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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