I'd like to wish everyone who reads Syniadau a peaceful and happy Christmas.
When Les Républicains held the first round of their primary to select a candidate for the French presidency, I was happy enough with the result. The last thing I wanted was to see Sarkozy make a comeback.
A week later, and I'm much less happy. The choice between Juppé and Fillon was a choice between a relatively centrist, inclusive candidate and a candidate who, both in economic and social terms, has shown himself to be as rabidly right wing as Sarkozy.
With the left in France in disarray, I tend to go along with the consensus view of most political commentators: namely that the two candidates who will now make it through to the second, deciding round in May next year will be Fillon and Le Pen. However, where I disagree with that consensus is that it will not be, as so many have described it, a contest between the "right" and the "far right".
The landmark political events this year, particularly the votes for Brexit and Trump, are not easy to understand. Our accepted ways of thinking have been turned on their head. But I would say this: that although UKIP, the prime movers behind Brexit, and Trump both advocate unmistakably right-wing policies, they have pitched their appeal at the disillusioned working class (the Americans use the term "middle class" to refer to the same group) who normally think of themselves as being on the left, and both won because a large percentage of this traditional left believed that narrative.
The essence of their appeal, in both cases, was to identify who/what to blame for their current predicament. Immigration and globalization were close to the top of the list with sub-text that both the UK and the US, if left to their own devices, would do better on their own than by interacting and being integrated with the wider world.
It is not hard to see how, with even a modicum of savoir faire, Marine Le Pen and the Front National will not pitch the same sort of appeal to the same group in France. And I believe that, if she does so, she will win in the same way as the Brexiteers and Trump have won. Make no mistake, Fillon is very right wing and has just won this primary precisely because he is so right wing. Getting rid of half a million public sector jobs and doing away with the 35 hour week and the workplace protections that make it extraordinarily difficult to get rid of employees is dismantling the very things that make France one of the most civilized countries in Europe. In my opinion, he has made a fundamental mistake by positioning himself more and more to the right in order to match Le Pen. Le Pen is as unscrupulous and inconsistent as Trump, and she will now respond by switching her appeal to traditionally left-leaning voters instead, leaving him flat-footed.
So, on the one hand, there will be a candidate who says: France is in trouble, and we can only solve our problems by making radical economic reforms which will hurt, but will make France more competitive in the long term. But on the other hand there will be a candidate who says: France is in trouble, but we don't have to give up the things which make France a civilized and humane place to live and work, we can achieve the same thing by stemming the immigration which drives down your wage levels and makes it harder for you to find work ... and instead of having to open ourselves up to unfair competition from poorer parts of Europe and the world, we can, if we leave the EU and the trade arrangements with the rest of the world that the EU forces us to accept, take steps to protect our jobs and industry. Of course I don't believe that either of those arguments holds any water, but the appeal won't be pitched at people like me.
The conundrum is that—by any objective measure—UKIP, Trump and Le Pen espouse right-wing policies. But two of them have now won what they wanted by getting those who traditionally saw the left as best representing their interests to switch sides, and I'm afraid that we are going to see it happen three times in a row.
We who comment on politics find it hard to appreciate the raw appeal of unscrupulous politicians who direct their appeal to gut feeling rather than reasoned argument ... but we can get a taste of how well it works by reading the comments section of the Mail or Express. I'm quite sure that the intellectual left in France will hold their noses and vote for Fillon rather than Le Pen in the final round next May, but they would be mistaken to think that the angry, marginalized and disillusioned working class left will do the same. In their complacency, they just won't see it coming. A simplistic, but superficially convincing, narrative aimed squarely at the gut rather than the head is likely to result in Le Pen becoming the next French president.
Thanks to a newsletter from Yes Cymru, I've just found out about a website called Bella Gwalia which I like the look of, and would like to recommend to others.
As a starter, I quite liked this from the meme section:
Of course, when you see quotes like this, it's always a good idea to check out whether they're accurate. This one is. It's a quote from 1925 ... some twenty years before India became an independent nation.
It is impossible for one to be internationalist without being a nationalist. Internationalism is possible only when nationalism becomes a fact, i.e. when peoples belonging to different countries have organized themselves and are able to act as one man. It is not nationalism that is evil, it is the narrowness, selfishness, exclusiveness which is the bane of modern nations which is evil. Each wants to profit at the expense of, and rise on the ruin of, the other.
Indian nationalism has struck a different path. It wants to organize itself or to find full self-expression for the benefit and service of humanity at large … God having cast my lot in the midst of the people of India, I should be untrue to my Maker if I failed to serve them. If I do not know how to serve them I shall never know how to serve humanity. And I cannot possibly go wrong so long as I do not harm other nations in the act of serving my country.
It was interesting to read this story on the BBC website that the Tory government in Westminster is now prepared to offer the devolution of teachers' pay and conditions to our National Assembly, but surprising that the Welsh Government considered this to be an "encouraging development".
As I see it, teachers' pay and conditions are already devolved to Wales. Of course this was never intended by Westminster; it came about as a result of the Supreme Court ruling that the Assembly had power to determine pay and conditions for agricultural workers in Wales. As I mentioned in this post, by choosing to test out the Assembly's competence to retain an Agricultural Wages Board for Wales, Westminster was in fact asking the Supreme Court to rule on the general principle of whether something had to be specifically mentioned as being within the Assembly's competence, or whether it could reasonably be implied to be within the Assembly's competence because the overall subject area—in that case agriculture—is devolved.
That first post was written before the verdict had been delivered, but after it had been delivered I wrote this post, which showed beyond any doubt that politicians in Westminster fully realized that the principle could be applied to other devolved areas ... and that in this regard the Welsh Assembly has greater powers than even the Scottish Parliament. Because education is devolved, applying the same principle means that, for example, teachers' pay and conditions are devolved, as well as those of anyone else who works in education. The same would also apply to all the other devolved areas.
As others beside myself have noted, one of the Conservative Government's purposes behind the new Wales Bill is an attempt to roll back these, and other, devolved powers under the guise of a reserved powers model. Yes, the new Bill promises a few additional powers—and for me any additional powers will always be welcome—but these come at the cost of the repatriation of powers we already have back to Westminster. It's too high a price to pay. I think we must reject the repatriation of any powers back to Westminster on principle.
In other words, although this new "concession" proposed by the Tories is meant to look like a step forward for devolution, it is very far from being the "encouraging development" that the Welsh Government believes it to be. They are in fact offering us nothing that we don't already have.
I have to say that I am quite impressed with the lastest product offering from Tesla/Solar City. So I thought I'd show the full video of yesterday evening's launch:
These pictures from the article at Electrek:
The question Elon Musk has asked is exactly right. If a solar roof of this sort is cheaper and better than adding separate solar panels to a roof made just to keep out the rain, why wouldn't you do it? This is a game changer.
It is 2019 and babies in Northern Ireland are raised up so that they can look over the Brexit Wall into the opulent, Marmite-rich land of Ireland.
With thanks to Alan.
On the subject of freedom of movement, one of the mantras of those campaigning to leave the EU was to "take back control". The question they were not asked was: "Take back control from whom?" And because that question was not asked, people were left with the impression that bureaucrats in Brussels were in control.
In fact neither bureaucrats in Brussels nor politicians in any member state of the EU are in control. We as EU citizens, at least for now, are the ones in control of our own choices about where we live and work. We can work in Berlin, retire to Spain, or bum around in Greece as we want, and no government anywhere in the EU can deny us that freedom.
If the UK leaves the EU without signing up to the four freedoms of movement (with a similar status to countries like Norway) control will be taken away from us as individuals and handed to governments instead.
We can decide for ourselves whether this is a good or bad thing. However I find it odd that those on the right of the political spectrum, who in all other circumstances think that government control over citizens is a bad thing, are the ones who think that taking this freedom from us as individuals and putting politicians in control is a now good thing.
This is a very welcome antidote to the new rhetoric and policies which have been propounded by the Conservative Party at their conference this week.
"The countries of the United Kingdom face a spiralling political and economic crisis. At the top of the Conservative Party, the narrow vote in favour of leaving the EU has now been interpreted as the pretext for a drastic cutting of ties with Europe, which would have dire economic results - and as an excuse for the most toxic rhetoric on immigration we have seen from any government in living memory.
"This is a profoundly moral question which gets to the heart of what sort of country we think we live in. We will not tolerate the contribution of people from overseas to our NHS being called into question, or a new version of the divisive rhetoric of 'British jobs for British workers'. Neither will we allow the people of these islands, no matter how they voted on June 23rd, to be presented as a reactionary, xenophobic mass whose only concern is somehow taking the UK back to a lost imperial age. At a time of increasing violence and tension, we will call out the actions of politicians who threaten to enflame those same things.
"This is not a time for parties to play games, or meekly respect the tired convention whereby they do not break cover during each other's conferences. It is an occasion for us to restate the importance of working together to resist the Tories' toxic politics, and make the case for a better future for our people and communities. We will do this by continuing to work and campaign with the fierce sense of urgency this political moment demands."
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
Leanne Wood, Leader of Plaid Cymru
Steven Agnew, Leader of the Green Party of Northern Ireland
Patrick Harvie, Co-convener of the Scottish Green Party
Alice Hooker-Stroud, Leader of the Wales Green Party
Referendums are strange things. Today, there was a referendum in Hungary in which the vote was 95% in favour of the proposition presented, but the turnout was only 45%. I don't want to comment on the issue, but simply on the numbers, because it's a good illustration of how the outcome can be manipulated.
Clearly what happened was that those in favour of the proposition turned out to vote, but those against it stayed at home. Because of that, the referendum technically failed because the turnout was less than 50%. But the Hungarian Government won't let that stand in their way.
And why should they? Let's imagine a situation in which those against the proposition had been urged to go out and vote instead of stay at home. The turnout would then have been higher that 50%, and the proposition would have technically passed. That's because it is very unusal for everyone to go out and vote in any referendum or election.
I think we'd regard 85% as an exceptionally high turnout in a western democracy. A 95% majority on a 45% turnout represents 42.75% of the electorate. If the turnout had been 85% (indicating tht 15% were undecided about how to vote, or didn't care about the issue one way or the other) that would leave those opposed to the motion at 42.25% of the electorate, leaving them in a minority.
Why do these numbers matter? Because I reckon we are likely to see almost exactly the same result in the upcoming referendum on Catalan independence.
After several monhs of uncertainty, it now appears that the referendum on Catalan independence is back on track. Only this week, President Carles Puigdemont said, "There will either be a referendum, or there will be a referendum."
When that referendum is held, those who are against independence will not turn out and vote No. They will say that the referendum is illegal and use that as a pretext to encourage people not to vote. At a guess, just as with this Hungarian referendum, some 95% of those who do vote in the Catalan independence referendum will vote Yes, but the turnout will probably be below 50%. The Spanish nationalists will say that this means only 42.75% want independence, hoping that people will believe that 57.25% don't. But that won't be true. It will be to conflate two different groups: those that don't want independence and those who can't decide or don't care about the issue one way or the other.
It's one of the fundamental flaws with referendums. Sometimes it's possible to manipulate them by encouraging non-participation rather than by getting people out to vote.
The UK's highly esteemed Foreign Secretary—please resist the urge to laugh, Mr Toner—finally gets to share his love for goats, just managing to hide his sense of relief that he doesn't live in Germany.
If we ever want to pursue an ethical foreign policy, we'll need better material to work with than this.
I believe that a universal basic income, also known as a citizens' income, is an idea that is exactly right for our times; particularly in mature economies where the increasing use of automation and artificial intelligence will mean that ordinary, low-skilled work becomes increasingly hard to obtain. It is a way to help ensure that the wealth created by technological advances is distributed throughout society, rather than concentrated in the hands of the corporations that deploy them.
A world where machines do all the tedious work, leaving people free to move mankind forward, used to be the stuff of science fiction. But it's rapidly becoming mainstream. It's an idea that has already been embraced by the Green Party, here, and now looks to be something that Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are set to examine seriously. It featured in McDonnell's speech to Labour Conference today.
As co-incidence would have it, it is also a policy that featured in Elkarrekin Podemos' policy programme in the Basque Parliamentary election. I found it interesting that they believe it can be introduced at Basque level, rather than at a Spanish level. It would be refreshing to see the SNP or Plaid Cymru consider it, although I suspect it might be too ambitious for either.
However, that's not the point of this post. The reason I'm writing is because I've discovered an organization called the Basic Income Earth Network, whose website is here. It's helpful, because it shows how the idea is gaining ground across the world. One particular article that caught my attention was about a Europe-wide poll conducted by Dalia Research in Berlin, which found that 64% of people in Europe were in favour of Basic Income and, perhaps even more interestingly, that people who were more aware of what Basic Income is tend to be more in favour of it. The full article is here, but here are some graphics from it.
Nor is it a subject in which there is any big difference between the countries of the UK and other countries in Europe. Support in the UK is at 62%.
So next time you read in the media that the likes of the Greens and the current Labour leadership are "hard-left" and "unelectable", it might be worth reminding ourselves that some of the ideas they're putting forward are very much in the mainstream of the direction in which Europe is moving.
Elections to the Basque Autonomous Community were held yesterday. In many ways, not much changed. The EAJ-PNV were the largest party before, and will remain in power as the largest party now. However I think it's worth looking at the result in a little more detail to see what light it sheds on the constitutional relationship between Euskadi and Spain.
EAJ-PNV ... 27 seats ... 34.2%
EH Bildu ... 21 seats ... 24.7%
PSE-EE ... 16 seats ... 18.9%
PP ... 10 seats ... 11.6%
UPyD ... 1 seats ... 1.9%
EAJ-PNV ... 29 seats (+2) ... 37.7% (+ 3.5%)
EH Bildu ... 17 seats (-4) ... 21.2% (-3.5%)
Elkarrekin Podemos ... 11 seats (+11) ... 14.8% (+14.8%)
PSE-EE ... 9 seats (-7) ... 11.9% (-7.0%)
PP ... 9 seats (-1) ... 11.6% (-1.4%)
Cs ... 0 seats (n/c) ... 2% (+ 2%)
It's worth noting that each of the three provinces of the BAC have 25 seats each, even though Araba with a population of 322,500 is much smaller than Bizkaia with 1.16m and Gipuzkoa with 715,000. This means that there isn't an exact correlation between seats and the percentage of the vote won. There is also a 3% threshold in each province.
I think it's probably best to look at this from the perspective of the left and right sides of the political spectrum.
There are two main parties on the right: the Basque nationalist EAJ-PNV, and the Spanish nationalist PP. Additionally, I would consider the centrist Cs to lean more right than the left, and they are also fierce Spanish nationalists, but they failed to win any seats in this election.
Overall the right-leaning vote has gone up a little, but not much. The EAJ-PNV's increase is offset by the PP's decrease, continuing the trend of the Basques preferring their own nationalist parties over the Spanish nationalist parties.
On the left, things have been changed quite dramatically by the entry of Podemos, fighting as Elkarrekin Podemos. They have risen from nowhere to gain 11 seats with 14.8% of the vote. This has come at the expense of the other two left-leaning parties, the Basque nationalist EH Bildu and the Spanish nationalist PSE-EE, but not equally. The PSE-EE's losses have been much greater than those of EH Bildu.
To understand what this might mean in terms of Euskadi's relationship with Spain, we need to look at Elkarrekin Podemos' policy platform, which is here. With apologies for the rough translation this includes:
• We support the Basque Country as a nation, which does not imply any contradiction with our commitment to Spain as a multinational, multilingual state.
• We advocate the holding of a referendum in which citizens can ... choose between alternatives, including separation from the rest of the state.
In a nutshell, this echoes the position of Podemos with regard to Catalunya: namely that they are in favour of referendums which include the option of independence, even though they would prefer to see Spain change to become a federation of nations.
So across the political spectrum, there are now three parties which support the people of Euskadi having the right to decide their future in a referendum which includes independence as an option. Together, these parties won nearly three-quarters of the vote. That is too great a percentage for even Madrid to ignore.
It's harder to say what proportion would vote for independence in such a referendum. First, because it would depend on whether a federal option is on the table and what form it takes. And second, because even though nearly all the EH Bildu vote would be for independence, it is less clear how supporters of the EAJ-PNV would vote. Some definitely want independence, the others would want more autonomy, but might not want to go all the way.
Personally, I find it quite hard to see how the Basques could have more autonomy within Spain. Unlike Catalunya, the three provinces of the BAC and Nafarroa already have almost complete fiscal autonomy. I also find it hard to see Spain agreeing to any form of federalism. They would see it as a slippery slope to independence.
Yet Spain is in a state of political paralysis at present, with parties still unable to form a government in Madrid after a second general election; and one way in which that impasse could be resolved is if one of the two big parties in Spain, the PP and PSOE (through the PSOE is more likely to do so), agreed to a vote on constitutional change in Euskadi and Catalunya in return for support from Podemos and the various Basque and Catalan nationalists. The problem is that they cannot put only the option of federalism to a vote (as the PSOE would probably like) but that independence must be an option too. Yet once that precedent has been allowed, Spain then stands to lose not only Euskadi and Catalunya, but the Balearics as well, perhaps followed in due course by Galicia and Valencia.
I would imagine that those of us who support independence for Wales are broadly sympathetic to the aspirations of other stateless nations. With an overall population of some 35 million people, the largest of these nations is Kurdistan.
I've just been reading a book on Kurdistan which I think is worth a recommendation. It's freely available online, just click the image:
While making it clear that the choice of how the Kurdish territories are governed—whether as autononous parts of the current states or independent, and whether independent as one greater Kurdistan or as a confederation of independent Kurdish states—is ultimately a matter for those who live there, the author does seem broadly sympathetic to Kurdish aspirations to govern themselves. But, equally, he does not have a rosy-eyed view of the Kurds. He is well aware of the corruption, nepotism and autocracy of the leaders of the main players and identifies what would need to be addressed in order for Kurdistan to emerge as a successful independent country ... or countries. It's a useful checklist. If I take issue with anything it would be that, as might be expected from an American perspective, he is rather too suspicious of publicly-owned, as opposed to private enterprise institutions.
As I've said before, and I'm sure will say many times again, we need to learn lessons from how other nations move towards independence. Of course, the situation in other European nations is going to be of more immediate relevance to us, but one parallel that stuck me was how much of the political situation in Iraqi Kurdistan is based on tribal/family loyalty and the patronage which stems from it. The way you get on in life depends on whether you align yourself with the Barzani family (finding political form in the PDK/KDP) or the Talabani family (finding political form in the PUK) ... depending on which part of the country you live in. It might not be stretching things too far to say that how you get on in Wales depends on political patronage ... at least to a greater degree than is healthy.
Clearly what is happening on the ground in Syria, Iraq and Turkey is very much in the news. I would repeat that it is easy for us, and the West in general, to say that we oppose Islamic State. In principle, I have no objection to us being involved in the fight against them. But it is not only a question of who and what we are fighting against, we also need to decide who and what we fighting for. We have messed up Iraq, Libya and Syria by being eager to go in to get rid of regimes we don't like, but wash our hands of the responsibility to replace what we smashed with something better.
I wrote at some length on the subject in this post last November. I won't repeat it here but, to me, it is clear that Iraq was given an opportunity to work as a unified state, but proved beyond doubt that it can't. The only viable solution is now to break it up. However if Iraqi Kurdistan does become independent (as now looks quite likely) the situation would become even more intolerable for Sunni Arabs in the remainder of Iraq, because it would be even more Shi'a-dominated than it is now. This mistreatment was, in the main, why Islamic State was able to gain such a foothold in the western part of Iraq and (as an exact mirror image, for the Shi'ite Bashar al-Assad was hardly renowned for his concern for the Sunni Arab majority) in the eastern part of Syria ... although he treated the Kurds in northern Syria even more badly. We therefore need to be open to the possibility of a new Sunni Arab state in western Iraq and eastern Syria.
I believe that our governments should change their previous policy of trying to sort out the mess we've made in that part of the world by sticking rigidly to the arbitrary boundaries we imposed a century ago. We should explicity support the Kurds in their desire to govern themselves, and we should arm them properly. After all, if we bend over backwards to arm the repressive Saudi regime, there can surely be no objection to arming a Kurdistan that seems much more willing to become a country that is inclusive of minorities and tolerant of diversity.
I thought I'd break a long period with no blogging to talk about the new UK government's decision to go ahead with Hinkley Point C.
As I've said before, this is not such a bad decision for Wales. Let me explain what I mean.
It should be clear from Theresa May's decision that the UK government is in a state of paralysis over energy policy. They made the decision some time ago that new nuclear power stations were necessary and—even though all the evidence points to the fact that the price of nuclear keeps going up and up, while the price of renewables keeps falling—they think that the need for them to save face is more important than the need for the rest of us to get value for money. After all, they tell themselves, it is not the UK government that will have to pay; their intention has always been for the costs to be met by ordinary citizens through our electricity bills. A ploy which, hardly by co-incidence, means the poor will pay proportionately more than the rich. Typically Tory.
With this mindset set in stone, it was clear to me that the Tories would be bound to give the go-ahead to nuclear power in some form or other. Hinkley Point C is a terrible deal, not least because it is not just a commitment to one power station, but a commitment to two more at Sizewell and Bradwell. So if the Hinkley deal had not been approved, the UK government would now be actively looking to build an alternative somewhere else, and that alternative would in all probability have been Wylfa B.
It's not that Wylfa B makes any more sense than Hinkley Point C. In fact it makes less sense, because if Horizon had been able to produce nuclear power more cheaply than EDF they would surely have made the offer of a lower strike price as a way of killing-off Hinkley in favour of their own project. Horizon haven't even been able to pretend that their sums can work. They have been biding their time, looking busy but in fact doing very little, hoping against hope that Hinkley would fall through so that the UK government would be left with no choice but to pay them a yet higher strike price.
So the UK is now stuck with Hinkey for the foreseeable future. I am quite sure that Hinkley will prove to be as problematic as Olkiluoto and Flamanville. It will cost more and take longer to build than EDF anticipate. But whether or not it is ever completed will depend on the complexion of government in power when those problems become too obvious to ignore. Say in five to ten years.
If the Tories are still in power, they will probably refuse any additional funding to bail it out. Hinckley will be left as an enormous uncompleted white elephant, killed off before producing a watt of electricity by the simple economics of renewables becoming cheaper and the inevitable development of storage technologies and the smart grid. Capitalistic ruthlessness is the hallmark of all Tories.
If Labour are in power, everything will depend on which faction wins its internal battles over the next few years. If, for want of a better description, the Blairite tendency eventually wins, then there is a very real danger that they will pour good taxpayers' money after bad, and bail out Hinkley no matter what the cost. As always, they will justify doing so on the grounds of jobs. Les grands projets are a hallmark of the left, with vanity winning out over sanity. The only hope of sanity prevailing is if the Corbyn/McDonnell faction wins. Reading this document shows that Labour at least have the potential to become a credible government with workable environment and energy policies.
Which one of these three scenarios comes to pass doesn't much matter. My point is that although this current UK government has shown itself to be stupid enough to give the go-ahead to a few new nuclear power stations, no UK government would ever be stupid enough to commit to building four of the things. They will wait to see how the first one, or two, or three new stations work out, and only commit to more if these first three work out well ... which, of course, they won't.
Thankfully for Wales, this decision means that Hinkley, Sizewell and Bradwell remain firmly ahead of Wylfa in the queue, which makes it all the more likely that Wylfa B will never be built.
On the anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster five years ago, what could be more poignant than this picture from the exclusion zone:
The sign over the road has been dismantled, but the weathering shows that it used to say: Nuclear Power - The Energy for a Better Future.
Following my previous post—though perhaps not because of it—I received an email this afternoon saying that the BBC has invited the Greens to take part in the televised leaders' debate on 26 April.
We Won! BBC Wales have invited the Greens
Thank you so much for signing the petition BBC Wales: Don't exclude the Greens / BBC Cymru: Peidiwch ag eithrio’r Blaid Werdd. We are delighted to announce that BBC Wales will be including the Wales Green Party in the televised leaders debates that will be taking place on the 26th of April, ahead of the National Assembly Elections for Wales in 2016.
We could not have done it without your help, so thank you very much.
Diolch yn fawr
That's definitely a win. So well done BBC Cymru Wales.
In the run up to the Scottish Parliament election, BBC Scotland have agreed to host two televised leaders debates. As well as the main parties—the SNP, Labour and the Tories—the LibDems, Greens and UKIP will also take part in the first on 24 March, and the LibDems and Greens, but not UKIP, in the second on 1 May. The details are here.
BBC Cymru Wales have not announced their plans, but I would urge them to follow BBC Scotland's lead. For the sake of fairness, the voices of UKIP, the Greens and the LibDems need to be heard alongside those of Labour, the Tories and Plaid Cymru in the campaign for the Senedd too.
As there seems to be some doubt over whether the devolution of policing to Wales is, or is not, Labour Party policy, I thought I would look more carefully at the subject.
Labour is a party that puts great store on its manifesto commitments. Being cynical, this is because there are often very different policy proposals within Labour, and because there are sometimes conflicts between what conference decides and what Labour leaders want. So the current definitive guide to what Labour's policy is on any issue relating to Wales is Labour's Welsh manifesto 2015, which is here.
These are the relevant quotes from it:
We will strengthen devolution once again, guaranteeing fair funding for Wales, as well as powers over policing, energy, transport and elections.
We will help make communities safer, by protecting and strengthening neighbourhood policing and will devolve to the Welsh Government the powers to shape the priorities and the governance structures for policing in Wales.
We will devolve powers over policing so that Welsh Ministers can devise an all-Wales policing plan to ensure it reflects Welsh priorities.
The Welsh Government has long demonstrated that locally made and locally accountable decision making is both more legitimate and effective. So we will give more powers to the Welsh Government, legislating early in the next Parliament to devolve to Wales powers outlined in the cross party Silk Commission, including on policing and elections, energy and transport.
This is not an absolutely unequivocal commitment to "devolve policing", but better interpreted as a commitment to devolve some powers over policing ... specifically so that Welsh ministers "can devise an all-Wales policing plan" and set up appropriate "governance structures for policing in Wales".
Some of us might well be concerned that this does not go far enough, and would like to see policing devolved in its entirety. That is a simple thing to say, but things are more complicated than that. The quote from page 62 of the manifesto commits Labour "to devolve to Wales powers outlined in the cross-party Silk Commission, including on policing ..." so it is worth looking to see what the Second Silk Report says. These are its precise recommendations on the subject:
R.24 On policing, we recommend:
a. policing and related areas of community safety and crime prevention should be devolved;
b. existing levels of cross-border police cooperation should be maintained;
c. powers in respect of arrest, interrogation and charging of suspects, and the general powers of constables, should not be devolved unless and until criminal law is devolved;
d. the National Crime Agency should not be devolved;
e. police pay should be devolved, but police pensions should not be devolved; and
f. the two Governments should agree charging systems and terms of service provision for the Police College, Independent Police Complaints Commission, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and common services such as the Police National Computer system.
So it seems clear to me that Carwyn Jones is perfectly correct to say, as he did today in response to Andy Burnham, that Labour's policy is to devolve policing ... to the extent recommended by the Silk Commission.
To understand where the boundaries of what is and what is not devolved lie, this quote from David Hanson, Labour's shadow police minister in 2013, is useful:
"... but there are some really complex issues around this in relation to serious organised crime, counter terrorism, the legal system, justice, probation, which need to be examined in very great detail before such a major step would even be considered to be taken. It isn't just a simple matter of devolving policing to Wales because counter terrorism, serious organised crime, cross-border issues, much of the crime in my part of Wales derives from people who live in England."
Mr Hanson stressed that he was not arguing against the idea: "I'm just saying there are many challenges to this."
Remember that his contribution was made before Labour's policy was settled in the 2015 manifesto. Nonetheless, his points are valid, but easily answered. With regard to policing, things like serious organised crime, counter terrorism and border control would be handled on a UK-wide basis though the National Crime Agency, a body that was set up later that same year. This is how things already work in the Six Counties and (to a large extent) Scotland, and therefore explains why Silk II specifically recommended the NCA should not be devolved.
As always, we have to wait a few days before the full details of the BBC St David's Day poll are published on the ICM website; but they're now available here. This is the BBC's report from last week:
I thought it would be good to look at the broad trend on devolution arrangements over the past few years. Click the year for access to the relevant poll.
2016 2015 2014 Independence 6% 6% 5% More Powers 43% 40% 37% Same Powers 30% 33% 28% Fewer powers 3% 4% 3% Abolish Assembly 13% 13% 23%
The percentage wanting independence has stayed about the same, and I would only repeat the point that one reason why it is so low is because of the unnecessary addition of the word "separation" to the question. Wording does matter, as the next paragraph will show.
There has been a marked decrease in the percentage wanting to see the Assembly abolished. Whether this represents a change of sentiment is debatable. Up to and including 2014, the exact working of the option was: "Wales should remain part of the UK and the Assembly should be abolished", with this being the only option to include "remain part of the UK". Since 2015 the wording of the option has been: "The Welsh Assembly should be abolished and Wales governed directly from Westminster". The change of wording is probably responsible for most of the decrease in those choosing this option, though not all of it, for the percentage wanting the Assembly to have more powers has steadily risen by some 3% each year.
For me, it would have been good to ask a question about which additional powers people wanted the Assembly to have; but the only specific question was about income tax (54% wanted Cardiff to control some income tax, with 42% against). There was, however, one question asked which wasn't featured in the BBC reports. As well as asking people whether they thought the Welsh health service was run by Cardiff or Westminster, the poll asked the same question about the welfare and benefits system. 50% thought it was run by Cardiff, with 45% thinking it was run by Westminster.
I have commented before on the high, perhaps surprisingly high, percentage in Wales that want to see control of this devolved to Cardiff. One poll showed that 59% of people thought decisions about welfare and benefits should be devolved to the Assembly, with only 23% thinking these decisions should continue to be made at Westminster. This, combined with the fact that half the people in Wales think it is already devolved, means that the subject should be very much higher up the political agenda than it currently is. If the 50% which thought it was already devolved had been made aware that it wasn't, then it would surely have increased the percentage who think the Assembly should have more powers than it has at present.
In the recent discussions over the draft Wales Bill, one recurring theme voiced by both politicians and experts has been the desire for Wales to get a stable, long-lasting constitutional settlement ... particularly in view of the fact that none of the previous settlements has lasted for more than a few years. Frankly, I don't hold out any hope of this happening.
The only possible way of creating a stable settlement would be to devolve such a comprehensive package to Wales that only a small minority (say less than a quarter) would want more. It would put any talk of further devolution off the table for maybe the next twenty years. Stability would be bolstered if our devolution settlement were to be linked to that of Scotland and the Six Counties, because that would make devolution more monolithic across the UK and therefore harder to change.
But, bless 'em, the current crop of politicians in the governments of both Cardiff and London don't think in such terms. They are primarily concerned with what suits their immediate political agenda. In broad-brush terms, this is where each of the parties stands.
For the Tories, the only thing that they really want to see devolved is tax setting powers. They have always been a party of low taxes and low spending on public services. Therefore, so long as the Welsh Government is only able to make spending decisions rather than decide how much money to spend, the Tories will always be at an electoral disadvantage. The reason they now intend to give Wales tax setting powers without a referendum is because they realize that Labour in Wales wouldn't support a Yes vote in such a referendum any time soon ... and who can blame Labour for this? Why would they want to give away their main electoral advantage to the Tories?
For Labour, devolution of more powers to Wales is more nuanced. On the one hand, they want to be in charge of more areas so that they can pursue their policy agenda in those areas in an unbroken way. At present, they can't do that in non-devolved areas when the Tories are in power in Westminster. But, on the other hand, they need to have enough policy areas reserved to Westminster for them to be able to blame the Tories in London for what is wrong in Wales.
The LibDems are more principled about wanting equality of devolution, but have dropped to such a low level of support that it hardly matters.
Plaid Cymru will say that they want everything to be devolved, although it's hard to be sure if they mean it, particularly when it comes to how things will be paid for. It's easy, for example, to be in favour of new nuclear power stations if either tax- or bill-payers across the UK are the ones subsidizing or underwriting the investment. But if these things had to be paid for only by Welsh tax- and bill-payers, they would have no choice but to pursue a less expensive, more cost effective energy policy.
I pragmatic terms, what matters is what governments in Westminster choose to give Wales rather than what the people of Wales want ... which means either Labour or the Tories. As one example, as things stand at present, the Tories are unwilling to give Wales control over policing, but Labour want policing to be devolved. This simply means that if policing is not devolved in this Wales Bill, there will be a new Wales Bill devolving policing when Labour are next in power in Westminster. This pattern will continue, requiring a new Wales Bill at every change of government.
I would say that it has now become an ingrained into our way of thinking to expect this, and it will keep the constitutional question on the agenda despite Labour and the Tories saying they wish it would go away.
Update - 15:22, 7 March 2016
Right on cue, there has been a very significant development today. The Welsh Government has published its own version of a draft Wales Bill. It's clever, in that it introduces the concept of "deferred" areas of devolution – areas that will not be devolved to Wales immediately, but will be devolved by 2026. The best document to read is the Explanatory Summary. The full draft bill is here.
It looks like onshore wind has now reached the point where new windfarms can be built without subsidy. Good Energy has submitted a new application for planning permission for an eleven turbine wind farm near Bude in Cornwall. The Guardian report is here, and the company's information brochure is here.
In this case, the key seems to be that wind turbine technology keeps advancing. The previous application was for eleven 2.3MW turbines, a total of 25.3MW; the new application is for eleven 3.5MW turbines, a total of 38.5MW ... but, critically, without any increase in size. Presumably the higher-capacity turbines will cost a more, but the construction costs will be just about the same. The 50% increase in output is what makes the financial difference.
I'm sure that some will see this as a justification for the UK government slashing support for onshore wind under either the Renewables Obligation (RO) or the new Contract for Difference (CfD) subsidy schemes. For me, there has never been a problem about phasing-out subsidies. As originally envisaged, the purpose of the subsidies was to support an emerging technology until we reached a point where they were no longer required. The problem is that the UK government has chopped and changed the financial framework, making it difficult for companies to plan ahead. I have little doubt that their primary motivation for this has been to discourage onshore windfarms in principle, because they believe—wrongly—that most people don't like them.
For proof, we just need to consider that the Tories continue to offer substantial subsidies for nuclear and fossil fuel generation. By any standards, this is contradictory and unjustified, but particularly for a party that is meant to champion the market.
There is much to like about Good Energy's proposal in terms of community benefits. They are going to offer electricity to local customers at a 20% discount, as well as a community fund. They also want locals to invest directly, and become majority owners of the project. It is a model which would work very well for Wales.
The problem that Good Energy face is that their previous planning application was rejected, and is now being appealed. But in terms of visual impact, nothing has changed, so it is far from clear whether the appeal will be successful. But different arrangements apply in Wales, and if a similar projects were to be proposed in Wales I have little doubt that they would be approved.
It's good that Arnaldo Otegi has finally been released from prison. This report in the Irish Times quotes him as saying:
"They say that in Spain there are no political prisoners, but you just have to look at the number of cameras here to see that yes, they do exist.
"I went in as a Basque speaker and I come out as a Basque speaker. I went in as a socialist and I come out a socialist. I went in wanting independence and I come out wanting independence."
He also received this support in the form of a tweet from Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos:
La libertad de Otegi es una buena noticia para los demócratas. Nadie debería ir a la cárcel por sus ideas— Pablo Iglesias (@Pablo_Iglesias_) March 1, 2016
The release of Otegi is good news for democrats.
No one should be sent to prison for their ideas.
What might happen next? There is no doubt that Otegi is the towering figure of the pro-independence left in the Euskal Herria, and he is bound to take a prominent role with EH Bildu in the Basque Parliament elections scheduled for November this year. The only problem he faces is that when he was sentenced for his role in reviving Herri Batasuna after the Spanish State banned it, he was himself banned from public office until 2021.
For the moment, however, the focus lies elsewhere. The Catalans are steadily setting up the institutions necessary for Catalunya to function as as independent state, and Spain itself is in political limbo after the elections of December last year. The Spanish situation will, probably, be clear in a few months ... either because a new government will have been agreed, or because new elections will have been held. Once we know how that situation pans out, the battle lines for November will be that much clearer. But there is little doubt that independence for the Basque Autonomous Community will be on the agenda. As Otegi said recently in a written statement from prison:
"Sooner rather than later we will use the right to self-determination and thus transform ourselves into a new state of Europe."
UKIP's party conference took place in Llandudno over the weekend, and the BBC devoted two programmes to it ... in the same way as they've covered the LibDem and Labour conferences, and will cover those of the Tories and Plaid. If you have a strong stomach, you can watch them here and here.
As it happens, the Greens' party conference also took place over the weekend, and the BBC ... umm, didn't cover it. In fact the BBC have a track record of not treating the Greens in the same way as they treat UKIP.
So, for the sake of some balance, here's a video of Alice Hooker-Stroud's speech.
Alice is leader of the Green Party in Wales and number one on the Mid and West Wales list. She was introduced by Amelia Womack, who is number one on the South Wales Central list. If we're going to have a Green AM in the Senedd in May, it will be one—or perhaps both—of these.
On a lazy Sunday lunchtime, I was rather taken by something that Lee Waters wrote on his Amanwy blog today:
I'm bored of the economic debate in Wales. All the business organisations, the CBI and IoD, can come up with is the idea of spending £1 Billion on a new stretch of M4 around Newport, which would gobble up all the available money for the whole of Wales and only success in moving the traffic jams a few miles down the road.
His view on the proposed new M4 motorway should hardly come as a surprise, after all he was director of Systrans Cymru. But the first thought that came to my mind was that the new M4 is not just all that business organizations can come up with ... it is equally true that it is all that the Labour government in Wales can come up with (or the Tories, for that matter). Yet he is standing as the Labour candidate for Llanelli in the Senedd elections in May.
Which got me thinking ...
First, it reminded me that there are distinct divides in the Labour Party in Wales. A point I have often made is that Welsh Labour contains people who tend to see things from the perspective of the Welsh national interest as well as those who primarily see what is in the British national interest. Next, I remembered an article by Gerald Holtham in 2014 in which he suggested the best way of rekindling excitement in Welsh politics, especially one in which Labour always leads the government, is that Welsh Labour should supply its own opposition.
As I re-read that article, I smiled at how much things had changed in relation to the fortunes of our national football team, and smiled even more about what he said on adopting STV for elections:
A possible stimulus could come from multi-member constituencies. Suppose we reduced the number of Assembly constituencies and elected three members for each. Each Party would have to put up three candidates per constituency and the public would express their preference by voting 1, 2, 3 … Different views within the same Party could be judged and endorsed by the public, reflected in the order in which it voted for a Party’s candidates.
If people in Pontsticill are determined to vote Labour, they can at least ask "which Labour". Yes, that would result in a degree of intra-Party competition, traditionally anathema to UK politicians, but it would give the public more influence and the public would like it. For proof, look to the Republic of Ireland where such a voting system has long been in place. From time to time politicians have urged changing it and set up referenda to do so. Every time the public has refused and clung to the system. Admittedly a degree of selflessness is required of our politicians to move to such a system. What an opportunity to demonstrate that they are not "just in it for themselves", as cynics claim.
As it so happens, the Irish held elections for the Dáil on Friday, and I'm one of those people who are keeping half an eye on how the counts there are unfolding. It is a truly wonderful system, especially because it gives people the chance to throw out one candidate from a particular political party in favour of someone else from the same party who they consider to be better.
Turning now to more practical and immediate matters, we all know that Labour are going to form the next Welsh Government after the May elections, despite the long-standing traditional pantomine performance from most party representives that they are going to win. Labour will get 25-27 seats, the Tories 13-16, Plaid 9-10, UKIP 6-9, LibDems 1-3, Greens 0-2. They'll probably be able to govern as a minority government because the opposition on any issue would be so divided. Labour won't want to give any other party the credibility of a share of government if they can help it, and will look to play one small party against the others to get their budgets through.
So yes, in one sense it will be more of the same. Our government will be a Labour government. The question is, What sort of Labour? If the majority of Labour AMs are the sort that will put the Welsh national interest first, it will inevitably take us further towards independence. As I've said before, Labour boast that they were the party that delivered devolution for Wales, even though they were hardly very keen on it before they did; and we might well find that Labour are the party that will deliver independence for Wales, even though they are hardly very keen on it now.
Although both Green Dragon and National Left have already commented on the planned reduction in the number of Welsh MPs from 40 to 29, I think some more things are worth saying in response to what Plaid Cymru and Labour politicians said yesterday.
The reduction in seats is completely justified, and it is disingenuous to suggest that Wales is in some way being singled out by the Tories.
A little historical perspective might help. Before devolution to Scotland and Wales, both Scotland and Wales were allocated additional MPs in the Commons (relative to size of population) to reflect two factors: first, that we are nations; and second, that we did not have any degree of self rule. The Six Counties of Ireland did not receive this additional allocation precisely because it had a degree of devolved self rule through Stormont. After devolution in 1999, the number of Scottish MPs was reduced from 72 to 59 to reflect the fact that Scotland now had a lawmaking parliament and brought Scottish representation into line with that of the Six Counties and England, leaving Wales as the only over-represented nation at Westminster. Our representation was not reduced because our National Assembly did not have primary lawmaking powers. That particular defect was remedied after the referendum of 2011, and since then we have always been in line for a similar reduction. On its own, this would bring us down from 40 to about 32 MPs.
Then, in addition to this, the Tories and LibDems passed an Act in 2013 to reduce the overall number of MPs in the Commons from 650 to 600, but delayed the boundary changes until after the 2015 election. This accounts for the additional cut of 3 MPs to 29 MPs. We need to be careful not to conflate these two factors.
There are criticisms that can be made of the new arrangements. The main one of these is the change to individual voter registration, which has resulted in a large numbers (maybe 800,000) falling off the electoral roll. This particularly hits younger, more mobile people in urban areas, and therefore has the effect of favouring areas with older, more settled and rural populations. Put more bluntly, it favours the right at the expense of left. In my opinion, the size of a constituency should not be based on the number of voters on the electoral roll, but on population. After all, an MP represents all the people who live in their constituency, including children and immigrants, not just those who are registered to vote.
I am particularly disappointed at Jonathan Edward's statement:
"The proposal by the Boundary Commission to reduce the number of MPs representing Welsh constituencies in the House of Commons from 40 down to 29 is a sad day for democracy.
"This is the latest stage in the Conservative Westminster Government's decision to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600. Wales will have a cut of 11 MPs. Despite having only 5% of the UK population, we are being made to bear the brunt of over 20% of that total overall UK cut."
As an MP, he really should know better than to sprout such twaddle. He is trying to make an opportunistic anti-Tory point, not realizing that you should never play party politics with democracy itself. Wales is not entitled to any special treatment by having more than its fair share of MPs compared with everywhere else in the UK. It is a historic anomaly that should now come to an end. Beside that, it is politically self-defeating. By making such blatantly partisan statements now, how can he expect to be taken seriously if he ever chooses to make justified statements about reforming the electoral system in future? He has let himself and his party down.
What Nia Griffith said is slightly less disappointing:
"This substantial cut in the number of Welsh MPs will lessen Wales' voice in Westminster at exactly the same time that Government policies are hitting the communities we represent. Any reduction in the number of Welsh MPs will have an adverse effect on the range of support and advice services that MPs' offices provide to constituents.
"If the Conservatives were serious about cutting the cost of politics they would cut the number of unelected peers in the House of Lords, which has ballooned in size with 236 new peers appointed since David Cameron became Prime Minister."
It is less disappointing because it is certainly true that a reduction in the number of Welsh MPs will "lessen Wales' voice". However she skirts round the question of why Wales should have the disproportionately loud voice it has in the Commons at present. Her point about the Lords is well made, though. Changes do need to be made there as well, but inaction over Lords reform is no reason for inaction over Commons reform.
I'm not so sure about the reduction having an adverse affect on the range of support and advice services. That is more a question of how we fund the support staff that every MP relies on. Any reduction in the number of MPs could be relatively easily offset by better support funding.
On that point, it is probably worth noting that MPs in Wales have considerably less work to do than those in England, due to the number of areas that are devolved to Wales. If someone in Wales has a problem with health or education, for example, it would be pointless to bring it up with their MP. That's what our AMs are for.
In short, both Plaid and Labour are wrong to whine about this reduction in the number of Welsh MPs. It would be more politically astute of both parties to positively welcome the ending of this anomaly, but at the same time point out that the savings to be made by a reduction in MPs should be used to fund the increase in AMs that Wales needs.
Again it is worth remembering that the original devolution settlement for a Welsh Assembly without lawmaking powers meant that Wales needed fewer AMs relative to population size than Scotland. It explains why Scotland got a Parliament of 129 members for 5.3m people (~41,000 per seat) but our National Assembly was only given 60 members for 3.1m people (~51,500 per seat). However because our National Assembly now has primary lawmaking powers, it should, just on a simple pro-rata basis, have about 76 AMs rather than 60.
In conclusion, the reduction in Welsh MPs is completely justified, but so is an increase in the number of AMs. The two go hand in hand.
Y Byd ar Bedwar last night focused on solar farms in Wales. As most readers of Syniadau will know, I am entirely in favour of renewable energy ... although that doesn't mean I don't have concerns over some individual proposals or the financial framework which applies to energy projects in general.
In particular, I think local communities should either partially own or receive a fair share of the profits made by developers and landowners for renewable schemes such as solar and wind farms. Much of the programme examined complaints that local communities were not in fact benefiting in the way that had been promised/expected when these schemes were given permission. I think there would be a better chance of it happening if that financial framework were administered by the Welsh Government rather than the UK Government in Westminster.
The full programme (with subtitles) is available here, but I would like to highlight something that Llyr Gruffydd said in it:
"The Westminster Government, as we've seen, has done nothing less than attack the renewables sector since the British General Election last May; through cutting subsidies, through changing the rules, and so on.
"And of course they, in London, are now looking to invest more and more in fracking and in nuclear – the sort of methods which are not, in my opinion, going to allow us to fulfil our climate change and environmental obligations here in Wales."
I agree with him entirely on this. But what I find sad is that he is only able to offer this as a personal opinion, rather than as the policy of Plaid Cymru. If he were to say that Plaid Cymru's policy is one of total opposition to any new nuclear power stations in Wales (which is in fact true, because that's the position endorsed repeatedly in party conferences) he would immediately be contradicted by other prominent Plaid Cymru politicians saying how much they support new nuclear power. Similarly, if he were to say that Plaid supported other renewables such as onshore wind farms, he would immediately be contradicted by other Plaid Cymru politicians saying that they oppose them. In fact it has become something of a mantra for Plaid politicians to talk about personal opinions rather than party policy when interviewed in the media, in an attempt to avoid highlighting these divisions.
As everyone knows, Plaid Cymru is all over the place when it comes to energy policy, because no-one in the party leadership is strong enough to unite the party around one policy for the whole of Wales. The same is true in other policy areas, too.
As things stand, Plaid Cymru is not a party for the whole of Wales, but better thought of as a set of local parties with often different local policies. This is the main reason it is going to continue go backwards in terms of the seats it will hold in the National Assembly after the May elections, and why it is in danger of falling to fourth place in terms of the vote across most of Wales. Yes, it will still hold on in its local heartlands, and perhaps even increase its level of support there, but it will do so at the price of becoming more and more irrelevant at a national level.
I was going to write something on the launch rally for Yes.Cymru in Cardiff being held this Saturday, but Royston Jones beat me to it in this post, and there's no point in just repeating what he said.
I'm not involved with Yes.Cymru, so I don't know any more about the people and thinking behind it than I can read on their website. It seems to have been set up in 2014 as Yes for Wales in order to support a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum, and therefore I'm not entirely sure what is being "launched" now, or how it differs from before. But it seems to be a promising development, so I plan on being there.
As for the speakers at the event, I have a lot of time for John Dixon, and Liz Castro's inclusion (as well as some of the articles on the website) would suggest that Yes.Cymru might be looking to model itself on the civic movements for independence in Catalunya. That would be no bad thing.
It is worth remembering that, even though there is one political party in Catalunya that consistently supported independence, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, it never did particularly well in post-Franco elections, hovering at about 10% with a high of 16.4% in 2003. The movement towards independence only took off in Catalunya because of overwhelming public pressure, organized through civic groups from all sections of Catalan society. Faced with this, Convergència i Unió, the ruling alliance which has held power in Catalunya for all but a handful of years since democracy was restored in 1978, had little choice but to change its position from wanting more autonomy within the Spanish state to wanting independence instead. The lesson to be learnt is that politicians and political parties usually respond to public opinion rather than shape it.
This is particularly true in Wales, where even Plaid Cymru, our party that is meant to support independence, is not prepared to campaign for it. It has relegated independence to, at best, a "long-term" goal or, at worst, something that many of its senior figures say they don't want at all. Instead it has chosen to play safe and try to gain power by cutting down its policies to something less than independence, making the excuse that people in Wales don't want it, but doing nothing to make the case for it.
In short, Plaid Cymru won't start campaigning for Wales to be independent until it becomes more clear that people in Wales—irrespective of the party they vote for, or whether they are interested in politics at all—show that we have an appetite for it. Yet, conversely, if enough of us show that this is what we want, then other political parties will change their position on independence too. We must lead the way.
No, I’m not entirely sure what it means either. I did ask, and someone suggested that it must have something to do with Brussels ... because of the sprout, I suppose. It’s a line from an article about Catalunya, and I thought it provided a good enough excuse for another update on what is happening there.
The article in question is by Alfons López Tena, a pro-independence deputy in the previous Catalan parliament, and I found it here in Business Insider. It's worth a read.
In essence what he is saying is that the Spanish state will never give their permission for Catalunya to become independent, and that Catalans are not determined enough to seize it for themselves. I agree with the first assertion, but I don’t think even he quite believes the second. It seems designed to spur Catalans into adopting a more assertive mindset. He included a nice quote from 1820 which is worth repeating:
“Liberty will not descend to a people; a people must raise themselves to liberty; it is a blessing that must be earned before it can be enjoyed.”
So far as the Catalan Government is concerned, everything is on course. Although Artur Mas left it until the last minute before resigning, he did the right thing in the end. It was a change of personnel rather than a change of direction. The new president, Carles Puigdemont, is going to carry through exactly the same programme to set up the institutions necessary for Catalunya to function as an independent state as before, because that was the whole point of the September election. The Spanish Government will object and the Spanish Constitutional Court will instruct the Catalan Government not to do this, but they’ll just go ahead and do it anyway. The only way Spain could stop them would be to arrest and imprison members of the government, or send in troops and tanks.
So far as the Spanish Government is concerned, everything is still up in the air after the elections of 20 December. Mariano Rajoy remains in charge of a caretaker government while negotiations are progressing to form a new one. Normally, they would have to do this within three months ... but as the clock doesn't technically start ticking until the first vote, and no-one has yet tabled a motion to vote on, the situation could remain in limbo indefinitely. No-one seems to be in much of a hurry to sort things out, and they still have some way to go before they break Belgium's record.
As I’ve mentioned before, the only one of the four main parties that might offer hope for an agreed settlement between Catalunya and Spain is Podemos. They are committed to the Catalans being able to hold a binding referendum on their future, even though they would prefer them to stay part of a constitutionally reformed Spain. As it happens, they re-affirmed that position only yesterday, saying that a referendum was an "indispensable" condition in any agreement with the PSOE to form a left-of-centre government.
Hardly surprisingly, the PSOE responded by announcing that they “will say no to this referendum” and admitted to having received Podemos’ proposal “with perplexity, concern and disappointment”.
The reason for not allowing a referendum is perhaps not immediately obvious. On one level people might think it would be a good idea for Spain, because if they offered the Catalans a suitable “vow” such as full fiscal autonomy of the type enjoyed by the four Basque provinces, they might just vote No to independence. But there are two reasons why Spain can’t realistically do this: first, they can’t afford to lose Catalunya as a cash cow; and, more importantly, if they allowed Catalunya a referendum it would set a precedent for all the other autonomous communities to be able to do the same. Asymmetric devolution is not in Spain’s DNA, it has to be coffee for all.
The result would be that the three Basque provinces in the autonomous community would get out straight away; the only thing that might possibly delay them is trying to get a majority in the fourth province, Nafarroa, to break away with them. If Catalunya voted for independence it is very likely that the Balearic Islands would follow, because they suffer the same sort of fiscal outflow as Catalunya does and have recently seen the Spanish state take draconian steps against the language. Perhaps they would join the new Catalan Republic, or perhaps they might set up a Catalan Confederation which Valencia and North Catalunya (in France) could join in due course. Galicia might also vote for independence, or perhaps for some confederal relationship with Portugal, with whom they share a very similar language.
In short, if the Spanish state opens the door for one nation to vote on independence, there would be nothing to stop at least five more autonomous communities voting to leave too.
Which gets us back to what I’ve said since the election last September. There will not now be an agreed, binding referendum on Catalan independence. The time for that has passed. Instead, in 18 months or so, the Catalan Government will organize a vote to approve the constitution for a Catalan Republic (one draft was published last year, but there are other versions and the final document needs to be worked up by consensus with input from wider civic society) and the Catalan Parliament will then unilaterally declare independence on that basis.
Back in 2009, all EU member states committed themselves to a binding agreement that at least 20% of the EU's total energy consumption should come from renewable sources by 2020.
In addition to this overall figure, each individual member had its own particular target, reflecting the fact that each country was starting form a different base. At the top of the tree was Sweden, already producing just under 40% in 2005, and agreeing to a target of 49% – and at the bottom (excluding only Malta) was the UK, with only 1.3% of its energy consumption coming from renewables in 2005, and agreeing to a target of 15%.
There are biennual progress reports, and the 2014 figures were published last week. It looks like the target is going to be met.
However, when it come to the progress of individual member states, the picture is quite varied. Nine have got there aleady: Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Czechia, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. Denmark and Austria are almost there. But at the bottom of the pile, four member states are a long way behind: France, the Netherlands, the UK and Ireland.
Once again, the UK shows that it is not particularly good at keeping its end of the bargain when it comes to the agreements it makes as an EU member state. We need to catch up fast, even if the UK were to meet the 2020 target, the agreed overall figure for 2030 is at least 27%.
I was surprised to see, as reported here and here, that talks about an electoral pact between the Greens, Plaid Cymru and LibDems for the Assembly elections in May had come to naught. There was a lot to be gained from such cooperation, although not as much as the total of 22 seats mentioned in the ITV report.
The reason for this is that the election system for our National Assembly is heavily weighted in favour of constituency seats. Two-thirds of the seats are decided on the first-past-the-post system, leaving only one-third of them to help correct that bias. Yes, these additional seats do correct it to some extent, by not to the same extent as in Scotland, where there is a 73/56 or 57%/43% split. So the key to electoral success in the Assembly is winning constituency seats.
A quick look at the results from 2011 shows that there are five constituency seats that could be won from either Labour or the Tories if the Greens, Plaid and LibDems were able to work together. Ordered by the size of the margin they are:
won by Labour with 37.9%, combined three party vote 44.9%
won by the Tories with 34.0%, combined three party vote 40.4%
won by Labour with 39.7%, combined three party vote 41.5%
won by the Tories with 43.7%, combined three party vote 44.9%
Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire
won by the Tories with 35.8%, combined three party vote 33.6%
Of course a lot has changed since 2011. Opinion polls show that the LibDems have plummeted and that UKIP have risen. But UKIP are not likely to win any constituency seats, so whatever they get is irrelevant to winning seats from Labour and the Tories. The LibDem collapse is rather more pertinent. It means that Kirsty Williams will have to fight hard to hold Brecon and Radnor, and could do with all the help she can get. So negotiating an electoral pact could positively affect that seat too, making six constituency seats in total.
So why on earth did they fail to do it?
There are two answers. Squabbles over which party was chosen to fight these seats, and the complicating effect of the regional lists.
As I see it, the LibDems are in prime position to win Cardiff Central and Montgomery, and Plaid in prime position to win Llanelli, Aberconwy and, as a long shot, Carmarthen West. Put bluntly, the Greens aren't in prime position to win any of these seats, so if Plaid Cymru and the LibDems wanted to reach a bi-lateral agreement without the Greens, they could do so and gain from it.
Looking at the North Wales region first. The LibDems have no hope of winning any constituency seat and Plaid are certain to win two: Ynys Môn and Arfon. Both parties won a list seat in 2011, but the problem this time round is that UKIP are certain to win one list seat, and might well win two. As there are still only four list seats, the last thing Plaid wants is to be in the scrap to win one of them. The win-win situation would be for Plaid to gain Aberconwy with LibDem help, thereby dropping out of the running for a list seat. This would mean that the LibDems only have to fight the Tories and UKIP to hold their one list seat, although it's still a long shot because a Tory loss in Aberconwy would just result in them winning a list seat instead. If the LibDems were really clever they would encourage people to vote for a Tory win in Clwyd South ... but that might be a step too much for them.
The next interesting region is Mid and West Wales. This is where the LibDems have most to gain from an electoral pact. Looked at from an "unambitious" perspective, Kirsty Williams probably feels quite safe. Provided she is first on the LibDem list, losing Brecon and Radnor would just mean that she got a list seat instead. But the general collapse in LibDem support means that the LibDems would find it all but impossible to win two list seats. So the only realistic way for the LibDems to keep two seats overall would be for them to hold Brecon and Radnor and gain Montgomery from the Tories.
Plaid, from the same unambitious perspective, probably think in a similar way. Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Ceredigion and Carmarthen East were safe seats in 2011 and will remain safe this year. It didn't really matter to them that they narrowly lost Llanelli in 2011, because they made up for it by getting a list seat instead. However this time round they will almost certainly not get a list seat if they lose Llanelli, because of UKIP. I also think Plaid are far from certain of winning Llanelli this time, not least because Lee Waters is an exceptionally good choice of candidate for Labour. As a bonus, the pact would also give them an outside chance of gaining Carmarthen West from the Tories, a seat which they can have no serious prospect of winning without that help. Even if they didn't win it, they would have absolutely nothing to lose.
For the Greens, the advantage of a pact is that if the LibDems and Plaid were to win these constituency seats, they would then be completely out of the running for any list seats. The four available seats would instead be contested between Labour, the Tories, UKIP and the Greens. So even though a three party pact would not benefit the Greens in constituency seats, it could make all the difference in terms of them gaining a list seat. They might well be able to win the seat anyway, without a pact, but the pact would turn possibility into probability.
I don't think an electoral pact will make any difference to the outcomes in South Wales West and South Wales East, which leaves South Wales Central.
Despite all the optimism in the world Plaid and the Greens are not going to win any constituency seats on their own, and especially not Rhondda. Leanne Wood never stood a chance. In constituency terms, the only one of the three parties that could win on their own is the LibDems in Cardiff Central. Yet it would be far from easy because they have slipped a very long way.
There are two ways of looking at things, both dependent on the strength of the Green vote. In 2011, the Greens got a higher percentage of the list vote in Cardiff Central (9.1%) than in any other constituency in Wales.
In the first scenario, if the Greens had wanted the other two parties to stand down in one of the five constituency seats I listed above (leaving the others to Plaid and the LibDems) it would be this one. I wasn't involved in the negotiations, so I don't know whether the Greens made a stand on this. But from a LibDem perspective, they made up for losing Cardiff Central by gaining a list seat in 2011, and they would certainly win a list seat this time round if they stood down in favour of the Greens. So the LibDems had nothing to lose; one way or the other, they could only win one of the twelve seats in SWC ... and couldn't possibly win two.
The second way of looking at it is that if the LibDems won with Green and Plaid support in Cardiff Central they would then not win a list seat, and this would make it more likely for Plaid to win two list seats rather than one, or for the Greens to win one list seat.
The first option is better than the second, but either way, the overall result for the three parties is increased by an electoral pact. However the main factor will be how well the Tories do in the two SWC constituencies in which they stand a chance: if they win Cardiff North and/or the Vale of Glamorgan it will mean that they are that much less likely to win a list seat. With a pact (and Tory luck) the three parties could win four seats out of twelve if the Greens won Cardiff Central, or three if the Lib Dems won it. Without a pact they might end up with only two.
In short, an electoral pact was a no-brainer which would give the three parties a fair chance of winning five more seats than they are likely to win on their own. That's a lot to throw away.
So far as I can see, there has been nothing in the mainstream media (except RT) about the launch last night in Berlin of a new political movement to democratize the EU, the Democracy in Europe Movement, DiEM ... or DiEM25, as they reckon we must achieve this by 2025 or see the EU disintegrate.
If you have the time for it, there's a six hour long live stream available here. But I don't, so here's the glossy launch video instead.
For all their concerns with global competitiveness, migration and terrorism, only one prospect truly terrifies the Powers of Europe: Democracy!
They speak in democracy’s name but only to deny, exorcise and suppress it in practice. They seek to co-opt, evade, corrupt, mystify, usurp and manipulate democracy in order to break its energy and arrest its possibilities. For rule by Europe’s peoples, government by the demos, is their nightmare.
At the heart of our disintegrating EU there lies a guilty deceit: A highly political, top-down, opaque decision-making process is presented as ‘apolitical’, ‘technical’, ‘procedural’ and ‘neutral’. Its purpose is to prevent Europeans from exercising democratic control over their money, communities, working conditions and environment.
The price of this deceit is not merely the end of democracy but also the dream of shared prosperity:
• The Eurozone economies are being marched off the cliff of competitive austerity, resulting in permanent recession in the weaker countries and low investment in the core countries
• EU member-states outside the Eurozone are alienated, seeking inspiration and partners in suspect quarters
• Unprecedented inequality, declining hope and misanthropy flourish throughout Europe
The more they asphyxiate democracy, the less legitimate their political authority becomes, the stronger the forces of economic recession, and the greater their need for further authoritarianism. Thus democracy’s enemies gather renewed power while losing legitimacy and confining hope and prosperity to the very few (who may only enjoy it behind the gates and the fences needed to shield them from the rest of society).
That sort of agenda certainly appeals to me, though we have yet to see exactly what those behind this launch actually plan on doing to achieve it. I believe it is not enough to say—as most political parties in Wales are saying—that the EU isn't perfect and needs reform, without having a clear idea of what we want to reform and what we want the EU to become. Yet when called on to give examples of what we want to reform we focus on tiny, almost petty, details that we don't like while ignoring the bigger picture. Do we want to focus on whether the deckchairs are arranged in rows or groups, or do we want to stop the EU sinking?
One of the main figures behind DiEM25 is Yanis Varoufakis, and he features in this hour-long discussion ... even quoting Tony Benn!
Much of what will appear on this blog will also appear in the Syniadau Forums, but the emphasis on this blog is slightly different. The forums are focused more on the structures and institutions that Wales will need to develop in order to become a successful independent nation, arranged on a subject by subject basis, but the blog will have more of an emphasis on day to day political news and developments.
People are welcome to reply or leave comments either here or on the Syniadau Forums. If anyone wants to initiate a new subject they are very welcome to do so there.