Monday, 31 March 2014


Plaid was right to criticise Labour MPs from Wales who collectively voted in favour of Chancellor Osborne’s welfare cap in the House of Commons. Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwardsalong with his Plaid Cymru colleagues Elfyn Llwyd and Hywel Williams were the only Welsh MP to oppose the cap, as Labour in Wales MP’s voted alongside Conservative and Liberal Democrat MP’s to betray some of our country’s most vulnerable people to literally limit the help available to the needy. This is a yet another classic example of Labour in Wales saying one thing and Labour in Westminster doing something different, so much for standing up for Wales!  
Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards MP  said:
“This was a significant vote which proved that Labour MPs from Wales make their decision based on orders from London, rather than on the needs of their constituents.
“It signals a betrayal of some of our nation’s most vulnerable people by a Labour party whose fork-tongued politicians say one thing in Wales and another in Westminster. The people of Wales deserve better than their spineless hypocrisy.
“Plaid Cymru was the only party from Wales to unanimously vote against this ill-judged and immoral policy – Welsh voters will no doubt bear this in mind at the ballot box.
“With the economy being so unpredictable, it makes no sense whatsoever to put a cap on welfare spending with no idea of how many people will need support should unemployment rise drastically and public services face further cuts.
“We in Plaid Cymru have proposed far better ways of bringing down the welfare bill than making the vulnerable pay for the failure of the banks. A living wage, rent caps, and scrapping mandatory zero-hour contracts are just some policies that would put an end to the “working poor” label once and for all.
“It is now clearer than ever before than when it comes to protecting the interests of the Welsh people, Plaid Cymru is the only party to be trusted.”

Sunday, 30 March 2014


Wales First! - Plaid Cymru Party Political Broadcast, March 2014

Thursday, 27 March 2014


Back in September 2013, the Home Office commissioned HM Inspectorate of Constabulary for England and Wales to look at the way our Police Services deal with domestic violence.
The report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has looked at how all 43 forces in England and Wales responded to domestic violence understandably does not make pleasant reading and contains some grim statistics.

It is time, I think to finally seperate the word ‘domestic’ from what is simply violence and to change the way offenders are dealt with. Serious consideration needs to be given to removing the reliance on initiating prosecution for the repeat offences from the victim to the Police Service, some preliminary work in this direction was done in Lambeth, by the Metropolitan Police Service in the 1990’s, but more work clearly needs to be done.  

While reform of the law in relation to domestic violence is long overdue, there has been some progress but we are continually confronted by grim statistics in relation to domestic violence. The HMIC report has criticised some aspects of the way both Gwent Police deals with domestic violence and the victims of domestic violence.  HMIC has accused Police forces of unacceptable weaknesses in relation to dealing with incidence of domestic violence and this despite domestic abuse being linked to 8% of crimes and police chiefs stating that abuse was a priority.

The HMIC investigation revealed that of some 600 domestic assault files, half did not include pictures of injuries - a standard piece of evidence for a prosecution. Police, the HMIC report noted, receive more than one million calls a year relating to domestic abuse and almost 58,000 victims - the vast majority of them women - were at risk of serious harm or murder.

The report stated that three women a fortnight were being killed by a partner or former partner and a third of all assaults recorded by the police related to domestic violence. In an exceptionally critical report, HMIC have said that chief police officers need to recognise that domestic abuse constitutes a major problem that demanded comparable resources and focus to those devoted to tackling other high volume crimes such as burglary.  The report noted that only eight out of 43 forces were responding well to domestic abuse.

HMIC noted that it had significant concerns about how Gwent Police responded to some victims of domestic violence, it noted where there had been improvements and made specific recommendations for improvement for Gwent Police. Historically our Police Services had a poor record when it came to dealing with domestic violence, with offences of violence in a domestic context being effectively written off. At the end of the day violence against a person, is violence against a person, the setting (‘domestic’ or otherwise) is irrelevant, it is an offence.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014


I have a small degree of sympathy with the view expressed by the Welsh Government that London should pay for rail electrification projects, as control over Network Rail (in Wales) has not (yet - if you read the Silk Commission report) been devolved to Wales. Now I would qualify that by saying that London (as the senior partner) in the Union should pay for UK wide infrastructure projects, and the electrification of the railway from London to Swansea would tick the box for most people as being a UK infrastructure project.

Rail electrification in the South?
The electrification of the Valley lines into Cardiff, possibly Swansea and hopefully Newport may well be another matter, having not been on the cards when the original electrification projects were planned. It is worth noting at this point that the last New Labour Westminster Government never intended the proposed electrification of the old Great Western line to go beyond Bristol – so much for standing up for Wales. As for electrifying the Valley lines, I would personally suggest getting on with it, it has been calculated that the Welsh Government could pay for that from its own transport budget, even after the Con Dem imposed cuts.

The problem comes from the fact that when it comes to transport infrastructure projects we in Wales literally have one hand tied behind out backs, because, unlike in Scotland, we have no control over transport infrastructure planning. It should be obvious by now that this (and the previous Westminster government) have little more than a passing interest in Wales, let alone any concerns for our national interests.

Handbags at fifty yards?
There is an old diplomatic service / civil service adage about crisis management, which goes along the lines of first you create your crisis, and then you manage it. That said there is more than a distinctly manufactured feel to this latest spat between the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay and the Con Dem coalition government in Westminster. Perhaps rather than a constitutional crisis or even a disagreement about more powers or a clash over point of principal, it may be more of a case of handbags at fifty yards.

The party formerly known as New Labour, when in Westminster government proved to be largely indifferent to Welsh interests, beyond political token gestures. This view can be said to have been backed up by the Welsh MPs voting record on matters of interest to Wales, since their party lost power in Westminster. Sadly this latest spat merely serves to strengthen the illusion that our nominally Welsh Labour government is standing up for Wales, the danger is that this dispute could end up delaying the much needed electrification of the valley lines for a few more years. 

We should have learned by now that we cannot rely on any Westminster Government to deliver for Wales. Let's electrify the Valley lines and the Ebbw Vale line (initially) into Cardiff by using some of the National Assembly's 0.78 billion transport budget. Here  in the South East, we need railway stations at Caerleon and Magor and better facilities for passengers and more stopping services at Severn Tunnel, Chepstow and Abergavenny along with more secure park and ride schemes and better integration with local bus services – it’s time to stop asking and to start demanding that government actually delivers for our country. 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


For too long economic development in Wales focused on maximising our potential as a ‘low wage economy’ this short sighted strategy was never going to work in a globalised world where manufacturing and assembly work could be easily completed in the developing world. The two weeks from Monday 24th March onwards are ‘Fair Pay Fortnight’ and Plaid has rightly repeated the call for the implementation of a living wage to lift thousands people out of poverty. The economic weakness of our economy has been highlighted by TUC research which shows the expanding pay gap between Wales and London. New research from the TUC shows that between 2000 and 2013, the pay gap between the top 10% of earners in London and the bottom 10% in Wales rose by 9.8%. Our economy has periodically struggled because of a combination of poor decision, poverty of ambition and ill-thought out public procurement policies none of which has helped when it comes to sustainable economic development. Plaid Cymru’s priority rightly focuses on rebooting and redeveloping the Welsh economy, part of this can be achieved by transforming Wales from a low-wage economy to a higher wage economy by developing high-skilled, well-paid jobs. 

Saturday, 22 March 2014


Sleepless nights in Minsk?
The real message of the Ukrainian revolution (and Russia’s ongoing attempt to annex the Crimea) despite the best efforts of the Kremlin and some of the energy compromised Middle Europeans to muddy the waters, remains crystal clear. Putting aside the minutiae of Ukrainian politics recent events in Ukraine have been shown those Russians and Belarusians who are bitterly opposed to the corrupt self-serving oligarchies that run Ukraine’s near neighbours what is possible.  It would be nice to think that events in Kyiv have caused more than a few sleepless nights amongst the oligarchic political elite in both Moscow and Minsk. People in Kyiv united to remove Viktor Yanukovych, who contrary to the Kremlin’s spin, appears to have had been caught bang to rights with both hands well and truly in the till. The interesting thing is what can work in Kyiv (admittedly at a price) can work equally successfully in Moscow, Minsk or elsewhere, this is something that even a hastily activated (but perhaps long planned) crisis in the Crimea cannot hide.

After the revolution comes austerity?
The knowledge, that at some point in the future they may face the consequences for their actions (not to mention consequences for helping themselves to former state assets) may lead to hopefully more than a few sleepless nights. The problem for Ukraine, despite the revolution and the Russian occupation of the Crimea may only just be beginning. Now the immediate Crimean crisis is grim enough, but faced by an end to relatively easy credit, cheap energy supplies (at least on Russian terms)  and the consequences of having the state coffers plundered by Yanukovych (and his supporters) there is now a serious fiscal crisis. The EU, the USA and the World Bank have offered to help out financially, but, this help will come with a hefty price tag. The austerity (and reconstruction) package will bring in some eye watering cuts to pensions, government services and subsidized fuel prices, etc. Beyond the immediate eye watering ouch, the austerity package is something that could doom any future democratically elected Ukrainian government at future elections. 

Thursday, 20 March 2014


Plaid Cymru has responded to the publication of the Wales Bill by pledging to table amendments that would preserve the integrity of the Silk Commission’s recommendations on devolving further powers to Wales.
Hywel Williams MP, who sat on the Welsh Affairs Committee scrutinising the Draft Wales Bill, expressed disappointment that the UK Government had “cherry-picked” some Silk’s recommendations and that his party would seek to put this right so that the transfer of new fiscal powers will bring maximum benefits to the Welsh economy. Mr Williams added that any votes on the amendments would be “a test of Labour’s priorities” given the clear split in opinion between the party’s members in London and Cardiff over granting Wales more job-creating powers
Speaking shortly after the Bill was published, Hywel Williams MP said:
"Plaid Cymru has been united and consistent in making the case for the transfer of job-creating and economy-boosting financial powers from Westminster to Wales.

"We therefore welcome the publication of the Wales Bill that will seek to implement some of the recommendations of the cross-party Commission on Devolution chaired by Paul Silk.
"However, our goal from the start has been to preserve the integrity of the Commission's original recommendations and it is disappointing to see that they have been cherry-picked in this way.

"We will aim to put this right by tabling amendments to the Wales Bill with a view to scrapping the lockstep - a roadblock that would limit the Welsh Government's income tax-varying powers and was not part of the original recommendations. We will also seek to amend the Bill so that Air Passenger Duty is devolved to Wales as per the Silk Commission report.
"Having labelled the lockstep a "Tory trap" and having bought Cardiff airport, it would be a huge embarrassment for the First Minister of Wales - as the most powerful member of the Labour Party in the UK - if he fails to convince Labour MPs in Westminster to support these amendments which are so crucial to boosting the Welsh economy.
"The Wales Bill will therefore be a test of Labour's priorities.
“Overall, the Bill represents a lost opportunity to include the recommendations of the second report of the Silk Commission which indicated that wider powers such energy, transport, and policing should be transferred to Wales. There is plenty of time in the parliamentary calendar given that the Coalition Government has run out of substantive things that they can agree on to legislate. We could have had a full and comprehensive Wales Bill.”

Sunday, 16 March 2014


When it comes to the devolution of control of our countries natural resources, the Silk recommendations are quire far reaching, with recommendations in relation to energy, water, the Crown estates and marine licensing (both inshore and off shore). This may explain why some of the usual Red Tory suspects, following perhaps the politics of Groucho Marx rather than Karl, are against it. Taken as a whole, if they are accepted by Westminster, the recommendations will both stabilise and develop the devolutionary settlement as it applies to Wales.

In relation to energy, Silk has recommend that all energy planning consents (non-renewable and renewable) below 350 MW should be devolved (currently the threshold is 100 MW). I can see no reason why the National Assembly's powers over planning consent for energy developments to projects generating 350 MW or less should be limited. The Commission recommended that the UK Government should have a statutory duty to take account of Welsh planning policies when exercising its retained responsibilities for larger projects – this perhaps might be a first.

Silk has also recommended that responsibility for issuing marine licences in Welsh offshore waters should be devolved. The Welsh Government should receive parity with Scotland and Northern Ireland for the proposed Contracts for Difference from 2017. Things get particularly interesting when it comes to control of water resources, with Silk recommending that the boundary for legislative competence should be aligned with the national border, with further work to assess costs and benefits for consumers and the industry.

The news that the Secretary of State’s intervention powers in relation to water should be removed in favour of a formal intergovernmental protocol should remove yet another ‘negative’ power from a cabinet position that is rapidly losing any real relevance. Along with finally sorting out the remaining water related anomalies, further powers over sewerage are also recommended to be devolved to the National Assembly, which makes sense.

At first glance, the Silk recommendations in relation the accountability of the Crown Estates, don’t necessarily appear to amount to much, but, potentially further down the line they may well have a significant impact in conjunction with the other recommended transfer of powers in relation to energy and water resources. Silk has recommended that in relation to the Crown Estate, a Welsh Crown Estate Commissioner should be appointed, in consultation with the Welsh Government.

This is a sensible step which should enable the potential for investment in Wales to be maximised, the new Commissioner should be supported by a Crown Estate office in Wales, subject to meeting value-for-money criteria. Silk has also recommended that the existing executive responsibilities of Welsh Ministers for marine conservation and licensing in the Welsh inshore area should be extended to the Welsh offshore area.

All in all, if the recommendations are accepted by Westminster (and the devolution of further powers actually takes place) in relation to energy, water, offshore responsibilities and the Crown estates then a significant step will have been taken towards giving the National Assembly the tools to do the job. While I think that we should wholeheartedly welcome the Silk commission’s recommendation of devolution of extra powers, but, find that part of me wonders what might have accomplished in Wales, if we had the tools to do the job and the political will.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014


It is an inescapable fact that Wales is a small relatively rugged country, now this is not a problem it is a virtue, a positive and should work to our advantage in so many ways. Our local government structure should also reflect this ensuring that services are delivered as locally as possible – it clearly does not do this. As a small country what might work better, judging by the experience of other small countries e.g. Norway Slovenia, etc) would be to focus primarily on having efficient small district level councils rather than the creation (or recreation) of ever larger artificial local government structures.

If we accept that the highly politicised 1992 reorganisation has not worked, then making the local government units bigger (again) won’t help things much. A real opportunity to take out an entire tier of local government has been missed. On a very basic level we need to actually work out exactly what we want local government to actually do and what services we want or don’t want it to provide. Once that has been done then we can move on to address the fundamental problem of local democracy and local accountability for decisions made.

Simply tweaking a local government structure, that is nineteenth century at heart, just won't do. Our existing local government structure is badly funded and barely democratic combing a dreadfully low turnout with the local peculiarities of the first past the post electoral system and a real remoteness from local people. If when the dust settles we end up with 5, 8, 10 or 12 new local authorities the only certainty is that a real opportunity will have been missed to reshape local government in a meaningful way and to make it democratically accountable to local people.

Take Housing, or more specifically Housing development, this has always and probably will remain for the foreseeable future at least a contentious issue. At heart of the problem lies the fundamentally flawed local government LDP (Local Development Plan) many of whom focus on maximizing the amount of housing that can be constructed, regardless of actual local demand for housing.   In the South East and the North East, planning for housing is influenced by cross border pressures (and demands) from the Merseyside conurbation and greater Bristol.

House prices in the southeast and the north east of Wales are also affected by higher house prices across the border, which in close conjunction with perceived lower house prices this side of the border increase pressure for development. Over-development is now a key issue (in south east this is very true along the Gwent levels and in and around the Wrecsam in the north east). Local authorities seek to cash in by maximizing the amount of housing constructed, well beyond the ability of local infrastructure to cope with increased demands and devouring our green spaces.

The LDP and the UDP (Unitary Development Plan) have reached the point where, much like the structure of our local government, they are no longer fit for purpose. The National  Assembly has pretty much been reasonably comfortable with the current local government and planning set up and has failed to exercise any meaningful overview or to be honest (save for between 2007 and 2011) actually realistically plan the development of our country. The proposed reform of local government is on a fundamental level little more of a tweak rather than much needed root and branch reform.

On a local, regional and a national level we have serious issues with planning and the provision of services, something which fundamentally affects almost every aspect of public service provision. Whether we are talking about our NHS, our education system, our emergency services, our public transport or infrastructure projects we need to develop a detailed and comprehensive planning system that takes into account local needs, local demands, our national interests and on a basic level our geography. Simply trying to make the flawed Anglo-Saxon model, whether in education, the NHS or in other areas apply to a fundamentally small country is clearly not working.

At the heart of the proposed local government reform, is a fundamental failure to bring in Single transferable Vote (STV) as is used in Northern Ireland and Scotland, to make every vote count and our local authorities democratically accountable. People don’t vote for a variety of reason, a lack of political choice, a lack of any real alternatives and perceived enshrined one party dominance (a problem that affects significant portions of local government in our country).

Now while history tends not to repeat itself, simular circumstances often arise and the same mistakes can be made. This times around despite devolution things may not be that different,  the reform of local government in 1992 was highly politicised, pushed through by a Westminster based Conservative government, for its own reasons. This  time around the failure to reform our local government may have more to do with efforts to enshrine or preserve Labour dominance in the new structures than anything else – oh how things change... 

Sunday, 9 March 2014


Personally I have no problem with the Severn bridges being nationalised, it just makes more sense for them to be run by the National Assembly rather than Westminster and the Department for Transport. With that in mind the preparations to transfer of control of the Severn Bridges to the National Assembly in 2018 need to start now, as if they return to Westminster (and the Department for Transport) the tolls will never be reduced.

VAT or no VAT it is still a tax on jobs and businesses
The truth is whatever Westminster based party forms the next Westminster Governments, they and the Department for Transport they simply cannot be trusted to put the interests of commuters and businesses first, they will never put Wales first. For most Westminster ministers and most Welsh MPs the Severn Bridges and tolls may be out or sight and out of mind, but they loom large in the imagination and the wallets of long suffering commuters, businesses and visitors.

Now while there appears to be a general political consensus that something must be done about the Severn bridge tolls, which is nice, but not particularly helpful. The mixed messages from the Department for Transport on the eventual ownership of the bridge and the potential fate of the tolls are not helpful. Local Labour MP’s may now be jumping up and down in relation to the Severn bridge tolls, but, this begs the question just exactly where were they between 1997 and 2010 when their party was in government.

There is talk of when the bridges come back in public ownership (in 2018) that the tolls may be maintained for an additional two years to recoup the Westminster government’s expenditure on maintenance. What may make this sting some more is that VAT will probably be dropped, so those organisations which have been recovering their VAT from bridge tolls will have to pay in full?

Now Plaid Cymru has called for the transfer of powers to Wales so that the tolls on the bridges can be reduced, something that could have a considerable impact on businesses and the economy. With control over the bridges devolved, Plaid Cymru would cut the tolls to £2 to cover maintenance costs. The costs for upkeep are £15 million per year, but motorists and vehicles using the crossings currently generate £72 million pounds per year.

While the tolls would form a useful revenue stream for Welsh Governments, the priority of Plaid Cymru is to cut the tolls. By the time the two Severn Bridges come back into public ownership in 2018, Severn River Crossings plc will have milked its cash cow to the tune of about £ 1.029 billion pounds. To add insult to injury the old (M48) Severn Bridge is periodically closed at weekends for routine maintenance, which is funded by the Department for Transport, from public coffers.

Back in 2012, Plaid Cymru submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Transport seeking details of any correspondence between it and the Welsh Government on the level of tolls since May 2011, the last Assembly elections. In its response the Department of Transport merely listed emails between the Highways Agency and the Welsh Government advising of planned increases in tolls for 2012 and 2013.

The FOI request revealed that there was no other correspondence between the Welsh Government and the Westminster Government.  In 2012 a report for the Welsh government suggested that abolishing the tolls would increase traffic by an estimated 12% - equivalent to about 11,000 vehicles a day – and that businesses and commuters forked out around £ 80 million pounds a year crossing the Severn bridges.

In October 2010, Professor Peter Midmore's independent economic study of the Severn Bridge tolls which has recommended that the revenues should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. This study of 122 businesses was commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses revealed that the tolls had a negative impact on 30% of firms in South Wales, this compared with 18% in the Greater Bristol area.

While noting that the economic impact was not substantial for most, the 2010 study found that transport; construction and tourism-related companies reliant on regular crossings suffered increased costs and reduced competitiveness. The 2010 study found that Welsh businesses were unfairly penalised by the tolls and concluded that the money should be shared with the Assembly Government and used to improve Wales’ roads and public transport. 

Thursday, 6 March 2014


Taken as a whole the latest Silk recommendations, if accepted in their entirety by Westminster, can be said to mark out a road to stabilise and develop our devolutionary settlement. Somewhat understandably the media focus on the latest Silk recommendations has concentrated on aspects of Policing and Youth (Criminal) Justice.
There are other potentially far more significant recommendations, although you might be mistaken from much of the media’s focus on policing and criminal justice. One of the better overall analyses of the latest Silk Commission recommendations can be found on the Oggyblggy blog site.
Silk has also looked at transport and natural resources, which may move us towards a much more balanced devolutionary settlement, closer to the Scottish model. While many transport powers are already devolved, the Silk Commission took evidence that suggested that it would make sense to change the current devolutionary settlement so that the allocation of responsibilities more coherent.
Silk has recommended the further devolution of powers on rail, ports, bus and taxi regulation, along with control over speed and drink drive limits. The recommendations would create a simpler more coherent arrangement and could lead to the development of a much more integrated transport strategy for Wales. Silk has also recommended that the functions of the Traffic Commissioner in relation to buses should be devolved to Wales.
While there are understandably no recommendations in relation to the inter-city cross-border rail franchises, which Silk suggested should remain non-devolved, there is scope for the Welsh Government to have a greater role in the appointment of a new franchise operator. In relation to roads, there no recommendations for any changes in powers but it has been suggested that there should be much closer coordination between the two Governments.This is something which could ensure a more strategic long term approach rather than switching transport priorities back and for between east-west and north-south.
The recommendations should be welcomed and hopefully Westminster will put our national interests before its own party political interests and rapidly devolve the further powers.  Too much time has been wasted and too many opportunities have been lost because the National Assembly actually lacked adequate powers to work for Wales, to act in the Welsh national interest and to build a stronger, more prosperous nation.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014


Despite all the rhetoric and bluster emanating from Moscow about dire threats to the Russian speaking minority in the Ukraine, it is worth noting that they have pretty much never been under any threat. This is largely a Russian manufactured (and organised) crisis – one that has potentially dire consequences for the Ukraine specifically and for international relations in general.
Outside Sevastopol
In part what is taking place, from the point of view of Russian elite perceives is not different to western intervention in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The Russians may have a point, the West’s denunciations of Russia’s actions as a violation of international law, might have slightly more authority if we were not living with the consequences of the West’s pretty much selective interpretation of  international law in recent years (complete with Blair’s dodgy dossier, etc). 
The Russian elite, the Russian media and perhaps a significant number of ordinary Russians (but by no means all) have never accepted that the former Soviet republics are truly independent referring to Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the central Asian stans as ‘near abroad’ as opposed to proper independent countries like Poland, Romania, etc. Western intervention in Kosovo jarred the Russian psyche badly, as did the earlier demise of the Soviet Union, the loss of prestige, status and real and defacto Empire has stung.
Unlike the Brits who had the best part of 50 years (to fail) to get over the loss of Empire, Russia lost most of its Empire in the best part of a fortnight in August 1991. The territorial integrity of the Ukraine is in peril, the Crimea (an autonomous if financially troubled republic within the Ukraine) has effectively been occupied by a combination of local Russian militia members (an ominous parallel with Bosnia in 1991) and Russian military units (most of whom were already based in the Crimea) operating from Russian bases in and around Sebastopol.
Part of the current problem is that Russia has some recent  history of this sort of bad behaviour, as the Soviet Union unravelled the region of Trans-Dniester was shorn off Moldova (in 1991/1992), more recently in 2005 Russia effectively annexed the province of South Ossetia from Georgia (to add to Abkhazia which was effectively occupied by pro Russian insurgents in 1992/1993). In an ominous echo of Kosovo, the former Georgian provinces are now ‘independent’ and under Russia’s protection.
Ironically encouraging the independence of a even Russian dominated Crimea, may not be the political result that Russia actually wants to achieve. As irrational as it may seem to many in the West, Russia’s preferred choice would be to literally re-integrate the Ukraine (as a whole) into the Kremlin’s new autocratic Eurasian political creation (perhaps alongside Kazakhstan and Belarus).
The Con Dems: Happy to protect the financial interests of the City
In all these previous cases the West’s response has been ineffective or somewhat mooted to say the least. At the time David Cameron (in opposition) denounced Russia’s actions, now in power his government has may not curb trade with Russia or close London's financial centre to Russians as part of any possible package of sanctions against Moscow – clearly the spirit of appeasement is alive and well in the Conservative party as it was during the Bosnian crisis.
It is worth noting that the Stop the war campaign group (with some of its members perhaps primarily but not entirely motivated by anti-Americanism) are busy condemning ‘fascism’ in the Ukraine rather than criticising this case of blatant Russian aggression. This ironically is a line that President Putin’s Russian media machine has been pumping out ever since the revolution began in Kyiv. Perhaps some of those old pro Soviet apologists have found a new home, having never really gone away.
It would be foolish to make the assumption that all the Russian speakers in the Ukraine have much time or sympathy for Putin’s autocratic vision of Russia. Those demonstrations that have taken place in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine have the appearance of being well organised rather than spontaneous. The old Soviet flags being waved to protect the largest surviving statue of Lenin (in the city of Kharkiv) and the news that some of the organisers drove down from Moscow to raise the Russian flag on Ukrainian government buildings should also be noted.
Russians make up about 58% of the population of the Crimea, historically getting the best jobs and best housing as they live high on the hog during the days of the Soviet Union. Ukrainians make up around 24.4% and the Crimean Tartars around 12.1% of the Crimea’s population. Despite all the hogwash and hot air about building Soviet man in the 50’s and 60’s from Moscow, Soviet man was pretty much a Russian speaking individual.
The Crimea, until 1954, was administered as part of Russia, before it was transferred by Khrushchev to the Ukraine.  The Russian’s in Crimea, benefitted from the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Crimean Tartar inhabitants (in 1944) by Stalin who falsely accuse them of collaborating with the Nazi’s when the peninsula was occupied during the war. The Crimean Tartars were released from detention in Central Asia and Siberia following Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin’s brutal excesses in his famous ‘secret speech’ in 1956.
The Tartars received no aid or encouragement to return to their homeland, having to make their own way back, some illegally in the Soviet eras, and most only after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many of those who came back discovered that their homes and lands had been taken over by Russian (and some Ukrainian) settlers. So somewhat understandably the Crimean Tartars (there are around 243,000 in the Crimea) have little or no love for Russia, and probably given a free choice would probably prefer to remain part of the Ukraine.
There may be no simple solution to the current crisis – the sensible most practical solution would be restoration of the status quo. Sadly it may come down to combination of brute force and pipeline politics, as much of central and eastern Europe is now deeply dependent on imported Russian gas. We may do well to hope for a mild spring, as once the lights begin to flicker, minds in various chancelleries may be concentrated, something that probably won’t help the Ukraine.
That said, if Russia’s defacto annexation of the Crimea is simply accepted and the West’s response is weak and ineffective, then were next for the Bear? And what message does that send to other potential aggressors? If the West ends up writing off the Ukraine as a larger version of a far away small country of which we know little and care even less - then so much for standing up for democratic and international values. If that happens then heaven help those Ukrainians and those Russians who would prefer to live in a sovereign free and democratic Ukraine rather than an a corrupt and autocratic one. 

Sunday, 2 March 2014


Politicians and governments are often condemned for their lack of ambition or their lack of the vision thing, but, somewhat more rarely are they condemned for lacking both the vision and the ambition. Yet both the Welsh and UK Governments have displayed a craven lack of ambition and pretty much a complete lack of vision when it comes to developing Wales' railway network.
Both Westminster and Cardiff have failed to take advantage of existing and new EU funding programmes which are available to improve and develop our railways. So rather than seizing the initiative to invest in and improve our railway infrastructure both Governments have sat on their hands and allowed potential funding opportunities to pass them by.
Almost by accident rather than by design, one might think, some of the powers needed to develop and develop our railway system are already possessed by the National Assembly. The Transport (Wales) Act came into effect in February 2006 and gave the National Assembly powers to plan and co-ordinate an integrated transport system, so how much longer do we have to wait to see some vision?”
We need to develop the long term view and invest in our rail services; we need to further develop rail freight and co-ordinate rail and bus services across the whole of Wales and we need to have full control of its transport policy, transport budget and the related planning regulations. There is considerable room for improvement when it comes to the provision and development of our railway services here in Wales.
When the franchise is renewed in 2018 the railways in Wales should be run on a not for dividend profit basis, with all profits accrued being ring fenced and reinvested into our railways. The healthy profits run up during the period when the East Coast mainline serve has been run by the Westminster Government after the collapse of the private franchise shows what could and should be achieved here in Wales.