Rumours about Electrification

There are two potentially good stories today from Adrian Masters and WalesOnline about the electrification of the Great Western Line to south Wales:

     Adrian Masters, Electrifying news for St. David’s Day?
     Rail electrification decision to South Wales expected tomorrow

But I would like to add a note of caution, if not warning. This is what today's Bristol Evening Post has to say:

It is rumoured the Secretary of State for Transport will sanction the electrification of the Great Western line from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads. And it looks like a deal to build the next generation of inter-city trains is edging closer.

The Department for Transport has developed a plan, which will be put before the Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond.

The complex arrangement would include electrification of the Great Western line as far as Bristol. But it has been decided there is not a sufficiently strong business case for electrification through the Severn tunnel to South Wales.

Bristol Evening Post, 28 February 2011

I very much hope the Bristol Evening Post is wrong, so let's not get too excited until we know for sure.

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Say Goodbye to Schedule 5

Anyone who can work Schedule 5 of the Goverment of Wales Act 2006 into a song deserves to have a wider audience:


Well done, Geraint. But moving to Schedule 7 still won't allow us to make any laws that affect building societies ;-)

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Another Poster to Print

Here's a new poster from Yes for Wales:


Either click the image or click here to download the hi-res pdf version.

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That elusive Welsh Tory report, for all to read

A big thank you to Dylan Jones-Evans for sending me a copy of the report mentioned in the previous post. It's now available for anyone to read and download here:


I haven't done any more than skim through it as yet, but at 29 pages each in Welsh and English, it's rather more than just a press release. Nobody can doubt that Wales faces some very serious economic challenges, and I think we should welcome input from across the political spectrum.

Who knows, we might even be able to work out some sort of broad consensus about what we in Wales can do to improve our economic performance ... though that will be a challenge in itself in the run up to the Assembly elections in May.

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An elusive, or non-existent, Welsh Tory report

Earlier this week, Dylan Jones-Evans announced that a body called the Welsh Conservative Economic Commission had released a report on the future for the Welsh economy entitled The Challenge. And—no doubt as a result of the press release they had been sent—the Western Mail duly turned it into a story of its own.

I was very interested in this. The first bullet point on DJE's list, and the main focus of the Western Mail's article, was that the Tories would seek to vary the rate of corporation tax in the different devolved administrations. This is something that I would certainly welcome and have myself advocated, but something that requires rather more thought than a bullet point on press release. DJE had first raised the subject in this post on his blog in June last year, and I picked up on some of the issues in this post on Syniadau. So he and his colleagues have had a good few months to think things through, and I was hoping that the report would reflect this.

I was not the only one to leave a comment asking DJE for a link to it, so that we could download it and read it for ourselves. But, at least so far, he has not done so. He's just ignored the requests and turned to write about other things.


It's all rather strange. Does this "report" actually exist, or was it just a headline grabbing stunt: something to make it appear that the Tories have a coherent set of well thought-through ideas on the Welsh economy? I don't want to unfairly single out the Tories, for I get equally frustrated when other parties—including Plaid—have issued a press release on a particular policy area, but not backed it up with more detailed information. But in this case it has been called a report, given a name, and supposedly released.

So where is it?

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The BNP wants us to vote No

As if the systematic lies and deliberate misrepresentations of True Wales were not enough – and they weren't enough for Len Gibbs, who decided he needed to set up his own site to add a few more of his own – the BNP has today come out in favour of a No vote on 3 March.

Those of you with strong stomachs can read about it here:

     British National Party in Wales Calls for No Vote in Welsh Assembly Referendum

In it, we will see that our National Assembly is really an "EU regional parliament" that has been imposed on us as part of our "subservience to an unelected European state" ... and that the referendum is not about us getting primary lawmaking powers, but in fact "to give greater powers to the EU".

But what I find most fascinating is that the BNP wholeheartedly agree with True Wales on one thing. They claim they want people to vote No not because they are against devolution, but because they want to give Wales something better instead. Of course they do.

Now we know that the people of Wales don't have the abilities needed for full lawmaking powers, and that Welsh people who haven't moved out of Wales are not the most innovative and creative ... this must be true because True Wales have said so. But I'm not really convinced. It seems to me that True Wales and the BNP in Wales are showing an extraordinary ability to come up with innovative and creative lies.

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If you don't trust politicians, trust GPs

One of the features of the Yes for Wales campaign has been its decision to use people form all walks of life, rather than just politicians, to explain why we need to get out and vote Yes on 3 March. The reasons for that are quite understandable: people's level of trust in politicians is probably only marginally above our trust in estate agents ... although this survey shows that we do trust our AMs more than we trust our MPs.
But one group we are much more likely to trust is our GPs. So with only a week to go before the big day, it's good and very timely to see this endorsement of a Yes vote from Dr Andrew Dearden, chair of the Welsh Council of the BMA.

“For me, the question is about the most efficient and effective way for the Assembly to function.

“At the moment we have a half-way house. If we want to do something we can either do it or we have to got to Parliament in London and ask their permission.

“This question is different to whether you agree to having an Assembly. I would not want people to vote as to whether they want an Assembly. Since we have got one, it’s about how effective you would like it to run.”

Dr Dearden said that in his experience there have been many positive things that had come from devolution for the healthcare profession.

He said: “We keep asking ourselves how has the health of the people of Wales improved, but the health of the people is down to many factors that are not controlled by the Assembly.

“But there have been some very good things that the Assembly has done. They are leading the world on autism and they were the first nation to introduce the smoking ban.

“They are also looking into the transplant process and the issue of presumed consent.

“They have kept free accommodation for junior doctors when they come out of university, which is sensible for the economy as it will increase recruitment in Wales. It’s not a utopia, but they have kept things out that have been going on across the border."

South Wales Echo, 23 February 2011

He strikes quite a welcome note of realism. Getting some of the same primary lawmaking powers that Scotland and Northern Ireland already have is not going to transform Wales into a utopia. And it is true that many of the decisions any future Welsh Government will make on the health service will be about how wisely we allocate resources, not on what laws we can make.

But for some policy areas, making laws can make a very real difference.

Dr Dearden mentions the smoking ban—which we in Wales could have introduced much earlier without the present cumbersome system—and the issue of presumed consent for organ transplants. I could add to that by mentioning the new legislation on mental health, which I looked at in detail here.

The issue of presumed consent for organ transplants is a good illustration of an area where a majority in Wales want to change the system, but which the government in Westminster is refusing to let us do. As things stand they have an absolute veto, because the Assembly cannot legislate in any new area without permission from Westminster. But we can change that by voting Yes next Thursday.

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There have been quite a few developments in Euskadi over the last few months. In September last year ETA announced a ceasefire, which I wrote about in this post. It was not greeted with any great enthusiasm by Spain, and I hardly expected it to be. A ceasefire is a long way short of a permanent cessation of violence.

However this was followed up in January this year by the announcement that it was permanent, and that ETA wanted it to overseen by the international community:

In a statement released to the Basque newspaper Gara the group said: "Eta has decided to declare a permanent and general ceasefire which will be verifiable by the international community.

"This is Eta's firm commitment towards a process to achieve a lasting resolution and towards an end to the armed confrontation."

The armed group said that the solution to Basque conflict "will come through the democratic process with dialogue and negotiation as its tools."

Guardian, 10 January 2011

I don't particularly want to get involved in a discussion of when it is right to use armed force in the pursuit of political objectives in this post, though I would note that violence is not only done by those fighting against a state, but by states themselves. However I do think it should be of interest to us all how such situations can be progressed from a violence that gets neither side anywhere to the point where it can be resolved by peaceful political means.

As I see it, the main key is for there to be an effective means of political expression for those who either explicitly backed the violence before, or more passively accepted it as being—at least as they once saw it—the only way of achieving their political goals.

But Spain has not been good at allowing this strand of opinion to be expressed at a party political level. Batasuna, the main left-leaning party supporting an independent Euskadi (the EAJ-PNV being a centre-right party) which generally had the support of about 15% of the electorate, was banned in 2003; and other left wing nationalist parties that have been formed since then have been declared illegal. One of the most blatant instances of this was in the 2009 election to the Parliament of the Basque Autonomous Community when 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, which amounted to about 9% of the total. As a direct consequence of these votes not being counted the EAJ-PNV was unable to put together a broad nationalist coalition government for the first time in nearly thirty years.


Now a new chapter is beginning to unfold. Earlier this month a new political party was formed, and this is how one article describes it:

Sortu puts spotlight on Spanish justice system

There have been many signs that genuine change is afoot in the Basque Country in recent months, as ETA's political support has repeatedly urged the organisation to give a clear statement showing it is committed to a non-violent future. For the most part these expectations have not been met, with ETA failing to deliver – most recently in a January ceasefire statement that contained some new resolutions, but ultimately not enough.


But the unveiling on February 7 of a new party, Sortu, suggests that with or without ETA’s backing, the pro-independence landscape in the northern region has changed. Sortu, which means "to rise up" or "be born" in euskera, is a reincarnation of sorts of Batasuna, the party banned since 2002 for its links to ETA and refusal to condemn the terrorist group’s violence. However, while the personnel is similar, this new party has now taken the historic step of rejecting all terrorist violence. This is a rejection that "openly, and without ambiguity, includes ETA" according to Iñaki Zabaleta, a spokesman for Sortu. These are not just words uttered in a Bilbao press conference. They're written in Sortu’s statutes.

"This is very significant. I think this was the step people were waiting for," said Paddy Woodworth, author of a history of the Basque Country and a book about the GAL anti-ETA death squad. "These statutes are so explicit, in their condemnation not just of terrorism but in general. They have produced statues which could have been written by a Supreme Court judge."

Qorreo, 20 February 2011

And that, of course, is the issue: whether a new party which specifically renounces violence to the extent that it is enshrined in what we would call its constitution is going to be allowed to participate in the democratic process of elections.

This is how things developed. On one hand, we had one High Court District Attorney make this announcement:

District Attorney says Batasuna and Sortu are two different parties

A new Basque nationalist left-wing party, considered to be the successor of outlawed party Batasuna, is not its continuation despite the fact that they have the same members, a Basque High Court District Attorney said on Tuesday.

In an interview with Basque radio station Radio Euskadi, Juan Calparsoro, District Attorney of the Basque Country High Court, said the new party, that goes under the name of Sortu and rejects violence by ETA, is not a successor of Batasuna.

According to Juan Calparsoro, although both parties share the same members, the "political project is not the same" and they "have said things never previously said."

Spain's attorney general's office will now determine if legal status can be granted to the new party. The government could allow the party to stand or challenge it and ask prosecutors to investigate. Any decision for declaring the party illegal is ultimately up to a special section of the Supreme Court.

EITB, 8 February 2011

Meanwhile, in Madrid, the Spanish Civil Guard filed a report recommending it should be banned:

Spanish Civil Guard says Sortu takes orders from Batasuna's ETA

On Wednesday, the Spanish Home Office forwarded a report by the Civil Guard to the Attorney General and State Legal Service about the new leftwing nationalist formation Sortu, its origins and possible links with the outlawed political party Batasuna, with which to appeal to the High Court.

In a statement, the Home Office said that along with the statutes registered at the Ministry by Sortu on February 9th, it had sent several reports concerning the new party so that the Attorney General and State Legal Service could act in accordance with the Constitutional Political Parties Law.

Included in the information on Sortu was a report written by the Spanish Civil Guard which claims that Sortu is "an instrument created by Batasuna" and states that, despite publicly rejecting the use of violence, behind those sponsoring the new party – apparently "clean" and without ties to Batasuna – was the political wing of ETA.

The document created by the Spanish Civil Guard contains evidence that allegedly proves that Sortu is a continuation of the outlawed party Batasuna.

Among the so-called evidence, six documents stand out which were seized during various arrests of ETA suspects. The cited material contains details of the armed group's plan to "create a political group to act as a successor to Batasuna". The Civil Guard claims in its report that Sortu has been born out of a specific strategy of ETA's "following the failure of the previous negotiations" and because of the need to re-enter the political system.

The police report echoes a statement made last Friday by Spanish Home Office Minister and Government Vice-president, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, in which he said it was "evident" that Sortu "is a continuation of the outlawed Batasuna group".

As proof of its continuity, sources in the report cite the contribution of Iruin at the presentation of Sortu, in which the lawyer admitted he had adapted the party's statutes in order to comply with the requirements imposed by the High Court in order to become a legitimate political group.

EITB, 17 February 2011

And, predictably, Spain's Attorney General has indeed recommended it should be banned:

Spain's attorney general to ask judges to illegalize "Sortu"

Spain's attorney general says a new Basque independence party is a repackaged version of the armed group ETA's banned political wing Batasuna and he will ask judges to deny the party legal status.

It is up to a special section of the Supreme Court to decide on legalizing the new party called Sortu, which unveiled its charter last week and insists it rejects ETA violence.

EITB, 19 February 2011

... with the equally predictable result that tens of thousands came out onto the wet streets of Bilbao this weekend in protest:

Tens of thousands rally in Bilbao to ask for legalization of "Sortu"

Tens of thousands of people rallied in the Basque city of Bilbao on Saturday to demand from the government that it allows the newly launched pro-independence party "Sortu" to run in upcoming elections.


Those behind the party, called "Sortu", insist it rejects armed group ETA's violence and hence merits legal status and the right to field candidates in May election. However, Spain's attorney general on Friday said it was merely a repackaged version of Batasuna, a party banned in 2003 on grounds it was part of ETA. It is up to a special section of the Supreme Court to decide on the new party's legal status.

Protesters began marching peacefully and largely in silence through downtown streets in the port city of Bilbao under banners reading, "Toward peace, legalization."

"Hope has begun to enter into Basque society and we want it to be for good this time," said separatist leader Kontxita Beitia at the end of the rally.

The attorney general's office said it would file its request that the court ban "Sortu" by March 11. It is likely that the court will not have enough time to arrive at a ruling before May 22, the election date, which will rule them out from running in the Basque regional polls.

Should "Sortu" be allowed to run it would give separatist politicians access to local and regional government posts and financial benefits that come with them.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba on Friday said that the government was prepared to take steps to stop Batasuna candidates from joining other Basque parties should the court ban "Sortu".

EITB, 20 February 2011


It should be said that ten of thousands of people have taken to the streets before in favour of the ban on Batasuna being lifted, and of course these are likely to be the same tens of thousands. But the issue is not really about whether people support one party or the other. The point is surely that left-leaning nationalists should be able to vote for a party that reflects left-leaning nationalist views. There is something Kafkaesque about the Civil Guard citing as evidence:

" ... the lawyer admitted he had adapted the party's statutes in order to comply with the requirements imposed by the High Court in order to become a legitimate political group."

Wouldn't any sane, law-abiding person think it was a good thing to have complied with the High Court's rulings in order to create a party that was within the law?

Not, apparently, in Spain.

The inescapable conclusion is that it simply doesn't matter to Spain whether a party completely renounces violence as a means of pursuing a perfectly reasonable political objective. They will still seek to ban it anyway ... not because of violence, but because they will not tolerate any move towards Euskadi becoming an independent nation.

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Two More Videos

Ioan Gruffudd and Cynog Dafis give us their reasons for voting Yes on 3 March:



The originals are from the Ie dros Gymru and Our Assembly pages on YouTube.

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Belgium Celebrates

Belgium today broke the world record for failing to form a government. A crisis? Well, not really. Belgium hardly needs a federal government because most day-to-day government is handled perfectly well by the devolved regions.

So today has become an excuse for festivities:

Belgians digest "world record" with chips and beer and with no clothes on

Flandersnews, 17 February 2011

Not a pretty sight. To avoid a repeat showing it might be a good idea to get something sorted out before the impasse extends to a year.

It's been hard to keep track of events over the past few months, and I'm not going to try and explain them in this post. Probably the most informative site is here. It sums things up quite well.

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Rachel Banner lies in order to protect herself

It's all too easy to make fun of someone like Len Gibbs, he's simply out of his depth. Yet that's what happened yesterday when the Western Mail ran this story about the claim he made on his website that:

“The recently published international PERA report found that for the second time running, of 64 wealthy nations, Welsh children came bottom for reading, maths and science.”

The real facts about the PISA report are in the article. But right at the bottom of it we can see Rachel Banner's response on behalf of True Wales. Her actual words were:

Rachel Banner said: “The comments made by Len Gibbs were not made on behalf of True Wales.”

She was obviously trying to distance herself from Len Gibbs, and for prefectly understandable reasons, but I don't know who she thought she was trying to fool. She was telling a barefaced lie, for True Wales had in fact made exactly the same claim on its own website a few weeks ago:

True Wales awards the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government a second wooden spoon for failing our children. In the latest report on educational standards in sixty-four wealthy nations, the children of Wales have, for the second time in a row, come bottom of the league for reading, science and mathematics.

True Wales, Why say No

And just in case Rachel Banner or anyone else in True Wales has thoughts about trying to hide the evidence, she shouldn't bother. An archive copy of it is here, and this is a screenshot from the page:


It's amazing and rather pathetic to see Rachel Banner put the knife into her former colleague in this way, because the hapless Len Gibbs was simply repeating a lie that True Wales had already told. But why go to so much trouble? What's the point of trying to salvage your own credibility by distancing yourself from one lie when there are so many other lies on the True Wales website?

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Scrutiny ... or a Veto?

Alongside the many spurious issues that have been raised in the referendum campaign so far, there is one issue that is actually very relevant to the subject at hand: that of scrutiny. We hear the frequently repeated claim that the UK Parliament at Westminster has a role in scrutinizing legislation proposed by the Assembly, and the further claim that this is a good thing.

So in this post I'd like to look in a little more detail at how the current system works, and I think the best way of doing this is to take one example: the Mental Health LCO and the subsequent Mental Health Measure which finally became law in December last year. I've chosen this for two reasons:

•  first, it's short and easy to understand
•  second, it is not politically contentious because it was not introduced by the Welsh Government, but by a Tory AM, although it did have cross-party support.


An LCO is a Legislative Competence Order, a means by which the Assembly is allowed to pass laws in a particular area. The process was laid out in the Government of Wales Act 2006 and came into effect following the Assembly elections of May 2007. This progress of this particular LCO is set out in detail on this page of the Assembly's website:

Provision of mental health services

The National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Health and Health Services and Social Welfare) Order 2010 (formerly known as the National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (No.6) Order 2008 (Relating to Provision of Mental Health Services)

Proposed by Jonathan Morgan AM. The Order confers further legislative competence on the National Assembly for Wales, in the field of Health and Health services (field 9, Part 1, Schedule 5 to the 2006 Act). The Order enables the National Assembly for Wales to pass Assembly Measures providing mentally disordered persons with a right to assessment by the health service in Wales, duties on the health service to provide treatment, and a right to independent mental health advocacy.

The Order became the first to be introduced by an individual backbench Assembly Member to receive Royal approval.



As we can see, the process is long and very complicated. And I'm sure people will be relieved that I'm not going to go through every stage in detail (anyone who wants to do that can simply click the links) but I do want us to look at the LCO as it was first proposed. In a nutshell, it allowed the National Assembly for Wales to pass Measures to give mentally disordered persons a right to assessment by the health service in Wales, to lay duties on the health service to provide treatment, and to give individuals the right to independent mental health advocacy.

In fact the actual LCO request itself was not very much more complicated than that. The legal wording (i.e. what was to be added to Field 9 of Schedule 5 of the GoWA 2006) would allow the Assembly to legislate on:

Provision for and in connection with –
     (a)  the assessment by the health service in Wales of persons who are
     or may be mentally disordered persons;
     (b)  duties on the health service in Wales to provide treatment for
     mentally disordered persons;
     (c)  independent mental health advocacy for persons who are or may be
     mentally disordered persons.

This matter does not include assessment of, treatment or advocacy for persons detained, liable to be detained or liable to recall under the Mental Health Act 1983 (or any statutory modification or re-enactment thereof).

The principle should be, and indeed was, simple and straightforward. Health is a devolved matter, but in order for any government to provide an effective health service it is sometimes necessary to pass laws to give people rights within that service. As things stand, the Welsh Government has responsibility for running the health service, but does not have the corresponding power to make laws about the way it works. They have to ask permission each and every time they want to make laws in a new area.


Now how long do we think it would take for the Assembly to get permission from Westminster to make laws in this area? In fact it took a whole two years. The proposed LCO was laid before Parliament in February 2008, and the final LCO came into effect in February 2010. The final version is here, and the matters to be added to Schedule 5 were:

Assessment of mental health and treatment of mental disorder.

This matter does not include any of the following—

     (a)  subjecting patients to—
          (i)  compulsory attendance at any place for the purposes of assessment
          or treatment,
          (ii)  compulsory supervision, or
          (iii)  guardianship;
     (b)  consent to assessment or treatment;
     (c)  restraint;
     (d)  detention.

For the purposes of this matter, “treatment of mental disorder” means treatment to alleviate, or prevent a worsening of, a mental disorder or one or more of its symptoms or manifestations; and it includes (but is not limited to) nursing, psychological intervention, habilitation, rehabilitation and care.”.


Social care services connected to mental health.

This matter does not include the independent mental capacity advocacy services established by Part 1 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.”.

Although the words are arranged in a different way, and although the final LCO includes matters under separate headings relating to the fields of health and social welfare, they say almost exactly the same thing as the original did. So why on earth did it take all of two years for the LCO to pass through Westminster?


But—and this is the important point—the LCO that was granted after those two years was not a new law, but only permission to make new laws about the assessment and treatment of those with mental health problems. The process of making the new law was much more complicated, because it had to do with the details and practicalities of how the services were to be provided, and the matter of rights and safeguards for people who are in an obviously vulnerable position because of mental health problems.

We can follow the progress of this legislation on this page. The proposed Measure was introduced in March 2010 and, like all Assembly legislation, has to go through detailed scrutiny procedures in four separate stages.

To get an idea of how much work was involved, we need only look at the final version of the Measure as passed by the Assembly in November 2010, which is here. As we can see, it has 6 Parts, 56 Sections, and 2 Schedules, and to read the detail rather than just the headings, we can click "Opening Options" on the left, then "Open Whole Measure".


True Wales want to inflate the importance of Westminster's scrutiny of an LCO that was only a few short paragraphs of generalities, not realizing (or at least not being prepared to acknowledge) that scrutiny means dealing with and understanding the details and ramifications of any proposed legislation. Westminster had absolutely nothing to do with the scrutiny of the actual legislation itself, that is something that Assembly members from all parties had to do ... in just the same way as it is done in the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly. We in Wales are no less capable of doing this than the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland are.


In closing, I would like to make a more general point about what scrutiny is. It is a process by which representatives from all points on the political spectrum examine a proposed piece of legislation in detail. They do this to make the proposed legislation better than it might otherwise be: by closing loopholes, avoiding conflicts with other legislation, and clarifying any potential confusion about how that legislation might work in practice.

But if we look at how things work at Westminster, it is open to the government of the day (as most legislation is proposed by government) to use the majority it has to ignore the recommendations of any scrutiny committee, and even to ignore the will of the House of Lords. If necessary, it can use the Parliament Act to force the Lords to vote in favour of the legislation it wants to put through. This is entirely right, because representative democracy should mean that the final say rests with those who have been elected by the people who will be affected by that legislation.


But the LCO process is something entirely different. Even though our National Assembly might have the necessary majority of AMs to pass a law that affects only Wales, the LCO process gives one person—the Secretary of State for Wales—an absolute power to refuse to lay it before Parliament. Then, even if they do lay it before Parliament, Parliament in turn has the power to refuse to grant it. This is not scrutiny, it is a veto.

We ourselves, through the AMs we elect to the Assembly, should have the right to make laws in areas that are already devolved to Wales, without requiring permission from the government of the day at Westminster. For that government might, as it does now, have an entirely different political complexion from the Welsh Government, and therefore be inclined to veto our request not on the grounds of constitutional principle, but simply because they don't agree with the policies we wish to pursue, even in areas which are meant to be devolved to Wales.

But we have it in our own hands to remove this veto ... by voting Yes on 3 March.

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Two Videos

Here are two simple, direct and effective videos urging us to vote Yes on 3 March:



For more, go the Ie dros Gymru and Our Assembly pages on YouTube.

And spread the word by embedding them on your blog or website, sending a link to your friends by email, or using the share button below.

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True Wales ... Well and Truly Baffled

Poor Rachel Banner and the half-dozen or so other Labour party members of True Wales have described themselves as "baffled":

Labour members of True Wales are baffled that Ed Miliband is playing into the hands of the separatists, blithely unaware of the consequences for the most vulnerable in Wales. On his visit to a meeting of a select band of Labour Party ‘Yes for Wales’ supporters, he reiterated his support for giving the Assembly even greater power.

True Wales, Latest news

It's amazing how out of touch they are with the party they belong to, for not only Ed Miliband, but every single one of the candidates in the Labour leadership contest last year was in favour of a Yes vote, as I wrote in this post last July:

All five say Yes

It is interesting to see that all five would-be leaders of the Labour Party have said they are in favour of a Yes vote in the referendum on primary lawmaking powers for the Senedd.


     'Ie i fwy o bwerau' medd pump
     Labour leader hopefuls back extra Welsh Assembly powers

As recently as last year this was still a burning "issue" on which the Labour Party were split. But now everything has changed. I wonder what someone like Paul Murphy—who is used to joust with Don Touhig for the dubious prize of being the MP most against any further devolution to Wales—makes of that? He supports Ed Miliband, and Ed Miliband wants a Yes.

What of many of the rest who were at best lukewarm about it? They all support a candidate who wants Wales to have primary lawmaking powers. So will they now fall into line? I think even those who will do it through gritted teeth are hardly the sort who would put their head above the parapet on the issue.

The simple fact is that the Welsh public want a Senedd with primary lawmaking powers ... by a margin that is widening all the time, and currently stands at almost two-to-one in favour of a Yes. Now that it is clear that the tide is moving in only one direction, what Labour MP would want to stand against it?

Syniadau, 5 July 2010

And it was refreshing to see that, unlike some Welsh Labour MPs, Ed Miliband supports a Yes vote for the right reasons:

He used a question and answer session with Labour supporters at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff to say he did not think the current way in which Welsh laws are made "makes sense".

Mr Miliband said: "I'm for a Yes vote because the idea that Carwyn and other ministers in the Welsh Assembly Government have to come back to London for order-making powers when they want to change things in a devolved area doesn't make sense.

"When it's legislation that is only affecting Wales, it should be made in Wales ... and that's why I'm supportive of a Yes vote in the referendum."

BBC, 12 February 2011

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Well done, Shane

... and thanks for a couple of tries today, too ;-)

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Labour try to divide the Yes vote

What do the recent announcements by Peter Hain, Paul Murphy and now Hywel Francis have in common?

Each one of them is deliberately misrepresenting what this referendum is about and, instead of concentrating on the issue at hand, trying to turn the referendum into the first part of Labour's campaign for the Assembly elections in May.

•  Peter Hain's claim was that voting Yes would transform the Welsh economy. But voting Yes will do no such thing, because the lawmaking powers we will get when we vote Yes specifically will not give Wales any fiscal or economic powers.

•  Paul Murphy claimed that voting Yes had nothing to do with the procedural intricacies of lawmaking in Wales. But the referendum is only about the way the Assembly will be able to make laws and nothing else.

•  Now we have Hywel Francis claiming that voting Yes will deliver a blow against the cuts being imposed by the ConDem government in Westminster. But voting Yes will not save us from a single penny of the cuts that have been made by them, nor the deeper cuts that are going to be made by them over the next few years.

So what would explain their actions? At one level it's very simple: they have decided that people in Wales simply aren't capable of understanding the issue at hand, and are therefore trying to make out that the referendum is about something they think people in Wales will understand. That doesn't say much about their respect for people in Wales, and it makes what they are trying to do no different from what True Wales have been trying to do when they claim that this referendum is about increased taxes, more politicians, or the "slippery slope to independence".

But there's more to it than that. It is clear that each of them is using this referendum as an opportunity to attack the Tories, but both Paul Murphy and Hywel Francis have now introduced a rather sinister sub-text. Paul Murphy criticized the Yes campaign because, as an all-party group, it had what he called "the problem" of not being able to attack the Tories in the way he would like; and Hywel Francis claimed that the Yes campaign was:

making it more difficult to mobilise a full-blooded anti-Tory campaign

So it's hard to avoid the conclusion that they are putting two fingers up at the careful work of the Yes for Wales campaign.


Now these three men are certainly being unscrupulous, but they are not stupid. They are quite sincere in wanting a Yes vote now, even though the only reason they've changed their minds is because they realized Labour was going to lose power at Westminster. They thought things were fine ... so long as they were in government there.

So would they put a Yes vote in danger by undermining the Yes for Wales campaign in this way? I don't think so. I think they have calculated that the margin in favour of a Yes vote—at least 20% in nearly all the polls—is such that they can afford to undermine cross party support for a Yes vote. So they reckon it probably won't matter if they alienate Tory and LibDem supporters so much that they vote No or, more likely, stay at home ... so long as they get a few Labour supporters who would otherwise stay at home out to vote.

As I see it, they realize that although a good many of their supporters do understand what this referendum is about, and will vote on the issue at hand, there are others who simply don't understand and who therefore see no point in voting in the referendum. They want to persuade these people that the referendum is, to all intents and purposes, just another party political election in which Labour is on one side and the Tories on the other. By getting people to vote Yes for Labour's reasons they hope that the referendum campaign will trundle on and seamlessly morph into Labour's campaign for the Assembly elections in May.


The big question is how the rest of us should react to this tactic. I think we shouldn't ... or at least not yet. In the immortal words of Huw Lewis, we should "Let Labour be Labour." We simply need to point out what they're doing and why they're doing it, but should not let ourselves be distracted from explaining why it is important for us to be able to make laws in those areas that are already devolved to Wales. If we stick to the job at hand, we will not alienate those from other parties who support a Yes vote.

Nor, I suggest, should we in Plaid react with anger to the sort of personal attacks that Labour have just made on Ieuan Wyn Jones. It's all part of the same strategy, in all probability orchestrated by the same elements in the Labour Party at Westminster. They want to turn what should be the campaign for a Yes vote in March into the early skirmishes of the campaign for the Assembly elections in May.

We can afford to wait a few weeks. Right now we need to keep fighting an inclusive, uniting campaign for a Yes vote; for the sake of Wales, and for the sake of people of all political persuasions in Wales. But after that—though maybe allowing a day or two for the hangover from the celebration party on 4 March to wear off—we can turn our attention to campaigning for the Assembly elections ... and do it with a clear conscience.

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Print a Poster

If anyone hasn't yet done it, here's an A3 size poster to print off and put in the window of your home, shop, office or car.

Just click the image to download the pdf.


Did I really say "or"? How silly of me; that should of course have been "... home, shop, office and car".

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Right Vote, Wrong Reasons

It gave me great pleasure to see one of the most staunch of Labour's anti-devolution dinosaurs change his mind and say he's going to vote Yes in the referendum on primary lawmaking powers.

But his reasons for doing it are quite clearly wrong. He says:

Wales is a more progressive country, and thankfully it has a more progressive Government. More power to their elbow, I say.

That is the reason why increasing numbers of people are intending on voting Yes. People can see what is going on in Westminster and don't much like the look of it.

It's got nothing to do with constitutional dogma or the procedural intricacies of law-making in Wales. The problem with the cross-party Yes campaign is that it can't really say that.

Western Mail, 8 February 2011

He'll hate me piercing his balloon with a small point of accuracy, but this referendum is in fact all about, and only about, the "procedural intricacies of law-making in Wales". It's all about, and only about, the constitutional arrangements of devolution.

So of course the cross-party Yes campaign can't say the same thing as him. They'd be misrepresenting what this referendum is about if they did. To their credit—and after not the best of starts—Yes for Wales are campaigning on the merits of actual issue at hand: the constitutional issue of the Assembly being able to pass laws in areas that are already devolved to Wales. Yet Paul Murphy dismisses this as a "problem" because for him and his narrow party political interests, the only thing that can matter is that his own party is currently in power at Cardiff Bay, but not in power at Westminster.

If he thinks that people who will vote Yes because they actually understand what the referendum is about will be grateful for his U-turn, he's flattering himself. I've nothing but contempt for a politican like Paul Murphy. He's a political opportunist who has changed his mind on devolving primary lawmaking powers to Wales only because it now suits him and his party.

Party political electioneering is all well and good. However the time to do it is not now, but in the couple of months between the referendum and the Assembly elections in May.

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Linking North and South

There was a story in the Daily Post last a couple of weeks ago that surprised me:

Investigation into giant cable from Anglesey for windfarm power

A £1m study to investigate the viability of laying a giant electricity cable from Anglesey to South West Wales has been launched. The cable system would run from Wylfa down to Pembroke and carry additional energy generated by the planned giant windfarms in the Irish Sea. This would then enter the National Grid in South West Wales, where additional Grid links have been added for the building of Pembroke Power Station.

Ofgem gave the go ahead for the £1m study to start this week. A National Grid source said it may still require a separate power link from a proposed Wylfa B nuclear power station – with that either carried on over-land pylons or an undersea link.

A National Grid spokeswoman said: “This is a long-term study, this cable would potentially take additional capacity from the windfarms planned for the Irish Sea. This would see cables running from Anglesey to Pembroke. This money (£1m) will pay for research into the viability of this option, it is one of the options we are looking at to reinforce the network.”

Daily Post, 28 January 2011

My surprise was that this was being considered now, because it certainly wasn't part of Ofgem or the National Grid's thinking before. The group that does forward thinking on the way the electricity grid works is the Electricity Networks Strategy Group, and they published this report in 2009:

     Our Electricity Transmission Network: A Vision for 2020

This map from the report shows Britain's current electricity transmission grid, together with the reinforcements proposed.


To anyone concerned about Wales, the most obvious thing that stands out is that we have good grid connexions in both north and south, but absolutely nothing in Wales that links north and south. In fact, central Wales is further from the main grid than any other part of this island, even including the more remote parts of the Scottish Highlands.

The broad green and yellow arrows show the grid reinforcements proposed by the ENSG. Their priority has been to strengthen the grid between Scotland and the rest of our Britain. This is because we are generating more electricity from renewables and Scotland has vast renewable resources, particularly wind. This also explains why grid reinforcement is needed along the east coast of England: because there are a number of very large windfarm zones proposed for the North Sea.

However if we focus on Wales, their thinking at the time was rather less developed:


There is just an arrow from the English Midlands to connect to the onshore windfarms in mid Wales. But this would of course do nothing for the electricity infrastructure of Wales, it would primarily export the energy we produce to England.


A second factor that effects the equation is the increasing cost effectiveness of undersea HVDC cables. Up until a few years ago, National Grid would only have considered a departure from overhead power lines in very exceptional circumstances. But the first map shows that they are considering two undersea cable routes: one between Scotland and England and one between Scotland and Wales. There are details of the Hunterston to Connah's Quay proposal here, and a series of public meetings to explain the proposal is taking place this week.

It goes without saying that National Grid would not be considering such undersea cables unless they were as cost effective as land-based, overhead power lines on pylons would be. And put into a wider context, undersea HDVC cables are currently proposed or in the process of construction to link Britain and Ireland to continental Europe and Scandinavia, by means of what has been dubbed a Supergrid.

In fact there are currently three proposals to link Wales and Ireland. The more advanced project is the East-West Interconnector by EirGrid, currently under construction and due to be completed by 2012. This will link North Rush, just north of Dublin, with Barkby Beach in Prestatyn.

However I was more interested in two other interconnector projects by Imerapower, which proposed these additional cable routes:


To me, what was much better about the Imerapower proposals is that instead of leaving north and south Wales as two outlying spurs in the electricity grid, it put Wales right in the centre of a much larger British/Irish grid. People can read what I said about it at the time here.


The point at issue is simple, and I could do no better than point to what Draig said in another thread at the time.

In Wales the high voltage network is operated by National Grid, and the local distribution network is operated in South Wales by Western Power Distribution, and in N. Wales by Scottish Power Manweb.

What this means is that the grid basically splits Wales in two, and doesn't treat us as a unified entity.

We in South Wales pay amongst the highest electricity cost in the UK (Source: Energywatch) because S. Wales is classed as a "negative transmission zone", which basically means that we import electricity from England.

North Wales exports far more than it consumes, to the big conurbations of the North West of England (those illuminations in Blackpool are powered by North Walian electricity) so when you aggregate the figures, as a whole we are a net exporter.

So the reason we in South Wales pay such high electric bills is because the grid doesn't allow us to use N. Wales surplus. If Wales was served by a single unified grid, our electricity bills would be lower.

WalesOnline Forum, 11 October 2008

In fact people in south Wales pay 10% more for electricity than people in England, and people in north Wales pay 4% more ... or at least that was the position in 2008, according to this report. This illustrates just how much being at the end of two outlying spurs of the grid costs us. For how does it make any economic sense that a net exporter of electricity like Wales pays more for the product it produces than a net consumer?

And on that point it is worth noting that south Wales, two years later, is no longer a net importer of electricity. Now that SevernPower has become fully operational, south Wales produces roughly as much electricity as it consumes. But when the 2,000 MW Pembroke power station comes online, both north and South Wales will be producing far more electricity than we need ... but we will still pay more for it than England.

This is why it is so important that we link north and south Wales directly.

And I have to say that the news brings a quiet smile of satisfaction to my face for a different reason. For when we discussed how best to achieve this link, I said:

Now, thinking about solutions to the problem, I guess the obvious one would be put a major north-south cable alongside/under the A470 as part of that infrastructure upgrade. But it might not be such a crazy idea (and it would be faster and involve much less disruptive work) to run an undersea cable across Cardigan Bay between Gwynedd and Pembrokeshire.

WalesOnline Forum, 11 October 2008

So perhaps I should claim the first chunk of that £1m feasibility study.


But I'm much more interested in what's good for Wales as a country. This map illustrates the way the UK grid is divided into distribution networks:


North Wales is part of a distribution area that includes Cheshire and Merseyside; and although the south Wales and south west England areas are separate licence areas, both licences are held by the same company and run as a joint operation from the same head office.

I want to see all matters regarding the generation and transmission of electricity in Wales devolved to Wales. For that to become a practical reality, we need not only licence areas that match our geographical boundaries, but for these licence areas to be directly linked as part of the grid.

So as well as a very good economic reason, there is also a very good political reason why this proposed undersea HVDC cable directly linking north and south is so important to us in Wales.

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Syniadau passed a milestone this weekend: 100,000 unique visitors since I started the blog in April 2009. These are graphs of the weekly and monthly figures, which show how the readership has kept on growing:

I've just set up a statistics page which I'll update every month. You can access it here or from the link at the bottom of the right hand column.


More than anything, I owe a big thank you to everybody who reads this blog: to those who come every day and to those who only come once in a while ... to those who've made comments and to those who've just read what I and those who have made guest posts have to say ... to those who want to see an independent Wales as much as I do and to those who aren't yet convinced.

I hope Syniadau has been able to stimulate our thinking about what sort of country Wales should be and can be, for it is entirely in our hands to make our country what we want it to be.

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What they really think about you ... in Hi-Res

I'm pleased to say that I've just been sent a larger pdf version. Click the image to download it, then print it out at A3.


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Stating the Obvious

I'm not sure Peter Hain is doing his own party much good by saying that the referendum on primary lawmaking powers is being held now because Plaid Cymru insisted on it; but if he wants to put his foot in it, he's welcome:

     Plaid Cymru 'insistence' behind poll date, says Hain

Of course we insisted on it. It was our main "red line" issue when we negotiated the One Wales Agreement with Labour in 2007.

Some in Labour will have had their doubts about whether that part of One Wales would be delivered, but were sensible enough keep quiet while the All Wales Convention did its work. This gave them time to come round. Others—most notably Peter Hain himself—repeatedly tried to break the agreement, saying that the vote should not be held for many years to come, and that it would be lost if Labour stuck to their commitment.

But wiser heads in his party (yes, I'm happy to acknowledge that Labour has some ... though being wiser than Peter Hain is hardly setting the bar very high) prevailed, and in the end Labour came to realize that Plaid had been absolutely right to insist that the referendum was held before the next Assembly election. It would have been better to hold it last October, but next month is good too.

This only goes to show that Welsh Labour are very much more principled than Peter Hain wanted them to be ... or could ever hope to be himself.

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