Sunday, September 15, 2019

BURYING BAD NEWS


If the Welsh Labour Government in Cymru / Wales was looking for a good day to bury bad news for the people of Newport then perhaps Wednesday 28th August was probably a good day. 

I mention this because back in April 2017, a list of 12 potential new and revived railway station sites was made public which would go a long way towards adding connectively to various parts of our country’s poor railway network and potentially reducing road congestion. 

On the 28th August 2019, it was revealed that the original list of 12 has now become  4  - when another list of 4 was published. Now this is not a definitive list, and there are no guarantees that  these 4 prospective railway stations will eventually be built or re-opened as they have to go on for yet further assessment in Westminster. 

The lucky 4 prospective railway stations are: 

  • Ely Mill/Victoria Park in Cardiff
  • St Clears in Carmarthenshire
  • Deeside Industrial Park/Northern Gateway
  • Carno in Powys

The railway stations which did not made it through the assessment are:

  • Llanwern
  • Newport Road/Rover Way
  • St Mellons
  • Cockett
  • Landore
  • North Wrexham
  • South Wrexham
  • Llangefni

It is important to remember that control of our railway infrastructure investment is not devolved to Cymru / Wales - a decision largely made by the then Labour Government in Westminster.  it still remains with the UK Westminster Government, all the Welsh Labour Government does is draw up a short list of suggestions.

All potential stations go through three stages of assessment.

  • The first looks at Welsh Transport Appraisal Guidance criteria and consideration of the Wellbeing and Future Generations Act.
  • The second looks at the strength of the financial and economic case for a new station and advice from Network Rail on deliverability.

  • The third is "development and assessment of the highest priorities".

To help narrow the list down, station demand forecasts were drawn up which are designed to give a likely viability of proposed stations. This may actually sound a more scientific and rational process than it is. It is worth remembering that the anticipated number of passengers who were expected to travel on the reopened Ebbw Vale line to Cardiff in 12 months travelled on the new service in the first 4 months. 

A word of warning - please don’t hold your breath in anticipation of any regular train service from Ebbw Vale to Newport - we may yet have along wait. The 7,000 + householders who will end up living on the Llanwern site will have no option but to use their cars or the bus service to get to and from work. Not pushing for a railway station at Llanwern will directly impact on the congestion in an around Newport, on the SDR and the existing M4. 

Any proposal will only be successful with "a sound business case" and the assessment "increases the ability of station proposals to be in a position to benefit from funding calls" - and that decision will be made in Westminster rather than here in Cymru / Wales. A Welsh Government spokesman said: "The stations that scored the highest in the assessment will now be taken forward. The proposals for the remaining stations will be considered when additional resources become available."

It is also worth noting that the process is ongoing and there is no date for any potential reopening of any station. Considering that for the last 3 years Westminster has been tearing itself apart over BREXIT it would be a safe bet that it may be a while before any Westminster government focuses on Cymru / Wales and our national interests. Decisions about railway infrastructure development need to be made here in Cymru / Wales, not in Westminster.

Monday, September 2, 2019

SAVE THE ORB


Welsh Government must do “all it can” to prevent “devastating” closure

Responding to the news of the closure of the Orb Electrical Steels base in Newport, Plaid Cymru shadow minister for the economy Rhun ap Iorwerth AM said,

“This really is devastating news for the workforce and their families, and its terrible news for steel-making and the wider economy of Wales. Orb is a specialist steel maker, which could be a major contributor to potential emerging industries in Wales including renewable energy and electric vehicle production.

“I’ve repeatedly called for a major summit on Wales’s economic future. This is further evidence of why it’s more important than ever to have the clearest possible focus on the threats facing us, and the opportunities that need to be sought out at this time of unprecedented uncertainty.”

“Plaid Cymru is asking Welsh and UK Governments to investigate all possible interventions – from joint investment to even taking it into public ownership, such is the importance of keeping this specialist capability.”

Plaid Cymru Assembly Member for South Wales East Delyth Jewell added,

“This is terrible news for the committed steelworkers and my heart goes out to all affected by today’s announcement. The Welsh Government needs to do all it can to try to save these jobs and should consider taking the plant into public ownership, as the specialist products the plant produces could play an important role in the development of the strategically vital renewables sector in Wales.

“They should also demand an immediate top-level meeting with Tata chiefs in order to press on them their responsibility to uphold prior commitments they’ve made to their workforce, since it was only last year that workers agreed to accept less generous pensions provisions in exchange for a guarantee they could keep their jobs. While I understand that workers will be offered a chance to relocate, this simply isn’t possible for many who have deep roots in the area and lack the financial means to uproot their lives at short notice.

“There are questions to be raised once again about how the Welsh Government appears to have been caught unaware by an announcement of job losses within the manufacturing sector in Wales, and I will be asking for an explanation from the Economy Minister about what he’s been doing to try to protect these jobs over the past few months."

DIWEDD / ENDS

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

TAKING BACK CONTROL - PERHAPS NOT...


It may all comes down to numbers in the end, one way or the other for Boris As a result of the cuts to police numbers introduced by the Conservative - Liberal Democrat coalition since 2010 there are at least 500 fewer police officers are on our streets in Cymru / Wales. Boris's promise of 20,000 extra police officers - is nice, save for the fact that we are already 19,704 police officers down since 2010. Boris would basically take us back to were we were in 2010 - with a next gain of 296 police officers in England and Wales. Save of course that they are not all coming to Wales, so even if we got 5% of them (say 25) that would still leave down by 480. If policing was devolved and funded on a population basis as is the case with other policy areas our Welsh police forces would receive upwards of £20 million more per year. Policing is devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland, making our National Assembly the only devolved legislature not to have any control over its nation’s police forces. Once again, we remain the poor relation amongst the devolved institutions across these islands. Perhaps it’s time to take back control…from Westminster.

Friday, August 23, 2019

THE BACKSTOP TO BREXIT?


It's that man again!
One of the key lines being continually pushed by the Brexiters is that the backstop (draft emergency provisions to ensure no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland) is fundamentally undemocratic and it has to go. Oddly enough it's not perceived as undemocratic in Northern Ireland - where pretty much every elected politician is in favour of it. Political opposition from within Northern Ireland to the Brexiters position may be one of the reasons why successive Conservative governments have dragged their feet when it comes to helping to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland that and their parties on-going cash induced relationship with the DUP - who themselves have their own reasons for avoiding local democratic scrutiny.

If nothing else this position in relation to the Irish backstop has exposed a few hard truths. It's very clear if not obvious that Brexiters (many of whom hail from a particularly narrow and actually quite unrepresentative narrow elite) have never had any meaningful or realistic understanding of Ireland - North or South or other matters. Not that long ago I can recall overhearing conversations (in another place for want of a better phrase) openly and genuinely bemoaning the fact that Ireland had left the UK and that Hong Kong had to be (sadly) returned to China, etc. This sort of thing, if nothing else displays a lack of understanding of recent and not so recent history, and is perhaps this is the backstop too Brexit. 

What's certainly true is that Ireland never appeared on this elites radar before or during or initially after the referendum campaign - one of the possible  consequences of a return to a hard border is the undermining of the peace process. Then late and very deeply missed Steffan Lewis flagged this up some years ago. Looking dispassionately at the Conservative and Unionist Party's often tortuous relationship with the Irish political dimension in these islands - it's clear that they have been happy from time to time to play the unionist card - with scant of little thought toward the short, medium or longer term consequences - particularly for Northern Ireland or the rest of us.

It should be clear to most people by now that if Boris Johnston had a clear Conservative majority in Westminster and was not dependent upon the support of the DUP then he would have been pushing even harder for a No deal - regardless of the consequences for Northern Ireland and the rest of us. None of this bodes well for the future of devolution in these islands, if the Conservatives don't understand Northern Ireland, are surprisingly indifferent to Scotland and genuinely don't even perceive Cymru / Wales, then they are very different in outlook to their pre 1979 conservative predecessors who could be said to have spoken for the Union as a whole.  

The Brexiter Conservatives are perhaps for the first time in the modern era (or at least since the early 17th century) quite openly focused on England (and its a particularly unrepresentative narrow view of England at that) or perhaps a Greater England. The problem is we are no longer living in the 17th century - the world and these islands have changed. At a very basic level the failure to understand the complexities of situation in Ireland is quite revealing. Unfortunately it masks (barely) what I believe to be a complete failure to accept or understand devolution (or a deliberate choice) in its varied formats across these islands. It gives a focus perhaps to the quietly as yet unarticulated politics and vision of the UK post Brexit - a unitary centralised non devolved state - which is not good for the rest of us on these islands. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

51 YEARS ON


Thursday 22nd August 2019 will be the 51st anniversary of the Soviet led invasion of Czechoslovakia, it’s an anniversary that increasingly passes largely unnoticed save perhaps in Prague. Now that the Soviet Union is history, even with Russia on the rise in the east, people have plenty of other things to be concerned about.  It’s been 51 years since Soviet troops and most but not all of their Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia on August 21st 1968

Prague street scene - 51 years ago
The Warsaw Pact invasion crushed the political and economic reforms known as the Prague Spring, led by the country's then new First Secretary of the Communist party Alexander Dubcek.  Leonid Brezhnev and other Soviet hard-liners in Moscow, probably correctly in the light of later events between 1989 and 1991, at least from their narrow perspective, saw the reform movement as a serious threat to the Soviet Union's hold on the Socialist satellite states, they decided to act. In the first hours on the 21st August 1968 Soviet planes began to land unexpectedly at Prague's Ruzyne airport, and shortly Soviet tanks would soon be trundling through Prague's narrow streets.  

The Soviet-led invasion helped establish the Brezhnev Doctrine, which Moscow said allowed the U.S.S.R. to intervene in any country where a Communist government was under threat. The Soviet backed occupation of Czechoslovakia lasted until the velvet revolution brought an end to the Communist dictatorship in November 1991 as the Cold War ended. It was always contested - the reformist communists were finally defeated in the mid 1970's just as detente created the Helsinki accords which inspired Charter 77. Russia’s attitude to the invasion can still touch raw emotions, evens in the Czech and Slovak republics. 

Tensions in the relationship between the Czechs and Slovaks (and other nationalities) has existed since the republic was formed in 1918. The perception that Prague (and the Czechs) ran the republic touched a raw nerve in different parts of the republic. Ironically the Communist dictatorship which was resisted by dissidents, former reformist communists and ordinary citizens, kept the lid on tensions within Czechoslovakia between Czechs and Slovaks. 

The West's focus on Prague, the Czechs and the former Czech dissidents meant that tensions between Prague and Bratislava were largely, but, not entirely missed. The welcome regular pronouncements about curbing the arms trade and arms exports did not go down well in Slovakia were a significant portion (but not all) of arms production was based. With the dictatorship gone, it took only a few years for the former state to split into the Czech and Slovak republics - both of whom became independent states on January 1st 1993, joining the the EU in May 2004 as they returned to Europe.

Now the Velvet revolutionaries are well into middle age, as are the rest of us who watched the fall of the wall and communism in Eastern Europe. Now the visible symbols of communism are long gone, the unemployed and the homeless, invisible under communism are back as are the gleaming shopping centres and the well stocked supermarkets are part of normal life rather than the preserves of the communist elite. 

In Prague the Communism museum is increasingly difficult to find, and perhaps healthy or irrelevant to younger Czechs. More importantly perhaps a generation of Czech and Slovak voters have grown up with democracy and no fear or a personal understanding of the fear of the secret police, the knock on the door in the night, or border guards and informers. They also don't have to worry about any consequences of expressing their opinions in work, education or at leisure and they have also have no limits on their no freedom of movement (beyond costs) within the EU - all of which has to be the ultimate positive. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

A NET GAIN OF 296


One of Boris’s many pre election / Brexit promises to the electorate is to increase the number of police officers in Wales and England by 20,000. While many of our hard pressed communities would welcome an increase the number of Police officers, in the face of rising crime and thinning police numbers, its worth remembering that we are some 19,704 police officers in Wales and England down since the Tories (and their Liberal Democrat’s coat holders) took office in 2010. 


No doubt Teresa May, the former Prime Minster and former Home Secretary, was too busy creating hostile climate, to actually oversea the ill thought out reduction in Police numbers. It’s also worth noting that the figures apply to Wales and England only, as the Scottish police force has been exempt from Tory cuts due to the fact that control of policing is devolved to Scotland, unlike in Cymru / Wales.

I have been long convinced that now is the time is right to devolve policing powers to the Welsh Government in Cardiff. Devolving policing powers would increase the accountability of the Welsh Government; strengthen the democratic process by allowing decisions, which directly impact on the Welsh people to be made, reviewed, revised and changed here in Wales. 

At the end of the day, the Welsh people have a simple democratic right to have a greater say in something so fundamental to civilised community life as policing. This is already the case in Scotland, Northern Ireland, London and Manchester. Policing is only one side of the coin, to make devolved policing work, there is also a need to devolve control of criminal justice. 

Fundamentally policing decisions in Wales need to reflect the needs and concerns of our communities, not the cost cutting agenda driven by previous Conservative Prime Minister’s (and a former Home Secretary) and the Ministry of Criminal Justice in London. Plaid Cymru has long campaigned rightly to “stop the thin blue line from breaking” and to boost funding for the Welsh police forces. 

The full devolution of policing would have meant the Welsh police forces would have been exempt from the Tories’ planned £32 million cut to their budgets and would have benefitted from an additional £25 million through being funded through the Barnett formula meaning a total difference in Welsh police budgets of £57 million between Plaid Cymru and Conservative policy. 

Back in 2017 Plaid Cymru called a vote on devolving policing during the passing of the Wales Bill through the Houses of Parliament. We should remember that given the choice of devolving Policing to Wales, the Conservatives voted it down and the Labour Party abstained.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

DEVO ROLLBACK?


When a failed Conservative leader starts talking about reviewing devolution and strengthening the Union at a time when BREXT threatens to deliver a rollback of powers then any one who believes in devoting powers to the nations and reigns of these islands should be concerned. It's a bit like foxes taking a position on chicken's rights and hen coop security - it's time to sit up and take notice. 

Despite the spin and the claims to the contrary, devolution is not Teresa May’s legacy, her legacy is political chaos and economic uncertainty, and a use of BREXIT to attempt to roll back devolution and strip away powers from Wales and Scotland and to undermine the devolved institutions and constitutional settlement within these islands. As late as the 2005 Westminster general election the Conservatives (and Teresa May) were still publicly uncommitted to devolution for Cymru / Wales. 

The Conservatives have never accepted or respected devolution - and would I suspect would given the opportunity weaken if not abolish devolution in Cymru / Wales and actively work to weaken and undermine it in Scotland. They have also played fast and loose with the political process in Northern Ireland - something that threatens to undermine the hard won peace process. 

For a conservative leader to talk about constitutional diversity is particularly rich. The soon to be former Prime Minister is correct in one key area, the fact that some Westminster government departments have failed to recognise the reality of devolution. The Conservative party, under Cameron and May has reluctantly paid lip service to devolution, but, many suspect that it will actively work to weaken the powers of the devolved governments post BREXIT. 

Simply revitalising the Scottish and Welsh offices is no longer an option, it’s perhaps merely new post Brexit colonial window dressing for seeking to undermine the devolved institutions. What's needed is a single ministry for the nations and regions, which could in terms of status match the Home Office at cabinet level, and rationalise the relationships between the Westminster departments and the other devolved portions of these islands.

None of this is new, back in 2015, after David Cameroon, won his first Westminster majority, and before he messily ended his premiership over BREXIT, there was, at least from this end of the M4 / A55, a faint brief whiff of what could best be described as devo rollback in the air. As the then unconstrained All Con Conservative government settled in at Westminster, what's was in it for Cymru / Wales - potentially nothing good. 

Scotland, as far as the Westminster unionists may have been concerned may be quietly (and honestly) be perceived as a lost cause (perhaps a literal case of 'when' rather than 'if' in relation to independence). Cymru / Wales on the other hand may yet offer far more constitutional room to meddle with, to tinker with or even rollback parts of our deeply flawed constitutional settlement - something that could take us back to pre 1601 and 'England and Wales'.

Here in Cymru / Wales we have all seen the Westminster wobble in relation to the commitment to complete the electrification of the Great Western line to Swansea, the failure to develop the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, and the threat to cancel promised public borrowing powers after the proposed M4 Relief road was dropped. Our constitutional settlement, such as it is is, even to the disinterested, appears deeply flawed, second rate and simply unfair, not coming remotely close to either Scotland or Northern Ireland when it comes to powers which could be used to influence and shape economic matters. 

The Conservative Party appears to be appealing to the type of nationalism that has seen UKIP grow in the past, and more recently the Brexit Party - it has little place of concern for Cymru / Wales. The ongoing Conservative leadership contest offers little hope or expectation to Cymru / Wales. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are clearly no allies to Wales. Boris Johnson is on record stating that Westminster is an English Parliament. Our nation, is at best an afterthought and more than likely an irritation to whoever wins the Tory leadership contest.