Monday, 26 November 2012

Scottish radical independence convention

This declaration was read out at the Radical Independence Conference by Pat Kane (ex-Hue and Cry). It attracted more than 800 people over the weekend:


We call for independence for the Scottish people.

No responsibility more defines a generation than its responsibility to leave a legacy of hope and possibility. Our generation has a historical opportunity to leave such a legacy. It is for us to choose not a government but a future.

We are offered two. One warns us not to risk the attempt to be a better society, one asks us to hope we can be.

Britain is the fourth most unequal country in the developed world. It has become two nations, one for the rich and one for the rest. The campaign against independence does not invite us into its Britain of wealth and privilege. It expects us to endure our Britain of austerity and exploitation.

They want us to vote No to independence because they want us to vote Yes to inequality, Yes to poverty, Yes to corporate greed. They want us to know our place, not to get ideas above our station. They do not even offer to try to be better.

They are satisfied with this Divided Kingdom. We are not. They believe their first duty is to protect wealth. We disagree. A country that believes there are things more important than the fate of its people has failed.

We believe the success of a country comes from the hard work and commitment of all. We believe that a good country is one in which all share fairly the success of good times and all share fairly the burdens of bad times. We believe that the people who run a country should reflect and represent the people of that country. We believe Scotland belongs to us all and that neither this land nor its people should be exploited only for the profit of a few.

This is what the people of Scotland believe too. At election after election Scots have used the ballot box as a loudhailer to ask for a better country. But at every turn the path from here to that better country has been blocked by the alliance of wealthy people who run British for their own benefit. The more Scots have voted for justice the less just Britain has become. Instead we have corrupt wars, a corrupt media, corrupt bankers, corrupt corporations, corrupt politicians.

But a path to a better Scotland is open once more, one that does not require us to ask the permission of those who do not want us to reach our destination. In an independent Scotland the only thing holding us back will be ourselves.

This is not a campaign for independence but a campaign for a better Scotland which we believe can only begin with independence. We are tired of complaining about Britain. It is time to talk about what Scotland can be.

Scotland can be a participative democracy. Where no-one's view is worth more because they have money. Where financial interests don't drown out the voices of the people. Where decision-making belongs to the many and not just an elite. Where communities are not told what they will be given but decide what they need. Where our institutions are reformed to include the people in their governance. Where the media is balanced, education creates active citizens and information is free to all.
Scotland can be a society of equality. Where poverty is not accepted. Where pay gaps are small and poverty wages are ended. Where tax redistributes wealth. Where no human attribute is a justification for discrimination and prejudice. Where human rights are universal.
Scotland can be a just economy. Where profit never justifies damaging people and the environment. Where essential industries are owned by all and not exploited by the few. Where workers have the right to fair treatment and to defend themselves. Where industrial democracy makes better businesses. Where investment is for development, not for speculation.
Scotland can be a great welfare state. Where the social contract is not between the state and the people but between the people themselves. Where from cradle to grave society cares for all regardless. Where delivering more and better social services is the national priority, not austerity. Where the government of the people is never used to create private wealth.
Scotland can be a good neighbour. Where we seek to work with nations around the world to resolve global inequality, climate change and conflict. Where we never join international alliances for exploitation and war. Where we work to reform and democratise multinational institutions. Where we see our deeds, our national culture and our values as a message of hope.
Scotland can be a moral nation. Where mutuality, cooperation and fellowship define our relationships. Where we are good stewards of our country and hand it on to the next generation in a better state than we inherit it. Where our values are not dominated by greed, selfishness and disregard for others but by patience, generosity, creativity, peacefulness and a determination to be better.

This is a Scotland which British politics has robbed from the Scottish people. We want it back.

Our future is unknown. Good. Only in uncertainty can hope and possibility prosper. We choose the chance to fight for a better Scotland; we reject the offer to endure more of the same indefinitely.

We are socialists, feminists, trade unionists, greens. We are from the peace movement, from anti-poverty campaigns, from anti-racists groups. We are community activists, civil liberty campaigners, the equalities movement and more.

We are also creatives, artists, entrepreneurs and innovators who put our enterprise at the service of society, and use markets, audiences and our skills pragmatically to that end!

We are the Radical Independence Campaign, the start of a movement to win back Scotland for its people, to offer them the country they deserve.

A previous generation, in 1979, had a chance to offer a legacy of hope and possibility to the next generation. They failed, Thatcher took power, Scotland suffered.

We cannot afford to fail this time. Scotland cannot afford us to fail.

It is time for our generation to reject fear and choose hope. Our hope begins with independence. For the sake of the Scottish people

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Adverse Consequences of Debt.

The Fraser of Allander Institute have recently published a study into the economic benefit of the Citizens Advice Service in Scotland:
The report outlines that the Citizens Advice Service contribute a total benefit to the common good in Scotland of £166.2 million. This a massive return on the investment of around £21 million which is currently spent on running the service across Scotland. The contribution to the common good includes:
  • Client financial income of £63 million which leads to a further £27.4 million in wages and 1,246 jobs supported by this income
  • Savings to the taxpayer of £42.7 million (£14.5m in health care costs, £12.9m in JSA savings, and £15.3m in homlessness prevention)
  • Contribution to economic growth of £19.5m (as a result of clients not losing their job and remaining in productive employment)
  • Employment and wages supported by CAS/CAB as employers and purchasers of services and goods which support a total of 1,092 jobs and £13.6m wages in Scotland
The £63m figure in income is gained direct for clients and is therefore income that will be going directly into the pockets and purses of people across Scotland who then spend that money in their local communities on goods and services.
What struck me when reading this report was the % of clients to Citizens Advice who experienced the following adverse consequences as a result of having a debt problem

  • Physical Ill-health                  6.1%
  • Stress Related Illness            29.6%
  • Relationship Breakdown       3.8%
  • Personal Violence                 0.4%
  • Property Damage                 1.2%
  • Had to move house               0.4%
  • Loss of Employment              0.4%
  • Loss of income                      11.6%
  • Loss of confidence                 13.4%
That is a lot of lives which could be a lot more productive if they didn't have an unmanageable debt burden hanging round their necks.

The Rolling Jubilee.

The Rolling Jubilee is yet another innovative project from the Occupy Wall Street movement and it aims to buy up 'toxic debt' (or debt that hasn't a hope of being repaid) and cancelling the same. Most toxic debt can be bought for pennies in the pound as the Rolling Jubilee project found:
Individuals or companies can buy distressed debt from lenders at knock-down prices if it the borrower is in default or behind with payments and are then free to do with it as they see fit, including cancelling it free of charge.

As a test run the group spent $500 on distressed debt, buying $14,000 worth of outstanding loans and pardoning the debtors. They are now looking to expand their experiment nationwide and are asking people to donate money to the cause.
This shows that  £1 can buy 28 times that amount of toxic debt.

When we are looking at improving economic activity and prosperity in Wales shouldn't the reduction of debt be one of the economic levers that we should be using to that end?

The Daily Post reported in September of this year on the crippling level of debt in North Wales and the success of advice agencies in cancelling out nearly a £100 million of debt through Debt Relief Orders and Bankruptcy. Looking at this another way, a £4 million investment across North Wales would have served the same purpose in cancelling out this level of debt.

Also not all debt are suitably resolved by Debt Relief Order or Bankruptcy but are rather smaller debts like a £1000 on a credit card is a big burden for an out of work family whilst it would be manageable for other families.

Another problem that debtors across the country will find in future is that welfare advice agencies will no longer have funding to represent debtors in court as the Community Legal Services budget is decimated by government cuts.

Cancelling of toxic debt for our most impoverished residents must be a priority and brings with it immeasurable benefits such as better health and wellbeing (particularly mental health), less stress within families and of course more disposable income for spending in the local economy.

This suggestion is not without its problems and controls will be necessary to ensure that families that benefit to do not return to a spiral of debt.

Imagine if 22 Local Authorities invested half a million pounds in a one off fund to buy up toxic debt then there is a potential of £300 million worth of debt that could be written off, that would make a huge difference to the most impoverished and debt ridden families in Wales and is one answer to the impact of welfare reform.

Whether Local Authorities can use their finances for such a project is another question?

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Wrecsam - Wales's co-op capital

Yesterday's launch of the Wales Cooperative Centre's report on community cooperatives attracted a great crowd to Saith Seren.

The only cooperative pub in the area is also featured on the front page of the Cooperative Enterprise Hub's annual review.
 But talking to many of the people attending, it struck me how far Wrecsam has come in terms of cooperatives and social enterprises.
 The Wrexham Supporters' Trust is, with 2500 members and growing, the grand-daddy of local cooperatives. It was ably represented by board members Tom Stamford and Gavin Jones, who gave a brief but compelling account of the WST's history in successfully trying to wrestle control of the third oldest football club in the world away from the sharks and vultures.
 There's also some great work done by the various social enterprises and cooperatives under the Caia Park Partnership umbrella and it was good to see Alison Hill representing them.
 North Wales Credit Union, which has an office in King Street and a membership in the thousands, was also present. As well as a savings facility, it has the ability to finance individual loans and could be the basis for a far more pro-active approach to developing cooperatives.
 Equally interesting was the presence of people interested in setting up cooperatives to create work and maintain services in the area. We'll be hearing more about this shortly.
 Other organisations such as Age Concern, @67 Communications (which has launched the Wrexham Community Choir) and the Wales Cooperative Centre's own digital inclusion team were also present, hinting that there is the potential for a network of local cooperatives and social enterprises to link up and find common ground. Wrecsam Council staff were also present.
 Saith Seren, as well as being a Welsh Centre for the town with a growing reputation for live music and other entertainment in both English and Welsh, is developing as a hub for cooperators in the area and opening rooms upstairs in the New Year will only strengthen that situation.
 These are all organisations doing great work, reliant on their members ingenuity and self-help rather than sitting back and expecting endless grants to keep going. 
 Other local ventures such as the Ty'n y Capel can join this growing network.
 These are interesting times both internationally and locally - big business is abandoning communities like ours, the state (whether local or central) is doing less to provide services. Communities will, as they always have done, come together to form societies and cooperatives to advance their common goals. We're ahead of the game here... it's time for Wrecsam to declare itself Wales's cooperative capital.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Another BBC own goal - Entwhistle quits

News that the BBC's top man has resigned after it emerged the Newsnight story over the Bryn Estyn child abuse is no surprise. If there was a competition for "man who best resembles a rabbit caught in the headlights", George Entwhistle would have walked it.
 After six weeks in post he failed miserably to convince people he was in charge on two key elements that rose from the Jimmy Savile debacle.

Neither were problems of his own direct making. The BBC, including his predecessor, failed to adequately investigate Savile's abuse during his time at the Corporation and - crucially - failed to broadcast a Newsnight investigation into the allegations against the presenter. The story switched from being one about Saville's paedophiliac abuse to "BBC cover-up" with the Daily Mail and Murdoch's stable of papers delighting in attacking the Beeb.

The second problem was, I suspect, caused by Newsnight trying to make amends and ignoring its own producer guidelines in broadcasting a sensational story that resurrected the North Wales child abuse scandal and implicated a senior Tory from the Thatcher era. Given the nature of the allegation and the fact that the senior Tory was being named on various websites, it's inconceivable that the programme didn't contact the Tory in question - who we now know is Lord McAlpine - for a response. Even if they didn't name him - as hinted by the programme makers prior to broadcast - then it should have covered bases because this was an accusation made by one person on camera, Steven Messham.

Things started to unravel with a Guardian investigation, which revealed that Keith Gregory (another abused boy from Bryn Estyn) did not believe it was Lord McAlpine but his cousin Jimmy McAlpine, who lived at Gethyn Hall near Marchwiel until his death in 1991. As the Guardian reveals, this mistaken identity had been tackled in the Waterhouse "Lost in Care" report.

This presents problems not just for Messham and the BBC but for a host of other people who tweeted and commented. George Monbiot has apologised for innuendo and it'll be interesting to see what Susan Elan Jones (MP for Clwyd South) has to say after she made a direct link between the unnamed paedophile and a Tory in the House of Lords.

Back at the BBC, it's another own goal but this is not the BBC in terminal crisis, although that may be the case with Newsnight.

And unfortunately, the fiasco has distracted people from the real culprits in this whole story - the paedophiles who have still not been charged for their part in the abuse here in North Wales. This sorry episode will set back those who are trying to find the truth and make other victims far less likely to speak out. It's all the more important for this investigation to continue and for the media to continue asking questions, but let's have a little less of Philip Schofield-style stunts and more C4 News digging.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Plans for 1000 extra homes rejected at packed meeting

'Enough is enough' says Plaid AM

More than 100 people packed Denbigh Town Hall last night to voice their opposition to plans for thousands of extra houses in Denbighshire.

Campaigners are opposed to the proposals to increase the number of homes allocated to communities across Denbighshire by a further 1,000. The new housing plan has been proposed by Denbighshire planners after the Planning Inspectorate rejected the council's Local Development Plan.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru's North Wales AM, spoke at the meeting, pointing out that the Planning Inspectorate was not accountable or answerable to local people or even the National Assembly. Mr Gruffydd, who lives near Ruthin, added: "They have ignored local communities and elected councillors' views to impose these extra homes on us. They do so because they are guided by artificially inflated population projections that do not reflect natural organic growth.

 "This is in addition to the thousands of homes already announced and is a pattern that is being repeated across Wales.  Enough is enough!

 "We're in danger of seeing an urban sprawl from Prestatyn to Llanfairfechan, good agricultural land being concreted over, our transport network failing to cope and our schools and health services overwhelmed. It's an ill-thought out proposal that doesn't seem bothered that there are no extra jobs for these people - so we will see an increase in commuting to Chester and Merseyside - at greater cost to the environment.

 "Of course we need some housing - we want to enable young people to stay in their communities. That means creating jobs, training opportunities and affordable housing. This plan delivers none of those things. I want to see a positive alternative that puts community need first."

He called for an accountable Planning Inspectorate for Wales, urged community campaigners to lobby the council to reject these additional houses and spoke of the growing movement across Wales against the imposition of new housing, including in neighbouring counties Conwy and Wrexham.

Other speakers included John Hutcheson and Alice Jones, of Bodelwyddan Development Action Group - who have been campaigning for years against plans to impose an extra 1700 homes on their village. Mr Hutcheson described Bodelwyddan as "one battle in this war" and that the new homes should be opposed equally as strongly as they had been in Bodelwyddan. 

Joining them was Councillor Arwel Roberts, of Rhuddlan, where the new scheme intends to allocate green fields for an additional 100 homes next to the golf course. 

The meeting agreed to lobby Denbighshire Council's full council meeting in December. Contact is also being made with other campaign groups throughout Wales facing similar situations.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Bryn Estyn - no stone unturned

Our initial posting on Saturday about the renewed interest in the Bryn Estyn child abuse scandal has continued to bring in some interesting responses.
 There's a real need to have a coordinated and methodical approach to any investigation into the actual allegations being made and the failure to fully investigate them at the time.
 Paddy French, who was involved in the Wales This Week programme that named a senior police officer and has a long track record as an investigative journalist, reveals some very disturbing links at the time that may have prevented a full inquiry in the 1990s.
 The most important aspect of any inquiry is not to examine process but to take the original allegations seriously. What is evident from the numbers phoning Welsh Children's Commissioner Keith Towler is that the victims trust him in a way that they perhaps would not trust other authorities. His office's freeline number is 0808 8011000 or Text: 80800.
 Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru's leader, has also offered to pass on confidential information and has lead the charge for a thorough investigation of the abuse beyond the homes and some of the care workers. She can contacted in confidence by writing to
 There is growing evidence of an organised paedophile ring operating in the area that involved the wealthy and the powerful. And they abused their power by targetting the powerless - the most vulnerable being children without parents to look out for them.
 In these circumstances, the bravery of people like Councillor Keith Gregory can't be underestimated. Many of the victims have struggled to build their lives after such a traumatic childhood. For those that have done successfully, the last thing they need is to revisit those dark days.
  Unfortunately this is what will have to be done to get the truth and leave no stone unturned.

Four more years

It is 4.30am and I'm pleased to say that the main news channels has called the election for President Obama. Four more years and a far greater chance of peace. Confirmed that Obama has won Ohio. Let's celebrate!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Police Commissioners

Last Thursday night I went to listen to the five Candidates for Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales take part in the TCC (an influential lobbying group) Accountability Meeting.

The candidates had been provided with 4 questions in advance of the meeting and then audience questions.

The structure of the meeting did not allow robust challenge to candidates answers which gave them the opportunity to provide populist answers to please the audience rather than pragmatic practical answers.

Richard Hibbs an independent candidate promised every household a £20 council tax rebate out of Police reserves.

Warwick Nicholson the UKIP candidate and ex cop harked back to the glory days when he joined in 1964 and gave the impression that he wished to return to the so called Dixon halcyon days
which is all very romantic but not really practical.

The third candidate was Colm McCabe the Conservative who came over as very affable with his soft Irish lilt; his answers though left a great deal to be desired. A question was asked about outsourcing police services and Colm adamantly opposed such outsourcing despite his government's support for private sector involvement in public services. In all honesty he sounded too good to be true.

In my opinion the three candidates mentioned are lightweight and inexperienced and not up to the job of Police Commissioner.

The two remaining candidates, Labour's Tal Michael and the independent Winston Roddick are both competent and experienced public servants with wide experience of Policing and criminal justice.

Both candidates provided excellent answers but with Tal Michael ahead on points; this is however unsurprising as Tal was Chief Executive of North Wales Police Authority until March this year and there was a certain expectation of him. Winston Roddick on the other hand, had an air of authority about him and he was more statesmanlike.

The crunch for me and the deciding factor was the difference between a candidate with political affiliations and an independent candidate, I just don't believe a political candidate can demonstrate the same impartiality as an independent candidate.

That is why I will be voting for Winston Roddick.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Bryn Estyn - let's see the pulped report

The Jimmy Savile case may unearth some more serious child-abuse scandals that have been covered up or under-reported for fear of upsetting the powerful.
 At least now the media are more willing to believe the victims, many of whom were understandably traumatised by their experiences. Compared to the powerful professsionals who they were testifying against, it's little wonder that juries and judges chose to believe articulate men against people who were damaged and often addicted to drugs or alcohol.
 The BBC report about the child abuse scandals of Bryn Estyn and Bryn Alyn that rocked Wrecsam in the 1990s mentions that Clwyd County Council pulped an independent report on the Bryn Estyn scandal. We need to know what that independent investigation unearthed and who was named in it.
 Former Tory Minister Rod Richards has named (now dead) former Chester Tory MP Peter Morrison as one of those who abused children in Bryn Estyn and Bryn Alyn. There is no doubt that there were more establishment figures who visited the homes.
 Was the report pulped to protect those guilty parties?

Fracking: Now we know, we will resist

Energy issues seem to be making the headlines daily in Wales at the moment - nuclear power, offshore and onshore windfarms, tidal lagoons and now Fracking.
 This post gives some of the background to hydraulic fracturing and why it's becoming an issue for Wales - or particularly the former coalfield areas of Wales. That was why local activists organised a public meeting to raise awareness about the matter and to discuss what could be done to prevent drilling in the area.
 The meeting on Thursday, at Saith Seren in Wrecsam, heard Jill Evans MEP and Gareth Clubb, director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, give very useful information about the impact of fracking and why it's such a bad idea.
 Multinational companies are keen to bleed the planet dry of natural resources regardless of the impact on communities and, from their perspective, making use of coal bed methane or shale gas is perfectly logical.
 For Welsh communities that have seen coal being exploited by the wealthy over the past two centuries, only to leave us with slag heaps and dust diseases, it's important to understand that this could be a repeat performance if we don't resist.
 It was great to hear from a wide range of people in the audience - not least the activists from Staffordshire who have direct experience of how gas leaks can occur in old capped mines. Luke Ashley, a former oil-rig worker from Wrecsam, spoke convincingly about the dangers too.
 There is an imminent threat to the Flintshire and Wrecsam area posed by Dart Energy, an Australian multinational mining firm that has already applied to test drill in the Penley and Bowling Bank area. One was refused planning permission but the other was approved and has until June 2013 to start drilling. It is now evident that that test drilling could involve fracking to see whether gases can be released in commercial quantities underground. The technology used for these test bores can apparently reach as far as two miles from the bore site.
 The mood of the meeting was to ensure that no drilling will take place in Wrecsam because planning authorities have not been told of the potential dangers posed by this "test". Dart Energy - you have been warned!

Friday, 2 November 2012

Wrecsam players open Multi-Use Games Area

The new Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA) was officially opened by Wrexham FC stars Danny Wright and Rob Ogleby (pictured).
 Lots of hard work to get the bid to Cory Environmental Trust approved - it was financed by Landfill Tax receipts - has finally paid off. Special thanks to Darren Richardson and the local youth club for doing so much to organise a mass petition locally to make sure the site is improved.
 The community council will maintain the site and has already committed to building up one side of the MUGA to make sure balls don't go into the Gwenfro. 
 Wrexham FC are truly a community club - both players were great with the kids and must have been freezing!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Councillor calls for Council Tenants to be compensated.

Some Gwersyllt residents are having to spend up to half their income on heating because of bureaucratic delays by Wrexham Council.

Bryn Awel Court, Gwersyllt, is one of the few blocks of flats in the County Borough with Economy 7 electrical heating, which is inefficient and expensive and increases the incidence of fuel poverty.

David Pritchard, of Bryn Awel Court, said:  

“I look after my grandchildren but I can’t have them here in winter time because it’s too cold even though it costs me £30 a week to heat the flat, which is nearly half of what I earn.”

Gwersyllt West Councillor Arfon Jones has now called for council tenants on his ward to be compensated following delays in completing legal work to allow mains gas to be piped into Bryn Awel Court. Work to allow mains gas was first requested in September last year but were not completed until August this year, Wales and West  Utilities were free to commence the work in August but have timetabled it for January 2013.


Cllr Jones said: 

“It is disgrace that the council and Wales and West Utilities will have taken 15 months to sort out legal paperwork so that we can pipe gas from the mains into Bryn Awel Court. I was promised in February this year that mains gas would be installed by August this year. It’s not fair that tenants have to suffer another winter with inadequate and expensive sources of heating.”


He added:  

“I have made a complaint to the council and they have agreed that lessons would be learnt, but that doesn’t help the tenants of Bryn Awel Court. The council and Wales and West Utilities are at fault and they should pay the tenants compensation for not dealing with what was a simple legal procedure in a timely manner.”