I’m voting for Leanne Wood. Here’s why you should too…

I’d intended on simply voting quietly and privately in this leadership election. I’d told my friends how I intended to vote, and why. But I didn’t envisage sharing my thoughts more widely.

But as the ballot papers drop tomorrow, what’s become clear is that we’ve not really been addressing the real issues. The vacuum has been filled, for sure. Filled with the soundbites politics we’ve all become used to; pushing personality over beliefs; concepts (some of which are good) touted as policies; triangulating messages; managerialism etc. The type of PRollocks-ridden politics that has led more and more people away from trusting politicians.

The thing is, this is the easy way. This is how politics is done. Done by professional politicians to a population who are fast giving up on politics as an answer to their problems. The result of politics like this is a fast-track to the far right. Why? Because unless we do something to change outcomes for those living precarious lives, or those whose lives have dropped into real poverty, they will end up choosing the strongmen who use politics to blame others. Others are so easy to find aren’t they? Remember which politician has consistently stood up for those ‘others’. Yup, Leanne.

Meanwhile, in the real world of everyday Wales, we have multiple crises at play. We are fast approaching 40% child poverty; we pay millions to sports car manufacturers owned by the richest people in the world to make cars nobody in Wales will ever afford; and we pay public funds into the coffers on the super-rich on the promise of economic growth. And we also have the very real impact of Brexit on our doorstep. Brexit was, in my opinion, a massive two-fingers to a system that’s failed too many.

We can spend (& waste) energy blaming Westminster, Welsh Labour, Nigel Farage, the EU…., all of the above. We can even spend our energy trying to reverse the decision. In, and of, themselves important. But until we address the reasons why, we’re simply storing up these concerns for the next opportunity, to stick it to ‘the man’. Brexit doesn’t just need fighting; it needs addressing.

Economy – Over the past decade (unlike all the candidates, and most of their advisors) I’ve worked across communities in Wales, supporting lots of different people with their own small and micro businesses. In that time, I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve learnt that this group really matter in Wales. They matter in communities up and down the Country. They don’t just provide financial wealth; they provide social wealth too. I’ve learnt that many of these business owners have been waiting on the promise of politicians since devolution, and all they’ve seen is a failure to deliver, apart from for a select few. They’re fed up seeing promises of the next economic nirvana resulting in nothing.

I’m clear on a number of issues. Firstly, the concept of trickle-down economics is a fallacy, which blows the idea of a big transformative project out of the water. When the state uses scarce resources to fund say, a call centre whose owners are based in India, the profits that operation make don’t stay in Cardiff; they jump over the Severn Bridge, get on a plane at Heathrow and head to Mumbai. Trickle-down is actually a cover for more extractivism that Wales has been subjected to for centuries. Only now it’s not coal and steel, it’s financial returns (oh, and water!).

Secondly, we need to start to address a world with much less work. Until politicians begin thinking properly about the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on the world of work, we will forever be stuck in a rut of economic dependency. Hardly addressed by any of the candidates.

Finally, and most importantly, the economy must mean something. Even if all the grandest of ideas come off, if we don’t solve the pressing social issues of our time, inequality, poverty and climate change, what is the point? It’s important for the societal construct to come before the financial. It does with Leanne.

Leadership – There have been some very personal criticisms of Leanne’s leadership style over the course of this campaign. Whether they’ve been orchestrated or not, isn’t important. What is important is creating some balance within all this negativity. Plaid’s leadership, especially at the Assembly seemed to me to have been a joint endeavour, especially amongst the three standing for Leader. The manifestos were joint endeavours, and if they failed to set the world alight, I’d suggest that failure should be collectively owned.

Outside of the politically active bubble, Leanne consistently polls well, and above the competition (internal and external). In my personal experience she has a unrivalled ability to get a message across to the general public. She is liked. In the shrill world of cut’n’thrust, bloke-centric, politics, being liked is too often overlooked as a strong political characteristic. Just think about it; do you give more time to those you like, or those you don’t? The electorate are the same. If the message didn’t quite work, perhaps it isn’t the messenger who should get all the blame?

Independence – As some will know, I’m a newcomer to the cause of Welsh independence. I’ve said before, I’m one of the increasing number who struggle to see an answer to Wales’ problems via the status quo. In fact, I do think the status quo is damaging to Wales (for the record, I think the same is true of much of England, Scotland and the north of Ireland). I think those who share my concerns over ways we’re likely to address the issues of inequality and poverty, are also persuadable to the cause of Welsh independence. They’re less enamoured by the (valid though they are) cultural arguments. The civic and cultural arguments for independence need to be brought together.

But one thing concerns me, and it relates to our own personal dependence. If Wales is to truly be independent, it needs to be able to remove its dependence on single transformational events, messianic individuals, and especially the tired old ideas from outside. Our answers lie within. Within our towns and villages, our communities and our individuals. It’s always easiest to fall back on traditional economic thinking; mimicking the global, unequal world of market efficiency and financialisation. The problem with this – it just doesn’t work, and it won’t work for Wales.

If anything, repeating more of the same old mistakes will likely push people away from the independence movement, in the same way Brexit prevailed. If we want to build a better Wales, it needs to be less about owning the next iPhone, however beguiling, and more about reducing inequality and ending poverty. That won’t be solved by markets, growth & trickle-down redistribution. It will be solved by being radical. Upholding and supporting social capital, and especially when there is a direct choice between that and financial capital. Only one of the contenders gets that; Leanne.

Alliances & Electoral Success – My concerns about the situation Wales is in helps me to be a pragmatist. Why? Because, I think we’re in deep trouble. I don’t agree with any of the candidates that we need a Plaid Government to deliver independence. We firstly need to understand how damaging the current political system is to Wales’ communities. We then need to lead a consensus of those who want to change that system – the only way to do this is with ALL the levers of power in our hands. That can’t be anything other than independence. If members of other parties buy into this vision of a different economic system in Wales, then that is sufficient for me to want to work with them.

This also brings me to the issue of electoral success. Some are expecting a change of leader to radically change the Party’s electoral fortunes. I think that is pie-in-the-sky thinking. If Plaid is serious about electoral success in the medium term, it must become a radical force; it must deliver on ‘The Change Wales Needs’; Leanne’s pamphlet.

Voting for Leanne – So I’m voting for Leanne as my first and only choice. I won’t be using my second vote. Does this mean I’m failing to participate fully in this democratic process? I’d argue not.

Rhun has yet to set out anything of substance, policy-wise. He’s talked about being a great communicator, but I wanted to know more about his politics, and that really hasn’t got out. The race is almost run, and I think he’s left it too late.

I’ve spoken with Adam during the campaign about some of his ideas. He has said he’s not prepared to give up on the big transformative projects, and his focus is clearly on ‘the economy’. This is standard fare for mainstream politicians – after all, wasn’t it Bill Clinton who famously said ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’, and you can’t get more mainstream than Bill, can you? But the economy is a social construct. The economy as it currently operates is there to make rich people richer – it creates inequality. It also destroys our ecology.

I want our economy to do more. I want it to be set to give prominence to ensuring no child starts their days in poverty in one of the richest economies in the world. That’s the language I wanted to hear, and I’ve not heard it from him.

That doesn’t mean I don’t respect both Rhun and Adam for standing. Nor does it mean, that the policy debates that they’ve raised (or plan to) aren’t worthy of serious debate. Nor does it mean, I disagree with all they’re saying. Far from it, and given we’re all members of the same party, I’d be shocked if I did disagree entirely.

However, on the substantive questions of diagnosing Wales’ current position and setting a clear political vision, there are differences, and they are significant.

An economy that is full of publicly supported companies like Aston Martin, Airbus, Ford and all the others, but fails to address inequality and poverty, isn’t an economy; it’s a con. An economy that funds billionaires over those on the edge of precarity, isn’t an economy; it’s a con. An economy that provides tax cuts to rival the lowest around to attract the entrepreneurial class and global corporations who have no foundation, isn’t an economy; it’s a con. And finally, an economy that ends up looking anything like the unequal U.K., with an overheating core and a dependent hinterland, isn’t an economy; it’s a massive con.

I didn’t want to write this blog, but I felt I needed to. If, like me, you have a vote in this leadership election, and if like me you are committed to Wales being a fairer, more inclusive country; a country where no child starts their life (and undoubtedly ends it too) in poverty, then the only way to vote is with Leanne Wood.

No politician is perfect. They’re just like the rest of us. To expect otherwise is plain daft. And to suggest otherwise, of others, is equally daft. But what I’m sure of, the desperate straits we find ourselves in doesn’t call for a mainstream leader. We need someone who’ll fight to realign our economy to better suit everyone; not try to make a bad system grow.

At the end of the day, I believe the system isn’t working for Wales, and we must change things, now. Don’t expect radical, socialist policies from anyone other than Leanne, because it just isn’t going to happen. They’ve told you they’re going the way of markets and capital. It’s crystal clear.

If you want radical, vote for the only radical on the ticket. Leanne Wood.

NB – I’ve written this in a personal capacity. I’ve not sought Leanne’s permission, or approval. She hasn’t sought to approve or censure my blog, and had she asked, I wouldn’t have obliged. The first time Leanne reads this, will be the first time you could’ve read it.
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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

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