A March in Cardiff

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On the 11th of May 2019, a bright spring day, there was a march for independence for Wales in the centre of Cardiff, Wales capital city, organised by All Under One Banner and I was part of some two thousand people calling for independence for Wales.

For me it was the most surreal march I’ve ever been on because Welsh independence is a cause I’ve believed ever since I came to understand politics and where I stood within it. I’ve been an outsider, in a small minority in so many things and there had never been quite enough people passionate enough to get this thing going, but it happened and it was so life affirming, to be surrounded by a huge crowd of people who felt pretty much the same way on positive solution to a political issue, rather than most political demonstrations being against particular things.

Having always been in the Welsh Indy bubble has been a fairly lonely place. Most of the time, over the years I’ve been called upon to defend this idea and  to make the arguments for it and no-one has yet offered a better solution. I’ve always been pretty flummoxed as to why there wasn’t more support for this principle. However in recent times support for independence has been growing, particularly in the context of Scotland narrowly losing their 1st independence referendum. and I’ve felt less alone

I went to the march on my own as I was sure of seeing many familiar faces, which I did: I am culturally ‘middle class’ and been learning to speak Welsh for the past three years. However there were other sorts of people there, from all across Wales, from Cardiff and the Valleys but also bus loads of people from all across Wales. That is what is wonderful about going on protest marches to meet people who are different to you, yet have come to share some of the same conclusions. How has this happened in recent times?

I grew up under Thatcherism, I’ve lived under it all my adult life. I don’t like things getting worse, not doing anything about the problems in our society and tolerating decline. Yet after every UK election we’ve had Thatcherite governments, it has seemed inevitable and that there is a paucity of ambition in the UK that keeps voting them in. Now there does seem to be a pivotal moment of real change from the economic crash of 2008 and the subsequent years of austerity where more and more people have seen the cracks in the UK state and then Brexit has highlighted to so many people on the need for a change of direction and how much of a mess UK democracy is. The Brexiteers (establishment [London] City Fat Cats who’ve sold off the UK’s silver to create wealth for themselves and safely placed it off-shore) and their nationalism have used that desire for change to push their Brexit, to divide and rule in exactly the same way the Tories have done.

Perhaps, we can hope that genuine change is coming. To me independence for Wales has always been the solution because my core political belief is in democracy and more importantly bottom-up democracy, from the individual voter not from the political party. Some more people have woken up to this and if this movement keeps growing a new shiny democracy will emerge in Wales and hopefully spread throughout Britain and beyond.

Brexit is not the biggest issue facing Wales. whatever your views on the UK’s relationship with the EU, just changing that relationship is not going to deliver prosperity to Wales or anywhere else, Independence can deliver that, we don’t have to keep exporting the wealth of Wales to the towers of London as has happened down the centuries, we can keep it in Wales to do things like make sure we eliminate poverty at home.

It was just a few hours of singing and talking to new people on a pleasant afternoon in Cardiff, but it can be like each and every day, if only everyone in Wales comes together for a better future. Cymru Rhydd, Ymlaen!

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Brexit and Respecting Democracy

This whole argument coming from the UK government that people in the UK must ‘respect the Brexit decision and democracy’ just annoys me. It completely misunderstands what Brexit is all about.

I saw a video this week of people who support Brexit being interviewed. i was Particularly interested when they were asked why they were supporting Brexit. Their view was that their community was in in decline, shops had closed, wages stagnated, services declining and everything getting more expensive and harder, so to have a meaningful vote on something would be a refreshing bit of democracy, and promote change, to give Brexit, which will solve of the problems in UK society.

The only thing I disagree with them about is Brexit being the answer, there is no logical path from the premises to this conclusion. It looks unlikely that whilst we are remain a country with an outmoded democratic system where the Tories keep getting re-elected on an ever slimmer popular vote. It is Tory governments that have caused the decline of the UK. Leaving the EU won’t alter the decline by itself.

What I passionately agree with these Brexit voters is the need for democracy in the UK and to ‘take back control’. Leaving the Tories negotiate Brexit entirely missed the whole point of Brexit, which was for more democracy.

What I mean by democracy is simply government that represents the people governed. The UK parliamentary system of representative democracy is based on sound principles. Every area of the UK elects a politician to represent them in Westminster, then the elected politicians get on with the job of making decisions to continually improve the functioning of the UK economy and solve problems as they arise. The politicians job is threefold, firstly to listen to a full range of arguments and positions, their constituents, business leaders, trade unions, academics, economists, lawyers, anyone with a view essentially. A Policy is then produced which the politicians scrutinise, debate, amend and eventually vote on, to ensure there is a broad consensus that that policy is the right thing to do. To be a good politician you need to be a good listener and a good decision maker.

The modern politician isn’t selected to have these qualities though. The modern politician is skilled in climbing the ‘greasy pole’ of the competitive career ladder in a major political party. Along the way they acquire the skills of effective electioneering to win power. This means that the is no incentive to develop the skills of arguing for something, listening or rigorously analysing an issue, these are not the valued traits. Instead the modern politician skilfully avoids saying anything noteworthy, for fear of alienating those who may disagree with what may be a good idea. Indeed, any politician who does open their mouths to argue for a cause is shouted down. It is a sad state of affairs, society is rapidly losing debating skills.

I would argue that is is the failure of the political class and the democratic systems that support them that have failed. We now have a political class who are in cahoots with the capital class, drawing ever more wealth in top their hands and away from the productive economy. The problem with modern capitalism is that there is too much capital. But you can’t solve the problem of capital when the political class also have their noses in the capital trough. Capital no longer invests enough in research or innovation and instead increases their share of the pie by rentiering, or making money from their capital, by renting out their land, rather than using it for anything productive.

If you speak to someone ‘in the street’ in the UK, you will often hear the phrases ‘politicians are all the same’, yet few do anything about it. The problem with the UK economy is too much capital because of the political class and the failure of democracy. It is democracy that needs to rediscover its roots and represent the people again. The tragedy of Brexit is that the EU and Brexit became the scapegoat for the UKs troubles rather than the UK government.

The EU has always had a bad press in the UK. Most of the popular newspapers have regularly run stories blaming and often misreporting the EU for many all sorts of things. However wrapped up in Brexit is this truth of Brexit. The EU is a corrupt, centralising, weakly democratic organisation. It would be beneficial to leave it to obtain a genuine representative democracy. To take back control to a more accountable, more local institution. However this isn’t going to happen just because of the Brexit vote, it will take action within the UK for democracy to rise again, though through Brexit may be how that process is ignited.

My argument has always been for devolution, for bottom up decision making. It is why I support independence for Wales and for stronger local government. Simply because it is more representative of a population and there is less chance of corruption due to smaller organisations and because the politicians have to live in our communities, to speak daily with those they represent. Big states or  supra-national organisations need to be accountable to their constituent regions to function well and in accordance with their founding principles, you need to be strong locally before you can help wider society and make any efficiency gains through cooperation.

The counter argument I often hear is ‘Where do you stop, will each village be its own kingdom?’ Of course not, the principle isn’t ever smaller territories, but local accountability and finding the right size population for decision making. Once you reach the optimum size you don’t surpass it!

This reductionism has been very rife in Brexit. Especially so in the big issue of the Brexit debate, immigration. ‘Immigration is bad, we must stop it!, the only way we can do this is Brexit”, the Brexiteers cried, again and again, over endless months. Except immigration is only a proxy for the actual problem. It goes something like this:  ” I don’t mind foreigners/ people of other races, but every time I visit the hospital I rarely see a native British doctor or nurse. There are too many immigrants, we should have more British doctors and nurses” I don’t disagree. The problem isn’t “allowing” overseas people to be doctors or nurses in the UK, the problem is not producing enough doctors and nurses natively in the UK economy. Unfortunately that issue has not been tackled by the political class and it’s been around for decades. What you would need to do is invest more in training and then paying the doctors and nurses at an adequate rate to retain their services in the country. But that involves spending money, putting taxes up and the political class knew that to win that next election they needed to prioritise tax cuts and not spending on doctors and nurses. So we got tax cuts they didn’t give us any more money and more immigrant workers. There is no problem with this system,  in the medium term, until the population suddenly decides it no longer likes immigrant workers, not realising they have facilitated this by voting in the same career politicians, election after election.

Historically, this was kind of how European society functioned for most of human history, albeit without the democracy. The typical person would work a small patch of land to raise enough food for their family and be taxed to give a proportion of what they grew to the local landowner. The local landowner gaining their titles competitively, not all that dissimilar to how the modern politician achieves power! These landowner had at least some spare time and energy to develop new solutions to problems and thus society developed. Many of them were benign and often helped their serfs who hit difficulties

The industrial revolutions changed all that. A new breed of people with capital emerged who built factories in large towns and cities. and drew people from the land to work in these factories on the promise of a better life. It soon transpired that the city life of the newly emerging working classes was worse than when they had worked the land.

Modern capitalism came into being perhaps when it was realised that there is no point having an amazingly efficient mass production if there aren’t enough middle classes to buy the products. So the later 19th and 20th century saw new middle classes and decently payed working populations and the Western economies emerged and fast paced economic growth, where almost everyone’s quality of life improved. The typical wage grew as the overall economy grew, most of the time so everyone was happy. The capitalists were happy as their wealth grew faster than the working man.

After centuries of a system that increased the wealth of the capital class, which laso slowly gave the common man an improving living standard, In the UK all this changed, when Thatcher broke the social contract in the 1980s and particularly so after the financial crash of 2008 when the Tories brought in Austerity, to cut public services to deprive the social and economic life of the UK. Wages stagnated, what economic growth there was has gone entirely to the capitalist wealthy class. Things have got more expensive, and for the typical Briton the quality of life is in decline, something not expected in the 20th century.and against the bulk of human history in Britain. This is perhaps why there is a feeling of a need for change and to bring about that change requires reform of the democratic structures that have failed. There needs to be less capital and more money in the market, to ordinary people to spend on what they need, for liquidity or cash flowing around rapidly from person to person to provide market forces for the technological developments of the future, rather than the fat cats squeezing more out of the system that is shrinking. There needs to be less capital for capitalism to function.

The problem with this is that it sounds like old skool socialism. The barons of our times sneer and jive at the ‘socialist’ and focusing on the narrative of the failures of communist governments in the 20th century. The principle is not socialism, the principle is economic efficiency and getting the balance right. To get the balance right you need democracy so the decision maker has to be good decision maker and make decisions for the benefit of the community.

The other issue is that communities function well when there is a sense of belonging, that you feel that you are a valued member of a society. This inspires confidence and an outward looking attitude. So when you tend to agree with the government that governs your community, this fosters this sense of belonging. Surely in a democracy your views are going to chime with those of the government, because you voted for them, you had a say in the kind of ideas that shape your society.

However we have had a divide and rule Tory governments for all of my adult life. We are now loving with the consequences of that , a non-representative government, one that has failed to listen to people’s concerns with immigration.

When Brexit is discussed in the media you will often hear the phrase ‘The UKs position is…” or “the UK reaction is…”. Having learnt a second language, this looked like sloppy English, when they should be saying “The UK government says…”. However was it ever thus? If you look back to the mid 20th century and UK election history, from election to election you see massive swings between the Tories and the Labour party. When one party won big, it had consensus and support of a majority of the UK population behind them, a genuine mandate to govern. So even if you were in a minority, there was a sense of ‘ok, I’m in the minority on this, but my community has made a decision it’s my duty to go along with it’. This doesn’t happen anymore. The last few UK general elections have been hung parliaments, there is only a small difference in percentage support for both of the traditional big two parties. I remember a world where politicians of either side would try to argue the case for their position to bring across support from the ‘other side’. Times are now that politicians don’t even bother trying to argue, falling voter turnout had led to it being more important to fire up your natural supporters to vote than trying to persuade a new voter by argument. Trump being the epitome of this.

I am perhaps the product of this. I have never felt represented by a UK government. It’s not just being an odd ball outsider though.  I have come to realise. It doesn’t have ot be this way, which is why I’ve always supported Welsh independence. i believe that an independent Welsh government would represent all the people of Wales, democracy can be re-built. The adage of ‘think global, act local’ comes to the fore, by having genuine democracy in Wales, it could then spread to the world.

The thing about belonging , when you find a community that you fit into, that you belong in, gives you a great strength and confidence. So when you are not afraid to encounter new or different things. It is this sense that has been neglected by UK government no longer being representative or leading by consensus. There is a general disconnect felt by the UK population towards the UK government. So as a people the Britons feel less confident, are a bit bothered that their doctor speaks a language they don’t speak, a sense of being alien in your own country. I know what they feels like from when I lived in Southern England and you do yearn for a sense of belonging.

It is possible this is the explanation of what Brexit is, for a return to investing in Britain once again. That Britain is gone, we need to build a new Britain and it is simply not possible to do that without reforming the constitution and democracy itself. We live in a diverse, changed world. We need new solutions to old problems.

There needs to be a raising of awareness of the need to constitutional reform, to increase local accountability away from centralised power structures. For awareness to grow that the cronies of the UK establishment are as bad if not worse than those of the EU. Then better decisions are able to be made by accountable decision makers, not career politicians. We can do all play our part by supporting things like Welsh independence. To get behind good local ideas and not moan about bad decisions made far far away. To not seek scapegoats , by race, religion, nationality or sexuality, but to acknowledge that we need to build things up and not tear other people down. That there are no easy catchphrases to solve our problems, but complicated analysis and rigourous debate to get to the answers we need. We need everyone to work on this building process. Brexit, leave or remain will not achieve this, we just need to create a new way of doing things.

Unionism vs Devolution

 

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Or Centralism vs Separatism

In terms of the political creed these words represent they are ultimately inconsequential. Though in political debate in Wales these concepts loom large. I will argue that fundamentally there is little difference between the two. so what on Earth is the debate about? Yet this week a political shower has been thrown up in the debate about how powers that the EU will longer have responsibility for post-Brexit are devolved to the UK. Notably agriculture and the environment. The issue is that these areas are currently the responsibility of the Welsh government in UK terms, but most of the rules and regulations are currently set at EU level.

Unionism in a Welsh context means supporting or furthering the union of the United Kingdom. Unionism, party politically, is generally the preserve of conservatives and right wing people and tends to favour the British state (the UK). Whereas Devolution is generally the preserve of the left wing people and favours decision making made at a more local level, Wales or it’s regions.

On principle, I am neither a Unionist or a Devolutionist, it’s one of those spectra things I keep talking about. It’s an area I am a good Social Democrat and take a centrist pragmatic position: In a democracy power should reside at the lowest sensible level and then consensual passed up to wider bodies where the benefits of mutual cooperation and economies of scale are manifest. In today’s Wales I am regarded as a Devolutionist as I believe that centralised big government has too much political power.

The thing is, locally accountable decision making is a good thing and so is cooperating more widely. A functional democracy should in theory achieve the optimum balance over where responsibility should lie for decisions on any issue. I can’t get my head around why there seem to be so many people adopting the extreme fundamentalist positions on this, that either Devolution is bad or Unionism is bad, when the answer is neither, they are both good, provided one doesn’t go too far and balance is achieved. If you adopt the extreme position and enforce it then no-one can stop you when you go too far in ideological fundamentalism over practicality.

The case of Welsh agriculture is one of the areas that is  currently being debated. Largely because the UK government have faffed around indecisively so much with Brexit that suddenly decisions have to be made without sufficient time to debate and scrutinise them. If you are European you will be aware of how the EU subsides agricultural production in the EU. There is an awful lot wrong with how it is done, but the systems have been adapted to. Brexit presents an opportunity to improve agriculture in Wales and the rest of the UK, but handled badly could lead to a disaster, especially as the UK haven’t committed to continuing the subsidy system as is until a better system can be put worked out and put in place.

Welsh farming is broadly very different to that of a typical farm in the UK as a whole. Wales mostly consists of clayey uplands, which are generally poor for growing crops, but fantastic for grazing. So Welsh agriculture in the industrial age has adapted to be dominated by Lamb, Beef and Dairy production. In contrast with much of England with flat well drained soils, more suited to growing crops and producing Pork at industrial scales. Hence it seems sensible to have differentiated policies for how these different farming systems are regulated.

On the other hand there are benefits of having common rules and standards for mutual benefit. There is no reason why the UK government can’t produce a system that works for farmers across the UK. However there is no-one with the power to decide whether the benefits of common frameworks outweigh the losses of bespoke systems for Welsh agriculture who also has sufficient understanding of Welsh agriculture. That power should not reside with the centralised authority.

Really, this whole discussion is Brexit in a nutshell. It about this friction between unionism [top down power] and devolution [bottom up power]. The EU makes the decisions about agriculture and they don’t work terribly well for Wales. If it wasn’t for the EU’s ability to cut off Welsh produce from European markets by imposing tariffs, then the case for devolving responsibility to Wales would be fairly clear cut, Brexit or no Brexit.

The EU has spent 40 years centralising and increasing the size of it’s government and failed to identify areas where decision making would be better returned to regions. The people of the UK had zero chance to have a real say on the structure of the EU until Brexit. If you deny people a voice and then then give them a once and only lifetime chance to take power back, it is hardly surprising that people in Wales voted for Brexit. That was the clinching argument for a few of my friends. They wanted to remain in the EU, but felt they had to make use of their only opportunity to say no to what the EU has and is doing. Conversely people like myself are reluctant Remainers because we knew that the Tories were incapable of delivering a sensible Brexit that would improve things. It wasn’t really a question about membership of the EU at all! So whenever anyone asks that I should ‘accept this Tory Brexit’ I say ‘no’. It is impossible to discern what a majority decision of the people of the UK would be, what we collectively want, from a simple yes/no vote to two possibilities of which the majority wanted neither. What it did perhaps suggest was that the British wanted more devolution of decision making, or more democracy, so that the relations between Wales, the UK and the EU can come to  work better, yet that clearly isn’t what it going to happen from the Brexit process.

It’s almost the same sort of relationship between identities, or geo-political identities. My prime identity is Welsh, secondly it is British and thirdly it is European. Any other way of expressing my identity makes no sense to me. What this means is that my primary interest is seeking the economy of Wales to improve, I would also like the whole of Britain to improve too ( a little bit less and as long as it isn’t at Wales’ expense) and thus I’d like Europe to improve too for everyone benefits( again a little bit less and as long as it isn’t at Wales’ and Britain’s expense). So, decisions about Welsh agriculture should be made by the Welsh government. Where common frameworks can improve things across the UK, great, I would expect the Senedd to sign up to any such common frameworks and at a European level too, provided that there is a net benefit.

What I don’t get is what I perceive as the  Brixiteer or British Unionist position of UK first, then Wales then Europe. This only works if you are a member of the British establishment and you want the British establishment to exceed at the cost of the British nation, which seems to be what the Tories want. People outside of the establishment, why pick the middle one as the primary one? Any other combination makes little sense, such as European first, then Welsh then British. It’s not just a Welsh thing, I have friends who have Yorkshire or Norfolk as their prime identity.

The question of who should make decisions about agriculture, the Welsh government or the UK government, should be established democratically, to get the balance between centralisation and establishing  beneficial common frameworks and devolution and delivering bespoke local solutions right. Yet this isn’t how this debate is working, though this is how it should. What seems to be occurring is this facile debate between British unionism and Welsh devolutionists, when we don’t actually disagree about any actual issues, just where the decisions about them should be made, locally or at the top level. We have a centralised big state favouring Tory party and a centralising big state Jeremy Corbyn led Labour party, when Britain is imbalanced too much in favour of big state centralisers and has been for a long time. And we’ve just had a Brexit debate where devolution won over centralising decision on decisions making at UK or EU level. To follow Unionist arguments to there logical conclusions the UK would be signing up the the Eurozone, Schengen and every centralising initiative as The EU also has a U in it. It’s bonkers, yet people, such as myself arguing for Welsh independence get labelled as separatists, when that isn’t true at all.

I’m British, I have nothing against the union of the UK and I love Britain, it’s my home too which is why I care about it. I know of the benefits of having common sets of rules to facilitate trade and other things, I’m an internationalist who would love there to be no borders anywhere in the world. Simply, there are lots of challenges to face in things like Welsh agriculture in a world of climate change and a global shortage of agricultural land and we need to make the best decisions we can about that, which means listening to what Welsh farmers need, establish where, if at all, divergence in regulations is important, and I don’t trust Westminster as an institution capable of getting these things right.

That is ultimately what the whole Unionism / Devolution debate is about, It’s perhaps not about where best to make decisions, but who do you trust? I don’t trust Westminster or the EU. I don’t trust most of the the politicians in Cardiff Bay either. However the politicians in Cardiff are mostly people who live in Wales with a vested interest in making Wales better, because they actually live here in our communities, they visit the places we visit, some of them know what it’s like to live (or at least spoken with those that do) on an upland farm, so I trust them more. The argument against taking control back, seems to be that Westminster doesn’t trust the Senedd, that perhaps because they label the Welsh as separatists, they think that Wales might make decisions to diverge from sensible practise, purely for the hell of it to ‘spite the English’ or some reason, when it would make Wales suffer economically, which is just daft, perhaps they think this because they don’t live here and are thus basing decisions on a prejudice. It shouldn’t be about who you trust less, it should be about democracy and enabling a sensible assessment of where pooling rules works and where it doesn’t, when to join the union or the club and when to go it alone.

 

 

Brexit Nationalisms

Really Brexit is about nationalism. What complicates Brexit is that there are so many competing nationalisms at play, it is this which has made Brexit so confusing. A further problem with nationalism is that it often has negative connotations with racism. Historically nationalism has been associated as a creed of the dominant nation or race, blaming their ills on other groups of people.

Nationalism can be defined as simply as promoting the nation and defining the nation as the people within that nation. If that nation is defined geographically and include everyone withing that region then it can be a positive thing. Conversely where a dominant sub section of a geographical region claims neglect, such as white people within a culture, blaming another smaller people, then nationalism gets nasty. There is always a tendency for the rich and powerful to greedily seek more of the pie and thus the people or the nation suffer as their share of the pie is diminished. All politics is essentially nationalisms of groups demanding fair treatment.

Economic growth in the 20th century allowed most people’s slice of pie to get larger, so it didn’t matter so much if some people were getting larger increases in share of pie. However the current situation in the UK is that there is some economic growth, yet most people are getting poorer, whilst the very rich get richer without really contributing to the society. This means that the people (everyone not in the elite) see this as unfair and seek the interests of the masses/ the country to become more prominent. Democracy has failed, so more or at least a reform of democracy is required.

Brexit was often argued for in terms of taking back control, for more democratic accountability, to desire ‘my country back’. As such a mixture of Welsh, Scottish and English nationalisms. Largely  older generations noticing that the UK state had declined and wished to reverse this process. But it is has been the Tory party and the neoliberal orthodoxy that has caused this decline, it’s simply gone unnoticed as it hasn’t suited the mass media to highlight long term trends or give them sufficient prominence.

Instead we have a British State nationalism of the British establishment clawing back powers from a centralised EU as conducted by the Tories. In a sense the establishment have effectively pitted the European nation against the British one, when there is no real conflict between the people of Britain and the peoples of the rest of Europe. For I am a member of both the European and British nations, it’s fighting amongst ourselves.

However Brexit never became a mass movement of the people of Britain, only of a dominant minority, as no-one has since argued for nationalism in geographic sense.  Instead it seems the establishments Brexit has become dominant in the subsequent debate. So we have a situation where the people cry out for more power, but the establishment are using it for their own selfish ends. Really I expected the post Brexit era to be full of discussion of how to reform democracy across the UK. Instead the debate seems to be about how important is for the UK to negotiate a good trade deal with other states, say Mongolia which the EU had supposedly cruelly denied them, which I am sure was not to the forefront of the minds of those voting for Brexit.

Brexit nationalism became a negative force as instead of a focus on democracy, it has focused on scapegoating, of defining those groups who are to blame for everything as those who are not being British, specifically EU immigrants. Indeed most the EU migrants I know have stated that they feel a lot less comfortable in the UK these days, which is very sad.

The British establishment is very happy about all this division between the Brexiteers and the Remainers, as a culture of blaming other people detracts from a nationalism of reforming democracy, which is what should be happening. The people want change, but of people are kept fighting about what that change should be  the establishment can carry on regardless.

Nationalism has become such a taboo word, yet really the political battle is between the nation (the people) and the state (establishment). The state has failed to serve the interests of the nation. The establishment tactic in this battle is to divide and rule, to pit nation against nation so the focus isn’t on the failed establishment but viewed as the fault of one group or another, such as the failings of the Brexit process being blamed on the Remainers or sub sections of Brexiteer opinion. In essence it is the establishment which is practising bad divisive nationalism, whilst many the various British nations seeks a positive nationalism for the good of all.

British nationalism, in the sense of the argument for a more democratic accountable UK, would be great. However I am a Welsh Nationalist, because what the British people need is to get away from tyranny of large minorities and a too powerful centralised establishment. Achieving a true democracy at a UK level is much harder to achieve directly. Bottom up democracy is I believe the way forward and once systems are in place in geographic nations, then cooperation across Britain and Europe can be re-built.

However it often seems that British Nationalists are arguing with Welsh nationalists, when both groups want the same thing, more democracy that registers their specific needs. The establishment is happy to encourage such infighting. For me nationalism isn’t about wrapping one flag around you, but is about gathering as many flags as you can to wrap around yourself to acknowledge how many nations we belong to, including the human nation, to include all people of all nations, to ensure nationalism doesn’t divide and lead to scapegoating of any minority group.

 

Free Democracy

Having written recently in defence of free markets I have realised that it is as, if not more important to defend the concept of free democracy. Free markets and free democracy work to support and maintain each other. Democracy exists to check and balance the power of ruling elites in the interests of the population as a whole. However establishments have effectively repressed free democracy as much as they have free markets.

Early democracy, from ancient Greece up to the twentieth century was merely a way for various factions of established elites to form systems of laws over larger geographical areas, largely in their own mutual interests. In the UK it wasn’t until 1928 when all women finally got the vote and the UK was emancipated by every adult having a vote. Thus the ideal of a free democracy has existed in Britain for less than a hundred years, which isn’t very long at all and free democracy is still struggling to become established.

Everyone having the right to vote, has only been the start of this process. The UK is still mired by its parliament still being elected through the arcane FPTP (First Past The Post) electoral system, which hasn’t been reformed at all since 1928. The problem has been that the electoral system maintains two large established parties, that each in order to gain political power has to become centralised and advocate one size fits all solutions. Gaining power became the aim of the political parties, rather than advocate best policy.As such it is  not free democracy as each voter either has to vote for one of the big blocks they prefer to the other one or vote for third parties that rarely gain any influence.

Essentially, in 2017 there is still no free democracy in the UK. The problem is that one size fits all doesn’t work very well, especially in Britain where economic power is centralised in the South East of England and influence diminishes the further from London you are.

There should always be a trade off between a one size fits all solutions and local solutions. Having one set of rules for the collective does produce efficiency of scale and ease of trade and economic development. However where there is divergence sometimes the advantages of collectivism are less than those of local or even individual solutions.

For example, in Wales there have been efforts recently to have a standard way of organising high school education. The idea was that generally high schools needed to have over 600 pupils to run effectively and efficiently, to be able to offer a good range of courses and facilities. However in rural areas this doesn’t work, the cost to the individual pupil who has to commute over 40 miles to their ‘local’ school every day outweighs the advantage of having the option to do a specialised subject. Furthermore the monetary cost of the transport soon outweighs the efficiency saving of the school, not to mention the days of schooling lost when transport arrangements occasionally fail through mechanical breakdown or inclement weather. Often the decisions made on how best to organise  urban schools do not apply to rural schools, but urban elites often don’t recognise this until it is too late in the process.

My point is that the rural population, should have their voice heard on what is the most effective way of arranging schooling of it’s children. However in a centralised democracy the urban votes are often enough to get any policy through.

There should be effective ways for local populations to have their needs addressed. The onus is on the centralised bureaucracy to listen and also meet the needs of different areas. To achieve this there needs to be a free democracy where legitimate concerns are accounted for. The centralised state should ensure all its population reap the benefits of collectivism. The best way to achieve this is local democracy or bottom up power. If ever a country or a region starts to have greater costs than benefits of being part of a collective it has the right to self determination and take back the control of education or full autonomy.

Historically the Uk has been poor at caring for their whole realm and Western democracies do not have the democratic arrangements for power to be returned to areas when required. There is currently no arrangements in law for Wales to be able to reclaim autonomy, just as there isn’t in the Kurdish region, in Catalonia or anywhere else.

The reason Western democracies haven’t developed as free democracies is historical. The modern large nation states were formed to create large militaries, to defend themselves against other aggressor states and to extend power and influence in the wider world.

In the last century the UK and the USA have used military force to promote and defend ‘democracy’, whether in Korea, Vietnam or the Middle East. Arguably such wars were falsely under the flag of democracy, but really to gain or retain influence on parts of the world, especially the oil producing areas of the Middle East. The last Iraq war wasn’t even under the false flag of democracy but to remove long range WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) from Iraq, which were subsequently found to not actually exist. In consequence Iraq is in more of mess now than it was under a dictatorship.

Yesterday, Catalonia declared its independence,the Spanish establishment used force to disrupt their referendum on taking back control. The established traditional Western Powers who have been harking on about the greatness of democracy for most of the last century have declined to support democracy in Catalonia.

Seeking autonomy for Catalonia instead of remaining in the Spanish family of nations should always be an option for the people of Catalonia. The onus is on the Spanish state to ensure the regions cultural distinctiveness is respected and feels the benefits from being part of Spain. That the Spanish establishment failed to make it clear that Catalonia was valued and instead sent in police to beat up Catalans carrying out democracy was deeply concerning. Surely democracy should be supported at all levels.

Political power should always be consensual and free, nations should always be looking to cooperate and come together for mutual advantage and help each other to support free markets and yet always be aware of the risk of exploitation and accidental repression. If Catalonia wish to be independent, which the evidence suggests that they do, they have the right to do that. If at some point they wish to rejoin Spain, or cooperate in some areas that should always be an option too. Free democracy works when it is fluid and capable of reacting to change, the world is always changing. Free democracy is about free choice and not slavish worship of political establishments under the banner of nationalism, whether British nationalism, Spanish nationalism or wherever.

In the UK, getting movement to free democracy has always been difficult. Establishing the Welsh government in 1998, the Scottish independence referendum, the Brexit vote. chances of actually voting or expressing a choice on issues is still a very rare occurrence. It is precisely because we rarely get to express a choice is evidence that we do not have free democracy in the UK.

Quite often electorates make odd decisions, like re-electing the Tories again  and again. Democracy is tyranny of the majority, and when you are not in the majority you just have to put up with it. However sometimes, you realise that sometimes the majority comes because of people a long way away and that isn’t right. The question then becomes is it worth the hassle of leaving the union to to get better decisions and sometimes it is.

Really if the UK population had had votes on the EU before, such as on the woeful Lisbon treaty,  then the UK would likely have a very different relationship with the EU and not ended up in this bizarre process of Brexit today. The EU itself only seems to be able to centralise power and never return it to regions, thus it is not a free democracy, which is partly why so many in Wales voted to leave the EU.

Free democracy is the best system we have of ensuring economic development and free markets and preventing powerful minorities corruptly establishing cartels, we should welcome any move to increase the freedom of democracy and thus support the new Catalan state on its move to greater democracy and we may dream of the time that we can all have freer democracies where we live.

cymrucatalonia

Social Feudalism

720px-Flag_of_Powys.svgWhen I was young and started thinking about politics the idea of Social Feudalism appealed to me. The basic premise is to take the  Middle Age system of regional Princes and Kings, such as Gwynedd or Powys, who extracted taxes from those who lived in their domains to live lives of culture and refinement in return for the rule of law and protection from raiders. Such systems was sustained for millennia. My modern twist on the system was to interject democracy into the system, the ruling class were restrained from over exploiting the serfs or imposing rules the populace wouldn’t accept through a democratic system, which I dubbed at the time the ‘Council of the Elders’.

These ancient Kingdoms perhaps had a tendency to expand, and in doing so become more efficient and offered greater protection to more organised bands of raiders. This perhaps led to the idea of establishing supranational entities for beneficial cooperation to be even more efficient, to have a Kingdom of the Britons. What happened was that the English/ Anglo-Saxons established a King of England first, who over, arguably, the more exciting  bits of history (Battles, court intrigue, which religion should we have debates etc) expanded influence to eventually create the United Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland (the UK), a modern nation state.

Historically the nation state is a fairly recent development in human history and is perhaps one whose time is passing. If the primary purpose is to protect populations from raiders, maintain the rule of law and share the advantages of scale, then it seems the nation state truly is in decline.

Modern raiders, or wars between nation states are now rare, so there is no need for nation states. Indeed the raiders now are the jihadist terrorists, who plot to destabilise nation states and use tactics that nation states struggle to counter but for no financial gain. Indeed the systems nation states established to counter terrorism reduce the freedoms of the subjects that nation states were able to protect.

Law is now global. We live in world of trade agreements and mega corporations who effectively set the rules or lack of them, rather than democratic or aristocratic bodies.

In the Uk the benefits of cooperation are no longer shared, living standards are in decline and the global rich, no longer attached to the land, just keep taking more of the pie.

The establishment, the modern day aristocracy, who have been kept in luxury by the nation state system is under threat: international trade agreements, jihadist terrorism and the end of the era of economic growth as the challenges of climate change and over-population prevent further economic growth, so they just seem to be asset stripping nations all the harder like there is no tomorrow.

Instead of the nation state investing in its poorer regions, such as Wales and ‘Yr Hen Gogledd’ (The Old North / Northern England), to deliver  growth and rise everyones living standards. In the UK, in recent decades we have seen the  UK establishment class asset strip the country for the gain of their group, rather than invest for the future. The nation state of the UK has lost it’s coherence, if it ever truly had it, where wealthier regions subsidise the development of poorer regions. Successful federal nation states, which maintain coherence and identity across the regions through regional governments, such as in Germany or the United States. I get the impression that those people much more comfortably identify as Germans or Americans, whilst we in Britian are more ‘I suppose I am British but…’. The UK has never really done this nation state building, being more obsessed with the development of Empire, power has always been centralised in central London and the regions plundered for their resources, coal, cheap labour and soldiers. Now the coal industry has died nations such as Wales have never received the investment it has needed to grow it’s economy to develop away from the old heavy industries. Wales has lacked the confidence to say, this really isn’t fair, the UK isn’t working for us, we’d be better off managing ourselves.

The answer seems to be more local accountability, to find solutions for local problems locally and not be subservient to protectors who no longer provide protection, rules that work or economic growth that is shared.

I have often encountered critiques of devolution, who argue reductively that eventually everyone is a king of their own tiny private kingdom. This position misses the whole point of bottom up democracy. Deciding where decisions should be made isn’t a case of always smaller, it’s finding the right size. The right size is where there is an optimum balance between the advantages of pooling resources for efficiency and retaining local accountability. An ‘area the size of Wales’ with our population of just over three million people may be the right size, because Wales’ leaders can’t get too removed from the people, it is possible if you want to to speak with members of the Welsh government and make your point and if they don’t listen to reasoned argument you should be able to vote them out of office, but our current electoral system doesn’t quite work. As long as you have democratic systems that allow power to be moved up and down, to and from regions then the best balance will be achieved and those decisions need to be made at a regional level. Statically leaving power at one level is not sustainable. It may be that recreating the Kingdoms of Dyfed and Monmouth is the right level for law making. Democracy should be about a fluidity of decisions that remains accountable to the smallest area. For example: My bit of Wales ( King Squimple I) – my region of Wales – Wales – Britain – Western Europe – Europe – The World government.

It has been a week where I’ve been catching up on Welsh history and reading about the grievous attacks on democracy in Spain. In a world of instability it’s very disturbing that the Spanish government is raising troops to attack democracy in Catalonia. If a region wants autonomy, it should demonstrate it clearly (by holding a monitored referendum or suchlike) and then regain autonomy. So I condemn the Spanish government for its actions to defend the nation state against democracy. The democratic right to self-determination is what allows humanity to be free of tyranny and bad kings /rulers.

Wales also needs independence or something that will deliver democracy, protection and rule of law. So, there are many parallels between Wales and Catalonia, also an ancient Kingdom and has it’s own language and culture. However there seems to be a big difference between Wales and Catalonia. The economic argument doesn’t seem to apply in their case.

Catalonia is one of the richest regions in Spain, whilst Wales is one of the poorest in the UK. So the nation-state redistribution of wealth to poorer regions, such as Andalusia  is how things should be, to gain the economic efficiency across what is now Spain. I don’t think the independence movement in Andalusia is very strong, perhaps because it is respected and invested in by the Spanish state. I wouldn’t be advocating independence for Wales if was benefitting from being in the UK and being respected as a nation for our language and culture. I don’t know all that much about the situation in Catalonia, these things are often complex and there will always be many reasons for the people there deciding independence is in their interests, look elsewhere for more information,  maybe they are just being greedy in seeking independence but even so, a heavy handed approach from a central government just sends shivers down my spine. Self determination and democracy are too important to give up upon. The Spanish government should be welcoming democracy and the chance to point out how Catalonia benefits from being in the Spanish family of nations if that is the case. Then again we no longer seem to have mechanisms for making the best solutions clear, we no longer live in the age of reason, but one of petty media barons.

Maybe, maybe, the time is coming for Social Feudalism, for the ancient Kingdoms to rise again, but this time with democracy and accountability to the people who live on their lands.

yescymruEstelada Catalan flag | Catalan flag | Estelada flag ...

 

 

 

British People in Hot Weather

The British are famous for our obsession with British weather. Britain is rarely hot (>25C) and rarely cold (<-5C). So when it is hot we go crazy and run out outside to bask in the experience the strange newness of the our area being hot. When it snows we also run out to play with the magical icy white stuff. However because such events are usually only for two weeks of the year we don’t bother preparing for them, it’s deemed too expensive to bother, even when buildings exist for over a hundred years, a few quid saved when building and hang the long term efficiency costs.. So, we we suffer in sweaty places of work and grumble about the madness of being only half as productive for a couple of weeks a year. The vast majority of British buildings are not designed for inclement weather and we just put up with it, or try and do things outside and burn our skins to the colour of lobsters.

Sometimes this lack of long term planning ends in tragedy as happened last week. The Grenfell tower block in London caught fire with a tragic loss of life of people dying in their homes.

The tragedy multiples when we think start to think about why this tragic event occurred.  People dying in a burning building is always tragic. Its doubly tragic when it is suggested that mistakes were made that were directly responsible. It’s particularly tragic when the whole UK political system is part of the problem.

Grenfell Tower was part of the 1960s policy to replace falling apart housing with cities in the skies. They were built on the cheap and poorly managed. However at least some thought was put into preventing fire spreading. However, because these flats were near to the most expensive part of London, it seems a decision was made to clad the tower to make it look nicer, rather than install a sprinkler system, which was what the building needed more, to bring it into line with modern tower constructions. There are suggestions that this cladding contributed to the fire spreading quickly and it is this that has made people particularly upset. The UK ‘planning’ system is woefully  inadequate and our building regulations are farcical; which is the fault of the political system.

This political tragedy is that such problems as Grenfell tower were known about for years but nothing got done about them. This is arguably due to a government that has had a strange ideological objection to regulation and is corrupt in being lobbied only by big businesses which don’t like the cost of following regulations.

Surely it is wrong for government to only be responsive to corporate interests and ignore the concerns of the people it is supposed to represent. The market is great at making some things more efficient, cheaper and as a system for deciding what to invest in. However it is not perfect and sometimes we need human beings to make decisions about what works. With a such a government as the Uk has suffered recently, in perhaps supporting luxury residential development and pricing key workers out of towns and by decreasing safety for poorer people living nearby. Less scarily, it is happy to save a few quid now and allow building inefficient buildings and their subsequent productivity effects on the businesses within them. Isn’t is just crazy not to put air conditioning into a building and cover the roof with solar panels to power the air-conditioning, which will provide the power just when it is required. Such obvious solutions are not favoured by the UK planning system with arbitrary points based decisions making. Trivially I grew up with dreadful British showers and it has taken plumbers from outside the UK to come in, shake their heads and install nice showers for us to wash in, it’s like no one ever thought through the installation of showers. There seems no interest in developing solutions, rather allow the population to be used to being ignored and put up with crumbling housing, transport networks, inefficient healthcare and schools.

Hopefully, the tragedy of Grenfell tower will serve as a beacon for change, for greater democratic accountability, where people raising concerns will not be slammed as troublemakers, but actually listened to.

In the recent UK general election, we got an unexpected result. This was due to younger people turning out to vote in greater numbers. However there are suggestions that it was not merely that younger people tend to vote for left wing parties, nor that this time more of them actually voted, but that they voted for Corbyn’s Labour party in huge numbers. This suggests that the disparity in voting intention between generations was the greatest it has ever been.

I believe that the reason for this was about how different generations receive their news. Younger people tend to use social media on the internet more. I heard about the Grenfell tragedy through social media. Older people perhaps use traditional mainstream media more: newspapers and television stations. The issue in the UK is that the majority of the traditional print media is biased towards the Conservative party and television coverage has this right wing bias. So it is arguable that the older generation don’t hear about the real problems with the planning system and only hear a superficial story about leftist trouble makers. Whereas social media does tend to be left wing in its focus. If this theory holds, then there is hope for the future, that practical solutions are implemented rather than a slavish adherence to a single political creed.

What Britain needs is more democratic accountability, more control from the bottom, from communities and regions. Doing this creates systems where people raising concerns are actually listened to and such concerns acted upon. With the current system only the powerful interests of capital are listened to, nations like Wales and the communities within them are ignored, instead one size fits all solutions are found that favour the wealthy few at the top, rather than increasing the amount of wealth and productivity of the workforce.

Of course sometimes the local solution will be impractical, so it remains important that decision makers should research all available information. However in recent times the top-down way of doing things has been proved wrong most of the time, which suggests that the balance of power is seriously off kilter.

The First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system does not work well in the modern world, it favours those at the top of big UK wide political parties. In such parties those that make a fuss about local issues tend not to make it up the greasy pole to where real power resides. This is not how FPTP is supposed to work. FPTP works when a local representative is elected to represent that area in parliament. That local representative will then support initiatives that help their constituents and vote against those that make things harder. These representatives may be members of a whatever political party, but should be prepared to vote against their party when their voters are detrimentally affected. Policy should proceed by consensus, where there is enough support from across the political spectrum for an individual policy. Nowadays the system doesn’t work as party is more powerful than constituency, Members of parliament (MPs) have to take the party whip and not vote on an issue by issue basis. The solution to this is increase power to the bottom, in regions, in communities, rather than top down from political parties. For decisions to be taken with knowledge of people who use things in their daily lives, rather than those who macro manage from afar.

It is time that we wake up and realise that it is wrong that we swelter on packed trains with broken air-conditioning in the summer, on our way to work in inefficient buildings, and then return home to housing with dreadful showers and the risk of being trapped to burn to death in our homes.

 

One Wales

I’m still curious to know exactly why there has been this uplift in support for the Tories. I think it’s because the Tories foster a fear of the other, diminishing the idea that we should help people who are not like ourselves, whom we don’t understand, that we are not all in it together.

In any society we often look to other social groupings. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as being curious helps maintain an open mind and exposes us to new ideas. Sometimes Wales is described as having four distinct groups of people: Y fro Cymraeg (Welsh speakers), The Welsh Welsh (South Wales urban communities), the Welsh British (the English speaking rural areas) and the non-British Welsh (everyone else). We may disagree with this classification, but there is I think an element of truth to it.

In political terms these divisions can be used negatively. For example you will often hear such things as ‘Cardiff getting everything again’, that one grouping gets preferential treatment from one political party or another. However we should celebrate diversity and not allow these forces of division to grow resentment as doing so stops us looking for solutions that work for all.

An narrative of this election is why Plaid Cymru are not capitalising on weak performances from both the Tories, Labour and even the Lib Dems. Part of the story may be Brexit, Plaid Cymru were never keen on Brexit, for them it’s an issue way down the agenda, so it is difficult to find a way of clearly describing a nuanced position. It’s much easier to trot out meaningless catchphrases such as ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

I still think the big issue is the social divisions of Wales. Plaid Cymru are still perceived as being the party for Welsh speakers and as such are not for people like us who are not first language speakers. It is easy to forget how powerful a force this is, it suits some politicians to maintain these divisions to maintain positions of power for themselves, rather than seek workable solutions to our economic problems. However when you are an outsider and transcend social divisions you begin to notice that society is not as divided as it is made out to be. Personally, I grew up in Powys and hence am in the ‘Welsh British’ grouping. However I am learning Welsh and have briefly lived in the south Wales. I have experienced living in all four of these artificial divisions of Welsh society. People and the cultures of all four communities are not all that different. When starting to learn Welsh, one of the first obstacles is whether to learn the Northern or Southern dialect, it’s seems a huge decision. However as you progress you end up learning both dialects and quickly realise that the differences are not at all important.

There is simply too much unnecessary division. My political outlook closely matches the outlook of Plaid Cymru, it’s so clear and makes so much sense: Decisions affecting Wales should be made in Wales by the people of Wales for the people of Wales. The reason being that you have to live in Wales to truly know the issues facing Wales and it’s people. From this point we then look outward to forming relationships and working together for mutual benefit with our friends across the border in England and the wider world.

Plaid Cymru, traditionally have support from a considerable part of the Welsh speaking community. Partly because it is clear that not everyone supports the Welsh language and it becomes clear that it is better to work together than seek division. Plaid Cymru are also slowly gathering support from the Valleys, left behind communities that can really appreciate the importance of working together to build things. There is also support from the non-British Welsh, as they often share the experience of discrimination.

This leaves the final grouping, the one I come from, the Welsh British, one from which very few people support Plaid Cymru. However I went on the journey, I was curious to see what things were like in other communities and I liked what I found. This path is open and welcoming for any person in Wales to explore. Wales can be a strong united country. When we go to watch the national team play rugby, football or indeed roller derby, we share that sense of Welshness and togetherness. Yet somehow it seems that when it comes to politics we forget.

I am an advocate of Welsh independence, not because of a slavish nationalism, but out of pragmatism, it would work a lot better than the current UK system. There are alternatives, such as forming a confederal UK and these should continue to be explored, however such considerations are out of our hands, they would require agreement with the people of England and there is virtually no effort towards such aims at the moment. So independence is the main way forward.

Seeking self-government for Wales is for all of us who live in Wales, whether you speak Welsh or not, whether you were born here or not, whether you have a Welsh family or not, whether you are a town or a country person, whether you lean right, left or sideways, whatever division you may wish to lock yourself within, you can transcend and just say I am Welsh, this is where I am, let’s make where I live a better place.

I’ll be supporting Plaid Cymru at this election, purely and simply because there is no other political party that solely puts the needs of all the people of Wales first. Plaid Cymru are the alternative to a failed political system. Other parties place attention to matters not directly impacting Wales. One size fits all policies which do not work for the majority and we in Wales know that we are not in the centre or the majority of anything, so such solutions are very unlikely to fit those of us in Wales. However I believe that if we take the aim of doing the best for all of one Wales, we one of us will benefit.

Wales

The Rivers of Wales

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Coal not Dole

Sometimes you just want to scream. In Britain the media is awash with various talk of competing Nationalisms, stoked by the issues of Brexit and Scottish independence. Public figures make announcements that we should be more or less European, more or less British or more or less Welsh. This is further complicated by each of these nationalisms can be either of two things, civic nationalism and imperialist nationalism. More often than not, the debate centres around distorting what each of these things is, to confuse and blur the issue, to distract from working out what will actually make things better. Perhaps the truth is that is is simply wrong to try and change your identity or who you are, there is no sense in it and there are never purely binary things and we are all different soups of various identities anyway.  Lets get on with something more useful.

Brexit, Scottish, or indeed Welsh independence represent choices. In recent times such choices have been subject to referenda. The problem I have with all the argument and political horse play is that the supposed public discourse has centred around national identity. Really such discourse is not about identity at all, such choices should be made on a rational weighing up of complex economics to choose which is the best option.

If Brexit is the better option than remaining in the EU, great,  I do hope that it is as this seems to be what is happening, the result will be that things get better rather than the worse. However I am not assured at all by what has happened since the vote, because hardly anyone is talking about how it will makes things better. It’s the same with Scottish independence, if it makes things better, then great, do it, if maintaining the UK is the better option then we should do that and make it better.

Then there is the two nationalisms thing. This has really complicated many of the farcical debates we see in our media. Actually I think this is just a manifestation of the old left right divide, the two political wings view patriotism is radically different ways.

On the left is Civic Nationalism, where a nation is defined as all the people who live in a society, with all their various diversity. Civic nationalism argues for equality to give everyone in that society an equal chance and to make things better for everyone.

On the right is Imperialist Nationalism. Here there is a predominant sub-culture with the society and everyone should have an equal opportunity to join that sub-culture, which then expands and thrives at the expense of those who refuse or are unable to join. The pre-dominant sub-culture declares that it’s view of the world is patriotic and if you don’t subscribe to those views you are a traitor.

Hence the left always argue for more support for those that do less well than the majority. If that group thus supported  does as well as any other then no increased support is required. Whereas the right argue that they these minority groups should just join the dominant group and should have no special favours for being different.

coalnotdole

So, why the title, ‘Coal not Dole’. I was up in Ebbw Vale this morning and decided that as I was nearby, to finally get around to visiting the Big-Pit museum. It is a really good museum. The museum is a preserved working deep-pit coal mine, such mines were very common in the South Wales Valleys when I was growing up, so I was keen to have a look inside. The highlight of the visit is a trip down the mine in the company of a former miner to the coalface. The guides both explain how the mines worked and give an insight into what working down the mines was like with great humour and wit. If you visit Wales, I highly recommend a visit and it is in a crazily beautiful part of Wales, well apart from the modern open cast coal mines near by!

Being down in the pit, in the dark, seeing the cramped conditions where people used to spend all day working in dusty conditions, makes you realise what a horrible job working down the pits was. However it also makes clear how mining communities, really were communities, fostering really strong companionships between the miners and their families. My family traditionally were farmers and the farming community, pales into comparison as farming is often a lonely job  and traditionally the only time for socialising was on market day. Farming requires dependence on yourself as you are often miles from the nearest person, whereas mining requires reliance on others for your safety. This is a large part of the reason why farmers tend to be conservatives and miners socialists.

My point is we have national identities as part of our individual identity make-up and identities are stronger where there is a sense of comradeship, solidarity and working together for a common cause.  The mining communities built fantastic civic structures, such as libraries, male voice choirs, brass bands and chapels. Hence the mining communities had a very strong sense of their identity as miners, being a miner was their primary identity.

In the 1980s, the UK government decided to close down the mines. To the miners, this was an attack on their primary identity, so of course they were incredibly angry about it. A massive series of strikes were held, under the banner of the National Union of Mineworkers, which produced the ‘Coal not Dole’ badges; or it is better to work, even deep down in a coal mine than be looked after by the welfare state, which was the effect of the government policy. Today, Blaenau Gwent has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, the effect of that decision is still felt over thirty years later. The miners knew about mining so they should have been listened to, rather than those in their Ivory towers in London.

I can understand how people do feel passionate when their identities are attacked. However with Brexit and Independence, identities are not actually under threat in the same way. I know some people do feel that their British identity is threatened by Scottish independence, or their European identity by Brexit, but I feel that they do not quite understand what exactly identity is. These identities are not being threatened and they are not going to disappear. People in Britain will not be less European after Brexit, nor will Scotland no longer be part of Britain after independence. Britain will still be a set of islands off the North West coast of the European continent and Scotland will still be a part of the British Isles and they will still form part of our identities if they are parts of our identity now.

This is why I don’t get this whole binary argument that you must be for one identity over another. It’s a huge distraction from the difficult task of predicting the future and trying to work out how to make things better. The way to make things better is to make the political institutions better, the Welsh assembly, the UK government or the European Union. All of these institutions could be vastly improved and we need to ensure they do make things better, by being accountable to the communities their decisions affect, rather than winning some pointless argument about identity.

Taking Back Control- Brexit for Wales

One of the most galling phrases used by the Leave campaign in the UK EU referendum was ‘Take Back Control’. It’s a great sentiment, but in reality it’s just the UK political and economic establishment taking back control for themselves, not the people of Britain. Instead of the promised greater democracy, it seems that the Tory government will implement a Brexit on it’s own terms and ignore the expressed views of the electorate, leaving Wales to continue to suffer under the foot of powerful elites.

Last night, some interesting opinion poll data was released by ITV Wales. The poll suggests that post-Brexit vote, with all the craziness of the last week or so, that Wales had switched to favouring remaining in the EU. The poll also announced a growing consideration of Welsh independence within the EU, of 35% (up from the 5-10% it has been since the no vote in the last Scottish independence referendum). So can Wales ‘take back control’?

The problem Wales has it that it is currently one of the poorest regions in Northern Europe. Arguably our economy has not had the conditions to adapt to the move from heavy industry at the end of the 1970s to a globalised economy, where job creation has only really occurred in connected services hubs, like London and other major cities. However the argument for an independent Wales has been that freed from governance from London that favours service hubs to the detriment of the wider economy, Wales would be able to grow and thrive as one-nation. Whatever the Tories post-Brexit plan for the UK, with an increased focus on service hubs, deregulation and removal of social infrastructure, it looks like Wales will suffer, with no guarantees of continued regional funding. Perhaps it is really time for Wales to go it’s own way.

A self-governing Wales would be free to enter into it’s own arrangements with the EU. One option is to join the EFTA (European Free Trade Association) along with other smaller nations or full membership of the EU. The EFTA was originally set up by the UK to create a free market area outside the EU before the UK joined the common market in the 1970s. Membership of the EFTA offers tariff free access to the EEA (European Economic Area), easing tariff free trade with other European countries. The advantage of EFTA membership, as opposed to EU membership, is the possibility of certain opt-outs, retaining the benefits of devolution and not overly ceding to centralised decision making.

The UK EU referendum highlighted a number of issues that people are concerned about: housing, immigration putting pressure on jobs and stifling small businesses at the expense of multi-nationals. I think housing is the big significant one, especially for Wales.

I found out recently that Denmark, has it’s own opt-out from the EU housing market. In Denmark only citizens and residents can own residential housing. Wales could also have this opt-out. Wales could establish a constitutional right of Welsh citizens and residents to own their own home and establish rights for renters for security of tenure. Wales can have strong building regulations and build good quality, sustainable social housing, that residents of have  ownership rights. Restrictions on second home and foreign owned residential housing would prevent Welsh housing being an asset market and instead simply be about providing homes for people to live in. One way to do this is to place high taxes on second and foreign ownership and furthermore restrict such ownership in every district to say 25% of the housing stock in each local district. Tourism is important for Wales, people like to stay in holiday lets rather than hotels, these policies would allow these industries to thrive, whilst supporting sustainable communities.

The advantages of taking control of housing are that allowing housing to be an asset market imposes restraints on the wider economy. Until the early 1980s, a full time worker would be able to buy a reasonable home for themselves for three times their wage, support a partner and raise children. The failure of abiding to the social contract of successive UK governments has left housing over-priced, maladaptive to changing requirements and of poor quality.

Taking control of housing has potentially enormous benefits, the main advantage being lowering housing costs, if you halve housing costs back to their long term average, this increases the disposable income of those in employment. Instead of being in housing debt, incomes would then significantly exceed living costs for ordinary people. Then, this luxury income can be saved and invested in the wider real economy, people can be more responsible for their own retirement and welfare. People will be more productive as they will be better rested and less worried. People would be able to move house quickly, easily and without penalty to exploit a flexible labour market. With secure housing, people can take bigger risks, they can set up their own businesses, without fear of homelessness. Reducing the cost of living, so significantly, will lower the living wage, whilst increasing disposable incomes, enabling the Welsh workforce to be competitive in a globalised world.

Their are many other advantages for Welsh independence and other means of reducing living costs. Control over energy policy will enable Wales to make use of it’s natural resources to become more than self-sufficient in renewable energy and less vulnerable to fluctuations in global energy prices. Agricultural policy can be set for the specific needs of the Welsh farming industry and it’s consumers. Wales can opt-out of damaging trade deals like CETA and TTIP and instead create new genuine free trade deals across Europe and the world. In short Wales can democratically control it’s own destiny, grow it’s economy and not be a poor powerless appendage to a wider world that seeks to exploit it. Wales can become a small but integrated hub of a globalised world. Wales can be open to the world, seeking out mutually advantageous relationships with our neighbours and partners overseas.

The transition may be tough, but we are in tough times already. We can create a socially democratic society of strong communities and robust efficient public institutions that actively support a growing culture of enterprise rather than capital that seeks to weaken it. A Wales where it’s young people want to stay and build, rather than go away with the aim of coming back. Self-government for Wales is the change Wales needs and offers hope for the future, we can once again be proud to be British.