Thursday, February 28, 2019


The proposed M4 relief road across the Gwent Levels is one of those questionable proposed projects that will devour public money with no tangible medium to longer term benefit. Projected costs have risen from some £900 million to £1.2 billion pounds - having personally listened to enough civil engineers - we can probably expect at least another 20% on top. 

There may well be a link between the rising costs, when it comes to the completion of public sector infrastructure projects and the cost relationship between the construction companies and the corridors of power in Westminster and Whitehall. The inability of public sector infrastructure projects to be completed on-time and on budget should be a concern for all of us - if for nothing else than the fact that it's our money that's being simultaneously both spent and raked up.  

Are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes? 
The Westminster government has (somewhat reluctantly in my opinion) actually devolved a degree of borrowing powers to the Welsh Government with a less than subtle heavy hint that they should be used to finance this expensive road project. This was backed up in the last Westminster budget with a stronger suggestion/ hint that any extra monies received from Westminster should be used to fund the M4 Relief Road. So much for Westminster having a grasp of the concept of devolution! 

Using the borrowing powers to finance this questionable road project would effectively tie the hands of future Welsh governments for some years into the future. We would be better off if the monies (£2 billion pounds could accomplish a great deal)were spent in the construction of a properly thought out South Wales metro which would provide realistic realistic reasonably priced alternatives for people trying to get to and from work. 

The construction of the Black route is a non starter, its lazy complacent short term thinking, it with the addition of potentially 6 million additional vehicle invents on and around the M4 will not deliver any benefits beyond the immediate short term (if even that). It's environmental destructive to both people and the rich human constructed environment that are the unique Gwent Levels. And it also just happens to strengthen those questionable links between Westminster and Whitehall and the large construction companies.

Historically the original M4 was intended to be built to the North of Caerleon / Lodge hill - with the provision of a connection for Newport's industrial and business areas (the SDR) Newport Council lobbied for the M4 to be built through northern Newport - it came with plenty of junctions - which we all then used to travel back and for from one side of Newport to another. 

Many (some 100,000) journeys on the M4 are defined as local, we use the M4 for local journeys around or across Newport as well as to get to and from work. The proposed M4 Relief road is no simple by-pass - it will have at least 4 junctions effectively setting itself up for more of the same. its odd sometimes how history can repeat or echo itself - and no one seems to notice.

There is no simple easy fix solutions to our traffic and infrastructure problems, they are fundamentally underlined by a degree of tolerated (by Westminster, Cathays Park and Cardiff Bay) economic weakness. The problems are not, however, unsurmountable if tackled incrementally, one start would be to build railway stations at Caerleon / Ponthir, Llanwern and Magor.

These new stations should be built with adequate cheap, secure, safe park and ride facilities, tied in with local bus services - along with a reasonable regular timetabled service between Ebbw Vale and Newport - and we may begin to see a real reduction in local journeys across and around Newport on the M4 as people have a real alternative to using their cars.

A well designed and well thought out South Wales Metro that actually serves all of South Wales rather simply feeding people in and out of Cardiff, is not what's been offered. The Metro is often portrayed as a big single entity of a project - it is complex and multi layered - but it can and should be constructed incrementally.  As the completion of parts of the project will have significant local (and regional) impact on congestion, pollution and travel to (and from) journeys to work across the south east. 

Hand in hand with developing the South Wales Metro, future Welsh governments should also bite the bullet and ensure that ticket prices are cheap and that any franchise holder ensures that there is adequate provision of rolling stock (preferably from the early 21st rather than the late 20th century). We need 21st century ticketing which will enable users to make use of multiple modes of transport with single source ticketing. 

All this is achievable, deliverable and measurable - what's is desperately needed is the political will and a real / actual commitment to getting the job done, rather than simply talking about it. Sadly we have seen precious little of that in recent years from successive Labour in Wales government in Cardiff Bay or from a rabidly Brexit focused Westminster.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


It's that man again!

It's That Man Again - for a classic post imperial establishment defence of imperial atrocity look no further than that man - Jacob Rees-Mogg - who justified the Brit State's use of concentration camps to detain the civil population (White and Black) - 'for their own protection' on BBC Question Time last week. The selective interpretation of history did not surprise me - that his statement actually produced some applause from the audience did. 

The war for control of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal (Dutch Republics) was more than anything about extending commercial and City interests and political control of the Rand. In many ways it was the first modern war - with the media playing a key role whipping up public hysteria and enthusiasm for the war. Lloyd George nearly got lynched at a public meeting that was stormed by a mob of jingo's ( think perhaps alt right / ubber Brexiters) in Birmingham.

At the time the principled justification for the war was that the vote was being denied to foreign nationals (including Brits) in the Transvaal. Ironically the franchise in the Boer republic's was probably larger and more inclusive than it was in the UK at the time (at least in terms of male suffrage. Lloyd George  thought the war as about ’45% dividends rather than the franchise.' The war followed the failed Jameson raid - a private commercially sponsored attempt at a coup - the Brits promised to punish the unsuccessful invaders for their illegal activities but subsequently did nothing. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg's suggestion the the use of concentration camps wax to protect the civil population turns reality on its head - they were actually used to remove the civic support from the guerrilla fighters in rural areas - collective punishment (something that was also used in Iraq, Afghanistan, North West frontier and Palestine in the 1920's, 1930's and 1940's)  was also used with 'scorched earth tactics' - the destruction of farms and the means of sustenance as 19th century war literally and figuratively changed  into 20th century war. 

The Brits may not be able to claim the credit for inventing concentration camps - the Dutch in Indonesia, the Spanish / Americans in the Philippines, and the Imperial Germans in South West Africa (Namibia) probably did that first to grim effect. What the Brits added was incompetence, inefficiency and poor organisation. Thousands and White and Black inhabits of the Boer republics died in the camps.

Emily Hobhouse
Perhaps Jacob Rees-Mogg would do well to find out about  Emily Hobhouse and also find a copy of the Fawcett Commission report confirmed almost everything that Emily had courageously reported. After the war the report concluded that 27,927 Boers had died of starvation, disease and exposure in the concentration camps. In all, about one in four of the Boer inmates, mostly children, died. No complete figure was ever recorded for the Black south Africans who died in their camps.

The post BREXIT fantasy is that some form of Brit Empire 2.0 will come to the rescue - economically at least. As a South African friend of mine said ‘Perhaps it would have been nice if they had been asked?. Perhaps what we have seen is part of the on-going campaign (by Jacob Rees-Mogg amongst others) to rehabilitate the Brit Empire and to lay the ground for Brit Empire 2.0 - the problem is that this is part of the politics of fantasy island aside from a display of a poor and questionably selective understanding of history - something that may go some way to explaining the Tory elites failure to understand Ireland (and her relationship with Europe and the Brits).

The option to develop lasting and meaningful trade links with the Commonwealth was  in the late 1960's and early 1970's before entering the then EEC. In 1973 the Brits however rapidly and effectively abandoned any economic links with the Commonwealth - dropping Australia and New Zealand to name but two right in it. They have not forgotten this having to painfully restructure their economies and trading links by dire necessity. Quite simply Brit Empire 2.0 riding to the rescue post Brexit is a pure fantasy. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


British Government must stand up to Spain’s human rights abuses in Catalonia
Spanish Supreme Court ‘show trials’ of Catalan leaders begin

The Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Catalonia, Hywel Williams MP, has said the Westminster Government is implicitly supporting the Spanish state’s human rights abuses of Catalan political prisoners.

The Plaid Cymru MP made the comments on the day the Spanish Supreme Court trial of 12 Catalan leaders begins. The Catalan former civic leaders and politicians face charges of rebellion and sedition for their role in organising the referendum on Catalan independence in October 2017. They could face up to 25 years in prison.

Hywel Williams MP was part of a cross-party delegation of MPs that acted as observers during the referendum. Mr Williams witnessed paramilitary police raiding a school-turned-polling station and seizing ballot papers, whilst other observers and journalists saw violence being used against those attempting to cast their vote.

The British Government has consistently backed the Spanish Government, despite their use of police violence, claiming that “the situation in Catalonia is a matter for Spain to resolve, in accordance with Spanish law and democratic principles.”

The referendum, which took place on the 1 October 2017, offered the choice of independence for the Catalan part of north-eastern Spain, which includes Barcelona. The referendum was approved by the Catalan Parliament – which is autonomous and established in the Spanish constitution – but was deemed illegal by the Constitutional Court of Spain following a referral by the Spanish Government.

Catalan voters were asked "do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?". The "Yes" side won, with 2,044,038 (92.01%) voting for independence and 177,547 (7.99%) voting against, on a turnout of 43.03%. The Catalan Government estimated that up to 770,000 votes were not cast due to polling stations being closed off during the police crackdown.

In the run-up to and following the referendum, Spanish state police arrested a number of politicians, officials and civil society leaders for their part in organising the ballot. Other politicians, including the former leader of the Catalan Government, Carles Puigdemont, now live in exile. 

Twelve of those arrested will today go on trial, including the former Catalan Foreign Minister and Speaker of the Catalan Parliament.

Commenting ahead of the beginning of the trial, Hywel Williams MP, said:

“Today 12 Catalan leaders go on trial in Spain’s Supreme Court, facing the medieval-sounding charges of rebellion and sedition. Their supposed crime – organising a democratic referendum on Catalan independence in October 2017.

“Outrageously, the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Carmen Forcadell, is behind bars charged with the crime of allowing a debate to take place – in a democratically elected parliament.

“It is impossible for us not to see this referendum through the lens of the UK’s current political context. But, for a moment, imagine being one of the 12 political prisoners. Today, they will head into a dock, face a hostile set of judges, knowing that they will likely grow old behind bars for simply following the wishes of those who elected them.

“These jailed men and women are not hooligans or rabble rousers. These resolutely peaceful people are political prisoners, held against their human rights, for believing in democratic self-determination.
“Political differences cannot be resolved by these show-trials. That can only further poison relations between Spain and Catalonia. Dialogue is required and that is what the British Government should be urging its Spanish counter-parts to begin. Instead through their support for the Spanish state, the British Government are complicit in the prosecution of the 12 political prisoners.

“I accept that the British Government has already burned many of its diplomatic bridges with our European neighbours. But I urge them to use whatever influence they have left to encourage a democratic and peaceful solution to this crisis in Catalonia.”


Saturday, February 2, 2019


An expensive crumbling gothic monstrosity...

When it comes to 'Taking Back Control' the key question that should have been and still should be asked (and answered) is with whom will the 'taken back control' now reside. From the perspective of Cymru / Wales the answer may be certainly not with us. Previously an over centralised unionist British State did not deliver for Cymru / Wales before - so why is it gong to better this time around!  

A re-badged re-centralised ubber unionist Brit State 2.0 is even more unlikely to deliver in any meaningful way for us in the future. Led by Teresa May (once described by a fellow conservative as Enoch Powell in a dress) it should be pretty clear that Cymru / Wales as far as Westminster is concerned no longer counts - economically or politically - particularly if it's left to the likes of May, Gove, Corbin, Johnston and their ilk. 

As we approach however ponderously some sort of post BREXIT political and constitutional era, we need to urgently clarify the constitutional position of our parliament in Cardiff. Devolution is here to stay, the process remains incomplete and our journey continues - the people of Cymru / Wales not Westminster politicians will decide on the length of the journey and our destination. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you cannot be half devolved - you are either fully devolved or you are not devolved at all - there can be no halfway house. 

The latest on-going cluster ruck over delivering BREXIT had exposed the fundamental difference that lies behind, beneath or within the mind set of the politics, that emanates from and revolves around the House of Jaw (Westminster). Our National Assembly should have similar powers to those of Scotland - so it can reboot our economy and our communities, deliver social justice and rebuild our transport network after the damage done by Westminster.  

The key point here is that at a fundamental level, Plaid Cymru has long believed that sovereignty lies here in Cymru / Wales with the people of Wales. It does not lie with or within that over expensive crumbling gothic monstrosity on the Thames - the Westminster parliament or its inhabitants. This simple all encompassing principle needs to be clearly stated and articulated as often as necessary.  

Post BREXIT before the Westminster based centralisers get to work wrecking and undermining our developing democracy (and the other devolved administrations) we seriously need to consider a declaration of sovereignty for laws passed in Cymru / Wales by the National Assembly. This simply is a declaration that will give laws passed in Cymru / Wales ( ‘our own laws’ ) precedence over those that emanate from Westminster.