Cumhachd niuclach? Cha ghabh idir

There's a timely post on Bella Caledonia today about the worsening situation at Fukushima.

     Right Now, We Have an Emergency at Fukushima …

As I'm sure most people in Wales will know, the SNP is completely opposed to nuclear power, in spite of the employment opportunities building new nuclear power stations would undoubtedly bring on sites like Hunterston and Torness, or the already closed Chapelcross nuclear power station.

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One difference between Scotland and Wales is that Scotland can determine their energy policy for themselves, and not have decisions imposed on them by a government in Westminster.

One difference between the SNP and Plaid Cymru is that the SNP do not allow mavericks within their party to get away with telling lies about their energy policy and, in so doing, undermine their credibility as a party. As a result of this hard-earned credibility (not just on energy, but on other matters) the SNP are now the majority party in Scotland.

If Plaid Cymru ever wants to be a party of government for the whole of Wales, we would do well to take some lessons from the SNP about principle and consistency.

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12 comments:

kp said...

'...... not have decisions imposed on them by a government in Westminster.'

The main electricity generating companies such as EDF and nPower 'put forward' sites that they consider suitable for nuclear. Westminster then decides on whether to allow planning permissions and so on.

The sites 'put forward' for consideration, sites such as Wylva, are only considered if the local population is thought to be amenable, as determined by the local council, AM and MP.

So don't go blaming Westminster!

MH said...

If it was a matter of generating electricity for Môn, I'd be inclined to agree that it would (subject to meeting certain general criteria) be a decision for the people of Môn, KP.

But it isn't. If Wylfa B is built, it will generate far, far more electricity than Môn could ever consume. Therefore the decision needs to be taken at a more strategic level. The question is what that level should be.

You might think it's fine for Westminster to take decisions on behalf of Englandandwales. I believe this is unfair to Wales, and that the decision should be taken by the Welsh government, in exactly the same way as equivalent decisions in Scotland are taken by the Scottish government.

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But as for the views of the local population, we know from this survey that only a minority (35%) of them want to jobs to be created in the nuclear sector, but that 74% want energy jobs on the island to be created in the alternative/renewable energy sector instead. That doesn't strike me as a local population which is particularly "amenable" to a new nuclear power station.

Lyndon said...

Nuclear power isn't devolved to Scotland either.

marmaduke said...

Sorry to be picky. I think you'll find that should be "Cha ghabh idir".

MH said...

Thank you for being picky, Marmaduke. You're right, and it's now been fixed. I did wonder why the Bella Caledonia article originally had a badge in Irish, though. But they've now fixed theirs as well.

Thank you for being equally picky, Lyndon. But you're not really right. Although energy policy is nominally reserved to Westminster, planning powers are not. Scotland can therefore use its planning powers to effectively block nuclear power stations or indeed any other sort of development linked with power. Alan Trench's take on this is here.

Scotland, and even the Six Counties, can also promote renewable energy by varing their ROC tariff compared with Englandandwales, here. Wales again loses out.

Pwll y Carw said...

I have no strong views on nuclear. I do not understand the science well enough.

But from a political perspective I will agree with you in one respect and disagree with the inference of your argument in another.

That Plaid can and should learn a lesson from the SNP on consistency of messaging is a fair argument. Wherever possible a political party should have a clear policy that is supported, echoed and reflected accurately at all levels of the party (It is rarely the case that this happens of course, as seen recently in the SNP's conference debate on NATO). But as an aspiration and good practice, agree.

That Plaid should necessarily have the same policy on nuclear as the SNP, and that it is consistency with this particular policy which has led to SNP success, and that this policy is by rights a more 'principled' policy than others, and that by extension it would lead to Plaid success, is I'm afraid a little too tenuous an argument for me.

a) SNP electoral success is a result of a multitude of things, probably most importantly the personality of Alex Salmond, or perhaps even more importantly the weaknesses of Scottish Labour. The SNP would win elections at the moment with or without the particular policy you mention, and probably even if there were internal dissent over it. Indeed, it is highly likely that the Scottish electorate will vote against independence next year and then return an SNP government in 2016.

b) The SNP's policy on nuclear power is the right one for the SNP and Scotland. It does not make it the right one for Wales and Plaid Cymru. It might be, but it might not.

c) Outright opposition to nuclear power is only more 'principled' when viewed from a specific moral standpoint. Other policies are equally 'principled' when viewed from different moral standpoints. It is the job of any political party to balance these in the interests of the people it seeks to represent. It is more than possible to have a thoroughly principled policy on nuclear energy that is not necessarily outright opposition.

You have certainly opened up a debate MH, one that I hope leads to a party policy which, as you rightly demand, commands the support of every level of the party and is consistently reflected throughout. Whether that is the one that is currently contained in the party policy ring binder is another question. Whether the one that the hundred or so delegates approved at conference accurately reflects the moral and economic priorities of the thousands of members of the party or the wider Welsh electorate, again is a different question.

I genuinely don't know.

However, Môn, your postings, and those of your detractors, suggest that it is not as black and white as you would like it to be. For all of the expedient political reasons that you state, it is vital that a genuine 'party' position is adopted as soon as possible.



MH said...

Thanks, Pwll. I appreciate the trouble you've taken and the thought you've put into it. And I agree with much of what you've said, but I'd like to pick up on a few points.

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1. I think what happened in the SNP over NATO is helpful and informative. There were strong views on both sides, but the party came to a democratic decision at conference on what its policy should be. There would have been the same groups as I mentioned in previous posts:

- Those who were generally happy with the decision
- Those who were unhappy with the decision but would accept that it had been democratically decided and let it rest at that
- Those who were unhappy with the decision, would accept that it had been democratically decided, but would not let it rest at that. However they would fight to change it by democratic means within the party, with the aim of bringing it to conference again and winning a vote to change the policy
- Those who were so unhappy with the decision that they could not remain in the party

But what the SNP does not have are people who still go round saying that SNP party policy is not to join NATO. If anyone, and especially anyone in a prominent position, did go round saying that, they would be disciplined for it and the leadership would make it clear to the Scottish public what the SNP's position is.

We in Plaid Cymru need to do this. The "principle" I'm talking about is not being for or against nuclear power, but of tolerating people in senior positions who go round telling lies about what Plaid Cymru's policy is. It is telling lies and misrepresenting the party's policy that should not be tolerated "on principle".

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2. I agree that the SNP would probably win elections even if its policy on nuclear power were different. I think Plaid Cymru would still win elections even if our policy on nuclear power were different. I think Plaid Cymru would still have won the Ynys Môn by-election comfortably if we had chosen a candidate who agreed with Plaid Cymru's policy.

However I think we have made it very much harder to win future elections by being seen as inconsistent about our policy. If we are to repair this damage, we must present a clear and consistent picture of what our policy is ... and that means that we must stand against those in the party who tell lies about it. This is a bullet that must be bitten.

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3. It might surprise you, but I am not against nuclear power (and by that I mean conventional nuclear fission) in principle. It is a question of weighing the pro and cons in each individual circumstance. Nuclear generation is, for example, better than coal generation without CCS (carbon capture and storage). Therefore it might well be a "least worst" option in countries like China, who rely heavily on coal at present.

MH said...

4. Although you say that the SNP's policy on nuclear is the right one for Scotland, I think you can only say that by setting out the factors that make it right.

As it happens, Scotland and Wales are in very similar positions. We have an abundance of renewable natural resources that can be harnessed to generate electricity relative to the size of our populations. This means that both our countries can produce more electricity a year than we consume by developing renewables. Because of this, neither Scotland nor Wales needs to resort to nuclear energy to reduce our CO2 emissions.

England's position is somewhat different. Because they have less abundant renewable natural resources compared with the size of their population, it is that much harder (although not impossible) for England to meet its electricity needs by renewables. Therefore they might well decide that nuclear needs to be part of their energy mix. I don't mind them making that decision for themselves, providing that they take sufficient care to keep the risk of incidents and the consequent pollution low. But the strict safety and security regime required to do this will cost a lot of money.

The fundamental question is therefore whether we see energy as a matter for Wales and England to each decide as our respective governments see fit, or whether energy is an Englandandwales matter which will be decided as England sees fit, because England's population is 17 times larger than ours.

Those of us who want independence for Wales cannot rest on the idea that, under the current devolution settlement, energy policy is decided on an Englandandwales basis. We must have an eye on the future.

Here's some very simple maths: Westminster is currently proposing to build 8 new NPPs (nuclear power plants) to serve a population of about 56m. That works out at one NPP for 7m people. Wales therefore gets a good deal (twice what we deserve on a pro-rata basis) if one of them is built here using an artificially high price paid by E&W consumers together with subsidies and expenses paid by E&W taxpayers. But, unlike every other form of energy generation, the costs of nuclear build up over time as the stockpile of waste continues to grow, and then remains with us for many, many generations. When Wales is independent we will have to pay for the consequences of building one NNP between only 3m people. Therefore the pro-rata financial burden on Wales will be more than twice as great as it will be for England. It could tip the balance on whether we could afford to be independent. Nuclear power ties us to England.

However the situation gets even worse when looked at more practically. Because NPPs are not commercially viable, and because it is highly unlikely that they will be built on time and on budget (and this will be a racing certainty if the UK government underwrites construction cost overruns, as they have just done with Hinckley) I think it is much more likely that E&W will only build a few of the 8 they plan. If Wylfa B is one of say four, the pro-rata financial burden on an independent Wales will be almost five times (4.67 to be more precise) as great as it will be for England.

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5. Finally, it is worth reminding people that I am not opening up a debate on what Plaid Cymru's policy on nuclear should be. That debate has been had, and Plaid Cymru's policy on nuclear has already been decided. If people are unhappy with it and want to change it, they must do it democratically by winning a vote on it at a future conference. Unless or until they do that, Plaid's policy will remain as it is now.

However I would say that although our policy on nuclear power in Wales is crystal clear, what is lacking is a clear policy over energy in general. We need to set out what we are in favour of every bit as much as what we are totally opposed to.

Pwll y Carw said...

Your section 4. is very interesting. If there is not already a detailed paper on the economics of nuclear in the Welsh context, with supporting references and data, there should be. It would strengthen your case considerably. Please don't take that the wrong way. You may feel that all of this information is freely available and it is I who is behind the curve. Be that as it may, as an avid consumer of all things 'national' I have not seen it expressed in those terms before and with such clarity. Perhaps you could offer to do something (perhaps with others) under the sponsorship of the party?

Your section 5. I'm afraid, misses the point of my post, and I think that of John Dixon. Whatever the party policy document says, whatever the conference voted on, I'm afraid realpolitik (or what the flesh and blood party says and does in the real world if you like) almost always trumps them (you can only wave a piece of paper at an elephant in a room for so long before it just turns around and tramples you).

The real position of the party is somewhere along the lines that John Dixon outlined: "we are officially atheist, we tolerate agnostics in our ranks, and we permit believers to express their belief if they so choose..." or something along those lines. Not particularly attractive and not particularly clever, but that is the real position, de facto.

[Incidentally, change the order of those three elements around, and you have the policies of all political parties more or less... and so Plaid is hardly that heretical in real terms]

If, in order to clean this up, you believe it is simply a matter of disciplining people, then you should direct your arguments exclusively and relentlessly at Leanne Wood and the party leadership. If they fail to do that, it is surely a matter of confidence is it not? And you would be within your rights to mount a challenge to the leadership at the appropriate time.

But I think you know as well as I do that it isn't simply a matter of discipline. You are faced with a reality made up of real people, real flesh and blood, with genuinely held beliefs and at the moment they simply don't agree with you, and they are a very large part of the real party (which I humbly suggest to you is not the hundred or so people who go to conference and vote on motions), so large in fact that it is almost impossible to think of this issue in terms of 'discipline'.

The real way forward is education and debate, and yes, a degree of compromise on all parts.

You believe that process has already been successfully negotiated and it is simply a matter of enforcing party will. I repeat, Môn, Rhun, DET, Leanne and the leadership's treatment of Môn and Meirionydd, de facto, suggest that it has not.

Political parties are organisms not machines and they sometimes do rather unpleasant things. Like any animal, discipline alone is ineffective and pretty dangerous. Hearts and minds normally win out.

The more you call fellow party members liars and cheats, and whatever else, the further away from reality you become and even further away from influencing any outcome.

The sort of insight you provided above on the economic case against nuclear for Wales, and on many other occasions, suggest to me that that would be a travesty.

Phil Davies
[I don't post under Pwll y Carw for anonymity, just because it is the only Google account that I have. I post on Click on Wales as Phil Davies]





MH said...

Thanks, Phil.

With regard to your first point, things are happening with regard to putting together a comprehensive policy on energy, including costs. The difficulty is that it is easier to agree on what you are against than what you are for. I'll try to put some of my thoughts on this on Syniadau, too.

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As for your comments on my section 5, I haven't missed the point of your post. I understand it, but take a different view. Plaid Cymru's policy on nuclear isn't just a piece of paper, it represents what the party thinks.

I did a detailed post on the 2011 Conference decision here. None of the votes was remotely close, except one. This clause was defeated by one vote:

"For Plaid at all levels to officially oppose new nuclear projects on the basis that even apart from the risks they are superfluous to Wales’ energy needs."

And I found this clause disturbing because of its ambiguity. It can be taken two ways: the operative words are either "at all levels to officially oppose" or "on the basis that even apart from the risks they are superfluous to Wales’ energy needs".

Yet what was amazing was how it was reported by the BBC, who said:

"Earlier, a motion that would have committed Plaid to opposing the building of a replacement for the nuclear power station at Wylfa on Anglesey was narrowly defeated by 42 votes to 41."

Looking back, this was clearly a case of false briefing. It seems clear that the person who briefed the BBC had a specific agenda to misrepresent the vote and, as time has passed, we have seen Elfyn Llwyd, Bob Parry and Dafydd Elis-Thomas each systematically misrepresent what was decided at conference in the same way. Rhun ap Iorwerth didn't specifically mention conference, but it was the same lie.

You talk about the elephant in the room, but you're looking at it through the wrong end of the telescope. You think that a handful of people who tell lies about party policy counts for more than what the party has decided. But in reality, it's the other way round. We are the elephant, they are the mouse. The tragedy is that the elephant seems inordinately afraid of the mouse. We shouldn't be, we are much bigger than the mouse.

And yes, it is a matter of discipline. The problem is not that people have different opinions on what party policy should be; that is absolutely fine and a sign of health. The problem is that a handful of people are telling blatant lies. They are not saying that they disagree with party policy, but that party policy is what they say it is. This is the problem that needs to be dealt with.

You say that I should direct this matter "exclusively and relentlessly at Leanne Wood and the party leadership". But why should it be done "exclusively" this way? These people are telling lies blatant lies in public, therefore I will expose them as liars in public.

Pwll y Carw said...

Because there are appropriate channels for matters of 'discipline'. Trial by blog is not one of them.

MH said...

I'm doing what I can in the most effective way I can, Phil. If you or anyone else doesn't like it, tough.

I'm standing up for Plaid Cymru in the face of a few mavericks within the party who are doing everything they can to undermine us by misrepresenting our policy in public. They've refused to try and change it by open, democratic means, and are instead trying to bludgeon people into thinking party policy is what they say it is rather than what we have decided at conference. This damage can only be repaired by clearly showing the public what our policy is. There is no alternative other than to do this in public.

However what happens to the individuals who have inflicted this damage on the party is less important, and this can be dealt with internally.

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