Tuesday, October 31, 2017


So Arriva (Deutsche Bahn) have withdrawn from the next Wales franchise – as a regular victim of Arriva trains, I shall not miss them. This leaves Netherlands State Railways, French State Railways and Hong Kong State Metro as the three remaining contenders – all of whom (just like most of the other franchise holders will rake in the profits to fund investments and cheap rail fares in their home countries; so which idiot decided that privatisation of the railways was a winner anyway?

Our relationship with railways in Wales is a little odd, there is a tendency to focus on anniversaries of rail closures or rail events rather than anniversaries of openings. This may well be because for all of the twentieth century transport policy was something that was done to us rather than done for us. I mention this, because I noticed that a plaque was unveiled (back in 2011) to mark the 154th anniversary of the arrival of the railway in Knighton (Powys).

The 22-mile section of the Heart of Wales line from Craven Arms, Shropshire, to Knighton, which was constructed in 1861, and probably for fear of political consequences, managed to avoid being closed in the 1950’s and 1960’s, is truly spectacular.  A £5m project, which upgraded parts of this rural railway, was finished in 2010, reinstating five passing loops at Knighton, Llandrindod Wells and Llanwrtyd Wells in Powys, and at Llandovery and Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire. This small positive step, could, with extra services,  the restoration of railway halts lead to a much more regular better used rail service.

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

We face a future where cheap fuel will be a thing of the past, so we need to ensure that all our communities have reasonable access to a reliable cheap system of integrated public transport, at the heart of which needs to be our long neglected rail network. The old excuses about a lack of funding (despite the banking related financial crisis) are no longer acceptable; Wales makes up 5% of the population of the UK, and makes contributions to the exchequer – given the vast expenditure on Crossrail and HS2, that Wales gets 5% of the UK transport spend, and full control of our transport planning and our transport budget.

A post bexit devolutionary half-way house just won't work anymore; it will not deliver or even give us the chance to deliver, even with legislative powers. The changes and reforms that are necessary to fix the problems in our country means that we need the tools to do the job. It didn't work with a nominally Labour Government and was never going to work with a Conservative dominated Government which is indifferent to any concept of devolution in particular and the needs of Wales in particular.

Even with legislative powers and a gesture of financial control and taxation, we still remain in some sort of half devolved limbo state of governance, lacking a fair financial settlement. Let's be honest with ourselves, with all the best will in the world this is not going to work well, even with an inert and visionless self-serving former New Labour government in Cardiff that is confortable not rocking the boat.  To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, real governance can no more be half devolved anymore than someone can be half free or half dry.

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

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

The Transport (Wales) Act in February 2006 gave us powers to plan and co-ordinate an integrated transport system, how long do we have to wait to see some vision? In the meantime the rail companies have been busy ramping up rail fares, while reducing rail services, all with the tacit co-operation of the Westminster Government’s and the Department for transport (in London) and both Welsh Labour and Welsh Conservative MPs at Westminster voted against the devolution of that portion of rail track within Wales – that would have enabled work on our railways to be planned and actually carried out.  .

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

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

Sunday, October 22, 2017


Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood has outlined her party’s plans to bring about a “rail revolution”. In a meeting with Network Rail in Bangor station, Leanne Wood set out plans for a new finance model to invest in the railways, linking up parts of Wales that are currently not connected by rail, and electrifying the railway through to Swansea and potentially in other parts of Wales.
Leanne Wood said that the Conservative UK Government had shown that it wasn’t interested in investing in Wales’ rail infrastructure after it scrapped plans to electrify the line to Swansea.
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said:
“Plaid Cymru wants to bring about a rail revolution.
“The UK Government proved its reluctance to invest in Wales’ rail infrastructure when it rolled back its plans to electrify the Great Western Mainline as far west as Swansea. But rather than wring our hands and complain about the Tories, the Party of Wales will respond with a solution. A new finance model so that we can upgrade and improve our railways.
“Plaid Cymru wants to issue a rail bond so that we can finance electrification to Swansea and beyond. This model would also enable us to create a Metro for the Swansea Bay and Western Valleys region.
“It would also enable us to link up the nation through rail. We would re-establish a Carmarthen to Aberystwyth rail line and ensure that it links with the north, to Pwllheli and beyond. These links are key to revitalising our western coast, and creating an all-Wales rail line, running the length of the country.
“We have already secured funding for the outline business case for such an initiative to go ahead.
“Plaid Cymru is serious about delivering for the whole of Wales. This means investing in infrastructure, creating jobs and linking up communities so that no part of the country is left behind.”

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


At the end of the day, the Welsh people should have a simple democratic right to have a greater say in something fundamental to civilised community life such as policing. This is already the case in Scotland, Northern Ireland, London and Manchester. Policing is only one side of the coin, to make devolved policing work, there is also a need to devolve control of criminal justice. 

I have been long convinced that now is the time is right to devolve policing powers to the Welsh Government in Cardiff. Devolving policing powers would increase the accountability of the Welsh Government; strengthen the democratic process by allowing decisions, which directly impact on the way our country is policed to be made, reviewed, revised and changed here in Wales. 

The recent Con Dem and Conservative cuts will continue to shape policing and set the policing agenda here in Wales for the next twenty years. At a very basic level policing decisions in Wales need to reflect the needs and concerns of our communities, not the cost cutting agenda of the current Conservative Prime Minister (and previous Home Secretary) and the Ministry of criminal justice in London.

Plaid Cymru has rightly pledged to “stop the thin blue line from breaking” and to boost funding for the Welsh police forces. The party’s Home Affairs spokesperson, Liz Saville Roberts, has pledged to boost police funding in Wales by devolving policing to Wales.

The Westminster Government last year delayed the introduction of a new funding formula for forces in Wales and England after a “statistical error” was discovered. Once this new funding formula is introduced, the Welsh police forces will be £32 million a year worse off.

The devolution of policing would mean the Welsh police forces would be exempt from the Tories’ planned £32 million cut to their budgets and would lead to an additional £25 million through being funded through the Barnett formula meaning a total difference in Welsh police budgets of £57 million between Plaid Cymru and Conservative policy.

Our police forces are in favour of devolution, as are all four of the Police and Crime Commissioners in Wales. Plaid Cymru called a vote on devolving policing during the passing of the Wales Bill through the Houses of Parliament. We should remember that given the choice of devolving Policing to Wales, the Conservatives voted it down and the Labour Party abstained.

It is worth noting that there are 19,704 fewer police officers in Wales and England since the Tories took office in 2010. It is also worth noting that the Scottish police force has been exempt from Tory cuts due to the fact that effective control of policing has been long devolved to Scotland.

Number of police officers in England & Wales statistics:

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


One definition of tax is that it’s the fair dues we all pay to participate in our society – to fund significant projects that benefit us collectively and to provide a safety net for society. Tax is and probably always will be (and probably always has been) a subject that stirs people up. 

The trick to realising that you have been sold a pup, is to notice, the Party formally known and New Labour and the Conservatives have been hooked on the idea that either by cutting, reducing taxation for the rich (and corporations) or even perhaps by turning a blind eye to tax evasion, avoidance, etc - that wealth will trickle down from the top to the rest of us. 

This questionable theory pumped out by Ronald Reagan (and Mrs T) in the 1980’s is still dominant; it’s not a new theory. US Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (in 1896); who noted ‘that if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through to those below’. ‘Trickle-down theory’ first appeared in the 1932 US Presidential campaign, when Democrats used it to hammer Republican Herbert Hoover’s plan to engineer economic recovery by making the rich richer.  

Fifty years later even Ronald Reagan’s supporters struggled to sell the idea to their own party, even George Bush (Senior) mocked Reagan’s theories of supply-side economics as ‘voodoo economics’ at least until he got the Vice Presidential slot. On this side of the pond there were monetarists who told Mrs T straight that the idea was nonsense and that it would not deliver results  - naturally she did not listen.

Reagan’s first budget brought in a moderate reduction in the basic tax rate, this was followed by the a drastic reduction of the top tax rate from 70 to 50 percent and later still to 28 percent. If the theory was correct then, the public coffers should have swelled with enough extra revenue to balance the budget within one to two years. Unfortunately, the theory was incorrect, within the eight years of Reagan’s Presidency the total Federal deficit soared from around $900 million to some $3 trillion dollars.

What followed has been described as an orgy of speculation in stocks, shares and real estate (this was the era of ‘Greed is good’), ordinary Americans stopped saving and started spending. Through the 1980’s there was a near continuous decline in long-term capital investment – on which economic growth and jobs were dependent.  To make matters worse the USA went into recession and the Federal Reserve had to raise interest rates to hold down the inflationary consequence of the tax cuts, by 1981/82 unemployment in the USA rose about 10% for the first time since the aftermath of the great depression in the 1930’s.

The gulf between the wealthy elite and the rest of the population became a chasm, the rich got richer and parallels have been drawn between the 1980’s and the Gilded Age of the 1870’s (income tax was abolished in the US and was only reintroduced during the First World War).  The 1980’s for the mega rich in the USA was an era of conspicuous consumption and extravagance – yet oddly enough very little of this prosperity tricked down to the American middle and working classes.

Interestingly enough aaverage US family incomes did not return to the level they were at in the 1970’s until 1987 – wile this may have sounded good, the harsh economic reality was that Americans were now working harder and longer – in 1973 an average American worker had 26.2 hours of leisure time per week, by 1987 this was down to 16.6 hours per week.

One result was that jobs were also now less secure, Americans now worked on short-term of temporary contracts in increasingly un-unionised working environments. For blue-collar workers the 1980’s were a disaster, wages fell through the decade as employers threatened to move production overseas because the workers had priced themselves out of employment.

The right wing, in the US and here in the UK crowed about how government should not interfere with (or regulate very much) the ‘free market’.  This hands off attitude was also duly applied to the US savings and loan industry, laying the groundwork for the collapse that was to follow in 2007. The only exception being that if things went really pear shaped then it was expected that Government would collect the tab. One side effect of all this was fraud, 650 savings and loan companies collapsed, with the $1.4 trillion dollar tab being picked up by the US government.

On this side of the pond, building society after building society were floated on the stock market – and within a few years were readily absorbed by increasingly greedy banks.  In the US, exploitative working practices and sweatshops reappeared encouraged by the effective withdrawal of regulation and inspection. The 1980’s also saw the growth of increasingly powerful media empires and a concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands despite much reputed mantras from government about greater competition and choice for consumers.

We are all still living with the consequences of that period in the 1980’s when an ideologically driven obsession with the ‘free market’ and ‘privatisation’. Heaven help anyone who dare question these sacred truths – the very heavens may fall. The problem is that the market was rather than being ‘free’ it was pretty much increasingly unregulated as Governments in the USA and the UK largely looked the other way – tax collections fell and ironically tax evasion soared.

This state of affairs was tolerated by the long time dying Major Government and largely encouraged by the former New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and barely mentioned by the former Con Dem government. Even the crash has not changed things - there was some talk about tacking tax evasion matched by continuing (significant) staff cuts to HMRC.

It is interesting because tax evasion and tax avoidance, at least outside of the UK, is rarely out of the headlines with many heavily indebted governments being particularly keen to hunt down every tax dollar / euro / pound that is owed by tax evaders avoiding (unlike the rest of us) paying their fair dues to society. The Westminster elite privately at least regardless of whatever they say publically, appear to pay scant respect to the idea of fair taxation and fair representation, we now appear to be as close as possible to being governed by the sons of bankers and the sons of the City in the interests of the City (of London).

The real problem is that the current UK Government is, much like all previous Westminster governments since the end of Empire, remains in up to its neck when it comes to tax evasion. The UK Westminster government is heavily involved in aiding and abetting tax evasion worldwide. British Overseas territories, including the Cayman Islands, help to hide around trillions from pounds from the different nation’s tax authorities.

In the belly of the Westminster beast lies the City, which may explain why the former New Labour government, the former Con Dem coalition government and the current now unrestrained Conservative government (were and) remain reluctant to do anything about the problem as some (but not all) of the city banks are hand in glove with drug dealers, dictators, rogue states and terrorists when it comes to money laundering. The inertia may be explained by the lure of comfy lucrative seats on the board for former Westminster politicians.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Edith Cavell
One hundred and two years ago on (15th October 1915) Edith Cavell, who was working as a nurse working in Brussels when the city was occupied by the forces of Imperial Germany in 1914. She remained in Brussels treating the wounded and helping the sick and worked with others to help more than 200 allied soldiers to escape from occupied Belgium.

She was arrested and sentenced by an Imperial German military court to death (with 33 others) and shot by a firing squad on October 15th 1915. This act, despite international appeals for clemency (including from neutral powers), along with other brutal atrocities committed by Imperial German forces in Belgium did much to sway world opinion to the Allied side.

Edith Cavell’s, last words were: "I realise that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone".  She did not want to be remembered as a martyr or a heroine but simply as "a nurse who tried to do her duty".

Thursday, October 5, 2017

1 OUT OF 4

Don’t get me wrong; I think that the news that the £50-million railway station in Llanwern that has been unveiled as part of Plaid Cymru supported spending plans recently unveiled by the Welsh Government is a very good thing. The announcement has come as part of the draft Welsh budget for the 2018-2019 financial year yesterday, including Wales’ first taxes for 800 years. Among the plans are to hand the Welsh NHS an extra £230 million next year and £220 million the year after; £10 million to tackle homelessness; and a proposal to borrow £375 million over the next three years.  

The Llanwern Development
What we are not seeing, at least locally, is a very public commitment to starting the work on the South East Wales Metro – something that is always viewed or at least presented as whole rather than the sum of its parts.  We need to see a lasting and public commitment to the railway stations at Caerleon and Magor, as well as at Llanwern.  There has been a commitment in successive UDP’s since 1986, but precious little has been done to actually get on with it.  Stations at Caerleon, Llanwern and Magor  (with safe, secure and reasonably priced,  if not free parking) would all help reduce road congestion and bring real benefits to commuters and rail passengers. The time for talking is over, its time to commit to breaking ground and getting on with it.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


The current struggle in Catalonia, one of Spain's wealthiest and most productive constituent nations, is a long one. Catalonia has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years. Before the Spanish Civil War it enjoyed broad autonomy but this was suppressed under decades of Francisco Franco's brutal dictatorship from 1939-75.
When Franco died, Catalan nationalism was revived and eventually Catalonia was granted autonomy again, under the 1978 constitution. A 2006 statute surrendered even greater powers, which boosted Catalonia's financial clout and described it as a "nation", but Spain's Constitutional Court systematically reversed much of this in 2010, to the anger of Catalan authorities.
Angered by having their autonomy watered down as well as by years of recession and cuts in public spending, Catalans held an unofficial vote on independence in November 2014. More than two million of the region's 5.4 million eligible voters took part and officials declared that 80% had backed secession.
Back in 2015 Catalan Nationalists won Catalonia's election and set to work on holding a binding referendum, defying Spain's constitution, which states that Spain is indivisible.  The relative silence from those other centralist states within and without the EU is sadly to be expected. 

There has been a fundamental deliberate failure to understand that sovereignty rests with the people not the state. And in the end the people have the basic right to determine their future, not the politicians in Madrid.