Green Party Conference

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.

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Musings on a Sunday lunchtime

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.

Amanwy, 28 February 2016

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.

Gerald Holtham – Click on Wales, 27 March 2014

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.

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Fewer MPs for Wales

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."

Wales Online, 24 February 2016

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."

Wales Online, 24 February 2016

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.

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Personal opinion or party policy?

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.

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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.

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Whence those paralyzing tropisms sprout ...

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.”

Lacon, Chapter CLXXVIII – Charles Caleb Colton

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.

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Slow progress on renewable energy

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%.

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The maths would work

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:

Cardiff Central
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.

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Carpe DiEM

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.


The thinking behind the movement is outlined in their manifesto, which comes in both a long and short version. Here are some quotes from it:


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!


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Now we know that they know

By a happy coincidence, in view of my previous post, someone has leaked a copy of a letter from Tory Minister of State for Skills, Nick Boles, to Socialist Worker. The online version is here.

I don't think that Socialist Worker realized just how explosive the contents of the leaked letter are. They are obviously, and from their point of view rightly, concerned to prevent as much of the proposed new Trade Union Bill from getting through the UK parliament as they can ... but there is much more to it than that. The BBC version of the story gets closer to the point:

It [the letter] indicated that legal advice suggested that while the measures would apply to Scotland as a matter reserved to Westminster, there was a "very weak case" where Wales was concerned.

The letter added that some concessions could be made to "take some of the heat out of the DAs' [devolved administrations] opposition to the Bill".

BBC, 8 February 2016

To understand what is actually happening, it's best to look at that part of the leaked letter in full:


The obvious question is why the Westminster Government think they could probably get the Trade Union Bill through in Scotland, but not in Wales. The answer is first that Scotland has a reserved powers model of devolution, while Wales has a conferred powers model. But second, and more critically, because of the Supreme Court ruling in July 2014 on the Agricultural Wages (Wales) Bill, as reported here.

I set out the points at issue in that case in some detail in this post, before the Supreme Court delivered its verdict. I won't repeat everything from that post, but essentially the Supreme Court ruling means that because an area (in this particular case agriculture) is devolved to Wales, the Welsh Assembly is also able to legislate on matters that are incidental to and consequential on that devolved area, including employment. This is why the current devolution settlement for Wales gives our National Assembly more powers to legislate than Scotland ... at least in some areas.

The established convention (Sewell Convention) is that Westminster cannot legislate on matters that are already devolved without consent in the form of a Legislative Consent Motion. In respect of the UK Government's desire to place new restrictions on strikes in public services, it would apply to the health, education, fire and rescue and transport sectors in Wales because these are devolved to Wales. Or, conversely, if the Westminster Government ignores this and were to go ahead anyway, the Supreme Court ruling means that the Welsh Assembly could then pass its own legislation to modify or nullify that Westminster Act in so far as it applies to Wales.


What will be particularly embarrassing to the Tories is that they have tried to make out in public that the Welsh Assembly does not have this power. For example, William Graham said:

"I think that's a spurious argument because everybody knows that employment legislation is not devolved – end of story."

BBC, 23 January 2016

And of course this also explains why Stephen Crabb is so anxious to replace the current conferred powers model of devolution for Wales with a new reserved powers model that is much more restrictive than the reserved powers models that apply to Scotland and the Six Counties, and tried to bully those who can see through this attempt to claw back devolution in Wales by calling their views "ill-informed or just plain wrong".

Stephen Crabb and William Graham were bluffing. The leaked letter from Nick Boles shows that the Tories know full well that the Welsh Government, by virtue of the precedent set with the Agricultural Wages Bill, has more extensive powers to legislate than are set out in Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act.

Now that we know that they know this, I hope it will mean that the Tories go back to the drawing board and start over again on both the Trade Union Bill (as it applies to Wales) and the Wales Bill. If they don't then we must play hard ball and refuse to give consent to what they propose. We mustn't let ourselves be fobbed off by a few concessions.

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Who's being ridiculous?

Yesterday the UK government, and a large portion of the media, tried to portray the decision of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention's decision over Julian Assange as "ridiculous". I have now read through the report, which is available from this page, and would urge others to do the same. The report follows an extensive investigation, with which the UK and Swedish authorities had cooperated, and whose submissions are included in it; so it is a bit rich to at first take the investigation seriously, but then ridicule the WGAD because it finds against them.

I've embedded two videos. The first is the full version of Assange's speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, and the second is a reaction from John Pilger, another Australian whose journalism has consistently proved embarrassing to those in positions of power.



For me, the most obvious point to make is that the UK authorities have based their action on a European Arrest Warrant issued by Sweden, but that if that same warrant was presented now, the request for extradition would be rejected. Specifically, the UK changed the law applicable to EAWs in 2014 precisely in order to stop the abuse of, for example, an EAW being issued merely for questioning. This is an extract from the report:

The changes to UK extradition legislation following Mr. Assange’s case. In brief, the United Kingdom has now concluded:

(i) By virtue of a binding decision of the UK Supreme Court in 2013, that the UK will no longer, where a request is made under a European Arrest Warrant, permit the extradition of individuals where the warrant is not initiated by a judicial authority. It has determined that the requirement of a “judicial authority” cannot be interpreted as being fulfilled by a prosecutor as is the case in relation to Mr. Assange.

(ii) By virtue of legislation in force since July 2014, that the UK will no longer permit extradition on the basis of a bare accusation (as opposed to a formal completed decision to prosecute and charge) as is the case in relation to Mr. Assange.

(iii) By virtue of the same legislation now in force, that the United Kingdom will no longer permit extradition under a European Arrest Warrant without consideration by a court of its proportionality (Mr. Assange’s case was decided on the basis that such consideration was at that time not permitted).

The UK authorities are basing their position on sticking obstinately to a set of rules that used to apply to EAWs, even though they subsequently changed those rules because of this sort of abuse. Such an attitude is completely indefensible. Where the letter of an old law conflicts with the cause of justice, justice should prevail.

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A strong showing in Iowa ... 28.5%

Iowa is in the spotlight today, so it's time for pictures of barns.


But to save you waiting up, one important result is already in. Iowa generates a higher proportion of its electricity from wind than any other state in America ... 28.5%.


And, according to this report, this is set to rise to 40% by 2020. The industry also "employs around 7,000 people, has 12 turbine manufacturers, [and] has attracted $10 billion in capital investment" in Iowa alone.

It would be very easy for Wales, which also has a population of 3.1m, to do the same. Probably easier, because average household energy consumption in the US is about 11,700 kWh/yr compared with something like 4,600 kWh/yr here.

We are a long way behind them; in 2013, only 6.45% of our electricity was generated from wind.

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