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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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.

#Llangennech School

I did say I was going to write about why supporting Welsh independence wasn’t  nationalism. However I’ve constantly seen this issue flare up on my media feeds over the last few weeks. Really it’s merely a storm in a tea cup. Yet the whole furore is kind of a case study of how discussion of events becomes ugly very quickly these days, with many wild accusations flying around, even arguments about motives for appealing for calm! Both sides of the argument accuse the other side of being nationalists, whether ‘Welsh nationalist’ or ‘British nationalist’

IActually there is an interesting discussion to be had about this topic. The difficulty is that a reasoned argument is buried quite deeply beneath the froth of opinionated voices.

Briefly the situation as I see it is that there is a Welsh government policy to increase provision of education in the Welsh language and have bilingual schools as this has educational benefits. There is also the option to be educated solely in the English language in Wales too. The school on Llangennech is currently dual stream, there are two cohorts of pupils, one being educated bilingually and one in English. The local council have decided to phase out the English stream and make the school a full Welsh medium school, when the current English cohort have progressed to high school.

The complaint seems to be that those families wishing to educate their child in English will have to apply to schools a few miles outside the village and these schools may have to expand. Of course it is usual in any community to resist change that makes life more inconvenient for people in those situations. This is just local news. However it has kind of erupted into mainstream mass media.

If only we lived in a perfect world. Having education in two languages does present challenges, particularly in rural areas. The problem is that small schools are being closed due to budget cuts, with children having to travel further and further to get to school anyway. In reality the educational problems in rural areas are far greater than those faced in the more populous Llanelli area. So, when primary schools are split by medium of education depending on parental choice these distances can further increase, which is detrimental to education.

From my perspective having gone to school in Mid Wales, these Llangennech families are lucky in that they have a school on their doorstep and have the choice of alternative schools within a few miles if they want an alternative. Such things get forgotten in the heat of these arguments.

Because of the rural nature of much of Wales, sometimes dual stream high schools is the only sensible option as the next school may be 30 miles or more away. However there is an argument that dual stream schools are detrimental at a primary level (5 to 11 years old). Detrimental, because one cohort are being taught in Welsh and for children from English speaking homes language immersion is important for the children to develop skills and confidence in the Welsh language, especially where there is little or no Welsh spoken in their homes. It is also detrimental to the English cohort who will be surrounded by a language they are not being taught the skills to be  able to use that language. So, from an educational perspective ending dual stream primary schools makes sense.

The educational matter doesn’t get discussed, the process of finding solutions to challenges. Instead we have a media frenzy where one side gets accused of being anti-English and the other side accused of being anti-Welsh. Whereby people are allegedly forced to speak Welsh or forced to speak English. No-one is forcing anyone to do anything, can we not all just get along with each other and find solutions that work for everybody? It would seem not.

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What incensed me was an article in this weeks Western Mail (the supposed ‘national’ newspaper of Wales). The article reported that someone had slashed  a cars tyres in Llangennech, perhaps as a consequence of the heated discussions. However the article featured a picture of two ladies holding a Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh  Language Society) banner in support of the councils decision. The point is simply having Cymdeithas yr Iaith associated with tyre slashing, suggests that they are responsible for the tyre slashing without a shred of evidence. This false connections just inflame the debate, rather than report what is going on. The newspaper have since apologised, but the damage is already done. The ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ that the modern mass media thrive on. We live in the world where if you repeat the same lie often enough, large numbers of people who don’t dig any deeper begin to accept it as fact.  We see this sort of thing going on the mass media and in social media, all the time, its just sickening. We are living in a post-truth world.

It just seems a part of all these division the mass media seem to relish stirring up. We have the Brexit divisions, everything seems us and them, so when you are somewhere in the middle and just want a practical workable solution, your voice is discounted,  it is unsettling and just seems quite quite mad. I am neither  for or against EU membership, I am not a fluent Welsh speaker (yet), nor am I completely disconnected from the Welsh language. If you’re not binary, you somehow don’t count. Well, we all count!

It’s this debates never truly end thing. There is a tendency to make things binary by going back to first principles, whether it’s the re-awake the language debate or the EU debate. Hence so much energy is spent re-hashing old arguments that there seems very little space left for: Ok, there is a broad consensus, how do we make it work and where do we go from here? This applies both to education and Brexit.

There is evidence to suggest that children in Welsh medium education, from non-Welsh speaking homes do have a tendency to struggle. Such children should be identified and given extra support and by and large they are but some do fall through the cracks, which is where the wider community can and should help. This is what pressure should be put on, not on attacking the existence of the supposed ‘other side’. These children can be supported by the Welsh speaking community and as part of that the English speaking community can help the Welsh speaking community.

Sometimes in some circumstances, like when a child from an English speaking home doesn’t receive the support for schooling in Welsh, the best option for that child is an English medium education and that option should be available just as readily as a bilingual education. Generally in most of Wales, the nearest school is an English medium school. What is desired is the option of bilingual or English medium schooling to be accessible wherever the child lives in Wales.

It is entirely possible for everyone to work together for mutual benefit. It’s called society, where we all have the time and space to develop new ideas, increase efficiency and grow our economy. We do not have to go through deciding which side we are on and then struggle to fit in because hardly anyone   actually fits in with a rigid interpretation of that sides philosophy. What is important is the children’s education, giving them the skills to succeed in the world, not to be pawns in someone else’s pointless battle.

This is Wales, some of us speak Welsh, if you don’t like it, get over it, no-ones forcing you to stay, yet of course you are welcome to stay if you wish to!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Blairism problem – why the UK Labour party is in a mess

I wrote about my pet political theory a while ago. In this theory I argued that democratic government should always tend to the centre ground, but electorates tend to push this balance rightwards. There are issues with this which has been highlighted by recent British elections: The failure of the political system to represent the interests of their electorate, partly caused by unrepresentative democracy and recently by the doctrine of Blairism.

I have discussed the real causes for this problem before: The problem of two party systems, lacking the refinement in voter choice to be truly democratic, which leads to the second problem of political parties failing to serve their electorates by becoming slaves to the direction of their parties ideology; I have argued that good ideas and solutions to issues in economies can come from thinking from across the political spectrum, but political parties tend to favour a narrow range of basis for ideas. In two party systems elections become a battle ground between the right wing party bloc and the left wing party bloc. In the UK, this is represented by the Tories (moderate right,centre right and centre) and the Labour party (moderate left, centre left and centre). The UK has the third party , the Liberals, but stuck with being a centrist party and only able to offer radical centrist policy; Liberalism  was not stuck in the middle before industrialisation created the need for left wing ideas..

The issue is when you have a political creed , that is dominant and is perceived as the political centre, in the current case the (centrist, centre-right) Blairite position.   How does this fail, as it has done recently? Simply, Blairism causes political discourse to get stuck in an ideological quagmire, it actively prevents a natural drift back towards the left.

Blairism was simply the idea that for the Labour party (or indeed any  major party), when stuck in opposition and desiring power by winning elections from in this case a right-wing Tory party, it must position itself politically as close to the Tories as possible. The Labour party left it’s traditional spread of positions to adopt a centre-right position, and any dissent from the left was criticised on purely electoral grounds. Blairism electorally, at least worked for a while, with over a decade of centre-right government. But the problems caused economically by continued long-term right wing government remained uncorrected, the UK is still politically very unbalanced. Eventually people get fed up with this failure of the political system of slow gradual decline in living standards and demand change.

How should democracy work? There should be intellectually informed debate between competing ideologies and a consensus reached about political direction, elected representatives should reflect the prevailing arguments of their time. The job of a politician is to make decisions based on the best available evidence and argue the individual case, not to persuade or cajole from an ideological basis. The concern of the electorate, is simply to choose people to represent them who are good decision makers, who understand the specific needs of their local area and highlight local concerns. Policy and directional debate should be held by civic society as a whole. Politicians should reflect society, and not have an agenda of their own. Of course as individuals they have their own ideology and thus a range of positions by viable candidates is selected between. In modern times, instead of the best decisions being made, there is a kind of mob rule by the media and desire for power by sections of society. For example in 1970s Britain the Trade Unions held too much power. Now the corporations, big businesses, hold too much power. There should be no egos, or fear of ideas not carrying the day, When the government is too right wing, right wing people should continue to argue their case, create ideas, play their role, but be happy for them to be largely rejected at these times. Rather than see not being in power as a failure and seek to gain power by any means available. Arguments should be won, rather than campaigns winning based in misinformation.

I recently described the UK EU referendum result has highlighted a huge disconnect between the political class and the people and expressed a deep dissatisfaction with the establishment and status quo. Arguably, this effect has been in evidence since the economic crash of 2008, but the disconnect happened long before that.

This change manifests itself by a rejection of the political establishment, on these rare occasions elections offer such an opportunity, the FPTP electoral system does not offer this, the political class should be respecting this and change, rather than exploit the situation as they seem to be doing for ideological party ends.  When this disconnect occurs, people seek solutions and become attracted to more radical options and political parties to the left and right of the prevailing orthodoxy. Democratically, this is a problem, as instead of a united opposition to the status quo, dissent splits two ways, rather than a traditional correction to the left or right. This effect can be seen in recent UK elections:

In Scotland the SNP has assumed a dominant position from the left (but isn’t actually left wing itself), whereas in England the UKIP have gained support as a far right party, hence evidence of dissent splitting two ways. In Wales, we also see this split, the support for Labour is down, but oppositions splits left to Plaid and right to the UKIP, yet the UKIP have gained the lions share of dissent. There is an important difference between the parties to explain this. UKIP are an ideologically right wing party, whereas Plaid Cymru are a devolutionist civic nationalism party. Plaid Cymru has no ideological left or right wing ideology, it is is dominated by the left at the moment because that is largely where the solutions to Wales’ difficulties is. Plaid perhaps attracts less dissent  as it’s struggle is not on the left-ring wing spectra, but is a movement for the devolution of political power. There are also the issues of the media, right wing and London dominated, giving lots of coverage to UKIP and a purely Welsh party struggles to get it’s voice heard.

Government breaks down when it itself becomes a slave to it’s own  ideology. For a functional governance requires attention given to ideas and solutions from across the political spectrum, right through centre to left. Governments fail when they ignore these other voices. The trouble is political parties are antagonistic to other parties and inspire party loyalty. This party loyalty, perhaps narrows the vision of it’s members. We can see this in the current Labour party leadership crisis and in the Tory party.

As a result of the success of the Blairite project in the late 1990s and 2000s, the parliamentary party is dominated by Blairite centrists, contains a handful of centre-left politicians and even fewer moderate left wing people. As such, it is unresponsive and stuck in the Blairite  ideology. However, the mood has changed, the UK population are seeking change and Labour is failing to perform it’s role as a left wing party (the problem with Blairism). It’s support and party members, voted in a leader from the left of the party, because an ever higher proportion of left wing solutions  is what is required to re-balance the economy. This leader is Jeremy Corbyn, but the parliamentary party in  no longer reflecting the electorate of the centre and left, so as has been reported, rather over zealously in the media, is this conflict between Corbyn and the parliamentary party. The Labour party structure, directly because of Blairism has mired itself,  has been slow to change with the times, it’s leaders are disconnected from it’s natural support.

The issue is that with the major left of centre political party bloc in England neutered like this, partly it is because there is no major alternative left wing party. Well, there is the Green party, but the Green party are not an ideologically left wing party, it’s agenda is set instead by green economics and environmentalism. It means all the disaffection from voters goes the other way, to the far right and the UKIP and nasty fascist things start to happen, as we are seeing. So, how do Labour sort this out quickly, before they split or implode, leaving the UK stuck with a n even more right wing government, pulling the country further down in it’s standard of living for the majority. The right wing people should not be winning many arguments in such times!

My solution would be to keep Mr Corbyn as leader, campaigner and a figurehead of the change in direction of the party, because there is no-one markedly better to fulfil this role to make up for the cost of public disunity. However a deal should be struck that a new deputy leader or somesuch of the centre left, deals with policy, with the aim of striking a balance of consensus between the parliamentary members (mainly an assortment of  centrists), ordinary party members and the leader (moderate left), this should  also satisfy the electorate and be right for Britain,  Labour will then be offering the right sort of change, and not only the changes called for by any one grouping.

This all needs to be achieved within the context of the UK and EU crisis. Firstly leaving the EU needs to be put on hold for the time being and a clear message sent to the EU and the world, that the UK is remaining for the time being, whilst we sort ourselves out. Then , if the arguments and desire for leaving the EU still hold, those options should be explored, there is a very clear desire for a new relationship with the EU, but no consensus on what that should be, which is a huge problem. Indeed part of the desire for change was for less centrist control, a rejection of further EU integration, but continued cooperation. A vote to reject the leaders of the political class, for a return to the principles of democracy. This is what the UK needs to do, it is what the UK voted for. Sadly it seems the political class will fight  tooth and nail to cling to their own power and party victories, to the detriment of the economy and population of the British Isles as a whole. This is why Mr Corbyn should remain as figurehead for a new direction, for a politics of political argument, rather than party spin. Then the UK can be rebooted as a new democratic force,  prosperous and out-looking to the rest of the world.

 

 

A very British crisis

What a crazy, heartbreaking few days it has been. Slowly it has dawned on the world that the UK voted to leave the EU. Most people did not expect this outcome, including the UK government which asked for the referendum to enable it to win the last election.This has been more political change, more history in a matter of days than we usually get in years. The big subsequent revelations are that David Cameron has resigned as Prime Minister and made clear that nothing concrete will happen until at least September. The upshot of this is that it revealed that the government had no plan whatsoever for this eventuality. As I write the British civil service is frantically  working on all the possible options to put to the UK leadership, when the UK eventually has one. Somehow the government will have to bumble through the next few months or even years in a very British way until some sort of solution is found. Remembering the leave campaign, there were many conflicting ideas about what a Brexit could mean, but no coherent plan, only a list of possibilities.

This extended period is a crisis and potentially tragic: Firstly for plunging the economy into an extended crisis, because financial markets hate uncertainty. Secondly because immigration was a focus of the debate, without the issue being properly addressed, in consequence it has inflamed racism in the UK. The media has been full over the last weekend of attacks on both European citizens and those who are not purely of white Caucasian descent.  With both the two major political parties, the Conservatives and the Labour party, deciding to enter into the internal squabbling of leadership elections, it leaves most of the UK without effective leadership and no clear answers to many questions.

On top of all this is the constitutional crisis’. Scotland voted to remain in the EU and retain the option of holding a referendum to remain in the EU, adding to the complexity of any change in arrangements with the EU. This is further complicated by the issue of timing. The easiest option may be for Scotland to vote and if the vote is yes negotiate leaving the union of the UK, before the issue of the EU is dealt with, then separate talks can be conducted between the EU and Scotland and between the EU and the remaining parts of the UK. However, there have been suggestions of a new deal with the EU, which Scotland may be happy with and remain in the UK, in which case the EU would have to be prepared to negotiate everything before Article 50 is invoked, then either a fresh referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal or a UK general election to everything some sort of legitimacy. There have been many suggestions, and much U-turning from various EU authorities over if and when any negotiations can take place, I have never known so many politicians U-turn in such a short space of time. Furthermore the issue of getting Brexit through the UK parliament isn’t clear with a majority of MPs, the peoples representatives, in favour of remaining in the EU by around 500 to 150. It is entirely possible that after all the chaos, it may be decided that it is simply easier and less traumatic to stay as a full member of the EU after all, the vote wasn’t actually about Europe as such and more an expression of dissatisfaction with the political establishment (see my previous post), to shrug and proclaim that “We’re British, you did know that we are all quite quite mad didn’t you?” . Or possibly put Brexit on hold whilst the UK deals with it’s own internal issues first, which may take years. Meanwhile the people of Britain have somehow got to get on with our daily lives through a possibly extended period of uncertainty.

Then there is Northern Ireland which  voted for Remaining in the EU too, even the Unionist communities were not completely behind Brexit. Basically, it’s an issue for Northern Ireland for various reasons: One, the border to the Republic of Ireland is open [no border controls], many roads criss-cross the border, erecting an official international border would be a nightmare. Two, citizens of Northern Ireland hold dual citizenship rights of the UK and the Republic of Ireland (which is in the EU), effectively meaning Northern Irish citizens would retain full EU citizenship, even though they may live in a country outside the EU. Three, any change in the status of Northern Ireland risks re-igniting the long and bloody conflicts of the troubles of Northern Ireland, the peace between the two sides in which has been after a very long struggle, agreement between the two sides is still fragile, this is a huge huge risk.

Then there is Wales, which has kind of been forgotten about amidst these huge difficulties Wales voted for Brexit, but again, whether this is the true desire of a majority in Wales isn’t clear. Wales is waking up to the fact that it could be left as the even poorer relation of England, run by a rUK (remainder of the UK) government not in the interests of Wales. Wales receives large amounts of regional funding from the EU, largely because the UK government neglects investing in the regions, as most other states do. We are waking up to some potentially very dire drops in our economic condition. Wales could be the big loser from all of this.

However there is always hope. For a devolutionist like me, our hour may have perhaps come. A solution may be full federalisation of the UK. By which each country of the UK achieves full statehood, whilst retaining membership of the United Kingdom (kind of like a mini EU) on equal terms.  England could even have it’s own regional parliaments to sort out it’s own regional funding issues. a constitutional quirk of the UK is that England does not have it’s own parliament, using the UK parliament for solely English matters. It can be imagined that the the Houses of Parliament could retain two chambers, an all England parliamant and an all UK parliament.

The advantages of a federal UK could be the solution to this crises and deserve consideration. The issue of borders would not apply, borders would remain open, each state could impose whatever restrictions they wanted to on non-nationals owning property and working in the country, whilst allowing people and goods to pass through unimpeded. Each region would be free to make it’s own relationship with the EU. For example, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland could, if they wished, remain full EU member states, whilst England could have a separate relationship, doing whatever it wants such as restricting inward migration and being free of EU regulations etc. Each state could even ‘dual currency’ having their own currency and a common UK currency. Of course the rest of the EU would need time to accept a federal UK as a very special region, but I think it could be a workable solution, that could keep all parties reasonably happy. There is a precedent in the position of Greenland, Greenland is part of Denmark but not in the EU, whilst Denmark itself is in the EU.

I have long been an advocate of federalisation of the UK, it may just be an idea whose time has come and a way of resolving the various continuing crisis of the UK.

Real Politics

I haven’t written much on this blog recently. I have been busy with the Welsh elections. I was so upset with the Conservatives winning the last UK general election, that the UK would face another 5 years of things getting worse and worse, so I felt I should be doing more about it.

Part of this was returning to trying to comprehend the mentality of what causes people to support the Tories. I have made some progress but I still don’t quite get it! I do listen to the arguments of conservatives, but I just find the arguments so flawed, I have profound issues with the assumptions they make.

Elections are not decided by the politically decided, by those who have thought long and hard and done research. Elections are decided by the voting of the majority, by people who have other priorities in life beyond politics. Indeed it is important for everyone to have a life outside politics, especially politicians!

So I have spent time going out and about, knocking on doors and speaking to people about the election and delivering leaflets in the sunshine and the rain. It has been a fascinating experience, to be exposed to so many views on politics and perceptions of the elections.  have been surprised by how friendly people have been. Yes, I have had the odd door slammed in my face when they saw my rosette, but for the most part people have been very friendly and understanding of what I was doing. What has surprised me was the number of people who really are floating voters, people who change the party they support from election to election. Although maybe  the politically decided are more quick to state who they support, which tends to bring the conversation to a rapid close. Door to door canvassing is important, it shows people that party supporters do care about our communities and I feel it is very effective. It is rare for people to be exposed to people who think differently to their social group.

This election there has been a deluge of political leaflets through my door, because my local constituency was deemed to be marginal, in that the local result could go more than one way. However such leaflets are not terribly effective, almost every party says the same things : We want to improve the Welsh economy, the education system and the health service. Well d’uh! who wouldn’t want these things! Speaking to people face to face allows communication of what the party stands for, the basis for the policies of improving things, on this there is a lot of confusion.

It should be obvious from my earlier posts that I am a Plaid Cymru supporter. however there does seem to be  a lack of understanding of what this party stands for and why I support this party. The challenge for Plaid remains moving beyond the perception that all the party care about is independence for Wales and the Welsh language. whilst these things are important to the party, they are not the reason for it’s existence, they are consequences of what the party stands for. Basically the party stands for devolution, the idea that decisions affecting a community should be made with the consent of the local community for the betterment of that community. It just so happens that Wales is a ready made wider community and the perfect size for economic decisions to be taken. Really, Plaid Cymru are not a party driven by an ideological basis in the traditional sense of left, right or centre. It is a pragmatic party that will do the best for the community, for every community in Wales, surprisingly this is sometimes perceived as a radical position.

This is why I have problems with the other parties, Labour, Conservative or Liberal. Often these parties make policy based on ideology rather than what works best for the community as a whole. Political ideology is important, it can guide thought towards greater understanding and solutions. However, practical solutions to the different problems in society can stem from all kinds of ideology, it is better to analyse what would work better than be constrained by ideology, to look at effects on communities rather than any other consideration. Yes, Plaid is perceived as a left -wing party, but that is only because over the last thirty years, things have been skewed by right wing ideology, a re-balance from capital to labour and the state is needed. In a world where the Chinese government subsidise Chinese steel production, the state needs to intervene to protect a vital industry.

What has been interesting is meeting some dyed-in-the-wool Labour supporters. Many have said to me that they like Jeremy Corbyn (The UK Labour party leader), but are uncomfortable with the direction taken by the Labour party in Cardiff. It is has been interesting to note after the election results that in many traditional Labour voting areas in Wales, the Plaid Cymru vote share has increased.

The other interesting thing was attending the vote count last week. In Wales we have a semi d’Hondt electoral system, where you vote for a local constituency candidate and a regional list candidate, to add some proportionality to the system. So viewing the how people voted on the two papers was fascinating. It was also interesting to observe how civilised members of differing political parties were towards each other. Whilst we all had profound ideological hated of what other parties stood for, we were able to be polite and civilised to each other, to share a cup of tea to keep us going at 4am in the morning!

 

 

Devolution

It is probable that I write more about politics on this blog than I would perhaps like. Part of the reason I’d rather not is that I assume people have spent a lot of time thinking about politics and that the arguments for positions are well known and at least understood, even if not agreed with. For example ‘Question Time’, where politicians avoid answering questions from the audience and other panellists often stand out by actually expressing their opinions. What sometimes seems clear is members of the public not really understanding the issue and quite often it seems that politicians don’t understand either. In the case of politicians there is a least the suspicion that they do understand but hide this for some reason, yet in the case of members of the public it is likely that such misunderstanding is genuine.

I wrote a while ago about why Plaid Cymru, seem to struggle to make electoral progress in the face of an under-performing Labour administration in the Welsh government and probably the worst government in history at the UK level. Plaid Cymru are saddled with the impression that they are nationalists and are only for speakers of Welsh, neither of which is really the case. Furthermore, in the light of the forthcoming UK European Union (EU) membership referendum, the issue of why people can be in favour of withdrawal from one union, the UK, yet be in favour of continued membership of another, the EU. Superficially, there is a point, it seems contradictory, but it isn’t at all.

I am surprised by this misunderstanding, perhaps a lot of people don’t understand what the argument for devolution is about. This lack of understanding is not  merely Unionist political spin. In any case isn’t wishing to leave one union, the EU, yet be in favour of retaining another, the UK, also superficially inconsistent. Perhaps there is a similarity in logic, in principle, but the two positions are far part practically and ideologically
Personally I am in favour of independence for Wales as things stand, but would not describe myself as a nationalist. The argument for devolution is all about democracy

Devolutionists believe that political power should belong with the people, that power is granted to central bodies from local communities with consent  (and can be withdrawn if necessary) and gain mutual benefits and efficiencies of working at larger scales and that decisions should be made as locally as practicable.

The argument is that the Welsh economy could do better if freed from the restraints of a UK government that favours the financial sector (which is very small in Wales) and supports the economy of South East England, to the detriment of everybody else. Wales is now one of the, if not the poorest, region in Northern Europe. Wales used to be one of the wealthier regions, this wealth was generated from the coal and steel industries, though arguably much of the actual wealth went to London, rather than staying in Wales.

Modern economies are cyclical, with periods of growth and recession. The role of government is perhaps to attempt to manage this, by sustaining growth by not allowing the economy to expand too quickly and then acting to boost the economy to minimise the effects of recession. In larger states, such as the UK, a problem is that the economy is divided into regions with different local economies. In the UK there is a divide between the South East of England and everywhere else. So, what has happened is that when the South East is growing too quickly, interest rates were raised to control this expansion. The problem with this is that the rest of the UK, is only just entering into a growth phase and this expansion is prevented by UK fiscal policy. This would not be so much of a problem if the state, the UK acted to mitigate the imbalances, but this isn’t really done and the media often suggest it is the rest of the UK’s fault that it is relatively poor, rather than simply admit it’s part of how large states work.

In Wales, we remember the Miners dispute of the early 1980s. The argument for closing the mines wasn’t terrible. The mines were basically just about paying their way and not making a profit as the international price of coal fell. so the idea that closing them, so the workers could then do something more productive made sense. However, infrastructure was not put in place of the mines, opportunities for enterprise were not provided. So, what happened instead of communities breaking even, the communities of the South Wales valleys lived off unemployment benefits from central (UK) government. So in reality, closing the mines cost the UK money, and made living in the valleys more depressing than when there was high employment. Arguably there was also an agenda about attacking the power of the trade union movement, so it didn’t really matter about the valleys, the end justified the means, it allowed South East England to prosper, but of course it does matter, especially if you live in Wales!

Part of the issue is the problem of centralisation. Centralising things can confer benefits and great efficiencies however centralising creates executive elites which creates problems for the majority not in the elite. Imagine a political union as much like a club, I’ll use the example a sailing club.

People can join a sailing club by paying an annual membership fee. In return members receive benefits, such as use of club boats, training, social events and opportunities to enter competitions. The point of being a member is that it is much cheaper to be a member rather than do it all by yourself, which would be more expensive. So, like any club an executive committee is elected to run the club, which regularly meet together to organise the running of the club. Generally, the committee will be the more committed sailors, people who make the most use of club facilities, do more sailing and generally get more out of  their membership fee, than a more casual member. This can become a problem if the committee or elite start running the club for their own benefit, because the ordinary member will remain a member even if it is only slightly better to be a member than paying for everything themselves. They may even consider leaving the club in such circumstances, but refrain because of the high costs of buying their own boat. However if anyone is overly greedy, they would be likely to find themselves voted out of office at the next Annual General Meeting (AGM).

If it is imagined that this sailing club is compared to an international political union, many parallels become apparent. As I argued above, the UK does have an executive elite that serves it’s own interests rather than the good of the membership/citizenry generally and an electoral system that makes it difficult to boot out the elitists. So, with the case of say Welsh independence from the UK, there would be huge costs of separation for Wales: new systems such as  new tax systems, new laws and a new judicial system, new systems for businesses and individuals and costs due to economic uncertainty from the wider international community. However, where membership of a union is more costly than independence, in the long term, the country would be better off governing themselves. Of course Wales would not exist in isolation, it would then wish to cooperate for mutual benefits with the wider international community, but would at least do it on it’s own terms and have the political infrastructure to withdraw from any agreement that didn’t have a net benefit. Having the means to leave relatively easily, encourages the union to look after all it’s members.

So, my ideal would be for a maximum amount of devolution, self-determination, the political systems for independence to remain in place and a functional representative democracy. Then international agreements can be entered into and left when there is a benefit for doing so. It is still possible this way to enter into wide ranging agreements where there is a net cost in some areas and benefits in other areas. Cooperation can use the existing political infrastructure, provided it is not removed.

Perhaps a difficulty with long terms unions, such as the UK or the EU, is there is a tendency to lose local systems to central authorities, for example the European Central Bank for Eurozone (EZ) countries and it seems that such arrangements are difficult to leave. I would argue that the ability to leave is central for such cooperation to work.

In the proverbial nutshell, membership of international agreements should be based on a rational assessment of the benefits and costs for the economy as a whole, as long as there is a net benefit of membership, you join to stay a member.

My arguments for Welsh independence, stem simply because I am Welsh. I would be just as in favour of a new federal state formed of say, Wales, South West England, Northern England, Scotland and possibly Ireland, the similarities in the economies would enable a strong beneficial union. The argument for devolution is universal.

So, to answer the question of why you can argue for more independence from the UK, whilst arguing for continuing membership of the EU. The simple answer is that there is a net benefit from EU membership, but not from  UK membership

A longer answer is that the UK keeps (mysteriously) electing Conservative governments, whose policies don’t help Wales or it’s economy, they actually make it gradually worse. Wales exists in a political union where the electorate are governed by political parties that don’t command a majority in Wales. So, independence would free Wales to run it’s own economy , have a more representative government and improve it’s GDP.
So, why do devolutionists want to remain in the EU? Because the EU is a slow cumbersome organisation, that doesn’t change things rapidly in reaction to current media trends. When it does make a policy is more general as it has to work across most of the EU, so tends to have a less negative effect on the Welsh economy than a UK decision, the bias towards some regions found in the UK is less at an EU level.
Whilst devolutionists want democracy and local power, they are also internationalists who believe in cooperation for mutual benefit, to work together with neighbours and partners for mutual benefits, rather than be dictated to by centralised governments we have no influence over. The EU does lack democratic accountability, this is it’s main failing, but hopefully this can be rectified, although this may take some time, it needs to be the priority. The oil of common systems and regulations is generally beneficial and to some extent buffers the desire of individual governments to remove benefits for ordinary members to serve their own elites.

So really, I seek an independent Wales in a heavily reformed, more democratic EU and a close relationship with rUK, working together for mutual advantage, with common systems where there is a net benefit to ordinary people or the wider economy. Basically the idea is establish democratic control first, then cooperate, rather than just grumble about the problems of a centralised dictatorial elite.
I have written quite a long answer, but I hope you would agree at least that there is an argument for leaving the UK, but remaining in the EU, though you may disagree and see the balance of benefits and costs differently for each possible union.
If the UK was a fully federal, level playing field, I would not be arguing to leave the UK as then the benefit of being a member of bigger state would be mutually advantageous. If the EU becomes even more dictatorial I would advocate leaving that too. It all about the balance of power, whether the advantages outweigh the benefits, and they constantly change.
The whole EU remain/leave referendum is not a simple question at all and does bring the  question of devolution and democracy to prominence.