Archive for February, 2011

A damp squid

In the first free election in South Africa there were news footage of massive but orderly queue’s of voters casting there vote for the very first time. Cry freedom, at last had become a reality.

Turmoil reigns throughout the Arab world with swathes of the population wanting the vote they cast to have real meaning. The cry throughout the lands of the near East is for democracy.

How different all these events are to the little parochial exercise that takes place in Wales next Thursday – the referendum.

Now this referendum is not about establishing a new democracy. It is not even about law making, for that principle has already been established. So what is it about? It’s about whether the National Assembly should be the sole body involved in making laws in Wales.

Alternatively, things could stay the same if the no vote won the day. So the Westminster parliament’s ’˜John Cobbley and all’ would continue with their fingers in the Welsh legislative pie.

Next Thursday’s referendum could be described as many things but earth shattering it is not. And there in lies the rub. It is difficult for anyone that is not a political anorak to have any enthusiasm for it. There is no ’˜hwyl’ about it.

The ’˜yes’ side have had a go at trying to get a national campaign going. Producing a million leaflets and trying to get groups to campign throughout the land.

The ’˜no’ side apart from a couple of launch meetings has confined itself almost exclusively to a media campaign. A few television and radio appearances here and the odd phone call to the local press there. A campaign it has not been.

The truth is, that neither side has broken out of their own sect’s bubble. Many voters who have a postal vote have already put their cross on the ballot paper. Most of these votes will have been cast without access to any campaign material.

If, God forbid, there is to be another referendum, let it be on a ’˜real’ issue. Independence or not, Federalism or not. Not on a minor technical tidying up issue like this one.

Ane let parliament change the Electoral Commission’s rules of engagement so that the voter gets enough information to make an informed choice. Even if one side of the argument chooses not to engage.

A couple of predictions for next Thursday. The police will not need to be deployed for crowd control outside ballot stations. Neither will the Army have to leave their barracks. For there will be no protesters in the street. No Welsh square will be occupied with mobs chanting ’˜law making powers on issues already devolved to the National Assembly.’

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Less politicians says Westminster

SSo at the next general election the number of Welsh Members of Parliament will be cut down from the current forty to thirty.

Less politicians always goes down well with voters. Whether the same voters will be as pleased when they try to access their new Members of Parliament remains to be seen.

Westminster constituencies and Assembly constituencies have at the moment the same boundaries. The vote to change Westminster’s boundaries has an effect on the Assembly.

There will have to be an uncoupling of National Assembly constituencies from these newly created Westminster seats. If this doesn’t happened there will be ten less members also in the National Assembly.

Some might say hooray to that too. The less politicians some would argue the better.

But hold on, what would happen if there were less AMs. There would be less scrutiny of laws and less people to hold the Welsh Assembly Government to account.

Hughes’s law says, poor law making, makes for big fat lawyers.

Would those that want less politicians be happy to pay lawyers enormous wads of cash to drive a horse and coaches through the defects of Assembly made laws? Unlikely.

No, the Assembly needs a certain number of politicians to do it’s job properly. Fifty is just to small a number. As scientist would put it, you need a critical mass and fifty, just doesn’t do it.

It is debatable that even with sixty members that the Assembly can cope. For certain any reduction from this number would have a detrimental effect on the institution.

In Lord Richards opinion eighty would be required. But that number is barely talked about in the current referendum campaign, just in case it frightens not the horses, but the voters. Why is it that in Wales issues are never properly addressed? Are people afraid to argue the case for a properly functioning democracy.

Last nights vote is significant because it not only changes Westminster but it raises fundamental questions about the National Assembly.

With less MPs in London representing Wales in the law making process it strengthen the case for the power over Welsh laws resting with the Assembly. It even poses the question should more functions not be devolved down from Westminster – perhaps that’s a question for another day

But it does certainly raise the question of how are these law makers to be elected? And how many of them are needed?

Just as Richard put the number of Assembly Members at eighty, in the same report he suggested a change in the voting system. He recommended the single transferable vote system(STV). He thought the system would be fairer and more representative.

Now, whether there is agreement with the dear Lord or not, surely now is the time to debate such issues. For a referendum without such a debate opens up the prospect of another one, if such changes are later to be found necessary. And be assured they undoubtedly will be. For mercy sake, surely no one wants to yawn through yet, another referendum campaign

So, lets not pussyfoot about and try to introduce democracy by stealth. The people of Wales deserve a proper debate.

A fledgling Welsh parliament needs the backing of the people. That backing will only be given if voters understand all the issues.

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Railroad to Growth

Well, as Cilla Black once said ’˜surprise, surprise’, the Bank of England has downgraded its growth forecast for the UK.

Having held down the interest rate at 0.5 per cent a 315-year low at its last meeting an interest rate hike is now more than likely. Although they are not predicting a double-dip recession there is a great scepticism amongst economists that this can be avoided. The public expenditure cutbacks will certainly make this more rather than less likely.

The prediction is of a high rate of inflation of 5 per cent by the end of the year . The Bank predicts that the inflation rate will again come down to 2 per cent in 2012. The Governor, like Mr Macawber expects something to turn up.

In King’s case he hopes that what he sees as temporary inflation hikes, these will go down later next year where he can attain his inflation target. Many think that this is a forlorn hope. There are considerable doubts over the timing of how far inflation will drop back.

So whilst interest rates are likely to go up later and even at the current low interest rate the economy is in the doldrums. What is to be done? It is at times like these that John Maynard Keynes said that governments should intervene.

Well, what should be the nature of the intervention, Expenditure on capital projects. Such projects help grow the economy and this is what the economy needs.

That is why Plaid Cymru’s proposals for the rail network in Wales are interesting. What they want is for the rail network in Wales to be electrified.

It is indeed a scandal that, apart from Albania, Wales is the only country in Europe without a mile of electrified track.

Not only do they want a commitment to the electrification of the Great Western mainline, they have the ambition that the Valleys lines should be electrified as well as the North Wales Coast line. They did not quite go the whole hog of asking for a Bullet train to unite North with South.

OK, these are the kind of things that all parties aspire to do just before an election. After all, it was laptops to all schoolchildren that Plaid announced before the last Assembly election.

But the proposals should not be dismissed because it is a pre-election period and Plaid Cymru are clearly preparing their manifesto. It is the very kind of project that any government worth its salt should be pushing in these dire economic times.

No, it is the very kind of capital investment programme that not only does the Welsh economy require but it would help stimulate manufacturing in the UK economy as a whole.

So let Mr Osborne take note.

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