Independence, Democracy and Lying Tories

Recent events in Cymru/Wales have highlighted growing support for independence, controversy over environmental policies, and concerning political tactics by the Conservatives. From marches for independence to conflicts over new speed limits, Geoff Ryan explores the key issues shaping politics and society in contemporary Cymru/Wales.

 

March for Independence Shows Growing Support

On Saturday, September 23, about 10,000 people followed a 10-metre-long red dragon through the streets of Bangor. This was the 6th march for independence organised by YesCymru and AUOB Cymru (All Under One Banner Cymru/Wales), the second this year following one in Swansea/Abertawe in May. Speakers at the rally included Joseph Gnagbo of Cymdeithas yr Iaith (the Welsh Language Society), actress Sera Cracroft, and Rhun ap Iowerth, the new leader of Plaid Cymru. Messages of support were received via video from Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein and Dolors Feliu, President of the ANC in Catalunya. Inevitably, Dafydd Iwan led a rousing version of Yma O Hyd. The march was followed by a folk concert and an Indy gig.

“This was the 6th march for independence organised by YesCymru and AUOB Cymru (All Under One Banner Cymru/Wales), the second this year following one in Swansea/Abertawe in May.”

Increase in Senedd Members Approved Despite Criticism

The second important development in Cymru was the agreement by the Senedd to increase the number of its members to 96. This has been criticised by the Tories and on social media, attracting both those who are opposed to any increase in the number of MSs and those who want to abolish the Senedd altogether. On social media, the usual comments are about ‘pigs in the trough’, ‘jobs for the boys’, ‘waste of money’, and ‘money could be better spent on the NHS’. In reality, Cymru is losing 20% of its Westminster MPs, and with 60 MSs, it has a far lower number of representatives, not only than the governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland but also Cardiff Council. The responsibilities and work of the Welsh government have increased since the days of the Welsh Assembly Government (though some commentators still refer to the WAG whenever they wish to be disparaging).

“Cymru is losing 20% of its Westminster MPs, and with 60 MSs, it has a far lower number of representatives, not only than the governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland but also Cardiff Council.”

While the government in Cymru has responsibility for allocating funds to the NHS, the money is allocated to the Welsh government by Westminster. Not increasing the number of MSs would not provide an extra penny for the NHS in Cymru. Unfortunately, the level of cynicism about politics and politicians is on the increase, with considerable input from the Welsh Tories.

Speed Limit Change Causes Widespread Backlash

But however good the march in Bangor was, however much debate there has been around the need to increase the size of the Senedd, there has really only been one issue in Cymru the last 2 weeks. This was touched on by Gwern Gwynfil, CEO of Yes Cymru, who wrote a piece in Nation Cymru the day after the demo in which he contrasted the 10,000 who turned out in Bangor with the 200 or so who marched in Cardiff to protest against the 20-mile-per-hour speed limit introduced on some roads in Cymru.

Unfortunately, the small numbers marching in Cardiff are more an indication of the hasty organisation and lack of preparation of the march organisers than a reflection of the mood of people in Cymru.

Over 400,000 people have signed a petition calling for the 20mph policy to be ditched. Although a few thousand of the signatories live in England, Europe, and even Australia, there is no doubting the level of hostility to the Welsh Government this measure has created. My local Nextdoor group has been and continues to be totally dominated by the issue of 20mph roads. The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has been threatened with violence. Transport Minister Lee Waters survived a vote of no confidence, and today (Saturday, September 30th), a 30mph protest has taken place between Wrexham and Bangor and along the M4 between Newport and Swansea.

“Over 400,000 people have signed a petition calling for the 20mph policy to be ditched. Although a few thousand of the signatories live in England, Europe, and even Australia, there is no doubting the level of hostility to the Welsh Government this measure has created.”

While there are undoubtedly some, if not a large number, of people who are upset about the 20 mph restriction and would have protested, there is no doubt that the Welsh Tories, particularly their leader Andrew RT Davies and shadow transport minister Natascha Asghar, whose dedication to Cymru led her to apply (unsuccessfully) to be the Tory candidate for Mayor of London, have whipped up and orchestrated the opposition to the speed limit.

The Welsh Tories haven’t the slightest bit of shame in spreading total lies about what the 20mph legislation means, and in this they have been joined by Rishi Sunak, who has now declared war on 20mph zones in England. Davies, Asghar, and Sunak have all referred to a ‘blanket’ 20mph policy. Davies and Asghar more or less only refer to a blanket 20-mph policy. But the law is no such thing, and the Tories are all fully aware they are lying.

To get from my house to my nearest town, the speed limit is 20mph, then 30mph, 40mph, 20 mph, 30 mph, 50 mph, 40 mph, 30mph, 20 mph, not a ‘blanket’ 20mph. To get to my nearest hospital, you can add in some 60mph and 70mph sections. Either Davies, Asghar, and Sunak are really ignorant of what the word ‘blanket’ means or they are lying to whip up hostility to the Labour government and Plaid Cymru.

“Either Davies, Asghar, and Sunak are really ignorant of what the word ‘blanket’ means or they are lying to whip up hostility to the Labour government and Plaid Cymru.”

Tories Spread Misinformation to Stoke Anger

They also neglect to mention that a Tory member first introduced the 20mph policy into the Senedd and that up until recently, the Welsh Tories in the Senedd, particularly Andrew RT Davies, supported the policy, much like Sunak did with the ULEZ in Uxbridge.

This cynical lying by the Tories has created an atmosphere in which rational discussion of the issues is virtually impossible. No matter how many times it is pointed out that there is no blanket 20mph speed limit, people continue to talk about the blanket 20mph speed limit. No matter how many times it is pointed out that almost every study concludes that at 20mph people are much less likely to be killed than at 30 mph, someone will raise the Belfast study, even though it has already been explained many times that this is very much an outlier among studies, deals with a specific situation in Belfast, and doesn’t actually conclude what it is claimed it does. Studies from Oxford, London, Bristol, and elsewhere, including Spain, which has an even lower speed limit in urban areas, are ignored.

“No matter how many times it is pointed out that there is no blanket 20mph speed limit, people continue to talk about the blanket 20mph speed limit.”

Money would be better spent on the NHS is another familiar call, though as mentioned above, not going ahead with the 20mph policy would not free up a single penny for the NHS, just as not increasing the size of the Senedd would also not allow any more spending on the NHS.

False claims are also being promoted that driving at 20mph is more harmful to the environment, though scientific research suggests the opposite. The fact that road transport, and particularly private cars, are the biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions is not mentioned. Nor can we expect it to be mentioned by Rishi Sunak, as he poses as ‘the motorist’s friend’ while tearing up his government’s already inadequate environmental policies.

We are also told this is undemocratic (even though it was in the Labour manifesto for the Senedd elections and is part of the partnership agreement with Plaid Cymru, as well as being supported by the Liberal Democrats and, until recently, by the Tories). It is also claimed that the policy has been rushed, although it was announced four years ago and has been delayed for six months to allow for better implementation.

Dire warnings of the inability of emergency vehicles to get to where they are needed on time are constantly repeated, even though it has been pointed out that emergency vehicles using blue lights and sirens will no longer be bound by 20mph limits than they are by 30mph.

Claims have been made that the economy will suffer dramatically because of delays to deliveries, though Tesco and Morrisons have both said they have not experienced any major problems so far and have no plans to change schedules. Some independent delivery drivers on my Next Door site also report no problems and, in fact, prefer driving slower as it makes for a more pleasant journey.

Some bus routes and timetables may need to change, but by no means the majority—primarily those between towns and villages rather than in the towns and cities where driving at more than 20mph is virtually impossible. Despite the dire predictions of massive tailbacks, these haven’t materialised. Sue and I drove to our nearest hospital in Llanelli about 10 days ago. Despite the appalling weather, which made driving conditions more difficult, it took us roughly the same amount of time as before the introduction of the 20mph law. Not surprising, really, since the majority of the journey is not in 20mph zones.

The 20mph law in some built-up areas only came into effect on September 17th. By the following day, the petition to oppose it was already online, before any evaluation of the effect the law was actually having and ignoring the fact that local councils have the power to change speed limits back up to 30mph if felt appropriate. Which suggests that the opposition to the 20mph law has only a limited amount to do with what is a safe speed for cars in built-up areas and more to create hostility to the Labour government and, to a lesser extent, Plaid Cymru.

Need for Improved Public Transport

Of course, the Labour government could have done more to minimise opposition to their law. They could have done far more to develop and provide public transport, which is sadly extremely poor, if not altogether lacking, outside the major cities of the south-east. Good-quality, frequent, reliable public transport running at times when people need it would go a long way towards getting people out of their cars, thereby reducing damage to our bodies and the environment.

“Good-quality, frequent, reliable public transport running at times when people need it would go a long way towards getting people out of their cars, thereby reducing damage to our bodies and the environment.”

In fairness, that would require a much greater allocation of funds to Cymru from Westminster, which the Tories are not going to give. They are still claiming HS2 is an England and Wales project, which means they can withhold money from Cymru, even though it now looks likely the project will not be going north of Birmingham.

What is clear is that the Tories have realised they can mobilise significant sections of people in opposition to environmental measures, especially if these measures are thought to impede the right of people to pollute the planet and other people, by driving where and whenever they like at what speed they judge necessary.

The Tories in Cymru have played a major role in whipping up hostility to environmental measures. Uxbridge and Cymru have convinced Sunak there is something to be gained by pandering to’motorists’. Sunak is now effectively declaring war on all those who want to protect our environment and ensure we still have a planet to live on.


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Geoff Ryan is a member of Undod, YesCymru, Labour For An Independent Wales, and Carmarthen East & Dynefwr Labour Party.

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