Sunday, 10 May 2015

How Ynys Môn Votes


After three years, I thought it must be time for a new blog.

Elections results are usually expressed as the percentage support for each party by those who turned out to vote. However, as this ignores those people who don’t vote, it can give a fairy misleading impression of what actually happened and disguise the underlying trends which only become visible when you look at the total electorate including non-voters.

A simple case in point is Rhun ap Iorwerth’s election as Ynys Môn AM in 2013 when he won with a massive 58% of the vote. How does that tally with Plaid Cymru’s John Rowlands only getting 30% of the vote on Thursday? Of course Welsh Assembly and Westminster elections are different but the underlying electorate is the same. Did Plaid really lose almost half of their support? Of course not. As a percentage of the total electorate - including non-voters - Rhun actually received only 25% support (still an impressive figure) and John Rowlands got 21%. What happened is that roughly 2000 potential Plaid supporters (that extra 4% who voted for Rhun) stayed at home on Thursday.

In order to map this and make more visible those underlying voting trends, I have put together the below chart of the results of every election on Ynys Môn since 1945 in the context of the total electorate, i.e. including those who didn’t vote. Non-voters are shown in grey and I have tried to allocate them between the parties in the way which makes most sense - its a little crude but I think informative. Both Westminster and Welsh Assembly elections are also included (Assembly elections are prefixed with the letter ‘A’ before the year).

Click to enlarge


This chart begins at 1945, but the constituency of Anglesey (as it was then) had returned Liberal MPs since 1837, with a solitary blip in 1918 when it returned an Independent Labour MP following the 1918 Representation of the People Act which widened the suffrage to all men over 21 and women over 30. The Liberals regained power in 1923 and retained it until 1951 when Megan Lloyd George lost to Labour’s Cledwyn Hughes — the last occasion when a sitting Anglesey MP lost her seat. Since then the chart tells the story of the sad death of Liberal Anglesey, which not even the Island's greatest living Liberals, Nick Bennett and Aled Morris-Jones, could halt.


Cledwyn Hughes retained the seat for Labour over eight elections until he stepped down before the 1979 election; as a youngster I still the remember the giant “Cledwyn is our man” sign scrawled in white paint on a farm building off the A5 near Gwalchmai. Labour support fell considerably on the Island during the Thatcher and Major years — it looks like a large core of their voters stayed at home, or switched allegiance to either the Social Democrats, the Tories or especially Plaid Cymru. Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide re-galvanised Labour support on the Island, but it was swept beneath an almost SNP-esque tsunami of nationalist support which had brought Ieuan Wyn Jones to power ten years earlier. Labour had to wait until 2001 (by which time Ieuan had stepped down as MP) for Labour’s Albert Owen to win the seat.

The picture for Labour since then has been interesting. Since 2001 Albert has, like clockwork, consistently polled around 22% of the total electorate. However if you look at Labour’s increasingly poor performance in the Assembly elections were the majority of their support appears to stay at home, it looks fairly clear that this 22% is less a vote for Labour and more of a personal vote for Albert himself.

Yes, you could argue that Labour supporters are ambivalent towards the Assembly elections and therefore don’t vote. But when you factor in the gradual dwindling of a unionised workforce on Anglesey as the large mass employers like Anglesey Aluminium have closed one after the other; and also the damage done to the grass-roots constituency party by the forced rejection of local candidates such as John Chorlton in favour of serial loser but Cardiff-favourite Tal Michael for example, I think such arguments just mask a clear Labour decline. You only need to look at Labour’s showing in the last Ynys Môn council elections to see that the party is receding.

Looking forward I would predict that once Albert steps down Labour will poll no more than around 6,500 votes (13%), and probably come in third behind Plaid Cymru and even the Conservatives. (Yes, I know: I would say that, wouldn’t I).

Plaid Cymru

The pink line on the chart tells the story of Plaid Cymru’s unstoppable rise since 1951 until the turn of the millennium, followed by a stabilisation of their vote since the establishment of the Welsh Assembly. Note the dramatic upturns in votes (indicated by the pink arrows on the chart) when a Conservative government is in Westminster. 1987 was clearly the most dramatic election in the Island’s political history with Ieuan Wyn Jones sweeping to victory on a 35% tide of nationalist euphoria. Devolution shot Plaid’s fox however as since 2001 Plaid on Ynys Môn have slipped back almost 15 percentage points from their peak to polling consistently around 21% (I wonder if devo-max will have the same effect on the SNP?).

Note the consistency of Plaid’s vote since 2001 compared to that of Labour. Whereas Albert Owen's supporters vote for him personally, Plaid supporters are clearly voting for the Party rather than the procession of old, grey men Plaid Cymru perennially pick as candidates. The exception of course being Rhun Ap Iorwerth, who’s youth and celebrity gained him another 4-5% of support. That celebrity was never going to rub off on John Rowlands however, and Plaid’s vote on Thursday simply returned to their historic mean of 21%. Frankly with Plaid’s prospectus to the Welsh people being as unclear as ever I can’t see their support changing in the near future so I would anticipate Rhun’s vote to also fall back to the 21-22% bracket in 2016.


Keith Best took the Island for the Conservatives in the 1979 election following the stepping down of Cledwyn Hughes and held it against an energised nationalist vote in 1983. However he was brought down by the BT shares scandal and stepped down before the 1987 election, handing the Island to his opponent in 1983, Ieuan Wyn Jones.

As is clear from the chart, since 1997 a large portion of erstwhile Conservative voters simply stopped voting, leaving a consistent core Tory vote of around 14-15%. In 2005, 2007, and 2010, the unparalleled Peter Rogers (light blue on the chart) led a personal insurgency and managed to capture some of the core Tory vote whist also reaching out to those disillusioned centre right voters who stopped voting in 1997.

The chart shows clearly that this week’s general election was significant as, for the first time since 1992, the total centre right support on Ynys Môn came out to vote.

For the Conservatives to increase support from here on they need to make inroads with newly engaged UKIP voters or attract Lab/Con swing voters (they exist in North Wales as has been proved in the Vale of Clwyd this week).


The talk on the Island before this week’s general election was that a big UKIP vote would erode Albert’s support, allowing Plaid Cymru to slip through and take the seat. However, despite UKIP polling over 5000 votes, it had very little effect on Albert’s personal support. The chart makes clear why: UKIP voters are people from the centre right who have mostly not voted for some time - rather than Labour defectors as Plaid hoped. Thus this election was just a re-run of the close 2005 and 2001 elections with Albert and Plaid polling at their their traditional mean support (Plaid Cymru take note: there was no Rhun stardust at all).

For UKIP it looks like 11% support could be their the ceiling in a Westminster election. However in next year’s Assembly elections, as we get closer to an In/Out referendum on Europe, they could poll higher, especially as there will be no personal Albert Owen vote to hoover-up Labour minded voters. After that? I think with the EU referendum over and no Farage, the only way is down.


And finally a personal note. As some people know, since 2012 I have returned to live in one of the only countries in the world with a more chaotic political scene than Ynys Môn: Japan. With over 35 Prime Ministers since 1945, you can be sure that if Japan was located in the Irish Sea, the Welsh Assembly would have sent in the Commissioners by now. That thought at least always makes me feel at home despite being 6000 miles away. Cym' bwyll.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

How to resolve the Wind Turbine crisis on Ynys Môn

A resolution to the public outcry over wind turbines on Ynys Môn requires some clear strategic thinking coupled with political will.

Because of its flat landscape and the fact that Anglesey County Council has not updated its planning policies on wind energy for over a decade, Ynys Môn has over the past year been specifically targeted by wind farm developers — as testified by the extraordinary surge of planning applications for giant turbines.

Public outcry ensued and, despite having initially been caught with their pants down, Anglesey County Council did the right thing by speedily carrying out a public consultation on new wind energy supplementary planning guidelines (SPG) together with introducing a far more stringent planning 'checklist' for wind developers designed to reduce the number of speculative applications.

A leaked discussion document prepared by planning officers after the public consultation showed that planners were broadly opposed to introducing any blanket guidelines for wind turbines on Ynys Môn — including publicly supported minimum separation distances, maximum height restrictions, and the preservation of Anglesey's AONB together with a suitable buffer zone. The leaved document showed that in essence planning officers would prefer to be allowed to consider each turbine application on its individual merits. This is clearly unsatisfactory but we cannot really blame the officers as their role to merely interpret and be guided by national policy — in this case TAN 8 — and not to propose political fixes, which is the preserve of our elected Councillors.

TAN 8 is the Welsh Government's primary planning policy for wind energy, and establishes a number of geographically defined 'Strategic Search Areas' (SSAs) in which large-scale wind farms should be clustered. It also goes on to provide guidance on what local planning policies can and should be introduced by local authorities. As Ynys Môn falls outside any SSA areas, the most crucial part of TAN 8 to this discussion is as follows (emphasis mine):

"Most areas outside SSAs should remain free of large wind power schemes. Local planning authorities may wish to consider the cumulative impact of small schemes in areas outside of the SSAs and establish suitable criteria for separation distances from each other and from the perimeter of existing wind power schemes or the SSAs. In these areas, there is a balance to be struck between the desirability of renewable energy and landscape protection. Whilst that balance should not result in severe restriction on the development of wind power capacity, there is a case for avoiding a situation where wind turbines are spread across the whole of a county. As a result, the Assembly Government would support local planning authorities in introducing local policies in their development plans that restrict almost all wind energy developments, larger than 5MW, to within SSAs and urban/industrial brownfield sites. It is acceptable in such circumstances that planning permission for developments over 5MW outside SSAs and urban/industrial brownfield sites may be refused."

This essentially tells Councils that although they cannot introduce local policies which would "result in severe restriction on the development of wind power capacity" (which would, for example, rule out blanket height restrictions), they are able to introduce what would in effect become local mini-SSAs to restrict development to one area only ("there is a case for avoiding a situation where wind turbines are spread across the whole of a county"). The question therefore is: which part of Ynys Môn would be most suitable as a housing area for large-scale turbines whilst (a) providing minimum disruption to the Island's landscape and tourism industry; and (b) providing the largest possible public utility to Ynys Môn residents?

Existing wind turbines already visible from the Rhosgoch site
The answer is the 198-acre disused Shell site at Rhosgoch which was gifted to Island in the 1980s and is now administered by the Isle of Anglesey Charitable Trust. The area is fairly out of the way, close to the existing small-scale wind turbine farms in the north of the Island, and the contaminated land which has stopped any other development on the site would not be an issue for erecting wind turbines. Therefore, if a local planning policy was put in place which meant that all wind turbine applications above 15 metres tall were restricted to the Rhosgoch site, then all ground rents from these giant turbines could be captured — through the Isle of Anglesey Charitable Trust — for the public good and used to preserve the various public services, such as leisure centres, now being threatened by cuts. With just 198 acres available (not including the area several football pitches large that could be taken up by the proposed giant transformer farm on Rhosgoch to convert the wind energy coming off the Irish Sea wind from AC to DC) the administrators of the scheme would be able to auction parcels of land off in 25-year leases to developers thus even further maximising revenue.

The scheme could be set-up as a giant Social Enterprise, and even go a step further by allowing various community councils and other local groups first option to rent land, thus allowing them to erect turbines which would provide a regular income for their activities. The scheme would not affect micro-wind generation and farm diversification as smaller wind turbines of up to 15 metres tall would still be possible throughout Ynys Môn outside of the AONB.

Such a policy may be open to legal challenge by developers, but in reality such an outcome would be unlikely as any challenge would be costly and take years — during which time it is likely (bearing in mind the national public disquiet regarding wind turbines) that the current generous subsidy regime for wind energy will be ended. Developers would recognise that if they want to make money on Ynys Môn they would need to rent land on the Rhosgoch site. As per the report in this week's Holyhead & Anglesey Mail about developers 'threatening' planning committee members with appeal, it is clear that developers are keen to rush through their plans as soon as possible to escape whatever restrictions may eventually come via the revised SPG and due to any changes to national policy.

Having any giant turbines on Anglesey may be unpalatable to many residents, however the fact is that without the introduction of a scheme such as I've outlined above then there is no doubt that wind turbine will multiply throughout Ynys Môn and have a real effect on tourism on the Island (all available research shows that between 10-30 percent of holidaymakers will not return to rural areas whose landscapes have been ruined by wind turbines). However, to make such a scheme a reality requires political will and unity from Anglesey's councillors — something which would provide a perfect public showcase for their strategic thinking and care for the Island as the Commissioners prepare to start handing power back to them from October onwards. It would also make 'Energy Island' a far more intelligent concept as a share of money generated from energy schemes on the island would be directly captured for the wider public good.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Carl Sargeant, the Welsh Minister for Local Government, announced today that he could see light at the end of the Anglesey Tunnel. The Welsh Government's intervention on Ynys Môn will begin to be phased back from the end of September, said Sargeant, from which time power will gradually be transferred back to our own councillors. A smaller number of commissioners will stay on to oversee and advise, whilst members of the Executive will begin to receive their senior salaries again.

He applauds himself at the end of his statement by saying, "if Councillors and officers carry on showing the same commitment as they have so far, we will be able to complete a fundamental and swift turnaround on Anglesey in little over two years", conveniently forgetting the two previous years of Welsh Government intervention under David Bowles when things when badly backwards.

The full statement below.
Title: Isle of Anglesey County Council
Date: 9 May 2012
By: Carl Sargeant, Minister for Local Government and Communities

Last February, I updated the Assembly on the progress that the Isle of Anglesey County Council was making under the stewardship of my Commissioners. I was cautiously optimistic about the prospects for reducing and ending my intervention in the medium term.

Events since then have shown that that optimism was justified. My Commissioners have concluded that while there remain some concerns about the Council’s governance, there are no longer any serious risks. The Auditor General has reached a similar view, and recommended that I should begin planning how to end my intervention.

I agree with and accept the views of both. There is increasing evidence that a Council that was once a byword for misbehaviour, under-performance and petty squabbling is now concentrating effectively and consistently on the issues that matter to the island. Differences remain, as they always will in any democratic organisation. But the days of petty personal rivalries dominating the Council’s business seem to be largely over.

Recent developments have underlined that. In March, the Council had to set a budget and council tax rate in very difficult financial circumstances: it has operated on a shoestring for many years and has much less scope to make savings than many other local authorities. Yet Councillors approached that challenge with real maturity. They engaged fully with the Commissioners in formulating a draft budget and passed it almost unanimously after a sensible and focused debate. That would have been impossible just over a year ago.

There have also been problems with the proposed development of Wylfa B, when the leading companies withdrew. The potential that Wylfa B has for the economic regeneration of the island means that is undoubtedly a major setback for the island. But the response from the Council has been sensible and serious, with a strong mutual interest in securing fresh involvement from another company. There have been none of the recriminations and accusations that we would have seen in the past.

Finally, Councillors have been working with the Commissioners, the WLGA and my officials to overhaul the Council’s constitution and to make sure that it embeds and sustains some of the improvements we have seen. Again, those discussions have been highly positive and productive. They have yielded some radical changes which will strengthen good governance and which other local authorities may well want to emulate. They have also been free of the jockeying for personal advantage which so bedevilled Council politics in the past. Indeed, one of the main aims of the changes is to prevent that from ever happening again. It is clear that almost everyone wants to move on.

That intention is sincere and commendable, but I am not yet convinced that the Council is able to fulfil it alone. I have said before that the recovery will not be complete until we have renewed democracy on the island, and until elections take place on terms which are more likely to yield a representative and accountable council. That cannot happen until next year.

The Council also needs to finish recruiting a new and strengthened senior management team to bring stability, capacity and expertise; and to tackle some intractable problems of service delivery. Progress so far on this has been very good, with a high level of interest from some highly-qualified and well-regarded public servants. But until that team is in place and clearly functioning well, I cannot be sure that the recovery will be sustained.

I will therefore be extending my direction to the Council from the end of May to the end of September, to allow that recruitment to finish. Commissioners will remain in full control until then. If at that point they and I are content that the senior team is ready to take charge, and if progress elsewhere continues to be maintained, then I will start bringing my intervention to an end.

That would initially mean reducing the Commissioners’ presence and responsibilities. Councillors would resume control, subject to being overridden by Commissioners if they proposed to act unwisely or unreasonably. Commissioners would also support councillors and officers; and they would continue to monitor progress and advise me on that. I will discuss with my Commissioners the level of their personal involvement under this approach; but it is unlikely to entail having five Commissioners with a continuous presence in the Council.

As a consequence, I will also be asking the Independent Remuneration Panel to consider restoring senior salaries for members of the Council’s executive. I withdrew these last year when I transferred the executive’s powers to Commissioners; it can only be right that they are returned in some form if and when those powers are handed back.

This approach will allow us to test the sustainability of change in a controlled environment. It will mean an early return to local decision-making, with appropriate safeguards. If that proves successful, I should be able to end my intervention completely soon after next year’s elections.

Those elections will take place using new boundaries, and I expect to receive the Local Government Boundary Commission’s final proposals on those boundaries shortly. Many within the Council did not support their initial proposals. They are of course also free to oppose the final proposals: they will have at least six weeks to make representations to me. I will consider all constructive representations seriously; and I trust that in approaching this issue, Councillors will display the same maturity as they have on other major issues recently.
All I am doing now is making appropriate plans to phase out my intervention. I could restore the Commissioners’ full powers at any time, and will do so if the recovery stalls or if Councillors prove unable or unwilling to resume proper control.

On the other hand, if progress continues under the Commissioners’ stewardship, and if Councillors and officers carry on showing the same commitment as they have so far, we will be able to complete a fundamental and swift turnaround on Anglesey in little over two years. I look forward to being able to do so.

I will make a further statement to the Assembly in due course.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Guest Blog: The Decline and Fall of Plaid Cymru in Four Acts

During better times in Act 1 and before the
Llanwnda scene in Act 3.
Now that the dust has settled on this weeks local elections, one of the most revealing and largely unreported vignettes from polling day was the re-election of Aeron Jones, a Llais Gwynedd councillor, to Llanwnda despite an energetic campaign led by Plaid Cymru 'royalty' Dafydd Iwan and Dafydd Wigley to unseat him. Llanwnda was just one example of the declining support Plaid is currently experiencing in its Gwynedd heartlands. On a larger scale, at a time when the personal ratings of the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems are all in negative figures and at an all time low, why wasn't a party like Plaid Cymru able to capitalise on the general dismay with politics-as-usual?

Here in a Guest Post, a seasoned and anonymous veteran of local politics in Gwynedd and beyond charts the decline and fall of Plaid Cymru in Four Acts.



Last Thursday 10 million people voted in an election of 15,000 candidates contesting nearly 5,000 wards across England, Wales and Scotland. The eyes of most commentators, as ever, were drawn to London and a reaction from No 10 – or here in Wales, to events in Cardiff. It is understandable that with 70% of the population in Wales living within 60 minutes of the capital this will happen. But the latest unreported episode of a story with real significance for Wales unfolded in Gwynedd: the drama in four parts which depicts the rise and fall of Plaid Cymru is now moving into its final Act.


Act I saw the formation of Plaid broadly in response to poor governance and threats to our Welsh nation-hood and culture – especially our language. Even today the constitution reflects this, promising to secure social justice, equality, a bi-lingual society and nation-hood. Some 90 years later, in part through their actions and voice, the Welsh Language enjoys protection and promotion from an Act of Parliament and Wales has its own Assembly with some significant devolved powers. Many regard this progress as a success (many do not – both as too little and too much, but that is not the point of this piece). 

However, these achievements have presented Plaid with two big questions over its identity. The first is simple: what do they stand for now? Polling on support for Welsh autonomy barely moves into double figures who favour separation from the UK. This removes nationhood as a serious campaign platform for any Party with national ambition. We might compare it perhaps to the status of UKIP campaigning on withdrawal from the EU – irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the issue, the largest amount of voters just don’t care enough. 

The second question is raised by the fact that both of these achievements came through mainstream UK parties. It was a Conservative government, moved by Conservative MP for Bangor and Conwy, Wyn Roberts, who introduced the Welsh Language Act. Labour introduced the Assembly. Once again, this defines Plaid in the role of cheerleader and agitator. It is a sobering truth that having secured an Assembly for Wales (albeit by the narrowest of margins in a national referendum), the closest Plaid have come to power is brief tolerance by a grateful Labour administration that they propped up for four years. 

Which brings us to Act II of this period that Plaid shared power in the Assembly.


This is a short Act and not a very happy one. Not just for the period of time it represents – just one term out of four so far – but for another reason. A big, awkward, question that won’t go away and can never be hidden from anyone who wants to know the answer.

Can anyone think what was achieved during that time? 

What did having Ieuan Wyn as Anglesey’s representative (for a quarter of a century), the Deputy Leader of the Assembly, and Plaid’s own Party Leader achieve for Mon man? What vision was shown, what benefits gained, what resources were wrestled from the outstretched hands of a populous, needy, South? What evidence is there of strong local leadership and careful investment for the future wellbeing of Anglesey and its residents? An airline. A failing local authority. And the lowest GVA of any county in the UK. 

To be fair, this is to ask a lot of both IWJ and Plaid. But for the LibDems inability to organise themselves, it might have been a rainbow coalition against Labour. After eight years, people were already well aware of their failures. The Daily Post and Western Mail both ran big spreads on the 10 year anniversary of the Assembly, reviewing progress, celebrating achievements and asking people what the Assembly had done for them and for Wales. How had the billions of pounds spent made a difference to them? The answers? Bus passes and free prescriptions. I can only imagine the discussion in the Editors’ offices. The stark and simple truth is that under a Labour led Assembly, Wales has plummeted down international rankings for economic competitiveness. Worse still, under the management of our own Assembly, outcomes in health, education and more are now worse than our nearest neighbour, England. In the Welsh valleys we have managed to cultivate some of the most impoverished places in the UK. 


At this point of the play we are ready for the entry of a charismatic figure to herald a new dawn and lead the oppressed out of gloom into sunlit uplands. 

To say that Leanne’s election as leader was a “surprise” is not strictly true. Her cry of “Ymlaen!” and her ability to mobilise young people invigorated the Party membership and boosted its numbers. However politics and the fortune of nations turn on wider support. As a federalist and an avowed Marxist she occupies two of the smaller constituencies from which to build a majority. “Outflanking Labour from the left” is not a credible political strategy and the warm endorsement of the Welsh Communist Party will not feature on the Party’s letterhead. 

And so the to the Leader’s first test in battle. Setting the broad paint brush of strategy aside, could the finer brush strokes of local elections on local issues prove this analysis wrong? Would the devil be in the detail? Could personal politics and the handfuls of votes cast in remote, rural polling stations demonstrate a deeper connection and broader appeal to Welsh citizens? Could she reach good, honest, hard working Welsh folk, wanting a bit of help for their families in touch times, hoping for a lift in the local economy? Would she win the support of those proud to be Welsh and proud to vote for the “Party of Wales” in a local election? 

The results suggest otherwise. Plaid it could be argued, held its own. Indeed it remains the majority party in several counties. Net gains/losses might suggest little movement. But in truth, it failed. This was a huge setback. When dissatisfaction was deepest, hopes were highest, the simple truth is that by midnight on May 4th not a single Welsh council is run by Plaid. Anglesey of course had no election and only Labour can claim success and gains. The independents and NOC (“no overall control”) continue to be a big player in Welsh local politics. However, it is in Gwynedd that we see the true reflection of the demise of Plaid.

Back in 1925, Gwynedd was the birthplace of Plaid Cymru. Today some two-thirds of residents are first language Welsh speakers. If not Leanne’s personal politics then surely this is the safe ground from which a movement could be rebuilt?

In truth, this has not been safe ground for Plaid for years. Llais Gwynedd is a story worth telling but better told by others. However, what was dismissed as a narrow, single interest group that sang songs on the steps of Cyngor Gwynedd Council in protest at the closure of rural village primary schools has turned into a stone in the shoe of Plaid Cymru. The harder they stamp, the more it hurts them.

The 2010 general Election in Gwynedd heartlands also revealed the wobble in Plaid’s support base. Hopes for a “magnificent seven” seats in the UK parliament were revealed as baseless and they did well to hang on to the three they had, including the new Arfon seat. With proposed boundary changes we may never know what could happen in Arfon’s boundaries over time, but the general election was dominated by a two prong tactical pinch: voters calculated who was most likely to beat Plaid in Caernarfon and who was most likely to beat Labour in Bangor. Plaid’s majority tumbled. Labour came within touching distance. The Conservative vote grew dramatically, through the middle, a local candidate drawing on dissatisfaction with both and memories of the effective Lord Roberts.

Plaid’s majority on Gwynedd Council – never the strongest and always under threat – is now gone. Its hopes for a majority reduced to the outcome of a by-election in a ward where neither they (nor any other Party) could manage to raise a candidate. This is as damning an indictment of local political governance in Gwynedd as any economic statistic. Seasoned Gwynedd watchers will also know this is not an isolated event. Several more urban wards were decided on less than a few hundred votes cast.

And what of the fight itself? In Llanwnda, a leading Llais figure was targeted by Plaid. They rolled out their local man and an intensive campaign, blessed by the aging, but iconic Dafydd Iwan as Agent and Lord Dafydd Wigley as canvasser-in-chief. To no avail, as the result was an increase in the Llais majority.

In Deiniolen a long serving, senior Plaid Councillor very active in the Gwynedd administration was defeated by a local independent who was “well liked” in the village. The Plaid candidate's list of activity, every Chairmanship and senior position held filled a side of paper. The independent noted that he lived with his parents and enjoyed playing snooker in the evenings.

Bethel ward was perhaps the biggest shock, lost to the diligent work of an active Labour candidate.


So the “narrative arc” of our drama comes full circle and Act IV has returned us to where the story started. We all care deeply for Wales and things Welsh. I am the first to acknowledge the importance of a Party built on national interest and the preservation of language and culture. These are valid perspectives and vital – in its truest meaning, they are “essential for life” for Wales.

From its humble origins “Y Mudiad Cymreig” (the Welsh Movement) has made huge gains and left a permanent and proud mark on Welsh politics. But the high water mark has been reached and that tide is now running out. With just one Welsh EU seat, less than one-tenth of Welsh Parliamentary seats, one-sixth of local government and Assembly seats, Plaid may always have a proud voice. But it has not proved its ability to govern and by overlooking leaders with the potential to influence and appeal beyond the Party, not just within, it has settled for the Opposition benches. The results confirm this.

This Act is still being written, but it appears the plot line is set. The inconvenient truth is that gains we have in Wales have come from mainstream parties. Not English parties, but Welsh. Voted for by Welsh people.

One way or another, mainstream politics and parties are the future in Wales. We must grapple with their agendas to secure the best deal for Wales.

For all our sakes, the debate must move now towards the damage done by a fourteen year experiment in socialist politics here in Wales. In Anglesey alone the loss of aluminium production and power generation goes beyond metaphors such as “asleep at the wheel”. We still rely on Objective 1 EU funding, seemingly locked into deprivation and dependency.

Plaid does not have an answer and as a result, is rapidly losing its relevance and meaning to those who should care the most.

And “most” is what is counted in politics.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Wylfagrad B, Leanne Wood, and Political Cowardice.

I'm puzzled. Almost a month has now passed since the German owners of Horizon announced they had decided to pull the plug on Wylfa B — yet Plaid Cymru's new leader Leanne Wood has not uttered a single word about nuclear energy since. This is strange because arguably one of the central planks of her leadership campaign was her outright opposition to ANY Nuclear energy in Wales, including a new plant at Wylfa. Indeed, immediately after she won the leadership contest in mid March she said this to the Daily Post:

“Plaid Cymru’s stated position is in opposition to a new nuclear power station in Wales. That isn’t to say jobs in North Wales isn’t of vital importance. I have put forward an alternative jobs plan for the North West and for Ynys Môn, those jobs are in the renewable energy sector so we can build a clean, green industry that doesn’t risk our future.”

You would therefore assume that when RWE and E.On made their announcement just two weeks later Leanne Wood would have welcomed their decision and reaffirmed her commitment to a nuclear-free Wales. You might even expect her to have redoubled her efforts to promote the "alternative jobs plan for the North West and for Ynys Môn" she mentioned above — essentially to set up a massive Quango on Ynys Môn called the "Energy Department for Wales" funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency.

Instead we have heard absolutely nothing from her whatsoever on the topic. Why not? Apparently anti-nuclear posturing is fine and dandy until what she said she wanted actually happens and thousands of jobs are suddenly put in danger. It looks more and more to me like political cowardice which doesn't bode well for the rest of her term as Plaid leader.


Should we be concerned with reports that Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear energy corporation, is interested in buying up Horizon and progressing with Wylfagrad B? Probably yes, but not for the "Chernobyl" scaremongering by people like PAWB. The disaster at Chernobyl was caused by unauthorised experiments carried out by the operators to see just how far they could push the reactor without causing a meltdown, involving the disabling of several failsafe mechanisms which would normally have prevented it. The consequences were horrifying, but it is fantasy to think that the involvement of Rosatom at Wylfa could lead to anything similar happening here. Should Rosatom be given the go ahead they will have to use the exact same designs developed by the Germans, and make the exact same choice between either the Areva or Westinghouse reactors — essentially the only thing the Russians will be supplying is the funding.

The more pertinent question regarding Russian involvement at Wylfa is whether the UK really wants a country which has used energy supply as a diplomatic weapon in the past obtaining a foothold in our own energy market?

For what it is worth I suspect that there are many more runners and riders in the race to buy Horizon and that the Russians are just the most vocal.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Wylfa: What next?

Regular commenter Mairede Thomas succinctly sums up Ynys Môn's current position and dilemmas:

"As far as Anglesey is concerned this is how it stacks up:- the Biomass plant site at Anglesey Aluminium, that has gained planning approval, may be able to source cheap waste wood and other imported biofuel but if the experience of DRAX the Uk’s biggest co-firing coal station is anything to go by the cost of buying in imported biofuel could be prohibitive. In mid February Drax decided not to build a £1.3billion pair of 290MW biomass plants reasoning that the Uk subsidy is not attractive enough. And the Banks are not playing ball either, so putting together the finance is not proving too easy. So big biomass projects like the one on the north of our island may not materialize.

Now the Wylfa B site is up for grabs but EDF and Centrica will want taxpayer support too. Who knows what the Russians will want, but do we want them?

There does not appear to be any type of new, sizeable and reliable power generation plant, that is also acceptable in terms of the C02 targets the Uk has burdened itself with, being brought forward for development by the international power companies, or indeed smaller developers, unless they are given assurances that they will get a huge public subsidy.

So do we ditch the CO2 targets and go for coal and gas? Or do we nationalise nuclear?

I would look seriously at both of these options otherwise we may not have enough reliable new power plant and infrastructure being built to keep the lights on. And unless we find some significant new gas reserves (shale?) we will be at the mercy of imported fuel prices to heat our homes and run our businesses.

I hope our politicians will do everything possible to ensure that the skills built up in Anglesey over many years in the nuclear industry are not lost to the island or dispersed abroad. The excellent facilities at Coleg Menai offer young people who study there the prospect of sustainable and rewarding careers, let’s hope they can fulfil their career ambitions on Anglesey."

In the meantime, French energy giant EDF has shown its hand early and declared that it is not interested in taking on Wylfa whilst back on Anglesey the Head of the council's Energy Island project has announced that she is leaving.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

++ Horizon partners pull out of Wylfa B ++

Instead of an expected announcement of what reactor type they planned to use at Wylfa B, Horizon's joint venture partners E.ON and RWE npower have this morning instead announced that they will NOT proceed with plans to build Wylfa B and will instead seek to sell Horizon as an ongoing concern to new investors. The press release from RWE describes the reason as follows:

  • The global economic crisis has meant that capital for major projects is at a premium and nuclear power projects are particularly large scale, with very long lead times and payback periods; 
  • The effect of the accelerated nuclear phase out in Germany, which has led to RWE adopting a number of measures, including divestments, a capital increase, efficiency enhancements and a leaner capital expenditure budget;
A combination of these strategic factors, together with the significant ongoing costs of running the Horizon joint venture, has led to a situation where capital investment plans have been reviewed.
Press releases here, here and here.

Rumours began to surface last July, following the Fukushima disaster and Kanzler Merkel's decision to close German nuclear plants, that E.ON and RWE npower would "struggle to convey to investors the billions of euros in investment that would be required for building new reactors in the U.K. at a time when cash flows and earnings are under increased pressure after Germany decided to exit all nuclear energy". More recently there had been further rumours that the two partners were looking for a third partner in order to spread risks. With hindsight it becomes clear why the reactor vendor announcement has been continually delayed for the past few months. 

The implications of this news is catastrophic for Ynys Môn as so many other developments are predicated on Wylfa B going ahead, the following being just two examples:

  • Land & Lakes holiday resort development on the majority of the Anglesey Aluminium site has a business plan based on providing housing for Wylfa B construction workers
  • Coleg Menai's Energy Centre built to train a new generation of nuclear workers

Will this be the end of Wylfa B? I don't believe so: the Department of Energy and Climate Change's own estimates show that of a total of around 75GW in UK generating capacity, 20GW will disappear by 2015 as various ageing nuclear and coal plants will need to be decommissioned over the next few years. And as they current peak demand is around 65GW and growing, that means that the UK could be facing energy blackouts within the next decade — as made clear by the adjacent graph from The Economist.

The reality is that the UK government needs Wylfa B more than Horizon needs to build it — which means that by hook or by crook Wylfa B will eventually have to be built.

The fact of the matter is that the decision to replace the UK's ageing nuclear reactors should have been made years ago, instead Labour spent its 13 years in power obsessing over renewable energy and introducing ever more stringent carbon targets, under Energy Secretary Ed Milliband, which have led to our countryside being covered with hundreds of useless windmills but with no replacement for lost baseload capacity. (Ironically, according to the RWE and E.On's press releases they plan to instead invest in more UK renewable projects, no doubt due to faster returns due to a crazy market deforming subsidies!) 

If you don't believe me that Labour didn't make the necessary decisions, then believe Unite regional secretary for Wales, Andy Richards, who told the Daily Post in January 2009:

"The origins of [Anglesey Aluminium's problems] pre-date the current economic crisis, which is why Unite has been calling for the Labour Government to make the important decisions on energy supply for years. The procrastination over Wylfa means we are now looking at a probable closure, which would be catastrophic for Anglesey and Wales."

It wasn't until the Coalition government came into power two years ago that plans to replace our ageing nuclear fleet were finally put in place. The delay by the previous Labour government has meant that the UK now needs to make the necessary immensely costly infrastructure investments both post-Fukushima and during Europe's lowest economic ebb since WW2. Which puts the recent furore about Pastys into perspective.