Regular readers of this blog will know that on my visits home to Swansea I often stay in the Premier Inn on the SA1 development. So I was shocked to read today that the new marina, centrepiece of the SA1 project, may not go ahead due to the money set aside for it having been spent on other ‘priorities’. Which would be devastating, because there is some great stuff going on over there, all premised on the new hotels, office blocks and apartments looking out over a marina, rather than the existing, and abandoned, Prince of Wales dock.
Reading the BBC article I was struck by the curious attitude displayed towards the SA1 project by the South Wales Chamber of Commerce (SWCC). For example, Graham Morgan, director of the SWCC, was quoted as saying: “When you step back from it, for a marina to work you have to be convinced that someone will buy a boat and moor it there. That’s the biggest thing at the moment – boats are luxury items. So it’s perfectly feasible that right now that isn’t the right development”.
This man represents the business interests of Swansea! As for being convinced that people “will buy and moor a boat there” – has he checked the waiting lists? Does he know how busy the existing marinas are? Does he realise how much ‘passing trade’ there is, boats not registered in Swansea docking for a night, or a week? Does he appreciate this is not your standard hole filled with water surrounded by apartments locals can’t afford that we see in small towns around the coast. This is a major development in Swansea that could result in a few thousand local jobs. Not pushing on with the marina sends out the signal that official backing has been withdrawn, which will see potential investors pull back and jeopardise what has already been achieved. I suggest you visit the SA1 website, see what companies have already located there, on the promise of a marina. See what a great project this is.
I can’t help wondering if there are any projects in Cardiff which Morgan feels don’t justify public funding at this time? I ask because – and I’m hoping some of you can help me out – my recollection is that the Cardiff Chamber of Commerce went bankrupt a few years ago and then resurrected itself as the, Cardiff based, South Wales Chamber of Commerce. Thereby following the trend of the devolution era in concentrating power and influence in Cardiff. Another interesting feature of the BBC piece was the impression given that the ‘Welsh’ Government has been talking with the South Wales Chamber of Commerce about this development in Swansea but has not been involving anyone in Swansea in these discussions. Unless, of course, the new Labour administration in Swansea was kept in the loop, but was reluctant to make the decision publicly known. Which would make sense in the context of where I’m taking this post.
You must have noticed that car insurance companies, telephone and internet providers, and a host of other businesses, offer great deals to attract new customers. Existing customers often pay for these enticing offers with poor service and rising costs. The thinking underpinning this approach is that most existing customers will renew their subscription or whatever unless the service becomes intolerably poor or they see an irresistible offer from a rival company. (Avoiding the ‘hassle’ of changing also comes into the thinking.) The same applies in politics. The worst thing any area can do is become a ‘safe’ seat. For that guarantees being taken for granted. (Though this applies less to Conservative seats; as these will invariably be wealthy and will know how to defend their interests.)
Here in Wales we see this at work in the Valleys, where a century of voting Labour has reduced some parts of that region to levels of poverty unknown elsewhere in Europe today. In Plaid’s few safe seats we see economic decline and English colonisation. Which means that, in slightly different ways, both Labour and Plaid voters are being betrayed. So why vote for these parties? Especially at Assembly level. I’ve thought about this off and on since we’ve had devolution, and it makes more sense now than ever. We have such a dog’s dinner of devolution, controlled by a party that has no intention of annoying its English bosses by doing anything positive for Wales, that party politics, or voting along ideological lines, is a waste of time until we’re at the point now enjoyed by Catalonia, or Scotland, or Québec.
Or to put it another way; the Assembly, or the ‘Welsh’ Government, has no wish to rule Wales in anything more than a managerial capacity. Which means that the primary purpose of devolution as we know it is to channel funding from the UK government and EU sources. That being so, the only way to ensure that that funding does not all end up being spent on grandiose ‘national’ projects in Cardiff is for Wales to have a number of regional parties fighting to ensure that their area gets a fair slice of the cake.
So just imagine if there was a Heads of the Valleys Party (HVP), refusing to accept that development must be centred on Cardiff, with Tredegar, Ebbw Vale, Merthyr and many other towns being reduced to commuter communities. Even if the HVP didn’t win a single seat, it could lose Labour seats, and that would be enough for Carwyn and his gang to start paying more attention to the Heads of the Valleys than they ever did when it was ‘safe’ Labour territory. And it doesn’t have to end there. Why not a Swansea Bay Party? A Plaid Gwynedd, covering all the north west? Think about it! The only purpose of devolution is to distribute funding, thereby making party politics and ideology redundant. The only sensible reason for voting then becomes guaranteeing that your area gets its fair share.
At this point I can imagine hands being thrown up in horror and heads being scratched; for isn’t what I suggest divisive? Mightn’t it fragment Wales further? Look at it from the opposite direction – is anyone saying that the Cardiff-centric economic and other policies being followed now are not divisive! Just imagine how Wales might be run if the balance of power was held by Plaid Clwyd and the Swansea Bay Party acting together, a Swansea-Wrecsam axis.
Devolution is delivering virtually nothing outside of Cardiff except crumbs in the form of placatory ‘projects’. Our Assembly Members refuse to defend the national interests. We suffer colonialism and colonisation. Consequently, why should anyone outside of Cardiff vote for these people any longer? Something new is needed; either to shake them out of their complacency, or to replace them altogether. What do we have to lose?
UPDATE 04.09.12: The BBC 10:25pm News bulletin last night ran an interview with Peter Midmore, an English academic in Aberystwyth, and another who belongs to the incestuous network emerging between politics and academe that sees him (and others) do “advisory and consultancy work” for the ‘Welsh’ Government, aka the Labour and Unionist Party.
Midmore defended the decision to steal the funding from the SA1 marina on the grounds that other marinas . . . somewhere . . . were having trouble filling their berths. Which is a ludicrous argument, and he knew it; his voice and body language made it clear he knew he was talking bollocks. For what really matters is whether the SA1 marina is commercially viable. It is being suggested by those who should know that there is a strong demand for a new marina in Swansea, and that it will be a success.
This is obviously how the network works: academics like Midmore, those at the Wales Rural Observatory and countless others are subsidised, funded, and in return must speak up when told to do so in support of ‘Welsh’ Government decisions. Makes me worry for democracy. And for higher education. Doesn’t say a lot for our media either.
UPDATE 2 04.09.12: Here is a link to the BBC Wales story which contains a video, some of which was shown on the BBC News bulletin referred to above. Thus far we have yet to hear a Labour politician defend the decision. Though over on the Labour-supporting Inside Out the finger of blame is being pointed at Ieuan Wyn Jones, and another comment referred to it as a “non-story”!
The situation is that £19m of funding for a marina in the SA1 development was secretly withdrawn in 2008 or 2009. This means that the project has been progressing for three or four years with apartment buyers, business-owners and others being encouraged to invest under false pretences. This almost certainly leaves the ‘Welsh’ Government open to legal action for some form of deception.
This probably explains why we have heard no one representing the ‘Welsh’ Government speak in defence of the decision to withdraw the funding. Preferring instead to hide behind proxies such the chairman of the South Wales (i.e. Cardiff) Chamber of Commerce and a tame academic heavily dependent on contracts from the ‘Welsh’ Government.
Someone representing the ‘Welsh’ Government needs to come clean on this story. And Plaid Cymru needs to explain its position. Otherwise I might start thinking politicians are lying, devious bastards!