Monthly Archives: Ionawr 2015

Welsh Politics Changes – for Good

The news that Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Green Party will participate in two of the three televised leaders’ debates has created a seismic shift in the power relationships of politics.

Plaid has faced problems of apparent legitimacy across swathes of Wales for decades. One memorable story is told of a young woman who, having been selected to stand for Plaid back in 2005, visited a relative in Newport to relay the good news. Her aunt was aghast, telling her “What on earth are you doing with those extremists!”

But that legitimacy has now been handed to Plaid on a silver platter. Because it’s very difficult for people in any corner of Wales to argue that Plaid isn’t relevant to the political discourse at a Wales or UK level when they’re on TV screens, beamed into 30 million homes from Islay to Islington.

One of the enduring myths of Welsh politics is that a vote for a particular party is a wasted vote; it’s one that it particularly commonly used by the Labour party to persuade people not to vote for Plaid. But as I’ve argued before:

…some parties will try to persuade you that your vote is wasted if you vote for so-and-so party in a UK election. That’s blatantly false, because it’s the one species of election where your vote is almost guaranteed to achieve nothing but send a message, regardless of the party you vote for.

This scenario couldn’t be a worse result for the ‘big UK’ parties. Instead of bickering amongst themselves to show who has the thickest fag paper to put between each others’ policies, they now face the prospect of policy humiliation by a determined, intelligent and telegenic trio of anti-austerity party leaders. The delightful schadenfreude is that it’s a result that’s been brought about by the parties themselves attempting to score cheap political points. David Cameron’s bluff has been called – he didn’t want to participate unless the Greens were also invited to the party (clearly he was unwilling to go into a contest where the only likely outcome would be his party bleeding votes to UKIP). But Ed Miliband can’t now refuse to participate, because of the extraordinary scenes in the House of Commons a few weeks back when he branded the Prime Minister ‘running scared’ for his stance and his Labour MPs ‘clucked like chickens‘. And with three left-wing parties in the fray, Ed Miliband now stands to lose the most.

In Wales, valleys seats that were formerly impregnable Labour fortresses will now start to drift into accessible territory for Plaid. The combination of new establishment-gifted legitimacy, the platform of the TV debates itself, and UKIP eroding Labour’s vote from the right mean that some veteran coasting MPs the like of Chris Bryant and Wayne David will have to start to work their constituencies.

It also signals the beginning of the end of the two-party system in the UK, and the one-party system in Wales. Although change happens relatively slowly under the first-past-the-post electoral system, the days of people sacrificing their principles to vote, with gritted teeth, for a candidate who is slightly less unappealing than the other candidate, are coming to a close. When people have a genuine choice over their options, they’ll give less of a fig about some fictitious formula where only X party stands a chance of being in government. The fact that every political pundit is saying this is the hardest election to predict for 100 years tells you that the field is wide open.

This 7-party debate, which I among many would have thought totally fanciful (although I participated dutifully in the social media to bring it about) has changed Welsh politics for Good.

Finally, it also vindicates the stance taken by Plaid of forming a bloc with the Greens and SNP. Some commentators (Simon Brooks, for example), have criticised Plaid for working with the Greens in the run-up to the UK election. However, it’s extremely unlikely that David Cameron would have used either Plaid or the SNP in the way he did the Greens in order to try to avoid the leadership debates, and which has ultimately led to this significant step forward for democracy in Wales.

 

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1 Sylw

Filed under Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, Greens, Labour, Plaid Cymru, SNP, UKIP, Westminster

Independence: the United States of America

I’ve taken an executive decision. For the time being I’m going to stick with the 59 countries that have become independent from the UK. There’s a whole heap more that have become independent from Spain, Portugal, Russia, France and others. But I don’t want this series to bog me down forever, and 59 might just take me near enough to that.

The USA was the first of the former British Empire colonies to leave, in 1783.

GDP per capita at date of independence (actually, 1789) – $55.10, or $1110 in money from the year 2000

GDP per capita in England/UK at date of independence – £180 million/8 million people – £22.50, or £1,643 in money from the year 2000 (which is going to be my basis for calculation)

In the year 2000, one GBP was worth roughly 1.5 USD. So that means that at the date of independence the per capita GDP of the USA was 1110/2465 = 45% that of the UK.

What a piss-poor country the USA was.

To put in into context, let’s look at today’s GDP. The UK’s GDP per capita in 2013 was in the region of $42,423 (using the most generous measure). In today’s terms, the USA would be around $17,708. They’d be rather poorer than Trinidad and Tobago.

But the GDP per capita of the USA in 2013 was $52,392. If you’ll excuse the shorthand (conflating $ from the years 2000 and 2013 for both the UK and USA), then the GDP of the UK has increased from $2,465 to $42,423 over the last 230 years, or an increase of 17.2 times. Hardly seems worth all the effort, eh! And the USA increased from $1,110 to $53,392, a 48.1-fold increase.

So what use has independence been in pure economic terms to the USA? Economic growth has happened at a rate roughly three times as rapid as for the UK such that if the UK wanted to become a state of the USA today it would be the second-poorest state, just ahead of Mississippi.

Unionists will say, yeah, sure, but look at all the resources the USA has got. They’ll want to have a look at the academic evidence that indicates that countries blessed with plentiful natural resources tend to end up economically cursed.

Because what really matters is the ability to control your own destiny. The power to shape society so that the direction you collectively take sits comfortably with the people of the country. Setting taxes that distribute from rich to poor, not the other way round as Labour and Conservative alike are either busily planning or actively doing.

Independence? I’m sure the USA would be better off without!

Finally, I’ve scoured the internet and have yet to find any movement wishing to repatriate the USA as part of the UK (although there are UK journalists mooting the UK becoming the 51st state).

Funny, that.

2 Sylw

Filed under Conservatives, Independence, Labour, Westminster