Friday, 19 September 2014

Efter the rammy

Perhaps "rammy" is putting it a bit strongly, though the Scottish referendum campaign got a bit lively at times. It was good to hear the leaders of both campaigns calming tempers this morning, and seeking cooperation across party lines. That is more than can be said of some of the younger vocal SNP activists who blamed the ten percentage point "Better Together" majority on the BBC. Given that their leader built his reputation on assiduous networking and cultivation of the national media, that is rather like Nigel Farage claiming that Aunty ignores UKIP.

More likely is that the opinion research which showed the numbers converging as polling day drew closer missed the effect of the postal vote. People who vote by post tend to be older, and older people tend to be more conservative and fearful of change. The opinion pollsters also failed to find a way to assess the views of the declared "don't knows". Finally, the late entry into the debate of such authentic Scottish political figures as Gordon Brown and Charles Kennedy must have swayed voters.

I am relieved that Scotland is staying within what will, I trust, become a Federal Kingdom. The reasons are selfish. Scotland will continue to provide a counter-balance to a predominantly English Conservative House of Commons. The risks of our leaving the EU, or of watering-down the Social Chapter, are reduced as are the dangers of reducing the UK economy below a critical mass. And Jo Swinson will continue to be a member of government.

The advantages to Scotland are less clear-cut. True, the uncertainty of the years of negotiation to join the EU will be avoided. The uncertainty would probably have led to the cost of borrowing going up north of the border, with the knock-on effect on retail prices. But there are numerous examples round the world of viable small nations. To suggest that in the long term Scotland would not survive was deceitful and one reason I did not yield to the pleas to telephone canvass for "Better Together". The other reason was that I did not see how a Welsh citizen with an English accent would convince any Scot, already suspicious of the united front presented by the three main Westminster parties, to change his or her mind.

The misrepresentation was probably greater on the Nationalist side. I was astonished that Alec Salmond should use the fully-devolved health service in Scotland as a weapon against the unionists. It was also wrong to label the contingency plans of the larger financial institutions to move their HQs to London as a "scare story". Given the EU's legal requirement for banks to be headquartered in the country where they do most of their business, RBS and its ilk had no option but to prepare to move head office. Mr Salmond would have been wiser to point out that few real jobs would have been lost. The rebuttals of Mr Salmond's claims to have spoken to various EU leaders about Scottish accession did not help his cause.

The late conversion of Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband to a policy of further devolution could be good news for Liberal Democrats north of the border. Nicola Sturgeon has performed well in the referendum campaign. But, assuming she dons the mantle of First Minister and leader of the Nationalists when Alex Salmond retires from front-line politics, will she have the same charisma as her predecessor? Since devolution has been Liberal and Liberal Democrat policy for as long as I can remember, since the usual suspects on Conservative back-benches are already objecting to a policy over which they were not consulted and since there may also be some back-sliding on the Labour side, we can go into the general election honestly and solidly pledged to give more power to Holyrood.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

"The settled will of the Scottish people"

2014 is not only the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn, it is also 25 years since the Scottish Constitutional Convention. By legitimising a devolved parliament elected party-proportionately, the Convention gave the SNP the boost which has brought it to today's close vote. In remembering the Convention, we should also remember one of its key proponents, Donald Dewar. As the ODNB (dictionary of national biography) says:

The devolution bills of the 1970s had enumerated powers that were to go to the devolved assemblies; the list was bitterly contested between the Scottish and Welsh offices and the 'English' departments, which won most of the battles. Most lawyers believe that, if they had not been abandoned, the Scotland and Wales Acts of 1978 would have been unworkable because of constant disputes about the powers of the devolved and Westminster administrations. To prevent a repetition, Dewar was one of those who initiated the Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1989. The convention brought together the Labour and Liberal parties, some churches, and other civil society organizations; its chairman was an Episcopalian clergyman, Canon Kenyon Wright. The SNP and Conservatives, for opposite reasons, did not take part. The convention was, of course, self-appointed, but it enabled Smith and Dewar to insist that devolution was, in Smith's phrase, 'the settled will of the Scottish people'. 

The Convention also indirectly paved the way for the devolved Welsh Assembly, especially the method by which it is elected.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Migrants are not fleeing to Europe to become rich but to save their lives

That is the message from leading European liberals, reported here. I believe that if EU nations, including the UK, were more proactive in improving governance and social conditions in African nations especially then the flow of refugees would be reduced if not stemmed.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Barnett abolition in Wales still on

Danny Alexander may have been persuaded by the coalition to go back on a Liberal Democrat policy to replace the Barnett Formula, but this uey applies only to Scotland and Northern Ireland. I fully expect the policy of a new needs-based formula for Wales to be carried forward into our platform for the 2015 election, as evidenced by the pre-manifesto to be debated in Glasgow next month.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Cllr David Lewis and Leighton Andrews

In view of the welcome back into the Welsh Government fold of Leighton Andrews AM, Councillor David Lewis's recent letter to the Neath Ferret about the history of his dismissal from the Neath Port Talbot cabinet, and thereafter of the Labour Party, is of interest. He starts by referring to previous correspondence on the Neath Ferret web site, then continues:

As you are aware I have a penalty clause hanging over my head on length of post so you have much more research to do to fill in the gaps . If you choose!
Behind his "retirement" announcement there is no reference to The First Minister, Carwyn Jones receiving at 3.20 on a Monday afternoon an email from me in my capacity as Acting Chairman of WJEC -the examination Board. It was a lengthy letter which was highly critical of the behaviour of Mr Andrews over a 6 month period. Further, there is no reference to Mr Andrews being summoned to The First Minister's office on the following afternoon before the announcement of his 'retirement'.
The full text of my email was sent the next day to the Western Mail and BBC Wales. In telling a WM reporter that the letter was on its way she displayed real interest. They have never published a word!
I pushed the BBC and eventually -months later- I underwent a two hour interview on camera by their Education Correspondent. He questioned me very closely with requests for written evidence of my comments/allegations. All WJEC committee minutes and correspondence were produced with the reporter clearly reflecting on the seriousness of the evidence.
BBC Wales eventually ran the article on radio and TV. My two hour interview was reduced to a 10-15 second sound bite with no reference to the damming detail. Leighton Andrews in response was interviewed on camera for several minutes where he ridiculed myself, the WJEC board and its functioning over the previous 9 months. He was not cross examined at any point.
The Western Mail has never ever printed a word.
Then we come to the local rag the Evening Post. My sacking from the NPT Cabinet came as a shock to my colleagues in the Labour Group. The Leader - My Pal for many years (sic) refused to answer questions on his reason for my sacking! I decided to write to each member of the Labour Group with an account of events leading up to and then the sacking interview. It was a private and confidential letter.
One of them leaked the letter to the Post. The letter was probably four pages long. A reporter called Geraint Thomas was given the task of developing the article. Out of the mass of information he chose that one juicy line about my inappropriate posture. He asked the Leader AHT and Cllr Mark Jones for a comment. But not me! I was never offered any opportunity to put my case. The Evening Post has never published a single word of substance of one of the most sickening events in Welsh Education History. They have chapter and verse!
In my experience Journalists/journalism are/is the low life and real plague on society.

PS. Most of my constituents are aware of these matters
Posted by dAvid lEwis on 10 September 2014

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Alternative strategy for Scottish Referendum "No" campaign

It is clear that the various strategies of "Better Together" have played into the hands of the "Yes" campaign. If Cameron had really wanted an overwhelming vote for Union he should have:

  • immediately after signing the agreement with Salmond, set up a committee planning for separation, maximising the benefits for HM Treasury
  • involved as many civil servants as possible in the committee, then denied its existence
  • refused to join Liberal Democrat and Labour parties in their campaigns
  • while going through the motions of defending the Union, banned all media releases from Westminster on the subject, and
  • locked up Nigel Farage for the duration.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

BBC could do more for appreciation of music

The trouble with the initiatives outlined by Katie Derham is that all the excellent introductory programmes she mentions are themselves on minority channels or late at night. I am glad that she cites the classically-trained Laura Mvula as her main example of bridging the gap with new audiences rather than the more poppy other late-night Proms.

The answer is not to introduce more light music into the Proms (Mary Poppins on the last night??) or Radio 3 generally, but to restore the music of the concert hall as part of the mainstream as it used to be in my young days. Let there be more Soul Music!

Let us also have more (though judicious and sparing) use of classical music in radio and TV plays and documentaries. I was turned on to music less by formal lessons in school than by Childrens Hour (though not forgetting Antony Hopkins Talking about Music, broadcast during the hours of daylight!). Pieces that I first heard between 5 and 6 in the afternoon include:
A Carol Symphony, Hely-Hutchinson;
Allegro Spiritoso, Senaillé;
Popular Song (from Façade), Walton;
Slavonic Dances, Dvořak;
Vltava (from Ma Vlast), Smetana;
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Bartók.

I would be hard pressed to name all the plays and stories they introduced, though I do remember that the last accompanied a production from BBC Wales. Equally challenging were some of the works used by adult programmes. The first time I heard Vaughan Williams' Fourth Symphony (still a favourite) was on a forgotten thriller named "Dead Circuit" starring the great Shakespearian Robert Eddison in a rare radio foray.

Most importantly, let all incidental music, whether pre-existing or specially-written, be credited.