Monday 29 October 2007

Rhodri Morgan's Flying Circus

Voter: 'Ello, I wish to register a complaint.
I wish to complain about this government what I voted for not 100 days ago from this very booth
Pain: Oh yes, the, uh, the National Assembly For Wales...What's,uh...What's wrong with it?

I'll tell you what's wrong with it, my lad. 'E's dead, that's what's wrong with it!
No, no, 'e's uh,...he's resting.

Look, matey, I know a dead government when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now.
No no he's not dead, he's, he's restin'! Remarkable institution, the Welsh Assembly, idn'it, ay? Beautiful building!

The building don't enter into it. It's stone dead.
Nononono, no, no! 'E's resting!

All right then, if he's restin', I'll wake him up! (shouting at the cage) 'Ello, Rhodri! I've got a lovely Legislative Competence Order for you if you show...

(Pain hits the desk)
There, he moved!

No, he didn't, that was you hitting the desk!
I never!!

Yes, you did!
I never, never did anything...

(yelling and hitting the cage repeatedly)
'ELLO RHODRI!!!!! Testing! Testing! Testing! Testing! This is your 1999 alarm call!
(Takes Rhodri out of the bay and thumps his head on the pavement. Throws him up in the air and watches him plummet to the floor.)
Now that's what I call a dead Government.
No, no.....No, 'e's stunned!

Yeah! You stunned him, just as he was wakin' up! Welsh Assemblies stun easily, major. look, mate, I've definitely 'ad enough of this. That Government is definitely deceased, and when I voted for it not 100 days ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it bein' tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk.
Well, he's...he's, ah...probably pining for the Valleys.

PININ' for the VALLEYS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that?, look, why did he fall flat on his back the moment I got 'im home?
The Welsh Assembly prefers keepin' on it's back! Remarkable institution, id'nit, squire? Lovely building!

Look, I took the liberty of examining that government when I got it home, and I discovered the only reason that it had been sitting in the Bay in the first place was that it had been NAILED there.
Well, o'course it was nailed there! If I hadn't nailed that Senedd down, it would have nuzzled up to those bars, bent 'em apart with its beak, and just like Alex Salmond...
VOOM! Feeweeweewee!

"VOOM"?!? Mate, this Senedd wouldn't "voom" if you put four million volts through it! 'E's bleedin' demised!
No no! 'E's pining!

'E's not pinin'! 'E's passed on! This Assembly is no more! It has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'im to the Bay 'e'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-GOVERNMENT!

Monday 22 October 2007

Our Man in Hafana

One question which has been asked regarding an Independent Wales, is will we have foreign embassies, and how many?

Firstly, we will need to have a network of foreign embassies, consulates and missions, for the same reason that other countries do – to conduct foreign policy, to maintain international relations, to assist our citizens abroad, and to facilitate countries, organizations and individuals who wish to visit or do business with us.

The UK currently has over 200 such establishments, costing millions to maintain, but in keeping with our more modest aspirations, we should be looking at a similar number as Ireland or Denmark, which have only around 40-50 diplomatic missions, many of which are little more than a suite of offices – like them we simply won’t need grandiose embassy compounds, as we do not need to project (or protect) any imperialistic ambitions.

We could anticipate fully serviced embassies in our immediate neighbours – England, Ireland, Scotland & France - and with our major trading partners – Germany, USA & Japan. Elsewhere we can use strategically placed embassies and consuls to support more than one country – for example an embassy in Brussels could support Netherlands, Belgium & Luxembourg, as well as dealing with the EU & Nato. This isn’t a radical idea – others already do this, and with the help of the internet and express couriers, many countries have rationalised their consular network.

Outside of Europe, I would envisage regional consular offices in maybe South Africa (serving all of Southern Africa); Dubai (for the Middle East & North Africa); India (for South Asia); Hong Kong (for SE Asia); Australia (Oceania). In the USA we might have an Embassy in Washington plus a Mission in New York, which would serve the UN, and maybe a consulate in Los Angeles which would also cover Central America. We would only need a nominal presence in South America, and maybe here we could share facilities with say Ireland or Scotland – Belgium and Netherlands already successfully operate shared consulates for example.

There is obviously a cost to operating an independent foreign diplomatic network, but the costs of this do not need to be excessive. Also we need to remember that we are already paying for a share of the UK’s existing foreign missions, and that 5% of this current expenditure (our proportionate share) should largely cover our more modest requirements.

Thursday 18 October 2007

Plaid Repwblic?

Plaid are still struggling to come to terms with their commitment to Independence – part of the problem is that when Wales achieves independence then there would be little point to Plaid as a separate political force – a bit like turkeys voting for Christmas. Plaid also have a problem with their commitment to ‘Community Based Socialism’ – a term which means different things to different people within the party and almost nothing to the voters.

Maybe it is time to dust off the party’s Republican commitment - I have previously suggested that an Independent Wales should be a republic based on the values

Rhyddid – Tegwch – Cymuned.
I suggest that if Plaid adopted these republican values, it could square its circular commitments to independence and socialism much more easily, and give itself a much stronger ‘raison d’etre’.

Rhyddid – while standing for Freedom in the form of Welsh Independence, this also stands for Liberty or personal freedom. Plaid should campaign for a Bill of Rights which would give individuals a set of inalienable rights – rights which can not be taken away by others. An example to put this in context could be that individuals would have the right to communicate in Welsh – a right that could not be voted away by a majority English speaking electorate. It would also give the Welsh electorate the sovereign right to determine the best form of government for itself.

Tegwch – In the American Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson (a proud Welshman) stated that ‘all men are created equal’, and equality is one of the guiding values of the French Republic, and most modern democracies. But being born equal and being treated equally in life is not the same thing, and I suggest that a better principle to follow would be Fairness. Everyone in Wales, regardless of gender, nationality, language or religion, should have the right to be treated fairly.

Cymuned – The Welsh people are all citizens of the Community of Wales. We will not agree to be subjects of the monarchy or aristocracy or any other form of inherited political power, including from the military, churches, trade unions, etc. All political power should be democratically vested in the people, who are expected to actively use this power and to participate in civic duties. Maybe this is what Plaid had in mind with its ‘community socialism’, but I think that it is time to drop the S word and concentrate on the C.

And yes – Republican means anti-monarchy and Plaid should not be afraid of standing up and announcing this loudly and clearly. There is nothing to fear from alienating the dwindling band of royalists in Wales, and much to gain by giving Plaid another clear USP which will find a lot of willing support particularly among the young.

Ymlaen Y Repwblic

Monday 8 October 2007

Misinterpreting Reality

This excellent analysis was posted by MH on the icWales Politics forum. It is worth reposting in full:

In the WM yesterday we had this story entitled "Wales Economy Worst in UK". It's well worth reading, it tells you a lot about how journalism works. The story was obtained from AP but, as is usual, newspapers that take it usually change the story around a bit... just to try and make it "their own". In this particular case, though, the journalist decided to mix two stories (i.e. Halifax and an ONS regular report) and deliberately mix them up. Hardly surprisingly, this is done for political reasons. People like Bob and his bogie's pick up on it without having the first clue what the statistics mean... they only read the headline and the political conclusion. So at the risk of teaching the more sensible among us how to suck eggs, let's look at the figures and see what they mean. The Halifax story is primarily about house prices compared with earnings, concentrating on the north-south divide.

That's how it was reported elsewhere, for example in the Telegraph. Wales was not singled out at all, it was included in Halifax's "northern area". But this wasn't quite "spicy enough" for our junior hack. So he decided to embellish it, by using ONS (Office of National Statistics) data. But the figures he quoted have not been published recently, so it took a bit of research to find where they he got them from.

The only place I could find the figures online was here (pdf). This is the UK Economic Indicators report of June 2007 (this particular version highlights the Southwest, but no matter). The essence of the criticism the WM story makes is this:

Wales contributes least to the UK economy, with a GDP of only £13,813 per head. By contrast, London has boomed during this time, with a 13% increase to £24,075.

We can all see the raw figures in table 5, on page 11. They are the estimated 2005 figures for GVA (gross value added) and not GDP. But most people don't know the difference. When you see a mention of GDP in the press, 9 times out of 10 they mean GVA. But let's look at the five year difference. London went up from £18,394 to £24,075 - an increase of 30%. Wales went up from £10,920 to £13,813 - an increase of 26.5%. True, not as good as London. But certainly not too shabby. However the figures show that Wales GDP has been rising steadily every single year (the figures go back to 1997).

There is no real reason to be over-concerned about GVA, because it's only one side of the equation. If the cost of living is greater somewhere else, then you need more money to pay for it. On its own, it says nothing about standard of living or quality of life. But we need to be quite clear about what this "contribution to the UK economy" is. The main way this figure is arrived at is on the basis of taxation. And whereas things like personal income tax and NI can be accurately assessed for each country and region, other things simply aren't. These include Corporation Tax and VAT.

As myself and others have said before, the VAT you pay in Tesco is accounted as having come from Tesco's head office in Cheshunt. The Corporation Tax companies pay is accounted as having come from their head offices, not the place where their workers actually produce the wealth. Therefore these figures are no indication whatsoever of how much Wales "contributes to the economy".

People think London is the powerhouse of the UK economy. But that's just because more headquarters are based there. In fact if you look at other indicators in detail, the opposite is more likely to be true. Let's look at unemployment. Ask any half dozen people and they'll tell you that it's bad in Wales. Well, I won't argue, it could be much better. But let's look at Table 18, page 28. The unemployment rate in Wales is 5.5%. For England as a whole it is higher, at 5.7%. For London it is 7.3%. Wales has less unemployment than England, and much less than London. Let's look at another indicator, exports. Back in January, to counter the idea that Wales exports "zilch" I said this:

Look at the ACTUAL FIGURES. Download this document (pdf). Look at table 1 on page 2 and you'll see that Welsh exports (EU and World) for 2004 and 2005 were £8.3bn and £8.6bn respectively, 5% and 4.7% of the UK as a whole. For the latest quarter they're at 5.1%. With a population of 2.96m out of 60.21m, the pro-rata should be 4.9% ... so Wales is performing EQUALLY with every other part of the UK. We can stand on our own perfectly well. In terms of our exports to the EU alone, we in fact do a few percentage points better (5.9%, 5.4% and 5.2%).

Now look at this story from a rather better journalist at the WM (quoted below):

Leading way on transatlantic trade Sep 12 2007 by Aled Blake, Western Mail LATEST figures show that exports from Wales to North America have increased at a rate nearly double the UK average since 1999. Official statistics from HM Revenue and Customs show that, since devolution, exports from Wales to North America have grown by 43%, compared with a UK average of 26%. Welsh exports for the year to June were up 1% on the previous four quarters to reach a total of £9.2bn – the UK equivalent figure was down 11.6%... Sales of Welsh products to North America have grown from £1.4bn in 2004 to £2bn in 2006. Over the past three months, sales totalled £569m compared with £484m for the same period last year. North America is by far the most important export market for Wales outside the EU – which bought £5.7bn worth of Welsh goods in 2006. During the year to June, the Wales percentage increase in export sales was the third highest among the UK countries and English regions, with Northern Ireland and the North East having the highest percentage increases over the same period. Overall, total Welsh exports have grown strongly over the recent years from £8.3bn in 2004, to £8.64bn in 2005 to the latest figure of £9.15bn for the year to June 2007. In terms of sectors, the most valuable for overseas sales was machinery and transport which accounted for £3.4bn worth of exports last year.

We have good reason to be proud of what we produce in Wales (but not complacent, because we want it to improve). The picture is very clear. We produce wealth in Wales, but the profits we earn get siphoned off, and get accounted as having come from elsewhere. - That somewhere else is, I'm afraid to say, usually London.

If it were not for the distorting effect of the UK Treasury's continuing refusal to properly account where taxes come from, we would see much more clearly that London has more claim to be the "basket case" of the UK economy. Poverty is greater. The amount government spends in London is greater (£1,100 a head more than Wales gets). But there are also some very rich people in London. It is a city of huge inequalities ... the direct result of over-centralization. In another topic, I've mentioned the amount of money that's being put into Crossrail. Where's our fair share of the pie?

Another example of how London is treated as a special case is the Olympics. This is apparently now going to be classed as a "UK" project. That will mean that an equivalent (Barnett) proportion of the money spent on East London's transport and infrastructure improvements will not be given to Wales or Scotland. Yet one more example of how "identifiable spending" depends on what the government chooses to identify.

Wise up! Wales' economy is not that bad. Our relative poverty has nothing to do with all we produce, but where the profits go. When people keep perpetuating myths, you need only ask what their agenda is.

It's obvious, isn't it? To make us believe that we're not capable of running our own country.

Sunday 7 October 2007

Thanks Gordon

Just a few quick thoughts on Gordon Brown's dithering and eventual running away from an early Westminster General Election.

Firstly it reduces the risk of the following Westminster GE coinciding with the next Senedd election - It is important that WA elections are fought on Welsh issues and that differential voting practices develop.

More importantly, Welsh Labour will have to face the possibility of losing their Westminster friends in 2009, so they would be better off aiming for a Referendum on a Parliament before then. Otherwise they will face the prospect of having to plead with a Conservative SoS for any further powers.

(I have not been posting too much recently as my spare hours are fully occupied with the RWC - despite our early exit, it remains a fascinating tournament - normal service wil be resumed soon)