A Sporting Occasion

The future direction of Catalunya can be said to be at stake today, as over three and a half thousand delegates of CUP gather at an indoor athletics stadium to hammer out their position on the shape of a Catalan government.


What I said in this post immediately after the Catalan elections of 27 September has proved to be true: that nothing much was going to happen until after the Spanish election which took place just before Christmas. If that election had yielded a decisive result, there might now be a clear way forward. But it didn't; so in effect the Catalan situation is just as much up in the air now as it was three months ago.

The problem is that the Catalan parliament has to elect a new President of the Government within three months of its first meeting (i.e. before 9 January) because if they fail to agree on one, new elections must be held. Junts pel Sí (the coalition of pro-independence parties) have stuck to their position that Artur Mas should be President; CUP has refused to accept him. But neither side wants new elections because they already have what they both really want: namely enough seats between them to carry through the independence process in the Catalan Parliament. They would not put that in jeopardy.

So it is only a question of who leads the Catalan Government rather than what that Catalan Government does.


After months of negotiations, a proposal has been put forward by Junts pel Sí, and at today's meeting the CUP delegates will choose one of four options: Yes to the proposal with Mas as President; Yes to the proposal without Mas as President; No to the proposal, but Yes to Mas as President; or No to both. They'll have several rounds of voting with the least popular being rejected in each round.

My guess is that they'll choose the second. But CUP are unpredictable, and deciding these options by secret ballot can only add to that unpredictability. It may well be that for all their vehement public posturing against Mas, they might privately hold their noses and say Yes because independence is more important than who leads them to it.

We'll know by this evening.

Update - 20:50, 27 December 2015

Well, I wouldn't have thought it possible, but the result is an exact tie. After two of the options had been easily defeated (neither of which had more than 4% support in the first round) the last two options received exactly 1515 votes each.

     Round 1

     Option A: Yes to proposal, Yes to Mas ... 45.17%
     Option B: No to proposal, No to Mas ... 47.14%
     Option C: No to proposal, Yes to Mas ... 3.62%
     Option D: Yes to proposal, No to Mas ... 3.42%

     Round 2

     Option A: Yes to proposal, Yes to Mas ... 48.71%
     Option B: No to proposal, No to Mas ... 49.80%
     Option C: No to proposal, Yes to Mas ... 0.92%

     Round 3

     Option A: Yes to proposal, Yes to Mas ... 50.0%
     Option B: No to proposal, No to Mas ... 50.0%

A final decision is now going to be made by CUP's Grupo de Acción Parlamentaria (a sort of executive committee) on 2 January.

Bookmark and Share

Nadolig Llawen

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


Bookmark and Share

Vacuous stupidity

I can usually ignore the vacuous stupidity of some of the posts made by the LibDems on Freedom Central, but this morning's offering was so bad that it deserves to be highlighted.

William Powell is calling for the Labour Government to commit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Wales by 100%, supposedly to "meet Wales' obligations on the world stage".


Does he, or do the LibDems in general, really think it is possible for Wales to have a "zero emissions target"? Do they have the faintest idea what this would mean?


The two major greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide and methane. CO2 emissions are produced by burning hydrocarbons as fuel, generally to generate electricity, for heating, for transport, and for various industrial processes.

Yes, it would certainly be possible to generate all our electricity from renewable sources without the need to burn any hydrocarbons; that's quite an easy target to hit, and much sooner than by 2050. It's also quite feasible switch from gas to electricity for general heating and cooking, supplemented by solar thermal panels and ground source heat pumps.

Transport is slightly more problematic. Trains can easily be electrified, and I would expect most road vehicles to be powered either by electric batteries or hydrogen fuel cells far sooner than 2050, but air travel won't be so easy. It's hard to imagine any real alternative to burning hydrocarbons for long distance air travel.


Fireflash was powered by six atomic engines but nuclear was never a very clever idea, then or now. To quote the Wikia entry:

"the shielding around the reactor requires servicing at the end of every flight, limiting its flight time to around 3-4 hours before everyone aboard is exposed to lethal levels of radiation."

Then, when it comes to industry, it's again hard to imagine how we could produce something like steel without burning hydrocarbons. But perhaps the LibDems are not expecting countries like Wales to manufacture things like steel in the future.


The absurdity of the LibDem's aims is even more apparent when it comes to methane, which is a very much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. In order to achieve this "zero emissions target", we would need to completely abandon livestock farming in Wales, since the natural processes of farm animals account for some 14.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, according to the FAO.

So perhaps Carwyn Jones shouldn't be so worried about the UK's potential exit from the EU destroying farming in Wales ... the real danger to farming in Wales is going to come from the LibDems instead.

And of course, humans are subject to the same natural processes, so to avoid the release of any anthropogenic methane, we would have to completely depopulate Wales.


More seriously, climate change is important, but the aim is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global rise in temperature ... not to do away with them completely. The LibDems are making what they know, or at least should know, is an impossible demand. It's an old political trick. They're probably saying it because they think it makes them look "green", but over-simplistic statements actually detract from any meaningful discussion of how we live sustainably.

Bookmark and Share

The Big Lie about Civilian Casualties

With depressing predictability, the House of Commons voted yesterday to launch air attacks in Syria. I watched the first few hours of the debate, although debate is hardly the right word, as MPs were largely explaining their own reasons for voting one way or another without engaging in any form of dialogue. But that is quite understandable.

One point that I would like to record is that the majority of both Welsh and Scottish MPs voted against these air strikes. Getting dragged into unwanted wars by a consistently belligerent England still remains one of the most important reasons why Wales and Scotland should become independent.


However that is not the main point I want to make in this post. One of the repeated claims that particularly struck me yesterday was that the UK had been responsible for no civilian casualties in its air strikes in Iraq. Indeed on the BBC news at 1pm today, Group Captain Rich Davies, the RAF spokesman, even went so far as to claim that "with over 400 strikes that the RAF has carried out in Iraq, we have had absolutely no civilian casualties reported ... and I am absolutely confident that will continue to be the case with operations in Syria".


This demonstrably untrue. For those who aren't aware of it, Airwars.org is a website dedicated to publishing a detailed database of all air attacks against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It has a section on civilian casualties, and this is an extract from it:

Summary findings on Coalition airstrikes:
August 8th 2014 to December 1st 2015

To December 1st 2015, an overall total of between 1,592 and 2,104 civilian non-combatant fatalities had been reported from 267 separate incidents, in both Iraq and Syria. However, some caution is needed given the significant challenges of casualty verification at present.

It is our provisional view at Airwars that between 682 and 977 civilian non-combatants are likely to have been killed in 115 incidents where there is fair reporting publicly available of an event, and where Coalition strikes were confirmed in the near vicinity on that date.

Some 42 of these incidents were in Iraq (332 to 498 reported deaths) and 73 events in Syria (with a reported fatality range of 364 to 498).

Across both nations, 24 alleged incidents have in our view been disproven, i.e. are highly unlikely to have involved Coalition aircraft (154 to 243 claimed deaths). An additional 30 to 48 civilians reportedly died in eight events where the reporting appears fair, but where it remains unclear whether the Coalition carried out any attack in the vicinity on the date in question.

A further 479 to 506 claimed deaths are attributed to 82 alleged Coalition airstrikes which are presently weakly reported or single-sourced. And an additional 224 to 298 asserted fatalities resulted from 36 contested events (for example, claims that the Iraq military might instead have been responsible).

In addition, 126 to 200 ‘friendly fire’ deaths of allied ground forces have been attributed to the Coalition from 13 incidents, with varying levels of certainty.

To date, the international coalition has only conceded two “likely” fatality events. The first was an event in Syria in early November 2014. The second event, which took place in Hatra in Iraq, was publicly conceded eight months after the event in November 2015.

To mid-November 2015 the Coalition had provisionally investigated 74 alleged casualty incidents in total. Of these it reports further investigating seven incidents of concern; carrying out credibility assessments on a further 13 cases; and has concluded three more investigations – having found no ‘preponderance of evidence’ to support civilian casualty claims.

So, to be clear, between 1,592 and 2,104 civilian deaths from 267 air strikes have been reported and, according the Airwars, just under half of these reports are likely to be true. But the international coalition has only conceded two of these air strikes as even being "likely" to have caused civilian casualties. There is clearly a very wide gulf between what our political and military leaders would like us to believe and reality.


Turning now to the detail, it is of course more difficult to determine which of the individual coalition partners might have been responsible for the reported civilian casualties. But a brief search through the details on this page shows that the UK was involved in at least three reported incidents:

March 13th, 2015: Hatra, Kirkuk province, Iraq

Summary: An internal CENTCOM assessment found “likely credible” evidence to suggest that a Coalition strike had killed civilians at an ‘ISIL checkpoint’ at Hatra near Kirkuk.

According to the FOIA’s document, a woman who may have been the source for the information had put in a claim for her destroyed car. The report went on to say that “CAOC CIVCAS assessment determined that the allegation of CIVCAS was likely credible. CAOC SJA indicated that a command directed investigation would be initiated.” The outcome of that investigation is not presently known.

While the nationality of the aircraft responsible for the strike is not yet publicly known, the British MoD has reported carrying out two or possibly three strikes near Kirkuk that day (see below).

While Airwars researchers have identified no public claims of civilians killed that day, there were widespread reports of Coalition strikes on Islamic State positions in the area.

Civilians reported killed: 2 or more
Reported injured: Unknown

April 3rd, 2015: Al Waeliyah, Mosul, Nineveh province, Iraq

Summary: Abdarahman Alloizi MP, a deputy in the Iraqi parliament, claimed that as many as 26 civilians from one family died when the coalition struck a house near Mosul, in the village of Al Waeliyah.

Civilians reported killed: 26
Reported injured: Unknown

April 19th, 2015: Ar Rutbah, Anbar province, Iraq

Summary: In a likely US or British drone strike, a truck was inadvertently hit during an airstrike at Ar Rutbah, according to a declassified CENTCOM report. “2 seconds prior to weapon impact, a large truck inadvertently arrived at the checkpoint. The back section of the truck was possibly damaged during the strike.” The driver was observed fleeing.

The weapon used was an AGM-114 Hellfire, most typically used by Reaper drones and by Apache attack helicopters. Britain has confirmed carrying out a drone strike on the date in question “in western Iraq.” The outcome of any investigation at the time the document was collated (most likely early May 2015) was not known.

Airwars researchers have not identified any public claims of civilians killed or injured for this date. though news reports did note the very heavy bombing in Iraq that day – with 26 airstrikes by “fighter and bomber aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles against Daesh.”

Civilians reported killed: Unknown
Reported injured: 2

There is more detail about each of these incidents on the Airwars page itself.

Truth is the first casualty of war ... and on the very day when the UK launches airstrikes in Syria, the UK has been shown to have lied.

We should not let ourselves be fooled into believing that when UK forces perform air strikes they are in some way immune from causing civilian deaths.

Bookmark and Share

Thoughts on Paris, Syria and Iraq

Like everyone else I was very saddened by the events in Paris on Friday evening, and my thoughts and prayers are with those who have suffered, their friends and their families. Yet, if anything, that sadness has been deepened by some of the responses to the attacks. So I'd like to put together some thoughts on what has happened.


I'll start with one of the headlines above, "This time, it's war", a sentiment which echoes and is entirely in line with François Hollande describing the attacks as an "act of war". Such statements seem oblivious to the reality that France has already been "at war" with Islamic State for some time. For the past few months it has been attacking IS on a daily basis. These French attacks are every bit as much "acts of war" as the attacks in Paris on Friday. In fact, their cumulative effect is almost certain to have been much more deadly and more destructive than Friday's attacks. France cannot conduct acts of war in foreign countries without making itself a target. Neither can the UK, the USA or any of the other countries which are involved in attacking Islamic State.

We in the West have developed a very distorted view of what war is. We try our best to confine it to foreign fields, far away. Then, to try and make it more remote and minimize our casualties, we are reticent to put troops on the ground ... so we attack from the air instead. And, to make it more remote still, we are increasingly making these attacks by drones, controlled by operatives hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. In some cases it has become a "normal" job. You live at home, commute to work for the start of your shift, sit at your console piloting drones, probably have lunch and coffee breaks, then either commute straight back to your family, or perhaps get together with friends over a meal or a few drinks. In these ways, we sanitize war.

But war is neither sanitary nor sane. And when the bloody reality of what war actually means in terms of bodies and blood is done to us, we are shocked. We shouldn't be. We cannot attack others without expecting them to try and attack us.


Of course saying this doesn't in any way justify what happened in Paris. Attacking those who attack you is perfectly justified, but Friday's attacks were specifically targeted at civilians, not combatants. In contrast when our forces attack Islamic State (or any other enemy in any other conflict) they will, I am sure, make reasonable efforts to direct their attacks only at strategic military targets. But, even so, I would suggest that our attacks are nowhere near as precise as our leaders would like to make out when they make public statements, and this is all the more so as a direct result of trying to engage with an enemy remotely from a distance, rather than directly on the ground.

I would not be at all surprised if the number of civilians we, the West, have accidentally killed over just the past few months in our attacks on Islamic State is rather greater than the number of civilians they deliberately killed on Friday. In moral terms there is a huge difference; but the end result is still that innocent people pay the price.

And even then, there are grey areas. We may not deliberately target civilians, but what room do we leave as a margin of error? Even if we were to hit our targets 90% of the time, is 10% a sufficient margin of error? Here, the sheer scale of what we are doing changes the equation completely. If we conduct fifty missions a day against IS, it is (in practical terms) the equivalent of conducting five missions deliberately targeted at civilians every day.


The reason this is allowed to happen is probably because our leaders can't think of a better alternative. Public pressure makes them think we have to do "something", but what we are doing is almost certainly making the situation in Syria and Iraq worse rather than better. I would offer these thoughts.

• First, why do we feel we have to be involved at all? Without doubt Islamic State is a despicable regime that does abhorrent things. But there are a number of other regimes in the world that are just as bad. We don't attack North Korea. We don't attack Saudi Arabia. In fact our double standards are such that UK governments count the Saudis as friends and sell them weapons. I think it is all but certain that the Saudis are discretely funding Islamic State, because they see what is happening as primarily a Sunni/Shia conflict.

Yet I would not say that we shouldn't be involved at all because we must face up to the fact that we, the West, are directly or indirectly responsible for a large part of what is wrong in the region; whether as a relic from the colonialism of a century ago, or as a direct result of our invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein.

• Second, if our involvement in Iraq has taught us anything, it is that the borders which the colonial powers imposed on the Middle East are arbitrary and largely unworkable. Iraq has a Shia population in the south east, a Kurdish population in the north, and a Sunni population in the west. It was only able to function as a "united" state to the extent that one faction (in this case the Sunnis, led by Saddam Hussein) was able to subdue the other population groups, often by means of atrocities.

Yet, even after we had toppled him and replaced his regime with a so-called democratic government, that government just played another variation of the same game. Democracy can only work where people have a real choice between alternatives, and are free to vote one way or another depending on what the parties offer. All that happened in Iraq was that Shias voted for Shias, Kurds voted for Kurds and Sunnis voted for Sunnis; they could not reasonably be expected to do anything else. But that is not democracy, it is sectarianism. The Shias, as the majority in Iraq, naturally led the new government ... and proceeded to repress the Sunnis with almost the same vigour as they themselves had been repressed under Saddam Hussein. Given that repression, it is hardly surprising that Sunnis in Iraq would feel that they needed to be protected from the new Shia-led government in Baghdad. If we call Islamic State a terrorist group, it is worth reminding ourselves that such "terrorists" can only survive with some degree of tacit consent from the population they claim to represent. For many Sunnis who felt repressed by Shia-led governments in Baghdad, any Sunni-led regime would be better ... even Islamic State.

The situation in Syria has many parallels with Iraq. In broad terms, Syria has a Shia (Alawite) population in the western coastal area, a Kurdish population in the north, and a largely Sunni population elsewhere; but the Sunnis form a large majority. Just as was the case in Iraq, Syria is only able to function as a "united" state to the extent that one faction (in this case the Shias, led by Bashar al-Assad) is able to subdue the other population groups, often by means of atrocities. Note that I have used exactly the same sentence as I used before. One of the often-repeated refrains of western leaders has been that both Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad have committed atrocities "against their own people". By and large they haven't. Their atrocities were largely against the other population groups that they were trying to subdue.


So, for what it's worth, my conclusion is that there is no way in which either Iraq or Syria can function as successful states within their current borders. This is a reality that the West needs to grasp, particularly if we want to see functioning democracy in the region.

The problem faced by Western governments is that we are fairly clear about who we are fighting against, but not who we are fighting for. In Syria, we are against Assad and we are against IS. A few years ago we were more against Assad, now we have swung round to be more against Islamic State. If put on the spot, I'm sure that our leaders would say that they want to see a "moderate Syrian opposition" come to power in place of Assad's regime, preferably by democratic means. But a Syria of that sort cannot work as a democracy, just as Iraq cannot work as a democracy. Sectarianism prevents it from happening. If there were elections in Syria under its present borders, all that would happen is that the Sunni majority would vote for a new Sunni-led government, and the Shias and Kurds would then feel repressed by that government. Syria would be a mirror-image of Iraq.

Perhaps, up until a few months ago, the replacement of Assad's regime by a moderate opposition might have seemed at least a remote possibility; but things have now changed because of Russia's intervention.

Unlike the West's intervention, Putin has the great advantage of knowing what he is fighting for, as well as what he is fighting against. He supports Bashar al-Assad. The simple reality is that Russia will not let the Assad regime fall. The reason for this is very obvious: Russia has a naval base at Tartus and an air base at Latakia, both on the Syrian coast in the Shia-populated region. This article in the Moscow Times reports on plans to expand Russia's presence there into a unified military base. So, unlike the West, Russia knows what it is fighting for, already has troops on the ground, and is prepared to put in more, as many as it takes. I don't think Russia has any particular fondness for Assad or for Shia Islam, but it has a practical working relationship that it does not want to put into jeopardy ... and it certainly would be in jeopardy if a Western-backed "moderate" regime were to take over in Syria. Perhaps Assad himself might go, but the Russians will ensure that if and when he does, he is replaced with someone who will continue the existing arrangement. We in the West might not like the fact that Russia is determined to maintain a strategic military base in the eastern Mediterranean; but with UK military bases in Cyprus, we are in no position to complain.


Faced with this reality, I believe there cannot be a unified democratic state of Syria within its current borders. But we might be able to achieve a stable, and even democratic, solution by changing the borders along these lines.

From my perspective, the best place to start is with the Kurds. One of the great injustices of colonial rule is that the Kurds do not have their own state. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire the Kurdish-populated territories were split between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Iran. They have been mistreated and subject to cultural repression ever since. But, apart from historical injustice, it makes sense to support them in purely pragmatic terms. The Kurds are currently our best military allies against Islamic State, and by far the best hope of establishing a functioning democratic state in any part of the present day territory of Iraq and Syria.

For their part, the Kurds are certainly not afraid to fight against IS, but are probably wary of being used by the West, only to then be dumped by the West once our immediate objectives have been achieved. We might be clear about the need to fight against IS, but need to take a leaf out of Russia's book and decide who we are fighting for as well. We need to publicly commit ourselves to the establishment of a new Kurdish state (or perhaps a confederation of Kurdish states in Iraq and Syria) and we then need to give them the assistance necessary to provide that state with the security it needs to protect its borders. This would mean a proper army with heavy weapons such as tanks and a proper air force. As I see it, this state would be limited to the current territory of Iraq and Syria because in practical terms it would be impossible to alter the borders of Turkey or Iran. Yet if, as I hope, this new Kurdish state were to be a democracy at peace with both Turkey and Iran, the borders between Kurdistan and the Kurdish-populated areas of Turkey and Iran would be less problematic.


The next border adjustments would need to divide Shia- and Sunni-populated areas in both Iraq and Syria. Iraq has shown us that democracy cannot work if one population group is perceived by the other to be dominant. Yes, this can happen in mature democracies, but we must recognize that democracy is something new to this region. The protection of minorities that is fundamental to the way western democracies work takes time to develop. It is a mistake to think that democracy can be imposed overnight just by holding elections. There is more to democratic societies than merely holding elections and letting whatever majority emerges continue to act in the same way as the previous dictators did.

I'm less sure of how the Sunni/Shia divisions might work than I am about the borders of a new Kurdish state: but in Iraq the Shia state would be the southern third of the present Iraq, including Baghdad but not extending further north; and in Syria it would be the coastal strip north of Lebanon. The remaining area of both western Iraq and eastern Syria would be predominantly Sunni. There could be one state with a capital in Damascus and one with a capital in, say, Mosul; but I don't really see why it should not be a single state, as the current border between Iraq and Syria is nothing more than an arbitrary line on a map from the "e" in Acre to the last "k" in Kirkuk, reflecting only what Britain and France wanted for themselves a century ago rather than what anyone in the Middle East wanted then or wants now. In this one respect, Islamic State have a reasonable objective. There is much to commend a single predominantly Sunni-populated state in the territory that straddles what is now western Iraq and eastern Syria. It might even be worth fighting for. The problem is not the borders of such a state, but the intolerant, blood-thirsty butchers that currently control it.

Bookmark and Share

Al Jazeera's take on the Catalan election

I've just watched a rather well-balanced report and debate on the situation following Sunday's election in Catalunya on Al Jazeera, and thought others might like to watch it too.


Bookmark and Share

Catalunya: what happens next

With the final results of the election to the Catalan Parliament declared, I'd like to offer an analysis of the result and what is now likely to happen.

In summary: this is unquestionably a victory for those who want Catalunya to become an independent state, but it is a messy victory. There is a mandate to move forward towards independence, but it will need to be done carefully.

Forming a Government

Yesterday's election allowed the Catalan people to choose who they wanted to represent them in the Catalan Parliament, and the immediate task ahead of those who have just been elected is to form a Government. As we can see from the graphic below, Junts pel Sí won 62 seats and are by far the largest party. In reality, there is no other alternative but for Junts pel Sí to form the government because the other parties come from radically different parts of the political spectrum and could never work together.


It is easy to think that the obvious choice is for Junts pel Sí to form a government with CUP, because they both unequivocally support independence. But CUP are a radical, left-leaning party which will almost certainly not be interested in forming a government with politicians from a centre-right party like CDU. In fact they have specifically said they would not support Artur Mas as president.

One option would be for CUP to abstain in the vote to elect Mas as president. But the numbers don't quite add up: if they abstained, the 62 Junts pel Sí candidates could still be outvoted by the remaining 63 deputies from other parties. It would therefore be necessary for at least one of the other deputies to abstain or vote for Mas. If this happened, it would almost certainly be one (or all) of the deputies from CSQEP that does so.

The other option would be for Artur Mas to stand down in favour of someone else. There are two choices: either a neutral, figurehead president such as Raül Romeva, Carme Forcadell or Muriel Casals (the first three on the Junts pel Sí list) or Oriol Junqueras, the leader of ERC. CUP and CSQEP, both on the left of the political spectrum, would probably support Junqueras rather than Mas. This needn't necessarily result in Mas being sidelined. Mas and Junqueras have worked hand in glove on everything to do with the route map to independence over the last three years (though not the day-to-day questions of governance, such as implementing austerity) and would continue to do so now.

In many ways, a change of president might be good. Large sections of the pro-Spanish media have delighted in calling the independence movement the product of Artur Mas' ego, so a change of president would clearly show that it is more than that. Besides that, ERC have supported Catalan independence for far longer than Mas, who was only converted to the idea three years ago following mass public demonstrations in favour of independence.

What will the new Catalan Government do?

Whatever question mark there might be over who is president, there is no question that the new Catalan Government's priority will be to set up the institutions necessary for Catalonia to function as an independent state. This is the platform they were elected on, and in this they will have the full support of CUP, so getting these things voted through parliament will not be a problem.

It is equally certain that the Spanish Government will do all it can to prevent these institutions from being set up, using the Tribunal Constitucional de España (Spanish Constitutional Court) to do so. It is worth noting that 10 out of its 12 members are political appointees, who will therefore make political decisions. The new Catalan government will therefore have to ignore its rulings, just as the previous government has already done with its rulings on issues such as the use of Catalan in the education system.

The only real questions will be over what the Spanish Government does when the Catalan Government ignores the TC's rulings. Will it arrest prominent members of the Catalan Government? If it does, there will be plenty of others willing to step up to the plate. So the only other option would be to send in troops and tanks. It is a matter of brinkmanship, and the pro-independence deputies will have to hold their nerve.

When and how will independence be declared?

At the start of this post, I was careful to say that the new Catalan Government had a mandate to move forward towards independence, but that things would have to be done carefully. As I see it, there is no real problem in setting up the institutions necessary for Catalonia to be an independent state, but there is a problem over any eventual declaration of independence.

The key question is whether yesterday's vote constitutes a mandate to declare independence, and the reality is that it doesn't.

If Junts pel Sí and CUP had obtained more than 50% of the vote yesterday, there is no doubt that this would have constituted a mandate to make a unilateral declaration of independence, without the need for any further vote on the issue. But this wasn't achieved. Nevertheless, yesterday's election cannot be interpreted as a vote against independence either, because those were not the only two options on the ballot papers.


As the graphic above shows, both CSQEP and the UDC are in favour of Catalunya's right to decide about independence in a referendum, but not in favour of a unilateral declaration of independence. They achieved 11.45% of the vote between them, and it is all but certain that some of these voters would have voted for independence if yesterday's vote had been a binding referendum on independence. This would take the figure in favour of independence beyond 50%.

But a matter of this importance needs to be established with complete certainty, and therefore another vote needs to be held before independence can be declared.


There is more than one way of doing this. The painless way would be for Madrid to allow a referendum to be held and respect the result. But I think this could only happen if Podemos, probably in coalition with the PSOE, were able to form the next Spanish Government. There is absolutely no way that either the Partido Popular or Ciudadanos (the Spanish wing of the Ciutadans) would allow such a referendum. Also, apart from the question of independence, yesterday's election was a marked success for the Ciutadans, making them the main Unionist party in Catalunya with almost the same level of support as the PP and PSC combined. This can only bode well for their performance in the Spanish election in December, making the chances of any sort of agreement between the Spanish and Catalan governments even less likely.

But according to the road map to independence set out by Junts pel Sí, the Catalans are going to be given another chance to vote anyway. The idea is to spend the next 18 months setting up the institutions required to function as an independent country, and for the electorate to then approve a constitution for the new Catalan Republic. The declaration of independence would be made by the Catalan Government on the basis of that approved constitution. This, as it happens, was the main point of difference between Junts pel Sí and CUP: CUP wanted the declaration of independence to be immediate rather than after a second vote in 18 months, which was one of the major reasons why they did not join the Junts pel Sí list.

So things are now trickier than they might have been, but the problem is not insurmountable. If there had already been a vote in favour of independence, the second vote would have been solely about the provisions of the new constitution. This, logically, must mean that if new constitution were not approved by the electorate, the Government would have needed to revise it until it was approved. Now the second vote will need to be not only about the provisions of the new constitution, but also about the principle of independence.

One could say that this second vote always implied acceptance of the principle of independence; the only change is that the question must now be framed in such a way as to make it explicit.

Bookmark and Share

Catalunya Triomfant

This widget from Ara will give the unfolding latest results, but it is now clear that Junts pel Sí and CUP have got an absolute majority in the Catalan Parliament, and will work towards a a new constitution for an independent Republic of Catalunya, with a new constitution being put to the Catalan people for approval in a referendum in the next 18 months or so.

It would have been nice for the pro-UDI parties to get 50% of the vote. But in round numbers the Yes/No margin is 48%/39%, with 9% voting for CSQEP and 2% for UDC. We need to be careful not to interpret the CSQEP and UDC votes as either a Yes or No to independence.


Bookmark and Share

The Big Weekend

Apart from the not unimportant matter of what happens at Twickenham tomorrow, the main event of the weekend will be the election to the Catalan Parliament on Sunday. As well as being the most significant election for Catalunya since the death of Franco, it should also prove to be very significant for those of us who want to see other stateless nations such as Wales gain our independence within a European framework.

I'm very conscious that I haven't written much on this subject, or on much else, over the past few months. But this is worth carving out some time for. If you want to be reminded about what I've written in the past, please click here, but this is a brief outline of what has happened recently.


In essence, the Spanish Government has steadfastly refused to consider any moves towards an independence vote—or even greater autonomy within the Spanish State—even though a clear majority of the people of Catalonia and their representatives in the Catalan Parliament want such a vote to be held. Because of this, the parties which want independence, Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC), Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) and Candidatura d'Unitat Popular (CUP), have called an early vote which they intend to be a plebiscite on the sole question of independence. The CDC split with Unió Democràtica de Catalunya (UDC) with whom they had shared a long-standing and largely successful coalition, over the issue.

There were hopes in some quarters that the pro-independence parties would form a single electoral list, in which politicians would play a secondary role to prominent non-political figures in Catalan society so as to emphasize that this was a matter that transcended normal party politics. After much negotiation this was largely achieved, with only one pro-independence party, the smaller CUP, refusing to join it. This list is Junts pel Sí (JxSí, Together for Yes). So there are two voting options which are unequivocally pro-independence and, if these candidates win a majority of seats in the parliament on Sunday, their declared aim is to unilaterally declare Catalunya as an independent republic within 18 months.

A second cross-party electoral list, Catalunya Sí que es Pot (CSQEP, Catalunya: Yes We Can) has been formed by parties which support the Catalan right to democratic self-determination, but still believe there is room for negotiation with the Spanish Government either for a binding official referendum on independence, or for greater autonomy for Catalunya within the Spanish State. The three main parties in this electoral list are the Green ICV, the leftist EUiA and the anti-austerity Podemos. Within this group, and even within the parties, there are shades of opinion about the preferred end-result: some want independence (but after a referendum rather than a unilateral declaration of independence) while others want Catalunya to be a state within a federal or confederal Spain.

There are four other main parties standing on their own rather than on joint electoral lists. The Partido Popular (PP) and Ciutadans (Cs) are implacably opposed to any change to the status quo. The Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC-PSOE) probably is too, although it has in the past paid lip service to the idea of a more federal Spain. The problem is that those in the party that do not want to retain the status quo have now all left it. Finally the UDC, the CDC's former partners in CiU, are standing, but have paid a high price for the split and have all but fallen off the political map.


After our recent experience of opinion polling in the run up to this year's Westminster election, we might well take the polls for this election with a pinch of salt ... but what else do we have to go on?


The graphic above is from Ara, and shows the results of a plethora of polls taken over the last few weeks. Nearly all of them show that Junts pel Sí and CUP will, together, get over the threshold of 68 seats and win an absolute majority in the Catalan Parliament. I, too, am fairly certain that this will happen. So far as I can judge from this distance, the momentum is with the pro-independence movement. As it's no fun to write without making a prediction, I reckon Junts pel Sí will get 65 seats and CUP will get 11, giving them 76 seats in a parliament of 135.

This, in itself, would undoubtedly be a mandate for independence. But there are a couple of other factors which need to be addressed.

The first is whether Junts pel Sí and CUP will get more than 50% of the vote between them. The electoral system is proportional (D'Hondt) with separate lists for each of the four provinces (Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona) and a threshold of 3%. These two factors tend to favour larger parties, so that is it quite possible to get a majority of seats with, say, only 45% of the vote. This is, of course, far better than the scandal of the Conservatives winning a majority of 331 out of 650 seats in May under our first-past-the-post system with less than 37% of the vote ... but there are bound to be some people who will claim that the pro-independence parties have no mandate to declare independence if they get an absolute majority of seats, but fall short of 50% of the vote.

This graphic from a poll in El Confidencial shows how a result very similar to the one I expect might result in a comfortable majority of seats, but still fall marginally below a 50% share of the vote.


I hope that this doesn't happen, and that Junts pel Sí and CUP will get more than 50% of the vote. But even if they fall short, it won't invalidate the independence mandate. As I explained before, those who vote for Junts pel Sí and CUP want independence and are prepared to see a unilateral declaration of independence, irrespective of the wishes of the Spanish Government. But there will be others who nonetheless still support independence, but would prefer to get it with the consent of the Spanish Government after a referendum. These people will (in all probability) vote for Catalunya Sí que es Pot, and there is every indication that CSQEP will get at least 10% of the vote. Of course not everyone who votes CSQEP on Sunday will want independence: some of them (perhaps most) might prefer greater autonomy in a federal or confederal Spain; but some will want independence, and this would be enough to push the total figure over the 50% mark.

Those who are opposed to Catalan independence can't have it both ways at the same time. They cannot point to a majority of seats but a shortfall in the popular vote as something which invalidates any mandate for independence; for they wouldn't accept that a majority of the popular vote was a mandate anyway, and the simple way of answering that question would have been to allow a binding referendum in the first place.


A second objection would be to point to the fact that support for independence is not evenly split within Catalunya. The graphic above is from the same poll in El Confidencial, and illustrates that support for independence is much stronger in the provinces of Girona and Lleida than in Barcelona and Tarragona. This, coupled with the fact that Barcelona has 73% of the population but only 63% of the seats, means that we are likely to hear complaints about the mandate not being valid because Barcelona has not been carried.

Those who are against independence will clutch at anything to claim that the result is invalid. I'm just trying to anticipate the sorts of objections that will be raised. Suffice to say, things will be very much easier if Junts pel Sí and CUP get more than 50% of the vote. I'll put my neck on the block and say that they will ... but that it will be rather too close for comfort.


The next question is what will happen after the result is announced. Probably not much. There will not be an immediate declaration of independence. Instead, the leaders of the new pro-independence government will again try and negotiate with the Spanish Government, who will loudly reject their approach. The ruling PP (and PSOE) are far too preoccupied with the upcoming Spanish election scheduled for December this year to make any concessions. It would be seen as being "soft" on the Catalans, and therefore cost them Spanish votes. One thing is sure, the Spanish public want to hold on to Catalunya as part of Spain; mainly because they believe it, and its wealth, "belongs" to them, and because they don't want to see themselves demoted from their current position as one of the big players in Europe. So any meaningful negotiations with Madrid will only happen, if they happen at all, when the composition of the next Spanish Government is known.

In my opinion, the only hope for any sort of accommodation will be if Podemos can form a government or hold the balance of power. The traditional two party dominance of the PP and PSOE has been challenged by the rise of Podemos and the Ciudadanos. For a time it looked likely that Podemos would eclipse them both, but they have fallen back over the past few months. I don't follow Spanish politics as closely as Catalan or Basque politics, but right now it looks as if the outcome will either be a broadly right coalition between PP and the Cs, or a broadly left coalition between PSOE and Podemos. If it is the second, there might well be some room for negotiation about a new constitution for Spain with greater autonomy for Catalunya, and Podemos (who accept that Catalans have the right to determine their own future, even though they'd prefer them to stay) might just be able to deliver a referendum. However I suspect it's all too late for that now.


The real negotiations are likely to take place at a European level. The EU is renowned for sitting on the fence, and I'm sure it will continue to hold that position until forced to get off it ... in public, anyway. But in private, not even the EU would be stupid enough to ignore a newly elected pro-independence Catalan Government which says, "We have now been given a democratic mandate to declare independence, and we are going to act on it. So let's spend the next 18 months negotiating Catalunya's relationship with the EU so that the transition is as smooth as possible for all concerned."

That's why this election is important not only to Catalunya, but to other stateless nations in the EU. Whatever accommodation is made for Catalunya is likely to form the basis of the way things will work for the Basque Country, Flanders, Scotland and, of course, Wales. I don't for one moment think that the EU will go out of their way to make it easy for the Catalans, in fact we could say that they have done everything they can to dissuade them from voting for independence by not giving clear answers to those questions before now. But a democratic decision will be made on Sunday and, once it has been made, it will be in no-one's interest to make it hard for them either. Pragmatism will prevail.

Bookmark and Share

What a difference a day makes

At the bottom of the BBC report about George Osborne's latest public subsidy to help persuade the Chinese to invest in new nuclear power plants in the UK I linked to yesterday was this statement from Amber Rudd:

Ms Rudd rejected criticisms that this was too expensive, saying nuclear power was "reasonably priced" compared with other low carbon sources of power.

Together with a graphic which was intended to back it up:


The inference the BBC wanted us to made was that Amber Rudd was telling the truth.

But, as it happens, the graph was completely incorrect. I was going to write about it, quoting an article from yesterday's Financial Times:

The risks surrounding Hinkley Point, the first nuclear reactor for decades in Britain, mean it will be subsidised. To ensure that EDF earns a 10 per cent rate of return, the government is providing a price guarantee in the form of a 35-year contract with an inflation-linked “strike price” of £92.50 per megawatt hour, in 2012 prices. If the wholesale electricity price falls below this level, EDF will be paid the difference. Likewise, consumers will be reimbursed if it trades higher.

This is more than twice the current market price for day-ahead power in the UK.

Nuclear, though, is not alone in benefiting from inflation-proofed subsidy. Renewables benefit from price guarantee contracts that reward companies offering to produce green power at the lowest cost. The results of a government auction this year showed the winning bids for new onshore wind capacity at about £82/MWh, while those for solar ranged from £50/MWh-£80/MWh, cheaper than nuclear. Offshore wind was pricier, at more than £114/MWh.

Financial Times, 21 September 2015

However, when I went back to the BBC article this evening to take a screenshot of the graph, I found that it had been changed:


No explanation or apology was offered by the BBC. In fact there was no indication that the article had been amended at all.

Of course I welcome the correction. But the result (perhaps even the intention) of the original version was that those who read the article yesterday were left with the false impression that the price offered for nuclear power from Hinckley C was substantially cheaper than the renewable alternatives. A number of the comments reflected that.

The fact is that the cost of renewables is coming down, and shows every sign of continuing to come down ... solar PV in particular. The new graph shows the highest bid price in the range. The lowest solar PV auction bid was £50/MWh, which is within touching distance of the current wholesale price of electricity.

Conventional nuclear power is a defunct technology which was never, and can never, be made economically viable. It will only go ahead if ever-larger sums of public money are funnelled into the bank accounts of prospective foreign government investors.

Bookmark and Share

A better alternative to nuclear

On the day when the Tory UK Government has shown that it is as much in thrall as ever to sadism, necrophilia and bestiality (yes, that's a round about way of saying they're flogging a dead horse) when it comes to nuclear power, it's good to be reminded that there is a better alternative.

Today, Greenpeace has published a report called Energy [r]evolution 2015, which sets out a pathway to a 100% sustainable energy supply for the entire world by 2050, ending CO2 emissions and phasing out nuclear energy. Click the image below to download the full report, or click here for the executive summary.


This post on the Greenpeace Energydesk should be helpful.

As it happens, the BBC wouldn't dream of giving this alternative the same coverage as it gives the nuclear story (in fact, so far as I can see, no coverage at all) hence this post.


It is perhaps worth noting that this report is not the same as another report that has just been published on behalf of Greenpeace which concentrates on the UK, showing that it is possible for the UK's power system to be nearly 90% renewably delivered by 2030. Again, click the image below to download that report, or read the Guardian's take on it here.


Again, this post on the Greenpeace Energydesk should be helpful.

Bookmark and Share

LibDems condemn the Powys windfarm decisions

I thought I'd follow up yesterday's post about the UK Government's decision to disallow four proposed new windfarms by pointing to two very welcome comments from the Liberal Democrats in this post.

"The decisions regarding these developments have been a long time coming and were never going to be clear cut. The mixed recommendations made by the Inspector reflect the realities on the ground; not all wind farms are appropriate for all areas. But the Secretary of State's decision to depart so radically from the independent Inspector's recommendations belies the sheer narrow-mindedness of the UK Conservative Government when it comes to renewable energy.

"It also begs the question as to how we are to achieve the energy security that families and businesses will need in the time to come. Any headlong rush to new nuclear and fracking would be deeply alarming - for our generation and those to follow. "

William Powell
Liberal Democrat Shadow Minister for the Environment & Rural Affairs

"I'm shocked at this grim decision from the UK Government to rule against five of the applications for wind farms in the area. The independent Inspector's analysis of the planning applications and available evidence recommended that three of the applications went ahead and yet this seems to have been ignored.

"There is a growing need for the UK to be investing in renewables in order to effectively tackle the very real threats of climate change and yet, from the outset, this Tory Government has seemed determined to denounce green initiatives at every opportunity.

"These developments had the potential to benefit rural communities in the area, bringing jobs, economic development and much needed investment and it is disappointing to see that opportunity go to waste."

Jane Dodds
Liberal Democrat Assembly Candidate for Montgomeryshire

Bookmark and Share

Making decisions about energy for ourselves

It was sad to read that the UK government has refused to give permission for four new windfarms in central Wales, and done all it could to prevent the fifth from progressing. The condensed version of the story is here, and the full details of the decisions are available by following the links on this page.


The BBC report was completely wrong to say that the combined schemes would have resulted in about 800 turbines. This was a wild overstatement. In fact the combined total for the four refused schemes is only 126 turbines (17 at Llanbadarn Fynydd, 29 at Llaithddu, 30 at Llanbrynmair, and 50 at Carnedd Wen) and the approved fifth project will replace the 102 existing turbines at Llandinam with 34 larger and more efficient ones). If all five windfarms had been approved it would have resulted in 160 new turbines, a net gain of only 58 turbines). Although Tory MP Glyn Davies manages to inflate this to "several hundred additional turbines". Objectivity and any sense of proportion have been noticeably absent in the protests against these windfarms.

Of course it is, as David Clubb said, a baffling ideological decision that doesn't make any sense. But what else would we expect from Conservatives in Westminster who have shown over the last few months that they have no real inclination to meet our renewable energy targets ... in fact going so far as to tell blatant lies about them, as I reported here only a few weeks ago.


Of course the only reason why the UK Government at Westminster has been able to make this decision is because of the absurd limits set on our ability to determine our own energy planning policies in Wales. All five windfarms have capacities of greater than the current 50MW limit. Ironically, even the Tories have already agreed that this limit should be increased to 350MW, which would mean that the Welsh Government rather than the UK Government would make the final decision on projects like these. Perhaps this is one reason why the urgent delivery of any new powers has been put on the back burner.


I would be the last person to say that all windfarm projects should be approved. I am certainly in favour of windfarms, but each individual project needs to be determined on its own merits. However it is obvious to me that the UK Government has made a blanket decision on ideological grounds. No-one in their right mind could have refused the Llandinam repowering project, because it means a significant reduction in the number of turbines on that site; but to refuse all four of the new projects can only be interpreted as a political decision. It should be noted that each of them is within the areas designated in TAN 8 as suitable for windfarm development, so they should only have been refused permission if there were specific local reasons for it. From the Welsh Government's reaction, it seems clear that they would have made different decisions:

However, the Welsh government said the area would now "miss out" on investment, and jobs, while Wales had been "denied the opportunity to further reduce our carbon emissions by a decision made in Westminster".

"Today's decision is not only very disappointing and concerning but once again reinforces the importance of the Welsh government having control of energy consents for projects in our country," a spokesman said.

BBC, 7 September 2015

It would be nice to think that this sense of disappointment and concern would be shared by other parties such as the LibDems and Plaid Cymru. It is doubly outrageous. First, decisions which all political parties agree should be made in Wales have instead been made for us by a government in Westminster which we didn't vote for; and second, we in Wales do not share the UK government's ideological opposition to either windfarms or renewable power in general.

Not so long ago, Plaid made the announcement that they wanted all Wales' electricity needs to be generated from renewable sources by 2030. Although they didn't know (or wouldn't tell us) how they'd do it, it is hard to imagine how this could be achieved without, at least in part, relying on onshore wind projects such as the four that have just been refused. But I'm not sure that we'd ever get as straight an answer about these four new windfarms from anyone in Plaid as Welsh Labour have just made.

Update - 16:20, 8 September 2015

The BBC have just reported more reaction from the Welsh Government to these decisions.

The rejection of plans to build wind farms in mid Wales is "short sighted" and "hugely disappointing", the Welsh government's environment minister says. Carl Sargeant said communities in Powys would lose millions of pounds and an opportunity to create jobs, claiming energy supply would be put at risk.

Mr Sargeant told BBC Wales: "We recognise that there's a great opportunity for renewable energy in Wales, but they [the UK government] are doing everything they can to stop that, in planning terms and also some of their subsidy schemes.

"In Wales we are pro-wind power and renewable energy - in the UK government and, under the Conservatives, [they are] pro-fracking, which we are certainly not."

BBC, 8 September 2015

It's very encouraging to see this response. If anyone doubts that people in Wales are in fact pro-wind power, I'd point them to a couple of surveys of public opinion which show 64% of Welsh people are generally in favour of large scale wind projects in their local council area: one from 2013 and a second from 2014.

In contrast, David Cameron said in December last year that the public is "basically fed up" with onshore wind farms. "Enough is enough and I am very clear about that," he said. Such a major discrepancy between the Welsh public and the Tories in Westminster is a clear indication that what is happening is politically motivated.

Bookmark and Share

WM education in Cardiff: alarm bells ringing

I've just received this press relaease from RhAG. Hopefully, the story will also be reported the mainstream media.


Serious concerns that a starter class for Grangetown and Butetown will not open as promised this September is an indication of wider failures by Cardiff Council in the planning of Welsh-medium education provision across the city.

This is RhAG’s response to concerns of local parents that the Council will not keep their promise to open the starter class hosted at Ninian Park School, as a seedling of the new school which is proposed to open on a permanent site in 2017.

On the basis of Council figures for July, RhAG is aware that 105 pupils were refused first choice applications for a place in the city’s Welsh-medium primary schools. It is unclear how many children have been lost to the English-medium sector, nor how many are still in the appeals system. This represents a loss of 13% of all applications for the Welsh-medium September 2015 Reception intake. The loss for September 2014 was approximately 5%.

Michael Jones for Cardiff RhAG said, "Warning bells should now be ringing as many problems can be found throughout the city. In the East, between Bro Eirwg and Penypil 13 children have been unable to obtain a place without another nearby school a practical possibility. Glan Morfa has been turning pupils away for 3 years and more, and the same situation has arisen this year with 5 application refused. In the North, the situation at Mynydd Bychan (19 refused) is unacceptable and the Wern, at 75 applications cannot meet the demand with 3 pupils not being offered a place. The applications for Melin Gruffydd is 7 over their Standard Admission Number and Pencae at 21 applications over their SAN. In the West there is an urgent need to do something for Nant Caerau and Treganna is packed with 16 applications above their statutory number.

"We need immediate action by extending current provision as an interim solution and to open new schools to meet the demand. Honouring the commitment to open a starter class to serve Grangetown and Butetown is an indispensable part of the Council's plans to develop Welsh-medium education in the city, as has been incorporated into Cardiff Council’s statutory Welsh in Education Strategic Plan, which has been approved by the Minister of Education. Although the council had announced their intention to proceed with the class, the fact that parents were not made known of this until May and arrangements not confirmed until August, meant it was all far too late; so the current crisis is the result of a lack of acting early enough which has weakened parents’ trust and confidence. The current administration needs to restore this by taking control of the situation and providing firm and proactive action as a matter of urgency.

"In addition, we call on the Council to conduct an urgent city-wide review of the catchment areas for Welsh-medium schools and a thorough review of the school admissions process in order to provide greater fairness, clarity and certainty for parents in applying for places in Welsh-medium schools."

Ceri Owen
Cyfarwyddwr Datblygu / Director of Development
Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymraeg
Parents for Welsh Medium Education

E-mail | Website | Twitter | Facebook

Bookmark and Share

Recalculating the Living Wage

I very much welcome the increase in the minimum wage to £7.20 an hour announced by George Osborne in his budget a few weeks ago, and that it would be set to rise to over £9 an hour by 2020. On the face of it, this 2020 figure would probably be in line with the Living Wage as calculated by the Living Wage Foundation.

When first introduced in 2011 the Living Wage was £7.20, and since then has risen by 25p in 2012 and by 20p in both 2013 and 2014 to now stand at £7.85. If that same annual increase were maintained for the next six years, then it would indeed be just over £9 an hour by 2020. Although, to be more precise, the Low Pay Commission (who recommend the minimum wage rate to the government) have been asked to ensure that the minimum wage reaches at least 60% of median earnings by 2020 ... which will probably be more than £9 an hour.

As a target sum, this would comfortably beat Labour's manifesto promise of £8 an hour by 2020, and be equal to what Plaid Cymru and the SNP had proposed. The LibDems didn't make any commitment. Only the Greens proposed something better: that the minimum wage would rise to £10 an hour by 2020.


The problem, as everybody realizes, is that the Tory increase in the minimum wage is going to be offset by cuts in tax credits. In some cases families will be worse off, although not in every case. There is a good article on this here by the Social Market Foundation. They assume that 60% of the median wage will result in a minimum wage of £9.35 an hour, and on that basis this is the worst case graphic from it:


But it is better for others, as this graphic shows:


The question I asked myself was to what extent the proper Living Wage, as calculated on behalf of the Living Wage Foundation, would need to be adjusted to take account of the fact that tax credits would now be cut. But in doing this I discovered something which surprised me, which I think most people will be unaware of, and which is the main reason for me writing this post.


The way that the Living Wage is calculated is set out in detail in this document. When the calculation was first made in 2011 the £7.20 rate it set was accurate, but the increases in the Living Wage since then have been limited by a formula which states that it should not increase by more than 2% above any rise in average earnings.

The effect of applying this cap is quite startling. This is from the conclusion at the end of the 2014 calculation:

Based on the above calculations, the ‘reference’ level of the Living Wage, reflecting actual minimum living costs, is £9.20 in 2014, but the applied Living Wage, resulting from the capped increase, is £7.85.

The difference is a huge £1.35 an hour.

I suppose I can understand the rationale behind the cap. The aim of the LWF is to get employers to become accredited Living Wage Employers; and in order to make a long-term commitment, it was helpful for there to be some method of cushioning large increases. Back in 2011 it was probably reasonable to assume that wages would rise following the worse ravages of the recession caused by the 2008 financial crisis, but wages haven't gone up by very much at all. So it's proved to be a false assumption. Whatever good intentions lay behind imposing this cap, the end result is that the current Living Wage of £7.85 is now way below what it should be in order to meet actual minimum living costs. Instead of rising by about 65p or 70p each year, the Living Wage has only risen by 20p or 25p each year.

Now consider what will happen over the next five years. It seems pretty obvious that the calculated Living Wage is going to rise further. In part this will be because of the effect of reductions in tax credits, but on top of that there will be the usual cost of living increases. What is currently calculated at £9.20 will certainly be over £10 an hour and probably closer to £11 an hour by 2020.


The definition of the Living Wage, as taken from calculation document, is "the wage that produces enough income after taxes, benefits and tax credits to cover [a family's] expenses." So it is clear that the next calculation of the Living Wage will need to take the reduction in tax credits into account. This will be a major change, and therefore will provide a perfect opportunity to reset the calculation without the cap imposed in previous years.

I'm sure this will result in a large rise which will make some accredited Living Wage employers think twice. But I think it's a bullet that needs to be bitten. If the Living Wage doesn't actually reflect what minimum income is needed to cover expenses, it is meaningless.

Bookmark and Share

Complete rubbish about energy from David Davies

I've spoken to David TC Davies on a few occasions, and I have to say that he's a rather pleasant and affable person face to face ... the problem is that quite a lot of what he says in public is stark raving bonkers.

He's just provided us with another example in this article in the Western Mail:

Scrap the climate change levy, says Tory MP David Davies
as Wales exceeds renewables target

Apparently, we are being asked to believe that:

Official statistics show that by August 2013, the amount of renewable energy produced in Wales was already running at 9.7 TWh.

The official figures for electricity generation are published by DECC, and are available from this page.

The figure for the whole of 2013 was in fact 2.664 TWh ... less than a third of what David Davies quotes.

Now it might just be that he is thinking of the total energy, rather than just electricity, produced from renewable sources. But he probably isn't, for two reasons. First, the figure of 7 TWh/y he quotes comes from paragraph 1.4 of TAN 8, and is specifically for renewable electricity. And second, because the DECC tends to measure total energy in TOE (tonnes of oil equivalent) and as we can see from table 6.6 of these figures, over 70% of energy from renewable sources is used to generate electricity. Therefore even if he tried to claim that he was talking about total energy, rather than just electricity, he'd still be talking complete rubbish.


So, to be clear, we in Wales have definitely not "exceeded" our renewable targets. Paragraph 1.4 of TAN 8 sets two of them: 4 TWh/y of electricity from renewables by 2010, and 7 TWh/y of electricity from renewables by 2020. In 2013 we produced less than 2.7 TWh, in other words we were still a long way short of the 2010 target.

In fact, the picture is quite bleak, because the two large offshore windfarms that would have significantly boosted the amount of renewable electricity generated in Wales—the Atlantic Array in the Bristol Channel and the Celtic Array in the Irish Sea—have both been cancelled.

Bookmark and Share

A pig in a poke

During the campaign for the Westminster election in May, the Tories promised that they would deliver £12bn of welfare cuts ... but refused point-blank to tell us what, exactly, they were going to cut. Of course nobody doubted that they could make this level of cuts, but if they'd been specific about what they were going to cut, a lot of people might have had second thoughts about voting for them.

Yesterday, Plaid Cymru took a leaf directly out of that Tory book. They made a promise that, if elected next May, they would generate all Wales' electricity from renewable sources within 20 years ... but refused point-blank to tell us how they intended to do it.


     BBC report | Wales Online report

As with the Tories and their welfare cuts, nobody doubts that Wales can produce more electricity from renewable sources than we consume. Although, to be precise, this isn't the same as saying that all Wales' electricity would come from renewables, but is probably what Plaid would have said if they'd thought more clearly about it. That in itself should give people a good idea of how seriously Plaid have thought this through.

But, to make that point more forcibly, we need to ask why Plaid only intend to produce this "route map" after they've been elected. What new information will be available next summer that isn't available right now? It's not as if there is some "secret" information that will only be available to Plaid Cymru if they form the next government.

In short, this policy announcement, as it stands, is nothing more than a confidence trick.


So what are Plaid Cymru playing at?

As I see it, there are two factors at play.

The first is blunt, but honest. There is no way that Plaid Cymru have a hope in hell of forming the next government of Wales. Plaid Cymru might, if they're very lucky, win one or two more seats next May, but (especially with the rise of UKIP) it is actually far more likely that they will lose one or two seats. In other words, they're pretty sure that they will never be called upon to deliver this "route map". It's the luxury of being in opposition.

The second is that if they were clear about how they intended to achieve it, they think (wrongly, in my opinion) they would alienate people and therefore stand even less chance of winning any new seats. However they formulate the renewable energy generating mix, it will mean many more wind farms and/or solar parks and/or tidal lagoons in Wales ... and will also mean new grid connexions to link these to the gird. Remember that only about 10% of our electricity is currently generated from renewables. We have a very long way to go.

From my time as a Plaid Cymru insider, I know that the party is all over the place when it comes to energy. Their policies in this area are hopelessly contradictory, and no-one is strong enough to unite the various factions and narrow interest groups within the leadership.

So, as it stands, this announcement should be, and will be, seen as nothing more than a joke. If Plaid Cymru want to be taken seriously, the answer is simple. Produce this "route map" now—before the election, not after it—and, if it's any good, they might be pleasantly surprised at how many people vote for Plaid because of it.

That's the way honest politics is meant to work. Only a party of charlatans could expect the public to buy a pig in a poke.

Bookmark and Share

Crisis for WM school places in Cardiff

A couple of days ago I received a copy of a letter from RhAG, the group campaigning for more Welsh-medium education, that has been sent to the Director of Education at Cardiff Council. It goes into some detail about the impending crisis in providing sufficient Welsh-medium places in Cardiff, demonstrated by the surprisingly large number of parents whose children have been refused places at the Welsh-medium school of their choice. As it was also copied to the Education Correspondent of the Western Mail the intention was clearly for it to be made public, but as the Western Mail haven't—or haven't yet—run the story, I thought it would be a good idea to publish it on Syniadau.


RhAG has expressed its concern generally at the level of refusals on first allocation in relation to September 2015 primary admissions for WM schools, which is at an unprecedentedly high level and which must be attributed to the failure to plan proactively for growth. However RhAG does appreciate that the LA now have to cater for EM growth which was absent from 1995 onwards until about 2 or 3 years ago.

On first allocation, 685 places were given at WM schools to applicants and 110 were refused.

The total number of available WM reception places was a potential of 787 places which realistically would probably cover the 795 who gave a WM school as their first choice having regard to the various events that can change the demand over the 3-4 months between application and allocation. There were therefore probably enough places to meet the demand if one treats the demand and places on a city-wide basis. However it is apparent that there were not enough places to satisfy parental demand for WM primary places as parents want a school which is reasonably close to home, and it is not reasonable to expect a child in Trowbridge to have to travel to Pentwyn, for example.

In fact the first allocation of places was actually lower in number at 685 this year than the 693 allocated at the same stage last year. The number of refusals at 110 is the highest ever and it is more than likely that of those 110 only a small percentage, probably less than 25%, will ultimately find a WM place because the parents will have reluctantly taken an EM place which has the merit of being local even though the child will in 90% of the cases have started in a WM setting in nursery for 1 or 2 years. This is a loss wholly unacceptable to those who have worked hard to persuade parents of the benefits of WM education and have succeeded, only to be frustrated by the inadequacy of the provision, particularly as the increase of the percentage in WM education is Welsh Government policy to which the LA has subscribed by preparing its Welsh in Education Strategic Plan.

RhAG suggest that the city and county of Cardiff must do better next year, by increasing the accessible provision and altering the method of application for and consequent allocation of places.


It is apparent that the shortage of places and consequent high level of refusals is localised. In 7 out of 16 catchments there were no refusals or only one. In 4 schools there were refusals above or close to 20 and in another 3 refusals of 8 or 6. To some extent those refused were applicants resident outside the catchment but there were a total of 23 refused who were resident in catchment, and we suspect that some out of catchment applications were made by parents who had every reason to believe that they had no hope of a place in their catchment school.

The following is a review of the schools area by area, suggesting the remedies advocated by RhAG.

a. Far East

In this area the 2 schools are Bro Eirwg and Pen-y-pil, where respectively 8 and 2 children were refused places. We believe that the 2 unsuccessful out-of-catchment pupils at Pen-y-pil were Glan Morfa pupils whose parents believed, correctly, that they would not get in to Glan Morfa after 2 years of 10+ children being refused there. We cannot guess the origin of parents from out of catchment seeking places at Bro Eirwg unless, yet again they lived in the Glan Morfa catchment. Clearly both schools are full and the growing need can only be met by expanding Pen-y-pil to 2 streams.

b. South East

Glan Morfa is overcrowded with demand for the third year exceeding provision. The LA has a plan to meet this need which is for publication at the end of this month which must include a proposal to make additional provision at Reception level in September 2016

c. East Central

Between them Y Berllan Deg and Pen-y-groes can cope with the demand in this area. It would be helpful if the availability of places at Pen-y-groes could be widely advertised.

d. North and North Central

In this area 3 of the 4 schools are under pressure, namely Y Wern, Mynydd Bychan and Melin Gruffydd and the one with spare accommodation Glan Ceubal is really convenient to take overspill only from the southern part of the Melin Gruffydd catchment. The buildings of Melin Gruffydd and Mynydd Bychan are not capable of extension. We suspect that the out-of-catchment demand for Melin Gruffydd comes from parents in the area of Heath south of Heathwood Road who are in the Mynydd Bychan catchment but who have no hope of a place at Mynydd Bychan due to pressure for places from pupils living nearer the school site. As RhAG has repeatedly urged the only sensible thing to do for Mynydd Bychan school is to reduce its catchment so that it serves only Cathays and Little Heath (Y Waun Ddyfal). The rest of Great Heath (MYNYDDBYCHAN i.e. south of Heathwood Rd) should be transferred into the catchment of Y Wern which can be extended to a full 3 FE which will be immediately taken up. The pressure to overspill Heath children into Melin Gruffydd may then be relieved. Glan Ceubal can take overspill from Whitchurch village as well as from the Pencae catchment. We understand why the LA was reluctant to see unfilled places at Y Wern and thus refused RhAG's urging that it be made 3 FE at once but taking this step is the only way of relieving pressure on both MG and Mb which is evident from this year's figures.

e. Far North West

Creigiau and Gwaelod-y-garth are both just full. Further growth can be expected and we urge the LA to close the small EM provision at Gwaelod-y-garth and transfer it to Pentyrch which used to have spare capacity.

f. West

Two of the three schools here (Pencae and Nant Caerau) are oversubscribed but cannot be expanded on their sites. Pencae suffers from being adjacent to a major place of Welsh employment and is a convenient place to take out-of-catchment children (20 refusals of out-of-catchment children; a repetition of last year). However the LA should have regard to the proposal for housing to take the place of the BBC studios which will further increase the demand at Pencae. The developers will need to provide a 2 stream WM school to replace Pencae. Nant Caerau serves an area with a different demographic. Last year 10 children were refused places at NC; this year 21 of which 7 were in catchment (we imagine that the other 14 were from Ely also very local for whom there are only 11 places at Coed-y-gof, the catchment school). Something must be done to expand the buildings available to Nant Caerau. RhAG accepts that expansion cannot be on site. The possibilities are:

     1. Part of Glyn Derw
     2. New build on Ely Mill where the county has s106 rights
     3. At Michaelston when Michaelston moves out onto the Glyn Derw site.

There are currently 11 vacant places at Coed-y-gof which are likely to be filled by:

     1. Ely children refused at Nant Caerau
     2. 20 out of catchment children at Pencae
     3. The usual late applicants.

The total of the above is more than the number of vacant places. Does Coed-y-gof need a third stream?

g. South Central

Here we have 2 existing schools and the new Grangetown/Butetown school for which starter provision is to be made in the buildings formerly occupied by Tan-yr-Eos. At Treganna 16 have been refused who can be offered places at Tan-y-Eos. The total of applications in the Four Wards so far this year seems to be 161 but we would expect some of those refused at Pencae to opt for Pwll Coch. (We are aware of one child resident on the east of Cathedral Road and thus in the Pencae catchment who is likely to do this) We would urge that there be provision to accept 60 at Tan-yr-Eos in 2016 next year, having regard to the magnetic effect of a new Welsh-medium school which the new school will be.


RhAG would urge that the LA in its literature for new parents highlight the difficulty of matching schools to children precisely, warning parents that if they want to choose WM education and have started a child in a Nursery class then it would be wise not only to choose one WM school but also a second to enable the council to meet demand with some flexibility. An effort should be made to avoid presenting a parent with a choice of one local WM school or a local EM school. If a WM school has been the first choice the LA should not couple a refusal of a WM place with the offer of an EM place but rather should indicate that another WM place is available which should not be an impossible journey away. Only in this way will the council fulfil its duty to promote the growth of WM education.

RhAG has expressed its concern at one aspect in particular of the admissions this year, which is its failure to honour the sibling link priority for admission to primary school.

The aspect of particular concern is the total of 8 applications refused in spite of the existence of a sibling link, a link which normally gives a high priority to the applicant which derives from the county's own rules, dating back to 1985 after the case of R v South Glamorgan County Council, ex p Evans 1984.

RhAG fails to understand why the sibling link now been ignored in 8 cases, 5 in Nant Caerau, 2 in Mynydd Bychan and 1 in Glan Morfa. RhAG has been made aware of a serious consequence of these refusals of places to children who were in the Nursery Class with parents having already been in touch with some schools to say that they will be withdrawing the elder children as they cannot face the complications of having children in 2 different schools, a consequence which the LA should have foreseen. RhAG is yet to receive explanation for the authority's failure to comply with its own long-standing rules and offer a proposal to rectify what has been done by offering places to all 8 children in the near future.

Ceri Owen
Cyfarwyddwr Datblygu / Director of Development
Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymraeg
Parents for Welsh Medium Education

E-mail | Website | Twitter | Facebook

Bookmark and Share

Parity with Scotland?

There are many things to criticize Plaid Cymru for, but the one thing that has disturbed me most is in fact the central plank of their election campaign: namely that they want parity with Scotland both in terms of devolved powers and in terms of funding.

I don't have a particular problem with parity of devolved powers because, as things stand, our National Assembly has fewer powers than the Scottish Parliament, and therefore parity would be a practical first step. I would only qualify this by saying that I wouldn't want the powers of the Scottish Parliament to act as a limit. To give one example: it looks likely that powers to set the rate of Corporation Tax will be devolved to the Six Counties, but not to Scotland. Therefore I would want Wales to have this power too, irrespective of whether or not Scotland gets it.

For me, the principle is that I want everything that is currently decided at Westminster to be decided by our National Assembly ... in other words, independence.


But I do have a very big problem with the idea that Wales should get parity of funding with Scotland. And I am frankly amazed that Plaid Cymru has abandoned its previous position of wanting fair funding for Wales, and now wants something that is patently unfair.

Of course I understand why and how it happened, but that doesn't excuse Plaid's behaviour. The Holtham Commission did a good piece of work, demonstrating that Wales was underfunded relative to need on the basis of an objective formula. At that time, the block grant to the National Assembly fell short of what we would get by applying this needs-based formula by roughly £300m a year. This was set to get worse because of the Barnett Squeeze, but in fact has not got worse because cuts in public expenditure have put the Squeeze into reverse. However the shortfall will increase again when public expenditure starts to rise over the next few years.

Because of this shortfall, coupled with general discontent with the way Barnett worked anyway with regard to Scotland, there seemed to be consensus among all the parties in the Assembly (the Tories, Labour and LibDems as well as Plaid Cymru) that Barnett had reached the end of its working life and needed to be replaced. The problem is that just before the Scottish independence referendum, those three Unionist parties panicked in the face of closer than expected opinion polls, and made a vow to retain Barnett.

It was at this point that Plaid Cymru panicked ... with the result that they came up with a policy to demand the same amount of funding per head as Scotland gets. Of course not all public spending in Scotland is channelled through the Scottish Parliament (for example most benefits and pensions are paid directly to individuals and families) but if the same "block grant per head" were paid to our National Assembly as is paid to the Scottish Parliament it would indeed, after making allowance for different devolved functions, result in Wales getting something like an additional £1.2bn in block grant.

Now what's wrong with that? Well, to put it bluntly, any child could see what's wrong with it. Why pick Scotland? Why not pick England instead and demand that Wales gets a block grant equivalent to the same level of funding per head as England? Simple, because if Plaid Cymru picked England, Wales would get much less of a block grant than we do now. In other words, picking Scotland is a blatantly biased choice. If the principle you adopt is equal spending per head, then that has to apply across the whole of the United Kingdom—which, by the way, is UKIP's policy—it cannot be applied selectively.

In effect what Plaid Cymru are doing is asking English taxpayers to give Wales much more than we need on any objective basis, and very much more than they give themselves. It is a wicked and stupid idea, and I have to say I'm very glad that I am no longer associated with a party that can come up with something that can only be described as a total perversion of any concept of either fairness or reason.


In principle there are some very basic rules about how to redistribute funding between different parts of a state. We need to consider two things: how much each part of the state produces in terms of tax revenue, and how much each part of the state needs. One sum will be usually be higher than the other, and an equitable funding formula must be somewhere between the two. It cannot be outside that range.

A needs-based formula on its own will not work because, as the Holtham Commission noted, if it were applied to Scotland, it would result in Scotland getting maybe £4bn a year less in block grant than it does now. However that does not mean that Scotland is over-funded, because Scotland provides more per head in tax revenue to the Treasury than most other parts of the UK. In Scotland's case, the proportion of tax revenue it contributes to the Treasury is more than its relative needs, therefore it is right that Scotland gets more than it needs.

But in the case of Wales, what we produce in tax revenue per head is quite a bit lower than other parts of the UK, and the sum is also lower than what we objectively need, based on the formula used by Holtham (which, by the way, is based on the way money is distributed by departments within England). It is therefore reasonable and justified to say that Wales deserves more money, but only as much as will bring us up towards what we objectively need ... not more than that. To ask for or expect more is nothing but greed. Yet this is what Plaid Cymru have sunk to. It's sickening and shameful.


It's also deceitful, because it is undeliverable. As I showed in the last post, even if the SNP win upwards of 50 seats on Thursday, they will not get to determine the direction of government. The same would be just as true if Plaid Cymru won 35 seats in Wales. 533 English MPs will never vote to give Wales more than it either contributes to the Treasury or needs.

That's not to say that there are other aspects of the way Wales is funded that can't be improved. In addition to the £300m shortfall in the block grant (or whatever it now is when the Holtham formula is applied) we can rightly call for our fair share of infrastructure investment so that, for example, Wales gets a pro-rata share of rail infrastructure investment or research funding relative to the rest of the UK. But we must make a reasoned and rational case for this, and we weaken any case we make if we, at the same time, are making unreasonable and irrational demands.


In closing, I would also ask people to consider, in practical terms, what the result of getting more money from England than we either need or contribute to the Treasury would be. How on earth would it help us stand on our own two feet as a nation? It would simply tie us closer into dependency on England. Yet this is party policy ... from a party that supposedly wants independence! Perhaps, under better leadership, Plaid Cymru might become a party that is worth voting for again ... but it certainly isn't worth voting for them now.

Bookmark and Share