Independence Index

Your in-depth guide to Welsh independence.

Assembly

The big news from the National Assembly of Wales.

Bridgend

Politics and developments from Bridgend County.

Laws

Coverage of proposed Welsh Bills and laws.

Committee Inquiries

All the major inquiry reports from the National Assembly's committees.

Election 2015

Coverage and analysis of the 2015 House of Commons election.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

WAG/Election Watch - March 2015


  • Welsh Secretary, Stephen Crabb, described the Welsh Government's rejection of a referendum on income tax powers as “bizarre”, saying he “moved mountains” to secure the St David's Day agreement on extra powers for Wales.
    • The First Minister told the National Assembly the deal was “rushed, incoherent and unsatisfactory” and was “no more than a staging post” to a better devolution settlement. Labour also denied that Shadow Welsh Secretary, Owen Smith, was blocking further devolution.
  • A new GP contract was agreed between the Welsh Government and General Medical Council, meaning more repeat prescriptions and appointments could be offered online, while GPs will be given more treatment time with vulnerable patients. Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West), said the new contract, “places more trust and reliance on the professionalism of GPs”.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Putting Bridgend Up On Bricks

Bridgend Council's Children's Committee have raised concerns
about the latest proposals for changes to home-school/college transport.
(Pic : Wales Online)

Once again, it's time to look at some of the key items on the agenda of Bridgend Council's (BCBC) latest cabinet meeting, which is due to be held tomorrow. They all have a "wheel" theme.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Westminster 2015 : How have the Coalition performed?

As of Monday, every MP will be unemployed and scrounging for votes. So it's fitting
to kick them when they're down, as the Cameron administration know all about that.
(Pic : millenniumhotels.co.uk)

With the formal dissolution of the UK parliament coming on Monday, the time's come to kick-start my coverage of the 2015 House of Commons election.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Rust in Peace....Trident?

What should the UK spend a potential £80billion+ on?
(Pic : Greenpeace)

Back to back coverage from the Assembly. Yes, I do regret it. If yesterday was a little dry, this one was more lively.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Assembly takes a ride on Heavy Metal

Heavy metal? Or no metal at all?
(Pic : Paul Webb via pickledimages.co.uk)
The last plenary session before Easter recess was held yesterday, and I've picked out two debates to cover. Today, I'll look at a members debate on the steel industry, while the Assembly also went south of heaven - I'll (hopefully) return to that tomorrow.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Gissa Job : Assisting Young People Into Work

An Assembly committee has investigated the barriers facing young people as they enter the
world of work, as well as assessing Welsh Government actions to reduce youth unemployment.
(Pic : The Guardian)
Another tome, I'm afraid. All part of the service.

Last week, the Enterprise & Business Committee published their report into how young people find  work (pdf). This is particularly important as quoted statistics underline how hard young people have been hit by the recession - up to 18% of 18-24 year olds were unemployed in 2014 compared to just 4.4% of 35-49 year olds.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Legally High



Earlier this week, the National Assembly's Health & Social Care Committee published their inquiry report (pdf) into new psychoactive substances (aka. NPS, "legal highs"). It was an extensive and wide-ranging inquiry which took evidence from a huge list of witnesses and focus groups around Wales.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Senedd Goes For Broke

Fixed-odds gaming terminals and online gambling were in the sights of
AMs during the latest members debate at the National Assembly.
(Pic : The Mirror)

There will be no Casino Royale jokes. Hopefully that "row" has burned itself out at last. It was light-hearted at first, but watching AMs and the media scramble over each other to be the most outraged was like being strapped into a bottomless chair and taking a pounding to the balls.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Green, Green Glas of Home

The National Assembly's Public Accounts Committee have said that while the Glastir
scheme is well-intentioned, there are problems with how it's been managed.
(Pic : Nanhoron Estate)
I don't normally cover farming issues, mainly because such posts often go unread and I don't know anything about farming in the first place.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Bridgend's "Sceptic Six" feel Labour's banhammer


As you might remember, last month six Labour councillor were suspended after they voted against (or abstained on) a merger proposal between Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan ("Bridgevale").

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Independence Minutiae : The Aristocracy

I'm no Robespierre, but we need to talk about aristocrats.
(Pic : britannica.com)

This isn't about class warfare (....most of it isn't anyway). It's about the last trappings of the old Anglo-Norman aristocracy and feudal system; what could be more impolitely called the "silly hat and cloak class".

Thursday, 12 March 2015

UK to introduce Quantum Voting

Vote SNP, get Tory. Vote Labour, get Tory. Vote Lib Dem, get UKIP.
Vote Green, get Natural Law. Manchester United 1 Arsenal 2.

For decades, psephologists and constitutional experts have tried to devise the perfect electoral system. Some prefer the brainless simplicity of first-past-the-post, others prefer a more proportional system which gives people who vote for fringe parties four or five rolls of the dice.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Third Sector "bullying" criticised by AMs

Third Sector lobbying at the National Assembly is nothing new and has become a key
part of Welsh civic life. However, over the past week things took an unpalatable turn.
(Pic : The Women's Institute)

Following last week's Stage 3 debate on the Violence Against Women, Domestic Violence & Sexual Violence Bill, the National Assembly held the final Stage 4 debate yesterday. The Bill was passed unanimously and awaits Royal Assent.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Mo' money, mo' problems

They asked the audience....then completely ignored them.
Last year, the Independent Remuneration Panel for the National Assembly proposed a change in AMs' and ministers' pay (The £64,000 Question).

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Smack My Senedd Up

AMs have tried for the second time in a year to introduce an amendment to a Bill
that outlaws "smacking" in Wales. This is how the debate panned out.
(Pic : The Sunday Times)

On Tuesday, the (re-titled) Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Bill (more here) was debated at Stage 3 in the National Assembly.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Lollipops, Balloons, Bayswater & Brackla Station

Bridgend Council are set to evaluate every school crossing  site in the
county to determine whether to continue manned crossing patrols.
(Pic : Road Safety Wales)
Here's a round up of the highlights from the monthly Bridgend Council cabinet meeting held earlier this week, and an update on the Brackla Station "project".

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

AMs demand action to close education gap

Up to 74% of children who are eligible to receive free school meals in Wales won't
get 5 A*-C grades (including English and maths) at GCSE.
(Pic : alexdonohue.co.uk)

Last week, the National Assembly's Children & Young People's Committee reported back on their inquiry into the educational attainment of pupils from low-income households (pdf).

Aside from quality of teaching and school standards themselves, household incomes are the biggest factor that influences how well a child will progress through school, and how they will perform compared to their peers.

Monday, 2 March 2015

A St David's Day Deposit


Legend says the ground beneath St David rose so all of his audience could see and hear him.
Like his namesake, the ground beneath David Cameron rose too, but it was a steaming mound of dung.

Most people don't care about the constitution, what powers the Assembly has or the intricacies of how devolution works. They're more concerned about public services, and what the decisions made by politicians mean for themselves and their families.

Some of us realise the constitution determines what decisions politicians are able to make in the first place – all of which has a direct impact on the public.

As you probably all know, the Silk Commission published two reports between 2012-2014 as part of "the next step in Wales' devolution journey" etc.

The first report (Silk I) covered taxation powers for the National Assembly. Those powers are now on the statute book in the Wales Act 2014, meaning from 2018 the Assembly will have the power to set landfill tax, stamp duty and the aggregates levy. It also means the Assembly can call a referendum on whether they should have the power to vary income tax - which the First Minister is already attempting to scotch. This is despite the inclusion of a new funding review, which Carwyn Jones said would be required for his government to back a referendum.


Holding a referendum on such a technical subject is, as Borthlas said today, "one of the silliest ideas ever to be proposed by a government" and very easy to lose.

As I've said before (Marching out of lockstep) a referendum on a general principle of fiscal powers - i.e. "Should the National Assembly have the power to fund devolved services by borrowing money and collecting taxes devolved to Wales?" - would be a juicer topic for the public to have a debate on and would definitely necessitate going to the polls to get a mandate from the electorate.

The second report (Silk II) covered extra powers, which was taken forward by the Welsh Secretary, Stephen Crabb MP (Con, Preseli Pembs.), who set a deadline of 1st March – St David's Day – for a cross-party, cross-government consensus on Silk II's recommendations. You can read the full report, which was published last Friday to great fanfare, here (pdf).

Whisper it quietly, but I've been impressed with how Stephen Crabb has gone about his job. He's done more for Wales in 8/9 months than his predecessors have in the best part of a decade. I don't blame him personally for this brown whale, rising from the depths of the bowl to mock Ahab.

This may well be another "step forward on Wales' devolution journey", but it's also one last blast of Westminster's brand of constitutional Poodigree Chum out of the tradesman's entrance before the election.

What's been agreed?

  • A reserved powers model, which should clear up what the Assembly's powers are by listing what the Assembly can't do. Except it won't clear anything up because of the piecemeal nature of Welsh devolution. Reserved powers would be like putting the current Schedule 7 in a mirror (if you see what I mean).
  • Inter-governmental relations – Puts relations between the two governments on a more equal footing, with better co-ordination of policies in areas like training, economic development, cross-border rail routes and franchises as well as cross-border health services.
  • Ports policy and development.
  • Speed limits.
  • Bus and taxi regulation, along with Traffic Commissioner functions.
  • Places a duty on the UK Government to consult with the Welsh Government, and take into account Welsh energy policy, when approving energy projects of up to 350MW. This effectively means the Welsh Government will have a veto on "fracking".
  • Sewerage and some aspects of water (with further negotiation).
  • Marine licensing.
  • At least one appointee to the Supreme Court should have an understanding of Wales.
  • Local government elections.
  • The Assembly itself – The Welsh Secretary will no longer have to appear before the Assembly, or have a right to participate in Assembly proceedings. The Assembly will also gain control over the age to vote in Assembly elections, the size of the Assembly and its name/branding. The National Assembly will also be recognised as "permanent".
  • The First Minister should have the power to recommend appointments to Lord Lieutenancies (more on this from me later this month).

What's been taken off the table?

Some significant stuff – arguably the only significant powers outlined in Silk II.

  • Youth justice and probation services.
  • Policing (all aspects).
  • There'll no longer be a review of devolution of the criminal justice system (courts, prisons, criminal law) in the 2020s.
  • Drink-driving limits – this has already been devolved to Scotland.
  • Network Rail funding – Scotland currently receives a population-based proportion of Network Rail's UK-wide funding (around 9%). In 2013, just 1% of Network Rail's budget was spent in Wales compared to a population share of ~5%. This means Wales will continue to, in nominal terms, "subsidise" English rail projects, resulting in significantly less than our "fair share" to invest here.
  • The Crown Estate – It currently generates a £9.4million surplus in Wales, and is devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • State funding for S4C and appointment of S4C board members.
  • Any and all aspects of social security - aspects of which will be devolved to Scotland.
  • Responsibilities in relation to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
  • Teachers' pay and conditions.
  • The civil service.

What does this mean?

Thanks to the efforts of Nick Clegg and the "true party of Wales", the
National Assembly is set to have power over shit. Literally.

Not only are the UK Government hamstringing devolution, but there are people in and around the Assembly doing so as well.

The reason criminal justice powers have been taken off the table – the devolution of which would've finally put Wales on a near equal footing with Scotland – is because the Welsh Conservatives oppose it and must've vetoed it.

Welsh Labour probably did too, but they support devolution of policing at least (What's all this then?) – though Ed Miliband doesn't even want to go that far, promising some bizarre role in report-writing. It doesn't help that Owen Smith is arguably the most devo-sceptic Welsh Secretary-elect since 1999. He has to justify his position somehow.

The UK Government have also, quite literally, devolved shit to Wales. So we need to be grateful for the existence of Nick Clegg. Without Nick, Wales wouldn't have powers over faecal poltergeists and used tampons – but, at the same time, we're not good enough to run policing. Lib Dems should put that on their election leaflets.

I'm sure quite a few AMs from all parties will be underwhelmed by the St David's Day agreement, but this is a mess partly of their own making, as they put far too much faith in the "proper process" to the point of being gullible. In short, the UK never has been, and never will be, a union of equals; while constitutional reforms are pushed through in reaction to immediate threats to the status quo, not political consensus and grand commissions.

The UK is a very dysfunctional "family" indeed.The Scots have proven that if you want something you need to rattle your sabres. In political terms that means electing nationalists but, unfortunately, even then Wales would have very few sabres to rattle.

I'm not going to use the same old tired clich
és about Wales "being slapped in the face" or "insulted" or "offered third-rate devolution" because this is exactly the outcome I was expecting :

The question there is if Scotland votes no in September, and as a result acquires further devolved powers or devo-max, Wales will be left behind yet again when - based on this report - Wales is tantalisingly close to achieving parity with Scotland (if criminal justice powers were devolved in future).
- See more at: http://www.oggybloggyogwr.com/2014/03/silk-ii-wrath-of-paul.html#sthash.TZafNehB.dpuf
The question there is if Scotland votes no in September, and as a result acquires further devolved powers or devo-max, Wales will be left behind yet again when - based on this report - Wales is tantalisingly close to achieving parity with Scotland (if criminal justice powers were devolved in future).
- See more at: http://www.oggybloggyogwr.com/2014/03/silk-ii-wrath-of-paul.html#sthash.TZafNehB.dpuf
The question there is if Scotland votes no in September, and as a result acquires further devolved powers or devo-max, Wales will be left behind yet again when - based on this report - Wales is tantalisingly close to achieving parity with Scotland (if criminal justice powers were devolved in future).
- See more at: http://www.oggybloggyogwr.com/2014/03/silk-ii-wrath-of-paul.html#sthash.TZafNehB.dpuf
04/03/2014 : "....if Scotland votes no in September, and as a result acquires further devolved powers or devo-max, Wales will be left behind yet again when - based on this report - Wales is tantalisingly close to achieving parity with Scotland (if criminal justice powers were devolved in future)."

The question there is if Scotland votes no in September, and as a result acquires further devolved powers or devo-max, Wales will be left behind yet again when - based on this report - Wales is tantalisingly close to achieving parity with Scotland (if criminal justice powers were devolved in future).
- See more at: http://www.oggybloggyogwr.com/2014/03/silk-ii-wrath-of-paul.html#sthash.TZafNehB.dpuf
he question there is if Scotland votes no in September, and as a result acquires further devolved powers or devo-max, Wales will be left behind yet again when - based on this report - Wales is tantalisingly close to achieving parity with Scotland (if criminal justice powers were devolved in future).
- See more at: http://www.oggybloggyogwr.com/2014/03/silk-ii-wrath-of-paul.html#sthash.TZafNehB.dpuf
There have been several opportunities down the years to put the devolved powers issue to bed once and for all and ensure Wales has a settlement that would last more than a decade. People like me can then shut up about independence and further powers, and AMs can concentrate on running the country, safe in the knowledge that they would be on a clearer footing within the UK's constitution.

Nope, not going to happen. Again.

A cross-party commission's reasonable and proportionate recommendations have been watered down. Again.

Scotland is moving leaps and bounds ahead of Wales. Again.

Powers which, by rights, should be devolved (like abortion limits, medicine licensing, drink-drive limits, and Network Rail funding....because subjects like health and transport are devolved) have been taken off the table. Again.

The only person who has a right to be chuffed with this is the Llywydd, Rosemary Butler (Lab, Newport West). Her recommendations (Assembly Commission steps up to the oche) are included almost word for word.

So don't worry. The National Assembly might, in future be called Welsh Parliament because "National Assembly" isn't a good enough name for Wales....but it is for France, Greece, South Korea, Hungary, Pakistan and South Africa.

Oh, and all those 16 year olds chomping at the bit to vote may be able to (The X-Factor). Great stuff. Meanwhile, the "Assemblement" will be able to block "fracking" but won't be able to control any energy project that produces more power than a BMX dynamo. The UK Government will retain ultimate control.

I look forward to the recommendations of the Baroness Kirsty Williams Commission on Devolution for Wales in 2024, which will outline a lasting settlement and put the issue of constitutional reform to bed for....