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The Catalan crisis and Cymru

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Rallying for independence: Some Catalans seek self-determination

THE CRISIS in Catalonia has made for some strange political bedfellows, with Plaid Cymru and UKIP – for different motivations – railing against those seeking to preserve the Spanish state intact, while the Conservatives remain equivocal and Labour – as in Brexit – prefer to keep their heads down and hope it will all go away without anyone asking them what their position actually is.

And the reasons for those contortions, at least in Welsh politics are not too difficult to establish. While a core text of young socialists always used to be George Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’, the establishment of an independent Catalan state would only serve to stoke the well-banked fires of Welsh independence from the UK. With the Labour Party in Wales not only fundamentally unionist in the sense of wishing to ensure the UK stays together but devoted to the idea of the European Union, it does not want to see other European regions assert their independence.

In addition, at least part of Labour’s opposition is borne out of the thought that Catalonia – one of the richest Spanish regions – is seeking its independence partly because it does not want to continue funding poorer Spanish regions: a bit like Surrey declaring UDI because it did not want taxes raised there to contribute to the building of schools in Llanelli.

UKIP’s position has the merit of being both robust and transparently intellectually dishonest. A party built around the recreation of an independent UK is all in favour of other member states of the EU splitting up, especially as – they argue – the conflict highlights the fundamentally autocratic and centralising impulse of the EU. However, UKIP’s anti-unionist and pro-democratic position is not translated to national politics in the particular, only to foreign affairs in the abstract

In that, it is at least consistent with the keenest Brexiteers on the Conservative side, who are all in favour of using the trials of the Spanish state to illustrate their own view of an over-mighty EU without for one minute advancing the logic of that argument to the UK’s status quo. Which is, perhaps, why they are so reluctant to talk about it.

Of more moment, perhaps is that the EU has turned its face against Catalan separatism on the principle that it does not want to see its Union subject to further division. That attitude should be causing raised eyebrows in Edinburgh, or at least giving campaigners for independence considerable pause for thought. A key notion floated at the time of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 was that Scotland would be an independent nation within the EU. That position – provided of course that the EU is intellectually consistent, coherent, and not prone to dabbling in its members’ internal politics – appears to be shot full of holes by the EU’s current attitude towards Catalonia. And it is worth bearing in mind that SNP supporters supported leaving the EU by a significant majority, which suggests that at least some of its members are prepared to see the lunacy of seeking to leave one union only to join another straight away.

And for Plaid Cymru, or at least those within in it who seek independence for Wales, who believe in the right of the Catalans to self-determination, Welsh self-determination, and who want to remain within the EU – or at least closely tied to it – the position is even more intellectually contorted. The EU – as an institution – shows no appetite at all to allow the federated parts of republics or semi-autonomous regions to divide themselves from the nation states of which they are constituent members. Quite how the attitude of the EU towards the Catalans gives intellectual succour to Plaid Cymru for their own hopes for an independent Wales within the EU requires a leap of logic that suggests faith and not rationality.

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More trouble for Vaughan Gething in Labour leadership race

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PRESSURE continues to build on Labour leadership contender Vaughan Gething as more revelations emerge about his campaign’s funding.

As The Herald reported on Friday, Mr Gething’s campaign got £200,000 of funding from a company linked to the Withyhedge landfill site.

In addition, Mr Gething received £3,000 in a non-cash donation from Cardiff-based Tramshed Tech.

While the £200,000 donation has raised eyebrows, the timing of the £3,000 donation from Tramshed Tech has done the same.

Mr Gething, Mark Drakeford’s Economy Minister, announced Welsh Government funding for Tramshed Tech to host their Soft Landing Programme.

No wrongdoing by either Tramshed Tech or Mr Gething is suggested. However, a cynic might regard the donation as an example of how the Welsh Government’s plans to create a circular economy will work in practice.

Spending limit is £44k

The unusual feature of Mr Gething’s funding is just how much there is.

Each candidate’s leadership campaign has a spending limit of £44,000. That sum is based on the number of Labour members in Wales multiplied by £2.50.

Mr Gething’s leadership campaign has received over £290,000 in donations.

The £44,000 cap covers leafleting and campaign costs, including social media advertisements.

Unprecedented donations

Mr Gething’s well-funded campaign will not break the rules provided his campaign’s expenditure remains at £44,000 or less. The question arises about the purposes for which all the other money will be put.

The £200,000 from the Dauson group of companies has caused anger among Mr Gething’s Senedd colleagues.

The Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters MS, commented on Twitter: “I’m sorry, but £200k on an internal election in a cost of living crisis is completely unjustifiable.

“I don’t want this to become a negative campaign, but I am genuinely shocked and angry by this. It’s wrong.”

Mr Waters supports Mr Gething’s rival, Jeremy Miles – along with well over half of Labour MSs.

Mr Gething’s lack of support among those who work with him closest is striking.

Equally striking is the number of unions who have hustled in behind the Penarth MSs campaign.

While Labour has around 20,000 actual party members, the Trade Union bloc vote controls 100,000 possible votes. The largest unions have not bothered balloting their members before coming out to support Mr Gething.

Where hustings took place, the Unite union seemed likely to back Jeremy Miles. However, an intervention from that union’s “regional secretary” fortuitously unearthed a rule that meant Mr Miles could not get the union’s backing after Mr Gething – equally fortuitously – joined Unite shortly before Mark Drakeford announced his retirement.

Speaking to Wales Online’s Will Hayward, the Director of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, Professor Richard Wyn Jones, said: “The sum involved is eye-wateringly large.
“There’s simply no precedent for it in the context of Welsh devolved politics.
“Indeed, I can’t think of a Welsh politicians who’s been able to access such large sums since the days of David Lloyd George – which isn’t a comparison that I can imagine anyone being comfortable with.”

Writing for Nation Cymru, the doyen of Welsh political journalists -Martin Shipton – reported a Labour councillor as saying: “This is so bad that in my view Vaughan Gething is not fit to be a Member of the Senedd, let alone First Minister. The only honourable thing for him to do is to withdraw from the contest, but he won’t do that.

“If he wins the election, I will not be able to accept him as the leader of Welsh Labour, and I think many others in the party may take the same view.”

For comparison, when Mark Drakeford defeated Vaughan Gething in the race to replace former First Minister Carwyn Jones, he got £25,000 in campaign donations. Jeremy Miles’s declared level of donations is £32,000.

As bad as the current situation looks, the final level of each candidate’s donations is yet to be declared – and things could get far more embarrassing for Mr Gething and the Labour Party before they get better.

The worst-case scenario is that the result of a tainted campaign overshadows the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay and places a politically damaged First Minister in place during a General Election year.

The consequences of a negatively perceived Labour leader in Wales cannot be underestimated during a UK election.

The Conservatives are knocking lumps off the Labour Government on the NHS, transport, and rural policy.

Mr Gething’s fundraising efforts could give the Conservatives another target and Plaid Cymru a pretext for dumping the Cooperation Agreement.

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Alternative Newgale coastal defence scheme submitted

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ALTERNATIVE plans to protect Newgale’s coast have been submitted to national park planners, which the applicants say will cost far less than a proposed realignment of the road.

Newgale was hit hard by flooding following storms in early 2014 storms, and later by Storm Dennis in 2020.

In 2014 it even saw a visit by the-then Prime Minister David Cameron, as part of a tour of the UK to “learn lessons” following storms and flooding that year.

The main A487 road was closed for about 14 days after waves breached pebble defences that year, and a Richards Bros bus was stranded in floodwater after it was hit by a high wave, leading to the rescue of around 10 passengers.

In 2018, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet backed a recommendation, long-term, for an inland highway link for the A487.

An alternative approach, the Newgale Beach Shingle Bank Realignment Scheme (NSBRS) scheme, by Stand Up for Newgale (STUN), proposes a section of the shingle bank at Newgale be realigned 10-12 metres to the seaward leaving an over wash barrier between it and the A487 to capture any pebbles and sea water.

“The proposal would not only protect the road from the over wash of pebbles, but also, and critically, it would protect the road and commercial outlets alongside the road from any landward movement of the shingle bank for 80-100 years,” a supporting statement says.

It adds: “It is presented as a vastly cheaper alternative option than a replacement road.”

The statement says the “costly and destructive” replacement road, supported by the county council, would “effectively split the village of Newgale in half, force the closure of several thriving Newgale businesses and cause considerable environmental damage”.

The applicants dispute the “doomsday” modelling which led to the proposals for a new road inland across nearby Brandy Brook valley, and say their scheme would be considerably cheaper, at an estimated cost of some £150,000 as opposed to the £20m they say the new road would cost, adding that consultation costs alone have cost some £2m.

Based on the last figure STUN says, a £13,000 cost in remedying the 2014 shingle bank failure means that PCC could have used that £2m – based on it being a one-in-25-year event, could protect Newgale for the next 3,846 years.

The supporting statement adds: “It is the considered opinion of our independent expert [David Keeling] that moving the shingle bank by 10-12 metres seaward will delay any landward movement by 80-100 years with no more maintenance being required than currently carried out by PCC following the occasional storm event.”

It concludes: “The proposal to move the shingle bank seaward ‘buys’ time in which real time monitoring of sea levels over the ensuing decades can inform whether there will indeed be a need for a new road at Newgale in the future or not.”

The application is currently in the process of being validated by national park planners at a later date.

At the standards committee meeting, of February 19, Solva County Councillor – and local businessman – Cllr Mark Carter failed to secure dispensation to be able to speak, but not vote on matters connected with long-term plans for a Newgale road diversion scheme.

Cllr Carter has previously spoken as a local businessman and resident rather than as a county councillor.

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Pembrokeshire couple win fight to stay in their home of 38 years

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A CALL to allow a couple to keep living at a south Pembrokeshire dwelling, put in potential jeopardy as they no longer meet an agricultural employment criteria, has been backed by county planners.

John Williams of Woodside, Martletwy, and his wife Catherine have lived at the property since December 1986, the dwelling granted outline planning permission in April 1985.

This was subject to an agricultural occupancy condition, in association with nearby Baglan Farm, which was previously owned and managed by Mr Williams’ parents, now both deceased.

The farmland has been owned by John Williams since 1985.

Agent Acorus Rural Property Services Ltd, in a supporting statement accompanying the application, says a complication to the agricultural occupancy condition “the occupation of the dwelling shall be limited to a person solely or mainly employed, or last employed in the locality in agriculture or in forestry” is Mr Williams having changed employment many years ago.

The application, for a certificate of lawfulness, entailing proof of occupancy over a prolonged period, sought to overcome this condition breach, with Mrs Williams not employed in agriculture either.

“The application is submitted on the basis that the dwelling at the above property has been occupied by Mr J Williams and his wife in breach of the occupancy condition for over 10 years.”

It says Mr Williams was a farm worker locally from 1978-1990, later becoming involved in construction work and farm machinery repairs before working for a local coachworks.

There is a small campsite on the farmland which is registered with the Caravan & Motorhome Club which occupies a field, managed by John and Catherine Williams, having been established around 40 years ago by Mr Williams’ parents.

The application finishes: “As a consequence of John and Catherine Williams’ employment, Woodside has been occupied in breach of the agricultural occupancy condition for over 10 years.”

Planners approved the certificate of lawfulness being granted, stated: “Based on the evidence available it is considered, on the balance of probability, and the absence of any evidence available to the contrary, that the dwelling has been occupied in breach of the agricultural occupancy condition for a continuous period in excess of 10 years and the accrued lawful use right has not been lost.

“It is therefore concluded that the certificate should be granted.”

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