Wednesday, January 16, 2019

MAKE LIKE LUXEMBOURG!


When it comes to integrated public transport we would do well to make like Luxembourg which is about to become the first country in the world to make all its public transport free. The re-elected coalition government led by Xavier Bettel, who was sworn in for a second term as prime minister, will see fares on trains, trams and buses will be lifted next summer. Bettel’s Democratic party will form a government with the left wing Socialist Workers’ party and the Greens, had vowed to prioritise the environment during the recent election campaign. 

Luxembourg City, the capital of the small Grand Duchy, suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion in the world and is home to about 110,000 people, but a further 400,000 commute into the city to work. Drivers in the capital spent an average of 33 hours in traffic jams in 2016. While the country as a whole has 600,000 inhabitants, nearly 200,000 people living in France, Belgium and Germany cross the border every day to work in Luxembourg. 

The Grand Duchy, has shown a progressive attitude to public transport. This summer, the government brought in free transport for every child and young person under the age of 20. Additionally secondary school students can use free shuttles between their institution and their home. Commuters need only pay €2 for up to two hours of travel, which in a country of just 2,590 square km (999 square miles) covers almost all journeys. From the start of 2020 all tickets will be abolished, saving on the collection of fares and the policing of ticket purchases. As yet no decision has been taken on what to do about first- and second-class compartments on trains. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

REWRITING HISTORY


Plaid Cymru’s Leader in Westminster, Liz Saville Roberts MP, confronted the Prime Minister in the House of Commons today over her claims of respecting the result of the 1997 referendum on Welsh devolution.

Ms Saville Roberts questioned the Prime Minister during a Statement in the House of Commons on the latest Brexit developments.

Following the Prime Minister’s speech in Stoke-on-Trent this morning where she compared the Leave campaign’s narrow win in the 2016 Brexit referendum devolution, Wales, Westminster,  to the result of the 1997 referendum when the people of Wales voted for the National Assembly for Wales.

During the statement, Liz Saville Roberts said:

“The Prime Minister commands us to honour the result of the referendum.

“Yet, in 1997 she voted against legislation to establish the National Assembly for Wales and in 2005 stood on a manifesto calling for another referendum with the option to overturn the result.

“How does the Prime Minister square her track record on referendums with such command?”

The Prime Minister responded by saying:

“We respect and made clear at the time we respected it, and anybody who sees the Welsh Assembly today and what it has been doing in recent years will recognise that was the right decision.”

Following the exchange, Ms Saville Roberts  raised a Point of Order – a question to the Speaker regarding procedure in Parliament – in the House of Commons, asking for clarification. In the Point of Order, Ms Saville Roberts said:

“The PM responded to my question by saying: ‘we accept the result of the referendum in Wales. We respected and made clear at the time that we respected the result of the referendum in Wales.’

“Her actions and the actions of her party at the time, and later, contradict this assertion.

“I fear the PM has mislead the house and would ask how she might correct the record.”

The Prime Minister left the chamber before listening to the Point of Order and so did not respond.

ENDS

Thursday, January 3, 2019

REAL ALTERNATIVES


One of the reasons why we have little choice but to use our cars and the M4 to get around Newport (and to go to work) is because of the lack of any reasonable alternative easily accessible means of public transport. By now even the Welsh Labour government has finally run out of tired excuses and soft weasel words to hide their inaction and failure to deliver much beyond sound bites and logo laden graphic images. 

Occasionally seen but rarely advertised...
The simple but abject failure to connect the Ebbw Vale line to Newport means that commuters living in communities in the Ebbw Valley still remain unable to travel directly to Newport (and beyond) by train and have a real choice but to use their cars. They are denied the opportunity of catching connecting trains to Newport, Bristol, London, Cheltenham and beyond as well as possibly travelling slightly more rapidly to Cardiff in the morning and evening as result of the failure to run a fast service direct from Abertillery to Cardiff as originally promised. 

This leaves commuters no choice but to drive to work and help to feed the congestion of an already at times overcrowded M4. The Ebbw Vale line, at least to Cardiff, which reopened in 2008 and carried  a years worth of anticipated passengers in the first few months, made a real difference. It's a fact that the new rail service failed to connect to Newport from day one - despite the implied promises and suggestions made before and since the railway line was reopened. 

Ironically to all intents and purposes is already open – trains already run by stealth on occasions from Ebbw Vale into Newport and vice versa. The rail line and the signalling works fine – what we need is a regularly timetabled rail service - preferably now rather than later. Long overdue decisions about our infrastructure could make a real and significant difference and begin the process of providing realistic alternatives to everyday car use. 

Construction of railway stations at Caerleon / Ponthir, Llanwern and Magor - with well planned walk routes, safe, secure park and ride. Any railway stations should also include decent facilities which would make a real difference - along with the reinstatement of a more functional bus service (that's connected to the new railway stations). Elsewhere in Europe where significant housing developments are planned the infrastructure - often railway stations, tram stops and transport hubs are constructed first before any houses are built - but just not here.

By now the Welsh Labour government (even with new leadership) has run out of old excuses and soft weasel words to hide their failure to deliver. Our transport and infrastructure problems require political solutions and political decisions - something that will not come from the current incumbent inert Labour government in Cardiff Bay. With a post BREXIT world rapidly approaching- some hard sensible sustainable longer term choices need to be made with a degree of urgency - one of those should be to start work on (those parts of) the Metro that will make a real difference.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

ENJOYING VASSAL STATUS!


There has been much hot air expended about the future status of the UK state after BREXIT - whether or not it will be a vassal state. The harsh reality is that UK already is a vassal state and has been so for many years, not because of its relationship to Europe, before or after BREXIT, or its military / diplomatic relationship with the USA, but, because it's financial relationship with Saudi Arabia.  

The modern basis of this dubious dependancy relationship is not oil, at least not directly, but the money that the Saudi's have invested and squirrelled away in the UK since before the 1973 oil crisis. The UK state as it lost its empire (and its role in a wider world) was in desperate need of financial salvation - the emphasis should perhaps be on the 'desperate'.

Pandering to world power status (perhaps at best a post imperial vanity project) rather than powering down to develop a more sensible regional North Atlantic/ European approach was and still does not come cheap. The UK states changing role, while driven by harsh economic realities, was somewhat reluctantly embraced by an elite, who to the outside observer, with hindsight, looked out of their depth and floundering.  It was a direct result of poor strategic and financial decisions made, not made or quite frankly fudged, and left the UK state in dire need of hard cash. 

Efforts to lure in Middle Eastern oil money - after the battle to control the oilfields had been lost, had taken place prior to the oil crisis from the 1960's onwards. The 1973 oil crisis, when it came, saw what had been described as the most rapid transfer of economic power that the world has ever seen. The West's trade surplus in 1972 was $10 billion, by 1974 the West had a deficit of $48 billion, and the oil producers had a surplus that was estimated to be some $69 billion. 

This situation was later aggravated still further in the 1980's when Ronald Reagan (whilst making America great again) and Mrs Thatcher (while not making the UK great) cut higher taxes enabling the mega tick to avoid paying their fare share of taxation (monetarism). This plunged the USA and the UK into a deeper public deficit that they have never got back out of since.

The constant spin that has been put on the relationship between the Brits and the Saudi's (actually the ruling House of Saud) has always been that Saudi Arabia is pro-Western. This was perhaps true to a degree by way of comparison with the Colonel Nasser, Saddam Hussein (although from time to time he was the West's golden boy) and Syria - who were at times openly antagonistic to the West. 

The harsh reality was (and is) that Saudi Arabia is pro Saudi first and foremost and the Saudi state's values are directly contradicted by the pluralistic and democratic values of the West. Long before the rapid rewriting the fiscal relationship with the West in 1973/1974 the House of Saud had quietly oenly and consistently funded terrorism and funded a disturbingly fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. 

The ruling House of Saud was and still remains engaged in significant internal oppression and has long been well documented as a violator of human rights. Despite this the UK state (as a loyal and purchased friend) supported Saudi Arabia's membership of the UN Human Rights Council - this perhaps gives life to the old adage that what was once bought stays bought.

By mid 1970's under Conservative (under Heath) and Labour (under Wilson) the Saudis had invested an estimated $9.3 billion. Saudi funds were used to subsidise the old nationalised industries to the tune of $800 million. Some $1.4 billion was also borrowed by the UK's nationalised industries. By the time this financially dependent relationship had developed, the Brits had just lost their place as the preeminent regional (if external) power in region to the USA and were fumbling about on the edge of Europe (neither in nor out).

A visible indicator of the drop in the UK states' status may be reflected in the educational choices made by the Arabian and Gulf elite. Once the children of the Arabian and Gulf elite attended public schools in England's Home Counties, now they are more likely to attend expensive private schools around Washington DC's beltway. 

For the Brit elite taking second place, even as a financial vassal state, must have stung a bit. This relationship (vassal status by any other definition) explains much, especially the repeated failures of the UK to reduce its dependence on oil and gas imports from the Arabian gulf region - and perhaps the failure to push for a renewable energy based form of energy independence. 

It also explains an obvious fact that the UK in relation to foreign policy, had largely and abjectly surrendered effective control of its foreign policy to Saudi Arabia. Saudi interests are effectively Brit interests - it also goes some way to explain the almost complete lack of Brit criticism of some of the more unpleasant public acts of brutality that have been carried out by the Saudi regime over the years.

The Brits for their part have supplied mercenaries to protect the Saudi royal household and supplied troops to fight proxy wars on Saudi Arabia's behalf. In exchange for funds invested the Brits have also helped to arm (to the teeth) one of the worlds more unpleasant regimes in on of the more dangerously unstable regions of the planet - and have happily backed and supported the House of Saud’s not so proxy war with Iran in the Yemen. 

Since the 1970’s in exchange for hard cash the Brits have continued to supply training, weapons, etc to a state, whose defence policy (as noted in February 1975) was based on ‘Jihad’. The Brit elite to be frank knew exactly what it was doing when it signed to an effective one way pact with the House of Saud - an over active developer and exporter  of Wahhabi extremism. 

Short term decisions have long term consequences - Saudi funding of the Taliban trained and educated fighters in Pakistan to fight the Soviet Union, twenty years later the Taliban we doing their best to kill our own soldiers in Afghanistan. Ironically the Taliban used many of the methods they had been aught by the Brits (amongst others) somewhat ironically based upon those methods used against British soldiers in Northern Ireland during the troubles. 

Brit policy was a direct result of the alliance with the House of Saud, and it was profitable, between 1985 and 1988 the Brits sold $15 billion dollars worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. The ready cash burnt some fingers in BAE and other organisations - but Westminster did nothing to curb the corruption - but acted swiftly to prevent any parliamentary investigation into corruption relating to BAE. These sort of deals appear to have bought silence from successive Westminster governments in relation to the House of Saud’s funding of radical islamic causes in the Middle east and around the world - who were opposed to political pluralism, religious tolerance and women rights. 

Things got much more complicated after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait (another non democratic hereditary state) and the subsequent war to liberate Kuwait (funded to a degree by $50 billion dollars of Saudi cash) which saw the deployment of 500,000 mostly 'infidel' troops into Saudi Arabia. With Saddam weakened, but, still left in power in Baghdad, Saudi Arabia itself began to suffer from acts of terrorism. Despite this only in 1994 was Saudi funding of Bin Laden reluctantly curbed along with the removal of his Saudi citizenship. 

Before 9/11 the West largely looked the other way in relation the movement of funds for islamic inspired terrorism. The funding continued indirectly via the Pakistani military and private Saudi donors and islamic charities - a 2002 French report noted that $300 million had been moved to Al-Qaidia in recent years. 

The Brits effective economic dependence on Saudi money aside from a failure to deal with money laundering (some parts of the City do very well from this activity) has also led to Brit support for some other fairly unsavoury brutal repressive regimes in the Middle East. Ironically it was perhaps the threat of possible European regulation of banking (including money laundering in the City and off-shore dependencies) may in itself have provided the motivation for the campaign that eventually led to the  BREXIT vote.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

BLUE ON BLUE


You have to hand it to the Tories, regardless of the circumstances or current political crisis, they do fratricidal blue on blue spectacularly well. It redefines self interest and idiotic in a single breath or single bound.  The fundamental split over Europe that has festered since the days of John Major, partially smothered during the wilderness years, under Michael Howard and IDS and barely papered over during the shambolic Cameron years, is back with a vengeance. Much like is was under John Major, the needs of the peoples of these islands, can go hang. Tory needs, obsessions and minutiae must come first regardless of the cost. Whatever else this self indulgent fiasco might be magnificent, but it is certainly not really meaningful politics, beyond the confines of the gothic monstrosity on the Thames. Just at the time when some real leadership would be useful, we end up here -what a mess! 

Monday, December 10, 2018

RUNNING SCARED


Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP said:

“The Prime Minister is running scared. She can only delay the inevitable loss. She made promises that she cannot deliver and now she is coming up against reality.

“The only single person who can stop a No Deal Brexit is the Prime Minister. By delaying this vote she is personally making a No Deal Brexit more likely.

“The Prime Minister wants to deny the public a say in a People’s Vote and now she is trying to deny MPs a vote too. She is denying democracy on all fronts.

“People deserve better than the chaos in Westminster.  

“Now we know the truth about Brexit, people must be given the right to decide whether the reality of leaving the European Union is what they want.”


Thursday, November 29, 2018

YES, WALES CAN


Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price today publishes an anthology of notable writings which can be seen as a ‘manifesto’ for Welsh independence.
Wales – The First and Final Colony by Adam Price, published this week by Y Lolfa, is a collection of writings by the politician and Plaid Cymru leader on the politics, history and culture of Wales. In it, Adam offers his ideas for securing a brighter future for Wales.

Adam Price was born to a working class family in a council house in Carmarthenshire the son of Rufus, a miner and Welsh champion boxer, and Angela, who moved to Wales from Worcester.

At 31 years old, he was elected an MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr in 2001 and within a year he was uncovering dodgy dealings between Tony Blair and international steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal. Shortly after, he led a campaign to impeach Mr Blair following the invasion of Iraq – eventually leading to the Chilcot Inquiry.

However, in 2010 he stood down from Parliament and headed to the Kennedy School of Government in Harvard, before taking up a role in an innovation foundation.

He returned to frontline Welsh politics in 2016 when he was elected as an Assembly Member in his home patch of Carmarthen before subsequently becoming leader of Plaid Cymru on 28 September 2018.

Speaking ahead of the book’s publication Adam Price said, 

“I grew up in the shadow of the miners’ struggle of 1984. A struggle which shaped the politics I retain today. 

From council house to House of Commons and from Harvard to Cardiff is not a well-trodden path, but I now face the biggest challenge of my political career – leading the Welsh national movement. But mine and Plaid Cymru’s message to the Welsh people must be simple: Yes Wales Can. 

As the first openly gay man to lead this party and indeed any party in Wales, I am a modern, inclusive leader for a modern, inclusive Wales.

I am confident that we can compose a new future for a new Wales. Labour will not be its author. And nor will it be written for us in the marbled halls of Whitehall and Westminster. It will be written in the streets and shops, the pubs and rugby clubs, the homes and hearts of our nation.

Some may shrug off our hope as blind optimism. I say to you that a successful, independent Wales is not a far-off, unachievable aspiration. It is a firm, near-term, realisable goal.”