Just for fun—well maybe not just for fun—here are a couple of games that have just been released by Academi Hywel Teifi. The second one is harder than the first.
Nice to see that the academic work-life balance hasn't changed much over the years.
Just for fun—well maybe not just for fun—here are a couple of games that have just been released by Academi Hywel Teifi. The second one is harder than the first.
Nice to see that the academic work-life balance hasn't changed much over the years.
The results of the Spanish general election are now clear, if not quite final, with the right wing Partido Popular winning 186 of the 350 seats in the lower house. This is bad news for those whose politics are generally to the left, and also bad news for those who don't support a centralized Spanish state. The 2011 result is on the left, the 2008 result on the right.
I'm sure there'll be plenty in the UK media on the implications of this for Spain, but not much on the particular implications for Catalunya and Euskadi. So let me try and put that right.
The Catalan Perspective
The big hope of the centre-right nationalist CiU in Catalunya was that Mariano Rajoy would not get an overall majority and would need to do a deal with them to form a government. That deal would have come at the price of greater fiscal autonomy for Catalunya, but because the PP have an overall majority, that isn't going to happen.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing for those who want to see Catalunya become independent, for it simply removes one of the options. For Catalunya, the situation is exactly the same as for Scotland: a big majority of the people want greater autonomy, and a good number of them would probably be satisfied with a substantially greater degree of autonomy as part of either Spain or the UK rather than independence. However, if that middle option is taken off the table, support for independence becomes greater. With a PP government in Madrid, the option of moving towards a federal Spain has been removed, for the PP are the archetypal Spanish nationalist party and if anything will move to re-centralize rather than federalize Spain. The current economic crisis will give them all the pretext they need.
These are the results for Catalunya:
CiU ... 29.35% (was 20.93%) 16 seats (was 10)
PSC-PSOE ... 26.64% (was 45.93%) 14 seats (was 25)
PP ... 20.72% (was 16.40%) 11 seats (was 8)
ICV-EUiA ... 8.09% (was 4.92%) 3 seats (was 1)
ERC (+ RCAT) ... 7.06% (was 7.83%) 3 seats (was 3)
The pattern here is a huge collapse in the Spanish Socialist vote, more marked in Catalunya that in the Spanish as a whole (where it fell from 43.87% to 28.73%). But although some of that vote went to the PP, a much larger part of the swing from left to right went to CiU. They have every reason to be very pleased with this result, for a gain of six seats was much larger than the gain of two that was being predicted when I wrote this post last weekend.
But this won't really get them anything they want from Madrid, and certainly not the same degree of fiscal autonomy as the four Basque provinces enjoy. So what is Artur Mas's plan B? He personally is in favour of independence, as is much of the CiU leadership, though perhaps more so on the C (Convergence) side than the U (Union) side. The majority of party supporters now want independence too. So, at least as I see it, the next few months could see the party's official policy shift from pro-autonomy within Spain to pro-independence. If he chose to, Artur Mas would be in a very strong position to push this through because of the gains made by CiU in this election, and the new wave of austerity measures and a clampdown on regional autonomy from the Madrid government will only serve to increase the alienation between Spain and Catalunya yet further. This opportunity is too good to miss, but will he and his party be up to it?
The Basque Perspective
A week ago, the polls were predicting an almost equal four way split between the two Spanish parties (the PP and PSE-PSOE), and the two Basque nationalist parties (the centre-right EAJ-PNV and the new pro-independence left coalition Amaiur). In terms of percentages, the polls were just about right. But in terms of seats won, Amaiur have come from nowhere to become the biggest party with 7 of the 23 seats. This is the graphic from Gara:
This shows the results for all four Basque provinces in Spain, rather than just the three in the Autonomous Community. The situation is complicated a little by the fact that in 2008 NaBai was a broad Basque nationalist coalition of both left and right; but in 2011 the EAJ-PNV fought as Geroa Bai in Nafarroa while the left stood as Amaiur in all four provinces.
EAJ-PNV (+ Geroa Bai) ... 24.23% (was 25.08%) 6 seats (was 7)
PP ... 22.27% (was 23.32%) 5 seats (was 5)
Amaiur ... 22.08% (EA and Aralar were 5.47%) 7 seats (was 0)
PSE-PSOE ... 21.65% (was 37.36%) 5 seats (was 11)
Again, there is a huge fall in the Spanish Socialist vote, but virtually all of it has gone to the pro-independence left. In contrast to what's happened in Spain, there has been no appreciable swing from left to right in Euskadi. The PP's vote has, amazingly, managed to go down; though the EAJ-PNV vote has probably increased slightly (because some of NaBai's vote in 2008 would have come from left leaning Basque nationalists). The numbers of seats won doesn't quite match the percentages because smaller provinces have proportionately more seats than larger provinces.
This is a stunning result for the pro-independence left in Euskadi, but what will it lead to?
7 seats won't make a blind bit of difference to a right wing Spanish government in Madrid ... nor will the combined Basque nationalist total of 13 out of 23 seats (or 11 out of 18 seats excluding Nafarroa). Instead, this is about the normalization of politics in the post-ETA era. The Spanish State has finally run out of excuses to ban the pro-independence left from standing in elections, so we are beginning to see just how strong that support is, and therefore how strong the combined support for independence is from both the left and right of the political spectrum.
There is an article in the Scotsman today about the decline in the number of people who describe themselves as British.
The British identity is in steep decline south of the border with the number of people who would describe themselves as English over British soaring, a poll has revealed. The study found that the number of people in England who would now describe themselves as English rather than British rose to 63 per cent, as opposed to 41 per cent in 2008.
The YouGov poll also discovered that just 20 per cent of the UK population preferred a British identity to any other, down from 42 per cent three years ago. The poll, taken last month, appears to show that English nationalism is on the rise at the same time as Scottish nationalism is the predominant force in politics north of the border. It prompted warnings of a shift that could threaten the Union.
The findings were last night seized on by campaigners for a separate English Parliament as further evidence that there was now a major social shift developing across the country.
And John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said that a weakening of “Britishness” in England could have massive repercussions for the future of the Union. He said: “Adherence to a common sense of ‘Britishness’ is often thought to be a vital part of the emotional glue that helps keep the Union together. That glue has long since lost much of its strength in Scotland. If it has now been eroded in England too, the long term prospects for the Union would seem rather bleak indeed.”
These are the figures from the YouGov poll:
If you had to choose one of the following, would you say you are mainly ...
English ... 63%
Scottish ... 8%
Welsh ... 5%
Irish ... 1%
British ... 19%
European ... 2%
Something else ... 2%
So in fact the Scotsman got it wrong. The 63% is the overall figure for those who identify themselves as English in Britain. If we look at the full survey, we will see that the percentage of those in England who describe themselves as English is probably more than 70% (66% in London, 71% in the rest of southern England and 72% in northern England). The English Midlands and Wales are put together, so it's hard to work out the figure for Wales; but it would probably be at least that high on the basis that Wales is less than a quarter of their Midlands/Wales region.
But the real story is the marked increase in those who see themselves as English rather than British, and what this means for the future. If people in England prefer to describe themselves as English as opposed to British, it makes it very unlikely that they will want the remainder of the United Kingdom to be described as anything other than England if Scotland votes to become independent in a few years' time.
I think it's true to say that all four Chief Constables in Wales support the devolution of policing from Westminster to Cardiff Bay, but it's always nice to hear it from one of them directly.
For anyone who missed it, this is what Peter Vaughan of the South Wales force said about it on the Politics Show yesterday:
I couldn't agree more. This is something that's devolved to both Scotland and Northern Ireland, and it's high time for both policing and the justice system to be devolved to Wales as well.
Next weekend Spain will vote on a new government. There's very little doubt that the right wing Partido Popular (PP) led by Mariano Rajoy will be the largest party, and the only real question is whether they will gain an outright majority or need support from other parties to form a government.
For me, this is of particular interest because the parties they're most likely to seek such support from will be Convergència i Unió (CiU) in Catalunya and Euzko Alderdi Jeltzalea - Partido Nacionalista Vasco (EAJ-PNV) in Euskadi. As both are on the centre-right of the political spectrum they will be natural allies, but both will want to press for greater autonomy for their respective countries, and each will support the other in that aim. For Catalunya, such an aliance will come at the price of a new fiscal arrangement similar to that already enjoyed by the four Basque provinces, which set and collect all their own taxes and only send Madrid a negotiated sum for services provided centrally and to support the poorer regions of Spain. It's probably the best model for how devo-max might work in Scotland.
Someone who left a comment on an earlier post about Catalunya pointed me to a poll which shows that CiU are likely to make a modest gain of two seats on their previous showing. This probably reflects a general swing from left to right within Catalan nationalism, with a similar swing between left and right within the Spanish nationalism of the PP and PSOE.
But what interested me more is what is happening in Euskadi, particularly now that Spain has allowed broad alliances representing the pro-independence left to participate. After Sortu was banned, they reformed as Bildu and made a major breakthrough in the municipal elections earlier this year. For this election, they have styled themselves as Amaiur. These are the results of the latest poll, with the percentages for the previous election in 2008 in brackets.
PP ... 30.3% (was 26.5%)
PSE-EE ... 24.7% (was 40.7%)
EAJ-PNV ... 19.0% (was 18.8%)
Amaiur ...18.0% (was 9%)
EAJ-PNV ... 29.4% (was 31.1%)
PSE-EE ... 22.0% (was 37.0%)
PP ... 21.0% (was 19.1%)
Amaiur ... 19.1% (was 8.9%)
Amaiur ... 36.3% (was 17.9%)
PSE-EE ... 21.8% (was 39.0%)
EAJ-PNV ... 19.0% (was 23.8%)
PP ... 15.0% (was 14.6%)
EAJ-PNV ... 24.6% (was 26.1%)
Amaiur ... 24.5% (was 10.8%)
PSE-EE ... 22.3% (was 38.2%)
PP ... 20.4% (was 18.7%)
Although there is a small swing from left to right—though not as big as would be expected given the general swing in Spain—what is remarkable is the swing away from the Spanish socialist PSE-EE to the Basque pro-independence left. Although the circumstances are different, it's akin to the slump of the Labour party in Scotland and the swing to the SNP. Perhaps this shows that it wasn't a one-off, and that the same could easily happen in Wales.
There is now a combined Basque nationalist vote of 49.1% (it was 36.8% in the equivalent election in 2008) over a combined Spanish vote of 42.7% (was 56.8%). What was a margin of 20% one way has now become a margin of 6.4% the other way. It's going to make the 2013 election to the Basque Parliament very interesting indeed.
The Argentinians have described the posting of William Windsor to a group of islands off their coast as a "provocative act", and said they couldn't ignore its "political content".
I can sympathize with them. How did we feel when he was posted to an island off the coast of Wales?
It's nice to see that Rod Hull has lost none of his ability to look ridiculous ... even without Emu.
I was horrified to read in this report that sports minister Hugh Robertson has written to FIFA seeking permission for both the English and Welsh football teams to wear poppies in their respective international matches this weekend.
It might well be appropriate for him to write on behalf of the English Football Association, but he should certainly not be writing on behalf of the Football Association of Wales. Huw Lewis is the minister with responsibility for sport in the Welsh government, and football is administered by separate associations in Wales and England. Therefore any request from a politician on behalf of Wales should have been made by him ... or at the very least a request should have been made by him and Hugh Robertson jointly.
Is Huw Lewis on the ball? Was he approached by the FAW but refused to take it up? Or did the FAW not approach him and go straight to Hugh Robertson instead? Perhaps Robertson took it upon himself to include Wales ... but if so, why did he not include Scotland, who are also playing this weekend? Someone has scored an own goal, and we need to get to the bottom of what happened.
We are rightly concerned that Wales' status as a separate team in international football has been questioned by some members of FIFA. A letter from a minister in Westminster on behalf of both the English and Welsh football associations will only serve to reinforce their argument that we should also play together rather than separately.
In the Politics Show on Sunday, the BBC published the results of a poll they commissioned on the future governance of Scotland. It was a poll that presented three options, rather than a straight Yes-No choice to independence, and the headline figures were:
Scottish Parliament with existing powers ... 29%
SP with powers over tax and welfare, but not defence and foreign affairs ... 33%
Full independence for Scotland ... 28%
Scottish Parliament with existing powers ... 40%
SP with powers over tax and welfare, but not defence and foreign affairs ... 14%
Full independence for Scotland ... 24%
For obvious reasons, commentators have drawn attention to the relatively low support for "devolution max" outside Scotland; and have rightly made the point that although the Scots can decide for themselves whether they want to be independent or not, they cannot decide on a different form of governance for a Scotland that remains within the UK without the consent of the remainder of the UK.
The low degree of support for devolution max outside Scotland might seem to indicate that the rest of the UK would not be willing to give that consent. But I would like to suggest a different explanation. The full data includes this breakdown for Wales:
Scottish Parliament with existing powers ... 33%
SP with powers over tax and welfare, but not defence and foreign affairs ... 26%
Full independence for Scotland ... 15%
The sample is small, but the figure for devolution max is much higher than anywhere in England, and the figure for independence is generally much lower.
I wonder to what extent this is because people in England think that the Scottish Parliament, and indeed our Assembly, have far more devolved powers than either of them actually do have. To me, it is clear from the standard of debate in the UK-wide media that people in England have very little grasp of these issues. Some of the questions asked and opinions expressed in political programmes are breathtakingly naïve and ill-informed.
We in Wales have a much better grasp of the issues, because we have direct experience of devolution ... and in particular we know that there is plenty of scope for more devolution of power from Westminster to both Scotland and Wales. This could explain the marked difference of opinion between Wales and England, and indicate that opinion is likely to change as people in England become better informed.
So I would not use the results of this poll to write off devolution max as something that would be unacceptable to the remainder of the UK. The debate still has some way to go.
On Thursday, there was a lengthy debate in the Commons about the Silk Commission. While waiting for some paint to dry, I caught up with it on Democracy Live, and thought that people would like to see this short exchange from it:
Here we can see Huw Irranca-Davies and Peter Hain making a strong case for varying the rates of two different taxes because it would have a significant and positive impact on jobs in Wales.
But look at the context in which they are doing it. They have to ask the Tories and LibDems in the UK government to do it, because they are in opposition and therefore can't do it themselves. And the UK government will of course refuse, because they have their own ideas of what is good for the economy of the UK as a whole, and aren't going to change those ideas because people in Wales think differently.
Yet why should it be this way? If these tax changes are good for the economy and job prospects in Wales, why shouldn't the Welsh government have the power to do in Wales what the UK government refuses to do in the remainder of the UK?
Now of course it might just be that Labour are proposing this because they are in opposition, because it makes a good sound bite, and because they know full well that the UK government won't do it. That's the luxury of not being in power.
But let's assume that they are in fact being sincere, and genuinely believe that these tax changes would benefit the Welsh economy in these difficult times. We'd have to do the sums, of course: working out how much revenue will be lost because of these tax cuts; but balancing this against fewer people out of work, and fewer building firms with not enough work on their books to keep them going ... but if the calculation was positive, why shouldn't we be able to go ahead and do it?
That's what devolution of taxation powers to Wales would mean for Wales. Instead of pleading with the Tories in Westminster to do something for Wales, and then blaming them for not doing it, we would be taking some responsibility for ourselves.
It's ironic. Here was a debate in which Welsh Labour MPs queued up to say how much they were reticent about—or completely hostile to—the Silk Commission looking into taxation powers for Wales, suggesting that it was all a sinister Tory plot. But in it, they inadvertently gave us a perfect example of how useful these powers would be to provide more jobs and boost the Welsh economy.
It was reassuring to read in this story in today's Western Mail that Peter Hain has lost none of his blind tribalism. If the Tories support anything it must be wrong, whatever Labour supports must be right ... and if anyone has any better ideas they must be ignored.
The idea in question is that the Welsh Government should become responsible not only for how much it spends, but also for how that money is raised. Mr Hain is against this because public expenditure in Wales is greater than the money collected in Wales through taxation. That's not in question. But the figures he uses to justify his position are. He says:
The Holtham commission calculated that approximately £17.1bn of tax revenue is raised in Wales every year. Total public spending in Wales is around £33.5bn – almost twice the amount raised.
This latest demonstration of the Peter Principle starts by saying something that is true, but then twists it into a barefaced lie. £17.1bn is the total of revenues raised in Wales by UK-wide taxes for 2007-08. This is broken down in Table 4.1 of the Holtham Commission's Final Report, on page 40.
However this figure doesn't include money raised from local taxes, in particular council tax and non-domestic rates. It's not easy to calculate these figures exactly because NDR are put into a common pot for "Englandandwales" and supplemented by the Treasury before being redistributed, but Alan Trench calculated it at just over £1.9bn in this post on Devolution Matters.
The Holtham Report didn't put a precise figure on this, but does put it at approximately that level, for the very next paragraph says this:
In aggregate, total identifiable expenditure in Wales in 2007-08 was £25 billion, around £6 billion more than tax receipts. This is commonplace given Wales’s relatively high needs. Out of the devolved countries and the nine English regions, only London and the East and South East of England have fiscal surpluses.
So where does Peter Hain get his figure of "around £33.5bn" from? He doesn't say. But I can say that, at the very least, he is not comparing like with like. If he relies on Holtham for the first of his figures, he must surely also rely on Holtham for the second. But not satisfied with a six billion difference, he expects us to believe his figure of more than sixteen billion. Any clown that can get his sums wrong by several billion pounds fully deserves all the laughter he gets.
I don't think Peter really intends us to take him seriously. He wants to get his name into the papers, and the more outrageous his claims the better. That's just his personal style, and it suits his personal agenda. He knows full well that a few die-hards will now quote this supposed £16.4bn fiscal deficit as if it were the gospel truth ... at least until someone comes up with an even more outrageous figure that they can latch onto.
But there's a much more fundamental point at stake. After claiming that we only raise about half the total amount spent on us, Peter says that:
We shouldn't be ashamed or embarrassed by that. Wales' needs are greater than most other parts of UK.
No. We should be ashamed of it. We should rightly set out to address any fiscal deficit that we cannot support. The real question is how on earth we can be expected to do this without having our hands on the same enonomic levers that other governments have at their disposal.
Taxation is a tool by which we can take control of our own economy and steer it in the right direction. Every government adjusts the levels of a whole range of taxes to make their own economies more successful and to give them a competitive advantage over their neighbours. Each country has different strengths, different human and natural resources, and a different sense of what is important. Until we in Wales are able to use taxation as a tool to play to our own unique strengths, we will always be at a disadvantage.
Peter Hain and his Labour party clearly have no desire to see Wales fight for its own prosperity in this way. Put bluntly, their only solution is for us to resign ourselves to always being dependent on England; but to sugar it by saying that we shouldn't be "ashamed" or "embarrassed" enough to get off our backsides and do something about it. Nothing can or will change until we start taking responsibility for both the income and expenditure sides of the economic equation.
I've just caught up with last week's Sharp End on ITVPlayer. The subject of discussion was Europe, and although it's worth watching the whole thing I want to highlight this exchange from about 33 minutes into the programme:
Adrian Masters: Shouldn't [Wales] have more [influence in Europe]? I'm going to caricature your position, Rhodri Glyn Thomas. This is what Plaid would argue: that an independent Wales within Europe would have a bigger say, would be able to speak directly to Europe.
Rhodri Glyn Thomas: Let me say it's not my view. It may be the party's view, but it's never been my view. I believe in interdependence of regions and countries within Europe.
This is another blatant example of a prominent member of the party saying something which directly contradicts Plaid Cymru's fundamental aims as set out in its constitution.
2. 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.
The constitution requires all members of the party "to further the aims of the party as described in this Constitution". Therefore there is no place in Plaid Cymru for those who do not agree with these aims, and there is certainly no place for elected representatives who publicly express views which directly contradict these aims.
Plaid Cymru is therefore in crisis. I would remind members of the party that the vote taken in conference to amend clause 2.1 of the constitution was unanimous. People like Rhodri Glyn Thomas and Dafydd Elis-Thomas had every opportunity to present arguments against the aim of independence for Wales in Europe, but they didn't. Instead, they seem to think they can ignore the democratic will of the party with impunity.
There are ways in which we as members can deal with this, but it is not appropriate to detail them here on a public forum. So if any member of the party feels strongly enough about this issue to do something about it, I would ask you to contact me, Michael Haggett, at this address.
Much of what will appear on this blog will also appear in the Syniadau Forums, but the emphasis on this blog is slightly different. The forums are focused more on the structures and institutions that Wales will need to develop in order to become a successful independent nation, arranged on a subject by subject basis, but the blog will have more of an emphasis on day to day political news and developments.
People are welcome to reply or leave comments either here or on the Syniadau Forums. If anyone wants to initiate a new subject they are very welcome to do so there.