Living to see it happen

While putting together a post on the situation in Catalunya, I saw one graph which was particularly striking. Click the image for a larger version.


It shows the levels of support for four different constitutional arrangements for Catalunya: no autonomy, the status quo as an autonomous community, being part of a federal Spain, and independence ... plus the don't knows and won't says at the bottom.

In November 2005, support for independence as shown by the green line stood at 12.9%. Now, less than seven years later, it has become the most popular of the four options with support for it standing at 34.0%.

Here in Wales, support for independence stood at 11% in both 2010 and 2011. Not so very different from the degree of support for Catalan independence in 2005, and at the sort of level where those of us who want an independent Wales would be told in no uncertain terms that we'd never live to see it happen.

If support for independence can grow so rapidly from such a low base in Catalunya, it could grow as rapidly in Wales.

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Annual WMES Report ... urgent action required

I haven't seen it reported anywhere in the media, but thought people might like to know that the second Annual Report on the Welsh-medium Education Strategy was published yesterday. Click the images to read it in either Welsh or English.


The picture is one of progress on most counts, but in some of the most critical areas this will not be enough to meet even the modest targets set out in the original WMES.

For example, the percentage of Key Stage 1 assessments in Welsh to first language standard (Outcome 1) was up only 0.1% to 21.9%, and the percentage of Key Stage 3 assessments in Welsh to first language standard (Outcome 2) was up only 0.3% to 16.3%. At these rates of progress the 2015 targets of 25% and 19% respectively will not be met.

Alarm bells should now be ringing ... and indeed that's exactly what these annual reports are for. We probably do have time to improve things in order to meet the 2015 targets, but will need to take positive action now. I trust that the right questions will be directed at the minister responsible.

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Ysgol Bro Teyrnon

Because it was only reported by the BBC in Welsh, I thought it would be a good idea to tell anyone who missed it about the official opening of Ysgol Bro Teyrnon in Newport last Friday.


     Ysgol Gymraeg newydd i Gasnewydd

This school had its first intake of children last September, and was planned to take 17 in the first year. It started with 16, but the demand has meant it has now had to take 24. Roughly the same number of new pupils will start this coming September. In total, more than 105 new pupils are expected to be admitted to Newport's three Welsh-medium primaries in September, and the demand is expected to keep on growing.


The problem is that Ysgol Bro Teyrnon does not have a permanent home. For now, it is being housed in Maindee Primary School—just behind the Rodney Parade rugby ground as we can see in the picture above—which has enough surplus space to accommodate maybe three WM year groups, but no more. Newport had planned to build a brand new two form entry WM school at Percoed Reen, to the south west of the city between Dyffryn and Coedcernyw as part of their original 21st century schools bid, at a cost of £12.5m. But the cuts to that programme of capital spending resulted in it being dropped in their revised bid:

Welsh-medium primary provision has been reduced in concept by a reduction in capital from £12.5m to a mere £1m, taking this project from a new build to remodelling within the current estate in order to relocate to a permanent site.

Revised 21st Century Schools Bid, November 2011

This means that the new home for Ysgol Bro Teyrnon will have to be in an existing school building, and the options are limited. I believe (though someone with more local knowledge might tell me better) that the former Durham Road Primary school building has not been disposed of following the move to the brand new Glan Usk Primary school a few years ago. The old building is hardly ideal, but it's better than nothing.


Apart from moving into vacated school premises the only other option would be to amalgamate two existing schools onto one site, and then use the other building. Needless to say, that would be fraught with difficulties.


As mentioned in the video report, the next big problem will be to open a WM secondary school for these children to move up to in a few years' time. At present children in Newport, Monmouthshire, Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent move on to Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw in Trefethin, but the continuing expansion of WM education across Gwent means that a second school will be needed within the next few years.

The obvious location would be somewhere in Newport; but if Newport can't afford to build a new WM primary, it's unlikely that they will be able to afford at least twice as much to build a brand new WM secondary. The most likely solution would therefore be to take advantage of the fact that Torfaen are planning on amalgamating Llantarnam and Fairwater schools on a new site (with the support of both schools, as we can read here) which they can still afford to do within their revised 21st Century Schools bid.


As we can see form the map above, Llantarnam School is less than 2km from the Newport border and has good transport links to take children from Newport and Ysgol Y Ffin in Caldicot, and perhaps from Cwmbran too. From the picture below it appears to be in serviceable condition, but if appearances are deceptive it could at least be a temporary solution until a new school can be built.


Taking one step back to see the wider picture, the biggest long-term problem is finding the capital to build new school premises. This is particularly true in Newport because it does not have a great number of surplus places in EM schools, mainly due to population growth. The original 21st Century Schools programme allowed for 70% funding from the Welsh Government and 30% funding from local authorities. In the revised programme, the split is 50% each.

The Welsh Government cannot borrow, and this situation is unlikely to change anytime soon. It certainly won't happen until after Silk has reported, and in my opinion won't happen even then unless the WG agrees to accept significant tax setting powers at the same time. The Treasury's argument is that you can't borrow money on your own account unless you have at your control the means of raising money to pay it back. But there are two other possibilities.

The first is the Build for Wales model, which is essentially PFI but through a not-for-distributable-profit body. The problem with PFI is the excessive profits made by the consortia, particularly on maintenance over a 25 or 30 year period; but that problem disappears if the profits are recycled to the next scheme (or back to the public purse) rather than distributed to private shareholders.

The second possibility is for the Welsh Government to coordinate the existing borrowing powers of local authorities, but to directly reimburse them for the cost of that borrowing. This has already been done once: only last month the WG set up a £60m programme with local authorities to pay for road repairs. As I mentioned in this post at the time, we should not be borrowing money to pay for maintenance, but it would be perfectly acceptable to use the same model for capital expenditure on new schools.

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Avian Cartography

If you were the proud owner of five thousand ducks, what better thing could you do than train them to walk around in a flock that looks just like a map of Wales?


Well done, Farmer Hong of Taizhou in China’s Zhejiang province. You are an example for avian cartographers across the world to both envy and seek to emulate.

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Savaging your own party policies

Poor Angela Burns (she's the Shadow Minister for Education in the Assembly, for anyone who might not believe it after reading this article) must have thought she was being awfully clever when she issued this press statement condemning the Welsh Government for launching a consultation on whether to reform education qualifications.

But now, only three weeks later, up pops Michael Gove with proposals to implement just about everything she accuses the Welsh Government of wanting to do. Surely what she says must apply every bit as much to England as to Wales, so she must be hoping nobody shows this to her bosses in Westminster:

Wales England must retain internationally-recognised qualifications


Young people in Wales England must have the option to pursue internationally-recognised qualifications, which they can take wherever in the world their future careers take them.

Perhaps in addition to its biased questions, the Welsh Labour English Tory Government should also consult on whether its own policies are fit for purpose, rather than seeking to direct blame for their persistent failures on the qualifications themselves.

When Wales England is underperforming compared to other countries in the world, why does the Minister assume that it’s the qualifications at fault?

This document further highlights the Labour Tory Government’s obsession with their pursuit of difference for its own sake instead of acting in the best interests of Wales England.

Ministers should be working to raise academic performance within the current examination framework rather than proposing a disruptive, costly and unnecessary reorganisation of qualifications.

Welsh Icons, 31 May 2012

Why do I need to savage Michael Gove's hare-brained ideas about educational qualifications when one of his fellow Tories has already done such a good job of it?

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Dreaming of World Domination

Although nothing he has done previously has indicated any ambition for Wales, Carwyn Jones seems to have woken from his latest afternoon snooze with a game plan that might just make a difference to our fortunes.

Personally, I blame it all on Kim Howells. His one brief moment of fame came when he chaired a session of the United Nations Security Council ... and he has never stopped telling any of his party colleagues about it since.


     Kim Howells chairs the UN Security Council

Some medical experts say that this is the cause of Carwyn's narcolepsy. For faced with the same endlessly repeated tale, falling asleep is usually a much better option that running amok with a machete or sub-machine gun, and Carwyn isn't really cut out for anything so active.

But as he slumbered, Kim's words worked their way deep into his subconscious mind. Yes, he thought, my small country can hold the superpowers to account. They will listen to us ... if only ... if only ...


Then it came to him in a flash – and the explosive force of several megatons of TNT proved to be enough, though only just, to wake him up while he still remembered what he had been dreaming about. When Scotland becomes independent, the UK will have to find a new home for its weapons of mass destruction nuclear deterrent. The Scots have been complete fools not to want to keep them. Any real country would surely want to get its own way be a force for good in the world.

But what if Wales took them instead?

Carwyn isn't stupid. He has known for some time that Wales will become independent ... although maybe not for the next ten years. So if we can fool the UK government into spending a fortune to build a new nuclear submarine base in Milford Haven, but declare independence after that and then decide to keep the nuclear weapons rather than force England to find yet another home for them (which they probably couldn't afford to build anyway) we will be the ones that inherit the former UK's permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.

Wales will finally be on the map. The Russians and the Chinese—not to mention those pesky Americans—will have to listen to us now. And in just the same way as the French have used their position at the table to ensure that all UN documents are translated into French, we will be able to ensure that everything is translated into Welsh.

At last we in Wales will have achieved our aim of world domination.

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Paul Flynn on top form

I'd thoroughly recommend Paul Flynn's article today on the supposed effects of the Windsor family on charitable giving.

     Are charities propping up royalty?

If anyone is in any doubt whether to click the link and read the whole thing, his closing paragraph should be enough to clinch it.

Overblown, uncritical, baseless claims of the influence of royals are the currency of sycophancy that engulfs us in contagious infantilism. The heroes of the charity world are flag sellers and jumble sale organizers who are inspired to sacrifice their talents and time for good causes. Many of those will resent the self-serving royals’ attempt to grab the credit for the thankless work of millions.

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£250,000 to be spent on ...

Yesterday's WalesOnline carried a story about the Urdd receiving a £250,000 grant under this headline:

     New Welsh-language investment announced at Urdd National Eisteddfod

I think we need to question the assumptions reflected in this headline. As we can read in the article:

One of the [Urdd's] aims was to see every child and young person given the chance to participate in a Welsh-medium community sports activity.

A spokesman for the Urdd said the £250,000 investment from Sport Wales will allow the movement to double its number of Sport Officers from 10 to 20, increase from 600 to 1,200 the number of young volunteers trained to run community sports clubs, increase from 70 to 140 its number of Welsh-medium community sports clubs and increase to 5,000 the number of participants in ‘drop-in’ sessions.

Sport Wales is responsible for developing and promoting sport and physical activity in Wales, and one of its main roles is to distribute grant and lottery money to various bodies to deliver this. In round terms it distributed some £20m of grant money and £7m of lottery money last year. Set against these figures, this grant of £250,000 is a modest amount, but one that will deliver very real benefits.

But why on earth should this be labelled as "Welsh-language investment" rather than investment in sport and physical activity for young people? In one sense I can't object to it being called that, for the Urdd will organize these activities in Welsh; but if we single this grant out as investment in the Welsh language, then the grants given to bodies that work primarily or only in English must be called investment in the English language.

By that token, very much more public money will be spent on English than will be spent on Welsh.

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I can't do it myself, please push me

It's impossible to be sure about what lies behind Martin Shipton's story in today's Western Mail about Dafydd Elis-Thomas facing possible disciplinary proceedings within Plaid Cymru, but I'd like to offer some suggestions.

It's probably best to start by looking at things from Labour's point of view. First, Labour clearly think that there's a chance of getting Dafydd to defect to them and that it will be a major victory for them if he does. They definitely stand to gain from his defection, for with just one extra seat they will have 31 seats in the Senedd against a combined opposition of only 29 and would probably be able to see out the next few years without needing to do any more deals.

Second, they know and all Wales knows that the one thing Dafydd really wants is to be a government minister. If he defected, Labour would welcome him with open arms and make him Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development (Carwyn will have already drafted the Dear John letter) and from that position Dafydd will be able to espouse his views on things like nuclear power without being at odds with his party colleagues.

Third, Labour obviously hope to gain political capital out of such a defection at Plaid's expense. The line they are currently spinning is that Plaid has made a big mistake by choosing an extreme leader when they should have chosen nice, safe, reasonable, moderate Dafydd. Nice, safe, reasonable and moderate because Dafydd's stated aim if he had become leader of Plaid Cymru was to take us into government with Labour, which would have made Labour's remaining time in government very much more comfortable, but given us—and more importantly Wales—next to nothing. How convenient.


But Labour have almost certainly miscalculated. They probably don't realize that Dafydd's defection would be no loss to Plaid. In fact it would be rather a relief. It could solve some practical problems arising from the reduction of the number of Westminster seats, for example. Instead of Elfyn Llwyd and Hywel Williams having to fight over the one safe Westminster seat Plaid will have in Gwynedd, Elfyn could become the Plaid AM for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (or the new safe Gwynedd seat if there are Assembly boundary changes too) leaving Hywel as the MP in that same seat at Westminster. Or vice versa.

Labour would have nothing to lose by putting Dafydd up as their candidate in that seat because that part of Wales is a no-go area for Labour. Obviously they'll tell him that he'll have their full support and play up the possibilities of him winning because they're desperate to get an electoral toehold there. But whatever else he is, Dafydd is no fool. He knows that he needs Plaid Cymru more than Plaid needs him, and he knows that he has no chance of being elected as a Labour or independent AM in 2016 if he defects. He needs the party's organization and the commitment and hard work of local party members ... and he would lose all that if he walked.


So how does Dafydd get round the problem? His ego wants him to become a cabinet minister, and Labour is his ticket to that. But if he chooses to walk, he knows he has absolutely no chance of being re-elected in 2016. Therefore his best hope is to be pushed ... or at least to make it appear that he was pushed. He could then portray himself as the unfairly treated victim of Plaid's "new hardline Stalinist leadership" and hope to garner enough sympathy among local members to split the party, get some people to work for him, and give him at least a slim chance of being re-elected.


Seen in this light, today's story makes more sense. There are ten AMs on the Environment and Sustainability Committee, and even if they didn't all go to Brussels last month, some AMs from every party would have. So if Dafydd did make intemperate remarks, they were made specifically for AMs from the other parties in the Assembly to hear.

However, we need to be clear that simply disagreeing with the party leader or with any aspects of party policy is not a valid ground for disciplinary action in Plaid Cymru. There are healthy disagreements about such things in the party, and these disagreements are ultimately resolved within the democratic structures of the party. But members can be disciplined if their behaviour is damaging to the party; or for actions or statements damaging, or potentially damaging, the public reputation of the party.

Now I don't know if Dafydd has done anything to justify such action being taken against him. But there are no prizes for realizing that Dafydd was very disappointed not to be elected as leader, and felt humiliated by losing his job as Plaid Cymru's spokesperson on energy ... even though he had only himself to blame for that.


Dafydd has a simple choice to make. If he wants to leave Plaid Cymru he should have the courage to do that and accept the consequences of his decision. He needs to weigh the pluses against the minuses. The big plus is that he gets to be a government minister for a few years: nice office, nice car, an extra chapter in his memoirs. The big minus is that he won't get re-elected.

From my experience of him, I don't think Dafydd has that sort of courage. He seems more inclined to manipulate behind the scenes in the hope be can have it both ways at the same time. We need to be wise to that as we deal with him.

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In Mallorca, over 95% want Catalan education

I've just come across a news report from Mallorca which says that more than 95% of parents whose children are due to start school later this year have chosen to have them educated in Catalan rather than Castilian. I've linked to the Google translation, which is a bit rough but should be clear enough:

     Parents choose, by a large majority, Catalan for teaching their children

In some parts of the island no-one at all has chosen Castilian, and in the others only the parents of two or three children have chosen it.


It's interesting to compare this with the news, which we can read here, that the Tribunal Superior de Justícia de Catalunya is still trying to get Catalunya to reverse its long-standing policy of all education being in Catalan rather than Castilian.

However there is virtually no chance of the Catalan government changing this policy because—as is true in other countries, including Wales—using the minority language as the medium of education is the best way to ensure that children become competent in both languages rather than just one. It is unfair for future generations to be disadvantaged by not being able to speak both languages.

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A Shining Diamond

If anyone missed it, here is by far the most reasonable and sensible speech delivered in Tuesday's Senedd debate on the Diamond Jubilee. The rest of the debate is entirely missable unless you have one of these to hand.


A sparkling contribution. Well done, Leanne, I'm proud of you.

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