Monday, 18 January 2010

We the People

Electoral reform is something we have heard quite a bit about in the last few months. It doesn't happen that often, and the electoral system in the UK is pretty resistant to alteration, but when it does it changes the very nature of politics in a society. At the start of the 20th century half of the population were denied the vote, it wasn't until 1918 that women received the privilege that so many today take for granted, and it wasn't until 1928 that women had that right on the same terms as men. But once they had the vote there was no going back, and quite rightly.

Since the recent Westminster expenses scandal those 2 words again inspire us. The blatant disregard shown by a number of our so called 'honourable members' towards the tax paying public has made us feel powerless. In a state where we are supposed to be free, the trust we place in those that govern on our behalf is being lost. We have always distrusted politicians, but what once seemed a rational scepticism of those who aspired political power, has become for many people an entrenched cynicism. Could electoral reform help us regain trust in our politics?

As we face the coming UK general election I wonder if the refreshing of the political elite alone will be enough to restore faith in the Britains system of governance. I doubt it will. We have a system which favours 2 parties that have governed for decades, and it shows little signs of becoming more flexible in the near future. It is at times such as these that it is important that those in power are reminded who put them there.

Britain is a democracy, and we are lucky to live under such a system. But it could be a lot better. In any democracy there should be a number of checks and balances that stop power being accumulated by any group or individual, and makes sure those that wield the power are accountable to the people of that society.

I think it is time that we refreshed not just those that govern us, but the system that governs us as well. Britain's democratic system has not kept pace with the times. It is notoriously difficult to affect major constitutional change in a country, despite politicians constant proclamations of “We need change” etc. But it can be done and it starts with us. In the modern age of the internet people are more connected than ever before, and the internet is showing a remarkable ability to connect people with shared political goals. Many campaigns exist which promote different ideas for electoral and constitutional reform and which try to get us to support their aims.

One such campaign is the POWER2010 campaign which gives people the opportunity to share their ideas on what sorts of political change is most needed in the UK. It is an interesting campaign, and shows that there is an abundance of ideas for reform. Many of them are ideas for electoral reform, such as proportional voting, fixed term parliaments and a fully elected House of Lords. Those ideas that prove most popular will go on to form the POWER2010 pledge on which their national campaign will focus at the coming election. If nothing else it is an interesting site for looking at some ideas for change that may lead the country to a better politics in the future. Currently the 5th most popular reform on the list is “English Votes for English Laws”, a proposal that could have major implications for us in Wales, some positive, some negative, and is a consequence of the unbalanced devolution settlement we have. I would recommend checking out the site and having your say on what reforms you would most like to see.

One argument that always stands against constitutional and electoral reform is that it is not the right time. The problem is it never is, there will always be problems with the health service, policing, education system etc., and quite rightly they should be the focus of our attention. But this misses the point on why we need reform, because it is fundamental to helping us deal with those problems. We don't want constitutional change for the sake of it, we want it because it is central to sorting out the problems in our health service, policing, education system etc. Most of the reforms suggested are geared at making the system more democratic, some of them probably will, some of them might make it worse. So it is important as many people consider them as possible.

I suspect the question of electoral reform may crop up quite a bit in the forthcoming UK general election campaigns, as the prospect of a very close result and a hung parliament looks like a possibility. The Lib Dems may hold the balance of power, and one of the parties so often stung by the first past the post system may see their opportunity. Even Labour seem to have remembered their old belief that everyone's votes should be equal, and have thus started talking AV Plus (although it is questionable how proportional this system is, and it has other problems as well). The single Transferable Vote is probably the most democratic and is the choice of the Electoral Reform Society, as they say “STV represents the best system available for guaranteeing choice and competition in our elections and producing government that reflects the will of the people” , but STV is not without problems. There is no easy answer, but we are going to have to decide sooner or later.

Democracy is our best if messy and imperfect hope, so if you believe in a government of the people, by the people, for the people, then it is your duty to get involved.

As a slight offshoot of what I have previously talked about I should also mention the crisis in Haiti. We are lucky in this country that we can debate issues surrounding the nature of power and good governance, and you can read this (I'd imagine for most of you) in a warm house where food is readily available. So spare a thought for those in Haiti at the moment who in the earthquake have lost their family, friends and their homes. They are a poor country that does not have the resources to cope with such a disaster and are relying on the outside world for support. Please give anything you can to the disaster appeal fund that you can find at this site:

Dan Lawrence

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Challenge of 2010

2010 looks set to be a historic year for Wales, and the wider UK as a whole. We could well see the most important general election result for 13 years, and if we do have a change of UK Government, the biggest challenge for devolution and Wales' still young democracy in its history.

How should we respond to this change? Even Wales looks as if it may (in many parts) seek to end its long love affair with radical and liberal politics, tempted by the lure of David Cameron's 'compassionate' Conservatism. It is an affair that may prove short lived. But it is a long held myth that Wales never wanted Margaret Thatcher and her form of radical Conservatism. Many Welsh men and women believed (32.2% to be more exact), as they may well do now, that she was exactly what the country needed. A strong leader who would hack at all those weeds in our society that were stifling all the things that we actually wanted to grow. The only problem was, as it always is, that one man's weed is another man's flower.

The medicine the Tories prescribed tasted rather foul in many mouths, and we in Wales as a national community were helpless to stop it. Maybe we needed it? We had no real chance to choose. Just before the onset of 18 years of conservative rule, Wales had comprehensively rejected its first opportunity to take on a small amount of self rule. As Saunders Lewis put it in the Western mail 4 days before the 1979 devolution vote on the probable consequences of a No vote, “There will follow a general election. There may be a change of government. The first task of the Westminster Parliament will be to reduce and master inflation. In Wales, there are coal mines that work at a loss; there are steelworks that are judged to be superfluous; there are valleys convenient for submersion. And there will be no Welsh defence”. Wales would be a very different place 18 years later.

But this statement may have an air of familiarity about it, substitute 'reduce and master inflation', for 'cut the deficit', and we are on our way. The cuts will be applied differently this time though, the defence wont be of coal mines or steelworks, but of services. Valleys wont be submerged, but the will of the Welsh people might be, and this is where the Welsh defence comes in.

Where once Wales' 40 MPs held limited sway amongst the 646 Members of Parliament, and MPs with different idea's could pursue their cause without worry of a relatively small and divided Welsh voting block, that can no longer be the case. They face a rival legislature (albeit a weak one), and everything that brings. Which brings us on to the question of what now looks like a fairly certain autumn (possibly October) referendum on further powers for Wales.

We in Plaid Cymru have always had a pretty good appetite for a bit more autonomy for Wales, believing that greater self government will be an important part in creating a better society. The Liberal Democrats are also fully signed up to this next step in devolution. But what of Labour and the Conservatives. Firstly we must realise that the Welsh branches of both parties are not the same as the UK parties, whatever it might suit some people to think. After all we need all parties possible on side in the coming referendum if we hope to win it, and exploiting differences where there is none is to no-ones advantage, and so it must be with the Welsh Government. The Labour Party in London, will be busy analysing what its next moves should be if the outcome of the General election leaves them in opposition. They will be left in a situation where Wales is the only nation in the UK where Labour is still in power, an interesting scenario. The Welsh Labour party is still not an autonomous section of the UK Labour party, unlike its Scottish counterparts north of the border, who are registered as a separate party with the electoral commission. This may change rather quickly. The worst scenario for Wales and the UK would be if Labour exploited this to fight a proxy war in Wales to attack the Conservatives on a UK level.

What would this do for a yes vote in the referendum? It may seem quite appealing to some, to stir up trouble in Wales for the conservatives, in order to gain the Yes vote. But we would be forgetting that much of Wales had gone blue (if the last European elections are anything to go by), that a halo still hung loosely around David Cameron's head for many people, as normally always follows a change of government and lasts for several months. And that there are many prominent conservatives here in Wales on side, as a read of David Melding AM's book “Will Britain Survive Beyond 2020” grapples with, and Glyn Davies's (possible future MP for Montgomeryshire?) blog regularly suggests, not to mention their leader Nick Bourne who has had something of a conversion. To alienate such people, and play the “lets protect Wales from the Tories” card will I think unfortunately play into the hands of the No camp.

Instead we should campaign on why this move from Part 3 to Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 will benefit Wales because it gives us the power to make choices on things that are devolved to us, like any other democratic country on earth. That in many ways it is a tidying up of the system of creating legislation, to make it more democratic, clear and effective. After all, after 2 referenda on the issue, the National Assembly will still not have as much power as the Scottish Parliament. So where we agree with other parties we agree, and where we disagree we disagree.

When we talk about the Welsh defence, as encapsulated in the rather dry sounding Part 4, we are talking about a defence of our ideas, our ways of doing things and the protection of a community which considers itself a nation, from UK wide majority rule. Any truly democratic state should recognise the rights of its constituent parts to autonomy.

2010 could be a defining year for devolution throughout the UK, as in Scotland the SNP Government look to hold a referendum on the issue of independence. Another factor we must consider will be the impact of either a Yes or a No in that referendum. We must be clear that what we are voting on in Wales is a very different proposition, a relative tinkering of the constitution compared to the Scottish question.

People naturally tend to prefer the status quo, and the job of the Yes campaign will be to argue that a change is good and necessary. It should be the easier argument to make, as the defence of the status quo in this situation seems to me (as well as the Richard Commission and The All Wales Convention), to be a defence of the ineffective and undemocratic.

This year appears to be beginning with a relatively optimistic feel for a change, as we finally come out of recession and the chance to have our say on the UK Governments performance nears. As the political pendulum takes its next swing, we cant afford to let that optimism blind us to the hard work ahead for this party and all those of us who hope to end the year with the endorsement of the Welsh people for a National Assembly with Primary Legislative powers.

Dan Lawrence

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Ar aflwyddiant Copenhagen . . .

Ysgrifenna Cerith Rhys Jones, a oedd yn Hyrwyddwr Newid Hinsawdd dros Gymru y llynedd, ac sydd bellach yn Swyddog Ieuenctid ar Bwyllgor Etholaeth Plaid Cymru yn Nwyrain Caerfyrddin a Dinefwr:

"Fisoedd cyn i mi hyd yn oed ddechrau pacio’r bagiau i fynd draw i Gopenhagen, buon ni i gyd yn pregethu mai dyma’n cyfle olaf i ddodi cytundeb deg, uchelgeisiol a rhwymedïol yn ei le, ac i achub y Ddaear a Dynolryw. Mae’r gwyddoniaeth yn glir – rhaid i ni ddodi’r fath gytundeb mewn lle yn fuan, ac rhaid i ni leihau’n hallyriadau nwyon tŷ gwydr yn eithriadol erbyn 2020. Cyn i mi deithio draw at brifddinas Denmarc, ‘roeddwn i’n sicr yr oeddem yn gadarn ar y ffordd i gyrraedd y gytundeb erbyn yr amser i’r Arlywydd Obama gyrraedd, ac y byddai Copenhagen wedi ei droi’n Hopenhagen. Ond na, erbyn diwedd y gynhadledd, amlwg oedd hi mae Nopenhagen oedd y gynhadledd wedi troi i fewn i. Doedd yna ddim gytundeb rhyngwladol o werth, dim targedau lleihau allyriadau nwyon tŷ gwydr, dim ymrwymiad ynghylch cymorth cyllidebol, a dim ffordd glir ymlaen ynghylch rhannu technoleg. Dim yw dim. Pam? Efallai mai’r diffyg o ewyllus gwleidyddol i gyrraedd cyntundeb oedd i fai? Neu hyd yn oed rhai cenhedloedd yn ceisio twyllo eraill allan o gytundeb? Pwy a ŵyr? ond un pheth sy’n sicr yw hollbwysigrwydd cyrraedd cytundeb erbyn dechrau 2011.

Braint oedd cael fy newis i gynrychioli ieuenctid Cymru yn y gynhadledd – rôl pwysig iawn, yn fy marn i, am ddau rheswm: a) ein cenhedlaeth ni fydd yn dioddef gwaethaf o’r newid yn yr hinsawdd pan mai nyni fydd yr oedolion, a b) Cymry ydym ni, ac mae gennym ni’r gallu i fod yn arweinwyr y byd yn nhermau taclo’r argyfwng hinsawdd. Rhagorfraint hefyd oedd gweithio’r llynedd fel Hyrwyddwr Newid Hinsawdd dros Gymru; ‘rydw i nawr allan o’r swydd ac mai’r Hyrwyddwyr newydd yn aros i gael eu cyflwyno a’u hurddo’n swyddogol gan Weinidog yr Amgylchedd. Fy mhwrpas i yng Nghopenhagen oedd i gynrychioli ieuenctid Cymru ac i wneud y gynhadledd yn berthnasol i’r Cymry.

Siom mawr i mi oedd gweld cyn lleied o drefn ar y gynhadledd – pan oeddwn i fewn yng Nghanolfan Bella, ‘roedd e’i weld fel pe tae nifer helaeth o bobl yn sefyll o gwmpas yn gwneud dim, neu eu bod ar eu cluniaduron yn hytrach na fynd ymlaen â’r gwaith o hybu ymwybyddiaeth ynghylch yr agenda pwysig hwn ac yn gweithio tuag at gytundeb llwyddianus. Wrth gwrs, ‘dw i ddim am un funud yn tynnu i ffwrdd o’r ffaith fod cyfryngau newydd yn annatod o’r cwmpawd gwleidyddol modern, ond mewn cynhadledd mor enfawr â Chopenhagen, onid cyrraedd cytundeb deg, uchelgeisiol a chyfreithlon rhwymedïol yw’r flaenoriaeth i bawb?

Felly beth am yr “Unfrydedd Copenhagen”? Llwyddiant? Ddim o bell ffordd! Am un pheth, dyw e ddim yn deg. Medd Cadeirydd y G77 mai sicrhau sicrwydd cyllidebol cyn lleied o genhedloedd fyddai’r unfrydedd ac yn bwysicach oll, yn fy marn i, dydy’r unfrydedd ddim yn dangos clirdeb ar gymorth cyllidol; nid yw’n dweud o le fyddai arian yn dod o, nid yw’n dweud faint byddai pob gwlad datblygedig yn cyfrannu, na chwaith ydyw’n dweud faint byddai pob gwlad datblygol yn derbyn. Does dim arweiniad go iawn ynddo ynghylch dyfodol unrhyw Gronfa Hinsawdd Fyd-Eang. Yn yr un modd, dyw e ddim yn uchelgeisiol. Nid yw’n gosod ei hun fel olynydd i Gytundeb Kyoto, nac ydyw’n gosod targedau ynghylch lleihau allyriadau nwyon tŷ gwydr, heb son am rai cyfreithlon rhwymedïol, ac sy’n dilyn y wyddoniaeth difloesg ar yr agenda hwn. Nid oes cyfarwyddyd yn y ddogfen ynghylch rhannu technoleg newydd, ac y mae’n gyfan gwbl yn anghofio lliniaru sectoraidd, sydd wrth gwrs yn allweddol wrth i ni ymgymryd â thaclo’r newid yn yr hinsawdd! Afraid yw dweud: nid yw’r unfrydedd hwn yn rhwymedïol. Nid gytundeb ydyw, ac fe’i ddraftwyd gan ddim ond 5 cenedl o’r 193 oedd yn y gynhadledd; yn ychwanegol at hyn, dim ond nodi’r unfrydedd wnaeth y dirprwyon eraill i gyd, yn hytrach na’i fabwysiadu’n swyddogol. Aflwyddiant llwyr, felly.

Felly lle’r ymlaen o fan’ma? Er lles y Blaned hon, mae’n rhaid i ni gyrraedd dêl yng Nghynhadledd nesaf y Partïon. Rhaid i Gynhadledd Mecsico yn hwyrach elenni rhoi gytundeb i ni, neu’n ddiau, mi fyddwn yn rhedeg allan o amser i gymryd camau effeithiol er mwyn atal unrhyw newid pellach y nein hinsawdd. Beth allwn ni yng Nghymru ei wneud? Wel, mae’n rhaid i ni sicrhau ein bod ni’n parhau i newidd y ffordd yr ydym yn byw er mwyn lleihau ôl-troed carbon ein gwlad, ac mae’n rhaid i ni barhau i lobïo’n harweinwyr – yng Nghaerdydd, Llundain a Brwsel – i gofio fod ganddynt hwy ddyletswydd nid yn unig i’w hunain ac i’w gilydd, and i’n disgynyddion hefyd. Nid yw’r penderfyniadau cywir yn hawdd na’n boblogaidd ond mae’n rhaid dangos arweiniaeth ac uchelfryd er mwyn gwneud cyfiawnder i ni ac i genedlaethau’r dyfodol.

Gan orffen, rhaid nodi mai nid methiant llwyr oedd Copenhagen. Mi ddaeth ef â 193 o wledydd at eu gilydd – aflwyddiant ai pheidio – a chyrhaeddwyd unfrydedd, o leiaf. Cofiwch, nid llwyddiant oedd y Gynhadledd. Mae gennym llawer o waith i’w wneud, ac mae’n wir fod gennym ffordd hir iawn i’w deithio, ond gydag ewyllus gwleidyddol digonol, lobîo cryf, hyderus a phendant gan y bobl, ‘dw i’n ffyddiog y byddwn yn cyrraedd cytundeb er mwyn achub y Ddaear a’n rhywogaeth o fewn y ddeuddeng mis nesaf. Dyna yw’r hyn sydd angen; does dim cwestiwn am hynny."

Er nad yw Cerith yn ei swydd fel Hyrwyddwr bellach, croeso i chi ymweld a'i wefan o'i flwyddyn fel Hyrwyddwr, gyda gwybodaeth am yr hyn iddo wneud drwy gydol 2009, a thra yng Nghopenhagen.

Friday, 8 January 2010

A look into the future...

by Luke James
Cymru X Vice-Chair

What better time to look into the future than the new year.

Plaid Cymru's chair John Dixon posted an interesting blog post today discussing a federal UK and how it should be financed which sparked an equally educational debate over the future of Wales and Plaid Cymru.

There was some discussion afterwards about whether Plaid was making the case for independence suffieciently and whether it should spend more time on it or whether its priorities lay in trying to control the here and now.

You have to love a bit of internal debate.

It got me thinking about what the future might look like for both when I remembered Laura McAllister, who wrote Plaid Cymru: The Emergence of a Political Party, had finished her book with a her vision of what things will look like in 2020 which she reckon's is "more than just amusing speculation."

McAllister's vision reads: "Plaid Cymru's new leader (the first women ever to head the party) has started to stamp her authority. She now leads a party that has fifty-one members (MWP's) of the one hundred seat Welsh Parliament, six MPs at Westminster (from Wales reduced total of thirty two) and MEP's in both chambers of the newly reformed European Parliament.

"Plaid's rescinding of its constitutional commitment to decentralist socialism in 2010 opened the way for the establishment of a new party, the Welsh Socialist Party, which campaigns on a socialist and nationalist agenda and which has recruited disafected members from both Plaid and Labour. It now has seven MWPs.

"The party is no longer associated exclusively with Welsh-speaking Wales (indeed, recent election results suggest that Labour has now taken on that mantle).

"Perhaps the key issue now is whether Plaid Cymru will be able to once again reinvent itself given its historic objective of Welsh self-government has been achieved."

Those are some choice cuts from McAllisters predictions, some seem more likely than others, but one thing is for sure as a party in power there will be plenty of internal debates and decisions taken which could lead the party to become less radical.

However I certainly disagree with McAllister on one point, Plaid Cymru's historic objective is not to see a Welsh Parliament within a federal UK.

As John Dixon said in the comments following his blog post sometimes Plaid is accused of looking too far into the future and concentrating too much on independence and all the decisions that would come with. Other times Plaid is accused of not making a case for independence and shying away from it.

The party has a tough balancing act trying to make a success of being a party in government and also trying to lead Wales to independence.

In Cymru X we call ourselves the independence generation, I think in year ahead we need to take some of the responsibility for making the case for indpendence.

2009 was a great year of renewel for us in Cymru X, in 2010 we need to up our game again and make our voice heard, in party debates and to the youth of Wales.