Independence Index

Your in-depth guide to Welsh independence.

Assembly

The latest news, debates and reports from the Senedd. (Fourth Assembly stories are under 'Archive').

Bridgend

The major local political stories and developments from Bridgend county.

Laws

We gave AMs law-making powers; this is what's being done with them.

Committee Inquiries

Detailed scrutiny of how Wales is being run. (Fourth Assembly inquiries are under 'Archive').

Vice Nation: Sex

How could an independent Wales deal with issues surrounding sex?

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Senedd Watch - May 2011

Seeing how the Welsh Government has undergone a long overdue re-brand, "WAG Watch" now stands for Welsh Assembly & Government Watch - I guess.


  • Labour made gains in the Assembly election, winning 30 seats, falling short of an overall majority. The Conservatives won an extra two seats but lost their leader Nick Bourne. Plaid Cymru had a disappointing night, losing 4 seats - including the party's deputy leader Helen Mary Jones. The Lib Dems only lost a single seat overall, but saw their share of the vote fall and lost 2 FPTP constituencies - including Cardiff Central.
  • Paul Davies (Con, Preseli Pembrokeshire) was made interim leader of the Welsh Conservatives while a leadership contest gets underway. He has, however, ruled himself out of the race. A new leader is due to be announced on July 11th. Andrew RT Davies (Con, South Wales Central) and Nick Ramsey (Con, Monmouthshire) are the only leadership candidates .
  • The fourth National Assembly of Wales convened on 11th May and began with a tribute to the late regional list AM for North Wales, Brynle Williams.
  • Rosemary Butler (Lab, Newport West) was appointed as Llywydd unopposed, replacing Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, who stands down from the role after 12 years.
  • David Melding and William Graham were both nominated for the post of Deputy Llywydd. David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) was elected by 46 votes to 12 in a secret ballot.
  • Carwyn Jones AM (Lab, Bridgend) was appointed as First Minister unopposed.
  • Ieuan Wyn Jones AM (Plaid, Ynys Mon) announced that he is to stand down as Plaid Cymru leader "in the first half of the Assembly term".
  • Department of Work and Pensions statistics reveal that 23% of the population of Wales live in relative income poverty - the same rate as England but higher than Scotland (19%) and Northern Ireland (22%). 33% of children lived in relative income poverty, the highest rate of the home nations, Scotland having the lowest rate at 25%. 17% of pensioners in Wales lived in relative income poverty - the same rate as England, higher than Scotland (13%) but lower than Northern Ireland (21%)
  • Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) has called for the Welsh Government to publish a programme of government and "demonstrate their commitment to co-operation in order to get their plans through the Senedd".
  • Kevin Davies AM (Lab, Llanelli) criticised comments made by former WJEC exam board chair, Jeff Jones, that the Welsh Baccalaureate was "an A level with a load on nonsense added on". This comes after news that Cardiff University refused to accept the qualification for a history and politics course.
  • Two newly elected Lib Dem regional list AM's - Aled Roberts and John Dixon - were disqualified from the Assembly for retaining membership of organisations that AMs were barred from being members of. UKIP MEP John Bufton referred the pair to the police for electoral fraud.
  • Unemployment in Wales fell sharply by 10,000, with the unemployment rate now exactly the same as the UK average at 7.7%. Unemployment and economic inactivity in Wales have also had sharper falls than the UK average compared to last year.
  • First Minister Carwyn Jones described the UK Government's decision to downgrade Newport passport office as "extremely disappointing news".
  • Around 1,500 people gathered outside the Senedd on May 24th to protest against TAN 8, the UK and Welsh Government's policy to generate more renewable energy. Of particular concern were the building of new windfarms in Mid Wales and a power line from Montgomeryshire to Shrewsbury.
  • Office of National Statistics data showed that 50,400 people from the rest of the UK moved to Wales while 48,500 left, with net inward migration of 1,900 in the twelve months to September 2010.
  • Alun Ffred Jones AM (Plaid, Arfon) has written to Llywydd Rosemary Butler, criticising the Assembly Commission for not setting up committees quickly enough, saying that there was a sense of "lethargy" and that AMs were "pottering around". He criticised the Welsh Government for being slow in setting out a programme of government compared to the Scottish Government.
  • Theodore Huckle QC, was appointed Consul General, the Assembly Government's senior legal advisor, on May 27th.
  • First Minister Carwyn Jones joined his counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland for a trilateral summit in Edinburgh on May 31st. The meeting was to discuss shared agendas for the term ahead.
  • Major projects announced this month include the start of the £35m Wrexham Industrial Estate Access Road(s), a proposed leisure resort on Anglesey that could create up to 600 jobs and a £77m refurbishment of Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Bodelwyddan, Denbighshire.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Bridgend Police Station on the move? I'd buy that for a dollar!

Bridgend Police Station - no longer fit for purpose?
The recent masterplan for Bridgend town centre hinted that South Wales Police were "reviewing their accommodation requirements". It appears that moves have been a lot quicker than I had anticipated.

A planning application has been submitted for a new custody centre and police station (it's described as an office block in the application but it is a police station) at the former Tryst Holdings factory at Queens Road on the Bridgend Industrial Estate. The new station will be a modular building, by Wernick Buildings, based in Neath and has been designed by Group 4 Security (G4S).

G4S already provide custody services for South Wales Police, but I think this is the first example I know of in Wales of a private company financing, building and running a police station - which will be leased to South Wales Police. It might even be one of the first in EnglandandWales. G4S are described in the planning documents as a "trusted partner of choice [to SWP] and enjoy the benefits of public sector/private sector relationship."

Understandably the current police station on Cheapside would shut. The custody facilities there no longer meet Home Office regulations, while the cost of refurbishment would be prohibitive.

Funnily enough, the Cheapside site has been identified in the masterplan for retail development. Is this one of the "benefits of public sector/private sector relationship?" It would be a great addition to the town if the right tenant/scheme came along, like a big department store, for example Debenhams or Marks and Spencer - both notable absentees from Bridgend town centre.

Another interesting item to note, is that the planning bumf implies that this new custody centre could serve a much wider area than Bridgend - even as far away as Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil and Swansea. That explains the site - which has easy access to the M4 as well as the size of the facility. It looks more like a small prison than a police station. To put things in perspective, the recently opened police station in Cardiff Bay has 60 cells, compared to the 40 at the proposed Bridgend site (with room for additional expansion).

It's great that Bridgend might get a new police station, the current one is outdated and its redevelopment could spur on the town centre's regeneration. It's also good that a Welsh-based supplier will provide the building and up to 100 jobs could be created. It might even serve to deter some of the boy racers and crime that occurs on the industrial estate.

I don't have an objection to it being privately financed and run either, though the thought of the market further creeping into criminal justice (Parc Prison in Bridgend is also run by G4S) raises concerns. G4S aren't OCP but it all seems a little bit Robocop. Where will private/public partnership in justice stop? Where are the boundaries?

However, no direct pedestrian access to/from the town centre? A skeleton bus service? In an area that's abandoned past 6pm? Hmm.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The BBC's meaningless school "league table"

I firmly believe that parents have a right to know how well their child's current, or future, school is performing compared to national and local benchmarks.

How that information is presented is a matter for debate. Some would like league tables, others, like the Education Minister Leighton Andrews would prefer "school grading". Personally, I lean towards the latter.

On Friday BBC Wales published a de-facto "league table", based on figures obtained by a freedom of information request. However it was based on only one single set of statistics, called "value added score" where schools receive a higher score if pupils perform better than expected in GCSE exams based on the school's contribution.

Presumably, that means if a pupil is expecting to get a single E grade GCSE, but gets 2 D grades, the school has an improved "value added score". Likewise, if in another school a pupil is expecting 6 A*'s only gets 4 A's, the school has underperformed and the value added score is reduced.

Cowbridge Comprehensive - regarded as one of the best state secondary schools in Wales where almost 94% of pupils received 5 or more GCSE's grade A*-C in 2009-10 - is ranked 97th on this league table. Cynffig Comprehensive - where innovate approaches have been taken to boost the (what was appalling) 5 A*-C pass rate - has gone flying to 1st place.

There's no question that the schools at the top of the table have improved massively, and deserve credit. Perhaps there are even lessons the so-called "better" schools can learn from them. However, there's more to measuring school performance than just the value added, no matter how robust the measure is considered.

By publishing just one set of statistics in this manner, the BBC has reduced it to a simplistic, confusing (for parents), even misleading headline-grabbing set of random numbers.

I don't like to defend the WLGA and teaching unions but in this case they're absolutely right to vent some steam.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Lessons from Quebec for Big Eck

Jacque Parizeau. Economist. Worked in energy.
Committed Nationalist. Very assured of himself. Sound familiar?
In 1976, the nationalist Parti Québécois (PQ) won the election to the Quebec National Assembly for the first time, winning 71 seats out of 110. This was a meteoric rise, considering that in the 1970 and 1973 elections, PQ had only won 7 and 6 seats respectively.

The PQ promised "good government" and they also promised a referendum on "sovereignty association" - for example :  a single currency, free trade and a harmonisation of trade tariffs with the rest of Canada. This concept is very similar to the "social union" with the rump UK espoused by the SNP combined with the benefits of EU membership.

In 1980, the referendum on "sovereignty association" was held. Early indications were that the "yes" side would win. This was despite the "no" side having the backing of the French-Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau. As the campaign went on, Trudeau promised constitutional reforms in Canada as a whole, saying that no vote wouldn't mean that things would stay the same for the rest of Canada (full UK Federalism?).

The no vote triumphed by 59.6% to 44.4%. The PQ leader René Lévesque said, "If I've understood you well, you're telling me 'until next time'."

Despite the referendum defeat, PQ were re-elected to government in the 1981 Quebec election - winning 80 seats. However sovereignty as an issue was laid to rest.

Pierre Trudeau also outmaneuvered PQ by agreeing constitutional reforms with English-speaking Provincial Premiers before Lévesque had a chance to enter the discussion. This became known as the "kitchen accords" and was seen as a betrayal by Quebec nationalists.

Could a parallel in the UK be Barnett Formula reforms? Where Wales and the English regions would be big winners as Scotland loses out, but with Scotland having to bear more fiscal responsibility?

In 1984, PQ went through a major crisis, where the gradualist, conciliatory approach of René Lévesque was rejected by many in the party - causing defections. This cost PQ a majority in the Quebec National Assembly and a string of by-election defeats. This led to the resignation of
Lévesque as party leader, and they subsequently lost the 1985 Quebec election to the Liberal Party (the Canadian equivalent of Labour).

It wasn't until 1994 that PQ, under the leadership of Jacque Parizeau, would be returned to government in Quebec. This was after thumping defeats in the 1985 and 1989 elections. Again independence was on the agenda, and again Canada was led by a French-Canadian Prime Minister in Jean Chrétien. This time though, the referendum would be about giving the Quebec National Assembly the right to declare Quebec "sovereign", serving as a legal basis for independence.

Unlike the 1980 campaign, the initial polls pointed towards a big "no" vote. The popular Bloc Québécois (Quebec Nationalist party in the Canadian Federal Parliament/"Westminster") leader Lucien Bouchard took a more prominent role in the campaign. Despite nearly dying from necrotizing fasciitis and losing his left leg, he campaigned on crutches in public, bringing a massive wave of sympathy from the electors.

Polls changes from "no" to "yes". Jean Chrétien promised more constitutional reforms if there was a no-vote, just as Pierre Trudeau had. It looked as though Quebec was heading towards independence - even the Queen was tricked into saying on a radio show that the referendum could go "the wrong way".

However, Quebec voted no by the slimmest of margins, 50.5% to 49.5% with a 94% turnout.


In the aftermath, Jacque Parizeau resigned as PQ leader, with Lucien Bouchard succeeding him. Support for independence in Quebec has fallen gradually over the years, being as low as 28% in 2009, and sovereignty was put on the back burner by PQ, leading to another term in government 1998.

After losing the 2003 Quebec election, PQ haven't been returned to power, with the Liberal Party running Quebec ever since. Polls for the 2012 Quebec election though, do show PQ taking a slim lead over the Liberal Party, with another centre-right nationalist party - Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) - taking a fair chunk of the votes.

It seems as though in 2012, Quebec is heading for a pro-independence majority. Whether that will lead to another referendum though remains to be seen. What is clear is that there are some historic parallels between Quebec and Scotland. Whether the referendum in the coming years will be Scotland's 1980, 1995 or a yes vote will depend on what lessons the SNP learns from the successes and failures of Parti Québécois.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Bridgend Deposit Local Development Plan

The deposit plans outlining development in Bridgend County for the next 10 years are now online. This of course won't be the final version, it'll have to go through consultation, inspectors reports etc until it's full adoption by the council.

The proposals map is here

The written deposit LDP is here

The council have adopted what it calls a "regeneration led strategy". That means that most development is concentrated on areas that have declined in recent years, but have the opportunity for improvements that can match the projected growth in population and provide sustainable employment.

Broadly, that means that most development in the LDP is concentrated on the eastern half of Bridgend town itself (Parc Derwen, Brackla Industrial Estate), Waterton/A48, Porthcawl and what's been dubbed the "Valleys Gateway" of Ynysawdre, Sarn, Aberkenfig, Tondu etc.

Some smaller areas of development, such as Maesteg Washery and the former Cosi factory at Ewenny Road, also in Maesteg are other sites listed for regeneration.

Key Regeneration Areas

Parc Derwen – To the north east of Bridgend, near Coity. Currently being developed as a new "village" community of around 1500 homes, but will eventually include a new school, district centre/community facilities. The vast bulk of new housing in the borough over the next ten years will be here.


North East Brackla – The Brackla and Litchard industrial estates. Currently run down with poor architecture and a poor reputation. Partially links in with the Parc Derwen development. A masterplan has been published which will see new homes, office development along the A4061 and an energy centre. Improvements will also be made to Heol Simonston to enable the regeneration.

Parc Afon Ewenni/Brocastle – Mixed use development along the A473 and River Ewenny, with new road access, residential development (up to 550 new homes), office development (including a landmark building at Waterton Cross) and retail. Pedestrian links with the rest of Bridgend will be improved. A plateau alongside the A48 near the Lidl warehouse will be developed for industrial uses.

Goodbye Coney Beach?
Regeneration could see the fun fair
replaced with housing and a new promenade

Porthcawl Waterfront – An improved harbour, more than 1300 new homes, new foodstore (revealed to be Tesco) and other retail units, improved sea defences and promenade to Trecco Bay.

Valley Gateway – New comprehensive school to replace Ynysawdre and Ogmore schools, more than 700 new homes at Sarn and Tondu, currently under development. Mixed use development on the old Christie Tyler factory.

Other Key Areas

Island Farm – Long listed as an extension to the Science Park, it's included again this time, once more for employment use. There are current plans for a sports village and science park extension going through the council, it's unclear what impact that will have. "Hut 9" would be retained.


Maesteg Comprehensive school
at the Washery reclamation scheme
Maesteg Washery – New housing to the south of Maesteg Comprehensive, with improved recreation space.

Ewenny Road – Up to 125 new homes and a flexible mixed use development "taking advantage of the riverside setting".



Coity Sidings – Currently derelict and full of overgrown vegetation. Residential led development including a park and ride facility, with bus turning circle, for Wildmill railway station and a possible expansion of allotments. The current employment area will be retained.

Waunscil Avenue – This has a long, bitter and controversial planning history with several proposed housing developments being refused - including one as recently as this week. The new LDP now lists it as land for housing and accessible green space. It remains to be seen if the number of affordable houses required makes any scheme viable as it's an awkward site to develop.

Pencoed NO development that results in an increase in traffic will take place in the western half of Pencoed due to problems caused by the level crossing and the bridge. It's unlikely any development large enough to warrant a bridge replacement would be viable anyway.

Transport Schemes


  • "Park and share" sites at both Junction 36 and 35.
  • Duelling of the A48 between Laleston and Waterton Cross, with junction upgrades.
  • Park and ride improvements at Pencoed, Sarn and Wildmill railway stations.
  • New bus/rail interchange in Maesteg.
  • New railway station and park and ride at Brackla.
  • Bus lane between Brackla Street and Bridgend railway station (construction imminent).
  • Improvements to the A4063 between Aberkenfig and Maesteg.
  • Two Garw-Llynfi inter-valley cycle paths, new cycle path between Tondu-Caerau and Brynmenyn -Pencoed (via Heol y Cyw)
  • Cycle paths between Bridgend Industrial Estate and Litchard (via Coity Sidings, Waunscil Avenue schemes listed above), Bridgend Designer Outlet and the town centre (via A4061), Bridgend-Porthcawl (via Merthyr Mawr), Porthcawl–North Cornelly (via Kenfig/Maudlam) and Bridgend-Pencoed.

Energy & Environment Schemes


  • Green wedges between minor settlments and larger settlement are protected, including Coity-Bridgend, Penyfai-Bridgend-Sarn, Llangynwyd-Maesteg, Coychurch-Pencoed and Laleston-Bridgend.
  • Biomass plant at former Llynfi power station, sewer gas energy scheme at Ogmore treatment works and landfill gas energy scheme at Tythegston landfill site. The council will "encourage major development proposals...that generate energy from renewables".
  • Green space extensions and accessibility improvements at Brackla Ridge, Newbridge Fields, Pandy Park (Ynysawdre), Rest Bay, Parc Derwen, Coegnant Reclamation Scheme and Crown Road (Kenfig Hill).





Friday, 13 May 2011

The new Welsh Government takes shape

Carwyn Jones – First Minister

Well....duh. Though it seems as though the role of First Minister is going to be a lot more beefed up - dare I say it, presidential. Carwyn Jones will be taking a more hands on role in external affairs (dealing with Westminster and the EU) as well as energy, curiously. I'm not sure why exactly. We'll have to wait and see how that plays out.

Edwina Hart – Business, Enterprise & Technology

One of the surprises. The Welsh business community have called for a "big beast" for the economy portfolio and Edwina is one of those. Being one of the few Labour AMs that actually has private sector experience will work in her favour. Her strong association with the trade union movement, and being on the left of Welsh Labour, won't. I'm not sure whether she would consider this a demotion or not. She has a very tough task ahead of her, and needs to hit the ground running. It's unclear if she'll also have the transport portfolio, but I presume that's the case.

Lesley Griffiths – Health & Social Services

A promotion - and a big one at that - considering the importance of this particular portfolio. I honestly don't know that much about Lesley, but I was disappointed at both her, and John Griffiths' approach to science in particular. This portfolio will certainly push Lesley to the front of Welsh Labour, and I think we'll get a better idea of what she's really made of as this is one of the "poison chalice" posts. Clearly Carwyn Jones and Labour have a lot of faith in her.

Jane Hutt – Finance & Leader of the House

To say she's struggled to find a niche in cabinet in recent years is an understatement. However, I think she finally found it as Finance Minister. Steady as she goes. There will be question marks over her failure to secure a fairer funding formula in the last Assembly though.

John Griffiths – Environment & Sustainable Development

Another promotion, but he has big shoes to fill. I'm surprised that energy hasn't been included in this portfolio or rural affairs. Like his namesake Lesley, I don't know too much about John, but this post gives him the opportunity to make more of a name for himself. He's apparently well regarded in the Senedd, so this appointment/promotion isn't a total surprise.

Leighton Andrews – Education & Skills

I would've bet on him getting the Economy portfolio, but with the changes he's planned for Welsh schools, it makes sense to keep Leighton in the post to oversee them. I think he's stored a lot of problems for himself though, especially with regard higher education and tackling underperformance.

Carl Sargeant – Local Government & Communities

No rocking the boat once again, and makes sense.

Huw Lewis – Housing, Regeneration & Heritage

I don't object to Huw Lewis getting a cabinet post, but the portfolio seems a bit of a mish-mash of unrelated matters. Housing and Heritage don't really go together do they? Regeneration and social justice does seem to be a matter close to Huw's heart, so I've no doubting his commitment to that role. I just hope the regeneration direction of this government doesn't go down one of these ridiculous "community cul-de-sacs" where economic development takes a back seat to more trivial concerns. Sort of like how Communities First turned out.

However Huw Lewis in the Heritage post. Are Labour trying to bait Plaid with that one?

Gwenda Thomas – Deputy Minister for Social Services

Another steady as she goes appointment, and I don't see any problems there.

Jeff Cuthbert – Deputy Minister for Skills

I've never had Jeff Cuthbert down as minister material to be honest. However, he does have a technical background and if he can work hard on improving vocational and STEM education in Wales he'll go up in my book. I think he can be one of the surprises (in a good way). I just hope he doesn't fall into the trap of previous deputy ministers and become anonymous.

Alun Davies – Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries & European Programmes

This is certainly a step down from Elin Jones, and Labour are muting one of their most effective backbenchers. However, I'm sure Alun can - and will - do justice to the job. Does European Programmes include Objective One? If that's the case surely it makes more sense to put that with the economy portfolio.


Tuesday, 10 May 2011

SEX! Now that I have your attention....

Just before the election campaign began, the Assembly announced that the "morning after pill" would be available free of charge - and without a prescription - to all (including under 16's), as long as there is informed consent and a proven clinical need.

I think this is a progressive move, and something that should be broadly welcomed, especially from a public health standpoint. However, is it glossing over failures in sex education in Wales?

Teenage conceptions and STI statistics

The latest teenage conception statistics from the Welsh Assembly show that the numbers of underage conceptions have fallen consistently since 1996 - from 644 to 455 in 2008. On the surface of it, that's quite a small number. For the under 18s, it's fallen from 2,932 to 2,578 over the same period. There's clearly been some success here, but there's a long way to go before the overall rates fall into line with the UK average. Wales still has a rate marginally above that of the four home nations, but has seen the sharpest falls since 1997.

When it comes to sexually transmitted infections, the news isn't so good. Public Health Wales' monitoring report - published in March - shows the numbers of people being treated for AIDS & HIV in Wales has increased from 468 in 2002 to 1,193 in 2009. The most probable route of infection being heterosexual sex for women and those of black ethnicity; and homosexual sex for men in general and those of white ethnicity. Contrary to popular belief, drug use seems to have a negligible impact on chances of exposure to the virus.

Other STIs - such as syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia - have also seen increases, with the number of cases seeming to peak during 2008 and starting to fall in subsequent months. What stands out though - especially for 15-19 year olds - are the cases of gonorrhoea and uncomplicated chlamydia, with this age bracket seeing rates well above that of the general population.

In November 2010, Edwina Hart announced a new five year plan (Labour really like five year plans don't they) to improve sexual health. Measures include more money targeted at areas with high teenage conception rates, information for parents to discuss sexual health with children and improving access to GUM services for young people. We won't know what impact this will have for a while obviously.

The current state of sex education in Wales

School governors in Wales have to have a written policy on sex education. Primary schools are not required to have any sort of sex education, and it's done so at the discretion of the individual school. All secondary schools, however, are required to provide sex education to all registered pupils - probably as part of PSE lessons, but science as well.

The Welsh Assembly has a 40 page guidance circular with 3 other related documents. This, I believe, is part of the problem. They're overanalysing the subject and overburdening teachers and other related PSE providers with pointers and guidelines. The language in the circular makes it appear as though they are treating sex education as a child protection and equalities issue, rather than one of public health and basic education.

What approach could Wales take?

For starters, in my view, every single child leaving primary school should know about : the biological mechanics of sex, different types of relationships, appropriate sexual behaviours and the danger from sexual predators. That means sex education should be made compulsory in primary schools as well as secondary schools. Bust the myths before they are mature enough to act on them.

At what primary school age/year group the subject should be approached in is one for debate. In Sweden it starts between ages 7 and 10, similar to the much lauded Dutch model and Switzerland.

The focus in secondary school should be on the meaning of relationships, how sex can be enjoyed safely, sexual ethics, domestic abuse, sexual health and the problems, pitfalls and joys of being a parent.

It should address things like:


  • What's the difference between a long-term relationship and a one night stand?
  • How difficult is it to raise a child, both financially and emotionally?
  • What does a new born baby need?
  • Why are there stigmas against single and teenage mothers?
  • What does it mean to be gay or bisexual in modern Wales?
  • What myths do the media like to portray about sex and relationships?

I think this would be far more credible (from a pupil's perspective) coming from teachers or visiting speakers on an adult-to-young adult, more personal level rather as some sort of government mandated box ticking exercise. Many of them will be parents themselves or have gone through childbirth. I think teenagers might be able to relate to real life stories from someone in a neutral position of authority that they can't get from their parents.

It's about personal responsibility and empowerment. It's something we're going to have to engender in Wales instead of a top-down, nanny knows best, old Labour view of things. With internet access, scare tactics are increasingly useless in a desensitised age group. Likewise, dancing around the issue by proselytising about our "corrupted youth", or trying to enforce outdated conservative morals isn't going to help matters. Teenagers will always seek out new experiences. It's part of growing up and becoming a well rounded adult.

We need to make sure that when they inevitably do seek out such experiences, they do so knowing that a simple choice has a much broader range of consequences outside of pregnancy and STIs.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Paying the Price of Power - Election 2011 Results

Well I was on the ball with my predictions then......*facepalm*

  • Plaid Cymru - and to a lesser extent the Lib Dems - slammed by resurgent Labour in Wales, who fall short of an overall majority.
  • Nick Bourne loses seat while Welsh Conservatives enjoy a good night overall.
  • Labour make gains in council elections in England, at the expense of Lib Dems. The Conservatives enjoy some local election gains as well.
  • SNP triumphant in Scottish Parliament elections, at the expense of Labour and the Lib Dems, winning an overall majority for the first time. Pro-independence parties now dominate Holyrood. Jealous? Moi?

The 4th National Assembly of Wales


Our newly elected AMs (Click to enlarge)

                              Prediction         Actual

Labour                         28                30 (+4)
Plaid Cymru                 13                11 (-4)
Conservatives            13                14 (+2)
Liberal Democrats        4                  5 (-1)
Greens                           1                  0 (n/c)
UKIP                               1                  0 (n/c)
Independents                0                  0 (-1)



Labour

A good night, prevented by the Aberconwy result from being an excellent one. There's no question they run a very effective campaign off the back of Westminster issues, and in Carwyn Jones they have someone who people might find trustworthy and a safe pair of hands.

They'll be pleased to have retaken Llanelli, even if it was by the slimmest of margins, and they'll also be pleased they comprehensively held off Ron Davies' challenge in Caerphilly. Their biggest achievement in my view, was turning the capital red. Once that happened all bets were off.

They should be cautious that they don't get too carried away. I predict they will still end up going into a coalition of some kind. 30 seats is just too awkward.


Conservatives

An excellent night, spoiled by the loss of Nick Bourne and Jonathan Morgan. They've conducted a low-key campaign but avoided some of the mud slinging that's happened - especially between Labour and Plaid.

I doubt Nick Bourne would've seen out the coming Assembly term as leader anyway, so a leadership contest was always on the cards in my opinion, it's just happening one or two years earlier. He leaves a very strong legacy however, and something the Welsh Conservatives can build on. I just hope that his successor continues to carve out a distinct Welsh brand and voice or many of their gains could be easy pickings in 2016.

They might not show it on their faces, but they'll be delighted with the result.


Liberal Democrats

What started off as a poor night, ended up a not so bad a night, especially when you compare it to the English local elections and the Scottish Parliament election. Losing just one seat in the face of such protest isn't bad at all.

They should be humble and not play that up too much, they could very easily have been on 4 or less seats had a few hundred votes gone the right way. They clearly benefited from the additional member system the most, to Plaid's detriment.

I fully expect them to be Labour's first port of call in any coalition negotiations, if Labour decide to do so. I'd call that a result.


Plaid Cymru

I make no bones about it, Plaid had an absolute stinker. I would set a Plaid "floor" at 12 seats and anything below that is an awful result.

Of course, had a few hundred votes gone the right way, they could've very easily ended up with 13 or 14 seats which would've been a good result all in all. However, you can see that Plaid and the SNP are now on completely different planets when it comes to political and constitutional progress.

Plaid secured a successful referendum on law making powers. That's a victory and a feather in their cap. However, when the "messy divorce" with Labour happened, they played it the wrong way. They will have to learn to rise above Labour's tricks during elections and carve out a proper USP for themselves.

A period in opposition will do them good, and it's not all bad news, with some fresh faces coming in like Simon Thomas, Llyr Huws Griffiths and Lyndsey Whittle. However, when it comes to talk of leadership changes, I don't see anyone who could realistically step up to the job.

None of the right candidates are in the right place. Adam Price, Nerys Evans and HMJ can't be elected/re-elected to the Assembly until 2016 at the earliest (barring a by-election), Elfyn Llwyd and Dafydd Wigley are down the M4, I doubt any of the other re-elected AMs would want to run for the leadership, and it would be presumptuous for any of the "new" Plaid members to make a run at it.

The buck doesn't always stop at the leader. Plaid need to allow a short period of introspection and come out fighting. Labour are going to disappoint a lot of people over the next five years, and there will be only one alternative to the three other parties - all of whom in power in some shape or form. Plaid need to position themselves to take advantage of it.

Minor Parties

The Greens must be gutted. It seems as though Labour voters didn't use their second vote for them after all and ended up wasting them. I thought they were nailed on for a seat, but polls aren't always right. I think they'll do well in next year's local elections though, especially in Cardiff.

UKIP clearly couldn't get their vote out and didn't do anywhere near as well as predicted. Paradoxically, I would have UKIP supporters in Wales down as the sort who wouldn't vote in an Assembly election anyway. In the long term, have a decent enough base to build on though. I imagine they'll get there in the end.

The BNP saw their share of the vote drop. Good.

The various Socialist sects had a fairly solid showing, especially the Socialist Labour Party who out polled the BNP. If they had stood as one ticket, in the manner of "Die Linke" instead of several bald men competing over a hammer and sickle, they could've pushed UKIP.

English Democrats lose their deposit once again. Take the hint.

The Christian People's Alliance must be such a great party that even their members forgot to vote for them. Expect their result to pop up in "and finally..." news stories and political almanacs. The Christian Party proper polled less than 1%. "Jesus don't want me for a sunbeam".

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Election 2011 : Predictions

I've been conservative in my predictions, just as I was with the Assembly referendum. I'm basing this on a "no big shock" factor. That means incumbents by and large holding their seats. Labour can reach 30 or 31 seats, but it's going to be a very, very big ask.

If Labour don't win Llanelli, Carmarthen West, Cardiff North, Aberconwy, Clwyd West and hold Caerphilly, their chances of a majority are dead in the water.

This election will be won or lost in Mid & West Wales and the North Wales regional list.

I think MH over at Syniadau has reached a similar conclusion, albeit with different constituency and regional permutations.

Labour have burned too many bridges with Plaid for a One Wales 2 and I predict will opt for a mini-rainbow coalition with the Liberal Democrats and my predicted Green AM for South Wales Central (likely on condition of dropping support for nuclear power, which will be more difficult than first appears). This will give a slightly shaky, but workable, majority of 3 (not including possible appointments of Llywydd and Deputy Llywydd).

A UKIP AM being elected - and I predict they will make a gain on the regional list - will end any chance of a rainbow coalition.


TL;DR Version

Labour                  28 (+2)
Lib Dems                4 (-2)
Conservatives    13 (+1)
Plaid Cymru         13 (-2)
Green                     1 (+1)
UKIP                       1 (+1)
Independents        0 (-1)
  • Turnout in the low 40's
  • Labour to fall short of an overall majority, will go into Lab-Lib-Green coalition.
  • Labour to gain Carmarthen West & South Pembs., Clwyd West, Blaenau Gwent and hold Caerphilly. Regional list results will prevent them reaching 30-31 seats. Vote share will rise significantly but mainly in constituency seats they already hold.
  • Lib Dems to hold Cardiff Central, but lose Montgomeryshire to Tories. Vote share to fall by as much as 7-8% nationally compared to 2007.
  • Plaid to lose Aberconwy to Tories, but should hold their other constituencies and regional list seats. Vote share will fall by 3-4% nationally.
  • Greens and UKIP to get first AMs in South Wales Central and North Wales respectively.
  • Nick Bourne to remain leader of the opposition. Conservatives to hold Cardiff North. Vote share to stay stable, or even rise slightly by 2-3% nationally and put them into second place.

AV Referendum

I haven't blogged a lot about this because to be frank, I couldn't care less. This is a sop compromise and AV isn't any proper, radical alternative. If it were AV+ or STV - now you're talking. I voted yes though, as at least it's a step forward in electoral reform albeit a baby step.

I think the overall UK result will be a "no" - probably something like 56-44. It all depends on how many people vote in England. A lower turnout there will help the yes campaign in my opinion, as votes in the devolved nations - which might lean more towards a yes vote - will have greater significance.

It will open a can of worms if a yes result was dependent on votes from Scotland in particular, and if the SNP are returned to government.


Predicted make up of the 4th National Assembly



Our new AM's? (Click to enlarge)


South Wales West

No changes at all at constituency or regional level, except in the voting percentages. That's a nice and easy prediction dealt with.


South Wales Central

Labour will hold all of their constituencies, and will run the Lib Dems close in Cardiff Central. My gut feeling is that that Lib Dems will retain Cardiff Central by the skin of their teeth, which should secure a second Plaid seat on the regional list. The Tories should also hang on to Cardiff North but again it's a close run thing. It's results like this that will determine if Labour get a majority or not.

This will be one of the areas where Tory, Lib Dem and Plaid support will fall hardest. Greens will be able to get themselves on the regional list at the expense of a second Plaid or Conservative seat. I'm going to go for the Conservatives, who I believe will face a sharper fall in support than Plaid which means the regrettable loss of David Melding.

South Wales East

Like South Wales Central, this is where Lib Dem and Plaid support will fall sharpest. The biggest question mark is over Caerphilly. I think it will go to a recount but I'm not sure what impact the idiotic and childish actions of Wayne David will have on it.

I'm going to make a conservative estimate and say that Labour will hold Caerphilly on the night, which will be a big disappointment for Plaid, but should mean they keep hold of a regional seat. Other than an easy gain for Labour in Blaenau Gwent there'll be no other changes at constituency level.

I think Plaid will probably come off worse than the Tories here in the regional vote, and in a flip side to South Wales Central, the Tories will "gain" a second regional seat. Contentiously held by Mohammad Ashgar since he crossed the floor.

Mid & West Wales

Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire will be another very close fight, probably to a recount once again. I predict that Labour will come out on top, which could result in 2 Tory list seats. Labour will probably push Plaid very close in Llanelli. I wouldn't rule out a change of hands there, but I think it's unlikely and Plaid will hold Llanelli....just. I also think the Conservatives will gain Montgomery as they did last year, which will be something of a blow to the Lib Dems.

North Wales

Most of the interesting battles are going to be here. I predict Aberconwy and Clwyd West will change hands, to the Conservatives and Labour respectively. There's also the possibility of a three-way fight in Clwyd South as well, but Labour should hang on. I think there's a long-odds possibility of shock on Ynys Mon, though I think Plaid should hold it. The Lib Dems could be wiped out in north Wales - to either Plaid's or UKIP's advantage. I think UKIP might just have the edge though if they can get their vote out.


Other Predictions
  • Plenty of shots of glum faced Plaid Cymru and Lib Dem activists at counts.
  • Plenty of shots of cheering Labour and Conservative activists mixed with concerned looking ones in another part of Wales.
  • Turnout will be described as "poor" if it's below 50%, and there'll be lots of talk about how the Assembly "hasn't been taken to the hearts of the people of Wales" until the first results come through.
  • Countless mentions of "a more powerful Assembly" in the first 10-20 minutes.
  • Mentions of the delayed North Wales count "ruining the spectacle of election night".
  • Lots of "coming home to Labour" talk, with Paul Murphy and Peter Hain leading it with referrals to "Tory cuts" in at least every other sentence.
  • Every party will say they're hearing "good things from (X constituency/region)".
  • Ieuan Wyn Jones will take 5 minutes to say something that could be said in 30 seconds.
  • Kirsty Williams will say "part of the burden of being in Government in Westminster".
  • All the party leaders will say they "haven't ruled anything out" with regard coalition deals.
  • Labour will say that the "people of Wales clearly want a Labour/Labour-led government" regardless of how many seats they win.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Election 2011 : Final Campaign Round Up

Well that's that.

One of the most insipid, uninspiring and (on the ground) nasty election campaigns in the Welsh Assembly's short history draws to a close. Each and every party should be embarrassed - ashamed even - at how they've conducted themselves and their campaigns. I don't think it's entirely their fault, but they played more than their fair role.

This might very well be a good election to lose, there might very well be a lot of hard decisions in the coming years that will make them unpopular, but they've let us down badly. We finally grasped self-determination in March, but by May I'm wondering why we bothered.

I'll be posting my predictions tomorrow, and I've come to some surprising conclusions. But to each and every candidate who might be reading this - especially those who have Wales's best interests at heart (you know who you are) - I wish you the very best of luck.

Conservatives:
  • Have been forced to withdraw an election leaflet that claimed Labour wanted to close down Neath Port Talbot hospital if they won.
  • Prime Minister David Cameron joined the Conservative campaign trail in north Wales and warned that Labour would make NHS cuts.
  • Candidate for Cardiff Central, Matt Smith, has been forced to apologise after comparing the Respect Party to paedophiles.
  • The tweets of North Wales list candidate John Broughton have come under the spotlight, saying that Plaid's Heledd Fychan was "odd", Plaid's Helen Mary Jones was "a fruitcake", that party leader Nick Bourne was "nice guy, completely wrong policy".
  • Nick Bourne campaigned on Anglesey saying they needed to help small businesses, "not strangle them with red tape and with burdens like high business rates".

Labour:
  • Have attacked Conservative plans to reintroduce prescription charges, labeling it a "tablet tax".
  • Ynys Mon candidate Joe Lock, has apologised after saying he "hoped Margaret Thatcher dies soon" on his Facebook account.
  • Campaigned in Haverfordwest against the closure of Milford Haven and Holyhead coastguard stations.
  • Carwyn Jones has reiterated that Labour are the only party that "won't do a deal with the Tories" and that voting Lib Dem or Plaid would "let them in through the back door".
  • Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls campaigned in Cardiff, asking people to "do everything possible to mitigate the impact of the Tory cuts".
  • Llanelli candidate Keith Davies launched a bizarre attack on Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones, claiming that pictures of him with his family were "weird".
  • In another bizarre incident, Labour MP for Caerphilly Wayne David has been spotted -and admitted to - removing Plaid Cymru placards from front gardens in the constituency, claiming to householders that they were "offensive" and "illegal".

Liberal Democrats:
  • Kirsty Williams insisted that Westminster issues are "not an issue on the doorstep".
  • Visited Chepstow and discussed their policies for cutting regulations and freezing business rates.
  • Outlined their plans for sustainable public transport at Swansea Bus Station.
  • Spoke out against the "waste and inefficiency" of One Wales, saying they had turned it "into an art form".

Plaid Cymru:
  • Unveiled their plans for a "Homecoming" festival in 2014 to mark Dylan Thomas's centenary and plans to strengthen the "Welsh brand" for tourism.
  • Ieuan Wyn Jones promised "transformational" changes to the Welsh education system.
  • Criticised the other parties for lacking job creation proposals. Nerys Evans said "whinging won't create a single job – our plan will create up to 50,000 of them".


Minor Parties:

UKIP leader Nigel Farage visited Monmouth, where he said that the main parties in Wales "have merged" and that UKIP provided "a voice of opposition".

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Election 2011 : The BBC Leaders Debate

That was probably the best debate of the election so far (which isn't saying much, to be honest). The standard of debate was a lot better than last week, however I felt the format was odd. Betsan Powys was in danger of losing control at some points, and too quick to interrupt at others. No prizes for guessing which party leader was interrupting and interrupted the most.

I think it summed up the campaign quite nicely. Four leaders trying their best to attack each other in front of disinterested audience, a large bulk of whom will have made their mind up to vote for the big man with the red rosette.

What pleased me most of all, however, was the near absence of Westminster in the debate, apart from a few standard referrals to "cuts".

Finally! Kirsty Williams has threatened to put in a great performance in one of these debates, and at last she did so. Silly faces kept to a minimum. Confident, clear and decisive answers, and an aggressive, almost snarling, tone. She showed each of the other leaders up at some point in the debate, although was caught out herself - albeit fleeting blows easily deflected. This was arguably the best performance of anyone in these debates, but I doubt it will have much impact on the polls, which are looking moribund for the Lib Dems. 8.5/10

"Cthulhu fhtagn!" It's alive! It's alive! Perhaps it was just the skill of the BBC make up artists but Carwyn Jones awakened from his deep slumber last night - and he had to. Labour have been consistently blasé in these debates and acting (although not really implying) as though it was all in the bag. It may very well be, but Carwyn finally stood up as a leader fighting an election, not a monarch waiting for a coronation. He avoided mud slinging where he could, and answered each and every question with ease and clarity. Some of the policies he mentioned highlight Labour's lack of ambition this time around, but his very good closing speech edged him ahead of the remaining two leaders. 7.5/10


Ieuan Wyn Jones was neutered compared to last week's excellent performance, but that doesn't mean he didn't do a good job. He clearly does his homework, but was prone to the odd waffle (see who I was referring too as "interrupting and interrupted" now?). Plaid Cymru's manifesto contained better ideas than were put out by Ieuan last night, he probably forgot them as he tried to make statements as long as possible. He launched the odd attack, but it wasn't as effective as last week, and I think Nick Bourne - in particular - was ready for him this time. Like I said though, it was still a decent enough go at it, and Plaid candidates have done consistently well in these debates it has to be said. 7/10

I might be placing Nick Bourne last, but it should be considered joint third. Much better than last week. He didn't spend his time apologising for Westminster and stood up to scrutiny well. He shouldn't be so dour though. The Welsh Conservative manifesto is bright, and in some cases, visionary. He should be positive about what they offer, not negative about where Wales is at the moment. I wonder if any Welsh Conservatives have ever been to eastern Europe? I'd be delighted for Wales to be compared to Slovenia. Guys, the Cold War is over. They're catching up with us, Wales isn't "falling" to their level. 7/10

Monday, 2 May 2011

A World one bastard lighter today



Here's to all those who couldn't go home and be a family man.