Tuesday 14 June 2016

Referendum hots up -Pensions, Bus Passes and Remain's last throw of the dice.

After weeks of quite genteel bickering on details, the last days of the campaign are different. The Remain side have suddenly realised that this may not be a walk over for them, and have sent for Gordon Brown to tell Labour Voters to vote Remain. Legend has it that  it was Gordon who won the Scottish referendum for Stronger Together by his intervention, promising home rule if you voted NO. Almost total independence with less risk, control over everything bar foriegn policy and defense, otherwise known as Devo Max. Scotland voted No but didn't get home rule as promised by Gordo.

If this continues to follow the Scottish Referendum model, the next move is a "Vow" by the leaders of the 3 main Westminster Parties. Due to the sharp decline in the number of Liberal Democrats we may expect a trio consisting of David Cameron, Jeremy Corbin and Nicola Sturgeon promising that the EU will be reformed, immigration halted and  the economy magically turned round by a Remain vote.

Just like in the Scotland Referendum Case, the 3 leaders won't actually get together physically, too embarrassing, but will instead be photo shopped suitably for the front of the tabloids after their staff have cobbled together a vague, upbeat statement to save the day. We will be promised some European Union future so British that we will hardly realise we are part of the EU.,Promises of major EU reform and a nod to reducing immigration, followed by a guarantee of a massive turn around of the UK economy and jobs for all. Maybe Nicola will duck out of the fantasy offer and someone will dig up Tim Farron to make up the trio. A welsh edition would have Carwyn, Leanne, and ?someone else from any other Welsh party supporting Remain, or just anyone Welsh and famous.

I doubt a  "Vow" will make much difference. Most people have made up their minds and many have voted by post already. It has to be a real stunner to win it now, and if Remain do win it may well be thanks to the votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland, a bizarre irony.

However, as someone who was in Scotland during the referendum campaign I feel it was the  pensions argument which made the biggest difference there. If Scotland left the UK they were told, Scots  might have to leave the UK pension system and there were warnings that the state pensions may not be paid at all after a Yes vote. Of course it probably was an empty threat, but if the state pension is a large part of your income you can't take that chance. However, .Project Fear has a lot less traction now in the UK than in Scotland 2014, as trust in politicians declines, the economic outlook is poor and the threats get so ridiculous that its hard to credit that those who "advise" us actually believe what they are saying  .

Now what could a Welsh "Vow"contain for  Wales?. Will they promise decent roads, new rail links, plans to save our Steel Industry, and jobs for our young people? Probably not.

 David Cameron, may rely on his recent threat of a possible Brexit induced economic dip which will apparently force him to cut the state retirement pension and abolish free bus passes for the elderly. However, as our bus passes are devolved to Welsh Government, and are one of the most popular policies of our devolved parliament, will Carwyn Jones back him up?

In Politics trust is hard won but easily lost. We have an interesting week ahead.

Sian Caiach,

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Pollution - can be ignored thanks to the EU directives

Although the European Union has excellent environmental directives the regulation of them is poor in the UK. At our last full council meeting in Carmarthenshire we discussed the growing air pollution problem from traffic fumes. The EU regulations have been changed, allowing less pollution on our roads and large areas of our towns now qualify to be designated  Air Quality Management Areas.

The Welsh Government are supposed to monitor and protect our environment according to EU law. Llanelli's experience is that generally they don't. Welsh water can't afford to improve the sewage system to EU quality standards and the Welsh Government does not care. Natural Resources Wales gives consents to the discharges to prevent sewage back flow flooding into homes and gardens. Sometimes even that doesn't work. Here in Llanelli sh*t really does happen, and far too often.

It is the UK government who is liable for prosecutions, not Welsh Government, Complaints are difficult to make and hard to progress without specialist legal help.In any case they may take many years for investigation and prosecutions to be completed. So if it is inconvenient or too expensive. to obey EU environmental regulations the Welsh government  and other bodies can put 2 fingers up to to the EU  and ignore the rules.The sewage pollution here was reported to the EU commission firstly by my local resident's group in Stradey where sewage flooding was a problem and they were joined later by cockle pickers when the shellfish suffered mass near extinction events annually and their livelihoods were destroyed with them. 10 years of protest so far and still no resolution.

AQMA Sandy Road, Llanelli
The EU makes the environmental laws. The problem is when your nation state,  the UK, according to the EU, breaks the rules as clearly they do in the cases of air pollution and sewage treatment in Carmarthenshire. The EU commission is reluctant to prosecute and then to give out any real punishment. In theory it can impose fines but in fact these are extracted from the money normally returned as grants. To complicate matters environment is devolved to the Welsh Government.

 What is the current position in these 2 local issues?

Sewage is still being vented into the Loughor estuary from both the Llanelli and Gowerton areas. The problem is that  Welsh water can't afford to do a decent job and correct the whole problem. However, despite the finding of infringement [guilty to you and me] it is in a long negotiation as to how much time it has to gradually improve matters while hundreds of new houses are built which will possibly negate all the "rainscape" projects taking ground water out of the sewers. A final penalty or another period of grace to make things a bit better will be the likely outcome of the next hearing later this year. The complaint has made Welsh Water make improvements but the building of many new houses has probably produced little difference in the overall picture other than slightly less runny sewage which still gets dumped untreated after the frequent system overloads.

As to air pollution, the local County Council sets up the appropriate monitoring and committees but in the most severe and longstanding case of Llandeilo has done very little else. When Welsh Government declined to fund a bypass the County Council gave up and in fact built a school across the favored route of their by pass  proposals.  The County Councilllor for Llandeilo, Edward Thomas, tries to bring up the issue but only to be told that its Welsh government's fault as they won't build a by pass and nothing can be done. People die from serious air pollution which statistically increases ill health and death rates.But as no individual case can be absolutely proved as suffering due to the roads' production of chemicals and particles from traffic, the council, Welsh government and even the EU commission are off the hook. We know the pollution is there but there is no motivation for the powers that be to do anything about it.

Delegating the making of Environmental Laws to the EU then devolving the enforcement to the impoverished and somewhat shambolic Welsh Government has led to inertia and we are stuck with the toxic mess in our air and water. The more remote and inaccessible a government is to its citizens, the more difficult it is to enforce its rules where local and regional government don't want to bother.

I've been a Welsh Nationalist for most of my adult life and I'm no great fan of the UK government but I have to admit that I now have more confidence in a government in London to run environmental policy and enforcement than the EU commission in Brussels. I have to laugh when the environmental protection is given as a reason to vote "Remain". The EU environmental directives are clearly merely optional here. For this and many other reason's I'm voting to leave the EU.

Sian Caiach