Plaid Cymru's Mid & West Wales Assembly list declared

Plaid Cymru have selected their candidates for the Mid & West Wales Regional list in the National Assembly elections on May 5th.

Following the final hustings meeting, held at a packed Canolfan Morlan in Aberystwyth (and subject to final ratification by the Party’s National Executive), the list candidates will be:

1/ Simon Thomas – well-known former MP for Ceredigion who lives in Aberystwyth

2/ Angela Elniff-Larsen – an experienced campaigner on rural, community and women’s issues

3/ John Dixon – Chair of Plaid Cymru until recently and the writer of a regular excellent blog

4/ Rhys Davies – a Carmarthenshire County Councillor and Community Development officer in Cwm Gwendraeth

Regional list candidates for the Assembly elections are part of the additional member system of proportional representation whereby the 40 Assembly Members elected in each constituency (for example Elin Jones in Ceredigion) are topped up by a further 20, according to the support each party has received, in order to achieve an Assembly that more truly represents the way the population has voted. In practice only the top one or two from each party’s list has any chance of being elected. The current Assembly Members for the Mid & West Wales region are Plaid Cymru's Nerys Evans, Joyce Watson and Alun Davies for Labour and Nick Bourne for the Conservatives.

Ever since he narrowly lost the Ceredigion Westminster seat in 2005 people have been wondering if/how/when Simon Thomas will get back into public political life. I’ve spoken to several politicians from other parties who have been full of praise for his work in parliament, especially on the green agenda. There’s a strong argument that people of his calibre are wasted at Westminster and that Wales’s most capable politicians need to be in the Assembly. Depending on how the constituency votes go on May 5th, this looks like his way back.

The picture shows Simon with John Dixon after the result was announced today.


Traws Cambria consultation

Traws Cambria have launched a consultation on planned improvements to their cross-Wales bus services. Their plans include:

* Reduced journey times between key centres

* Better connections between Traws Cambria services and the Welsh rail network

* Potential new services to provide a wider range of choice when travelling between key towns across Wales

* The introduction of more comfortable coach-style vehicles  better suited to longer distance services

* Improved on-board facilities for passengers

* Improved ticketing and fare options

Details of the consultation and questionnaire are here. In addition there'll be a road show at Aberystwyth University all day on Tuesday 28th.


Will this be the shape of the new Ceredigion?

It looks as if we’ve seen the last Ceredigion Westminster election as we know them. When the Conservative/Lib Dem government proposed cutting the number of UK parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600 it became clear this would affect Wales more than anywhere else. Because we’re reckoned to be ‘over-represented’ compared to the rest of the UK (i.e. have fewer electors per constituency), MPs here are set to be cut by a quarter.

Above, therefore, is a rather ungainly-looking map of a proposal for an expanded Ceredigion constituency drawn up by the Electoral Reform Society WalesIt adds north Pembrokeshire, south-west Montgomeryshire and west Radnorshire to the current Ceredigion, not all areas that readily sit together.

The problem with setting constituency boundaries purely on numbers rather than local identity is that it becomes very hard for people to relate to the seat. Ceredigion constituency currently very helpfully has the same boundary as the County Council which makes it easy to feel a part of.

Another map, drawn up by the  Electoral Reform Society UK looks more plausible, involving a large part of north Carmarthenshire along the Teifi Valley.

Of course, there is a recent precedent for a different boundary. Between 1983 and 1997 Ceredigion was part of a larger Ceredigion and Pembroke North constituency.

Whatever is finally adopted, there’s no question the plans will lead to the loss of a considerable number of Welsh MPs.  If the Assembly were to get substantially more powers that could be a reasonable exchange. But many of the 11 Welsh Lib Dem and Conservative MPs who, like Ceredigion's MP, supported the measure were effectively voting themselves out of office.


The Welsh Clone Town list

Let's start with the positives. Bangor and Penarth (in that order) have the most distinctive and diverse high streets of the medium-sized towns in Wales, according to the latest survey conducted by the New Economics Foundation (story also covered by Caredig i Natur and the Western Mail).

The NEF this week published their survey of the extent to which towns have become filled with chain stores indistinguishable from anywhere else, labelling the worst offenders ‘Clone Towns’ and those with the most characterful, independent local shops, like Bangor and Penarth, as ‘Home Towns’.

Of the four Welsh towns judged to be Clone Towns, Llanelli was the worst example, coming sixth in the UK. The full list of Welsh Clone Towns and their UK rankings is:

6/ Llanelli
7/ Bridgend
17/ Carmarthen
19/ Aberystwyth

If the Ceredigion Council Cabinet plan to demolish 16 small shops in Aberystwyth town centre in favour of chain stores had been successful Aberystwyth would, of course, have been higher up the list in future years. And it’s interesting that Carmarthen, the town that supporters of the plan seemed to aspire to, was judged as less distinctive and interesting than Aberystwyth.

The report goes on to highlight how those places given the accolade of Home Towns didn’t just achieve this by accident but have often done so by consciously working to bolster their local independent sector.


Aberystwyth gets £1 million for green transport

Aberystwyth has secured funding of £1 million towards green travel projects. The funding is part of Ceredigion’s bid for Aberystwyth to become one of the Welsh Government’s three new ‘sustainable travel towns’, building on the experience of the Cardiff Sustainable Travel Town initiative.

The £1 million must be spent this financial year and includes:

Parcyllyn bus and cycle lanes and pedestrian facilities   £20,000

Public rights of way   £10,000

Walking and cycling infrastructure improvements at Parcyllyn / Boulevard St Brieuc   £80,000

Pedestrian islands   £60,000

20mph speed limit for roads on the seaward side of Aberystwyth town    £75,000

Aberystwyth town centre accessibility scheme    £40,000

Additional Park & Ride facilities    £304,000

Aberystwyth to Penrhyncoch cycle route    £45,000

Llanbadarn Fawr to new government buildings cycle route   £20,000

Improvements to Rheidol cycle path    £15,000

Bus service improvements    £40,000

Electric bus purchase    £190,000


Ron Davies at the Plaid conference - the full speech

With a few sections edited out for space, this is the text of Ron Davies's historic speech to the Plaid Cymru conference in Aberystwyth on Saturday. The former Secretay of State for Wales in Tony Blair's government announced his intention to stand for Plaid in Caerffili in next year's Assembly elections and set out a vision for Wales's economic future. You Tube versions are here and here.

".....I want to say a huge thank you to those Plaid members in Caerffili, many of them here today, that I’ve worked with and alongside over these past couple of years for the support they’ve given me to work with them and to join Plaid. And it’s never easy to single out individuals but I do want to say a very special thankyou to Lindsay Whittle [Plaid's many-times candidate there]. I’ve known Lindsay for almost 40 years and we fought election after election against each other. And I’m proud to say in all of those times there was never a cross word between us. We disagreed obviously on many, many occasions but there was never any personal acrimony and he was the very first person to urge me to consider putting my name forward to stand for Caerffili for Plaid. So it’s a very great debt that I owe him and I’m very proud to acknowledge that. It’s not only me but there’s a debt owing to Lindsay from Plaid members, supporters, voters and thousands of ordinary men and women who he has supported and helped during a lifetime of service to Plaid and to the people in Caerffili. So thank you very much Lindsay. .....

"The best way that I can repay that friendship and that trust would be to repay the debt in the way that he would want most. And I will do that with our colleagues in Caerffili.

"And we will score a famous victory for Plaid Cymru in next year’s Assembly Elections . We’ll win it and we’ll keep it and we’ll fight and we’ll campaign and we’ll organise and we’ll persuade until we make voting for Plaid Cymru in Caerffili as natural as drawing breath. That’s the campaign that we’ll launch. We’ll base it on a marvellous bunch of individuals. But it won’t just be a victory of organisation – it’ll be a victory of ideas. And, because it will be a victory from Labour in a key heartland seat, it’ll send shockwaves through the political establishment. It’ll send a message that Plaid is in the mainstream. It will give the lie to the false claims that Plaid only represents the north or the west or the countryside or the Welsh-speaking part of Wales. Plaid represents every part of Wales. Plaid can uniquely claim to represent all of Wales, wherever they live, and all of the people, whatever language they speak.

"The key values of Plaid, of fair play, of equality, of community of taking responsibility as individuals and as a nation, of wanting to use our democracy to bring about change to improve the lives of ordinary men and women. Those are the values, not only of Plaid, but those are the values of the people of Wales as well.

"Now for decades, generations of people in valleys like mine , the one that I grew up in, have automatically looked to the Labour Party. I know, from my own background, that was the path that I first chose. I don’t make any apologies for that. I believed that Labour could deliver lasting change. But it hasn’t. I don’t want to talk about that personal experience, because that’s history now. And there are too many compromises and too many sell-outs and failures of policy and resolve from the Labour party, that the Labour Party is now left as the busted flush of British politics. Labour talks the rhetoric of enduring values but put the rhetoric to one side and look at the reality. Thirteen years of unbridled power, with record parliamentary majorities and they’ve left Britain this year with tainted politics , a broken economy, the rich richer, the poor poorer, and, above all, the stench of an illegal war in Iran (sic) and a pointless and unwinnable war in Afghanistan.

"If we are going to transform our politics we have to challenge that record and we have to establish Plaid unquestionably as the strong and legitimate voice for progress and change in Wales.

"Now I believe that devolution will prove to have been the game-changer. Who knows what our politics would have been like if Labour had chosen to use devolution to help build a nation, to champion the cause of a proper parliament, to use the talents and resources of the people of Wales according to our needs to create a more dynamic economy and a more sustainable level of public service? Well, that might have been, if the Labour Party could identify itself with Wales. But the Labour Party is a London party and London would not allow the Labour Party to follow the natural course of action here in Wales.

"I know, from my own experience, the tremendous work which has been put in by our Plaid ministers in the present Assembly, and the Plaid group in the Assembly. And, without doubt, the influence of One Wales has brought the first real sense of an assembly setting its own agenda for Wales.

"We now live in an era, I think we all accept, where coalition politics are becoming the norm. But let’s never forget that the priorities and the politics of any coalition are the priorities and the politics of the party that leads the coalition. And our ambition has to be, whatever else it is, to make sure that, after next year’s Assembly Elections, Ieuan Wyn Jones is not the Deputy First Minister but Ieuan Wyn Jones is the First Minister and that Plaid Cymru is the party that leads whatever coalition we have.

"Nobody believes that that’s going to be an easy task. No doubt Labour will say, as that always do when elections come along, “Vote Labour and keep the Tories out”. Well, Wales voted Labour in May and now we’ve got the Tories in. And, if anybody ever wanted a brutal lesson in political treachery, it’s those thousands of decent people who were conned into voting Lib Dem in Wales in the last general election. They won’t fall for it next time.

"No doubt Labour will try, “Well you’ve got to vote for us as a party. We know we’re rubbish, but the Tories are even worse”. Now, can you imagine that as a battle cry for political inspiration? You start off by saying, “We’re rubbish, but we’re the best of a bad lot”. Well, we can do better than that. It doesn’t even work in practice. They might even try, “Vote for us and oppose the Tory cuts”. Well, we all know what the reality is. The cuts are coming and they would be coming whatever the stripe of the London government. If its Tories or Labour, Wales would be facing those cuts.

"The real question is why Labour did so little for Wales when they could have done something about it in their 13 consecutive years of office. Look at the state of the Welsh economy. Investment down. Enterprise down. Innovation down. Little wonder that our national wealth is down even from where it was 12 years ago when we first won Objective 1 status for Wales.

"Economic inactivity, the curse of modern Wales, is as bad now as it was 10 years ago when the Assembly was created and as bad now as it was 20 years ago under the Tories. We’ve had a decade of increased welfare spending but nothing has been done to prepare us for the storm that we now face. Labour’s legacy of failure has made us even more vulnerable to the cuts to come. Because we in Wales depend, like no-one else in Britain, on the public purse, and that is where the cuts will bite deepest. And, forget the propaganda, it’s not going to be cuts on bankers or cuts on bureaucrats. It’s going to be cuts on teachers and cuts on nurses and it’s our patients and our children who will pay the price of Labour’s failure. Labour’s crocodile tears... there’s a lot of unanswered questions that we have to ask them time and time again . After all those years of government in London and in Cardiff, why did you leave us vulnerable to the Tories? Why did you leave us vulnerable, at the bottom of almost every economic and social league table? Why didn’t you sort out a fair funding formula when you had the chance? You had a Labour government in Cardiff, you had a Labour government in London and , if you believe the Labour government in London, they were awash with money and, for ten years, despite all the claims, despite all the evidence, despite all the arguments and all the debates, Labour refused to move.

"And now, less than six months after the election, they want to position themselves as the champion of reform. Well, if anybody buys that I’m afraid they will have the same sort of awakening that those thousands of people had when they were conned into voting Lib Dem at the last election.

"The worst thing, after all the opportunities, was the failure to create a proper parliament. And, again, we’ll see the positioning. We’ll now see Labour saying we need a parliament to defend ourselves against the Tories. The time to create a parliament, to defend yourselves against the Tories is when you’re in power and you’ve got a majority on the floor of House of Commons of over 100 and you can get any piece of legislation that you want through the House of Commons to create a proper parliament for Wales, if only you’re prepared to stand up to the sceptics in the Labour Party in Wales who are too frightened at the loss of your own jobs to want to see a proper parliament of our own here in Cardiff.

"Now, as a result of those failures, we have been bequeathed a dependency culture in Wales – nearly 30% of people in Caerffili County Borough Council, for example, who are living in economic inactivity. And a dependency culture could be a death knell for any nation with ambition and with aspiration.

"Nobody should want anybody to live in a cocoon of wrap-around health and social care, because that denies the needs of men and women to make their own choices and the rights to fashion their own lives of learning and work and to take responsibility for their own lifestyles and the legacies that they leave for their children.

"Plaid has the courage to say that, of course we need properly funded services, and that must go hand in hand with developing enterprise and building up personal responsibility. As a species, millions of years of evolution have hard-wired us. We want to explore. We want to invent. We’ve created industry, science and technology, food production , manufacturing, communications, all on a world-wide scale. We’ve created languages, lifestyles, politics, culture, sport , music, art, drama, literature, poetry. And that’s why we have global diversity, with the richness that it brings, if we had the sense to learn to value it.

"The more passionate that we are about our own history, our own culture, the more likely we are to understand and value other people because we know why they cherish their own history and their own culture. And we must understand the way that we relate with people right throughout the world, with shared ambitions for a world where we can put to one side the jealousies and the rivalry that lead to war and famine and poverty.

"Now, the achievements of men and women haven’t been created by governments, they haven’t been created by kings and queens.... Individuals have done these things. Individuals have done these things because we’re motivated. As people we all have our own motivation. We have our own personal needs. And Plaid has the courage to say, take responsibility and create a society which cherishes your culture, which respects diversity, wherever it is, and challenges the potential of all people to fulfil their lives. Plaid has the courage to say, let’s end the dependency culture. We don’t need to seek solutions elsewhere or to blame all our ills on other people or other institutions. How many times have you heard it said, “They should do something about it”, when people are describing a problem. “’They’ should do something about it”. That’s wrong. It’s not ‘they’, it’s ‘we’. We should do something about it. And only Plaid has the courage to say that, in this complex, competitive, interrelated world, decisions are best taken by the people most closely involved and as a nation we should take responsibility for our own affairs and draw down from Westminster the sovereignty to chart our own future.

"Now, let me just give you one example. In our old mining valleys, an area that I come from and know and love best, we‘ve got the greatest concentration in western Europe of poverty and deprivation, which is based on worklessness and poor health. 150 miles up the M4 we have the south-east of England, Europe’s richest region, sustained by one of the world’s richest cities. Now, what logic is there that says you have to have the same set of rules for both of those regions? They couldn’t be more different. And yet you have the same policies for the economy , for expenditure, for finance, for regulation, for encouraging enterprise. Who believes that a set of rules designed to meet the overheated and overcrowded south-east of England has the sensitivity or the ability to tackle the deep-seated problems in our mining valleys? There is no logic, there’s no argument, there’s no economic or financial argument, which says that those immense differences of geography, of economy, of society, can be dealt with by the same regime. But, as long as we lack the political clout, we can’t do anything about it.

"We have a vision of our nation which is based on its own right to democracy and self-determination. Not just for its own sake, important though that is, but for the sake of the sort of Wales we want to see."


Picture of the Day - Ron Davies and his new membership card

Ron Davies, the 'Architect of Devolution' as the then Labour government's Secretary of State for Wales, holds up his new Plaid Cymru membership card at the Plaid conference in Aberystwyth today.


Ceredigion councillors to be cut by five

The expected cull of Ceredigion councillors for the 2012 elections will be less drastic than once thought but the number of councillors will almost certainly be reduced from 42 to 37 following the publication of draft proposals by the Boundary Commission for Wales.

As suggested on this blog in December, the Commission’s proposals, designed to produce more equal numbers of residents across wards, will significantly change the balance of power between the north and south of the county as all the five losses are south of Tregaron. The Commission’s conclusions demonstrate the extent to which the population of the Aberystwyth area has been under-represented in the county in recent years.

Although the loss of a seat in the Aberystwyth area was half-expected in the report, in the event the only significant change at this end of the county is that Padarn and Faenor wards will be amalgamated into a two-seat ward in order to equalise their numbers which had become unbalanced. Gareth Davies (Plaid) and John Roberts (Lib Dem) can therefore both retain their seats.

The main changes proposed in the document are:

Llangeitho, represented by David Evans (Plaid), is being lost with half going to Tregaron and half to Llangybi.

Llandysiliogogo, represented by Gareth Lloyd (Ind), is being split between Llanarth and New Quay.

Capel Dewi ward, represented by Peter Davies (Ind), is being  divided between Llandysul and Troedyraur.

*  Lampeter and Llanwenog wards are to be amalgamated. Lampeter currently has two councillors and Llanwenog one. The two wards will become a single two-seat ward – a loss of one member overall. If they all decide to stand again, Haydn Richards (Plaid), Hag Harris (Labour) and Ifor Williams (Ind) will contest for the two seats.

*  Aberteifi/Cardigan – The current three wards within the town will be amalgamated into a single, two-member ward. If they all decide to stand again, Catrin Miles (Plaid), John Adams-Lewis (Plaid) and Mark Cole (Lib Dem) will contest the two remaining seats.

Looking at the Council’s political balance, this means two certain losses for the Independent/Lib Dem alliance and one loss for Plaid with interesting, difficult-to-predict contests in Cardigan and Lampeter.

The Boundary Commission's draft proposals are open to amendments submitted by 9th November but they're now thought unlikely to make significant changes.


Ceredigion names recycling switch date

Ceredigion Council have named week commencing November 15th as the date on which recycling collections will switch to weekly and residual waste to fortnightly.

A letter sent to community councils says:

“You may be aware that the Welsh Assembly Government has produced new and tougher targets for recycling, aimed at ensuring that Welsh local authorities achieve European Union targets limiting the amount of waste sent to landfill over the coming years. Failure to meet the new targets will result in Ceredigion County Council incurring substantial financial penalties

“The new Ceredigion household waste collection service will involve a weekly recycling collection service as well as the introduction of a weekly food waste collection service, covering the entire county. The little waste that households will then have left over should be deposited in black bags and will be collected fortnightly.

“Recycling and food waste will be collected on the same day using a split-bodied vehicle. This vehicle is specially designed to accept the two different materials without contaminating either of them. Both materials will then be taken to one of the County Council’s transfer stations for bulking up prior to further treatment elsewhere. The food waste will subsequently be treated to produce energy and compost. The recyclate will be sent to reprocessing plants."

It’s going to be interesting to see how it all works out in Aberystwyth town centre where there are particular concerns about the practicalities of the scheme in blocks of flats. Although I’m broadly supportive of the scheme, for the obvious pressing environmental reasons, I do think some of these concerns are being underestimated by the Council (“The little waste that households will then have left over...” ?) and they’ll have to be pretty pro-active in dealing with them.

One big flaw from an environmental perspective is that the Assembly aren’t encouraging Councils to promote home composting for those with space in their gardens alongside the food waste collection. According to council officers this is because the Assembly wants to know exactly how much waste is being diverted from landfill and it’s not possible to measure the amount of home composting – surely a case of the auditing overiding the objective.