Wales takes the biggest hit

With a hat tip to Dewi at Slugger O'Toole, there was a nice graphic in the Guardian this week showing UK public expenditure for 2010/11 compared with 2009/10, adjusted for inflation. Click the image to open the article.


As a whole, UK public spending is virtually unchanged, going up by only 0.34%. There's a lot of interesting stuff to digest at leisure, but in the bottom right hand quarter are the devolved expenditures for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I've zoomed in on these and shown them at the same scale for comparison:



As we can see, Scotland has received a 2.95% increase in expenditure in real terms, getting a better deal than the UK as a whole; Northern Ireland has received 2.01% less in real terms; but Wales has suffered a reduction of 3.92% in real terms.

Of course the settlements reflect different devolved responsibilities in the three administrations, but we can make these two points: first, that these responsibilities have not changed between 2009/10 and 2010/11; and second, that because overall UK spending is almost exactly the same it means that the cost of things devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland but not devolved to Wales would have very little effect on the overall Welsh figure. And even if we focus on the most obvious difference, we can see that Westminster's spending on police and crime was reduced by 3.2%, which is only very slightly less than the Welsh reduction.

So from these figures it's clear that Wales has had to take a much more severe cut in public expenditure than any other part of the UK.

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20% margin in favour of Catalan independence

It is very encouraging to see the support for independence in these pictures from Catalunya on BlogMenai, and in particular this newspaper headline:


If anyone needs a translation, it says that 45.4% would vote for independence and 24.7% would vote no, a bigger margin than in the last poll.

The poll in question is the Baròmetre d’Opinió Política, an official poll conducted every three months based on a large sample of 2,500 people. It can be downloaded here, but this is a rough translation of what another Catalan paper said about it:

Support for Catalan independence grows by more than two points, according to CEO

45.4% of those surveyed said they would vote 'yes' in a referendum on independence, compared to 24.7% who would vote 'no' and 23.8% who would not vote. The same survey shows that support for the Economic Agreement remains at 75%.

Support for the independence of Catalunya has increased 2.5 points in three months, according to the third wave of the Centre for Opinion Studies (CEO) to be presented Wednesday. Thus, 45.4% of respondents say they would vote yes to becoming an independent state in a referendum on self-determination (the wave in June was 42.9%), while those rejecting independence fell by 3.5 points to 24.7% of respondents (28.2% in June). In a hypothetical referendum, discounting those who would abstain (23.8%), the percentage voting yes would be more than 60%. Similarly, in a three-way choice, independence is the preferred option of 28.2% of Catalans (a year ago it was at 25.2%), and is in a technical tie with those wanting Catalunya to be a state within a Federal Spain (30.4%) and an autonomous region (30.3%).

Those who would vote yes in a referendum, moreover, are highest in CiU (56.4% versus 18.3%), ICV-EUiA (48.1% versus 18.7%), ERC (94.5%) and SI (95.1%), with many in PSC (27.6% with 40.4% opposed) leaving PP (only 8%). The reasons given for independence are mainly pragmatic (32.2% want to obtain economic self-management and 13.7% to "improve Catalonia" while only 11.7% said "a feeling of identity"), while Spanish national identity was uppermost for those who oppose independence (35.5% said no to preserve the "unity of Spain", 13.9% for the "feeling of identity", while 13.2% simply said it was "impossible").

The same wave of CEO's barometer of opinion indicates that support for the Economic Agreement remains at 75%. Voters in the vast majority of the parties favour this, namely CiU (84.1% support), ICV-EUiA (82.8%), ERC (93.7%), SI (100%) and the PSC (69.8%) who prefer a "federal fiscal pact." 39.2% of the electors of the PP also wanted that, as did 15.1% of Ciutadans.

Diari Ara, 25 October 2011 | Google Translate

To explain some of that, CiU currently form the Catalan government. They are a centre-right party that has traditionally been nationalist but not in favour of independence; however that is now clearly changing with many of their leaders voting for independence in the unofficial referendums. However, rather than adopting an official position in favour of independence, they are pressing for an "Economic Agreement" with Spain which would give them the same status as the four Basque provinces: namely that they set and collect all their own taxes and only give Madrid an agreed percentage for those services provided centrally. This full fiscal autonomy is probably the best model for the DevoMax option in Scotland.

The next biggest party is the Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya, who are—rather like Labour here—definitely a Unionist party. The surprise is that 27.6% of their voters want independence, with only 40.4% against. Their "federal fiscal pact" calls for greater fiscal autonomy, but not to the extent currently enjoyed in Euskadi.

The Partit Popular are equivalent to the Tories, and are about as popular in Catalunya as the Tories are in Scotland. So even though they're solidly opposed to independence it wouldn't really make a lot of difference in any referendum. However there is a general election due in Spain next month, and they look fairly certain to win it.

ICV-EUiA are best described a "ecosocialists" with about 7% support. ERC—who with Plaid Cymru and the SNP are part of the EFA group in the European Parliament—have always wanted independence, and SI was set up specifically to call for independence in the elections in 2010, so their 95% figures are to be expected.


What happens next in Catalunya will depend on the Spanish general election next month. If the PP fail to get an overall majority, the CiU will offer them support at the price of this new Economic Agreement. But if the PP don't need support (or can get it elsewhere) getting a similar arrangement to that enjoyed by the Basque provinces seems unlikely. Spain is in so much economic trouble that it needs all the money it can get from Catalunya ... and it is getting a great deal of money from them. The headline below says that the amount redistributed to poorer regions in Spain is €2,256 per person per year, a total of €16.43bn in 2009.


If Spain does nothing to redress this disproportionate outflow of tax from Catalunya the only option left for the Catalans will be independence. So it's a win-win situation. If CiU hold the balance of power in Madrid, Catalunya will get full fiscal autonomy. But if they don't get it, the margin in favour of independence will just keep growing.

With their own supporters in favour of independence by a margin of more than three to one, CiU should now be able to shift its policy without any risk of splitting the party (all politicians put their own power base first). So there is every likelihood that the next Catalan Parliament will have a majority elected on an pro-independence mandate after the 2014 election.

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HMS Blighty sinking low in the water

I came across this graphic from Bloomberg Businessweek showing that sovereign debt (i.e. what has been borrowed by government) is only part of the overall debt problem.

If we concentrate only on sovereign debt, then the UK is pretty much on a par with other large economies. But if we look below the waterline at the extent of bank, business and household borrowing, the UK is burdened with more debt relative to its GDP than any other large economy.

The UK media likes to paint the picture that the UK is in a relatively good position because it isn't in the Eurozone. But the current crisis isn't primarily to do with currency; it's about debt, and specifically whether banks will stay afloat if they have to bear the losses resulting from defaults.

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A Subservient S4C

I am not entirely surprised by the reaction of S4C to the funding deal that has recently been announced, but I am very disappointed by it. To me, the S4C Authority has lost all backbone in standing up for itself. The change of Chair and the announcement of a new Chief Executive seems if anything to have given it a more supine attitude. This is an organization that has not only accepted a position of subservience to the BBC, but seems satisfied with it.

I've written about S4C on may occasions (click here for the posts), but reducing this to three bullet points:

•  S4C should not have escaped cuts to funding, but those cuts should not have been more severe than for the BBC
•  a replacement funding formula needed to be agreed and set out in law
•  S4C should have complete independence from the BBC

Against each of these criteria, S4C has come out badly.

Proportionate cuts

As I noted in this post in May, S4C has suffered a cut in funding of about 24% compared with the BBC's cut of 16% [as Dai Toms notes in the comments below, the actual BBC cut is less than this, making the discrepancy worse than I thought]. Nothing has happened to change this fundamental unfairness in the way the two public service broadcasters have been treated. When I wrote that post, the Welsh Affairs Select Committee had just published its report, in which they made exactly the same point:

98.  Any reduction in S4C’s funding should be comparable to other public service broadcasters. We call on the DCMS to ensure that this is the case.

As I said at the time, the deal had been agreed between the BBC and DCMS, so the best way of dealing with the shortfall would be to increase the DCMS subvention. I reckoned this would be in the order of £10m, but the Tories and LibDems on the WASC failed to get even this concession from their government.

A replacement funding formula

In the BBC/DCMS agreement, funding for S4C was only set out until 2015. It did not address long-term funding. I agree entirely with what the WASC had to say on the matter in their report:

100.  We recommend that the Government confirms the funding of S4C beyond 2014-15 as soon as possible. Without this certainty, S4C will not reasonably be able to develop its future strategy. Therefore, we believe that it is essential that there is a long term funding formula enacted in primary legislation.

Again, the Westminster government has completely ignored this recommendation. What we have is a situation in which the proportion of S4C's funding received from the television licence fee after 2015 will be entirely determined by the BBC without reference to anyone else.

There is no reason for S4C to have accepted this as passively as they have. The sanction open to S4C was that if it could not agree a funding arrangement with the BBC it could refuse it and the licence fee would be reduced by an equivalent amount. This would mean that the BBC would not get an unfair windfall by using S4C's money for something else; but would have meant that S4C would need to be funded by the Treasury through general taxation as it has been up to now. Of course there might be disagreement on what that sum should be, but it would at least have been decided by a democratically elected government rather than an unelected BBC.

Yet S4C has rolled over and agreed to give this up and put itself entirely at the mercy of the BBC for the bulk of its future funding. I think they are complete fools to do this. Of course the figures announced for 2016 and 2017 are not too bad (although they're not too good either, for although the licence fee is frozen the number of licences increases by about 100,000 each year) but there is absolutely no guarantee what the BBC will do when its next funding settlement is agreed for the period after 2017.

As I've said before, I think the idea of S4C getting the bulk of its funding from the television licence fee is a clever idea, for if done with the right safeguards it would ensure that the BBC and S4C, as publicly funded public service broadcasters, would in future be treated equally. In my opinion what should have been agreed was that S4C would receive a fixed percentage of the licence fee income. S4C have now contracted themselves into a future funding relationship with the BBC without having any idea what the BBC will do after 2017. They've shown all the gullibility of someone suckered into a long term contract purely on the basis that they get a good deal for the first few months.

Independence from the BBC

The consequences of letting the BBC decide S4C's funding are severe. If the television licence fee had been top-sliced as recommended by the WASC, S4C would have been free to do what it wanted with the money, subject only to its proper democratic accountability to government. But because S4C has now allowed the BBC to determine its income, it becomes necessary for the BBC to have representation within S4C to see that what it will now regard as its own money is well spent. The idea is as ridiculous as letting representatives from rival television channels such as ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky have representation on the board of the BBC. And although the details are not entirely clear, the BBC will also have a say on the appointment of the other members of the Authority.

If the BBC are allowed to put their own representative on the S4C Authority and influence the make up of the remainder of the S4C authority, then S4C is no longer independent, irrespective of the funding arrangements.

For all the BBC's protestations about allowing S4C to be independent, what the BBC mean is operational independence, in BBC-speak, that's the same sort of independence that, say, BBC2 has within the BBC. That's not independence, that's a very short leash.


At this point I should perhaps touch again on cooperation between the BBC and S4C. I am all in favour of cooperation, especially when it has the potential to reduce overheads and duplication. But cooperation should be something that is agreed rather than imposed. S4C will not be able to stand up for itself and its interests in the sort of relationship that has now been agreed.

The sad fact is that the BBC is no good friend of the Welsh language. In fact it has a very poor track record. To repeat what I said in this post, we need to be under no illusions that the BBC can be particularly ruthless in pursuit of its ends, especially when its own back is against the wall. In October last year, it made the unilateral announcement that it would cut spending on the Welsh language programmes it provides to S4C from £23.5m to £19.5m.

The BBC would no doubt say that is was at that time providing about 12 hours a week of Welsh language programming to S4C, and that it was only legally obliged to provide 10. But when S4C was first set up in 1982 there were only three other free-to-air channels available (BBC1, BBC2 and ITV) plus non-peak Channel 4 programming. In 1982, the BBC could not have broadcast more than about 36 hours a day; but now, on a typical day, the BBC broadcasts about 140 hours of programming to Wales, i.e. about four times as much as it broadcast in 1982. When repeats are taken into account the amount of original programming will be rather less, but I'm sure the BBC is producing or commissioning at least three times more English language output than it was in 1982. If they had treated English and Welsh on the basis of equality, it would mean they should now be providing about 30 hours a week of original programming to S4C. This would cost them about £60m a year.

So yes, the BBC does need to have a significant input into how more television programmes in Welsh are made, but a more equitable arrangement would be for them to have full control over how their 30 hours of programming a week, paid for out of the share of the licence fee that is given to them, is produced; but for S4C to have full control over how the percentage of the licence fee that is given to them is used.


But what hope is there of that now? As the BBC reported in the first link I gave everyone is falling over themselves to say how good a deal it is ... but that is of course understandable, for the BBC are the big winners. Yet this puts those of us who want to see a strong, independent S4C into an awkward position.

What's the point of fighting for something better if S4C themselves are not prepared to sound one note of disappointment with either the deal, or with the government in Westminster that has refused to make the changes recommended by even its own MPs on the WASC? We could have taken this crisis in Welsh language broadcasting as an opportunity to improve S4C, but we seem to have ended up with something even worse than before: bigger cuts than at the BBC resulting in less programming, an S4C that is now firmly under the control and in the pocket of a BBC with a track record of treating Welsh less favourably than English, and an S4C that isn't prepared to kick up a fuss about the unfairness.

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Salmond's Speech

I thought people might like to see Alex Salmond's speech from the SNP conference in Inverness yesterday:


The text of the speech is here.

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What sort of kittens?

I've just listened to Eluned Morgan delivering the first Patrick Hannan Lecture.


Towards the end she told the story of a child who, when asked what sort of new-born kittens he had in his box, said they were "anti-independence kittens". A week later she took a friend to see these special kittens and was told by the same child that they were "pro-independence kittens". "Hang on," she said, "last week you told me they were anti-independence kittens. What's changed?" The child said, "Their eyes are open now."

OK, she didn't tell it quite like that. But it was interesting to hear her take on how Labour in Wales made the journey from being an anti-devolution to a pro-devolution party.

Yes, Labour have come a long way in the past thirty years ... but they still haven't quite got the picture.

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Correcting Confusion on Ynys Môn

In Golwg360 yesterday was an article which shows Plaid Cymru at its worst. Local members of the party are criticizing party president Jill Evans for speaking at a conference being held today in Caernarfon called Wales Green and Nuclear Free organised by PAWB, CADNO, CND Cymru, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, Friends of the Earth Cymru, Urgewald and Greenpeace.

Bob Parry, leader of the Plaid Cymru group on Ynys Môn, is quoted as saying that her participation will "discourage" those in the party who voted in favour of a nuclear energy, and that her presence would be "misleading" because Plaid Cymru had backed a second nuclear power station on the island. But it is in fact Bob Parry who is doing his best to mislead.

In the article, he claims that:

"In Plaid's Conference in Llandudno this year, a vote was passed to press forward to keep the nuclear industry on Ynys Môn. The fact that our president is speaking against Ynys Môn is going to discourage people in the party."

And said that the president should

" ... stand alongside Ynys Môn, especially because councillors had won the vote in conference this year."

They didn't win any such vote. As I noted in this post, the Plaid Cymru conference reaffirmed:

Plaid Cymru’s total opposition to the construction of any new nuclear power stations.

This includes a new nuclear power station at Wylfa. So Jill Evans has a perfect right to speak against nuclear energy on Ynys Môn or anywhere else in Wales. She is representing the party's official position on the issue as endorsed at our conference.


It makes Plaid look like disorganized amateurs when certain mavericks in the party not only refuse to accept the decisions of the party taken at conference, but then set out to deliberately misrepresent them. The sad fact is that Bob Parry is not alone, for other senior figures in the party have also tried to misrepresent our position. Elfyn Llwyd did it very publicly on Question Time in June, as I noted here.

The damage that this causes us as a party is immense. Although I can't say I have a great deal of time for Arthur Scargill, he was in north Wales only last week condemning Plaid Cymru for hypocrisy. He said:

Plaid Cymru's policy is complete hypocrisy. You can't have a position of being opposed to nuclear power, as they have claimed to have over the years, and then come up with an excuse to continue to develop nuclear power as they have done – so they say – in order to provide jobs.

It's nonsense, as they know full well, and it would be very much better for them if they at least admitted that they had told lies to the people of Wales.

And he would be right ... if it were true. But it is not Plaid Cymru who are the hypocrites and liars, it is people like Bob Parry and Elfyn Llwyd. How is someone like Arthur Scargill expected to know what Plaid's policy actually is when a hard core of senior party members systematically misrepresents the party's position? We can't expect him to have read through the details of the motions at our conference. He, like most other people, will simply accept the misinformation that our own leaders put out, which platforms like the BBC and Golwg seem all too happy to report as if it were true.

So stand up and say it clearly and unambiguously, Jill. Plaid Cymru is against nuclear power in Wales.

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What is Plaid Cymru for?

In response to an article by Gareth Hughes in ClickOnWales yesterday, Cynog Dafis wrote this:

He might bear in mind that independence was not the reason for establishing Plaid Cymru – he should look at Saunders Lewis’s Principles of Nationalism, even though he may dislike the man whose thinking dominated Plaid Cymru for well-nigh twenty years. SL actually argued against independence.

Plaid’s mission is to build the nation, a mammoth task that could nevertheless mobilise widespread support.

A key to realising that support is to show that Plaid is open to alternative solutions to the British question, federalism being one and independence another – though what the latter might mean in practical terms is at this time anybody’s guess.

I don't wan't to get tied up in arguments about Plaid's past. But I am very concerned about the present and, to my mind, this statement encapsulates the main thing that is wrong with Plaid Cymru: namely that some senior members of the party are presenting a view of the party which is entirely contrary to its fundamental aims.

In case anyone is in any doubt about it, these are the aims of Plaid Cymru as stated in our constitution:

As the National Party of Wales, Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales's aims shall be:

2.1  To secure independence for Wales in Europe.

2.2  To ensure economic prosperity, social justice and the health of the natural environment, based on decentralist socialism.

2.3  To build a national community based on equal citizenship, respect for different traditions and cultures and the equal worth of all individuals, whatever their race, nationality, gender, colour, creed, sexuality, age, ability or social background.

2.4  To create a bilingual society by promoting the revival of the Welsh language.

2.5  To promote Wales’s contribution to the global community and to attain membership of the United Nations.

People cannot be members of Plaid Cymru unless they agree to further the aims of the party as described our constitution. So to put it bluntly, anyone who is "open to alternative solutions to the British question, federalism being one and independence another" should not be in today's Plaid Cymru. Membership of Plaid Cymru is for those who have made up their minds that Wales ought to be independent, not for those who are still sitting on the fence.

Of course that doesn't mean that people in Plaid Cymru can't support a federal UK as one of the steps towards independence, in just the same way as we can support devolution as a series of steps towards independence ... but we must make it clear that these are only steps towards our goal.

There is a case, indeed a very good case, for building up a movement that will attract widespread support for us taking the next steps towards a Wales where we make more decisions by ourselves, for ourselves. People from all parties, as well as people who are not particularly concerned about party politics, could be involved in it. But Plaid Cymru isn't and shouldn't try to become that movement.

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Beware the Ides of March

It seems entirely appropriate for the seers to have foretold that Ieuan Wyn Jones' final day as leader of Plaid Cymru will be on 15 March next year.


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A formal end to violence in Euskadi

It's rather hard to imagine why a group that includes Kofi Annan, Bertie Ahern, Gerry Adams, Jonathan Powell (standing in for Tony Blair) former French Minister of Interior and Defence Pierre Joxe and former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland would be meeting in Donostia / San Sebastian today unless some special announcement was to be made.

That announcement is that ETA is about to take the final steps towards disbanding, and declare that the struggle for Basque independence will now be conducted by exclusively peaceful, political means. There are details in these two articles:

     Annan and Adams top list of experts at Donostia Peace Conference
     Eta expected to announce definitive end to four decades of violence

This marks the culmination of all round effort by several organizations, but perhaps especially the International Contact Group led by Brian Currin. For those that want some background information, I wrote at some length about the situation when Sortu was set up in this post and in the discussion that followed.


Nobody in their right mind would do anything other than welcome this decision, though it hasn't occurred in a vacuum. I'm sure some will stress that ETA has been effectively defeated by the Spanish and French security forces, and that has indeed been a major factor. But an equally important factor has been that the pro-independence left has finally been allowed to stand in elections.

The Spanish State had previously used the flimsiest of pretexts to ban such parties from standing, and they did indeed ban Sortu too, attracting international criticism because of it. However the pro-independence left reacted not with violence, but instead put together a different group by the name of Bildu which did not get banned, and were rewarded with a spectacular breakthrough in the municipal elections in May. This, perhaps for the first time, was a concrete demonstration that the Spanish authorities could not continue to use the tactic of preventing people from voting for such parties, and this has been a big step in persuading those who had used violence that a democratic solution is now possible.

Although there is a Spanish general election next month, the big test will come in 2013, when the next elections to the Parliament of the three provinces that form the Basque Autonomous Community are due to be held. The big prize is that enough deputies from nationalist parties on both the left and the right of the political spectrum will be elected to either declare independence or force a referendum on the subject. With ETA finally out of the way, the Spanish State will find it that much harder, and perhaps impossible, to prevent it happening.

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Half-hearted Unionism

A poll by ComRes for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror has some interesting findings on Scottish Independence.

The headline figures are that people in the UK as a whole agree that Scotland should become independent by a margin of 39% to 38%, with the margin in Scotland rising to 49% to 37%. That's encouraging, even though the Scottish sample size is quite small.


But looking at the full data, the cross-break by political party on page 29 is very interesting:

Scotland should be an independent country

SNP ... agree 80%, disagree 11%
Plaid Cymru ... agree 83% , disagree 7%
Green ... agree 47%, disagree 27%

Labour ... agree 38%, disagree 37%
Conservative ... agree 38%, disagree 47%
LibDem ... agree 38%, disagree 40%

Obviously we'd expect a high degree of agreement from the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, but the figures for the three main unionist parties are quite surprising. Labour and LibDem supporters in the UK as a whole are almost equally divided for and against Scottish independence; and the same percentage of Tory supporters agrees with them, although the margin against is greater because fewer are undecided.

This might well explain why the leaders of the three unionist parties are finding it so difficult to put together a case for maintaining the UK. If their own supporters are divided half-and-half on this issue, how can we expect them to be anything other than half-hearted in trying to defend it? Why fight for something even your own supporters don't really want?

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How many questions will the Scots be asked?

I was surprised to read in Gareth Hughes' blog yesterday that Alex Salmond had compromised his position on the independence referendum and:

... all but acknowledged this weekend that he would put a second question on the independence referendum ballot paper. The second question would offer Scotland economic autonomy without leaving the UK.

I wondered which interview this had been, and after a bit of Googling found that it was almost certainly a Comment is Free piece in the Guardian which said:

Alex Salmond is preparing to stage a referendum on Scottish independence that will offer voters a second option – full financial autonomy while remaining part of the United Kingdom.

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, the first minister said that allowing Scotland to have fiscal autonomy without full independence was "a very popular option" with "plenty of evidence" of public support. "I think there's a case for that. The case is essentially a democratic case," he said.

Guardian, 9 October 2011

One slight problem is that I can't find the interview with those words anywhere in the Guardian. In the short snippet that's quoted Alex Salmond merely acknowledges that there is a case for another option; it's far from being a commitment to it. And if anything, he says the complete opposite in the interview that the Guardian published on this page, which has both an edited 10 minute video and a longer 33 minute audio version which I've embedded.


When asked about what would happen if the SNP were to lose the referendum, he said, "I've always hypothesized on success rather than failure" and then added " ... incidentally, I won't lose." So I can't help thinking that the Guardian has got hold of the wrong end of the stick.

Let me explain what I mean.

In every opinion poll in which the Scottish public is given a three way choice between the status quo (i.e what will exist at the time of the referendum), more powers and independence, the most popular option is more powers. Of late "more powers" has come to be called "devolution max" and is broadly taken to mean a fiscally autonomous Scotland responsible for all its domestic affairs but remaining part of the UK for matters of defence, foreign policy and monetary union. However if a only a two way choice is offered, the section wanting more powers has to choose between independence or the status quo. Some will opt for independence, which increases the pro-independence vote.

Therefore, if the SNP expect to get a vote in favour of independence they will not offer the "devolution max" option, because it will reduce the chances of getting a Yes vote. The SNP will only offer this option if they are in any doubt about whether they will get a Yes vote. If it is included, it will essentially be an admission that they are not sure whether the Scots are ready to vote for independence.

Whatever else happens over the next few years, this is the number one political fact of life with respect to the independence referendum.


Because of this it is highly improbable that any decision on the options in the referendum will be made in the near future. The SNP will wait to see how public opinion moves over the next couple of years. If a clear margin in favour of independence becomes apparent, there will be a simple Yes or No choice on independence.

As for the date, I think it will be in 2014: this will give the Scottish government time to negotiate with the Condem Coalition government on the exact terms of the independence settlement, but also allow for a second bite if Labour win the 2015 Westminster election. The SNP must allow time for the process to be complete before the 2016 Holyrood election, because they might just loose it.

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Tri chais i Gymru

Three good pictures from the Telegraph:




Let's hope it's just the first of three good weekends.

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Follow the Tories on the NHS ... just this once

It's not often that I agree with either the Tories or the Daily Mail, especially on anything to do with the Health Service; but this is one of the rare occasions where I do want the NHS in Wales to follow the lead they are setting.

As reported by the BBC yesterday, Andrew Lansley:

told the Conservative Party conference that GPs would be vetted to ensure they had adequate language skills and could communicate properly

and said that

proficient language skills were equally as important as proper medical qualifications when it came to doctors being able to practise in England

BBC, 4 October 2011

If this is something that goes ahead in England, there can and should be nothing to stop us doing something similar in Wales. The 1993 Welsh Language Act set out a duty for all public bodies to treat both English and Welsh on the basis of equality. But even after eighteen years, the chances of being able to get medical treatment in Welsh are patchy. This must change.

Up until now, the usual attitude has been that it was more important just to get medical treatment, and that the language it was delivered in was a secondary consideration. If people were able to get a service in Welsh it was regarded as "icing on the cake" rather than a fundamental part of the service offered.

So I welcome this long overdue change of attitude in England. I agree wholeheartedly that "proficient language skills are equally as important as proper medical qualifications" and would like to see the Welsh Government apply the same principle to the Welsh NHS as the UK government is about to apply to the English NHS.


Obviously this doesn't mean that every doctor in Wales has to be able to speak both Welsh and English, but it does mean that Health Boards in Wales should have a statutory duty to ensure that sufficient Welsh speaking medical staff are employed and available to meet the demand for services in Welsh. This of course will vary from area to area, and vary over time as the number of people who speak Welsh increases.

As yet, the new Welsh Language Standards that will come into force as a result of the Welsh Language Measure 2011 have not been set, and it will be for ministers in the Welsh Government to set them. But the general principle behind the standards is that they should have positive effects on opportunities for people to use the Welsh language. Therefore it seems entirely appropriate that the relevant standards for Health Boards should include provision to both monitor language proficiency and increase the numbers of medical staff who are able to deliver medical care in Welsh so that everyone who wants a service in Welsh can be sure of getting it.

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The Arc of Prosperity

Watching the Conservative Party conference is a hardly a pleasant task; but someone has to do it, and there are one or two laughs to relieve the tedium.

One of them was in their debate on the future of the UK, in which Cheryl Gillan was first up. After the usual Labour bashing, she spoke of her fears about Plaid Cymru, especially because in our own conference a few weeks ago we made our aim of independence for Wales more explicit.


As I'm sure most of us will remember, the Arc of Prosperity was a phrase used by Alex Salmond in 2006 to include Ireland, Iceland and Norway, which were at that time among the six richest nations in the world on a per capita basis. Norway has managed to stay near the top, but both Ireland and Iceland's economies suffered badly as a result of the banking crash.


But it so happens that the latest CIA World Factbook came out only a few days ago, including a list of countries (and a few sub-national entities like Bermuda, Jersey and Hong Kong) ranked on a GDP per capita basis. Norway was seventh, Iceland had slipped down to 25th and Ireland to 27th.

But where is the UK? Sadly, it's floundering at 37th.

And the CIA factbook is not alone in that assessment. The latest figures from the IMF, World Bank and OECD tell a very similar story.

CIA World Factbook

Norway ... 7th
Iceland ... 25th
Ireland ... 27th
United Kingdom ... 37th

International Monetary Fund

Norway ... 4th
Ireland ... 13th
Iceland ... 17th
United Kingdom ... 22nd

World Bank

Norway ... 5th
Ireland ... 13th
United Kingdom ... 22nd
Iceland ... 24th


Norway ... 2nd
Ireland ... 8th
Iceland ... 15th
United Kingdom ... 16th

Both Ireland and Iceland might have suffered, but they are still more prosperous countries than the UK. The figures show that we'd be fools to gloss over the enormous fall in the UK's own prosperity, which is largely accounted for by the fact that the Pound fell from a level of around $2 in 2008 to a level of around $1.60 now.


So I hate to burst your bubble, Cheryl, but we in Plaid Cymru are very happy to talk about the Arc of Prosperity. For even though a couple of the countries in it have taken a bashing, they still remain richer per head than the UK.

The economies of small, independent countries can do better than those of the large, slow to manoeuvre "oil tankers" not because they don't suffer in times of economic crisis, but because they tend to bounce back faster. That's one of the conclusions of the Flotilla Effect.

So why is Cheryl Gillan still clinging to the idea that:

"Wales doesn't need independence to prosper, it needs the interdependence of the four nations [of the UK] to provide strength and security during these difficult times."

The hard evidence shows that the UK is far from being a lifebelt, it's more like a block of concrete tied round our necks. As part of the UK, Ireland used to be poor. Independence is what allowed it to become and remain more prosperous than the UK.

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David W D Cameron

In his blog yesterday, David Cornock told us that "Call Me Dave" Cameron would now like to be known as "David W D Cameron" in Wales ... presumably so as not to be seen as less important than Andrew R T Davies.

But what does the W D mean?

Not quite what he thinks. For with the Tories' track record of refusing to allow us to make decisions on large energy projects, of refusing to let us decide a minimum price for alcohol, of refusing to devolve policing and justice and instead imposing elected police commissioners on us, and of refusing to let us set our own rate of corporation tax, there is only one thing it can mean:

David Withhold Devolution Cameron

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