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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Leonard Cohen is 80

So here is one of his classic songs


Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Welsh town that voted 'yes' to independence on Thursday

Whilst Scotland was busy voting no to independence on Thursday a Welsh border town was conducting its own ballot.

To be fair, Hay-on-Wye has form on this when, in 1 April 1977, Richard Booth conceived a publicity stunt in which he declared Hay-on-Wye to be an 'independent kingdom' with himself as its monarch.

According to the Western Mail another bookshop owner, Derek Addyman organised his own vote to coincide with the day Scotland decided whether to go it alone.

Locals cast their votes outdoors in the Cheese Market in a swing bin liner between 11am and 3pm. The question they were voting on was: “Do you want Hay to stay independent?”

The paper says that 530 people voted with 483 votes in favour giving an overwhelming nod for independence.

Should add an edge to the literary festival next year.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Statement by Welsh Economy Minister on blue badges

Controversy over the blue badge scheme continues to dominate my work. Here is the response of the Minister for Economy Science and Transport to the issues I raised in my short debate at the end of last term:


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Clegg missteps on the road to a Federal UK

It is strange to see the leader of a party with a longstanding commitment to a Federal UK start talking about stopping Scottish MPs voting on English matters at Westminster, but that is precisely what Nick Clegg did yesterday.

It is almost as if the Liberal Democrats leader has missed the point, that you cannot sort out Home Rule for Scotland without putting Wales, England and Northern Ireland on the same footing. And yet, from what I know of Nick Clegg that cannot be the case.

Is he deliberately trying to antagonise his allies in the other nations of the UK? Why is he not talking about the need for a constitutional convention and a new Federal settlement for the UK?

Nobody can seriously believe after all that has passed that having a beefed up Scotland within the UK and stopping Scottish MPs voting on devolved matters is going to solve anything. In fact it will make things worse, especially in the Tory heartlands, and could even trigger moves for a Welsh Independence ballot.

If the Coalition Government do proceed to legislate for Scotland in January as Nick Clegg has said, without producing a new settlement for the other nations, then they really will have a revolt on their hands.

It may take a bit longer, but surely it is better to proceed on a consensual basis across the UK and get the constitution right rather than keep playing it by ear and getting it wrong.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Barnett speaks

Despite having been described as deceased by an audience member on a BBC Wales programme on Monday evening, Lord |Joel Barnett is alive and well, and at 90 years old (he will be 91 next month) still capable of making headlines.

Lord Barnett was the man who, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, devised the population based funding formula which determines how much money is given to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was intended to be a temporary fix for a 'year or two' but has persevered for 36 years and is now a centre of controversy in the Scottish Independence Referendum.

As the Telegraph points out, the leaders of all three main political parties have pledged to continue using the formula, which sees Scotland receive £1,623 per head more than the rest of the UK, if Scotland votes to stay in the Union. However Tory MPs warned the move could be voted down in the Commons. The paper says that Mr Cameron faces a potential "bloodbath" at the hands of his own party:

Lord Barnett, 90, told The Telegraph: "It is unfair and should be stopped, it is a mistake. This way is terrible and can never be sustainable, it is a national embarrassment and personally embarrassing to me as well.

"If we want to give them some money after devo-max OK, but do it honestly and openly. Not by doing so under the table like this."

This is a long-running sore in Wales of course, where it is estimated that Wales is underfunded to the tune of £300m-£400m a year as a result of the formula. This is something that the Liberal Democrats have already addressed.

We have made a manifesto commitment to update the analysis of the Holtham Commission, which identified the funding gap, and to top-up the Welsh block grant to an equitable funding level. We will also immediately entrench a Barnett ‘floor’ so the underfunding gap could not increase.

This is not something that Labour and the Tories thought of doing prior to the joint announcement, and with more powers promised for Scotland in the event of a 'no' vote as well, it seems that we are now drifting into one of two scenarios.

The first is that we create a massively unbalanced (and still unwritten) UK constitution in which Scotland gets more than its fair share of the cash and home rule, whilst the rest of us struggle on with the crumbs. 

Or, we set up a proper constitutional convention and ensure that the goodies promised to Scotland are delivered within the structure of a properly federal UK, including England and/or the English regions. That is my preference and, I hope, that of my party.

Of course the third option is that Scotland votes 'yes'. In that case all bets are off.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Those stressed out cats

For those of us who live with cats, this article in the Telegraph strikes a particular chord.  They quote an animal behaviourist who suggests that cats suffer from stress because owners expect them to behave like dogs.

Dr. John Bradshaw says that people expect cats to be thoroughly domesticated, to enjoy being petted and to be relaxed about sharing their living space. But they fail to understand that lavishing a cat with affection will not necessarily make it feel more content:

“Unlike dogs, the cat is still halfway between a domestic and a wild animal, and it’s not enjoying 21st century living,” said Dr Bradshaw, director of the Anthrozoology Institute at Bristol University.

“People assume cats are going to be like a less demanding dog. They are equally interesting, in my opinion, and equally companionable, but they have their own way of doing things.

“Dogs were sociable before they were domesticated, and we domesticated them so that they would understand what we wanted from them. With cats, all we wanted was for them to keep our houses and farms and food stores free of rats and mice, and they got on with that.

“It’s only in the last few decades that we have wanted them to be something else.”
Chief cause of stress is the proximity to other cats, Dr Bradshaw said.

“There are two aspects: people get more than one cat and expect them to get on with each other, and they are letting cats outdoors in a neighbourhood with lots of other cats.

“But cats are not very good at getting on with other cats. You might get on with your next door neighbour but cats are not like humans. When people move house they have lots to think about, and perhaps they don’t make quite enough allowance for the cat.

“And people want to have two or three cats rather than one, but just because two cats are owned by the same person doesn’t mean they are going to get on.”

He adds: “Cats have other things on their mind. They are busy thinking about the neighbour’s cat, or looking out of the window to see what birds are out there. People get disappointed and think, ‘Oh, the cat doesn’t love me’, but the truth is that cats in general do love their owners but they have their own lives.”

I see this behaviour every day from my own cat. The article though has confirmed my decision that I cannot get a second animal. For now Rufus will reign supreme in my household.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pickles versus the rest

There is an interesting article in today's Times, which says that Eric Pickles is heading for a confrontation with local councils who are defying him over his campaign against their locally produced newspapers.

The paper says that the communities secretary told several authorities five months ago that they were breaching rules on municipal publicity. His officials are now preparing to take legal action, which could come within weeks:

The government could seek a court order to to stop publication. Ministers say that the “Town Hall Pravdas” are a waste of taxpayers’ money and undermine public accountability by flattering the councils that produce them and competing with genuine community newspapers. 

However, several councils said that they had not scaled back or changed their publications. They insist they comply with the rules and provide a legitimate service.

As interesting as this is one wonders what happened to Pickles' localism agenda, which by any definition involves these type of decisions being taken locally. More importantly has anybody done a review of UK Government propaganda recently?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Femicide and South Africa

For those of us who have been following the increasingly bizarre trial of Oscar Pistorious, Joan Smith in the Independent provides some context. The athlete was convicted of culpable homicide and a separate firearms charge, but he is out on bail amid speculation that he could even get a suspended sentence when he appears in court next month.

This is shocking enough but there are other things going on here:

From the outset, Pistorius was given an easy ride by much of the world’s media, who uncritically repeated his controversial defence that he accidentally shot Steenkamp after mistaking her for a burglar. This is what happens when events involving famous people are viewed in isolation, as riveting individual dramas rather than belonging to a wider narrative. Why would an internationally famous runner kill his girlfriend? He says it was a mistake, but the question needs to be seen in context: why did no fewer than 1,024 South African men kill their current or former partners in 2009?

This is not a country, in other words, where such events are rare. A woman is killed by a husband or boyfriend  every eight hours, according to a study published two years ago by the South African Medical Research Council. This translates to three women a day, and the study actually showed an improvement on the situation in South Africa 10 years earlier, when four women were dying every day. It has “the highest reported rate globally of females murdered by shooting in a country not engaged in war”, according to an article published in the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ) in 2010.

She goes on to say that South Africa is on the list of countries where femicide – defined by the World Health Organisation as the intentional murder of women [simply] because they are women – is practised. Most victims are mixed race or black and their deaths receive little publicity, despite the dreadful injuries inflicted upon them.

In that sense Reeva Steenkamp is not typical but the way she has been sidelined in this case is not. Oscar Pistorious is symptomatic of a wider problem in South Africa.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

SNP and their day of reckoning

In the Spectator, Fraser Nelson details some remarkable threats by leading SNP politician, Jim Sillars:

Sillars is a former SNP deputy leader but now not part of the apparatus- so he can speak freely. All too freely, as it turns out. Here’s what he has said today.
“This referendum is about power, and when we get a Yes majority, we will use that power for a day of reckoning with BP and the banks. The heads of these companies are rich men, in cahoots with a rich English Tory Prime Minister, to keep Scotland’s poor, poorer through lies and distortions. The power they have now to subvert our democracy will come to an end with a ‘yes’. BP, in an independent Scotland, will need to learn the meaning of nationalisation, in part or in whole, as it has in other countries who have not been as soft as we have forced to be. We will be the masters of the oil fields, not BP or any other of the majors.”
So Scotland’s refusal to go all Hugo Chavez on its companies is, to Sillars, an example of the SNP administration ‘forced’ by Westminster to be ‘soft’ (ie, not lay down the law to) companies. Their expressing their concerns about his separation plan is the same as ‘subverting our democracy. The have become enemies of the Scottish people, according to Sillars, and will be treated as such.

Sillars had a bit more to say. Under a separate Scotland, companies like Standard Life would be required to give two years warning of any layoffs they wanted to make. This sounds crazy, more like East Germany than a new Scotland. But as Silllars put it:
What kind of people do these companies think we are? They will find out.”
Is this the reality facing Scotland if they vote 'yes' on Thursday? As Fraser Nelson says all this unnerves businesses. He adds that this why increasing numbers of businesses have had to reassure shareholders that, if Scotland votes ‘yes’, they will not stick around for long enough to see what Mr Sillars meant.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Lost in translation Part Four - racist mascots?

In the translators' folklore Swansea Council will never live down the time that a Welsh language out-of-office message appeared on a road sign purportng to be a translation of the English, however that does not seem to have deterred them and other public bodies from failing to check the accuracy of signs and other publications before they enter the public domain.

The latest faux pas to come to my attention is a bi-lingual booklet advertising the Swansea Bay Festival. The booklet is full of errors and appears to have been written with the help of Google Translate. The passage that stands out however is this one advertising the Admiral Swansea Bay 10k:

'The event also feature (sic) junior races, the Dylan Thomas Mile and Mascot Race. All entrants receive a t-shirt and all finishers receive a goody bag and medal.

Roedd y digwyddiad hefyd yn cynnwys rasys iau, mae'r Dylan Thomas Milltir a Masgot Hiliol. Mae pob cystadleuydd yn cael crys-t, a phob gorffen yn derbyn bag nwyddau a medal.'

Somehow, the council have managed to translate Mascot Race as Racist Mascot.

Given that they have their own professional translation department one has to wonder why the council did not use their services when producing material such as this.

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