Sunday, 28 August 2011


News that George Osborne has done a deal with the Swiss in relation to the secret bank accounts held by UK citizens may not wholly be good news. There has been much speculation as to exactly how much the new levy will bring in and the figure of £5 billion pounds has been bounced about by the Sunday papers.

I am sure that an extra £5 billion would be nice, I mean we have to pay for those pesky bank bonuses or those aircraft carriers somehow. What has, however, been largely overlooked is that what Osborne has done is effectively legitimise the holding of bank accounts that are secret from the Inland Revenue.

We still need to (globally) deal with the problem of off-shore companies and individuals who are engaged in tax avoidance, tax evasion or money laundering. The scale of the problem is quite staggering, take the Cayman Islands; which are home to some 12,000 corporations and have a population of 50,000, yet are home to 70% of the planets hedge funds.

The British Virgin Islands (population 22,000) is home to 823,502 registered companies. General Electric paid no tax in 2010, yet made a $14.2 billion dollar profit. Barclay's has 181 subsidiaries registered in the Cayman Islands and paid little UK tax on its world wide profits. The Dirty Digger’s News Corp has 152 subsidiaries in tax havens across the planet (according to the US Government) and paid no UK corporation tax between 1998 and 1999.

If developed countries exchequers lose out then it’s much worse for developing countries. Tax dodging costs developing countries $ 160 billion dollars per year (Christian Aid). Some $ 1.2 trillion dollars was illicitly removed from poor countries in 2008 (US Integrity Research Centre).

If the governments of the world got together, as President Obama suggested, and tackled the tax havens, the tax avoidance and the questionable dealings of the derivative traders, hedge funds and the off balance sheet trading then we may go so way towards dealing with the consequences of the worldwide financial crash. Perhaps if that nice (rich) Mr Cameron and the other 18 millionaires in the cabinet were to work with other governments worldwide to close the tax loopholes then perhaps we truly would all be in it together? Perhaps not!

Saturday, 27 August 2011


A potential visitor to the Hague War Crimes Tribunal and friend
There must come a moment in the 'politcal life' of 'a great leader' when they begin to lose the plot and any contact with real people (save for those telling you what you want to hear) becomes increasingly tenuous. Was it always about being the top dog, getting to the top of the greasy pole, getting to sit at the top table? Or was it always about lining ones pocket and siting pretty. Is the process gradual or seismic, or can said 'great leader' look back and pick the moment when any good being done was outweighed by the bad things being done.

Certainly of late we have seen 'great leaders' go from being favoured sons of the West to siting in a prison cell. For some dictators absolute power and endless overnight room service has been replaced with spending quality time with the slop bucket. And perhaps even more pleasingly having to keep a possible date in the Hague war crimes court in ones diary has become more prominent in a former great leaders diary than remembering peoples birthdays.

As a 'great leader' do you seek out 'Yes people' or is it something that happens around people who exercise power or run the shop? In the West (and in the UK) it has often been said that successful political leaders, regardless of their political hue, never quite know when to go.I have also heard it said that a political career always ends in failure. The long lingering departure of Tony Blair in 2006 / 2007 is a good case in point, a personal desire to clock up more time in office than Mrs Thatcher certainly overrode any political sense of reality, regardless of any electoral damage done to the Labour party.

Take Muammar Qaddafi, he overthrew the Libyan King Idris I (who was portrayed as puppet of the West (especially by Qaddafi after he took power), he was in power for 41 years, and until fairly recently was the longest-serving leader in both Africa and the Arab world. Having ceased power, in tail end of the Nasser era when the Arab great leader model was the height of fashion.

In the last 4 decades he has gone from handsome and charismatic young army officer to complete nutter and international pariah. Admittedly in this world being crazy and holding absolute power in a brutal dictatorship are not mutually exclusive, I mean who going to say no? The once smart uniforms have been replaced by (if I was being generous) a somewhat flamboyant dress-sense and gun-toting female bodyguards.

As bizarre as aspects of New Labour's policies were they have nothing on Gaddafi's political philosophy, as laid down in the Green Book. Gaddafi's green book which might be described if one was being particularly generous as a homemade alternative to both socialism and capitalism, with some aspects of Islam thrown in for good measure (the late Enver Hoxha (dictator of Communist Albania) would have been exceptionally envious).

Nominally Qaddafi created a political system known as the "Jamahiriya" or "state of the masses", in which power was supposedly held by thousands of "peoples' committees". In truth Qaddafi and his hangers on held and retained absolute power in a very centralised and authoritarian state and appear to have had few qualms when it came to hunting down their political opponents (and murdering them) at home or overseas.

There was a time when the West feted unpleasant brutal dictators because then were perceived as being anti communist or keeping the lid on a whole host of potential other problems. The Cold War has effectively been over since 1989, yet we in the West have carried on being nice to some pretty unscrupulous and brutal repressive regimes. After the Cold War was over various countries have been more than happy to sell arms to nasty repressive brutal regimes regardless of their human rights record e.g Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria, Indonesia, Egypt, etc.

I have absolutely no doubt if some of the dictators that have fallen in recent months had survived or had successfully fought of the challenge to their power then, then after a short interlude, they would be being quite happily wooed by governments and businesses from the West. I mean you can never have enough rubber bullets and ground attack aircraft can you? I suspect that Western leaders find it easier to deal with dictatorships than democracies. It's far easier to right of the Arab people as fundamentalists who are incapable to running their own democratic states, who need a firm authoritarian hand to rule them, etc.

If democracies successfully emerge across the Middle East, then things will be different, perhaps democratically elected Arab leader will remember just who exactly was no keen to support their oppressors. Not to mention exactly who was more than happy to tool them up with the rubber bullets, armoured land rovers, armoured cars, electric cattle prods and tear gas and all the other handy little things that dictatorships need to stay in power. On that thought, perhaps we will have to wait and see what emerges as the Arab spring moves through summer and into winter.

Friday, 26 August 2011


When it comes to railways in Wales, we tend to focus on anniversaries of rail closures rather than anniversaries of openings. This may well be because transport policy was something that was done to us rather than done for us. I mention this, because I noticed that a plaque has been unveiled marking the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the railway in Knighton (Powys).

The spectaular 22-mile section of the Heart of Wales line from Craven Arms, Shropshire, to Knighton was constructed in 1861, and manged to avoid being closed in the 1950's and 1960's.  A £5m project which upgraded parts of this rural railway was finished last year, reinstating five passing loops at Knighton, Llandrindod Wells and Llanwrtyd Wells in Powys, and at Llandovery and Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire. This is a small but positive step which could, with extra services lead to more regular and better used trains.

The Con Dem Westminster Government and the New Labour Government in Cardiff need to get serious about developing integrated public transport across the valleys and the south east in Monmouth constituency and beyond. For more than a few years Plaid in Monmouth has called for improvements to existing services and facilities and a series of feasibility studies to investigate re-opening previously closed railways as has happened in Scotland.

We face a future where cheap fuel will be a thing of the past, so we need to ensure that all our communities have reasonable access to a reliable cheap system of integrated public transport, at the heart of which needs to be our long neglected rail network. The old excuses about a lack of funding (despite the banking related financial crisis) are no longer acceptable; Wales making up 5% of the population of the UK, and makes significant contributions to the exchequer over the years - so we need 5% of the UK transport spend, and full control of our transport planning and our transport budget.

A devolutionary half-way house won't work anymore, it will not deliver or even give us the chance to deliver, even with legislative powers. The changes and reforms that are necessary to fix the problems in our country means that we need the tools to do the job. The botched and over complicated LCO system for creating legislation barely worked and has thankfully been consigned to the dustbin of history.

It didn't work with a nominally Labour Government and was never going to work with a Conservative dominated Government which is indifferent to any concept of devolution in particular and the needs of Wales in particular. Even with legislative powers, we are still in some sort of half devolved limbo state of governance, lacking a fair financial settlement. Let's be honest, with all the best will in the world this is not going to work well, even with an inert visionless New Labour government in Cardiff. Governance can no more be half devolved anymore than someone can be half free.

Wales needs a fair financial settlement so we can construct a decent system of integrated public transport. This is what has happened in Scotland, where significant strides have been made to reopen, redevelop and build a coherent and integrated public transport system. In the last twelve years in Wales there have been two successful railway re-openings carried out by Network Rail at the request of the National Assembly; the Vale of Glamorgan Railway Line (re-opened on Friday 10th June 2005) and the Ebbw Valley Railway Line (partially re-opened on Wednesday 6th February 2008).

Being brutally honest these were administrative rather than legislative projects, this has not been thye case in Scotland, where bills to reopen old railways were vigorously debated, scrutinised, amended and passed by the Scottish Parliament. If we are serious about integrated public transport then we are going to have to get serious about how we are going to develop and redevelop our public transport infrastructure.

The Transport (Wales) Act which came into effect in February 2006 gave the National Assembly powers to plan and co-ordinate an integrated transport system, how much longer do we have to wait to see some vision? In the meantime the rail companies have been busy ramping up rail fares, attempting to reduce rail services, all with the tacit co-operation of the Westminster Labour Government and the Department for transport (in London).

Such duplicity has never been acceptable - it’s time for our government in Cardiff to take the long term view, to bite the bullet and actually put its money where its mouth is and work to redevelop our rail services, boost the development of rail freight and to co-ordinate rail and bus services across the whole of Wales. To do this effectively Wales needs to have full control of it's transport policy and transport budget devolved as quickly as possible and the franchise when it is renewed in 2017 needs to be run on a not for profit basis.

In the south east , we need Abergavenny and Chepstow railway stations to be real gateways, with fully integrated local bus services. We need better facilities at Severn Tunnel Junction and Caldicot railway stations and the provision of adequate safe secure parking facilities. We need feasibility studies into the development of a Parkway Station at Little Mill and the possibilities of re-opening the railway line from Little Mill to Usk and the development of a new railway station at Usk.

The final stage of the rail-link from Ebbw Vale to Newport needs to be completed and railway stations at Caerleon and Magor would help to reduce road congestion. Such developments would provide a regular rail service to local residents and reduce the ever increasing traffic burden from already overcrowded roads. The re-opening of Pontrilas Railway station (in south Herefordshire) for passenger traffic (and timber shipments) would also help, as would a feasibility study into developing regional rail freight services, removing heavy Lorries from local roads.

If the Governments in London and Cardiff are really serious about cutting carbon emissions and reducing road congestion then we need work to get heavy goods back onto our railways. There is no quick fix, but, the time for excuses is over, we need to plan for the future. This may not be cheap but it can be done if the political will is there, as has happened in Scotland, where there is a useful combination of the will, the funding and interested private partners.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


News that the number of people visiting high streets and shopping centres has fallen more in Wales than any other part of the UK sadly comes as no surprise. On my way to work in my home town of Newport, I walk past far too many empty or closed but partially furnished shops every day. The British Retail Consortium has revealed that footfall in Welsh towns and cities has dropped by 9.2% between April and July, the UK average footfall was down 1%.

Part of this is down to the recession, part of it down to the over reliance of local economies by chain retail stores and supermarkets, not to mention the cumulative damage that has been done since the 1980's with the growth of out of town or edge of town retail developments. Take my home town of Newport, where two Newport superstores set to open new stores barely a mile apart (within weeks of each other) and may create 650 new jobs. Morrisons in Lysaghts and redeveloped Tesco Extra in Spytty (both in the south of Newport) are due to open their doors in the autumn offering a combined 162,432 square feet of shopping space and employing up to 1,000 people.

Newport currently has 23 supermarkets, a significant number of which don't just sell food, for the record, we have:
  • seven Tescos
  • three Icelands
  • two Asdas
  • two Morrisons
  • three Cooperative food stores 
  • one Sainsbury store 
  • three Lidl and 
  • two Aldi supermarkets. 

Some of the larger supermarkets operating within the Newport area have been specifically targeting the smaller more local shopping centres. One of the consequences of excessive economic impact on local economies from the expansion of the supermarket sector is a loss of jobs as local businesses go under. Supermarket domination of the retail trade puts the local food infrastructure at risk threatening the viability of local wholesalers and small firms and the associated jobs in other businesses that offer support services i.e. banking, financial services, building work, packaging, etc.

The economic consequences of the generational failure to create a level playing field for local small businesses (not just in Newport) over the last twenty five years. This has been aggravated by a failure to redevelop Newport's commercial centre and the failure to restrict out of town developments; something that is now beginning to reap some pretty grim economic consequences.

A study by the National Retail Planning Forum in 1998 of 93 new superstores found that each one resulted in a net loss of 270 local jobs. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) noted that the UK is losing approximately 2,000 local shops every year and by 2015 (if this rate of loss is sustained) there there will be no independent retailers left in business.

This hits small businesses, consumers and our communities hard as they lose any real choice in the marketplace. Until fairly recently many or our smaller and larger towns, managed to retain a reasonably rich mix of local shops, small businesses and local suppliers. They have suffered in recent years as the usual suspects in the shape of “identikit” chain stores have run riot and replicated themselves across our nation's high streets.

Our Local Authorities (and here Newport is pretty typical) have been too often tempted as developers offering includes, sweeteners and inducements to ease the passage of proposed developments. They may be advised of the financial consequences of planning applications being taken to appeal if permission is refused and our elected representatives have been silenced by often dubious promises of potential jobs - so much for local democracy!

Local Authorities have failed to adequately research the implications of large scale developments on local retail needs within their development plans. If retailing needs have not been assessed then it’s pretty difficult to amend or refuse any potentially damaging planning applications from wealthy large developers, at which point local small businesses and consumers begin to pay the price.

Despite the lip service about improving the vitality and viability of our town centres, many out of town retail developments have consistently undermined this aim. Local authorities have turned a blind eye to the economic and social consequences of out of town or edge of town retail developments. The economic reality has fallen well short of the verbal aspiration, just look at the damage that has been done to Abergavenny, Chepstow, Monmouth, Newport and elsewhere.

How can local regeneration schemes ever hope to work, once the commercial heart of our high streets has already been seriously damaged. I don't have a problem with redevelopment but it's important to include an element for local retail and small businesses. Our small businesses end up being disadvantaged not just because of their inability to compete on level terms with the increasingly aggressive tactics of supermarkets and retail chains who are chasing an ever larger market share, but, because they get pushed out of the high street.

More than ever, our planners and our elected representatives at all levels need to think about the long term economic consequences of planning decisions. We need to take the longer term view, rather than get fixated on short term financial gains and questionable inducements from developers and the often hyped up promise of jobs.

Locally, in Newport, Labour ran the show from 1981 until 2004, effectively presiding over the run down of the town centre and a rapid expansion of out of town shopping centres, which to be fair even if they had opposed no doubt the Conservative run Welsh Office would have retrospectively approved. Yet even with New Labour in power in Westminster from 1997 and occasionally in Cardiff (from 1999) the local Labour run county council did little other than to sit pretty on the top of the pile.

They paid the price in 2004, being swept from office as New Labour's unpopularity grew. They lost control for the first time since 1979, but managed to run down the finances before election day. Now Labour in Newport is puring like a cat waiting for the cream, as they expect to be swept back into office, on the back of an unpopular Conservative - Lib Democrat coalition government, so they can get their noses back in the trough.

Next May, Newport goes to the polls and the election should be about more than merely throwing out the current lot out because of the record of their government in Westminster. Especially if the electorate is merely going to replace them with another lot who ran the town into the ground, when they ran the place previously. Repeating the mistakes of the past won't solve the current problems that beset our town at the moment, come May 2012 we need real change.

Sunday, 21 August 2011


I was wondering the other day whether or not there is a plan for Wales or no doubt West Britain as its called in the darkest reaches of Whitehall. I wonder this because we have two tier planning system within Wales, by this I mean local (county borough) level and UK national level. Planned large scale housing developments in the north east are designed to deal with housing shortages in Merseyside, while those in the south east around Newport appear to exist largely to fill the projected housing gap in the Bristol area.

The planning appeal system, appears to favour the developers (at local people's expense). The planning process in Wales is confusing and designed to work, as far as I can see in a non-devolved planning environment. There appears to be no specific holistic joined up housing plan for Wales, other than to carry on approving housing developments that bring scant benefit to local people and local communities - certainly not cheap affordable housing.

Local democracy on a county borough level has been undermined, as developers (and here we are not just talking about housing) simply appear to me to carry on appealing until they get their way or get their development retrospectively approved at a higher level. Local government officers will (and do)advise local councillors not to turn down developments (whatever the grounds) because the developers will appeal until the cows come home and that local government just does not have.

We appear as far as I can see to be short of plans for Wales for housing, energy and economic development and many other areas. The last national assembly coalition government at least attempted to try and do so something different, when it came to housing, economic development and our infrastructure. The current New Labour government appear to be content to do nothing (as Labour at many levels of government in Wales have done for years) until new Labour is back in power in Westminster and are (as far as I can see) quite happy to remain poor West Britons.

Friday, 19 August 2011


Yet another anniversary, this time the twentieth anniversary of the failed Soviet Coup attempt which brought about the final demise of the Soviet Union. At the time I watched most of it live on TV in my office in South London with my colleagues, the defining moment was, at least from where I was sat was the moment when Boris Yeltsin walked boldly out of the White House, and climbed up onto the tank, shook hands with the tank crew and turned to speak to the crowd and the world, declaiming to the assembled Moscow residents and representatives of the worlds media, saying:

Boris Yeltsin outside the White House
 "The clouds of terror and dictatorship are gathering over the whole country. They must not be allowed to bring eternal night." and “You can make a throne of bayonets, but you can't sit on it for long.”

Twenty years down the line, and with the benefit of hindsight it's pretty clear the botched coup merely speeded up the demise of the Soviet Union. With the people on the streets (the defiance was not just confined to Moscow for example 10,000 protesters flooded the square in provincial Sverdlovsk and there were no arrests) the forces of reaction stalled, blinked, drank and crumbled.

Soviet communism was finally exposed live on TV as the repressive force it was, it ended up discredited in the eyes of the Russian people and proved itself unequal to their hopes and aspirations. A one party tyranny based state that emerged from the chaos of the first world war, two revolutions and a bloody civil war some 74 years previously, quietly rolled over and died as Russia was reborn.

People and Tank in Moscow 
 Yeltsin and the democrats were helped by the fact that the Soviet Coup plotters might well have had Stalinist impulses, but they thankfully lacked both the competence and the cruelty of their predecessors. The fact that the generals and the soldiers on the ground lacked the will to bathe Moscow in blood, write it up in orwellian newspeak as a victory for soviet socialism. The KGB leaders on the ground (it emerged afterwards) point blank refused to storm the White House (in St Petersburg the KGB apparently supported the Russian democrats), they were unwilling to spill so much blood, and two Generals threatened to bomb the Kremlin in retaliation if the White House was stormed.

By the time Gorbachev came back to Moscow he was literally coming back to another country. Boris Yeltsin, was now running the show and the state, Russia was back. I remember the live defining theatrical moment, when Yeltsin forced the then Soviet leader to sign the all-powerful Soviet Communist Party out of existence. The reality was that after more than 70 years the Soviet Union was rapidly dissolving day by day and moment by moment, as the various republics declared their independence and their independence was recognised by Russia and the Western powers.

What followed was a high speed and shockingly chaotic transfer of the old institutions of Soviet state to the new Russian state. On the 8th December, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus renounced the (1922) treaty that had created the Russian dominated Soviet Union. On the 25th December (our Christmas Day), Gorbachev duly resigned in a tv broadcast and accepted the dissolution of the world's second superpower, the Russian flag was duly raised over the Kremlin and the party was well and truly over, but, one mother of a hangover was to follow.

Sadly the fledgling Russian democracy was in no condition to deliver on peoples hopes and aspirations, the democrats found themselves rapidly pushed out of the corridors of power and the era of the oligarchs began. The much trumpeted privatisations brought in millions for the privatisers (and some of the former state officials) but brought in a flood tide of chaos, corruption, poverty and misery to millions of ordinary Russians. All of this may go some way to explaining why there so much disillusionment and cynicism in modern Russia today.

The Russia that emerged was quite different from its new independent neighbours, and not just in scale, but in historical experience and character. The country had suffered waves of emigration (some voluntary, some not) with the departure of aristocracy, the business and educated and professional classes. Stalin's terror, the great patriotic war and the inertia of the late 1960's, the 1970's and the 1980's all left their mark in memory, attitude and expectation.

If we are being honest, some of this is our fault, certainly in the early 1990's there was a marked failure in the West, to accept that Russia, was not the old Soviet Union. The West never reached out to Russia either economically or politically. Russia by way of comparison with the largess that was handed our to the old Soviet-bloc countries waiting to join the EU, did rather badly. The Western leaders desire to create 'a new Europe' oddly enough did not stretch to include Russia.

Instead of support and help to build democratic intuitions all Russia got was an ill-thought out hurried crash course in free-market economics not to mention a degree of criticism over Russia's failure to meet Western democratic and judicial standards. It was consummate arrogance on the part of the West to think that the western European trans-atlantic model of 'free market' capitalism would work in Russia, one size does not (and did not) fit all. When the Russian democratic system belatedly began to throw up popular choices that the West did not like then help to tweak the election results in favour of Boris Yeltsin was duly forthcoming.

The combination of institutional corruption, selective intolerance of democratic opponents, extra judicial murder of journalists (and critics of the regime), suspicious deaths in custody and occasional bouts of hyper inflation (which eradicated ordinary peoples savings), border wars and terrorism have left modern Russia and different and a depressing pseudo democratic state. Throw in the activities of the pro Kremlin media moguls (who would make News International look like a bunch of cack handed woolly headed amateurs) buying up or closing down opposition news organisations and is it any wonder that democracy in Russia stalled.

Perhaps if the Soviet Union had lingered longer and gone through more of transition to representative democracy then things might have been different. Russia was half-way through its own revolution when the Soviet Union collapsed around it. Things were different in middle and eastern Europe where the Baltic peoples and the East and Central Europeans literally overthrew the old system and started things with a reasonably clean slate. Poor old Russia was left to muddle through and to attempt to sort out several things at once.

The welcome exposure of communist ideology as the empty shell it was helped to bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, it's important to remember that the overthrow of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union were two different but intertwined processes. The events of 1990 and 1991 were as as much a clash between Russia and the Soviet Union, as visibly portrayed by the personal struggle between Yeltsin and Gorbachev, as they were any meaningful argument about any form of ideology.

In middle and eastern Europe the former Soviet client states were able to start anew, with new institutions and (in most countries) new people, Russia's revolution focused on a recovery and restoration of it's lost sovereignty. Russia has, amongst other things been over the last twenty years recovering its history, borders, statehood, and its historic mission. All this took place while Russia was also attempting to find its place in the new neighbourhood (near abroad) and the new world (far abroad).

With Russian statehood came a wave of re-branding and re-imaging as former Soviet institutions emerged as all Russian institutions. The old KGB for example was reborn and re-branded as the Federal Security Service (FSB), the same process took place in a host of other organisations. Yet old Soviet habits died hard and old Soviet mind sets lingered on, if not clawed back some of their previous prestige and power. Despite everything that has happened Russia has not turned into Upper Volta with nuclear weapons and no gunboats have appeared on the Volga as was predicted by some commentators in the 1990's.

Russia has not gone backwards, things are different both significantly and more subtly, modern Russia is not the former Soviet Union, we are all somewhere different. Any half baked partial restoration of the Soviet past will not work as every year that passes a new generation who have no memory of the CCCP comes through the school system. Putin, despite his faults and the work of the Kremlin spin doctors, is no Stalin, no Yeltsin, yet may be more of a Brezhnev. Personally he is one of the generation that crosses the great divide - the latter years of Soviet Union, the turbulent years of the economic and political transition from 1989 to 1992, and the free market chaos of the mid-1990s.

Prime Minister Putin
 Putin as president and prime minister may, when the dust settles and we look back in hindsight from another twenty years in the future, have provided Russia and the Russian people with some hard earned breathing space and settled things down, but at what cost? The last twenty years have been rough for the Russian people, who have lived through a lot since 1914, war, revolutions, Stalin's terror, the great patriotic war and the gulags, not to mention Kruschev, Brezhnev and the demise of the Soviet Union. There is also the loss of Soviet Empire to consider, a Russian acquaintance once told me that the British had sixty years to get the loss of their Empire (and some have not got over the loss), while the the Russians had a fortnight - ouch!

The West and the Europeans have clearly missed opportunities (some of which were loudly pointed out at the time) to help Russia. Russia should have been offered the hand of friendship, not to mention NATO membership and in my opinion some sort of most favoured nation trading status within the European Union. There should have been real support (financial and otherwise) for the transition of Russia's economy and institutions towards a fully fledged democracy. Had this been more forthcoming than not only might modern Russia have been different and more democratic but the European Union might well have been different as well.

As for Russia, the ball is firmly in their court, perhaps the children and grandchildren of the people who courageously stood up to the attempted coup in August 1991 will finally reap the full benefits of a fully democratic and free Russia rather than the fragile democracy that exists now. Some terribly grim things were done in the name of Soviet state Socialism, but, not everything the Soviet Union did (as least domestically) was bad. That said, a rose tinted nostalgia for the past won't butter bread or fill your petrol tank or keep a roof over your head.

And here in the West, as well as in Russia, there are those who have also not adjusted to our new common realities, the fall of the wall and the demise of the Soviet Union should have led to the loss of those tired old (and now pointless) labels of 'left' and 'right.' The new game is called globalisation, and people, communities and nations are mere commodities and as it's largely bereft of ideology - it's now about how we deal with the worst of its social and economic consequences.

Thursday, 18 August 2011


Last Saturday (13th August) was the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall,it passed, outside of Germany, largely unnoticed. Berlin City resident and German political leaders marked the vent with a memorial service and a minute of silence in honour of those who died trying to escape across the wall into the West. After the reunification of Germany, pretty understandably most of the 160-km (100-mile) Wall which encircled West Berlin (which survived as a free enclave deep in the heart of Communist East Germany) was rapidly knocked down in the euphoria of 1989. There were only a few remnants of the 3.6-metre-high Wall left when Germany reunited by the autumn of 1990.

Many tourists come to Berlin each year and search mostly in vain for traces of the Wall, save for the parts that the city authorities have re-erected and restored. New buildings have gone up on many parts of the former "death strip" and streets and tram lines have been reconnected making it hard to tell where the barrier once stood. The ceremony on Saturday was held at an 800-metre-long piece of the Wall complex on Bernauer Strasse that has been rebuilt, but, was once the scene of some dramatic escapes after the Wall was finished.

What price freedom?
People jumped from upper storey windows in buildings on the east side of the Wall to the street on the west. The windows were soon sealed off and the buildings were later demolished.The mind is certainly concentrated when you remember that the last person killed trying to escape to freedom was shot by border guards in June 1989, and the wall ceased to function in November of the same year. All in all there were around some 5,000 successful escapes to West Berlin, and no doubt many failed escape attempts. There is an on-going argument about how many people died trying to escape to freedom - according to the Center for Contemporary Historical Research (ZZF) in Potsdam there were 136 confirmed deaths.

I might be child of the 'Cold War' but have no nostalgia for it or the grim certainties of the Cold War era. I, not doubt like many others, am more than happy to have seen the demise of the Berlin Wall, East Germany and the Communist block and Soviet Union. The democratic revolutions and the changes that swept Middle and Eastern Europe in the late 1980's and the 1990's have made Europe a far better and freer place for most of us - but there is still room for improvement. It is however, important that we remember the wall and the grim years of totalitarian oppression in the East and also those who resisted the tyranny and paid the price with imprisonment, wrecked lives and cruel treatment at the hands of the Communist authorities.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011


Anna Hazare
Taking a stand against a corrupt self serving elite who run the country to suit their own ends and to help line their pockets in the process requires courage and determination. In Ireland, India and elsewhere there are people who are ready to stand up and be counted regardless of the personal cost..

In India, one of those people is Anna Hazare, a 74 year old man, who leading India's anti-corruption campaign and, who is seen increasingly, as a thorn in the government's side, by ordinary Indians and their own Government.

Over the last few years, dozens of Indians have been killed or badly injured as they have tried to expose corruption. Mr Hazare's calls for passive resistance have struck a chord among millions of Indians, who are disgusted by unprecedented levels of corruption that plague many areas of Indian government and beyond. Much to the embarrassment of the Indian government comparisons have been drawn between Mr Hazare and Gandhi.

India Against Curruption (Associated Press)
At the moment he is in prison as on Tuesday he was arrested on the eve of an anti-corruption protest timed to take place as a proposed new anti-corruption law that the government was due to be presented to parliament.

The Indian authorities said Mr Hazare was being held for a week, but, once confronted by thousands of Mr Hazare's supporters who came out on the streets of New Delhi and other cities, the Indian government rapidly backtracked and quickly announced that he would be freed.

The problem for the Indian Government is that arresting him did not solve the problem, as now (despite being freed) he won't leave and has gone on hunger strike until the police guarantee that his original protest (which led to his arrest) will be allowed to go ahead. There have been protests at New Dehli's India Gate, with thousands of supporters shouting slogans and holding placards demanding Mr Hazare's release and that the government act on corruption. There have been protests across India in Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Calcutta and elsewhere.

Recently India has been hit by a string of high-profile corruption scandals, which have included a multi-billion dollar alleged telecoms scam, alleged possible financial malpractices in connection with the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games. There have also been allegations that houses allocated for war widows have been diverted to civil servants.

Indian government critics have said that the scandals point to a pervasive culture of corruption in Mr Singh's administration. A recent survey said corruption in India cost billions of dollars and threatened to derail growth. As the tentacles of corruption spreads, one question that might be asked is who is India being run for, the elite or the people?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


An angry David Cameron pictured earlier! 
Where-ever else we are it may be safe to say that David Cameron is well over a million miles away from those 'hug a hoodie' sentiments expressed back in Manchester in July 2006. The 'English Riots' as they have been called have generated more than a fair amount of some of irate (and some of it ill-informed) opinion circulating since the riots of last week – some of it from social (both right and left wing) commentators, not to mention ivory tower dwelling academics and politico’s of various hues calling for a tough line and a clamp down on gang culture, wanton criminality, etc.

Some of the angry rhetoric is from the PM – no doubt about it Cameron is in a bad mood, I can understand that, he had to speed back from Tuscany to sort out the mess created by the riots, abandoning his holiday. I suspect that we may all see a great deal of Angry Dave as the gloves appear to be off and the war against the underclass, scroungers, benefit cheats (you take your pick) will no doubt continue for a while yet.

While this safe and happy ground for the right wing Tories who are not doubt much more comfortable with fulminating about riots (no doubt with acres of thundering Daily Mail editorials – calling for national service, deportations, evictions and the cancellation of any miscreants benefits, etc) than they have been with Cameron’s caring cuddly conservatism. As for the party formally known as New Labour appears to be on less steady ground – attempts to spin a narrative based around social deprivation and cuts came to a crashing halt on News night the other week when Michael Gove and Harriet Harman went head to head in what can best be described as the battle of the lightweights.

There has been a lot said about ‘greed’ of late and much condemnation of blatant criminality, it’s a pity that similar condemnation and the loud calls call for a rigorous application of the law have not been applied to tax evasion, tax avoidance and some of the dubious activities of the banksters within the banking sector. There are inherent dangers for the politicians not far down the line once they start to preach, especially when a significant number of them got caught with their hands in the till.

Where next we may all ask - we have a had the war on drugs (failed), we have had the war on terror (failing) are we now destined to see the war on the gangs! Best to search out a moral high horse and possibly a sword of truth (or vengeance in the case). The only problem is if you are going to preach it helps to have some sort of moral grounding. Both New Labour and the Con Dems have sat back and done nothing while the suited and booted professional looters or banksters got away with it. Milibland and Cameron are sitting pretty while the profiteers who run the energy cartel and our railways make tidy (if not excessive) profits at public expense and not a word is said.

Milibland has rightly said that MPs, journalists and bankers have been shown to be greedy and immoral and that they are part of the problem. Cameron has also drawn attention to what he see as a moral decline in banking and elsewhere among the wealthy. Hoodies might be out of fashion, it's worth noting that in certain circles when Bullingdon club members smash up restaurants, go on a rampage, no doubt stealing or trashing other peoples property and generally behave on a drunken, violent and obnoxious way for some reason they are engaged in high jinks, etc.

The Con Dem Government seriously needs to re-think it’s plans to cut police budgets by 20%. In the past, when the economic situation is poor, there has been an associated rise in crime such as thefts and burglary. The police have long pointed out that a 20% cut made to police forces in England and Wales would lead directly to difficulties in policing on the front-line. Neither the threat of cuts, job losses or heavy handed politicians (within and without the Home Office / Ministry of Justice) does not helps Police or Police civil staff morale at all, it merely sends the message that the Con Dem government does not value their sacrifices and their work on the streets.

The Universities Police Science Institute has estimated that the government grant for local policing will fall by £1.36bn over the next four years, this suggests that local services in England and Wales will be most affected by government cuts to the policing budget. The institute's report has noted that the rise in police officer numbers that took place since 2004-5 enabled the expansion of neighbourhood, or community, policing; and so logically they point out that cuts in funding for neighbourhood and community policing will have the greatest impact in some of our most vulnerable communities.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


It has long been noted that when it comes to justice (and a fair price) for consumers the wheeels of justice can turn pretty slow and those with deep pockets can no doubt smooth the path towards compromise and delay. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) after an inquiry into the price fixing of dairy products has hit Tresco with a £10m fine.

The supermarket giant was one of nine firms facing penalties totalling close to £50m for colluding over the price of milk and cheese in 2002 and 2003. The OFT found that Arla, Asda, Dairy Crest, McLelland, Safeway, Sainsbury's, The Cheese Company, Wiseman, and Tesco all infringed the Competition Act by co-ordinating rises in the prices consumers paid for certain dairy products in 2002 and, or 2003.

Tesco who have denied collusion with the other companies, say they will appeal have expressed "surprise and dismay" that it was included in the penalties handed down by the regulator. OFT estimates that the collusion (or unhappy coincidence) resulted shoppers paying 2 pence extra for a litre of milk and 2p extra on 100g of cheese.

The final penalties announced by the OFT were £9.39m for Asda, £7.14m for Dairy Crest, £1.66m for McLelland, £5.69m for Safeway, £11.04m for Sainsbury's, £1.26m for The Cheese Company, £3.2m for Wiseman and £10.43m for Tesco. Although Arla was found to been involved in the infringement regarding milk in 2003, it has not been fined as it alerted the OFT to price fixing and was given immunity.

While this does not sound much the regulator initially calculated that £270m extra was spent by UK consumers as a result of the price fixing, but no total figure has been included in the final report. So how much longer will we have to wait for the Con Dem Govenrment to deliever on its pre election promises of brining in a Supermarket Ombudsman?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


There are over 4,000 people in Wales still waiting for allotments, this number has not dropped in the last two years. The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners (with 5,000 members in Wales) argue that there needs to be more emphasis on providing allotments.
Now there is an old adage about thinking globally and acting locally - the issue of allotments may be one of those local actions that can have far reaching consequences. I mention this because the UK Westminster government back in January 2010 revealed it's twenty year food strategy.

None of us should take our food supply for granted - back in March 2009, Professor John Beddington (Westminster Government adviser) predicted the possibilities of a climate change-induced "perfect storm". This is where a combination of food shortages, water scarcity and insufficient energy resources combine to drop us all right in it. Now this something that's been around for a while, but, the UK Westminster mindset, so it took a while for any sort of coherent response to emerge.

On a very local level, one of the simplest ways to make very basic preparations for ourselves to deal with the consequences of potentially rocketing food and oil prices, which many scientists believe are not that far away in the near future as a result of peak oil, is for as many people as possible to grow some of their own food. There are long waiting lists for allotments in all areas of Wales. Whatever demand is there should be encouraged.

A few years ago there were moves to try to increase the amount of land available for food production, Plaid’s then Rural Affairs Minister; Elin Jones looked for ways to increase the availability of land for allotments and community gardens. The Westminster government’s somewhat
belated call for less food waste, more seasonal food and for people to buy sustainably-farmed food is to be welcomed.

While the idea of a food strategy has been welcomed, we have to be realistic, as food price problems could hit us pretty quickly and with little warning. It makes logical sense for governments to help, encourage and enable communities on as small a scale as possible to build in their own resilience and their own resources so they can cope with a potential food or fuel crisis themselves.

However, we need to go much further and faster in terms of reducing food imports and avoiding food waste. Providing land for allotments to our communities, especially as the demand for allotments continues to grow apace would help. I am well aware of as a significant number of my friends, relatives and various acquaintance’s (in Newport, Torfaen and Monmouthshire and elsewhere) all have allotments, or are trying to acquire them, so I am aware of the length of time it takes to acquire a plot.

It's not just about providing a ready source of vegetables and saving money, there are other benefits from raising and looking after your own crops as the process actually provides a degree of necessary exercise, a good excuse to get stuck in a social context. Early in 2009, Plaid AM Leanne Wood produced research which showed that some people may well have to wait for nearly nine years before they get a sniff of a plot or pitch.

What I still find amazing is that the whole business of allotments is still largely regulated by legislation from the early years of the 20th Century. The 1908 Small Holdings and Allotment Act says a council has a duty to provide land if they are satisfied there is demand and if six electors petition that council, their representations have to be taken into consideration.

There are enough examples across Wales, where groups of interested people have petitioned their local council only to be told that the council has considered their request, but there is no land available and some examples where local authorities have made land available. This if nothing else shows a complete lack of anything like a consistent approach to the provision of allotments.

Clearly our local authorities need to sort themselves out when it comes to the provision of land for allotments and help people to help themselves. The Welsh Government has included allotment provision in its legislative priorities for the next five-year assembly term and says it will set out plans to ensure minimum standard for the amount of land Welsh councils should devote to allotments. This should be a win! win! for everybody - so get it done!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Ten years is a long time to wait for a train, that’s how long the good citizens of Ebbw Vale and Newport have been waiting for the go-a-head for approval for the final stage of rail link to be completed from Ebbw Vale to Newport. Two feasibility studies down the line so to speak and the jury is still out on whether or not we will get a decision come the autumn. The final business case appraisal of Network Rail’s report, has been completed but not yet been released. With more than a few degrees of irony, it can be said that few railways will have (if we get the final go-a-head) been waiting approval through two centuries (the twentieth and the twenty first). I have lost track (if you will pardon the expression) of how many start dates have come and gone on this project. Enough is enough this rail link is important and needs to be completed and fully opened as soon as possible! Which bit don’t they (the elected inhabitants of Cardiff Bay) get?

Monday, 8 August 2011


The exposure of whats been done with aid in Ethiopia by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and BBC 2's Newsnight should make the UK Westminster Government and other Western Governments think about the consequences of misdirected aid and the form by which aid is offered to repressive governments in Africa and elsewhere. There is a need for a full, frank and periodic accounting of exactly how foreign aid is spent and who actually gets access to it on the ground.

Meles Zenawi and friend
Sadly this is old news, as observers have for many years been concerned that Western aid to Africa is being used to prop up some pretty grim autocratic regimes. The direct link between aid and political repression was demonstrated last year in “Development without Freedom,” an extensively documented new report on Ethiopia by Human Rights Watch. Based on interviews with 200 people in 53 villages and cities throughout the country, the report concludes that the Ethiopian government, headed by prime minister Meles Zenawi, regularly uses aid as a political weapon to discriminate against non-party members and punish dissenters, sending the population the draconian message that “survival depends on political loyalty to the state and the ruling party.”

Ethiopia is Africa’s largest recipient of foreign aid (at $3.3 billion in 2008 and rising), and is frequently described as a country where western assistance is providing a safety net for the poor and laying the groundwork for country-wide economic growth. The UK is the second largest aid doner in Ethiopia after the USA. Donors working in Ethiopia, cite progress on six out of the eight Millennium Development Goals, claiming that aid has had a significant impact on improving the lives of the poorest families.

Ethiopia which is a predominantly Christian country that borders two unstable Islamic states (Somalia, and Sudan), not to mention Africa's newest independent state (South Sudan) is seen as strategically important by the West. Former communist Ethiopia is seen as a crucial if not vital ally in the ongoing and floundering so called war on terror.

Human Rights Watch contends that the Ethiopian government abuses aid funds for political purposes—in programs intended to help Ethiopia’s most poor and vulnerable. For example, more than fifty farmers in three different regions said that village leaders withheld government provided seeds and fertilizer, and micro-loans because they didn’t belong to the ruling party. Some villagers have been asked to renounce their views and join the party to ensure that they receive assistance and aid.

Human Rights Watch, investigating one program that purportedly gives food and cash in exchange for work on public projects, the report documented the fact that farmers who have never been paid for their work and entire families who have been barred from participating because they were thought to belong to the opposition. Still more disturbing local officials have denied emergency food aid to women, children, and the elderly as punishment for refusing to join the party.

None of this should surprise anyone, not really, Meles Zenawi has for many years charmed and won the trust of Western leaders even as his government becomes increasingly repressive. Numerous journalists, editors, judges, academics, and human rights defenders have all been forced to flee the country or languish behind bars, at risk of torture. New laws that were passed in 2005 have made opposition political activity more difficult than ever.

The Ethiopian Government has used almost every tool in the book to from handing out fertilizer, credit loans to its supporters and denying them to its opponents which helps to crush the opposition. Human Rights Watch says that the umbrella group that representing the 26 donors to Ethiopia intend to continue more or less with business as usual. The overall response has been to reject the blatantly reject the conclusions of the Human Rights Watch report, stating that their own research, has not found any evidence of systematic or widespread distortion.

There is a growing awareness in the aid community of how foreign development support has sustained anti-democratic regimes, yet little has changed and the dictators continue to receive a third of all international aid expenditures, and much of the remaining portion goes to countries that are at best only partly free. A study of aid recipients over the past three decades shows that this failure on the part of western aid donors to separate themselves from autocratic rulers is not just confined to Ethiopia—or even just to Africa.

One excuse, and it may be a genuine one, is a real concern for the poor, hungry and sick who will suffer or die if the government stopped providing vital social services as a result of aid cuts. Lets be brutally honest another less than generous reason is that aid agencies literally exist to give aid; careers and empires have been constructed within what is now the aid industry and organisational incentives push aid bureaucrats to keep the money flowing, to keep their field offices open, and secure their own jobs.

In Ethiopia's case, a violent government crackdown left 200 dead in 2005 and seriously embarrassed the donor community into an unusually frank reconsideration of their strategy. Until the 2005 crackdown, many donors had been giving aid through the mechanism known as “direct budget support,” by which money goes direct into the Ethiopian federal government budget (rather than directly to specific projects).

Even the World Bank (back in 2006) possibly disturbed by the Ethiopian government’s repressive behaviour decided to channel aid through local government to prevent funds being used for domestic political projects. The World Bank which has been no great friend of democracy let alone sustainable development in the recent past, stated that it would reduce aid to Ethiopia if governance did not improve.

Even before the Human Rights Watch report came out, impartial observers had noted how hollow the World Bank’s threats were as local governments in Ethiopia are also under the direct control of the ruling party. Donors have however been reversing this feeble step, as they have argued for a quick return to direct budget support, citing questionable progress in institution-building and small improvements in governance.

Blatant indifference to democratic values is both tragic and lazy as there are many ways the aid community might help Ethiopians rather than help their rulers. Aid donors could insist that investigations into aid abuse be credible, independent and free from government interference, and they could cut support to programs that are being used as weapons of repression against the opposition. Donars could speak out against repressive legislation that aims to weaken or destroy Ethiopian civil society. Donars could also find ways to bypass the government altogether, channeling funds through NGOs instead, or giving direct transfers or scholarships to individuals.

As a final last step, if the Ethiopian government moves to prevent attempts by donors to reach beneficiaries, then aid to Ethiopia could be suspended entirely. A complete aid cutoff under these circumstances cannot further hurt those who are not getting any aid in the first place. Aid donors need to recognise that the current status quo is unacceptable.

Repeated failures by the West to link development aid with the democracy, human rights and the rule of law during the Cold War and afterwards have led to this situation. We have reached the crazy situation where Foreign aid to Ethiopia ends up not improving (or even saving) the lives of those most in need. Much needed Foreign aid has actually ended up by financing the people's oppressors, and has made a bad situation even worse. Doing nothing is not an option, but, clearly we need to think again and ensure that foreign aid gets to where it can do the most good rather than prop up unsavoury regimes.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


The UN Security Council has finally come around to condemning the Syrian government for its deadly crackdown on protesters. This is the first clear condemnation issued by the Security Council, which includes longstanding allies of Syria such as Russia not to mention Brazil, India and South Africa who all have close ties to Syria.

The UN Security Council has after much faffing about finally condemned "the widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities". And has said that those who are responsible for the violence should be held accountable. EU members of the 15-nation council had pushed for a strong resolution condemning the Syrian government and calling for a rights inquiry.

Over the weeks and months since the unrest / uprising for democracy (take your pick) India, Brazil and South Africa have been dragging their heels on a Security Council resolution that would have allowed for strong international action on Syria. Despite the heel dragging they remain committed to democracy and peace and have called for an end to the brutality of Assad's regime.

The UN statement was adopted despite the concerns of some members that any action could lead to Libya-style intervention. The Syrian army is continuing to attack the city of Hama, a centre of opposition protest, with reports of much loss of life.

So far dozens of people may have been killed in the action against Hama, with residents saying that tanks have shot their way into Assi (Orontes) Square, in the centre of the city of 800,000 people. Human rights groups are suggesting that some 140 people may have been killed in the Syrian unrest since Sunday, mainly in Hama, adding to a civilian death toll believed to be more than 1,600 since March.

So far, no matter how hard the Assad regime tries to crush the demonstrations it does not seem to be working. There were reports of further large demonstrations in several Syrian cities late on Wednesday evening and Syrian activists told AFP news agency that 50,000 people demonstrated in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, 20,000 in Duma, north of Damascus, and 40,000 in Homs.

What comes next? I wonder what the UN will do next? Where does the UN go from here? In this case, I suspect that not a lot will happen, especially as the European element of NATO appears to be bogged down in Libya. Not to mention that Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa won't go along with anything close to intervention in Syria.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


A new report by Harvard researchers outlines potential economic benefits of independence for Wales. The bottom line is that had Wales become an independent small nation within the EU in 1990 (around the same time that the Berlin Wall fell and eastern Europe emerged from under Communism) and performed on a par with other small nations, the people in Wales could today be an average of 39% richer and Wales’ GVA per capita would now be greater than that of the UK.

These were some of the key conclusions form a new report produced by Harvard researchers Adam Price and Ben Levinger and commissioned by Plaid Cymru president Jill Evans MEP, a member of the Green-EFA group in the European Parliament. The report - 'The Flotilla Effect - Europe's small economies through the eye of the storm' - looks at what has been achieved by small independent EU nations and what an independent Wales could achieve.

This publication contributes to Plaid’s ongoing work in the field of economic development and present some key findings on the potential economic benefits of being a small independent nation.

Amongst some of the key findings of the report are:
  • Had Wales become an independent small nation within the EU in 1990, and performed on a par with other small nations, people in Wales could today be an average of 39% richer.
  • Small is richer: being small doesn't hamper a country's prosperity - in fact some of Europe's smallest countries are amongst its most prosperous, by various measures;
  • There is a 'small country bonus' amongst the EU's member states, with smaller countries growing at a more rapid pace;
  • In Western Europe, 50% of the differences in growth between the nations over the last 30 years can be explained by the differences in country size;
  • Smaller countries are frequently the fastest to recover from recession;
  • Four key factors make small nations economically successful - openness to trade, social cohesion, adaptability, 'the macro-politics of micro scale' - big government in a small country.

Launching the report, Plaid Cymru’s Jill Evans MEP said:

"Plaid has a vision for a wealthier, more prosperous Wales. This exciting report reinforces Plaid’s ongoing work in the field of economic development. Plaid’s work in government has already show that the party can take bold steps to ensure that our nation has the right economic conditions to succeed in the coming years. This work will continue as we make the case for greater economic responsibility for our nation in order make our people richer.

"The increasing progress towards independence of many small nations in the European Union, such as Catalonia, Flanders and Scotland, has put this issue firmly on the political agenda. The debate on Scottish independence, in particular, has huge implications for Wales. So it is essential that we have a real debate on how we build a successful and sustainable economy. I commissioned this work as a factual contribution to that debate.

"The report shows quite clearly that the size of a state is no barrier to economic success and sets out the potential of an independent Wales. It provides further evidence that we have nothing to fear from independence. Rather than being a hindrance to success, independence can be its catalyst."

Author of the report, research fellow at the Center for International Development at Harvard, Adam Price added:

"We've looked in detail at what has been achieved by small independent EU nations, and what an independent Wales could achieve and the results are far-reaching.

"People in Wales could be around 39% richer, and the Welsh economy could have grown by 2.5% a year had Wales achieved independence around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall and followed a similar patter to other similar small nations. In contrast, regions or countries which have rejected independence have performed poorly.

"This report shows quite clearly that size is no barrier to economic success, and in fact, that a small nations like Wales could benefit greatly from independence as many other small nations have done over the past decades.

“We discovered that there is a considerable 'small country bonus' amongst many of the countries we studies, with smaller countries growing at a more rapid pace and recovering quicker from recession.

"Opponents of independence and further devolution have often misused the current economic problems to suggest that small countries would struggle for survival in tough economic times. Many conclusions of this report blow these assumptions out of the water.

“Far from hampering a country's prosperity –being small can actually lead to greater economic success and greater prosperity. When it comes to charting the best economic course, small countries are the most adept and that is reflected in their wealth and well being. "

Makes you think doesn't it...