As reported in Wales Online today, Carwyn Jones has come up with the same old-knee jerk reaction to an independent Wales by saying,

Plaid Cymru would argue for independence. My view is that it would leave a 15% difference between what we raise and what we spend. Now that gap is not easy to make up, and for me that's why independence makes no financial sense.

Wales Online, 29 December 2012

Now it may well be true that there is a 15% difference between the two, and that it is a big difference. But that assessment has, to a large extent, to be based on assumptions because the Welsh Government steadfastly refuses to collect the figures in the same way as the Scottish Government does for Scotland in GERS.


However it is silly to use any difference between income and expenditure as a reason for not wanting Wales to be independent. In fact the difference between what the UK raises and what it spends is much greater than 15%, and the UK only manages to survive because it keeps borrowing money each year to make up the shortfall.


The figures for the UK's deficit are here, and the figures for UK public spending are here. By subtracting the first from the second, we can see how much the UK raises in taxes, duties and other charges. For the last three years, the figures are:

2009 ... income £465.2bn, spending £621.4bn, difference £156.2bn or 33.6%
2010 ... income £511.6bn, spending £660.8bn, difference £149.2bn or 29.2%
2011 ... income £559.4bn, spending £681.3bn, difference £121.9bn or 21.8%

So don't be taken in by a glib answer from a glib politician, even if he is the First Minister of Wales.

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Nadolig Llawen

I'd like to wish everyone who reads Syniadau a peaceful and happy Christmas.


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Another of Pembrokeshire's shortcomings

Two reports on Pembrokeshire Council's education services were published yesterday and were the lead item on the news last night.

The main cause of concern—and rightly so—has been the county's failure to adequately respond to the child safeguarding issues that had been raised previously. However the Estyn report found that there were more widespread failings and recommended that the education department be put under special measures. The BBC listed the shortcomings as:

• Performance in primary schools does not compare well to that of similar schools in other councils across Wales

• Although attendance has improved, too many primaries are in the lower half in comparison with others on free school meals benchmarks

• Arrangements for supporting and challenging schools are not robust enough and have not had enough impact on improving outcomes

• It has not made enough progress in the management and governance of safeguarding children "by embedding the changes" made to practices

• It is responding too slowly to the increasing level of surplus places in the secondary sector

BBC, 17 December 2012

But reading through the report itself, I noticed that one other important shortcoming had not been reported by the BBC:

The authority continues to forecast pupil numbers accurately for both primary and secondary schools. However, as it does not measure demand for Welsh-medium education or have alternative methods to gather that information, the authority does not know the true level of need. Without that knowledge, it cannot plan effectively to ensure sufficient capacity. This is an important shortcoming.

Estyn Report, pp 9 & 10

It wasn't mentioned in the BBC's Welsh version of the story either. I certainly wouldn't claim that this is the most important of the local authority's shortcomings, but it is surely important enough to have been included in the BBC's list.

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Refuting the idea of Britain as a nation

I very much liked Stuart's post on Welsh Not British on Tuesday, and it's worth showing his graphic again:


But I was interested to find out to what extent opinion in Wales is matched by opinion in England. As it happens, it's not all that different.

In Wales:

Welsh only ... 57.5%
Welsh and British only ... 7.1%
Welsh and any other(s) ... 1.2%
Welsh in any form ... 65.9%
Not Welsh ... 34.1%

British only ... 16.9%
British and any other(s) ... 9.4%
British in any form ... 26.3%
Not British ... 73.7%

English only ... 11.2%
English and British only ... 1.5%
English and any other(s) ... 1.1%
English in any form ... 13.8%
Not English ... 86.2%

In England:

English only ... 60.4%
English and British only ... 9.1%
English and any other(s) ... 0.7%
English in any form ... 70.1%
Not English ... 29.9%

British only ... 19.2%
British and any other(s) ... 10.1%
British in any form ... 29.3%
Not British ... 70.7%

Welsh only ... 0.6%
Welsh and British only ... 0.1%
Welsh and any other(s) ... 0.1%
Welsh in any form ... 0.8%
Not Welsh ... 99.2%

Census 2011, Table KS202EW

What are we to make of this? The first and most important point is to look at the precise wording of the census question, which was:

How would you describe your national identity?
Tick all that apply ...

As I've noted before, for example in this post, many surveys and opinion polls are not so specific. In the YouGov poll for British Future the wording of the questions was:

Would you say you see yourself as ...
... English/Scottish/Welsh/None of these?


And which, if any, of the following best describes how you see yourself?
... Welsh not British/More Welsh than British/Equally Welsh and ... etc, etc.

When asked that general question, the answers were:

In Wales:

Welsh, not British ... 21%
More Welsh than British ... 22%
Equally Welsh and British ... 37%
More British than Welsh ... 9%
British, not Welsh ... 6%
Other ... 5%

In England:

English, not British ... 19%
More English than British ... 18%
Equally English and British ... 43%
More British than English ... 8%
British, not English ... 6%
Other ... 5%

YouGov, April 2012

On the face of it, the census and the YouGov poll appear to say exactly the opposite. From the YouGov poll, it would be possible for someone to say that 74% of people in Wales see themselves as British to some degree. But the census shows that 74% of people in Wales do not see their national identity as British to any degree.

However these percentages are in fact answers to completely different questions. The problem is that politicians and others, notably in the media, either unintentionally or deliberately misinterpret the results. The broadcast media in particular invariably think of "British" as a description of nationality. YouGov described their poll as "Nationality Perceptions". The Western Mail headlined their story:

     England and Scotland "could learn" from Wales about national identity

The truth is that each one of us has a wide range of stacked identities. To use an example I gave before: someone could identify themselves as living on the Gurnos, in Merthyr, in the Valleys, in south Wales, in Wales, in Britain, in the UK, in the EU, in Europe and in the northern hemisphere. All of these are equally valid identities, but someone's national identity is much more specific. It is perfectly possible, in fact highly likely, that someone in Denmark would identify themselves as "equally Danish and Scandinavian" ... but they would not consider their nationality to be Scandinavian. Similarly, someone in the Netherlands would be more than likely to identify themselves as "equally Dutch and European" ... but they would not consider their nationality to be European.


These results from the census are too obvious to ignore: although many people identify themselves as British, very few people in either Wales or England consider Britain to be a nation. Instead, by a huge margin, we consider Britain to be a group of nations. Of course we share closer geographical, historical, cultural and family ties with each other than we do with the other nations in the world. But there's nothing unique or unusual about this, for exactly the same is true of the nations which make up Scandinavia, Arabia, Iberia or the Caribbean.

Why, then, do we have to put up with an incessant stream of what can only be described as spin, hype and blatant propaganda from politicians and the media describing Britain as a nation? We, along with our friends in England and Scotland, must expose and challenge them when they do so.


I wrote most of this post yesterday, before today's news about Ed Miliband rehashing his speech on Britain being "One Nation". Although it's not unique to Labour, for when he said it before the Tories were quick to point out that he was stealing their clothes.

But I'd ask people to think about why he is saying it again right now. It can only really be in response to this week's census figures. If not thinking of one's nationality as British in any way, shape or form was mainly confined to Wales and Scotland, harping on about "One Nation" could perhaps be excused as ignorance on his part. But as a similar percentage of people in England think the same, it can only be a deliberate attempt to sell the idea of Britain being a nation to an electorate that has comprehensively rejected it.

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Crunching the census data

There's a good summary of the Welsh language census data for 2001 and 2011 here.

But for anyone who wants it, I've produced a more detailed breakdown and comparison between the two sets of data on an age band and county-by-county basis. My spreadsheet can be downloaded from here or (as my server is being a little tempramental) here.

No comment at this stage, just raw data.

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Census figures for Welsh

Here is a quick table I've produced comparing the 2001 and 2011 census percentages for Welsh. The 2011 data is from here.


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In praise of the European Union

Today is the day on which the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize for the part it, in its evolving forms, has played in creating the conditions for peace in Europe over the past 60 years.

I think it's well deserved. Mutual trade and prosperity are much better guarantees of long-term peace and security than military strength or being able to repel invasions.



But, as it happens, today also gave us another reason to be grateful that we are part of the EU, which is what I want to focus on in this post.

It appears that the EU Commission is so concerned about the way that the new Pembroke Power Station operates that it has taken the unprecedented step of issuing notices of infringement against the UK government for the damage it is causing to the local marine environment.



It's a sad tale. The problem is that any fuel-based power station is inefficient, producing large quantities of waste heat. Originally, the intention was for the surplus heat to be used for industrial or other processes nearby. But this was always fanciful. It is difficult enough to find a suitable user for surplus heat at the best of times, but with a power station of this size it is for all practical purposes impossible. The rule of thumb for CHP (combined heat and power) generation is to locate small power stations close to where the heat can be used (an industrial estate, for example) because electricity can be transmitted over great distances, but heat can only be piped a few kilometres.

That basic, fundamental rule was simply ignored when this plant was designed. In fact the whole process by which this plant was built would be a farce if it wasn't for the fact that it will cause very severe environmental damage. The planning authority, the UK Department of Energy in this case, and the operators of the plant, RWE nPower, should have known that this plant was far too big for its location. So the first part of the blame rests squarely with them.

However RWE nPower seem to be hiding behind the fact that they were given approval to operate the plant from the Environment Agency.

"We've worked with all of the relevant authorities and the competent authority being the Environment Agency.

"It's not us that determine whether we can do this, it's those guys that do that.

"They've looked at all of our processes, our method statements, worked with the contractors, worked with the actual process designers that build power plants and the complex systems that are within them and they have been completely satisfied, and if they weren't satisfied they would not have issued the permit."

BBC, 10 December 2012

That's true enough, but the EA have proved themselves to be very far from "competant" as an authority. As I noted a couple of years ago in this post, the EA relaxed (by a factor of six in one instance) the emission standards they had previously considered safe in relation to the wood-burning power station proposed for Port Talbot. I think it is obvious that even if there had been an objective, scientific basis for their first decision, they later revised it for the sole reason that it suited the commercial interests of the potential operators. Scientific objectivity came a very poor second to commercial expediency.

It is clear to me that exactly the same thing happened in this case. Instead of refusing RWE nPower an operating permit, the EA simply threw away any semblance of scientific objectivity in order to allow them to get away with whatever suited them ... and what suited them was the financially cheap but environmentally expensive solution of simply pumping the warmed water straight into the Cleddau, a largely enclosed body of water where the heat cannot be dissipated in the same way as it would be if the warm water was pumped out into the open sea. The consequences to marine life in the estuary are disasterous.


Everybody will point the finger at someone else. But the real fault is that the UK government allowed all this to happen. By letting an "arm's length" body make the decision, they clearly hoped to absolve themselves of any blame for the consequences.

In such circumstances the European Union is just about the only body that can hold the UK government to account and insist that either a less damaging cooling system be installed, or limit the production capacity or time that the plant can operate to reduce the overall amount of heat produced. It's one of many reasons why we in Wales should be glad we are part of it.

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Chris Bryant is not letting up on his crusade against Rupert Murdoch, but perhaps the real reason why he is so angry is beginning to come to light.

A few years ago the Sun put this picture and headline on its front page:


Apparently they were expected to put this picture on the front page under the headline, "BRYANT'S IN HIS PANTS."


Chris was appalled that they not only managed to spell his name incorrectly, but that they allegedly spent a large amount of money on an unflattering photograph rather than use the one he had put on the web.

I'm not sure I share his judgement about it being unflattering, though. It looks unposed and natural, whereas the one he sent out looks flashy and exhibitionist.

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Gweinidog Un

After reading this story I'd encourage our dear Gweinidog Un to follow his namesake and go for a nice ride in the country, just to take his mind off the pressure of deciding what should or shouldn't be broadcast on state-controlled television.


The problem is to find any part of the countryside where he'd be welcome.

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Further thoughts on the Catalan election

Although I made a few comments on the results of the Catalan election in my previous post, I thought it would be a good idea to write something more considered now that I've had a chance to reflect on them.

This was the final result:

An emphatic mandate for a referendum

This election was called primarily to establish a democratic mandate from the Catalan people for a referendum on independence. Of the seven parties that won seats, four of them unambiguously favoured a referendum, winning a total of 87 out of 135 seats. This is an emphatic mandate.

Contrary to some misleading reports, there has in fact been a small overall swing towards parties that favour a referendum. In the previous parliament there were only 86 deputies from pro-referendum parties (including 4 from SI, who all lost their seats in this election).


     Pro-referendum Parties


     Anti-referendum Parties



The only sadness might be that 64.4% of the seats in the Catalan parliament is just short of the two-thirds majority that the Spanish parliament requires in order to amend the Spanish constitution. But there is no requirement for such a super-majority in the Catalan parliament, even though I'm sure those opposed to a referendum will now start claiming that there should be.

A strong swing to the left

The big change in this election has been in the left-right balance of the parliament. In the previous parliament there were 80 deputies from right-leaning parties and 51 from left-leaning parties (I've not counted the 4 deputies from SI on either side because the party was formed solely on a pro-independence platform with deputies specifically drawn from both sides of the political spectrum). There are now 69 deputies on the political right and 66 on the left.


     Parties of the Centre-left and Left


     Parties of the Centre-right and Right



The reasons for this swing to the left are obvious. Both Catalunya and Spain are suffering as a result of the debt crisis, and both have had to take measures to reduce their fiscal deficit. As would be expected from a party of the centre-right, CiU chose to reduce Catalunya's deficit primarily through cuts in public services. They have taken a hit in the polls because the cuts they've made have been particularly savage.

All the autonomous communities were put under pressure to control their budgets by the Spanish government. At one level that's fair enough, but the PP government have been using the economic crisis as a pretext to re-centralize fiscal powers to Madrid, pointing the finger of blame for the level of Spanish debt at the autonomous communities, even though the vast majority of it is held by central government. Artur Mas was caught between a rock and a hard place and in effect said, "There's no need for you in Madrid to take any powers from us; we'll make all the cuts ourselves." In his eagerness to show that he meant it, CiU implemented those cuts with an enthusiasm that bordered on the indecent and went further than was necessary in order to prove a political point. His party has now paid the price for that at the polls.

Forming a new government

We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that, even after the setback of losing 12 seats, CiU still has more than twice the seats and twice the popular support of any other party. They remain the only party in a position to form a government, and Artur Mas will undoubtedly retain his position as President of the Generalitat. The only question is what form his government will take.

It is possible for CiU to form a minority government with no support from any other party, as they did in the previous parliament. This is because some parties are polar opposites of others. There is no way that a right wing, anti-independence party like the PP will ever see eye-to-eye with left wing, pro-independence parties like ERC and CUP. It is hard to imagine an issue on which they would ever vote the same way. Therefore the PP's 19 votes will be effectively cancelled by 19 of the votes from ERC and CUP deputies. With 38 votes effectively "paired", there are 97 votes remaining; and CiU, with 50 of those votes, would therefore have a slim majority.

I'm not saying that this would be a comfortable position for CiU to be in, not least because the two constituent parts of CiU (the CDC and UDC) do not always agree. Nor am I saying it is likely to happen ... but it is an option.


The alternative is for CiU to go into coalition with another party. Because 68 seats are needed for a working majority, the only parties large enough to be coalition partners are the PP, the PSC and ERC.

In other circumstances, the PP would be a natural choice. Both parties are to the right of centre, and for the past two years CiU have relied on the PP's votes (on a "variable geometry" basis rather than as part of a formal agreement) in order to implement their austerity agenda. For with 62 seats, CiU were 6 votes short of a majority. However it's much harder to imagine any degree of co-operation between the two parties now, especially after the torrent of abuse from the PP government in Madrid during this election campaign, and the dirty tricks that they are widely suspected of orchestrating.

It might, just, have been possible for CiU to work with the PSC if the PSOE were in power in Madrid, and therefore in a position to negotiate some sort of agreement on an independence referendum along the lines of the Edinburgh agreement between the UK and Scottish governments. But they're not ... and even if they were, the PSC probably wouldn't be interested.


That leaves ERC. To my mind, there is no doubt that this is the alliance CiU would prefer. However the ERC's spectacular showing in the election, and in particular the fact that they are now the second largest party, gives Oriel Junqueras options that he and the ERC wouldn't have had otherwise. On behalf of the pro-independence left across Europe, allow me the indulgence of showing this graphic from a GESOP survey on approval ratings for the main party leaders. It goes a long way towards explaining why ERC did so well in this election:


In my comments on Sunday night, I said that I thought it would be better for ERC to take advantage of its position as the second largest party in the Catalan parliament to become the official opposition, perhaps in alliance with ICV and CUP as a 37 seat bloc of pro-referendum left wing parties. They would of course work with CiU on the arrangements for the referendum and negotiations of things like the terms of EU membership, but would be able to oppose the excesses of CiU's austerity package. This option has now been advocated by Alfred Bosch, leader of ERC in the Spanish parliament, as reported here in the New York Times.

But with the benefit of a day or so to reflect, I now wonder whether this is such a good idea.


My main concern is the flakiness of CiU. Although I respect the comments on the previous post and elsewhere about a referendum now being certain, I can imagine it being derailed. First, we need to bear in mind that CiU came to the position that independence was the only option left for Catalunya only as a result of the 1.5m turnout on 11 September. Prior to this CiU had been lukewarm about independence, and indeed there are some elements within the UDC part of CiU that are opposed to independence.

Second, Artur Mas is not exactly in a strong position within his party as a result of losing 12 seats. Fingers of blame will be pointed at him, and he might consider that keeping his party together and keeping it in power is more important than securing independence. And even if he were determined to press on, infighting behind his back would be a distraction he couldn't ignore.

Imagine a situation where the EU procrastinates over how to handle the situation in the face of reluctance by some member states to bail Spain out, so that their economy is in danger of falling off the edge of the cliff. Imagine riots in the streets of Spanish cities that make what's happened in Greece look tame, and generals in the armed forces champing at the bit to go in and impose a version of public order that would make Franco proud of them. Imagine Spanish leaders having to acknowledge that their economy needs Catalunya far more than Catalunya needs Spain and belatedly offering Artur Mas the same fiscal arrangements as the four Basque provinces enjoy ... reminding him that this, after all, was what he and his party originally wanted.

Could the pressure to give way on independence, especially if backed by major international powers and accompanied by the promise of a package of financial aid (perhaps to write off Catalunya's not inconsiderable debt) prove too much for him? I'm not saying it would be. Perhaps he's made of stronger stuff. But it's a risk ... especially for a party that is a late convert to independence rather than having it as one of its core aims.

A route forward

Because I think Artur Mas is going to need all the help he can get, I'm now inclined to think it would be better for UiC and ERC to work out a formal programme of government together, based on a clear timetable for a referendum and establishment of the structures necessary for Catalunya to operate as an independent country.

In many respects, it clearly isn't in ERC's interests to be part of a governing coalition that won't have much room to reverse the austerity programme of the last few years. But there is some room for manoeuvre: namely to increase taxation in order to protect public services, something that any self-respecting party of the left would advocate. Catalunya's fiscal deficit is now largely under control; although the debt, and the cost of re-financing it, remains. However it's impossible to deal with accumulated debt through further austerity. The name of the game is to ensure that the debt is under control and doesn't get any bigger, but then to stimulate growth in the economy so that the debt can be repaid in the long term.

Catalunya's economic crisis is short term. The underlying economy is healthy, and the problem will be solved at a stroke when it becomes independent, because it will be able to use the €16bn or so it currently loses to Spain each year on its own needs. Of course Catalunya will need to spend a large part of this on its new obligations as an independent country, but in political terms it will do no harm at all to outline how the rest of it could be used. I think ERC could avoid the political toxicity of being in government at a time of austerity by setting out and securing agreement with CiU for a long-term programme of re-instating the services that have been cut after independence, when Catalunya will no longer be drained of some 8% of its annual GDP.

People will be more willing to suffer financial hardship in the short term if they can see overall gains in the longer term. And, in addition to that, adopting such a policy will keep up the momentum of the drive towards independence, in order to make the short term as short as possible.

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This weekend's election in Catalunya

On Sunday, Catalans will go to the polls in what promises to be the most significant election in their history. The president of the Catalan parliament, Artur Mas, called the election two years earlier than needed in response to the Spanish Prime Minister's point-blank refusal to countenance any change in the fiscal relationship between Catalunya and Spain. However immediately before the parliament was dissolved it passed a resolution calling for the right of Catalans to determine their own constitutional future, meaning that this election will be primarily about whether the new parliament has a mandate to take Catalunya to independence from Spain.

There are six major party groups contesting the election. Ranked in terms of their share of the vote in the 2010 election to the Catalan Parliament they are:

•  CiU - Convergència i Unió ... centre-right, Catalan (38.5%)
•  PSC - Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya ... centre-left, Spanish (18.3%)
•  PP - Partido Popular ... right, Spanish (12.3%)
•  ICV - Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds ... eco-socialist, Catalan (7.4%)
•  ERC - Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya ... left, Catalan (7.0%)
•  Cs - Ciutadans ... left, Spanish (3.4%)

There's a list of the latest opinion poll figures on this page. In general terms, they show CiU way out in front with around 37% of the vote; the PSC, PP, ICV and ERC quite close together with between 10% and 15% of the vote each; and the Cs trailing with around 5%. The voting system is proportional, but there is a 3% threshold, so smaller parties like the pro-independence SI and CUP will be lucky to get a seat.


The PP (who have a majority in the Spanish parliament) and Cs are both Spanish nationalist parties, vehemently opposed to Catalunya being able to decide its own future.

The PSC say they are in favour of Catalans having the right to decide their constitutional future, but only if done within the Spanish Constitution. However there is no way that the Spanish are likely to allow this, so it's little more than an exercise in either gesture politics or wishful thinking. A month or so ago, at the start of the campaign, there might have been a sliver of hope that Catalunya could gain more autonomy within a federal Spain; but the acrimonious—not to say vicious—tone of the campaign waged by the Spanish parties will surely have persuaded most people that it's too late for that to happen. As a result, support for the PSC is falling fast. They are now only a pale shadow of the party that won 31.2% of the vote in 2003 and 26.8% of the vote in 2006.

CiU, the ERC and ICV support the right of Catalans to decide their own future. Between them they will get at least 60% of the vote and maybe two-thirds of the seats. This means that the next Catalan parliament will vote to hold a referendum on independence. Of that, there is no doubt whatsoever.

Whether Spain will allow that referendum to happen is another question. Although talked about by a few hotheads, I don't think there is any chance of the Spanish using military force to stop it. However they will certainly use economic force, starving the Catalan government of the cash flow necessary to pay public sector workers. That means one of the first priorities for the new government will be to set up a Catalan tax agency so that taxes are collected in Catalunya rather than being sent to directly to Madrid. The referendum will not be held until this system is up and running. 2014 is the most likely date.


The only real question is whether CiU will get an absolute majority of seats. All the signs are that they won't, but from my point of view that will be a good thing. It means that CiU will have to work with ERC and ICV to achieve a broad consensus.

I have to say that I am disappointed that the ERC are not doing better in the polls. What I had wanted to see was a wholesale shift on the left of the political spectrum away from the PSC and towards the ERC, mirroring the shift away from the PSOE in Euskadi towards EH Bildu. The ERC are Plaid Cymru's sister party in the EFA in the European Parliament, and have consistently supported independence for Catalunya for decades, so I can't help but feel that they deserve to do better in the polls. The Johnny-Come-Lately CiU have only come out in favour of independence in the last few months.

But maybe that's not the best way of looking at it. Personally I am as much a Green as I am a Nationalist, and would find it very much harder to support Plaid Cymru if it had a different stance on Green issues. There is no doubt whatsoever that Catalunya will become independent within the next few years, and when the fight for independence has been won there will be a general re-alignment of political affiliations ... as indeed there will be when Wales becomes independent. So perhaps it's better to look at support for the ERC and ICV together.

I was chatting to someone from the ERC only a couple of weeks ago and he thought it likely that the ERC and ICV would form an alliance. This is not unusual in Catalan politics; after all, the CiU is itself an alliance of two parties. Between them they should get at least 20% and maybe 25% of the vote, so that if they did work together they would easily be the second largest group in the parliament. Obviously they would support CiU on the constitutional agenda, but could form a constructive and much needed centre-left opposition to ameliorate the CiU's savage programme of austerity cuts and instead promote sustainable growth ... which is the only real way out of recession.


So what will the result be? Cherry-picking from the plethora of opinion polls, I think this GESOP poll for El Periódico is most likely to be right:


Perhaps that's wishful thinking on my part because it puts the ERC in second place. But I'm not alone in that optimism, as this article by the Catalan News Agency predicts the same thing, giving a glowing account of the ERC's agenda and of its leader, Oriol Junqueras.

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Catering for demand

Work on the new Ysgol Treganna in Cardiff is progressing nicely. But it looks like the number of parents clamouring to move into the catchment area so that their children will get a Welsh-medium place is so great that a new housing development is going to be built right next to the school (on the right in the first picture) to accommodate them.



And very pleasant it is too. But at this rate another new Welsh-medium school will be needed. How about just the other side of that footbridge?

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Catalan independence, the latest poll

Three or four times a year, the Catalan government conducts a wide-ranging survey of political opinion based on a sample of 2,500 people. The most recent was published yesterday:

     Baròmetre d’Opinió Política, November 2012

The most interesting question is how people would vote in a referendum on Catalan independence. These are the new figures, together with those for the end of June this year:

If a referendum on the independence of Catalunya were to be held tomorrow, what would you do?

Vote for independence ... 57.0% ... (was 51.1%)
Vote against independence ... 20.5% ... (was 21.1%)
Abstain ... 14.3% ... (was 21.1%)
Other responses ... 0.6% ... (was 1.0%)
Don't know ... 6.2% ... (was 4.7%)
Won't say ... 1.5% ... (was 1.1%)

Question 39, page 26

If we factor out those who say they will not vote, the Yes percentage increases to 66.5% and the No percentage to 23.9%. This would be the closest equivalent to a UK poll, where people are first asked how likely they are to vote, and the figures then weighted accordingly.

And if we exclude them and the three other categories, the straight Yes/No split becomes 73.5% in favour of independence to 26.5% against.

By any standard, this is an overwhelming majority. Catalan independence is looking like a cast-iron certainty.

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Penblwydd Hapus, S4C


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Gwynfor v Margaret

I've just enjoyed listening to Rob Gittins' radio drama on iPlayer, and would like to recommend it to everyone else.

Click to play or download the mp3.


One moral man standing up for something important enough to give his life for
... and winning!

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Owen Smith's absurdity

On The Wales Report last night Owen Smith said that the Welsh government should not have power to vary the rate of income tax,

" ... because we don't have the relative tax base in order to provide Wales with the volume of money that our needs requires."


This is an absurd line of argument. If not having enough of a tax base to provide you with "the volume of money that your needs require" was a valid reason not to have any major tax-setting powers, then the United Kingdom government should not have the power to set a rate of income tax either, or have any other macro-economic powers.

The "volume" of money it raises from taxation fell short of the money it needs to meet its spending needs by a massive £14bn in August alone. This is from a ConDem coalition government whose primary aim was to cut the UK's deficit, not increase it ... but the deficit would be even higher under Labour, because their main line of argument is that they would not cut it by as much.

And over the years, the tax base of the UK has been so inadequate to meet its spending needs that its national debt surpassed £1,000bn at the beginning of this year ... and it's getting bigger all the time.


What he went on to say in the interview was equally ridiculous. Immediately following the section I quoted above, he said that our low relative tax base was "why we've had Barnett".

No it isn't. The Barnett Formula merely ensures that any decisions which the UK government makes on spending in England require a proportionate amount to be given to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the relative tax base of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland being inadequate. In fact Scotland's tax base is more healthy than the tax base of the UK as a whole; yet the Barnett Formula treats Scotland far more generously than it treats Wales.


Owen really hasn't thought things through. It's obvious that he doesn't want Wales to have any major tax-varying powers, and equally obvious that he and others in the Labour Party in Wales will therefore put all sorts of bogus arguments and unnecessary obstacles in our path to stop us getting them. But how else is Wales going to get the tools we need to do something to improve the state of our economy?

It seems that Labour see Wales as no more than a child. It's as if they see the money the Welsh government gets as pocket money given to us by Westminster, and the limit of their ambition is to let us supplement it with control of a few minor taxes ... the equivalent of doing a paper round. Big deal. Wales needs a government that is eager to take at least some responsibility for our economic performance. We won't make any real progress until we start to take this responsibility for ourselves.

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The Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon

In the news last week was the story that a scoping document has been submitted to National Infrastructure Planning as a first step in the process of getting permission to construct a tidal lagoon at Swansea Bay.

     Multi-million pound tidal lagoon could power all of Swansea
     Swansea Bay tidal power could 'supply 100,000 homes'

As someone who has been quite unequivocal in support of the need for Wales to invest in tidal power, and particularly to invest in tidal lagoons rather than a barrage (here, for example) I decided to look at this proposal in more detail. The scoping document is here:

     Tidal Power Swansea Bay Scoping Document

The first thing to note is that this project is not the same as the previous proposal from Tidal Electric Limited (TEL), details here, which I fully support. It is in roughly the same position, but instead of being an offshore structure built away from the shoreline, it has been modified to become an "attached" tidal lagoon. I've produced this map showing the new proposal from Tidal Power Swansea Bay (TPSB) in blue and the TEL scheme in yellow.


Environmental Considerations

In general terms, attached tidal lagoons are not a good idea. The point of building tidal lagoons offshore rather than against the shoreline is to minimize any ecological damage to both the sea shore and inter-tidal area. By building the sea wall facing the shore just beyond the lowest low tide line, the inter-tidal marine life is untouched, and the natural tidal flow parallel to the shoreline is not completely blocked, meaning that sand and silt can move normally. In contrast, an attached tidal lagoon will cause exactly the same sort of damage to inter-tidal marine and bird life as a barrage will, and it is for this for this reason I am opposed to the attached tidal lagoons that have been proposed further east, as shown on this map.

However in this particular case the damage will be less pronounced. As we can see from the map, the new sea wall enclosing the lagoon is not built against a stretch of natural shoreline, but against the man-made wall of Swansea docks. This means there will be that much less wildlife to damage ... or at least it won't be any more damaged than it was when the docks were built in the first place. But I'd still be concerned about the triangle between the eastern sea wall, Crymlyn Burrows and the Neath navigation channel.


The second thing to note is that the construction of the sea wall in the TPSB scheme is more massive—and therefore more expensive—than that proposed in the TEL scheme. TEL envisaged the sea wall as a minimal structure designed only to retain water. It therefore only extended marginally above the height of the highest tide, and didn't have a vehicle roadway on top of it. It simply wouldn't matter if waves broke over the top of it in storm conditions. As it happened, this was one of the reasons why the DTI rubbished the TEL scheme (in this report) which contributed to it not going ahead. The DTI made a number of very odd assumptions, one of which was that a more massive sea wall was required, in order to claim that TEL had underestimated the cost. The sea wall accounts for the major part of the overall cost of the project, and because the only practical way of constructing it is by piling up material on the sea bed, any increase in height results in an exponential increase in cost.

But although a sea wall with a roadway on top would not be needed for an offshore tidal lagoon, it actually makes some sense for an attached lagoon. In addition to making maintenance easier, the public can use it as a walkway. It therefore has the potential to become a tourist attraction, the twenty-first century equivalent of a Victorian or Edwardian pier. This is what TPSB are proposing:

The presence of a permanent connection to the shore would also open up tourism, recreation or educational opportunities for the Lagoon during its lifetime.

In addition to this, located adjacent to the O&M facilities it is proposed that there will be visitors’ facilities. The exact details of these will be determined during the EIA process and could include:

•  Watersports and activities facilities – potentially incorporating a clubhouse, toilets/changing facilities, café, boat or equipment storage units, additional slipways – one inside and one outside the lagoon;

•  Cycle hire points for public equipment use;

•  Parking provision, public transport pick-up/drop-off and landscaped circulation space suitable for 70-100k visitors per year; and

•  Safe, secure visitor access between the two seawall landfall points so a complete circuit can be made.

... it is proposed to have a visitor centre building offshore, located near and integrated with the turbine housing area approximately 5km out along the lagoon wall. The exact appearance and facilities within this building are still to be determined but they are likely to include:

•  Architecturally significant design/appearance, with the objective of creating an iconic building

•  Lobby;

•  Café/restaurant/toilets;

•  Permanent renewable energy exhibition space(s);

•  Interactive physical exhibitions for education and interest;

•  Multi-use exhibition/function space; and

•  Navigational lighting as required.

Scoping Document – Pages 8 and 9

For me, the important thing is for a tidal lagoon to produce electricity. If that is the "cake", then the visitor attraction aspects of the scheme are the "icing" put on top of it. But if designed well, I think it could be an exciting part of an expanding and vibrant city, and this could help justify the additional cost of the more massive structure. But we need to be clear that the difference in cost is quite considerable. TEL estimated the cost of their sea wall at just under £50m, the DTI's roadway version cost £137m.

It might also be worth saying that at 9.3km, the round trip will be quite a long walk or cycle ride. To give some idea how big it is, both the maps below are to the same scale. The breakwater at Holyhead is only 2.5km long.



Electricity Generation

One thing that I found rather odd about the TPSB scheme is that the turbines will have an installed capacity of 250-350 MW, but that the TEL scheme had an installed capacity of 60 MW.

Although there is a big difference in installed capacity, it isn't all that significant. The amount of electricity that can be generated from a lagoon depends on the area of impounded water and the height difference between low and high tides. Having more (or bigger) turbines produces more electricity, but over a shorter period, by filling or emptying the lagoon more quickly. In overall terms the total electricity produced is going to be the almost same.

The area of the TPSB scheme is just short of double the area of the TEL scheme, and the tidal range is obviously the same, so it should generate about twice the electricity. But it is harder to figure out why the installed capacity of the TPSB scheme should be so much greater. My best guess is that TPSB are proposing two separate sets of turbines, one set to generate on the ebb tide and one set to generate on the flow. TEL's scheme envisaged bi-directional turbines, and uni-directional turbines might well be more efficient. The question is whether the greater efficiency of two sets of turbines would justify doubling the cost of the turbines and turbine house. It might do, for these are much less significant elements of the overall cost than the sea wall.

TEL estimated the output of their scheme at 187 GWh/yr. So with just under double the area of impounded water but more efficient turbines, TPSB's claim of 400 GWh/yr is probably justified. This equates to about 2% of the 20 TWh of electricity Wales needs to produce each year to meet our current needs. It would be the equivalent of a 130 MW offshore wind farm ... say 36 turbines rated at 3.6 MW each, which is the size of the turbines proposed for Gwynt y Môr.


When I first saw looked at TPSB's scheme in detail, I was disappointed to see that the TEL concept had been abandoned. Yet although I have grave reservations about attached tidal lagoons in general, I think that this scheme probably can be justified because no natural stretch of coastline is affected.

In terms of its contribution to our energy needs I have no doubt whatsoever that a lagoon of this sort, generating some 400 GWh of renewable energy a year, is exactly what we need. Given the fact that we are blessed with the second or third largest tidal range on the planet, not to make use of it would be recklessly irresponsible. I would hope that this is the first of many tidal lagoons.

I am a little less convinced by what I described as the "icing" on the cake. Not because I don't like icing, but because a project in which the sea wall is built high enough and strong enough to take a roadway and be safe as a visitor attraction for the public is going to be very much more expensive than a project that is only designed to produce electricity. But if someone can put together a business plan to justify it, why not? It will certainly put Swansea on the map.

I think we should have built the scheme proposed by TEL, and I can't think of any good reason why their offer was refused. But this scheme is an opportunity to build something that, at least in terms of generating electricity, is substantially similar. We must grasp this opportunity.

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Light Relief

I don't want to detract from more serious discussion on the other threads, but I couldn't help but notice this amazing revelation about Ysgol Hendre in Caernarfon.


I wonder if it's the only school building in Wales that makes use of natural light.

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The stand-off continues

The fiscal stand-off between Labour in Wales and the ConDem coalition in Westminster has always been about one thing. Labour wants to get borrowing powers, but does not want the responsibility of figuring out how to pay back the money it wants to borrow.

Labour in Wales has had an easy ride since the Assembly was established. Apart from some very limited control over non-domestic rates and council tax levels, it has only had to decide how to spend the money it has been given. For the first ten years, when there were large increases in public spending, it was easy to keep a lot of people relatively happy. And now, when there is rather less money to spend, they seem to be able to get away with pointing the finger at Westminster and saying it's all "their fault". Either way, they get to smell of roses and reap the rewards at the ballot box.

So the very last thing Labour in Wales wants is for that cozy arrangement to come to an end. They know that if they gain any meaningful control over taxes they will have to answer to voters not just for how wisely they spend money, but for the much more difficult question how much they have to spend ... for a good part of it will come from our wallets and purses in tax.


So today's announcement that the Welsh Government is going to be given limited borrowing powers is actually no more than spin. Nothing more is on the table than has been on the table for the last couple of years. But it is a very clever piece of spin. There's a world of difference between saying, "We won't give you borrowing powers ... because you need to be able to pay back what you borrow" and, "We will give you borrowing powers ... if and when you figure out how to pay the money back." It's always better to say a positive "Yes we will (if)" than a negative "No we won't (unless)" ... even though they are two ways of saying exactly the same thing.

This is going to leave Labour with a bit of a headache. I expect them to try and come up with a package of minor taxes and charges, but nothing that will have to be paid for directly by voters, because that will have an effect on how they vote. In particular they won't want to touch income tax. But without the big taxes, I'm not sure that will get anywhere near enough to pay for the investment that Wales desperately needs.


My advice to Labour is this. Accept the responsibility of being able to vary the rate of income tax, but make it conditional on being able to vary the rates of other taxes too, especially business taxes.

As I see it, the idea of being able to improve our economic performance by varying income tax but none of the other big taxes (which is in essence what the Calman Commission recommended for Scotland and what the Holtham Commission recommended for Wales) is fundamentally flawed. We can't have any real control over our economy with just that. It is like thinking we can drive a car using only the steering wheel, ignoring the fact that we also need to be able to use the accelerator and brakes, to change gear and, occasionally, to reverse.

The Treasury will be reluctant to give up their total control of these other big taxes to Wales, but up the ante. They have made you a conditional offer, so say yes, but make it conditional on having the ability to vary (even if only slightly) a wider range of the taxes that really matter. Don't be over-concerned about minor taxes. Aggregate tax, air passenger tax, landfill tax and the like are the equivalent of the switches that open the car windows or adjust the ventilation ... useful, but not enough to move our economy in the right direction.

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The election in Euskadi

A good number of people have reminded me that I haven't written anything about the election in Euskadi last weekend. But GlynBeddau has, and the article on Nationalia is very helpful too.

In this interview, Jill Evans talks about the result with José-Luis Linazasoro from Euskadi and Jordi Bacardit from Catalunya.


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Adding to our democratic deficit

This is what Huw Edwards said at the beginning of the first edition of The Wales Report last night:

"We'll be looking at Welsh life in all its diversity and asking searching questions about our future. We'll be talking to those making decisions and the people whose lives are affected by them.

"And yes, that does mean politics, that's essential – but the Wales Report is about more than that. It has to be or you won't be getting the big picture that we've been promising you."

Cutting through the euphemisms, this means the BBC will have ditched Dragon's Eye, a programme devoted to Welsh Politics, and replaced it with a programme in which the focus will be on other things in addition to politics.

So at a time when our political institutions have gained more power over our lives, and are set to gain even more as a result of the Silk Commission, the BBC has decided to give less attention to politics in Wales.


In addition to this, it appears that the Wales Report is aiming to be a more populist programme, with more emphasis on what viewers have to say through tweets and emails. Of course there's nothing at all wrong with such an approach, but moving in that direction is bound to be detrimental to more specialist in-depth coverage. So we've been hit with a double whammy.


I'm well aware that the BBC has to cope with cuts and something has to give. But the BBC is not treating Wales in the same way as it treats Scotland. For those who aren't aware of it, Scotland has two significant political opt outs from the BBC's standard UK-wide political coverage:

     The typical format of the Sunday Politics is for the first 30 minutes to
     come from London, then for a 20 minute regional slot, then a return to
     London for the last 10 minutes. Scotland, however, does not take the
     final ten minute slot, but instead continues with Scottish politics for 60
     minutes, so that the total programme length is 90 minutes. The
     additional 30 minutes makes up for the fact that Scotland does not
     have an equivalent to Dragon's Eye/The Wales Report, which is fair and
     equal. But Scotland does get 10 minutes more dedicated political
     reporting than anywhere else in the UK by not taking the final 10
     minute slot from London.

     For most of the UK Newsnight is a 50 minute programme between
     Monday and Thursday. But Scotland only takes the first 30 minutes of
     it, with the remaining 20 minutes of the slot replaced by Newsnight

Taken together, this means that in a typical week Scotland has exactly the same overall amount of political programming as any other part of the UK. But by opting out of some UK-wide coverage, it has 90 minutes more time devoted specifically to Scottish politics and current affairs than Wales used to get ... and even more than Wales will now receive because the Wales Report will only be partly dedicated to politics. This is grossly unfair to Wales and can only add to our democratic deficit.


So I would like to renew my call for the BBC to give Wales the same opt outs from UK-wide political programming as they have given Scotland. Why should we be treated so differently? Establishing a Newsnight Wales would be particularly appropriate because the format is geared towards more specialist, in-depth coverage; and this would help to balance the more populist, but equally valid, format of the Wales Report.

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As seen in Scotland

I thought people might be interested in this clip from the BBC's Sunday Politics Scotland:




Comments welcome. To pick up on just one point, I was amazed at the blinkered attitude of the DUP's Ian Paisley Jnr. He talks about his "Scottish kith and kin" becoming foreigners to him if Scotland becomes independent, but did the kith and kin of probably half the families in the six counties suddenly become "foreigners" when Ireland was partitioned? And does anybody in Wales regard family members we might have in the republic of Ireland as more "foreign" to us than family members we might have in Scotland or England?

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The right decision on NATO

The Scottish National Party's conference is taking place this weekend, and it has proved to be quite significant. The big issue to be decided was the SNP's position on NATO, and I was very impressed with Friday's debate about it. The end result was quite close, and it was political drama of the highest order. The full debate is here, though it was rather spoilt at the beginning by the BBC's comments drowning out what Angus Robertson had to say. For those with less time, the report is here.

The resolution delegates were asked to vote in favour of was:

"On independence, Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations with NATO. An SNP government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN-sanctioned operations."

Although this was amended (amendment B) to:

"On independence, Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations with NATO. An SNP government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO takes all possible steps to bring about nuclear disarmament as required by the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty of which all its members are signatories, and further that NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN-sanctioned operations."

Two other amendments were rejected, as was a vote to remit the motion for further consideration. Sadly that's a device that Plaid Cymru have used rather too often for my liking in the past few years, and as events unfolded (I was watching it as it happened) I began to think it likely that the SNP would do the same. But I'm very pleased that they came to a firm decision ... though no-one could be quite as pleased, or relieved, as Angus Robertson was.


I think what the SNP have decided substantially answers the concerns I raised about NATO membership in this post in August. If I were nit-picking, the only problem I have with the resolution is that it might, in very rare circumstances, be right to make a military intervention that is not sanctioned by the UN; for example when there is widespread consensus that action needs to be taken, but one permanent member of the UN Security Council has exercised their veto.


That all took place on Friday, leaving Saturday free for hard-hitting, rousing speeches in the style we would expect from a televised party conference. Alex Salmond is a master of that art, and once again lived up to expectations. Enjoy.


A written version of the speech is here.

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Two faced about our two languages

Although not reported anywhere in English, both Golwg and the BBC's Newyddion carried a story about an application for funding from the Big Lottery Fund being refused to one of the Papurau Bro on the grounds that the paper is in Welsh only, rather than bilingual.


Apparently the Welsh Language Scheme agreed between the Big Lottery Fund and the former Bwrdd yr Iaith stipulates that lottery funds should only be granted for bilingual projects. This is the translation of what Fflur Lawton said in the interview:

"The terms and conditions of every grant that we give out ask for [the applicants] to make provision for their projects to be in Welsh and English.

"So if they have things like websites or send things out to people, we ask for them to be bilingual; and this is part of the terms and conditions of their grants."

The new Language Commissioner's reaction was to say that they had given advice that it was appropriate to give grants to bodies that work entirely in Welsh if it was to promote or facilitate the use of Welsh. However this advice seems to have been given a couple of years before the WLS was agreed, and not to have been reflected in the final agreement.

It's very easy to say the BLF should make an exception in this case, especially as it would appear that the amount involved is relatively small (for publishing software). But I'm not sure that's the right way of looking at it. Wouldn't it be much better to get the BLF to stick to what they actually agreed, and insist that they do in fact only give grants to projects in Wales that are delivered bilingually?


I don't want to pick on any one organization that has received lottery funding from the BLF, but the first thing that came up when I Googled "Projects in Wales, National Lottery" was FareShare North Wales. As we can read here, Crest Co-operative recently received £246,926 to help set up the first ever FareShare project in Wales to provide free meals for vulnerable members of the community.

The aims of the project are of course thoroughly praiseworthy. But if we look at their website we can see that it certainly isn't bilingual, nor is the specific page of the project they received funding for. So it appears that Fflur Lawton was being disingenuous; the Big Lottery Fund is being two faced when it comes to treating our two languages equally.

It would be well worth checking whether the BLF actually pays any more than token lip service to what it claims is part of the terms and conditions of every grant it makes in Wales. Some £75m of lottery money will be distributed in Wales each year by the BLF and other distributors. To my mind it is better that none of this money is given to any project that is only going to be delivered in one language, whether that language is English or Welsh. Sticking to that principle would make much more of a difference in overall terms than if we asked the BLF to make a one-off exception for a few hundred pounds of software.

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Still British

I particularly liked one of the comments that happened to appear on the BBC website regarding Scotland's referendum on independence.

Steve, Glasgow texts: I'm proud to be English born and bred – but I live in Scotland and will vote yes. This isn't about being anti-English – it's about the people of Scotland deciding what is best for Scotland. I will still be English. I will still be British. But Scotland will run its own affairs.

None of the people of this island will be any less British when Scotland and Wales become independent. It's a false choice. We won't have to throw away any of the history, culture or family ties we might share any more than we did when our neighbours in Ireland gained their independence less than a century ago.

Three independent voices in Europe and the world will always be more effective than one lone voice.

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Cymru Rydd

From this story in yesterday's Western Mail, it would appear that Vaughan Gething still hasn't got over the shock of finding out that quite a few people—including, believe it or not, elected politicians—are proud to honour the memory of Llewelyn Ein Llyw Olaf and commit themselves to push forward with the roller coaster of constitutional change that Wales needs in order to take its rightful place among the nations of the world.

But just in case Vaughan is not the only one with such a narrow, restricted view of what people in Wales do, I thought I'd re-post the video along with a couple of others.




Yes, Roger Williams (he's the LibDem MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, for those who don't recognize him) was speaking in front of the very same Free Wales Army banner that caused Vaughan to get so apoplectic only a few weeks ago when he belatedly found out that Jill Evans had spoken at the event.

After these eye-openers, we can only hope that he and his Labour colleagues will try to get out a bit more often.

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Wales can, and Wales will, win

Here is Leanne's speech at the Plaid Cymru Conference this afternoon ... and it was definitely a good one.


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Today is Catalunya's National Day and, hopefully, more than a million people will be on the streets of Barcelona calling for Catalunya to become independent ... a new European State.


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Not as bad as reported

It was interesting to read this in a story from the BBC on a report by the Green Alliance:

The report ... also shows that 6.29% of the electricity used in Wales comes from renewable sources – lower than the UK average of 7.45% and way behind Scotland's 22.45%.

BBC, 30 August 2012

The report itself is available from this page, and is all a bit too glossy for my liking. However there is a separate document which shows how they did their calculations, and this is the relevant table from it:


Both Wales and Scotland export electricity; but GA have done the maths in such a way that a proportion of electricity generated in Wales and Scotland from renewables is accounted as being used in England and Northern Ireland.

They start with net electricity generated, and rightly make a percentage allowance for transmission and distribution losses (on average 7.5%). So far so good. But they then indulge in some mathematical sleight of hand by compounding this with the electricity Wales and Scotland export. The effect is to reduce the percentage figure from renewables for exporters of electricity like Wales and Scotland, but increase it for importers of electricity like England and Northern Ireland.

Therefore Wales' electricity generation from renewables gets reduced by 31.1% instead of 7.5% (it's slightly less, but the UK average figure will do), Scotland's gets reduced by 27.6% instead of 7.5%, England's gets reduced by only 2.6% instead of 7.5% and NI's actually increases by 21.7% instead of reducing by 7.5%.

This is not exactly wrong, for electricity is electricity no matter how it has been generated. But it masks the overall picture, which is that England and NI are consuming electricity that has been disproportionately generated from renewable sources in Wales and Scotland, making their renewable figures look better at our expense.

It would be clearer to say that Wales' 1,621 GWh/yr should be reduced by only 7.5% for transmission and distribution losses to 1,499 GWh/yr, i.e. that the electricity we generate from renewables accounts for 8.45% of the electricity we consume rather than 6.29%. The equivalent figure for Scotland would be 28.67% instead of 22.45%. But for NI the figure would be 8.34% instead of 10.98%, and for England it would be 4.87% instead of 5.12%.

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Why look abroad?

I was struck by the sagacity of this observation by one company in Swansea, as reported in the Western Mail on Thursday:

One firm in Swansea said it routinely asked foreign interns to look over writing done by young recruits in Wales as the grammar of the second-language English speakers was usually superior.

Western Mail, 23 August 2012

I've no doubt that it's true. Those who can speak two languages usually have a better understanding of both since, by being able to compare one with the other, the differences in grammar are highlighted and therefore easier to comprehend. Those who speak only one language are at a disadvantage by having nothing to compare it with.

My only question is why they should look abroad. Wales has plenty of second-language English speakers who could do the same job equally well.

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Early elections in Euskadi

The current leader of the Basque Government has just announced that elections will be held on 21 October this year, five months earlier than would normally be expected.

     Paxti López of the PSOE, current Lehendakari of the Basque Autonomous Community

The government that had been formed following the 2009 election was an "unholy alliance" between the two main Spanish parties, the socialist PSOE (or PSE-EE in its local form) and right wing PP, formed with the sole purpose of preventing a nationalist government for the first time in nearly thirty years. Normally the centre-right nationalist EAJ-PNV was able to form a government with occasional support from the smaller left-wing nationalist parties, but last minute bans on two of these parties meant that they won maybe half a dozen fewer seats than they would normally. This blatant gerrymandering proved to be just enough to allow the formation of a PSOE-PP governing coalition ... with a majority of just one in the 75 seat parliament.

Needless to say, it wasn't a particularly happy marriage. It was the equivalent of expecting Labour and the Tories to work together here. Apart from wanting to keep the nationalists out of power, there was practically nothing else they could agree on. The PP withdrew their support from the PSOE after winning power in the Spanish general election in November last year. As we would expect from a right wing party, they embarked on a savage austerity programme involving cuts that no left wing party could be expected to agree with, even though they would probably have done exactly the same thing if they had been in power. The EU wouldn't have given them much choice. Put bluntly, Spain's economy is in such a mess that there is very little room for manoeuvre for either left or right, but a party in opposition always has the luxury of saying they would do something different.


Perversely, this wasn't helped by the Basque economy being in markedly better shape than anywhere in Spain. While Spanish unemployment is at 24.4%, in Euskadi the figure is 13.5%. Not good, of course, but a lot less bad. Over the years, and with the benefit of almost full fiscal autonomy, the country has become more economically prosperous than any part of Spain. It has a higher credit rating and lower borrowing costs than Spain. Not that it needs to borrow much anyway, for its deficit-to-GDP ratio is only 0.25% compared with Spain's ratio of 90%. The figures are here and here. It all means that Euskadi does not have to take the same extreme steps to put its economy in order as Spain does.

The problem was that Paxti López was rather more focused on his image in Spain than what was happening in Euskadi. He was being widely tipped as a future PSOE leader in Madrid, and his political line was to point to the Basque economy and use it as a supposed example of how much better things would be if Spain adopted the PSOE's cuts than the PP's cuts. Disingenuous because Euskadi's economic success had been built on the foundation of nationalist policies over several decades rather than PSOE policies in the last couple of years. For their part, the PP couldn't continue to work with him while he was playing that game. They withdrew support and he was a dead man walking from then on. He kept denying that he would call early elections, but this announcement has not really come as any big surprise.


So what can we expect of these elections? The first thing to say is that the political landscape has completely changed. The pro-independence left was determined to make sure that what happened in 2009 would never be repeated. It acted on two fronts: the parties worked together to form a united platform for elections, and they took pains to disassociate themselves from any connexion with ETA.

In parallel ETA first declared a new ceasefire and later made that ceasefire permanent. Who persuaded whom to do what depends very much on your perspective. For Spain, ETA were in always in the driving seat, and seeking Basque independence by political means was never more than a front for terrorism. Such thinking resulted in the first platform, Sortu, being almost immediately banned on the grounds that anyone who wanted independence must by definition be associated with ETA.

A second platform called Bildu was then formed and banned as well. But when the EAJ-PNV withdrew its support from the minority Spanish government in protest, the Constitutional Tribunal promptly overruled the Supreme Court decision. This showed the world that the Supreme Court's decisions had been taken for political rather than judicial or constitutional reasons, and the Spanish game was effectively over. Bildu stood in the municipal elections of May 2011 and the result was remarkable: it won more seats than any other party.

Analysing that result here and here, the major swing was away from the Spanish left (the PSOE) towards the Basque left (Bildu). Broadly speaking there were now four major parties/groups: a Spanish left and right (the PSOE and PP) and a Basque nationalist left and right (Bildu and the EAJ-PNV), but the Spanish parties were now being marginalized. On the right of the political spectrum the PP had always got far less support than the EAJ-PNV, but now the same was true on the left of the political spectrum as well.

As I saw it, Basque voters with views on the left of the political spectrum had previously been inclined to vote for the Spanish PSOE first because the nationalist left was associated with violence and second because of the confusing number of often squabbling small parties (not of course helped by them frequently getting banned and then reforming as something else). But now that the pro-independence left had finally got its act together, voters started switching en masse from the Spanish left to the Basque left.

In the Spanish general election in November 2011 Bildu expanded to become Amaiur, and once again won more Basque seats than any other party. Details here.


The one thing that we can say with almost complete certainty is that Paxti López and the PSOE will be the big losers in the upcoming elections in October. The main contest will be between the Basque nationalist left in the shape of EH Bildu (they haven't quite lost the habit of continually changing their name) and the Basque nationalist centre-right in the shape of the long established EAJ-PNV. The PSOE and PP will be a long way behind.

The opinion polls conducted so far this year (at the bottom of this page) show the EAJ-PNV in a range between 29% and 35%, EH Bildu between 25% and 28%, the PSOE between 15% and 20% and the PP between 12% and 17%. However this won't translate directly into numbers of seats, for although the voting system is proportional in each of the three provinces that form the Basque Autonomous Community, each of them has a flat 25 seats even though they are quite different in terms of population size.

Personally, I would expect the PSOE to be squeezed even more than the polls suggest. Voters do tend to put the knife into a dying party, so I would expect a much closer race between EH Bildu and the EAJ-PNV.


Whichever party gets most seats, neither EH Bildu nor the EAJ-PNV will be able to govern alone. So the question is whether the next government will be formed on left-right lines or on nationalist lines. There are only three possibilities: the EAJ-PNV could form right-of-centre government with support from the PP; EH Bildu could form a left-of-centre government with support from the PSOE; or there could be a nationalist coalition.

I'll write about the likelihood, and consequences, of each of these outcomes in another post.

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Should an independent Scotland be in NATO?

One of the big policy debates within the SNP is whether they should change their position about not seeking to be a member of NATO if they were in government in an independent Scotland.

So people might be interested in two documents that have just been produced by SNP CND arguing against the proposed change:

     Q & A – NATO and Nuclear Weapons
     NATO, Trident and Scottish Independence

I thought it would be useful to compare Scotland's situation with that of Wales. In principle, I have never had any objection to an independent Wales being a member of NATO. For me, the argument that by being part of this alliance we are therefore relying on nuclear weapons for our defence has never held water. My reasoning is that it is impossible to use such weapons for defensive purposes, and therefore they are irrelevant to our defence irrespective of what other countries might believe. No country is required, or expected, to see eye-to-eye with its allies on every issue. It is sufficient for the alliance to have a common purpose—namely that of mutual defence—but not necessary to agree on the type of weapons needed to implement that defence.


I do, however, have grave reservations about the direction NATO has taken in recent years, particularly over Afghanistan and Libya. So I'd like to repeat what I said in March last year, when NATO decided to intervene in Libya:

... The issue I want to focus on is why NATO as an organization should become involved. I don't think anyone could read the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 as anything other than setting up an alliance for mutual defence in response to an attack on any of its members. Yet NATO seems to be inexorably changing into a force that is openly being used for offensive purposes.

Perhaps, but only perhaps, one could claim that the security of some of NATO's member countries was threatened by Afghanistan. I would call it an indirect and at best a very tenuous link. Yet NATO is there, halfway across the world from the legitimate sphere of concern set out in its founding treaty. However in the case of Libya, there is absolutely no threat to the security of any other country, let alone one that is a member of NATO. It is a purely internal matter.

So it is perhaps legitimate for countries such as the USA, France and the UK ... plus others such as Belgium, Canada and Qatar to conduct attacks in Libya in their own right, as an "alliance of the willing". But it cannot be legitimate for a defensive organization to conduct such attacks, even if all 28 members were to agree that they want to be involved in the operation.

NATO has served us well over the past 60 years, and all organizations need to adapt over time; but to my mind these fundamental changes are now taking NATO way beyond its intended purpose and can only weaken it. In Afghanistan we have already seen the reluctance of some members to contribute their own forces to operations they aren't keen on. Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Iceland and Luxembourg have not contributed to the NATO led forces in Afghanistan, other members only contributed limited logistic support and others seem only to have made a nominal contribution on condition that their armed forces were as far out of harm's way as possible. In this new operation in Libya even fewer will take part. This is quite understandable, but by setting the precedent of only taking part if you want to, NATO runs the risk of countries taking the same attitude if any member were actually to be attacked ... and that's what it's really there for.

Syniadau, 28 March 2011

In short, if NATO remains a defensive organization I have no objection to an independent Wales being a member. But if NATO continues to get involved in operations that have nothing to do with defence, we should not seek to be part of it. At the very least we should be given cast iron guarantees that we could opt out of any operation which we consider not to be for defensive purposes.


If I'm any judge of the general opinion within the SNP, I think they would take exactly the same view ... if it were not for the fact that the UK's nuclear weapons are currently based in Scotland. So we need to look at that issue.

One of the things highlighted in the documents I linked to is how difficult it has been for other countries in NATO to get rid of the nuclear weapons that are based in their countries. There are nuclear weapons in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey ... and the first three want to get rid of them, but can't. This is an extract from the SNP CND report:

Successive parliaments in Belgium have, since 2005, called on their government to put forward proposals for the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons. In April 2010 the Dutch parliament adopted a resolution urging their Foreign Minister to tell the US Government that the weapons in Holland should be withdrawn. Most political parties in Germany, including the Free Democratic Party (FDP), are opposed to the presence of these weapons. Since 2009, the FDP have been part of the coalition government and have filled the post of Foreign Minister. The FDP insisted that the coalition agreement includes a clause calling for the removal of US nuclear weapons from Germany.

The question of what to do with these bombs had been a topic of discussion within NATO for many years. In 2010, a concerted move was made by Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands to urge NATO to rethink its nuclear policy. However, this initiative has run into the sand. The alliance set up a Deterrence and Defence Review. The final drafting of the report from this review was dominated by a Quad of four countries, three of which were the states with their own nuclear weapons (Britain, France and the US). The report, agreed at the Chicago summit in May 2012, not only failed to recommend any significant change in nuclear policy, but it endorsed America’s plan to spend $11 billion modernising the B61 bombs. This B61-12 programme will turn these freefall nuclear bombs into precision guided weapons.

Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands could insist that the US must remove nuclear weapons from their soil. However, in each case, the democratic will of the population has not been carried out, because it was in conflict with the desire to maintain cohesion and consensus within NATO.

SNP CND – NATO, Trident and Scottish Independence

If these three countries have had so much difficulty in getting a fellow member of NATO to remove its nuclear weapons from their soil, the precedent has been set for the RUK to be equally intransigent over the removal of its nuclear weapons from Scotland. Bear in mind that the B-61 bombs are small and therefore there is no real technical difficulty in moving them elsewhere. That isn't the case with Trident.

I think a very good case could be made for saying that if Scotland is serious about getting rid of the nuclear weapons based there, they will find it harder to do if they become a member of NATO for purely political reasons.


There is a second factor which complicates matters even further. It hardly needs saying that CND as an organization is committed to getting rid of all nuclear weapons. It is clear that they regard getting rid of nuclear weapons from Scotland as a way of forcing the RUK to get rid of its nuclear weapons completely, because there is no obvious place to build alternative facilities.

I'm not at all comfortable with this. It is one thing for the government of an independent Scotland to decide to get rid of nuclear weapons, but it isn't right to exploit that situation to force what is left of the UK to get rid of its nuclear weapons too. Like it or not, the UK has democratically elected governments which have consistently chosen to retain nuclear weapons.

The government of an independent Scotland could no more say to the government of the RUK that it's their problem and they have to deal with it than the Dutch government could say it to the Americans. What can the Dutch do? Put the B-61s onto a barge, tow it to the middle of the Atlantic and tell the Americans to come and get them? Governments need to act in a rather more responsible way where nuclear weapons are concerned.

And that's the nub of the problem. Like it or not, there is currently nowhere else for Trident to be based. The weapons will have to stay in Scotland until the RUK builds new bases for the missiles and submarines or decides to decommission them. Either course of action will take time. Therefore the only practical option is for the RUK to retain a ten or fifteen year lease on the Faslane and Coulport bases, and the test of their good faith in removing the submarines and missiles when the lease expires will be whether they start to build alternative bases for them within the next few years.

However that has nothing to do with whether an independent Scotland is a part of NATO, which removes the argument that not being part of NATO is the only way to ensure that the weapons are removed from Scotland.


Which brings me back to the point from which I started. Nuclear weapons have nothing to do with membership of NATO. The real issue is the nature of NATO itself, and specifically what direction it might take in future.

If the SNP believes that NATO's aggressive operations in places like Afghanistan and Libya are not going to become the norm then NATO is an organization that is worth joining. If it's good enough for Norway, Denmark and Iceland, friendly countries that Scotland's armed forces will need to work with to defend themselves and Europe against any threat from the north, then it makes good sense for Scotland to be part of that defence structure. Besides that, NATO could do with another voice arguing to prevent it becoming involved in non-defensive operations such as Afghanistan and Libya.

So to my mind, the only reason to retain the policy of not joining NATO is if the SNP is convinced that NATO has moved irreversibly beyond its stated treaty aims to become an organization by which the USA and other countries (including, sadly, the UK) can seek to impose their will on other parts of the world through the use of force.

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