YesCaerdydd call on Ministers to consider #indyWales

This press release has just left @yescaerdydd towers. We’d like to share it with you. It’s fully reproduced below.

Welsh Government will not represent Welsh interests during Brexit talks, minister says
Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford, says the Welsh Government will not be seeking to represent Welsh interests during crucial Brexit negotiations.

The minister, who chairs a Brexit advisory team, says the priority for the Welsh Government will be to find ‘solutions’ for the whole of the UK and not for the country his party governs.

He made the statement as a response to campaign group, Yes Cymru, who are calling on the Welsh Government to stand up to Westminster amidst the constitutional flux caused by the Brexit vote.

With the imminent triggering of Article 50 and plans for a second vote on Scottish independence, Yes Cymru fear that national interests look set to be completely overlooked as Wales is treated as an appendage of England.

Mark Drakeford is chair of the European Advisory Group, a group created to advise the Welsh Government on the ‘challenges and opportunities’ arising from UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Yes Cymru say these challenges can only be met if Wales starts to a move towards independence, seeking those powers that are required for a country to safeguard a better future for its citizens.

Responding to Yes Cymru, Mark Drakeford said the Welsh Government does not view independence as being a ‘desirable’ goal and they intend to prioritise UK interests during any Brexit negotiations.

He states: “The Welsh Government is very clear that independence is not a desirable or viable option for Wales, given the economic, social, environmental and cultural inter-dependencies of Wales and England.

“The task of the Welsh Government – with the assistance of the European Advisory Group – is to find a solution to the problems posed by Brexit which will underpin the prosperity of the whole of the UK.

“The process of withdrawing from the EU is likely to be both lengthy and challenging, with many hard negotiations along the way. However, my priority is to deliver a Brexit that will work best for the people of Wales wherever they may live.”

Yes Cymru argue that ambitious plans launched by the Welsh Government to safeguard the future well-being of the people of Wales can only be achieved with increased control over the country.

They warn that, despite admirable intentions, the ambitious Well Being of Future Generations Act currently stands no hope of achieving its aims – to improve the nation’s social, economic and cultural outlook.

The letter to Mark Drakeford states: “Securing independent national status for Wales would safeguard our economy, protect our families, help secure our futures, enable us to enter a new phase of integration with our European neighbours and protect us from the alarming growth of extreme right wing politics in Westminster.”

The Future Generations Act, made law in 2015, places a duty on public bodies to ensure all developments are sustainable by adhering to seven well-being goals.

Yes Cymru is a campaign group launched in 2014 to promote Welsh independence. The organisation now has branches throughout Wales with a growing membership and cross-party support.

You can join Yes Cymru here

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#WeAreWales #NiYwCymru

The last few days have seen the Country react to the Secretary State of Wales’ obscene and unnecessary attack on Plaid Cymru’s leader, Leanne Wood on the BBC’s Question Time programme. You can watch the clip here.

Just to get the politics out of the way – Alun Cairns has proven himself out of his depth, and shouldn’t be allowed to resign, he should be sacked. This doesn’t surprise me – I wasn’t impressed when I stood against him in 2005, and during his time as an Assembly member he got into hot water regarding his second property & a purchase of an iPod from his office account. Most relevant to his attack on the integrity of members of Plaid Cymru he has form in racist stereotyping (this earned him a suspension as Vale of Glamorgan Parliamentary Candidate at the time).

What has interested me more, is how people have expressed what Wales means to them via the #WeAreWales & #NiYwCymru hashtags. The hashtags trended over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday as people from all parties and none used Twitter to say what they felt about the Country they call home.

I’ve trawled through over a thousand #WeAreWales tweets and I was struck by what they didn’t say, as much as what they did.

What none of them mention is individualism, division or competitiveness. The economic growth at all costs rhetoric isn’t included in how we, as people who live in Wales, want the world to see us. In fact the language we’ve used is softer, more community-centric, and more family orientated. Lots of people are talking of their own personal heritage; others have highlighted the cultural depth, diversity and history of Wales. Some have talked about bi-lingualism and a few have pointed out the physical, natural beauty of our landscape. I even spotted a few tweeters who made reference to our communal struggles against adversity. The best ones for me were the ones that recollected our non-conformist tradition.

Yet our politicians and business leaders don’t seem to think this is that important. I think they’re wrong. The route they’re taking us down, where we attempt to mimic the growth trajectory of others misses the very soul of who we are.

We could chart a different course, where these #WeAreWales values are centre stage, but that would require vision and leadership, instead of following the global crowd.

Poverty, we all know is relative. It’s also multi-dimensional. What #WeAreWales has highlighted for me is the richness of spirit and solidarity we share as a Nation. This is the first building block of nationhood, and the most important one too.

When people say Wales is too poor, point them in the direction of these tweets, and ask them to think again.

#WeAreWales #NiYwCymru

#indyCURIOUS 

#indyCURIOUS – I’ll be speaking at the Glyndŵr Rally for an independent Wales tomorrow. Here’s the gist of my contribution.

Before I start, I want to thank Sandra Clubb who introduced the word #indyCURIOUS into my vocabulary. It’s a welcome addition, as I hope you’ll find out. There’s more from Sandy in her blog here. Sandy is also another of the speakers at tomorrow’s rally.

A few weeks ago, I explained why I joined Plaid Cymru, and also that I was making a commitment to do my bit to move Wales from dependent status to an independent nation. I wasn’t aware but I went someway to explaining how I moved from a Pro-UK stance on Wales, and eventually on to #indyCONFIDENT (another Sandyism – Diolch). On the way I became #indyCURIOUS, and this was where things began to change for me.

I’d like to explain a little bit more about that journey, and why it’s important that we focus on developing more people into indycurious types rather than simply cajole and embolden those who already stand alongside us.

Firstly though, I want to recognise the role of the 6% (or 8%, or 10%, or whatever it really is) who have shouldered the burden of carrying the flame of independence thus far. They’ve been pilloried over the years, but haven’t lost the faith, despite the knocks. Often ridiculed, they knew this was a long game, and they’ve stuck with it. For that alone, they deserve a massive vote of thanks.

My personal journey to #indyCONFIDENT was pragmatic and considered. It was also, in the scheme of things, pretty quick. Unlike most on this side of the fence, I didn’t start from the ‘heart’ side of the argument. That doesn’t mean I’m not there now, but it wasn’t my starting point.

On Indycube‘s first sortie to the north, Mike Scott and I set off from Swansea, via Aberystwyth, and then onward to Caernarfon. Day 2 involved a trip along the coast – Bangor, Rhyl and briefly into Chester. Just after leaving Aber, Mike asked if I thought Wales was capable of being independent. I trotted out the well rehearsed answers – too small, too poor, too wedded to the England & Wales model that’s kept us for this long…. I believed my answers to be true. At the end of the day, that was the narrative that has been sub-consciously dripped into every Welsh resident for, well, ever!

His reply stuck with me.

He said “I’m really surprised. Whenever we talk about things, you rarely accept the old logic of others; you challenge it. Yet regarding an independent Wales, you’ve just accepted it.”

“If we accept their rules, then perhaps those things you say are true. But if you don’t, and Wales played by its own rules…..”

We didn’t talk about independence for a little while after that. But it got me thinking. I had become, unknowingly, #indyCURIOUS.

For a long time, I’ve been thinking & talking about a world that is changing dramatically around us. Most of the changes relate to the benefits of automation, artificial intelligence, and the ‘information-age’, but some also relate to a world that is beginning to realise that globalisation isn’t working for the vast majority of people. In fact, the world economic model has been set perversely against the forces of equality and in favour of ‘the 1%’; it’s been set against the natural world resources and in favour of the global corp; and here in Wales it’s been set against those who live in the majority of the Country, in favour of a few who live in the nicest parts of our cities.

I’d come to a point, where not only did I realise that’s just not right or fair; but to the point where I was actually going to do something to change things. I was convinced that the forces of change & chaos about to be unleashed across the world, represented an opportunity for us to build a better Wales. That a chance was emerging for us to redefine the rules by which we play ‘the game’. To change the rules, however, we need all the levers of power in our collective hands.

It was here, at this realisation, that I moved from #indyCURIOUS to #indyCONFIDENT.

The chance for change is here & now. Sadly, the opportunity to tighten the grip on resources to keep them in the hands of the few exists for those on the other side of the argument too. A battle for better awaits.

As things stand, despite the recent poll ratings, an independent Wales isn’t on a lot of minds of people living in Wales, and of those who have been asked whether they’d support the idea, or not, it still remains on the margins. Post Brexit polling did suggest an improvement in support for independence, but Roger Scully’s subsequent analysis is worth reading before planning our post Indy street festivals.

Those of us who find ourselves on the independence frontline, I think, need to find a different way of persuading others to sign up. We need people to be willing to be curious about an independent Wales. And that involves meaningful conversations. If you’re #indyCONFIDENT get your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours engaged. Just a bit, initially. Get them receptive. That’s all of our jobs.

Another job for all of us ‘in the choir’. We need to be confident in our assertions. The consistent narrative that we’ve succumbed to around being too small, too poor etc., are deeply embedded. The worst thing we can do is sit in a corner and bemoan this fact. We need to get out and state confidently that we believe in a better Wales; one that is governed solely by the people who live here, for the people who live here.

Next, we must create a narrative around independence that will make people’s lives better. This won’t be easy. There’s a significant body of evidence that Wales needs the cash resources of its ‘richer’ neighbour in order to exist. But that’s playing by the rules of somebody else’s game. Our rules needn’t be the same. We could, for example, decide that in Wales, we’re going to end inequality in our Country. In a world of effective (or more accurately, ineffective) abundance, this is doable. But there would be consequences. For example, if we led more fulfilling, happier lives would we care if we owned the latest iPhone7?

Finally, let’s try and avoid the anti-colonial narrative. Whilst I’ve moved to a position of understanding the impact of colonisation, we need to remember, if we are to win this battle that’s on our doorstep, we must bring the population with us. They will be turned off by anti-English sentiment. Ultimately, we surely want to live in peace and harmony with our nearest neighbours, we just don’t want to dance to their tune anymore.

The independence movement in Wales is at a sold ground zero, primarily down to the work done by all those who’ve kept the faith. It’s rare that the opportunity for change is so clearly presented, but we’ve got to remember this is a battle, which the other side is prepared to fight hard for.

Let’s start by helping people to engage their curiosity, like I did just past Aberystwyth a few years ago. Let’s create an #indyCURIOUS Wales.

Follow @YesCaerdydd on Twitter for updates & please do start using the hashtags #indyCURIOUS #indyCONFIDENT & #indyWales

I’ve joined Plaid Cymru – here’s why

Last Thursday evening, I joined Plaid Cymru. I’ve voted for them at my last two visits to the polling booth, and I explained why here and here. From the outside it seemed easy, and only cost me £2 per month. From the ‘inside’ however, this has been quite a convoluted struggle, as I tried to work out whether I was better placed to effect change outside of the political process, or from within. I even toyed with the idea of starting something up from scratch…. What I realised, is that I needed to ‘do’, and although my work with Indycube is clearly community-centric, for me, it wasn’t enough.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that Wales needs a different road map – we’ve slavishly followed the same plan as everyone else, and consistently failed to address the major issues that are relevant to us, here in Wales. Moreover, in lots of ways, using the plans of others has simply exacerbated some of our own problems – and yet political discourse in Wales is filled with managerialism and incrementalism. There are few radical alternatives being discussed, let alone put into action. For those who the current system benefits, I can understand a willingness to continue with the status quo – but for the vast swathes of Wales where it’s not working, this mustn’t be as good as it gets. The entire Welsh political agenda should be rebalanced to deliver better lives for all, not simply for an already well heeled minority. In simpler terms we need to beat inequality.

Alternative models are starting to emerge, and for once this is our time to lead. Not necessarily for others to follow, but for ourselves. To do so effectively, we need all the levers of power in our own hands. Our dependency as a Nation is what holds us back as a Country. It’s what holds back communities and what holds back individuals too. We need to break this damaging cycle, and the opportunity to do just that is here and now.

I’ve not been a fervent ‘Welsh Nat’ all my life. In fact, had you asked me five years ago, I’d probably have described myself as believing Wales is better off within the UK. I now think I was wrong. The main reason I’ve changed my mind, is seeing at close hand, how damaging policies focused (but rarely delivering) on growth alone are to our communities. I also see a global economy that is in the process of slowing to zero or perhaps no growth. Soon the rest of the world will need to get its head around how communities can act as the bond in troubled times. We get that here in Wales – all we need to do is believe in ourselves a little bit more.

I blame all the political parties in Wales for the position we currently find ourselves in. The Brexit referendum highlighted in sharp outline just how out of touch ‘do-good’ politicians and their allies were with disadvantaged communities. Ever since the heavy industries left those areas, politicians of all colours have promised they could make things better, and time and again they simply haven’t. The missing trick, I think is the need to let communities ‘have their head’ – we should seek out and support emergent activities from within communities – often things won’t work, but at least the locals will feel win, lose or draw, the result was down to them, and they own that result, together.

Plaid aren’t getting an easy member in me. I want to influence the Party, and I want to be part of a much changed Wales. I clearly see the need for a radical, progressive Wales, and one where the deeds match the rhetoric. I’ve no intention of swaying from this course, and will push the Party to really believe in Wales, and it’s people. Only then will we start to see a way forward that will collectively be ours to own. I want Plaid to be brave, and to take risks – after all I do wonder what’s to lose if they shy away from this challenge.

I’ve always been engaged in politics, and Plaid isn’t the first party I’ve joined. In the spirit of full disclosure, as a youthful 14 year old I stood and won as the Conservative candidate in our classroom mock election in 1983. More seriously, I was a member of the Lib Dems for a number of years, and stood for election for them in 2005 (Westminster) and 2007 (Assembly), and apart from a brief look at the Greens immediately after leaving the Lib Dems, I’ve remained engaged, but on a non-partisan basis since then. I’d consider my politics to be the result of a political and economic journey, and one I’m glad I’ve taken. I’m therefore no partisan politician – I believe the success of the Nation comes before the needs of the Party, and I’m not one for dogma.

So what does this mean for me? 

  • I’m going to continue to work on the development of an alternative economic model for Wales. I see Indycube as playing a role in that, but I also see the work having a wider reach too. A think/do tank approach seems most appropriate, perhaps not dis-similar to Common Weal in Scotland. This work will be independent of Plaid, and I’d hope the work influences others from differing parties and those outside of party politics.
  • I’m also going to apply to stand as a candidate for Plaid in the upcoming Vale of Glamorgan council elections. If selected, I intend standing in the ward where my family and I live; the Buttrills ward in the centre of Barry. I know how demanding it is to be a good local Councillor, and am up for the challenge and the election.
  • One thing, I’ll be continuing to do is to seek the views of others from around the Country in relation to ways we can improve the lives of all, not just the few. I’m constantly impressed by the ideas and vitality of people who live and work in Wales – I’m just disappointed as to how their opinions and projects are often suppressed by the established norms. Those who’ve been involved in shaping the thinking thus far, I hope will continue to support this work, irrespective of any Party allegiances.

I’ll continue to use this blog to consider concepts as they emerge in Wales. There’s already a few blogs here if you’d like to get a feel as to the ideas that interest me. I’d welcome feedback, and will always respond (to everything but abuse!).

To end, the other day this came through on Twitter, and it made me realise I had to do something. I feel it’s worth sharing. For day to day thoughts of mine, I’m quite active on Twitter as @markjhooper


Well I’ve done it, I’ve made my commitment…… 🙂

An EU Referendum Plea to my parents

I’ve just come back from a couple of days away talking to people about Indycube in North & Mid Wales. Apart from a welcome punctuation of a night watching football on Monday in the ‘most Welsh’ of towns, Caernarfon, all of the conversations have come back to tomorrow’s EU Referendum vote. People may not have wanted this vote, but with only one exception, everyone I spoke to was engaged, and will vote tomorrow. I met one undecided – I have my fingers crossed. Everyone else, was voting remain.

Last weekend, I popped in to see my Mum & Dad (with a bottle of Penderyn Welsh Whisky – it was Fathers’ Day after all). We spoke about the usual; Grandad’s hospital visits, their break in Torquay, and the EU Referendum. My parents are in the early 70s, read the Daily Mail, holiday fairly frequently, and are keen to spend a good chunk of their retirement time in Spain. I wouldn’t describe them as prejudiced – in fact they’re the exact opposite. But, their paper and their friends have got them considering voting to leave the EU tomorrow. To be honest, I was shocked. I tried to speak to them, and they said they’d think about it……

So, on the eve of the most important of elections, I’ve written to my Mum & Dad, and wanted to share it, just in case you are in the same position.

Dear Mum & Dad,

I rarely write to you, as you know – it’s not my thing! But this vote tomorrow is important. I think it’s important to Wales; I think it’s important to the UK; heck I’d go as far as to say it’s important for the whole world. That’s all well and good – and you’ve heard all those arguments rehearsed night after night on the television screens, and day after day in the newspapers. What you haven’t heard is why it’s important to me. I’ve tried to come up with the top 3 reasons why voting remain is so important to me….

1– the generation who’ll spend the most time living with this decision overwhelmingly want to stay. This isn’t because they’re significantly different to you, or I. It’s because they have grown up in a world where relationships can be formed as easily with someone from the other side of the world, as with someone from the next town. Their world is a smaller, more connected place. Rather than build walls and barriers (which leaving the EU will effectively do), our children, your grandchildren, given the chance would want to rip them down. I wrote about this a few weeks back, you may find it interesting?

2– I’m genuinely concerned by the people who’ll likely be running the Country post Brexit. Not only am I worried about the politicians, but I’m even more worried by the darker forces the leave narrative on immigration has unleashed. It’s now OK to talk about ‘them’ & ‘us’ in ways that I thought we’d stopped. Newspapers like the Daily Express and Daily Mail have fuelled this toxic atmosphere, and the murder of MP Jo Cox, is linked. When people are constantly told they’re under attack, is it any wonder a vulnerable person chooses to act on those fears? Prejudices commonplace in your day, prevalent when I grew up aren’t welcome today. It’s not easy combining cultures, I accept, but we’re all descendants of immigrants at one point or another, and we’ve surely got to try better than laying the blame for all our ills, at the feet of those ‘other’ people.

The overwhelming evidence is that immigration is good for our country. Economically, for sure – immigrants (both from the EU and outside) pay in more than they take out. Culturally, they add to our lives, and the more we all integrate together, the more likely we’ll understand that they care about their community, their town and their adopted country as much as we do. And they also contribute with their skills. They work in our hospitals, our public services, our businesses. Without them, the Country just wouldn’t run.

3– and finally, as someone who runs a small business, I’m dreadfully worried that a vote for leave tomorrow will be the catalyst for another economic downturn. Business is built on confidence. This confidence is already shaky at the prospect of leaving the EU. Just imagine the impact on the economy if we withdraw.

I don’t think it’s scaremongering to suggest that the economy would be thrown into turmoil if we vote out on Thursday. More, I think it’s highly likely the economy will derail if we do, and the business I run will be one of those that will suffer the consequences.

I know you think about your votes, and I also know that you realise it’s an important decision. Unfortunately, the Referendum doesn’t have a ‘wait and see’ option, or ‘please go back and negotiate some more, David’ option. It is binary. You’re either in or out. For all the reasons above, I’m afraid your friends are wrong, your newspaper is wrong and Boris and Nigel are wrong (& dangerous). Please listen to the views of your children and grandchildren.

Please think, before you put your cross in the box tomorrow.

Please Vote Remain,

With Love,

Mark

I’m voting Plaid Cymru on Thursday – here’s why…

The Welsh General Election – I’ve made my mind up – have you?

I’m voting Plaid Cymru this Thursday in Wales’ General Election, on both the constituency ballot (Vale of Glamorgan) and the regional list (South Wales Central (SWC)), and I wanted to say why. It’s the second time I’ve voted for Plaid; I went through my reasons for giving them my support a year ago at the UK General Election here, and also gave my thoughts on the aftermath here

A canvasser may be putting my name in the ‘Strong PC’ or ‘Solid PC’ tick box, given I’m now a ‘serial’ Plaid voter. As the old saying goes, ‘A swallow does not a summer make’, the same is true for me. I’m not a Plaid member and there were a number of parties who I was keen to look at this time round in addition to Plaid; the Lib Dems, Women’s Equality Party & the Greens. I was also interested to see what sort of programmes for government were put forward by Labour and the Tories – not that I was really considering voting for either; more in hope that they’d really make the case for a transformation in what Wales is, and does. 

The main thing I was looking for, was the absence of something! I didn’t want to hear the managerialism that has sucked the life out of politics. The ‘we can do better than you at running X’ or ‘we can save money, you’ve not been able to’. Even if I believed any of them, we’re entering a period of massive global change, (one day we may look back at the years 2016-2021 with a sense of amazement at all the changes that took hold in those years) and rearranging the Titanic’s deck chairs isn’t what Wales needs. Wales needs transformational change – the sort that transcends generations; the sort that enables communities to re-assert their confidence; the sort we haven’t heard from Welsh (or UK) politicians for ages. Instead we hear sanitised, media friendly, triangulated babble, that can mean one thing to one person, and the exact opposite to someone else. Because that’s how elections are won. How terribly sad, and complete bunkum. The Welsh public are craving vision and belief.

So why am I voting Plaid? Are they offering this vision? Did they come close to matching what I was hoping for when I wrote this blog nine months ago? Here’s my take on the offerings from the parties.

UKIP – I need to be upfront on this one; even if they’d promised everything I’d wanted, I would’ve found a way not to vote for UKIP. However much they deny it, their narrative is divisive and almost anti-Welsh. The manner of the parachuting in of candidates from outside of Wales in search of relatively easy electoral picking is evidence, that they really don’t care much for what goes on this side of Offa’s Dyke. I’ve been watching their attendance at hustings events over the course of the last few weeks, and for too many times for it to be a mistake, they’ve failed to turn up to put their case to the electorate. That shows contempt for the electoral process, the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh electorate. Fortunately, their manifesto is, with a few exceptions, written for an audience of those disillusioned by politics. It’s easy to see why they’re expecting to make inroads this time round, and the responsibility for that lies with all of the other parties.

Lib Dems – as a former member of the Lib Dems, I often find that I’m tougher on them than is perhaps fair. At last May’s UK General Election, I was concerned they had become a political irrelevance, despite an active and often positive contribution to the 2010-15 Coalition Government. I’ve been impressed by Kirsty Williams’ performance over the course of this campaign, to date, and their manifesto is competent and managerial. It was described in its forward as being part of a revolution. There’s some good stuff in there, but revolutionary it isn’t. I hope Brecon and Radnor’s electorate re-elect Kirsty, but I fear she’s going to be treading a lonely furrow in the new Assembly, as she may well be the only Lib Dem still standing on May 6th. 

Greens – the Green Party of England & Wales (yep, now there’s something they need to change before 2021!!) really have nothing to lose, and quite a bit to gain. They’re probably hoping for a breakthrough on the South Wales Central regional list, but seemed constrained by current norms. This is a shame – I like the Greens. But for them to really achieve anything in the short term in Cardiff Bay they need to be the voice of radicalism, and they’ve unfortunately failed to live up to that billing. Perhaps the tantalising opportunity to get a Welsh AM has neutered their revolutionary zeal. In the first Leaders’ Debate, Alice Hooker-Stroud, I thought did really well; the second one she was often drowned out by more experienced political players.

Women’s Equality Party
– here’s a thing – you don’t have to be a woman to be a member of, or vote for WEP. Surely everyone’s realises equality is good for everyone? Given indicators such as participation in public life, business and the media, it seems not. Equality has been paid lip service by the other Parties up to this point, and I for one (as a stepfather to 3 daughters), am grateful that they’ve appeared on the political scene to challenge the very unlevelled playing field. I fear their input will be needed for some time to come.

Conservatives & Labour – I’m going to lump these two together, not because their policies overlap significantly (or at all) or because I see them coming to some sort of political stitch up come May 6th. More because I think both parties have treated this election with complacency. Neither manifesto has any costings published, even top level stuff, but both say they have been fully costed. Prove it, I say. Given the parlous state of the Welsh economy, we should expect nothing less. Both manifestos were aimed directly at their own base. 

In the Tories case, they’ve obviously come to the conclusion that if they can bring out the self-same voters who drove them to victory a year ago, they’d be happy. And if they could do that, the likelihood is they’d grow their Assembly seats. This resulted in a very narrow set of proposals that pleased the troops (M4 Relief Road, speed limits raising, WDA 2.0, income tax reduction (but who knows when?)), but had very limited appeal beyond their core voters. But who cares, they don’t. If their base comes out, they’ll be a couple of more on their benches from May 6th, and that’s all that matters. Thing is, events have contrived to go against them, and I think they underestimated that Andrew RT Davies isn’t as well liked as they thought. 

And Labour’s uncosted manifesto was even worse. Despite there being some good ideas snuggled away in amongst some great photos, the plans for Wales lacked any detail. It read as if, we know we’ll be running the show after the election so why should we put too much effort into telling you what we’ll be doing? Utter contempt is how I think they’ve treated Wales with this plan – and that is reason enough to hope they get an absolute shoeing at the polls.

Plaid – first out of the blocks with their manifesto, and you get the sense that this had been some time in the planning. Again, there was a strong adjective associated with the plans. In Plaid’s case, the policies were described as transformational. There’s a lot to be applauded from Plaid – and whilst I’m not sure policies like reinventing the WDA are anything close to transformational, they’ve put together a suite of policies that are focused solely on doing the best for Wales. 

The other parties have been very critical of Plaid’s plans for the NHS, but anyone who thinks the current state of play is acceptable isn’t being honest with themselves. Given the health issues on our horizon (age profile, increasing number of people with cancer etc), I support a radical overhaul today, before the whole system breaks down.

Wales’ education system under-performs others badly, and continues to slip backwards. One key policy for me, is the incentive for Welsh students to come back and work in Wales, and we’ll pick up the fees they owe. Clearly this is a policy that focuses on Wales, and Wales alone. That’s exactly what I want the Welsh Assembly to do – make Wales a better country.

With the exception of the WDA 2.0 policy I’ve also been encouraged by the economic plans put forward by Plaid. One of the most overlooked could be the most important. At the moment it’s very difficult to understand just how well Wales is doing economically. With the introduction of Government Expenditure & Revenue reporting, we could start to see what works and what doesn’t. Simple stuff you’d think, but not if you’re from another party.

I’ve watched Leanne Wood’s performance closely over the campaign, as there are lots of rumours circulating of a coup d’état immediately post May 5th. I’d urge caution. Leanne has proven herself to be really likeable, and is considered trustworthy. Perhaps these aren’t criteria the UK media would consider important, but here in Wales, they are. The less scripted Leanne’s answers, the better I thought she did. Da iawn, Leanne!

So, they’ve not ticked all my boxes, but Plaid have shown they are the Party of Wales. They’re serious about their plan for the Country, and whether that plan is transformational or not, only time will tell – but at least the path they’re mapping out isn’t business as usual. For that, they’ve got my vote.

The Regional List ballot & using your vote to put the brakes on UKIP.

It looks likely that UKIP could get a fair few seats come the night of May 5th. They won’t win any constituency seats, but will pick up list or regional seats via the added proportionality of the D’Hondt electoral system. The system benefits those parties, such as UKIP, who get a large enough share of the vote, but under first past the post (FPTP) don’t win many/any constituency seats. Across Wales the regional lists have slightly different scenarios, and if you’re interested enough in keeping the number of UKIP members to a min, you’ll really have to do a bit of investigative work yourself, coupled with a bit of educated guesswork.

So, based on last week’s poll I’d suggest the following;

South Wales Central – this region all depends on how well the Tories do. If they win a FPTP seat (Cardiff North or the Vale of Glamorgan), then the fourth regional seat could be a close run thing between Plaid and UKIP. It could amount to a couple of hundred votes, so every vote would count. If the Tories win both their SWC targets, then both Plaid & the Greens would be chasing the 3rd and 4th seat, alongside UKIP. So the best bet in SWC to defeat the second ukipper would be to vote Plaid on the regional ballot. Given all Labour regional votes are effectively wasted (they get their allocation via FPTP), if they all voted Plaid with this vote, they could stop UKIP in SWC completely. A group of Labour supporting academics said the same on Friday.

In the SWC region I’ve been quite taken by the limited campaign run by the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), and they were close to getting my second vote, with the Greens slightly behind them. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to feel confident voting for either, whilst the spectre of UKIP hangs heavily over the region. Sincere apologies WEP!

The same is not the case for other regions. 
A cursory view would suggest that in South Wales West (SWW) & South Wales East (SWE) the most effective challenger to UKIP is Plaid. Again if a big enough chunk of Labour’s regional votes were ‘lent’ to Plaid, UKIP could lose out on both seats.

North – as it stands, this region has a number of difficult to predict constituency votes, but given the projected vote share for the three main parties is similar, this is looking as a straight fight for 4th spot (& therefore UKIP) between the 3 big parties. I’d encourage Plaid voters to keep their nerve here, and persuade their friends to add to their votes.

Mid & West – this is Plaid’s strongest region, and UKIP’s weakest, which somewhat counter intuitively makes this race to keep UKIP out here likely to be between everyone other than Plaid. If the Lib Dem resurgence proves to be true, this is one region where a regional vote for them may well mean no ukippers are returned for the region.

These regional predictions are notoriously difficult to get right, which is why I’d encourage you to do your own guesswork. UKIP having any sort of power base in the Senedd post May 5th is something worth stopping, if we can.

Whose future are we voting for on June 23rd?

On June 23rd the UK will express its collective opinion on arguably, the question of the generation: Should we stay in the European Union or should we get out. Most people in the Country have never been asked this question before, and a large group of people have known nothing other than being part of the European club – I’m wondering whether to include myself in this, as I was 3 years old when we joined.
One group unable to express their opinion on EU Referendum Day will be those under 18. This blog isn’t intended as a place to consider the merits, or otherwise of lowering the voting age (something I’m very supportive of however). My concern rests with those of us, who are able to vote, and whether we take into account the views of our children before entering the polling place.

So I asked my two youngest step-daughters (14 and 16 yo) what they thought. Once we got through the ‘it’s boring’ & encouraged them to lift their heads from YouTube for 5 mins, their views were interesting. This is what they said:

“Europe is cool” – Barry isn’t a cosmopolitan place really, but both girls, mainly through social media channels, are very aware of the world beyond our shores. They find it interesting. They absorb the cultural diversity in a way, our generation just couldn’t. The ‘coolness’ they refer to relates to the differences they find between cultures – they want that world to be accessible to them, not in any way closed off. Europe is their gateway to the rest of the world.

Immigration – like most of us, they saw the tragic image of Aylan Kurdi being washed up on a Turkish holiday beach at the start of last summer. They saw it before we did – but neither brought it to our attention. When we spoke about it at the time, the eldest of the two asked if we could provide a home for refugees. She was earnest in her question, despite the fact that we struggle to fit ourselves into our house. They don’t see this refugee crisis as anything other than a humanitarian issue. They hate the way there press demonise refugees; they don’t accept (believe) the unhealthy links being made between terrorists and refugees; and they’re pretty accepting of those seeking a better life for their family and themselves via migration. They’re not scared – they’re disappointed that the previous generation (that’ll be us) have done such a poor job in allowing the problems that cause migration to exist in the first place (wars, inequality & famines).

Nationalism – we’ve all got our own passports. But neither the Great Britain part of it, or the purple EU cover mean anything to them. Unlike previous generations, their nationalism does not define them. Seeing the likes of Nigel Farage or even Boris extolling the virtues of a perfect, picket-fenced, St Marymead (Miss Marple lives here!) utopian dreamworld means absolutely nothing to them, and if anything, is associated with the more unpleasant side of nationalism that UKIP are trying to keep well out of sight. It’s an anathema. Most people of my generation know that time never existed, but for the girls, they couldn’t care less if it ever did.

Freedom & Safety – one thing schools do, is have a lesson called History. In years 7, 8 & 9 for the past few years, the girls have covered the 2nd World War. So when they reminded me that’s it’s surely better to be close friends to your closest neighbours, than enemies, and that in itself ensures that the world is a safer place, one of the key reasons we’re ‘in’ became apparent. The European Union was established in the aftermath of that war – lest we forget, eh?

In the final, direct question, I asked how would they vote if asked to remain or leave the EU. There wasn’t any extra thinking time needed. Both were unequivocal – both would, if they could, vote to remain a member of the European Union.

Whatever your personal persuasion on this most vexed of subjects, it is worth remembering that the decision you take in June, will have a greater impact on those members of your family who won’t have a say in this vote, than yourself. Try not to pre-judge what they are thinking – there’s a good chance, like my step-daughters, their opinions will be reasonably well formed, and well informed too. So before you vote, canvass their opinions – my hunch is, they’ll be much more likely to want to be part of the European Union than not. Whether you heed their message, is then up to you….

Indycube New Year’s Day blog

You’ll find this post over on Indycube.cymru too

On St David’s Day this year indycube will celebrate its sixth birthday. For anyone who has set up in business, they’ll tell you that just getting to six is a major achievement. I agree – it’s been hard work, but I’m not complaining – I’ve never enjoyed work so much. As many people know, my job basically involves chatting to people over a coffee, or if I’m really lucky a beer or two. Not bad, eh? Even better, I get to have these conversations throughout Wales. Over the past six years, I feel like I’ve become more Welsh – in my outlook, my motivation and my passion. I’ve come to understand what ‘Hiraeth’ means. It may have taken me 40 odd years to ‘get it’, for sure, but it’s definitely been a journey worth making.

As we turn the corner into 2016 we have over 25 spaces in our network, with a further handful agreed to open before the end of February, and we are represented throughout the entire length and breadth of Wales. I’m really pleased with what we’ve achieved, but I want indycube to do more, and we need help to do that.

Our focus hasn’t changed since the day we opened at Culverhouse Cross – we want to change the way Wales does business. We’re not happy, that for too long Wales has languished at the bottom of economic league tables, and we’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the lack of trust shown in our own capacity to build a more prosperous Country. What’s happened is that most of us have become used to seeing Wales’ economic policy being skewed by certain interest groups, whether they be international mega-businesses taking grants for creating poorly paid jobs; those moneyed or society types whose voices can have an undue influence on Ministerial ears; or the same old consultants peddling business support, that, given Wales’ GVA performance, evidentially has never worked (doesn’t stop them being paid, mind). Even more concerning is that we’ve collectively abdicated our responsibility to change things ourselves; we expect politicians and civil servants to have the answers. I think it’s fair to say, they don’t, so frankly it’s over to us, all of us.

It became apparent that the only way we were going to achieve our aim, was to encourage our users to do what they do best – run their businesses, but to do it from within their own communities. That doesn’t mean encouraging freelancers and micro-businesses to travel miles to one of our spaces; quite the contrary, we’re bringing spaces where you can work alongside others, to every part of the Country. At the same time, we’re seeing the strength of our network grow, as associates link up between spaces – it’s actually what we’re good at in Wales – real, uncontrived, PRollocks-free networking. We’re a people-centric Country, and trying to be something we’re not, is, at best, a waste of time, energy & money. At worst it represents a huge lost opportunity.

So today – as we prepare to enter a new year, I wanted to take the opportunity to do a few things that I don’t do enough. Say thanks, update you on our plans and, as I’ve alluded to, ask for some help.

Thanks

Firstly, a big thanks to everyone who has ever used Indycube. We’ve had well in excess of 1,500 people through our various doors over the years, and I hope, for however long they stayed, the experience was worthwhile. Many have stayed with us for a long time now, and have become our strongest advocates. I’m hugely grateful for their support and patronage. There’s also a long list of individuals who’ve been remarkably influential in our progress – they’ve challenged, cajoled & questioned me over the past few years, and I’ve done my level best to listen. You all know who you are 🙂

Secondly, I wanted to tell you a bit about our future plans. There’s quite a lot going on in the coming few months, so read on….

We’re giving Indycube away

Most of you will be aware we’re a social enterprise – a Community Interest Company, limited by shares. This has been the perfect corporate vehicle for us to come this far – it’s light touch, the company needed to be able to push on without being held back by too much intervention. I know we wouldn’t have got to half the places we have, had I needed ‘Board’ approval every step of the way. However, Indycube was always ‘owned by the community’, but in legal terms was being held by myself, Tristan Phillips & Kev Moss (our first two, and continuing associates).

We now think the time is right to pass the ownership fully on to the community. On the 23rd December we ‘pushed the button’ to start the process of mutualising Indycube, and on our sixth anniversary, St David’s Day 2016, we’ll convert (subject to regulator approvals etc) from a Community Interest Company (CIC) owned by Kev, Tristan and myself, to a Community Benefit Society (CommBen) owned equally by the members.

From March 1st, if you either live, work or have an association in Wales, you can become a member of Indycube, and be part of our future. You’ll take an equal right in the decisions of the company; electing the Board, agreeing strategic plans & helping the emergent network grow. We want anyone who wants to, to be able to join, so we’ve set the membership levy at only £1 per month. You don’t have to be a user (although they’ll be very welcome) to join. Essentially, if you agree that the status quo just isn’t delivering for Wales, come and be part of something that, with your input, might just work.

For those business anoraks amongst you, the business model we’ve chosen is a type of co-operative. We’ll become a Community Benefit Society, and will therefore be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). We’ve chosen the cooperative route for a romantic reason too – the founder of the cooperative movement, Robert Owen was born in Wales (Newtown) and for many years cooperative organisations were the lifeblood of communities across Wales. We’re keen to replicate the same with our mutualisation.

Price Increases

From March 1st, one thing we’ll be doing is changing our pricing structure. In general our prices will rise, and we’ll be introducing a completely new pricing option (half-timers). Our website will display the new prices, alongside the current ones, so everyone will be aware of what’s happening. 

This is the first time we’ve raised our prices since we started up (it works out at the equivalent of a 3% rise per year), and although we’ve done this reluctantly, it’s important that we ensure the prices paid by our associates matches the costs we expend in order to run the network. I’d hope we can maintain these new prices for the next six years. That’s the plan! But more importantly, this is the last time we’ll take this decision alone – next time this will be agreed upon by the members.

During February, we’ll be working with our current associates to change them over to the new prices. We hope all our associates will understand, and recognise that with desk day prices from marginally over £5 per day, and never exceeding £12 a day, we really do offer exceptional value. More than that we offer the chance to work alongside others and let serendipity do the rest.

The new prices effective from March 1st 2016 are set out here (all attract VAT, currently at 20%):

  • Pay-As-You-Go – our most flexible option will be £12 per day.
  • Part-Time Associate* – £60 per month for 5 days.
  • Half-Time Associate* – £100 per month. 10 days a month working out at £10 per day.
  • Full-Time Associate* – £180 per month. Your own desk, as and when you need it. This averages out at £8 per day.
  • Company rates – teams of between 4 & 8 Full-Timers can take advantage of these special rates – 4-6 desks – £720, 7 desks – £820 & 8 desks – £920. These prices gives an average desk day price of between £5 & £8.
  • Registered Office only – one business registered office is available to Part, Half and Full timers. All subsequent businesses registered will cost £240 pa. Anyone who just needs a registered office can choose this facility on a stand-alone basis for £240 pa.
  • Meeting Room – meeting room hire over 2 hours (which is included in all rates), stays the same and is chargeable at £35 (1/2 day) and £70 (full day).

The Plan for 2016

We want to continue to grow the network, such that freelancers and micro businesses can access like minded people to work alongside, within, at worst, a short drive from home. That doesn’t mean all the spaces need to be 3,000 sq ft offices – far from it, you’ll start to see indycube spaces in smaller locations with maybe 5 or 6 deskspaces in them. We’re planning to find larger spaces that can act as a hub to these smaller satellites.

This continued and accelerated growth will mean we need a few more people to join the team over the next year, but we’re going to be doing that from within our own (still limited) resources – we’ve never believed what we do should be supported from the public purse, particularly when other priorities are so pressing. Many others disagree with this view – could it be, that more often than not, they are beneficiaries of said public sector largesse? Keep an eye out for job opportunities as they arise – I promise they’ll be challenging and rewarding.

Indycube Ventures will continue to support high growth potential businesses to develop, and that opportunity will expand as indycube moves into parts of Wales we’ve not reached before. We’ve already started conversations with those who can help develop the support provided, and we’ll be moving ahead with those in the early part of the year.

And finally…..

I hope you join us (and/or stay with us) on the next leg of our collective journey. I genuinely want to cede control of indycube to a team I’d like to join. We’ve worked hard to get the organisation to the position that it can deliver for Wales, but now we need to realise that ambition – and for that we need you. 

I’m free to chat through anything I’ve written above; the price changes, the mechanics of becoming a member of the new indycube Community Benefit Society when it goes live, or even your interest in jobs that currently don’t exist. If you don’t have my number, best bet is to get in touch via Twitter @markjhooper

Thanks for reading this – Here’s to a wonderful and happy New Year. 

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i Bawb!

Mark

#War #NotInMyName

This post that a friend sent me sums things up perfectly. Whoever the teacher is, thanks. Whoever the 13yo is, now that’s an analogy 

 As a teacher I would like to pass on the following wisdom from an 13year old who I teach-“Is the Prime Minister an idiot? Because even I know that when someone hits your friend with a stick, you don’t hit everyone in the playground with a stick. You take the stick away. And you find out who gave them the stick in the first place. And you find out where he got the stick. And clear up the sticks so nobody else can be tempted. Everyone gets angry. But if they don’t have a stick then their anger isn’t as dangerous.”

I congratulated her on her wisdom.

“Sir. It isn’t wisdom. It’s obvious. If I gave someone a stick to hit someone with id be expelled. And imagine how much trouble id get in if I SOLD them the stick!!”

Barry Town United v Aberdare Town – a real football match for the community.

I’m an ex Cardiff City fan, who spent most of my formative years watching the Bluebirds home and away – a devotee of the Church of Ninian Park. My first match was in the 75/76 season, and I went with my uncle and my grandad, and stood on the Bob Bank. They stood alongside their mates, who debated the bad decisions, castigated the lazy player, and jumped high in the air when we occasionally scored. I can’t for the life of me remember who we were playing in that first game, and I’m sure I was more fascinated by the various chants and songs that reverberated around the rusty ground. The smells we’re all OXO, cigarette smoke, stale beery blokes, and the odd whiff of piss. Despite all that, the 6 year old boy from Barry was hooked. For the next 38 years, variously as a season ticket holder or not, I was never far away from the footy. More accurately I was never far away from Cardiff City – I had no second team, unlike most of my friends – just Cardiff. In all those 38 years we lurched from poor, to reasonable, but mostly we were a second tier team, but I really didn’t care. I was a committed ‘City ’til I die’ kinda guy.

Then the ‘football finance revolution’ started to kick in, and my passion for the game ebbed. I kept my season tickets going, but felt less and less like going. I tried to do something about it – I helped establish Cardiff City Supporters’ Trust, but increasingly my heart wasn’t in it. City’s first season in the top flight in my lifetime proved to be the beginning of the end of my relationship with the Bluebirds, and last season I found myself giving my tickets away to friends rather than going myself. The final straw came when I was a guest of a friend watching Gloucester City play Worcester City (a local derby). Gloucester play at Cheltenham Town’s ground at the moment, but I found everything about the match more enjoyable than my visits to the Cardiff City Stadium – the atmosphere, the banter, the amount of families in attendance, and the affinity between the players and the fans – the fans’ favourite was also a local secondary school teacher.

My long marriage to Cardiff City AFC had ended – there wasn’t anyone else involved; I’d stopped loving them…. They weren’t the team I knew at the start – they’d lost their soul.

Modern football had lost its soul – when family members took their youngsters to the game; when players came from local schools to represent their boyhood team; when dodgy burnt burgers were the best fare on offer; and when Cardiff City were more interested in their supporters from Canton, Llanerdyn, Merthyr & Barry, rather than those from Malaysia or elsewhere.

Yesterday, I watched Barry Town United take on Aberdare Town in the second round of the Welsh Cup. I met Barry’s real ‘Gavin’, Hammers supporting Andy Green for a couple of pints up the Tynny (Tynewydd Inn) beforehand. Both of us chatted through our first experiences of watching Barry. Mine was just prior to my inaugural visit to Ninian Park, and I remember getting Jimmy Andrews’ autograph – the Cardiff City manager of the time was scouting for talent in Barry. My last visit to watch Barry Town was probably the first round proper of the FA Cup when they played Reading at Jenner Park. That was an age ago – I was still in school.

This match against Aberdare Town in the Welsh Cup was Barry’s first back at their home, Jenner Park, since the installation of the 3G pitch, and a bumper crowd of 446 turned up to watch. Given we’d met for a drink beforehand, we hustled in at one min to two, and paid the turnstile man (who’d sold out of programmes) a fiver each. Here’s the first thing I noticed….

People knew each other – Andy chatted to about twenty people before we got to our seats. One of them, Terry is Barry Town’s bugler. Not only that, he sold the raffle tickets, and I even spotted him offering Damon Searle a reviving sweet when he came off towards the end of the match (to be fair, Damon had put in a shift, and looked like he needed a mars bar!)

 Next thing – Kids were everywhere – some even in their Halloween costumes. They weren’t all watching the game; some of them seemed to be playing their own games of tag, rather than watch the match unfolding in the sunshine. Families were there supporting the local team. People were friendly, and there was more singing than I heard at the Cardiff City Stadium last time I went.

It wasn’t all about the game on the pitch was my next observation – there was a parade of affiliated football teams, girls (kitted out in Argentina-esque strips), boys and the disabled team at half time, and they seemed to lap up the applause as they walked around the running track. When I popped to the clubhouse for my OXO, a coffee for Andy & a couple of Kit-Kat Chunky bars (oh yes!), the team behind the counter were excellent, and I could pay for the cuppas & snacks from coins in my pocket rather than needing to take out a second mortgage as often seemed the case at Cardiff City.

 Then to the game itself. Barry Town United may have a relatively short history, but Barry has a rich footballing heritage stretching back over 100 years. Jenner Park has seen the likes of Porto, Aberdeen & Reading visit amongst others. But yesterday a record was broken. It was the first time a Barry Town player scored five goals at Jenner Park in its history. Barry’s No. 9 James Dixon, a worthy man of the match winner was given the honour of being substituted just before the end so he could enjoy the standing ovation from the fans. Well done to the manager, Gavin Chesterfield for this well deserved accolade.

Nine goals in any game represents great value for my fiver, but the whole match was of a pretty decent quality too. I’m not sure Aberdare were five goals worse than Barry – sure the better team won, but they were worthy opponents, unlucky to be playing against a team, whose centre forward seemed to be able to score at will. The pitch performed well, with 3G pellets rising from every bouncing ball or scraping of studs.

As we were buying our raffles tickets from Terry at the final whistle, Andy asked what makes fans stick to clubs. For me, I was taken in by the sense of community spirit from all involved – from the hard working club secretary, David Cole who was the best dressed steward at the game, the team on the pitch, the ladies selling the Kit-Kats, the programme editor, to Terry the bugler/raffle ticket salesman/sweet giver outer. Being part of a community is what I once felt at Cardiff City, but no longer.

You’ve got me Barry Town United at the first attempt – if I can help in any way, just ask (I can’t bugle, mind!)