Unionism vs Devolution

 

EU,-UK-and-Wales-flags

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.

 

 

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What do they know of England? Only England knows

I read an interesting article in today’s Irish Times. My summary of the article is that is that Brexit has intensified speculation on what it is to be British or rather English. Indeed the Brexit debate has ostracised the different elements that make up British Society; that in England there is a recent re-awakening of exploring what it is to be a nation, which has long been silent in England. The article makes a point of hardly mentioning Wales, because Wales would make things too complicated and detract from the thrust of the article

I’m also in the middle of reading Gwyn Williams’ ‘When Was Wales?’ This book also explores the concept of nation. It seems that it is quite possible to argue that Wales, England, Scotland and indeed Britain have never really been nations in the modern sense. The concept of Britain was perhaps formed from the union with Scotland and the beginnings of the age of the British empire. Hence Britain has never been a true nation, it hasn’t had the opportunity to gain a sense of itself as it has long been the seat of empire, a global superpower which has been the primary influence on how the state of the UK has operated. Arguably the UK has only been a nation from the early 1950s up to the early 1980s, a scant 30 year generation, a nation formed glowing in the unity brought about by winning a just war, the collapse of empire and an era of discovery of who the Britons were themselves. a fortunate era of  rapid economic growth and living standards from the 50s to the end of the 60s. In the 80s there seemed to be a halt to this process of nation forming.

I left Wales when I was eighteen to go and live in England. Admittedly I ended up surrounding myself with a mainly liberal bunch. what perturbed me was that none of them identified as English and saw any identification with a nation as being a rather divisive thing to do. I found this odd because I am Welsh, I couldn’t get my head around what exactly was supposed to be wrong with being Welsh? For to be Welsh was to believe that the Welsh are anyone’s equals and to be interested in exploring other cultures. In contrast to the the sense of Britishness, formed of the empire, which seemed to regard itself as superior to anyone else. That I could understand as being a nationalism akin to Nazi Germany and something to be opposed to.

I also noticed this when what was the  Fiive nations or international football came up. I support Wales and whoever plays against England, which is a very internationalist thing to do, where everyone can be a friend. This wasn’t understood by my English friends, they saw this as somehow being anti-English and even anti-British. From my perspective England were our local rivals, so I of course support the other team, in exactly the same way as I support anyone who plays against Manchester United as a Manchester City fan.

However having spent time in England I have understood that there is a different attitude in England. Where England  is perceived as the principal representative of the UK, so Welsh folk should support the England team as such, for Wales is but a parochial regional team. Perhaps there is a wider sense that England sees itself as the most important player in the UK, whilst in Wales, we see the UK as a partnership of equals, though we are aware that often this isn’t reciprocated. Yet in any case, there was no sense of an England, England is perhaps only a collection of various regional identities that share a British identity, but little sense of what it is to be English itself.

If you look at footage from England football matches from around twenty years ago, the England supporters wave the Union Jack and not the St George Cross. it seems the supporters were supporting Britian rather than England.  Things have changed, at England games, even the England cricket team, you will see St George Crosses everywhere and only rarely spot a Union Jack. It does seem that Englishness is quite a new thing and you meet more people that identify as Englsh these days.

My perspective on these questions is interesting. I am a child of Thatcher, of a prevailing political culture that proclaimed that ‘there was no such thing as society’, culture and communities are not important, to abandon your family and community to seek work, that identity is not something of any value and is a hindrance to economic growth. So Brexit was interesting as the majority of people younger than myself, with no direct knowledge of life under Thatcher were against Brexit, yet the majority of people older than me of whom many remember life before Thatcher were for Brexit. It makes me feel very middle aged! Perhaps it is only the appeal of Brexit to the ‘English’ in that it seems to offer the opportunity for England to become a true nation, to return to identity and culture being valued, whereas in Wales, perhaps especially in regard to the Welsh language, we kind of have known for a long time that such things have value in themselves. Yet Brexit has occurred at a point of flux, during a period where a sense of English identity is still a relatively new concept. We witness the rage of the far-right English ‘nationalist’ movements spurred by hate of others, yet there is much less sign of a considered mature English nationalism.

But what is England? What separates England from Britain? This remains a difficult question to answer, for many never used to not see any difference and why the question of an English identity is problematic. It’s less of an issue from a Welsh perspective, it is easier to pin down things that are Welsh and which are British and where they overlap. Yet as a Welshman I have a dual perspective on England and Britain. To me England is the mixture of peoples and regional identities all the way up to Scotland, whilst Britain is both the shared culture of the people living across the island of Great Britain as a separate thing to the British establishment.

Ireland occupies a special relationship with Wales. I have always viewed Ireland as being our neighbours across the sea and Ireland is no more foreign than England to me. I only feel slightly foreign in uireland in the same way as I do in England. The idea of no longer being able to arrive in Ireland after Brexit without needing to show a passport just seems incredibly odd.

Having grown up under the shadow of Thatcherism, I do not share the sense of belonging to a British state and the British establishment that my parents and grandparents had that was forged in the post world war period and belittled by Thatcherite policies. Yet I feel a belonging to Wales and a sense of being a Briton. My generation is perhaps the last to have any sense of what it is to feel a belonging to the British state, it’s a force I have seen weakened as I have progressed through life.  Those younger than myself surely have very little sense of a shared belonging with the British state, it may be seen to be a relic of history and hence the notion of taking back control from the EU seems baffling. The inept directionless nature of the process of the UK leaving the EU seems but a bizarre sideshow to the the fundamentals of whatever Brexit is; and whatever it is isn’t what the majority of people who voted for Brexit voted for.

I don’t get why the calls for Welsh independence are not being more widely being taken up. Wales as a partner in the global British Empire and sharing in the  benefits and advances that come with being a part of it, I can kind of get my head around. Yet continued membership of the UK now doesn’t offer anything apart from continued neglect and sheep jokes. A neglect that will likely intensify as England struggles to come to terms with itself and which has no money or resources to invest for the future anymore in any case, that Britian is in decline is palpable every day.  The resources Britain took from Wales have not been repaid. Surely, now is the time for Wales to ‘take back control’ to find it’s own way to develop in the twenty first century. Looking across the water to Ireland we see an independent state that has done fairly well free from the shackles of the British establishment, whilst Wales remains as the poor disregarded relation of the powerful in England.

Yet the fact that ‘Wales voted for Brexit’ does suggest that there is an appetite for change, to no longer accept decline. Wales is very different to Britian as a whole and has a very different set of problems. However neither the EU nor the Britain state offers Wales the chance to develop. It is surely time for independence.

 

The Few – Billy Bragg

Homes and Homelessness

sleeping-baby-dragon_med

I am continually torn in doing this blog. One the one hand I feel I write too much about politics, when I could be writing about much more interesting things and on the other I just feel continual rage about how inept UK politics is and perhaps need somewhere to vent my spleen quite regularly.

I have written quite a lot about Brexit, largely as I feel it is symptomatic of the core problem at the heart of Britain, our failed political establishment. For it is not only Brexit. The thing that gets me more upset and angry is the issue of homelessness. Yesterday some Tory twerp talked about how 19th century ‘vagrancy’ laws should be revived to move away the homeless from the streets of Windsor so the UK doesn’t reveal to the world how, well, rubbish we are to the world, in not having a decent society, when people  tune in to watch the Royal Wedding from Windsor this summer.

What particularly incensed me was the suggestion that Windsor has ‘attracted’ lots of homeless people due to the higher number of tourists. Obviously, this twerp doesn’t get out much. Every town and city in Britain has a lot more homeless people on the streets than there were. Every day walking through any British town you are repeatedly asked for help. I’ll wager Windsor is a long way from being a special case. Anyway, if there is money to put on anything more than a simple church ceremony for Meghan and Prince Harry, then that money should be spent on housing people. It’s a much bigger issue than Brexit, if only the government would eradicate homelessness we would all be much better off than any possible gains from Brexit. It is simply embarrassing, that homelessness isn’t the number one issue when there is such a crisis and ever increasing numbers of people have to rely on food banks when there are many with plenty of wealth in the UK. And then, even then, the idea is trotted out that people ‘choose’ to be homeless, like sitting in the cold and damp with no money and nothing to do all day is seen as a viable option.  We could all so easily be homeless in Britain: you are unlucky to lose your job, you miss the next months rent payment as the costs of living is so high, few can actually save money for a rainy day, let alone invest and then unless you are lucky enough to have family and friends with a floor for you then you are out on the street. It’s all so unnecessary.

I have tasked myself with trying to understand right wing people and more importantly what possesses people to ever vote for the Tories. Sometimes I appreciate that arguing doesn’t often work. People get set in their thinking and can’t listen to argument. So it is important that we use stories, to make things personal, to establish an emotional revelation. I am a deep thinker, I will have argued to the point of accepting an idea many many times before I believe in it. Yet, one emotional event that makes me feel as though an idea is right, will make a belief stick. It is those moments that have changed my thinking. What worries me is that people perhaps have the emotional resonance without the solidity of the rational arguments first. Or at least not feeling that it is important to check that the emotion has some basis in coherent argument.

Socialism is easy to understand, as it’s a movement to create a better more efficient society. For your home to be more secure, allowing you more time to be creative and give you time and energy to improve things. We all need homes and the better our homes are the better and more productive we are.v Yet now, most of us work away from teh communities we live, we waste time travelling, rather than doing. Okay, think about extreme possibilities, eventually, a socialist society would get to the point where society could regress as too many people take the easy comfortable options and the economy would falter. Surely we should create that society first, no-where in the world or in history has got to that point yet. In any case there are always people who don’t like comfortable options. Too much of anything  is simply a theoretical possibility and one that will generally get dealt with, before it is approached; especially if you have a functional democracy. Pragmatism, and opening eyes to what is going on in the world around you trumps looking for a far off theoretical possibility.

Toryism to me seems to be simply giving up on society, saying that nothing can be done and all we can do is do whatever we can to look after ourselves and immediate family. It’s saying that we would love to help, but all the other people wouldn’t help so it would be somehow morally wrong to help. Somehow these Tories claim to love their country and the people within it, yet they don’t feel they should do their bit too and they pretend to look down upon others. Perhaps the idea is that those who are lucky enough to end up with capital will spend enough of it to help their communities, but this has been shown not to happen, the rich give less proportionally of their disposable income than the poor to help others. To me Toryism is such a self-defeating doctrine. Forcing yourself to subscribe to their odd sets of rules to succeed in their games, to not be yourself to keep a hold of a comfortable income and find a weak excuse for why other people somehow actually choose to be poor. The Tory home is a castle for keeping everyone else out and all the energy is spent on fortifications, rather than building new things. In the 1980s the Tories sold off the council housing, to fund bigger walls for themselves, rather than the good of the economy as a whole. I don’t understand how Tories can justify this.

I am a Welsh nationalist, because I believe in society and the family of communities that makes up Wales, Britain and the world. To make a start improving society again I believe we have to get back to basics; making sure everyone has a home and enough to eat is surely possible in a world that has the technology we now have. To get to the point of things getting better we have to change the way politics is done, because the current system isn’t working; there are homeless people on our streets. So we need genuine democracy. Nation States, like the UK are too big to be governed as a single entity from a centralised establishment. It allows an establishment class to be cut off from ordinary people. The very last thing you want is the decision makers not understanding everyday life and the real economy; we could do with less career politicians who know how to do PR, rather than win arguments. So government needs to be smaller and more accountable. Hence Welsh independence, because Wales isn’t too big, it would be difficult to live in Wales and not have some idea of the issues effecting all the different regions of Wales, whereas in the UK we see decisions made that make things harder for Wales and then Wales get blamed for something it has no control over. Lets awaken the baby Dragon from her slumber, awaiting a home fit for her.

Which brings me to this whole Brexit con. Yes the UK leaving the EU, potentially, theoretically, gives the UK the chance for greater democratic accountability and more opportunities to improve. Yet, that isn’t happening anytime soon, until we get rid of the Tories and embark on genuine reform of democracy. i see Brexit as a wolf in the clothes of democracy. So, why are so many Tories so keen on Brexit, whilst denying any possibility of giving back control to the people of Britain? [where is the clamour for political reform?] It’s a power grab, from the very people who already have too much power. They can divide and rule and run the UK economy into the sewer to further amass capital for themselves. But eventually, all emperors fall. We need to start preparing for when they do fall, rather than wait whilst society crumbles, to start building the homes for a future democracy to live in now. We need to take back control, to re-build politics and our society. We need to re-build Wales, Britain and the world. Eventually we all get sick, our company goes bankrupt or some natural disaster happens. That is why we need society, we need those who were fortunate to have escaped the bad times to be able to help the unlucky, because next time it’s likely be the other way around and you or your kids will need someone able to help.

 

 

Bubble Popping

Remembering being a child blowing bubbles and then chasing them around popping them is not the subject of this missive. Rather I wish to consider the bubbles I live in. These days we live in social bubbles based on where we live, work and socialise. Increasingly it seems that we live more in bubbles of people who think like we do than generations past. A consequence of this bubble living is that we understand less people who are not like us and due to this we seem to be living in a society that doesn’t consider what life is like for people who are different from ourselves. We don’t consider enough people’s backgrounds or how we are different. There seems to be a tendency for this to be exposed when families who live apart gather for Christmas, suddenly we are living with people who live in different bubbles and these bubbles can burst creating arguments.

As children we make a start in life thinking that other people think broadly the same way as we do. We learn to empathise by putting ourselves in others shoes. For example when someoen says that they are hungry, we understand because we know what hunger feels like ourselves. Yet somehow as adults we do this less, perhaps because we think we know enough not to have to do this thinking as often.

So how am I different and what insights have I gained over the past year and what has happened to me this year and to the society I live in.

I am different because I have suffered from anxiety. Living with anxiety led me to analyse my social interactions very deeply, too deeply. Overcoming anxiety was partly a process of letting go, of stopping analysis, of allowing a first impression to be generally correct.

I am also a scientist, which means I have lots of experience dealing with data sets in the attempt to answer questions, to remove sources of bias as much as possible. To be exhaustive in testing data and being cautious about any conclusions reached.

Really it is perhaps safe to assume that most people do not analyse things in such great detail. Indeed, i am often surprised by how little other people seem to analyse issues to what i feel is a decently robust level. So, what has happened this year?

Work

I have not been working in science this year sadly. Instead I have been working in the supposed ‘real world’ in an office working with the largest, but least robust or reliable data sets I have ever had to. I am managed so that i am not given the time to do any rigorous analysis and have to resort to processing data in a a rough and ready way withing very short time-frames. In terms of efficiency of the business, this makes sense as the broad results will generally be improve the business situation and in any case where the results are wrong, a major reason can often be reasonably assumed and the suggestions modified; rather than spending a lot of time getting things robustly right in the first place. Often rigour or deeper analysis is seen as a luxury if there is ever tiem for it. I have found it a challenging way to work, yet it is one that I have found to be shared by sciencey friends who work on the real world; speed is more important than accuracy. Working this way does make me a little uncomfortable at times and I do crave a return to science and ‘doing things properly’. Perhaps this is how most of the world works and how decisions are made, we thus live in a world which makes avoidable mistakes.

Cymraeg /Welsh

I am still learning Welsh, but can speak Welsh now and have become a part of the culture of the Welsh language. I am now exposed a lot more to opinions about the Welsh language from people with no knowledge of Welsh at all. For example complaints about bi-lingual signs. Bi-lingual signs are provided in two languages because there are two main language communities in Wales. If you don’t know anything about the Welsh language, then what exactly is the basis for an opinion on Welsh signage? When I hear the near constant criticism of the Welsh language, which you really notice when you are a Welsh speaker, it does feel like an attack. Yet, i don’t believe it’s an attack it’s perhaps simply a disregard for people with different needs. such ‘attacks’ happen to every grouping who is different from any individual. What i don’t get is why any individual would regard communities they are members of as being ‘normal’ and only these ‘normal’ causes are worthy of attention.

Brexit

Which brings me to Brexit again. The debate about Brexit should be about analysing likely impacts of Brexit on democracy in the UK and likely changes to the economy. Yet during the Brexit vote debate and ever since, this exploration of the costs and benefits of the two options barely gets a mention. Instead Brexit has exacerbated the tensions between people of the right and people of the left and been about which side you are on.

Brexit seems to be a division between those who desire a British mono-culture, similar to that which existed in the post second world war period and those that don’t. So, being of a range of identities and perhaps as a liberal “intellectual” I have to be on the Remain side, despite all my criticisms of the EU. There is no wiggle room for people to ‘switch sides’ even when we never desired to be on one side or the other.

British is one of my identities, yet the Brexiteers position seems to be attacking my British identity, which sees Britain as a union of diverse identities. I am Welsh, it is impossible for me to envisage Britain as a mono-culture, it hasn’t ever been and never will be. The terms of the debate now have entrenched the UK population into this division and the opinion polls suggest that eighteen months on from Brexit are still 50:50 and will probably remain so.

I fear this focus on this irreconcilable division at the expense of working out what is the best way forward isn’t helpful at all. If only someone could find a solution that everyone can unify behind, but it seems the likelihood of that happening is infinitely small.

Popping Bubbles

What I really find difficult to deal with, especially with the Brexiteers, is this adopting a position that doesn’t hold up to any serious analysis even when data breaks those positions. There is merit in not analysing everything to death, to adopt a position that works okay for now, but there should always be a readiness to accept that it is inaccurate and develop a new position. This maxim applies in science and social life and especially politics where we live in an ever changing world. It allows us to be independently thinking individuals and not suffer in a herd mentality of one size fits all.

The whole Blue Passports issue came up over Christmas. If people want the UK passport to be blue, fair enough. I’m not bothered about its colour, really I’d like a Welsh passport. However, when it is pointed out that 1, The UK passport was never blue, my parents had the old style ones and I looked at them at Christmas, one is black, the other is a very dark blue and not navy blue at all and 2, The EU did not prevent the UK government changing passport colour if it really wanted to anyway. Yet despite these two facts, people still try and maintain that blue passports is an important issue, in spite of the facts.

As I see it, life is about deciding when to engage with deeper analysis and when to just move forward with a quickly framed rough and ready position that is good enough for now, enabling us to live in the moment. As an anxious person, I needed to learn how to do the latter. However for the new year, I really believe that we need to consider other people more and that means accepting that our first answer may need some testing and analysis of data from beyond our cozy bubbles. Next year lets keep running around popping bubbles, be open to new ideas and consider other people.

I’m not racist but…

It can often seem very difficult to understand what Brexit is. Yet essentially to understand it requires the busting of a number of myths about Brexit.

Brexit has never been about a rational weighing up of the clearly identifiable negatives of EU membership to the UK economy against the benefits of membership. Neither is it simply a rejection of centralisation and diminished democracy, for that should have happened at the UK level a long time ago.

Politically, Brexit was bought about by the ‘Brexiteers’, the leadership of UKIP and many in the Tory party. The Brexiteers aim was to further the cause of laissez-faire capitalism, to free capital to make more money for itself to the benefit of those already with lots of capital. This can be viewed as simply the self-interest of those with capital, the leadership of UKIP and much of the Tory party.

Capital, or wealth is only one part of an economy. Capital with too much power diminishes an economy, capital alone does not make good decisions, it needs help. A free market is not one where capital calls all the shots. A true free market is where producers and consumers interact to produce a fair price for goods and services and what those goods and services are.

The aim of the Brexiteers has been to use their influence and control of the UK media to further their cause, to pass the blame for the decline of the living standards at the EU’s door, rather than the fault of laissez-faire capitalism itself. After all these neo-liberals have gained positions of power in the UK and have learnt how to manipulate the UK electorate.

The vast majority of the people who voted for Brexit, 52% of the UK electorate are not the people with large amounts of capital, who are greedy for more power and influence. The vast majority voted for entirely different reasons I believe. What most people want in life is perhaps essentially stability and the opportunity to improve things. This stability, or basis for growth consists of three essential things: Cultural stability, Economic stability and Community support. People in the UK are concerned about the decline of these things and the Brexiteers offered them hope for change, whilst the ‘Liberal Establishment’ mistook the issue of immigration being raised again and again ad nauseum to be closet racism, which it did indeed feed upon. The concern about immigration was not about race at all, but rather the issue of immigration was a proxy for the three fears:

Cultural Stability

People within a culture, naturally want to preserve their culture for the good things it provides. A culture can absorb new arrivals and over time the new members will be assimilated into the culture, or their children will. This is eased where there is a willingness to learn about and take part in the culture. However when the levels of immigration are high, the incomers can swamp the existing culture to the extent that it is possible to live in a different culture if those immigrants all come form a different culture. There are then fewer places for the existing culture to exist and the incoming culture can come to dominate. If you are a member of the native culture, you can feel to be an alien in your own home, you lose the ability to predict how your local society will react to events, you lose the cultural stability of your own culture.

This issue is well known about in Wales; there has been the decline of the Welsh language and it’s culture. I also experienced this growing up. My area of Mid Wales had increasing number of retired people moving in from outside Wales. It only became a problem when services and employment for young people declined, forcing the young to leave. This meant that Mid Wales now has the lowest economic productivity of all of Britain, largely because the population now has a very heavy post working age population and few young people to look after them and the loss of the local culture.

The centralised UK economic model has caused the young to move to seek work. The flexibility of the young displaces older people from their work and even their local area.

Economic Stability

People want to secure enough income to be financially secure, to be able to support their family and wider community. To have enough disposable income to be able to participate in the economy, to support worthwhile enterprises in their area, rather than scrape an existence using short-term solutions to make it to the next pay cheque. People also want there to be training and employment available locally for their children to become economically active and hence support them in their old age.

Young adults and immigrants moving to an area, are more flexible and able to tolerate the inconveniences of living in the most inconvenient part of an area. The young and immigrants are more able to take on job opportunities that the established population cannot as readily. The establishment population have cultural commitments and investments that restrict there ability to move and work longer hours. If the local economy is not growing, which is now the case across Britain, then emigration from your home becomes an option, giving you the chance to be the more flexible to out-compete a resident population somewhere else. It presents a tough choice between economic stability and cultural stability.

A lot of the fear of immigration is that the only major growth area of the UK is around London. So the jobs go to the young and other immigrants who are prepared to put up with the huge inconveniences of living in London [having to travel to do anything] and loss of the support of the home culture, rather than come to where there is ample Labour awaiting work, such as the Valleys communities in South Wales.

Community Support

The great thing about communities is that they have enabled humanity to move beyond subsistence farming, to pool skills and resources to create modern societies. In a declining economy people are concerned that there will not be a hospital bed for them if they become ill, that there will not be a good school place for their child. That should some disaster hit their family then the community will not be able rally around to help them overcome it as they are overburdened by struggle themselves.

Then there are immigrants, that they will place additional demand on social services. The Liberal economist will say that this doesn’t matter because as the population grows, there is  proportionally more money for services and service levels can be maintained. However, this academic economist is talking about an ideal theoretical world. The current reality in Britain is that Social services, such as Schools and Hospital receive a lower and lower proportion of the nations money pot anyway. So, incomers will indeed put additional strain on services. Incomers also tend to require more from Social services as they haven’t built up the social capital of community support or cultural investment.

Racism

I don’t believe a lot of the racism that exists in the UK is not purely racist. Racism is prejudice towards people of a certain race. There is also prejudice towards people of different religion, hair colour, cultural background, religion, height and so on. People are people and to be prejudiced against someone for their race makes no sense, for what does it matter what colour a persons skin is.

A lot of racism is by proxy. People will see a decline in their cultural stability, economic stability or community support and when immigration levels are too high to their area this is noticed. Instead of laying the blame at the political for not investing to equalise opportunity everywhere, they will blame the immigrants. So when those immigrants happen to all be a particular race, that label sticks and over time does develop into genuine racism.

In the UK, immigrants tended to live in the poorest connected areas of cities, the most inconvenient places to live. Areas where the native population wished to leave if they could. So over time these areas became culturally dominated by certain groups, often becoming the dominant culture. It is absurd to expect a dominant culture to integrate to a minority culture without strong motivations for doing so. This was so much of twentieth century urban problems in Twentieth Century Britain. By that point racism from the native population already exists, which acts to pull the discrimated against communities together, reducing the strength of motivation to explore the native culture, which is now a journey away anyway.

But…

It doesn’t have to be like this. The Brexiteers can be stopped. We can start valuing our own cultures again, we can provide economic security to all and use that to encourage real economic growth. We can ensure our communities are supportive of all their members again, rather than a privileged few. The answer is the slogan the Brexiteers used under false pretences; Take Back Control. What we need is decisions made by the people for the people. Not to produce some socialist utopia, but to ensure that there is balance in all things, between Capital and Labour, so capital can be used to invest in things we all need, rather than used to make the majority poorer. Create balance between Public Services and Free Enterprise to maximise the economic efficiency of our communities. To ensure that every region can survive and thrive, because it has strong support networks, freeing peoples time and energy to pursue innovation and economic growth. To not allow things to become inefficient through centralisation of control . To spread wealth around, so everyone can use a small bit of the capital generated to support their own families and  communities. To do this we need democracy and decision makers to be truly accountable to their communities, rather than an elite few. We need power to reside in communities, within areas like Wales, so we can grow and make our lives more secure year on year, to not allow any individual politician to cut themselves off from those communities, that is why we need independence in Wales and indeed we should apply the same principles everywhere. We should shift from laying the blame on people who are in some way different to us to those who made the decisions that caused our loss of culture, economic stability or community support and thus regain our freedom.

 

More Democracy

In the UK we have been in a situation where a small minority actually support the government. A larger minority vote for the government of the day, but only do so because they dislike the alternatives more. This isn’t democracy. A lot of people are fed up of it.

The problems of modern capitalism are fairly established as I see it. Western democracies were lucky that over the last century that technology and innovation produced enough economic growth that even those on low incomes quality of life improved. However we are now at the point where economic growth is sluggish at best and there is a decline in living standards.

It often seems as though people are more prepared now for change, to sweep away the failing establishment that has no answers. We have seen a rise in those who aren’t from the traditional political establishment. For example the rise of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote and support for Jeremy Corbyn. These populist causes have drawn support as being agents for a change from the established order.

There seem to be parallels with the 1930s, where political extremist causes both of the right and light of politics rose in prominence, offering the hope of a return to normality. However such extreme visions do not lead back to normality, but further away from it, such as Communism and the Nazis. While these extremes can gain popular support they don’t actually offer real solutions to the ails of populations, but rather offer a short term solution to a perception of the current problems.

The solution is simple better democracy leading to solutions based around the actual political centre of a society, where everyone is part of the system and buys into the system, creating patriots. Patriotism is really nothing more than I’ll help you if you help me or the idiom, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine, it’s basically society that is necessary for organising ever more efficient use of dwindling resources. This patriotism need not be confined within a nation but extend outwards in looser arrangements.

The difficulty is that such radical centrists advocating more democracy, are often viewed as part of the establishment and not offering the chance of genuine change. I don’t think it has to be simply regime change, replacing one lot with another, but placing accountable politicians in power controlled through the democratic process.

Party politics is too much about winning power and retaining it, rather than exercise of that power for positive transformation of economies. If a politician argues for a policy but it is rejected then that politicians is of as much value as the one whose policy happened to be right or more popular. Democratic discourse should be about ideas and not a battle between movements.

True democracy comes from the bottom-up, so having smaller political bodies increases individuals voting power and forces leaders to live in the communities they govern. In large countries like the UK, the ruling class don’t have to live the life of ordinary people, so have no interest in ensuring the schools are the hospitals work well. It just seems that smaller countries, like Iceland or the Baltic states seem to do much better than the big ones. I don’t see what big states are for anymore. Supporting democracy is not about a desire to be separate, the reality is the reverse to create more accountable democracy that simply by being more accountable will aid economic growth.

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 ...

 

 

 

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.

Time for Wales!

Yesterday when the Scottish first minister announced that Scotland would be holding a second referendum on independence for Scotland, there was this irrepressible thought of why doesn’t Wales grasp the mettle and go for independence too. What exactly are we waiting for?

For me the argument is simple:

Decisions that affect the people of Wales should be made in Wales by the people of Wales.

This does raise a couple of questions: Why Wales and why now?

Often the advocate of self-government for Wales faces two reductive arguments: Why not each postcode and why not the UK. Basically I believe that there is an optimum size for a country. Too small and the community misses out on the advantages and efficiencies of scale, too large and a single common set of rules starts to leave some areas with don’t work well for that community. So, the ubiquitous ‘Area the size of Wales’ is I feel somewhere near the right compromise and in any case a coherent sense of being a country,  enough commonality in culture to work and it happens to be my home.

Now, Wales is one of the poorest countries in Northern Europe. The important question is to ask why this is. There is nothing better or worse about the people who live in Wales than anywhere else. To believe the reverse is somewhat perverse and suggests some people are somehow better than others.

To understand why people are making this argument you need to understand a merest smidgen of history and economics.

Wales rail

Take a look at the above rail map of Wales. Two thing that stands out is that there is no North-South mainline, well no North-South line at all in fact. Then you can appreciate that the railways were built to remove resources out of Wales, notably coal and steel out of South Wales to head east. The story of this coal is the modern history of Wales, lots of wealth created but only a small percentage of that invested back into Wales. Wales has never benefitted from the structural funding to provide the basis of a modern nation.

Instead and in consequence of this is that today Wales languishes near the bottom of the economic league table, seen by some as a burden to be propped up by hand-outs, which are never sufficient to truly build the Welsh economy or indeed other impoverished areas of the UK. Wales is left neglected and distracted by the machinations of the UK, such as Brexit, ever slipping further and further behind. The UK has had more than enough of a chance to do what was required for Wales to be prosperous. Not doing so was not out of any sense of malice, it’s just how politics and economics works. Surely now is the time to say we should do something about it. With independence Wales can build a better more prosperous economy for itself. Why do we in Wales always seem to sit back and wait for things to improve amd suggest the challenges to being a normal country are somehow too insurmountable for the people who put a red dragon on our flag? I don’t believe things will improve unless we all start working to improve Wales.

Arguing for Welsh independence is simply wanting the area you live or call home to improve. I think people from all over the world share this view, localism makes sense. This sentiment is not about hating anyone or blaming anyone. Wales’ neglect was never intentional, it simply happened in consequence of decisions taken elsewhere. Hence it would be better to make decisions in Wales! The question isn’t whether Wales should be an independent country but rather why isn’t an independent country.v It’s about positivity, not about why we can’t do something, but exploring how we can.

I’m Welsh and I hold a particular affection for all of  the British Isles. It’s not about separation from or abandoning England. The Republic of Ireland is already a separate state, but does not feel like a foreign country to those of us who grew up in Wales, it’s a mere ferry ride away. Wales wants England to thrive and when the time comes that all of Britain is ready for mutually beneficial cooperation as equals, Wales would be ready to take part in that. It’s not as if Scotland and England would suddenly become alien countries. The argument for Wales is simply to build a better country for the people of Wales, because no-one is going to do that for us and there is no reason why we can’t do it ourselves. But we really really need to start talking about it and not getting distracted by irrelevant arguments.