Tuesday, July 16, 2019


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. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019


We life in interesting times - a YouGov poll of about 900 Tory members found that 63% of those surveyed would prefer Brexit to go ahead even it caused Scottish independence, and suggested 59% would want Brexit even if it led to Northern Ireland leaving the union. Interestingly enough the poll result is consistent with research carried out by academics at Edinburgh and Cardiff universities for the Future of England Study in 2018. Brexit appears to be more important to the bulk of Conservative Party members than keeping the UK united. Such sentiments obviously did not go down well amongst the Tories in Scotland.

Prior to the referendum on independence, perhaps less so since the Conservatives came to power, less and less Scots, can be said to live with the illusion that they had a degree of real partnership within the Union. George Osbourne killed off that illusion, as part of project fear which was rolled out to prevent Scottish independence - rather than indulging in a more rational balanced debate. Scottish election results since 2014 can be said to have reflected a change of attitude towards the relationship and towards those political parties that are based in (and operate out of) Westminster. 

Most people in Cymru / Wales if pressed would probably admit that they never imagined that the relationship between Cymru / Wales and England was anything other than one sided. Despite all the bluster from the Conservative leadership candidates about the union - the bottom, must be that either the Union works for all, or it doesn't. If it doesn't then it's not a beneficial, or  fair and equal Union, then it's a Union of unequals, especially where Wales and Welsh interests are concerned.

Let’s take a look at relatively recent history, Welsh companies have missed out on contracts worth £6.6 billion to build the first phase of England’s high speed rail line, HS2. The contracts, which may support around 16,000 jobs, were awarded to mainly English, Austrian, Swedish and French firms. No Welsh firms were shortlisted and no Welsh firms will participate in any consortia. A study by quantity surveyor Michael Byng, estimated that the cost of building HS2 could reach over £100 billion, making it the most expensive railway in the world.

Public spending on England-only projects  would normally have triggered consequential funding for the devolved nations but as the UK Government designated HS2 as an “England & Wales” project, despite every inch of the railway being in England, this was not the case. Wales was designated a HS2 0% rating at the last Comprehensive Spending Review for Barnett Consequentials whilst northern Ireland and Scotland were rated 100%. HS2 may cost £100 billion if reports are accurate, if the project was correctly labeled as an England-only project, then Wales would be entitled to £5 billion. 

Our share could be used to invest in our own transport infrastructure. What’s going to happen is that our taxes are being used to fund a high-speed line that will solely benefit England. A report published by accountancy firm, KPMG, back in 2010 showed that HS2 will have an overall negative effect on the Welsh economy, resulting in 21,000 fewer jobs in Wales by 2040 as a result of jobs shifting to the English Midlands and the north of England. 

As part of this increasingly unequal Union, Welsh taxpayers will make their contribution towards building possibly one of the most expensive railway in the world, even though not one inch of it being in Wales and the fact that the British Government deliberately avoided giving Wales its fair share of investment in return by describing the project as an “England and Wales” investment even though it is actually having a negative impact on jobs and wages in Wales.  And this will be after the Westminster government's decision to cancel the electrification of the railway to Swansea because it cost too much. 

As for HS2 - the Welsh Labour Government should have ensured that Welsh companies were promoted during the procurement process - it did not. Sadly we should not be surprised by this failure, considering that the Labour Welsh Government’s own deputy economy recent admission that Labour hasn’t known what its doing on the economy for the past 20 years, and that it had run out of ideas and was making it up as it went along. 

This candid remark may well explain much - probably more than a few people have already drawn the conclusion that the Labour Party (in Cardiff Bay and elsewhere) clearly appeared to not be able to accomplish much (even with the fairly limited economic tools at its disposal) - now we know the sad truth - they actually didn't have a clue about what they were doing.

While ineptitude and inaction can cover a multitude of sins or inadequacies - but this may be put down to a case of the Labour branch office in Cardiff waiting for Labour to win in Westminster rather than trying to actually improve our economy with the limited tools, economic levers and ideas they have to work with. There can be no excuse for previous Westminster Governments decision to direct contracts to overseas countries, supporting jobs and wages elsewhere instead of supporting our own companies here in Wales. 

The agreement between the Conservative Party and the DUP included a commitment to invest (a blatant bung to everyone else) an additional £1 billion in Northern Ireland over two years. It is worth noting that funding for devolved nations and regions, including northern Ireland, is usually done through the UK Government’s Barnett Formula based on relative population. Under the Barnett formula, spending in one-nation triggers an increase in funding for other nations, based on relative population. 

It’s important to remember that a £1 billion investment in Northern Ireland would equate to a £1.7 billion increase in the Welsh Government’s funding - but of course there were no magic money trees. It would have only been fair that Wales be given its “rightful share” of the money used to “bribe” Northern Ireland. The £1.7 billion figure based on relative population under the Barnett formula using 65.5 million, 1.8 million and 3.1 million as the population of the UK, northern Ireland and Wales respectively.

It should be clear by now to most impartial observers that Westminster is not clearly working for Wales and neither is the Labour Party - whether in Wales or Westminster. Only Plaid Cymru will stand up and fight for Wales to get its fair share of investment from HS2 and work to make sure that Westminster treats Wales fairly. 

The so-called ‘partnership of equals’ between the four constituent nations is a hollow sham. The Union, as is, can be said to offer all the risk and little or no reward - a situation made worse by a Labour Welsh Government that remains content to simply sits on its hands - and wait for an openly centralist Labour Party - that does not understand or perhaps chooses nor recognise the complex realities of devolution in the 21st century - to win in Westminster.