The Celtic Array ... or Wylfa B?

At Plaid's Spring Conference last weekend I had a short chat with Dafydd Elis-Thomas. As any regular reader of this blog will know, I've been very critical of Dafydd because of the lies he told about Plaid's policy on nuclear power in the leadership campaign, but I'm not the sort of person who would say anything about him on this blog that I wouldn't say to his face. I owed him that. Though, as you might imagine, he didn't react too well.

He gave jobs as his main reason for being in favour of a new nuclear power station at Wylfa B, to which I said that the plans for renewable energy off the coast of Ynys Môn could provide jobs without the need for a new nuclear power plant. He thought I was talking about the Gwynt y Môr offshore windfarm, but I was in fact talking about the plans for the Round 3 Irish Sea Zone. This is set to produce seven or eight times the power that will be produced by Gwynt y Môr, and will in fact produce more electricity than the old Wylfa power station ever did. Dafydd told me in no uncertain terms that I was talking complete rubbish, that it would take at least twenty years for those windfarms to be built, and that a new power station at Wylfa was the only realistic hope for jobs on the island.

So let's look at the facts in more detail.

In terms of electricity produced, the present Wylfa power station has an installed capacity of 980 MW which would mean it could produce 8,585 GWh/yr if operated continuously. But, like any power station, it cannot be operated continuously. Averaged over its lifetime Wylfa has only operated at 56% of that capacity, producing an average of about 4,800 GWh/yr.

The Irish Sea Zone will comprise a series of windfarms with an installed capacity of about 4,200 MW. Even if we use a conservative capacity factor of 35% these windfarms will produce about 12,877 GWh/yr. Half as much again as Wylfa produced even when running flat out, and more than two-and-a-half times what Wylfa produced on average. As originally presented, the rationale behind the UK's nuclear programme was to replace the capacity of the UK's existing nuclear power stations when they came to the end of their working life. These Irish Sea Zone windfarms will easily replace the capacity of Wylfa ... and much more.

In terms of timescale, the Round 3 contracts were allocated in January 2010. There are two Round 3 Zones off the coast of Wales. The one in the Irish Sea (Zone 9) was awarded to Centrica, and the one in the Bristol Channel (Zone 8) to RWE npower. I have to say that RWE have been rather quicker out of the blocks than Centrica. They have come up with a firm proposal for what they have called the Atlantic Array and will submit it for planning approval this year. If approved, they hope it will be completed by 2016.

Centrica is running a little further behind. The latest information can be accessed from this page, and they are still at the stage of identifying suitable sites within the zone, but they plan to submit a proposal for approval in 2013. However there was a major announcement last week, which would indicate that things will now move forward at a pace.

     Dong Energy splashes out £40m on Centrica’s Irish Sea offshore wind plan

Dong Energy is one the major players in wind energy, and is 76% owned by the Danish government. They wouldn't buy into the project unless they were convinced it was a positive investment based on the work Centrica has been doing to establish the viability of specific sites within the zone. Essentially the project has moved from investigation and feasibility to a concrete project, which they have called the Celtic Array.

If things now move forward at the same pace as with the Atlantic Array, we should be looking at something which will be producing electricity in 2017 or 2018. The idea that it would take at least twenty years was either wishful thinking on the part of someone who wanted nuclear energy at any cost, or misinformation.

In terms of jobs, this is what RWE say on their website about how many jobs will be created for the Atlantic Array in the Bristol Channel:

Current estimations suggest that 3,000 people would be employed during the construction phase of the wind farm through all levels of the supply chain. In addition, around 200 full time positions would be created in order to maintain the wind farm over its operational life of 25 years.

The Atlantic Array will have an installed capacity of 1,500 MW. The Celtic Array will be almost three times larger and therefore provide work for maybe 8,000 in the construction stage and 500 on a permanent basis. That certainly compares very favourably with the estimates for how much work would be created by a new nuclear power station at Wylfa.

But the other factor is that hundreds of people will have to be employed for many decades to come simply decommissioning the current nuclear power station and making it safe. Jobs in the nuclear industry in north west Wales are assured for many years into the future even if a new nuclear power station at Wylfa isn't built.


So on three counts—the electricity produced, the jobs created and the timescale on which it can be brought into operation—the Celtic Array is a far better option for the energy needs of Wales and for the economic prosperity of Ynys Môn than building a new power station at Wylfa. That's without mentioning the safety issues surrounding nuclear, the unbudgeted costs of decommissioning and long-term storage of nuclear waste, the uninsurability of the risks, and the possibility that any commercial operator will go bust leaving future taxpayers with the problem of paying to clean up the mess for centuries to come.


Today, E.ON and RWE have announced that they are pulling out of the Wylfa B project. Yes, that's the very same RWE that is steaming ahead with its investment in the Atlantic Array off our southern coast. RWE have finally realized that Wylfa B is a bad investment that is unlikely to realize a profit, but the story with renewables is completely different.

The UK Government is obviously bitterly disappointed. They were elected on a manifesto commitment to allow nuclear power stations to be built "provided that they receive no public subsidy". But they have been consistently breaking that promise with hidden, backdoor subsidies, as a select committee made up of a majority of their own MPs reported only last year.

It should now be obvious to them that the subsidies they were trying to sneak in were still not enough. The UK Government will of course be looking for a new operator to take over the project, but if E.ON and RWE can't make a profit out of Wylfa B what on earth makes them think that any other operator will be able to do it? The commercial risks are too great. They always were. I'm not aware of any nuclear power station that has been built on a commercial basis without extensive public subsidy.

The Welsh Government is left looking like a bunch of fools. Only a couple of weeks ago they made a U-turn on their 2011 manifesto commitment that we in Wales can produce all the electricity we need from renewables and therefore had no need for nuclear. I guess they were just trying to be cute. They obviously thought that Wylfa B would be forced on us irrespective of whether they approved or not; but they didn't want to be seen as losers, switched horses at the last minute, and are now lying face down in the turf. Ample proof that if you ditch your principles, you'll be the one that ends up in the ditch. See ... I learnt something from a weekend at Ffos Las!


My answer to today's news is simple. Let Wylfa die the death it should have died years ago. It is an expensive and potentially dangerous way of producing electricity that Wales simply doesn't need, and it will land future generations with an ongoing bill for centuries to come.

It's important that Wales is self-sufficient in electricity. It's important that Ynys Môn has employment and is economically prosperous. It's important that we back a project that can be providing that energy, those jobs and that prosperity within a few years.

The Celtic Array ... or Wylfa B? No contest.

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Talking Sense on Green Energy

Perhaps more by accident than design—it was taking place at the same time as the BBC's programme was going out on Saturday—I can show people part of the panel discussion on the green economy, and energy production in particular, at Plaid's Spring Conference:


One of the main reasons for me wanting to highlight this discussion is because it debunks the all too often repeated myth that subsidies for renewable energy are primarily responsible for increases in electricity prices. As Madoc explained, subsidies for renewable electricity generation in the form of tradable Renewables Obligation Certificates are indeed responsible for some of the increase in electricity prices ... but only a very small part of it. The bulk of the increase is due to the rising cost of fuels: of oil, as we can see all too well in the cost of transport fuel; but of gas in particular, as we can see in our heating bills. About half of Wales' electricity is currently generated by gas.

The basic underlying reason for the rise in fuel costs is the inexorable rise in demand, particular from large developing countries like China, India and Brazil. Prices will continue to rise in parallel with the increase in demand for finite and ever more difficult to exploit resources.

Haf made the point that fossil fuels receive a far greater subsidy than renewables. These articles and papers explain that in more detail:

     Guardian, 27 February 2012
     Guardian DataBlog
     OECD Report

On tidal power, and with regard to the question of the maximum installed capacity for electricity generation that can be decided by the Welsh Government, both Madoc and Ian were wrong. The 50 MW limit applies only to land based projects. The limit for marine energy projects is actually much smaller, only 1 MW. Decision making responsibility for marine projects between 1 and 100 MW currently rests with the Marine Management Organization. I only found that out a year ago, as I noted here.

I also have to take issue with Ian on the idea of combining tidal lagoons and coastal protection. There are two different types of tidal lagoon: detached or offshore tidal lagoons such as that proposed by Tidal electric for Swansea Bay, and attached tidal lagoons that are built against the shoreline. One of the big disadvantages of a barrage is that it adversely affects the ecological habitat on the shoreline, but attached tidal lagoons have exactly the same negative impact. They also collect silt from any rivers that flow into the lagoon (although with careful positioning, this can be minimized) and this will reduce the amount of electricity they are able to generate. There's a more detailed explanation here. I think offshore tidal lagoons such as the one proposed for Swansea Bay are much better from both an ecological and electricity generation point of view.

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Leanne's Speech to Spring Conference

I was very impressed with Plaid's Spring Conference this weekend. The mood was upbeat and positive, and virtually everyone I spoke to thought that Plaid had made a huge step forward by electing Leanne as leader ... and was now set to make huge steps forward under her leadership.

This was her first speech as leader:


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Regional Pay

It has been quite remarkable to see the chorus of disapproval from Welsh Labour AMs at the idea of regional pay. Mick Antoniw and Mark Drakeford have provided the latest backing vocals to lead singer Carwyn Jones, who described regional pay as "absolutely wrong, absolutely immoral" only a few months ago.

To me, it is a perfect example of the old trick of shouting blame at the Tories and LibDems so loudly that no-one will remember that regional pay was something introduced by the last Labour government in Westminster. The subject was again raised in yesterday's First Minister's Questions. But why did no-one put Carwyn on the spot by asking him how he can be so opposed to regional pay when it is proposed by the ConDem coalition, yet keep completely silent about it when it was actually implemented by his own party in 2007? It was an opportunity missed by every other party in the Assembly yesterday ... although not missed by either Cameron or Osborne in the Commons today.


However in this post I want to ignore the noisy bandwagon and say something which will probably surprise some people reading this. Moving away from UK-wide (or Englandandwales-wide) pay scales is not necessarily a bad thing for Wales. It all depends on the precise circumstances of what is and isn't devolved to Wales.

In simple terms, regional pay is a bad thing for Wales if those affected are paid by a department of the Westminster government, but not a bad thing if the public sector workers involved are paid by the Welsh Government or by local authorities in Wales. Two contrasting examples will illustrate this.

In the case of the courts system, court workers are paid by the Department of Justice in Westminster. When the Labour Government introduced regional pay in 2007, Wales and many parts of northern and western England were put into the lowest of the five pay bands. This means that less money has come into Wales in the form of salaries, and therefore that less money is circulating in the economy of Wales as a whole because of the reduction in what those court employees can spend locally on goods and services.

But moving from UK-wide pay scales would be entirely different in the case of teachers. Teachers are paid by local authorities, and local authorities get their money mainly through the Welsh Government (which it gets from the block grant) with some additional money raised through council tax and charges. Only a comparatively small part of a local authority's income comes directly from Westminster, as a result of the Treasury supplementing the pooled and redistributed money from non-domestic rates.

The block grant that Wales gets is based on the Barnett Formula, which is based on our population (and if that formula were to be replaced, it would probably be replaced by a needs based formula, which would be even better). Therefore the amount of money coming into the Welsh economy would be almost completely unaffected if teachers in Wales were to be paid at a lower national rate than the average in England. Teachers in Wales would of course be affected, but the Welsh economy as a whole would not be affected. One of three things would happen:

•  The local authorities in Wales would, if they received the same money from the Welsh Government as they do now, simply spend less of it on teachers' salaries and have correspondingly more to spend on the other services they provide.

•  Or the local authorities in Wales could reduce council tax, leaving more in the pockets of council tax payers, which would then find its way into the Welsh economy.

•  Or the Welsh government could give local authorities less money and instead spend more on the services it provides.

In all three cases, the total amount of money in the Welsh economy remains unaffected. The basic rule is that if a public sector employee in Wales is paid directly by a department in Westminster, Wales will lose out by the introduction of regional pay. But if a public sector employee is paid from money that comes through the Assembly (or is raised locally) moving from UK-wide pay scales has no overall adverse effect on the economy of Wales.


This means one important thing: that the Welsh economy will benefit by more areas of responsibility being devolved to Wales.

To illustrate this, let's look again at the court workers currently employed by the Ministry of Justice who since 2007 have been earning significantly less than the English average because of the regional pay structure imposed on them by the last Labour government in Westminster, even though they are doing the same work. This is a map showing the extent of the pay bands:


If the administration of justice is devolved to Wales, Welsh court employees would instead be paid by a new Welsh Ministry of Justice out of the block grant received from the Treasury. The level of that block grant would need to be adjusted from what it is now, but under the Barnett Formula we would get a proportionate share of the money spent by the Ministry of Justice in England, and more if it were to be replaced by a needs based formula. England would presumably continue with the same five pay bands, with employees in London (Band 1) earning more than those in the home counties (Band 2), south central England (Band 3), the wider south and east of England (Band 4) and the wider north and west of England (Band 5). But the average for England as a whole would be roughly at the Band 3 level, and therefore Wales would get the equivalent of Band 3 included in the block grant as opposed to Band 5 ... which is the band we are currently in on an Englandandwales basis.

Therefore if the administration of justice were to be devolved to Wales, the Welsh Government could decide either to give the workers in the Welsh courts system a pay rise so that they get the same as the average in England; or they could keep them on the lower rate and spend the extra money on something else instead. It's a political decision, and that's probably what the Labour party are so uncomfortable about. But whatever they decided, more money would be circulating in Wales to benefit the Welsh economy.


Turning now to George Osborne's budget speech, it looks certain that regional pay is going to be extended by the current ConDem government. The details are a little sparse at present, but as reported the BBC:

Some government departments will have the option to introduce more local pay for civil servants whose wage freezes end this year, the chancellor announced.

BBC, 21 March 2012

By definition, any local or regional pay that affects employees in Wales and that is determined by government departments at Westminster will be in areas which are not devolved to Wales. Therefore introducing it will have a negative effect on the Welsh economy as I described above.

We can complain all we like, but ConDem coalition has a majority at Westminster and will therefore push through whatever they want despite our objections. So my advice is simple. When the Westminster government proposes regional pay for the police, for example, the best way for the Welsh Government to avoid the inevitable negative effect on the Welsh economy will be to press to devolve policing to Wales. And exactly the same applies to every other area which is not devolved to Wales.

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The 50p tax rate

I had to smile when I heard George Osborne say the 50p tax rate damages the economy and raises next to nothing.

If it is raising "next to nothing" how can it possibly be damaging the economy?

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Plaid's new deputy leader and shadow cabinet

One of the things that disturbed me in the Plaid Cymru leadership campaign was the deal that was done between Simon Thomas and Elin Jones, in which he agreed to stand down and give her his support in return for him becoming deputy leader of the party. As I noted at the time, the leader of Plaid Cymru cannot determine who will be her deputy after she is elected. It is up to the party's AMs, and only the party's AMs, to decide who the deputy leader should be.

Of course if the leader expressed a preference there would be a very good chance that she would get her way; not because she has the right to make that decision, but because after any internal election everybody is anxious to make a show of uniting behind the new leader so as to heal any wounds that might have been inflicted during the campaign.


Now I don't for a moment what to suggest that this leadership campaign has been damaging to Plaid. In fact it has been the exact opposite. We have been put in the full glare of the media spotlight, and have been shown to be everything we pride ourselves on being: an open, transparent, democratic party in which the view of every single member matters equally. And although the media have been portraying Leanne's election as a radical step to the left, I think all we have really done is elect a leader who best represents what we already stand for. One of our problems as a party was that the collective leadership did not always represent the views of the majority of party members as consistently expressed in our party conferences. That will now change.

But what will not change—at least not in the immediate future—is who our elected AMs are. It's worth reminding ourselves that the majority of AMs supported Elin and expected her to win. Most commentators and the bookmakers did too. So some of us will have sore heads because we have been celebrating Leanne's victory; but others will have sore heads trying to work out why Elin did not get elected, what it means for the party ... and what it means for them and their political futures. Outwardly, it will all be unity, sweetness and light; but inwardly there will be some serious soul-searching going on.


In the immediate future two issues have to be sorted out: who will be deputy leader, and who will speak for Plaid on various policy issues.

On the subject of deputy leader, it is up to AMs to decide who this will be in a secret ballot. My advice to Leanne is not to express any preference about who the deputy leader should be. Let your fellow AMs decide that for themselves. But I do have advice for any Plaid AMs who are reading this. The position of deputy leader is mainly symbolic, but it is important. The main problem I had with the Elin Jones/Simon Thomas "joint ticket" was that both were from the same part of Wales, and that the pairing could make Plaid look like some sort of Cardi Club. But I am very much in favour of a balanced pairing, and I think we would do well to look at how well the pairing of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon has worked for the SNP.

In this post last year I said that the leader and deputy leader should complement each other in these respects:

•  One should be from north or west Wales, the other from the south
•  One should be male, the other female
•  One should be bilingual, the other should not be a Welsh speaker

So with Leanne as leader I think the ideal deputy leader for Plaid would be based in north or west Wales, male, and a fluent Welsh speaker. That seems to suggest Alun Ffred Jones, Simon Thomas and Llyr Huws Gruffydd as being right for the job. Alun Ffred is a very good choice in that he almost epitomizes the traditional, cultural roots of the party; Simon would not have made a good deputy to Elin because of being based in the same area, but could be a good deputy to Leanne; but I personally think that Llyr might be the best choice, above all because he has impressed me as an excellent communicator. So I'd encourage you three to consider putting yourselves forward. I don't think that the job of deputy leader should be a "runner-up prize", and for that reason I think it would be wrong for either Elin or Dafydd to be deputy leader. As I see it, the deputy leader needs to balance and complement the leader so that the party can reach out to the maximum number of people in Wales.


The second thing that needs to be decided is who will speak for Plaid on various policy issues. At present each of our 11 AMs has these specific areas of responsibility:

Ieuan Wyn Jones:   Finance & the Constitution

Jocelyn Davies:   Planning, Business Manager & Chief Whip

Elin Jones:   Health

Simon Thomas:   Education, Higher Education & Skills

Alun Ffred Jones:   Business, Enterprise, Technology & Science

Leanne Wood:   Housing & Regeneration

Rhodri Glyn Thomas:   Europe, Local Government, Communities & Transport

Dafydd Elis-Thomas:   Environment & Energy

Bethan Jenkins:   Heritage, Welsh Language & Sport

Lindsay Whittle:   Social Services, Children & Equal Opportunities

Llyr Huws Gruffydd:   Rural Affairs (inc. Agriculture, Animal Health & Welfare)

Who gets which job is something that only the party leader can decide. But the first question I would ask is whether we actually need to give every single one of our AMs a portfolio. After all, there only eight AMs in the Cabinet.

The priority is for us be able to present a coherent set of policies, and I'd like to suggest to Leanne that this might be better done by having fewer spokespersons, but ones who are able to articulate and communicate—both in the Assembly and to the public at large—how our policies fit together. I also think that some AMs might prefer not to have a specific responsibility, and would be happier and more effective if allowed a freer role.

One thing Leanne does need to be firm about is that if someone takes on a role as a spokesperson on a particular issue, they must present the party's policy on that issue, rather than their own personal views. To my mind it made a mockery of the party to have appointed Dafydd Elis-Thomas as our spokesman on energy. As we have seen all too clearly, he refuses to accept Plaid Cymru's position on nuclear power and has consistently misrepresented it. This could only have happened because our previous leader was equally against Plaid's policy on nuclear power. That sort of ambivalence needs to be put firmly behind us.

If we are serious about making significant progress as a party, we will need a greater measure of discipline and determination than we have shown before. But I'm sure Leanne will be more than equal to that challenge.

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Let your true colours shine through, Leanne

I'm absolutely delighted by the result of the Plaid Cymru leadership election, and want to congratulate Leanne on a brilliant performance and well deserved victory.


Leanne, I'm sure you will be bombarded from all sides with advice on what you should do now you are leader, and I'll do it too. But this is the most important piece of advice I can give you:

We elected you as our leader because of who you are and what you stand for. Please don't think you have to change because of the position you now hold or the new responsibilities you now have. Sure, there'll be some things you'll want to do differently, but don't change the things that matter.

To your own self be true. Let your true colours shine through.


6,041 out of 7,863 ballot papers were returned, a turnout of 76.83%

First preferences:

     Leanne Wood ... 2,879 ... 47.66%
     Elin Jones ... 1,884 ... 31.19%
     Dafydd Elis-Thomas ... 1,278 ... 21.15%

Dafydd Elis-Thomas was eliminated and the second preferences of those who had put him first were:

     Leanne Wood ... 477 ... 37.32%
     Elin Jones ... 610 ... 47.73%
     No second preference ... 191 ... 14.95%

Making the final totals:

     Leanne Wood ... 3,326 ... 55.06% ... (or 57.15% of second round)
     Elin Jones ... 2,494 ... 41.28% ... (or 42.85% of second round)

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I missed it when it was being shown on the BBC, but I'm now about half way through catching up with Borgen. Did anyone else notice more than a passing similarity between Sidse Babett Knudsen and our very own Leanne Wood? The shape of nose in particular. Definitely First Minister material.


But then again, what would we expect from a series by Adam Price?

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Side Steps and Side Burns

Here's a song by the Blims to keep us on the boil until Saturday.


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SNP Spring Conference

The SNP's spring conference took place this weekend, with even more people attending than attended the record breaking main conference last autumn.

Here is the opening speech by Nicola Sturgeon followed by the main keynote speech from Alex Salmond.



There's a lot more in the BBC's full programme here on iPlayer.

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Carwyn rips up Labour's manifesto

Towards the end of First Minister's questions on Tuesday there was this exchange between Carwyn Jones and Leanne Wood, which I want to thank Naturiaethwr for drawing to my attention:


Leanne Wood: What discussions has the First Minister had recently with the UK Government on the natural resources of Wales?

First Minister: I attended the joint ministerial committee last month, where I repeated my call for the people of Wales to control renewable energy projects up to 100 MW.

Leanne Wood: Thank you for clarifying that, First Minister. Can you confirm that you only asked for energy projects up to 100 MW and that you did not ask for anything more? If you can confirm that, can you explain to us why your ambition for Wales is so limited?

First Minister: Because it's in renewable energy that we have the greatest potential in projects up to 100 MW. I suspect that that question is based on nuclear ...

Leanne Wood: No, not at all. It is nothing to do ...

First Minister: We fully support Wylfa B as a development for the people of Anglesey. I do not know whether your party does or not. We certainly want to ensure that, when it comes to renewable energy, the people of Wales have proper control over their resources.

Poor Carwyn was wrong on two counts. First, he claimed that the greatest renewable energy potential was in projects up to 100 MW. It isn't ... not by a very long way.

In terms of offshore wind, the size of the large projects in Rounds 2 and 3 completely dwarfs all the other windfarms in Wales put together. Gwynt y Môr, currently under construction, is 576 MW. The Atlantic Array in the Bristol Channel is 1,500 MW with about a third of this in Welsh waters. The Irish Sea Zone windfarms will probably have an installed capacity of 3,715 MW in Welsh waters, as I described in this post. At present, the total installed capacity of onshore windfarms, every one of which is below 100 MW, is about 377 MW. Even if we add the Round 1 offshore windfarms of North Hoyle at 60 MW and Rhyl Flats at 90 MW, there is still nine times more potential in larger schemes than in smaller ones of 100 MW or less.

In terms of energy from tidal lagoons—our other big potential source of renewable energy—the WS Atkins study for Tidal Electric identified six sites on the Welsh side of the Bristol Channel. The three larger ones totalled 3,300 MW, and the three that were 100 MW or less totalled 208 MW.


So there is fifteen times more potential in larger schemes than smaller ones of 100 MW or less. Carwyn really didn't have the first clue what he was talking about. He's looking at the small things, but completely missing the big picture.


But his second mistake was worse. For some reason he got in into his head that Leanne was asking him specifically about nuclear power. She wasn't, but that didn't stop him displaying his ignorance about Plaid Cymru's policy on nuclear energy in Wales.

Perhaps we can forgive him that, for there are one or two mavericks in Plaid who have tried hard to confuse people by misrepresenting what our policy is. But there really is no excuse for him not knowing what his own stated policy on nuclear energy is. Labour's manifesto for the Assembly election in May last year says:

The Assembly Government's Low Carbon Energy Statement sets out how we intend to maximise energy savings and energy efficiency, making the majority of the energy production we need in Wales from low carbon sources.

Welsh Labour Manifesto, 2011

And in that document it says:

Our approach to nuclear power in Wales is ... we remain of the view that the high level of interest in exploiting the huge potential for renewable energy reduces the need for other, more hazardous, forms of low carbon energy and obviates the need for new nuclear power stations.

Low Carbon Energy Statement, March 2010

Every one of Labour's AMs was elected on the basis of a manifesto pledge that Wales had no need for nuclear power. So what was Carwyn playing at by claiming that "we fully support Wylfa B as a development for the people of Anglesey"?

Is he just showing us how ignorant he is of his own party's manifesto? Has his government's policy position changed ... and was this done with the consent or even knowledge of his fellow Labour AMs? Or has the Labour party now got itself a maverick leader who's decided that what he thinks party policy should be on this issue is more important than the manifesto he and his fellow AMs were actually elected on?

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A Charity Commission for Wales ... and more

Yesterday, Plaid Cymru called for the establishment of a dedicated Charity Commission for Wales. The timing was a little cringeworthy, making it look rather like the AWEMA scandal was a bandwagon to be jumped on. AWEMA is just one of several thousand charities in Wales, and I don't think we need to change the way charities are regulated in Wales just because of one of them was rotten. Our approach needs to be coherent and principled rather than run the risk of being seen as opportunistic.

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own bodies: the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland. So the question to ask is why Wales should be in a different position. Cheryl Gillan's Wales Office is quoted in the Western Mail as giving this reason:

"Wales shares the same legal jurisdiction as England, so establishing a separate Welsh Charity Commission would lead to unnecessary duplication, bureaucracy, inconsistency and confusion, particularly for the large number of charities that operate throughout England and Wales."

Western Mail, 5 March 2012

But would it? Let's look at it more closely.


It might interest people to know that the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland has only recently some into existence as the result of the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) in 2008. Prior to this, charities in the Six Counties did not need to be registered, and indeed could not be registered as charities. The only way their existence as charities could be officially recognized was through their tax status.

This was hardly a good state of affairs; but as registration of charities is considered necessary, why set up a new and separate Charity Commission for Northern Ireland rather than bring the Six Counties under the wing of the Charity Commission for England and Wales? There must be a large number of charities that operate across Wales, England and Northern Ireland, so if we follow Cheryl Gillan's reasoning it would surely have been more consistent and less confusing to do that than to set up a completely separate commission, even though there are obviously costs involved in terms of duplication and bureaucracy. In the case of Northern Ireland, the greater benefits of a separate commission in terms of local knowledge, greater transparency and more direct accountability were obviously seen to outweigh those disadvantages. Wouldn't the same be just as true for Wales?

Besides that, a separate Charity Commission for Wales would also be consistent with the Tories' proclaimed commitment to "nothing less than radical decentralization". So it would appear that the only substantive objection to setting up a separate Charity Commission that the Wales Office has left is the matter of Wales and England being part of the same legal jurisdiction.


Now I'm not at all convinced that this really is an obstacle. There are already several separate regulatory bodies for Wales even though we are part of the same legal jurisdiction as England; for example the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, the Care Council for Wales, the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and the General Teaching Council for Wales. There really shouldn't be a problem adding the regulation of charities to this list, especially because many of them tend to work in areas which are already devolved to Wales and because many of them will receive some funding through either the Welsh government or Welsh local authorities.

But perhaps it might be better to put the issue the other way round and say that once a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales has been recognized, then not only the Charity Commission but all similar organizations should be reconstituted as separate Welsh and English bodies.

There is certainly momentum for Wales to become a separate legal jurisdiction. Carwyn Jones has been arguing strongly for it since immediately after the referendum on primary lawmaking powers, for example here; and the Assembly itself (not to be confused with the Welsh Government) launched a parallel consultation on the issue last December, details of which are here. The Scoping Paper on that page provides a short and easy to digest outline of the issues involved. The 357 pages of submitted evidence takes rather more determination to get through.

As I see it, a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales is already emerging. It is more a question of recognizing that a divergence between the law that applies in Wales and the law that applies in England has been happening slowly for some decades, has increased since the Assembly was established, and will now accelerate as the result of the Assembly becoming a legislature with primary lawmaking powers. It therefore makes sense for the administration of justice to be devolved to the Assembly in just the same way as it is already devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In practical terms this is what being a separate legal jurisdiction entails. In itself, it is not a particularly big step to take, but getting it will remove many of the previous objections to Wales getting a devolution settlement that is broadly equivalent to that of Scotland and Northern Ireland.


Which brings us back to the point about a Charity Commission for Wales. We know full well that despite the Conservative party's declared commitment to decentralization, the Wales Office has the same knee-jerk reaction to any call to devolve more areas of responsibility to Wales: they will always come up with a reason not to do it. So let's play them at their own game. Even though I think it's bogus, let's accept that their reason for not having a Charity Commission for Wales is simply because we do not have a separate legal jurisdiction in Wales. But when we do get that, as I think is inevitable, there will be no reason left for refusing not only to let us have this, but for the same logic not to apply to all the other regulatory bodies which are currently constituted on an England and Wales basis.

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Delusions of Grandeur

I got a rather strange email from Dafydd Elis-Thomas on Friday in which he said:

If you have already returned your voting paper, thank you for participating in the democratic process. If you have not yet done so, may we ask you to use your vote fully in order of preference. If you are not able to give us first preference, I ask you to consider us as second preference, since this could certainly make a difference to the result.

Dafydd Elis-Thomas, 2 March 2012

We? Us? Since when has he been using such ridiculous, pompous language to describe himself?


Ah, that explains everything.

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The votes for independence are on the left

I was interested in a recent post by Alwyn ap Huw on Miserable Old Fart in which he said that only about a sixth of those who want independence vote for Plaid Cymru. The implication was that Plaid should do more to attract the other five-sixths.

So I looked at the figures in more detail, in particular because the full figures included cross-breaks for voting intention in both Westminster and Assembly elections. The BBC poll published today doesn't do that, I think because the BBC has a policy of not doing party political polls.

In overall terms about 10% of the Welsh adult population want independence. That was the YouGov/ITV figure last month, and the ICM/BBC figures are 7% and 12%, depending on whether Scotland becomes independent. But that 10% or so is made up of supporters from the four main parties as follows:

Westminster voting intentions

Plaid ... 45% of 11% = 4.95%
Labour ... 7% of 50% = 3.50%
Tory ... 6% of 25% = 1.50%
LibDem ... 10% of 6% = 0.60%

Assembly constituency voting intentions

Plaid ... 33% of 17% = 5.61%
Labour ... 6% of 49% = 2.76%
Tory ... 6% of 20% = 1.20%
LibDem ... 10% of 7% = 0.70%

So it's wrong to say that only a sixth of those who want independence vote for Plaid Cymru. In Assembly election terms the figure is about 55%, in Westminster terms about 47%.

It is particularly interesting that, after Plaid supporters, the next biggest group of those who want independence for Wales votes Labour. In each case the combined Plaid Cymru/Labour percentage representing the left-of-centre on the political spectrum is about 8.4%, compared with more like 2% on the right-of-centre (that's if we consider the LibDems to be centre-right, which they certainly are in Westminster terms).

This shows that by a factor of more than four to one (and if the LibDems want to claim that they are not a right-of-centre party in Wales, the figure only increases) those who support independence are on the left of the political spectrum.


This has fairly profound implications. In terms of the Plaid Cymru leadership election, it shows that a party that is unambiguously seen as being on the left of the political spectrum will be very much more likely to pick up support from those that want Wales to be independent but don't currently vote for Plaid Cymru than we would be if we elected a leader that was more ambiguous about being left-of-centre.

But secondly, these figures indicate that if another of the main parties in Wales is going to move towards independence, it will be Labour. But it will not be for particularly "nationalist" reasons. I predict that Labour voters in Wales will simply not want to remain a part of a UK that has moved so far to the right in the past thirty years under both Tory and Labour governments in Westminster, and that is continuing to move inexorably to the right now. I don't think it's too much of an exaggeration to say that social democratic model welfare state is being systematically dismantled; and that even though Labour are protesting about it now, it was in fact Labour itself that introduced things like the internal market in the health service. Remember that immediately after devolution, Labour did the same in Wales and only made a U-turn away from it (reinstating, more or less, the health boards we had before) as a result of the One Wales Agreement in 2007. Today's ICM/BBC poll shows that Wales is against the competitive, increasingly privatized health service model being implemented in England by a huge 77% to 18%.

In short, independence for Wales will be the only way of creating a fairer, more socially just and equal society. Independence will in fact be driven every bit as much by left wing values as it has been by traditional nationalist values. A Plaid Cymru that is clear and unambiguous about both its left wing and its nationalist credentials is much more likely to make the electoral breakthrough we are looking for in the areas outside our traditional heartlands.

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