Friday, 30 May 2014


When it comes to politicians lying, it’s bad enough to lie over things like expenses, the economy, etc – but to lie to generate support for a war has to be entirely unacceptable. To send our service personal into harm’s is one thing, something that should cause much thought before the deed. However, to send them into harm’s way on the basis of a concoction of lies and mistruths is surely tantamount to a criminal act.

I personally think that it is important that the Chilcot Inquiry does not prejudice the possibility of any criminal prosecutions of those responsible for the production of the dodgy pre war dossier that helped to make the case for the war. Those individuals who auctioned the lies and made that decisions should have their day in court, if not here then perhaps in The Hague.

It’s time for the plain truth; people need to know the truth about events leading up to that decision to go to war. Plaid Cymru rightly contends that all relevant and pertinent information be published.  Any failure to do so will lead people to assume that this enquiry has been a waste of time and public money, not to mention cheapening the sacrifices made by our service personnel and their families.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship?
The fudge over the release of the edited highlights of the raft of documentation relating to Tony Blair’s conversations with President George W Bush in the run up to the Iraq war I suspect will surprise few people.  The Iraq war was and is likely to remain deeply controversial for some time. No matter how much spin was spun to add weight to the reasons for the invasion, the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the occupation of Iraq it is impossible to avoid the idea that the then New Labour leader Tony Blair lied to the House of Commons and the rest of us.

It should be alarming that it has taken four long years for the Chilcot Inquiry to get to this point. In June 2009, the then New Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown established an inquiry to learn the lessons of the Iraq conflict. The then PM wanted witnesses to be questioned behind closed doors (to protect national security and so they could be free to speak). Understandably all hell then broke loose and Gordon rapidly caved into pressure from the opposition, former government officials and ordinary members of the public - many of whom wanted public hearings.

At the time the PM was pretty clear about the pressing need for openness when it came to the release of secret papers to the inquiry. He stated that: "No British document and no British witness will be beyond the scope of the inquiry. I have asked the members of the committee to ensure that the final report will be able to disclose all but the most sensitive information - that is, all information except that which is essential to our national security" – let’s hope that this inquiry finally delivers the plain and simple truth.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

70 +

Anniversaries are sometimes difficult to forget, eleven days ago (May 18th ), outside the Crimea's capital, Simferopol, 10,000 people participated in a rally, carrying placards calling for "self-determination" and commemorated the 70th anniversary of Stalin’s 1944 deportation of the Crimean Tartars. Many of the 200,000 deportees suffered and perhaps 25% died - some during deportation and others in exile. The Mejlis, the Crimean Tatars' main representative body, has adopted a resolution calling for "territorial autonomy" for the community, Tatar representatives in the Crimean government, and "an end to discrimination against and the repression of the Tatars of Crimea." 

There was a heavy police presence in Simferopol, and military helicopters flying low over the rally. Earlier dozens of people gathered at a memorial near Simferopol’s railway station, the deportation point for thousands of Tatars sent into internal exile. President Putin (who is admired by Nigel Farage) met with Crimean Tartar representatives in Sochi (on May 17th) and stated that Russia would improve the lives of Crimean Tartars. Simultaneously several hundred people also marched in support and remember the deportations in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. Incidentally the rally had been banned by the pro Moscow Crimean authorities.

Monday, 26 May 2014


Despite the column inches, the wall to wall TV coverage and the spin, it is worth noting that UKIP only won a seat in Scotland at all because the Lib Dems imploded. Their success in Wales, while looking impressive was not quite enough to deliver a top of the poll position (although they came pretty close). It was an uncomfortable night for the Westminster based and Westminster focused political parties.

Despite the momentary glee on the part of the ‘Brit’ political commentators last night the SNP still came top of the poll in Scotland. In England, things were different, here UKIP came top (save for in a few of the electoral regions). For a while last night, the Conservatives and the Labour Parties struggled merely to secure second place. The Lib Dems pretty much ceased to register across England at least on the European level, coming in behind the Greens.

Does UKIP speak for England? 
After the European elections and the local government elections (in England) perhaps it’s time for a Party for England, to raise English concerns and English issues – which have long been ignored by the London based UK media, UKIP and the misnamed Westminster elite. I mention this because on more than few occasions disillusioned voters (in England) have told that they have nowhere to go politically as none of the political parties operating in England speak for them.

If you follow this line of reasoning, there is not much choice if you are an English voter and are genuinely concerned about your country. Well that’s actually not quite true, as there is a degree of choice providing that your politics sits on the extreme right of the political spectrum. There is UKIP, which despite presenting itself as a UK Party is culturally perhaps deep down more concerned with independence of England, something which may explain why it does less well in Scotland and slightly less well here in Wales.  

Of course there are the English Democrats, who on a good day,  to be honest can make Nigel Farage look slightly to the left of Lenin, as they are somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun. As for UKIP, their interest in Wales is simply a matter of electoral expediency even more so than the Westminster based parties who do make some vague gestures to Wales by periodically branding themselves as Welsh.

I have no doubt that UKIP, despite recent public change of heart,  would if it could entirely abolish the National Assembly, along with our emergent democracy (and perhaps Wales itself) if it could get away with it.  Policy wise UKIP is a strange blend of latent (and not so latent) bigotry, some of the stranger political and economic elements of American libertarianism (the Tea Party strain) and a nostalgic (almost 18th century) vision of Greater England (sorry Britain) that has not existed in fifty years (if it ever did then).

Putting the obsessive fixation with referenda on EU membership aside, UKIP’s grip on political and economic reality might be described as fragile at best. Our (Welsh) national interests and concerns being entirely absent, if left to UKIP, regional aid (European and otherwise) to our country would entirely vanish and not be replaced - it’s already under threat from the Westminster based political parties.

Regional aid historically has been  used by Westminster based governments to attempt to redress the glaring economic  imbalance that exists today (and has existed for much of the last century) between much of Wales and significant portions (but certainly not all) of England. One question the Westminster based political parties have failed to answer is - if the Union has been so beneficial to us here in Wales over the last 40 years then why are we even eligible for regional development aid?

I digress, the one real question that probably should be really be asked  in England is not why is there no viable rational left of centre English political party, but perhaps the question should be where has it gone? Along with why is it that a monopoly of the sense of 'Englishness' being defined by the far right. Historically, at least, there was a pretty solid radical tradition in England, at least until it was smothered by the emergence of the monolithic Labour Party - who sold themselves to the Westminster system in the early 1920’s. 

Perhaps George Orwell, in The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, which was published on the 19th January 1941, identified the underlying problem with England and political representation that applies as much today as it did then,  wrote:

England is not the jewelled isle of Shakespeare's much-quoted message, nor is it the inferno depicted by Dr Goebbels. More than either it resembles a family, a rather stuffy Victorian family, with not many black sheep in it but with all its cupboards bursting with skeletons. It has rich relations who have to be kow-towed to and poor relations who are horribly sat upon, and there is a deep conspiracy of silence about the source of the family income. It is a family in which the young are generally thwarted and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible uncles and bedridden aunts...”
At the moment ‘England’ is being run by the irresponsible uncles and bedridden aunts, but, enough of Nigel Farage, George Osbourne and Nick Clegg. Sooner or later, preferably sooner, a rational political party needs to emerge to articulate English concerns and to redress them. From a Welsh perspective the rise or at least the reanimation of a sense of English national consciousness, should pose no problems for Wales, though we might well ask why has it taken so long?

Tuesday, 20 May 2014


The ballot paper somewhat ironically may have been about two foot long, yet it offered little by way real choice. To cut to the chase, the real question has always been who is going to stand up for Wales and fight for our national interests? By way of answering that I ended up dismissing the out and out fascists, the fascist wannabees, the Little Englanders, the former Bolsheviks (or ex communists) and the former party of Arthur’s ego. That let me with the Westminster focused and Westminster based parties, who to be honest I can also dismiss, they may talk the talk and walk the walk at times, but have at best a peripheral (pretty much only an electoral) interest in Wales. They may be ‘Welsh’ branded or at least a Welsh tint but their priorities remain almost entirely focused on Westminster and their recent records show that Welsh national interests come second to their party interests.  Wales needs a strong voice in Europe - so as I said there was little choice in the end. If I want a party that focus on our national interests, one that will stand up for Wales and be answerable to the people of Wales then it comes down to Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales. 

Monday, 19 May 2014


Driver training on the Gaer spur (Photo: Ian Brewer)
And just like that it was gone as if it had never been, blink and you might have missed it... Now that the extensive maintenance in and around Cardiff has finished normal service has been resumed, with trains on the Ebbw Vale line running directly to and from Cardiff. Between May 1st and May 18th services ran into Newport with regular services ferrying passengers into our capital city. For 18 days is was entirely practical for potential commuters in the Ebbw valley to make connections to Bristol, Gloucester, Cheltenham and beyond rather than put up with the nonsensical idea of riding the train westward into Cardiff and then picking up a connections eastward. No more, normal service has been restored, which raise the question as to who exactly is making the decision to run services direct into Cardiff, ignoring the potential economic benefits to commuters and to the region – Network Rail? Arriva Trains Wales? The Department for Transport or the Labour in Wales Welsh Government?  My money is on the latter, despite loud and persistent calls for over a number of years for the completion of the long promised permanent rail link from the Ebbw Vale into Newport, nothing has been done. This whiff of inertia and duplicity has Labour in Wales written all over it. The South Wales Argus valiantly took up the gauntlet and actively backed the campaign to restore the rail link from Ebbw Vale to Newport, which would complement the rail link from Ebbw Vale to Cardiff. Our local Labour in Wales elected representatives have gone been awfully quiet foe some time, whether they represent us or their party, may be debatable, but their silence is I feel particularly telling. 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014


No doubt much to the irritation of David Cameron and Ed Milibland tax evasion is back in the news – this time in relation to Take That singer Gary Barlow. At the end of the day it is a matter of semantics and legality when it comes to the differences between tax evasion from tax avoidance, one is a criminal act and one is permitted under the law.  

It is a matter of public record that the PM is against aggressive tax avoidance schemes. He has also been pretty forthright in stating that tax evasion is illegal, and that people can be prosecuted for that, and people can go to prison.

It is also a matter of public record that the Con Dem government ill-advised and perhaps ideologically driven public sector spending cuts have seriously cut staffing levels in HM revenue and Customs. The PM interestingly enough was pretty firm when it came to rejecting calls for particular individuals are stripped of public honours for wrong doing. If you started stripping individuals of titles and honours for wrong doings heaven knows where you might end up even the possibility of party donors ending up embarrassed not to mention devaluing legitimate honours awarded to deserving recipients.

Previously various Westminster governments have been a little half-hearted when it comes to clamping down on tax avoidance. The current PM may have slagged off celebrities, for using a tax avoidance scheme in Jersey. Yet he has seemed to be acutely reluctant to deal the tax havens that happen to be UK Crown Dependent territories. 

Most reasonable people accept that there is a real need to deal on a global basis with the problem of off-shore companies and those individuals who are actively engaged in tax avoidance, tax evasion and / or money laundering. It’s all a little embarrassing as the problem is that the UK is at the heart of the problem and has chosen not to regulate its own crown dependencies let alone the periodically iffy if not criminal goings on in the City. 

The scale of the on-going off-shore tax avoidance problem may leave you breathless. The Cayman Islands were home to some 12,000 corporations yet have a resident population of 50,000. They were home to around 70% of the planets hedge funds (as of June 2012). The British Virgin Islands with a population of some 22,000 people just happens to be home to some 823,502 registered companies.

General Electric who paid no tax in 2010, made a $14.2 billion dollar profit. Barclay's had 181 subsidiaries (as of June 2012) registered in the Cayman Islands and paid little UK tax on its worldwide profits. News Corp managed to base 152 subsidiaries in tax havens across the planet (according to the US Government) and yet managed to pay no UK corporation tax between 1998 and 1999.

US President Obama was 100% right to suggest that the governments of the world should jointly tackle the issue of tax evasion and tax havens. By tackling the tax havens, the tax avoidance and the questionable dealings of the derivative traders, hedge funds and the off balance sheet trading then we might go so way towards dealing with the consequences of the worldwide financial crash. Yet that nice Mr Cameron and the other 18 millionaires in the cabinet have pretty much stalled when it comes to closing the tax loopholes.

The BVI has incorporated more than a million such offshore entities since it began marketing itself worldwide in the 1980s. Company owners' true identities are never revealed. Even the island's official financial regulators normally have no idea who is behind them. The British Foreign Office depends on the BVI's company licensing revenue to subsidise this residual outpost of empire, while lawyers and accountants in the City of London benefit from a lucrative trade as intermediaries, claiming that the tax-free offshore companies provide legitimate privacy.

Sunday, 11 May 2014


Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood has welcomed a commitment from Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond to initiate a Welsh-Scottish Economic Forum following a 'Yes' vote in this September's referendum. 
Following a meeting with Alex Salmond during which both leaders discussed common economic goals, Ms Wood said:
“Plaid Cymru has consistently argued that the emergence of an independent Scotland would be in Wales' economic, social and political interests. Scotland is already an important trading partner and with the full tools of independence our common aims of boosting the economies of our two countries will be enhanced.
“The commitment to building closer economic ties between our two countries has been demonstrated by First Minister Salmond's intentions to establish a joint economic forum between Wales and Scotland. Such a forum could bring together our businesses and universities to collaborate on a range of economic opportunities such as renewable energy projects and natural resources.
“Our countries enjoy a strong relationship and following a 'Yes' vote in September this will be renewed and strengthened further.”
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said:
“The SNP values our friendship and long-standing relationship with Wales. Independence for Scotland offers us all a chance to rebalance the economy of these islands and to do so in a way that ensures we can all benefit from our strengths and resources.
“Following a Yes vote this September, the Scottish Government will seek to build on this relationship by establishing a special economic forum to ensure that we maximise opportunities for business and trade between Scotland and Wales.”

Saturday, 10 May 2014


Friday 9th May 2014 was Victory Day in Russia and the Crimea, a day which is traditionally marked by ceremonies to remember the end of the Great Patriotic War. Ceremonies took place in Moscow and elsewhere including controversially in the Crimea. While many people respectfully remembering the end of the war, and the terrible price paid for final victory over fascism, not everyone was celebrating.

Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev
For the Crimean Tartars, ominously there may be little to celebrate – the Tartars many of whom served bravely in the then Red Army, were repaid for their loyalty by finishing the war in detention in Central Asia and Siberia. Since the Russian occupation of Crimea, things have not been easy. Last week a senior member of  the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body (the Mejlis) was beaten up by a so-called Russian self-defense group.

The head of the Mejlis department for external ties, Ali Hamzin, told Radio Free Europe / /Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that unknown individuals in military uniforms had stopped Abduraman Egiz in Simferopol on May 6th and demanded his identification.  Abduraman Egiz who refused to produce his documents, demanded that police be present at the site. The men, who called themselves members of the "Crimean self-defense force" then attacked Egiz and beat him up and searched his vehicle. 

Upon discovering that Egiz was a member of Mejlis, he was released. Ali Hamzin stated that the incident would be reported to the police. It is expected that in the run up to the 70th anniversary of the Crimean Tatars' deportation to Central Asia to be marked on May 18th that violent attacks against Crimean Tatars will likely intensify. The Crimean Tartar Mejlis has refused to recognize the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea by Moscow in March.

On May 4th, Natalya Poklonskaya, Crimea's de facto prosecutor-general, warned Mejlis leader Refat Chubarov that his organization will be liquidated if it engages in "extremist" activities. This action came amid protests by local Tatars over the authorities’ refusal to allow their veteran leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev, into the region on May 3rd. Mustafa Dzhemilev, a famous if not legendary Soviet-era dissident and Ukrainian lawmaker, told RFE/RL on May 5th that Crimean Tatars will continue to fight for their Human rights by peaceful means. 

(Source: RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service)

Tuesday, 6 May 2014


The Business Secretary Vince Cable’s assurances in the House of Commons to MPs this afternoon that the Westminster Government won’t let Pfizer make use the UK as a tax haven and will secure guarantees for British science jobs have a hollow ring to them. P
ublic concerns have rightly been raised about the proposed hostile takeover of UK pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca by its US rival Pfizer. We have been here before, whatever Vince says by way of comfortable assurances, MP’s would do well to remember Cadburys, which was taken over by Craft (aided and abetted by UK City banks). Cadbury’s Bristol factory was closure announcement came within a week of the takeover, regardless of any assurances from the company. It is worth noting that Pfizer has pledged that if the deal goes ahead, 20% of the combined company's R&D workforce would continue to be based in the UK. While this sounds good, the US firm has said that these commitments would be valid for five years, or unless circumstances changed significantly... 

Friday, 2 May 2014


Driver training on the Gaer spur (Ian Brewer)
"The train on platform 4 is for Ebbw Vale Parkway, calling at Risca, Rogerstone, Cross Keys…"

The announcement took me by surprise, especially as I was standing on Platform 2 on Newport Station. No they have not gone and done it, trains from Ebbw Vale to Newport and vice versa are not up and running. The only reason why these trains are running via Newport is because of a programme of improvements (running between 1st May and 18th May). 

There have been loud and persistent calls for many years for the completion of the long promised permanent rail link from the Ebbw Vale into the City but no concrete action.  The South Wales Argus took up the gauntlet and actively backed the campaign to restore the rail link from Ebbw Vale to Newport, which complimented the rail link from Ebbw Vale to Cardiff. In the last 18 months things have gone ominously quiet, with the silence from the Labour in Wales Welsh government and our local Labour representatives becoming particularly deafening. 

Now in relation to the completion of the final stage of the Ebbw Vale to Newport line, my advice would be not to hold your breath. I have begun to suspect, and here I hope I am wrong, that there is and has never been any real intention to complete it. The line as is works perfectly well for the proposed Cardiff City region – perhaps it’s time for the Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff to come clean and admit it? 

Thursday, 1 May 2014


The Wales Bill 2014, despite its flaws, will go some way (despite Peter the Pains selective moaning) towards strengthening our fledgling democracy.  That said, having read through the draft bill and its amendments I find myself left thinking that the bill remains a missed opportunity when it comes to making devolution work for Wales.

The London based parties having repeatedly and regularly stated that they are committed to further meaningful devolution, yet they have failed to demonstrate any real ambition for Wales. So it comes as no surprise that Labour in Westminster, nominally a party that makes much of its claims to be focused on strengthening the Welsh economy, has tabled nothing but wrecking amendments.

It should have been possible to suggest relatively widely supportive and positive changes which could have delivered some of the tools to do the job of making Wales a more prosperous place. Plaid tabled a wide variety of amendments to improve and strengthen the bill including:

·        Devolving control over setting the number of Assembly Members,
·        Reforming the UK funding formula which sees Wales lose out on £400m a year, and
·  Granting the Welsh Government the power to issue bonds (similar to the Scottish Government).

Most reasonable observers would probably agree that the National Assembly needs more powers to help deliver a sustainable recovery for the Welsh economy and ensure that it becomes a more accountable institution. Whatever is said about the current Wales bill when it is eventually passed it will deliver some more powers, but, nowhere near enough to deliver the real and significant economic change that Wales needs.

Too many powers still remain with Westminster and too many aspects of Welsh people's lives are decided by largely indifferent Westminster based and Westminster focused political parties. We in Wales have to jump through far too many hoops (and there may be many more hoops yet to come) simply to gain the tools needed to deliver for our country economically. 

The Wales Bill could have been Labour in Westminster’s opportunity to show its support for devolution. The choice was a simple one either stands up for Wales or supports the Con Dem Government's attempts to dismantle our welfare state, justice system and meddle with other matters that remain controlled from London.