Spot the Wankerer

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.

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Universal Basic Income

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.

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Yesterday's elections in Euskadi

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.

October 2012

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%

September 2016

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%)

Basque Parliamentary Election Results

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.

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Kurdistan Rising?

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.

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Not such a bad decision for Wales

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.

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