip that he was in favour of devolving responsibility for elections and the electoral system from the Home Office to the National Assembly.

But this is where he has to act rather more cleverly than he talks. It is pointless devolving such decision making power to an Assembly that does not have a fair voting system, and whose membership does not therefore represent Wales. Labour currently has 43.3% of the seats, but only obtained 32.1% of the constituency vote and 29.7% of the regional vote. Therefore it will only make sense to transfer the power after the Assembly has been elected on a fairer basis than it is now.

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