Category Archives: Off Topic

Posts that are not related to the public transport theme of this site.

Summer Of Sorrow

A series of unfortunate announcements meant that the UK Parliament headed into its summer break with a trail of destruction in its wake. I have very little time for this blog and I was unable to keep up with the tide of depressing and controversial announcements in order to form them into a coherent post.

One of the announcements was a particularly big blow; the cancellation of the Midland Main Line electrification to Nottingham and Sheffield with only Bedford to Corby going ahead. Cardiff-Swansea electrification was also ditched but for reasons I hope to explain in future isn’t perhaps as serious a disaster. I did start to write about these announcements in more depth but never finished.

Some of that may surface in time, but for one reason or another there’s been several weeks without posts on this blog and for that I apologise. I cannot promise much in the way of future posts either, although a six-day holiday gave me material for a travel report series which I intend to publish in fortnightly instalments starting next Sunday.

262 Not Out

May was Theresa’s month, but the unexpected General Election of 2017 was in June; and produced an almost entirely unexpected result. For most of the campaign, almost all the predictions suggested that the Tories would win the increased majority they craved. Some also suggested that the election could be “ a fight for the very survival of Labour“. With the First Past The Post electoral system making it almost impossible for the other parties to win many seats, destruction of the Labour party could have left the so-called ‘Conservative and Unionist Party’ with no opposition.

This means the election was really two contests rolled into one; a straight fight for which party gets to form a government (like any other general election) and also Jeremy Corbyn’s battle to prove that his leadership and the Labour party have a future.

The houses of parliament / palace of Westminster, seen from the London Eye
Fortress On The Thames? Perhaps not, now that the Tories’ attempt to fortify their position has failed.
Victory for Theresa May’s party was seemingly never in doubt and indeed, unfortunately, they have of course won the election. However, given their objective of a decisive majority it almost looks like a defeat for the Tories. Labour have lost, as expected, but made gains and finished up with 262 seats. They may still be down, but they’re not out. That, for me, is a glimmer of hope; it now appears that there is a possibility that the next election will see the Tories removed from Government.

We are still a way off a positive outlook for the future, at the start of the election campaign I hoped the Labour party would pledge to introduce proportional representation for future elections. They did not, and for that reason (among others) I didn’t vote for either of the two main parties. The outcome I would really have liked to see would have been a Labour victory short of a majority. That could have enabled, through agreement with other parties, the introduction of a proportional electoral system and accelerated action on preventing climate change. Sadly the result we got fell short of that, but it was about the best outcome I thought possible given the opinion polling in the run up to the election. With the Tories’ position significantly weakened, I can now think to myself ‘maybe next time’.

Hope has not emerged victorious, but it has not been crushed either.

May-Day, May Day, Mayday

View from a class 158 train on the Cambrian Coast Line
Snowdonia Scenery: A backdrop like this apparently prompted Prime Minster May’s change of plan regarding when the next general election would be held
Following a trip to Snowdonia, Prime Minister Theresa May took many by surprise, including myself. Perhaps even more surprising however were some of the comments in her speech announcing the snap election. “At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division.”
That, it seemed to me, was a veiled admission that the views of the ‘opposition’ are generally close to those of the government on most important issues. I have probably pointed out before that there is little difference between Labour’s policies and those of the Conservative party, and the first past the post electoral system means other parties are largely excluded. Therefore, the electorate isn’t really given a meaningful choice at general elections; certainly on some issues. The Labour party have, at least in the past, supported expansion of Heathrow airport, and Theresa May’s government has indicated they intend to approve expansion. No choice there then; voting for either of the main parties is, or has been, a vote for a blank cheque for the aviation industry to continue to increase its greenhouse gas emissions.

But on the issue of the UK’s relationship European Union, there are actually differences of opinion in the house of commons. The Conservatives have an opposition for a change and they don’t like it, so they are holding an election in the hope they can silence it. There should only be unity in Westminster if the views of vast majority of the population are the same, otherwise the people who hold different views are not being represented in Parliament. Ours is, after all, supposed to be a representative democracy. If the public are divided in their opinions and the house of commons isn’t, then parliament does not represent the people and the system isn’t working. In 2015, the Conservatives took 50.8% of the seats in the commons with only 36.8% of the vote. That tells you all you need to know; the system is broken; and given that turnout was less than 70% the actual proportion of the population that actually ‘asked’ for a Conservative government will be lower still.

Harlech castle from a Cambrian Coast Line train
True Inspiration? Could the fortresses of Snowdonia have been Mrs May’s motivation to attempt fortification of her party’s position in power?
Apparently, Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to overturn the rigged system. I might believe that if Labour’s manifesto includes a commitment to scrap First Past The Post, which is rigged against the smaller parties. That could still be a possibility, since Labour has not yet published its manifesto. Campaign group Make Votes Matter have pointed out that Labour are running a consultation on their 2017 manifesto. That doesn’t seem to have closed yet, so if the link still works when you read this please respond to the consultation and make sure to include a call for proportional representation in your response. There may be more opportunities to influence Labour’s policies on there policy forum site (I’ve yet to investigate it). If Labour can be persuaded to adopt proportional representation, the next challenge will be getting the Tories out of government so that proportional representation can be introduced. That isn’t such a tall order as the initial media coverage would suggest, if the other parties see the opportunity to make things right and work together. There are signs is could be happening in some areas, with the Liberal Democrats apparently not contesting the seat held by Caroline Lucas. Add that to the fact that the Tories have very slim majorities in some seats and there is hope.

Returning to Theresa May’s speech when announcing the election, her statement “The country is coming together, but Westminster is not.” is not my impression. The general election held under First Past The Post in 2015, and the EU referendum that followed, were extremely divisive. The SNP are threatening to tear Britain apart, and the Tory majorities first past the post returns to Westminster are a huge contrast to Scottish voting patterns (only 14.9% of Scots voted Conservative in 2015). It has been argued that the election on the 8th of June is ‘a fight for the very survival of Labour’, but we face an “existential crisis” for Great Britain itself as well. Mayday indeed, but “If you fight you won’t always win. But if you don’t fight you will always lose” (from somebody’s signature on the RailUK Forums, attributed to Bob Crow). Theresa May may think on this May Day that she is going to win the election, but it isn’t over yet.

View from class 158 train on the Cambrian Coast Line
Bright prospects? Maybe if June’s election is the last held under First Past The Post.
P.S. As well as Make Votes Matter, linked to above, there are a number of other groups campaigning for proportional representation. One of these, the Electoral Reform Society, has a petition here and there are probably more out there.

Reconstruction

As can be seen by the comment below, this site is hosted by 000webhost. The plus side is that it is free of charge; and that’s a big plus in my book. The negative side is that the service is not particularly great, there is little or no support and they recently decided to move servers (I think) without providing an automated facility to move our websites. Their instructions were to backup our existing websites, delete them and recreate the site on the new system. I did this last Thursday (6th April).

Unfortunately, the backup procedure they suggested wasn’t the easiest to restore a WordPress site (which this is), so I’ve been struggling to bring the site back online. I think I have managed to import all the posts and comments, but some of the settings are missing. The dynamic Ordnance Survey Open Space maps I have on the site are not working either, and the new theme hasn’t been customised (and makes a mess of the image margins). I will have to fix all this at some point but I don’t have the time right now; I’m just happy that I’ve managed to get the site working at all.

Tectonic Activity

Part 4 of my railway modelling series brought the story up to the end of 2016, concluding with a note that I had mixed up the left-over Polyfiller I had been given. Unfortunately, I added too much water and thus it didn’t work particularly well. Over several more days, I layered on quite a bit of the additional filler I had bought. A week after I had applied it, the runny Polyfiller mix still hadn’t set (the new stuff was setting hard in under 24 hours). Since it was the leftovers of an old packet, I thought it may have got damp before I made it up and thus decided to scrape most of it off and redo it with my new plaster.

Photograph of my model railway baseboard looking towards the hills
Looking Tasty: while plastering, I had irrational thoughts that it might be nice to eat some of the plaster, perhaps because it looked similar to butter icing for cakes.
With the new year and the end of the holidays it was back the day job, reducing the time available for modelling. Weekend landscaping works continued (the evenings are too dark) on the layout, for a while. The chicken wire mentioned in the previous post has gone missing; so I won’t be needing the wallpaper paste I bought. In hindsight there wasn’t room for much landscaping anyway, so once I had finished off the top of the main hill by shaping the filler into a few ‘rocky crags’ there was no need for much more. I wasn’t sure about the crags, but one of my brothers took a look and thought they were ok. His feedback wasn’t so positive on other aspects though; one side of my cutting was too step and he felt the hills were too ‘plonk’ at one end of the board, rather than spreading out more. I had originally planned to make the larger hill extend further onto the board, but my grandmother pointed out that would eat into space for the station; hence the design that was built.

Bit-by-bit, I then started adding a rock-face effect to the cliff using foil (mostly Toblerone wrappings), scrunched up and then partly straightened, as a mould. I hadn’t got far with that before I discussed the steep side of the cutting with my grandmother. She agreed that it was too steep, so we took a chisel to it and reshaped it to a more-realistic profile, before I carried on with the rock-face effect.

Model railway baseboard with hills in the foreground and cork trackbed beyond
All Iced Up: the plaster/filler has turned the hills into a winter wonderland, looking like they are covered with snow (or, alternatively, like a cake covered in icing)
As the hills took shape, I started gluing down the rest of the cork tiles, cut to shape so that certain areas where there will not be track can be at a slightly lower level. I had only stuck three sections of cork when the PVA wood glue I had bought (and used on the chipboard) ran out. There may have been a little left that I couldn’t get out of the bottle, but even so that is almost 250ml of glue on my model already! Fortunately I had been given a large bottle of PVA labelled as being for sticking paper/card; I had intended to use that for ballasting in case PVA for paper isn’t the same as PVA for wood, but I figured it would stick the cork down alright too.

Cracked plaster (interior filler) on model railway hill
Disaster Area: close-up of the section suffering from cracks caused by ‘artificial earthquakes’.
It was rather thick, gloopy glue, way past it’s use-by date I suppose, but I went ahead with it and just hoped it would stick. Perhaps because of the thickness of the glue, the last few sections of cork needed a lot of extra weight to press them down, and I even had to resort to hammering the cork flat with a wooden mallet at some of the joins where the cork was jutting up above adjacent pieces. This hammering caused ‘seismic activity’ in the baseboard which broke off part of the plaster on the small hill side of the cutting. I fixed that, by re-attaching the broken plaster with more of the stuff, but there are still a number of cracks in that part of the hill, perhaps caused by further hammering (which may have been the chiselling of the cutting mentioned above).

Close-up of damage to model railway hill
Cracking Model: Another view of the depressing results on that corner of the model (the chiselled cutting side is also visible)
Once the Toblerone-wrapping work on the cliffs was almost completed, I started thinking a bit more about the design of the station area. I still haven’t decided whether I have space to expand the hill as my brother suggested, because I don’t know how big the car park will be, so I left a bit of the cliffs unfinished in case they get extended later. I did take a tape measure to our cars, to get an idea of how much space is needed, but never got round to scaling these down and making a parking-space-sized template to experiment with on the model. A combination of consultations to work on (principally the ones for the new Wales & Borders rail franchise) and general despondency given the cracked hill then put a halt to the project.

Photograph of model railway hill (work in progress)
Snow On The Hills: a closer view of the larger hill section following the application of plaster/filler

‘Bedrock’

Part 4 of my railway modelling series. While the legless board was lying in the house following the events of part 3, a couple of shopping trips were made. On the first, I picked up a shiny new length of flexible track. The metal-cutters I had tried on an old length of broken flexible track produced very untidy results so, at the same time, I also bought a track-cutter to use on the new track.

Part of chipboard hill structure on model railway baseboard
Base layer: the structure of my hills begins to take shape
As well as ‘IT guy’ I am also ‘furniture assembler’ at work; the desks come packed with four strips of chipboard (roughly 2in by 1in cross-section) and I already had collected quite a few of these. At home, I had been given a small amount of chicken wire and Polyfiller, but this was not going to be enough to landscape my model. The aim of the second shopping trip was there to obtain materials for scenic development. I picked up some more plaster along with some PVA wood glue and cork tiles for laying under the track. I thought I would probably need some wallpaper paste too, so bought some of that as well.

A Step Up: Another level added to the hill structure (in the far corner)
A Step Up: Another level added to the hill structure (in the far corner)
Before commencing the messy work, I marked out the position of the track on the board, and rolled one of my longest items of rolling stock over the layout to mark the overhang on the curves. I then realised I wouldn’t be able to see these markings once I laid the cork. Fortunately, my grandmother had a bright idea; once I had lifted the track she produced a large amount of ‘tracing paper’ (I think it was actually baking parchment or greaseproof paper, given that it came on a roll in a cardboard box) and I copied the markings onto that.

Close up of the larger of the two hill sections, cobbled together from scrap chipboard
Recycled Material: Close up of the larger of the two hill sections, cobbled together from scrap chipboard
Going back to the track-lifting; this was necessary to avoid getting scenery-building material all over, and proved to be a challenge. Despite the fact I had left part of the track pins protruding, they took quite a bit of effort to pull out. When the pins eventually came up they did so suddenly and violently, taking the track with them and bending the fishplates joining the rails to the next (still fixed-down) piece of track. I hope only the fishplates are bent, not the track itself.

Chipboard hill structures on model railway baseboard
Chipboarding Complete: the basic structure of the hills, now complete
The bare baseboard was then taken back out to the shed and the legs re-attached. Over several days, I then constructed the underlying structure of the hills at one end of the baseboard using the free chipboard gathered from work. A lot of sawing and gluing was necessary, and I wasn’t able to get a lot done each day partly due to the limited length of daylight (there is no electricity in the shed) but mostly because I kept having to leave the glue to dry. Before I could glue the bottom layer of chipboard to the ply surface, I had to cut and fix the first small section of the cork base for the track (this can be seen in the photos, running through the cutting).

Looking down on the chipboard hill structure
Top View: the completed hill structure from above.
Finally, on 29th December, I completed the gluing of chipboard. On the 31st, I mixed up the left-over Polyfiller I had been given and made a start on trying to round-off the hills. More on the that will follow in the next instalment.

Tracks And Trees

Part 2 in my model railway series teased that I had played around with some track, arranging the layout, but did not show the track plan I had in mind. That will be revealed in this post.

Model railway track on baseboard
Computer-Aided Design: the track plan from SCARM
As the frost on the grass in the completed baseboard photograph last time shows, it was rather cold outside back then; so I detached the legs and brought the board inside for the track laying. I started by eliminating most of the plans I had created on the computer, one by one. When only one was left, I placed the track on the board in that configuration and took a photo. Next, I rearranged the track to match the layout arrived at using real 00 gauge track as described previously; and photographed that too. After flicking back and forth between the photos, I decided on the plan I’d invented in the physical world (rather than the virtual realm of layout-planning software).

As I only have a 4 foot by 2 foot board, there is clearly not much scope for an extensive track layout in 00 gauge. Even a traditional train-set oval would never fit* so my layout is based on the ‘Inglenook Sidings Shunting Puzzle’ concept. That involves three sidings, one a bit longer than the others, and a headshunt. I do like my passenger trains though, so I’ve added an extra line (for a short passenger platform) to the basic Inglennook plan. Trains in that platform will have nowhere to go, but maybe one day I’ll be able to add a second board with hidden sidings for trains to run to.

* even if it would, I doubt a minimum space continuous run could be made interesting; if space is limited end-to-end layouts are more likely to be fulfilling in my opinion.

Just in case you’re wondering how the shunting puzzle works there’s a website on the topic.

Model railway track laid out on baseboard
It just fell into place: the chosen track plan, designed without the aid of a computer
With the track plan finalised, I was keen to get some locos running, so I grabbed some IPA (Isopropyl Alcohol) and paper towel and tried to get the track clean. The clean(er) track was then carefully pinned to the board, with the exception of the curve heading off the end of the board and the platform road (the latter because I didn’t have suitable track). I tried to avoid driving the pins fully home so that the track can be lifted to allow the messy landscape modelling to take place. A couple of Peco buffer stops were clipped onto the ends of the short sidings; this was harder than expected and I wonder if they will ever come off again.

I had a go at cleaning the wheels of one or two locos as well, but unfortunately the initial tests were disappointing; something still isn’t clean enough. The locos still don’t run smoothly enough to run the layout without them (or the stock being shunted) hitting the buffers rather hard.

Office drawer full of network cables
Top Drawer: collection of network cables at work, waiting to be put to use (the brand-new ones in plastic wrap are tied up with wire that is useful for tree-making).
That’s the track story, now what about some trees? At work one of my roles is ‘IT guy’. As such, I have drawers full of cables and every now and then I install some of them. The new cables are often tied using wire wrap things, which I keep in a pile on my desk in case the cables ever need to return to storage. A while ago, I decided the pile was getting rather big and I was never going to use all of the ties. I was about to throw some away when I realised they are basically wire, so why not use them for the same job that modellers use other odd bits of wire; making trees?

Office desk with model trees and wire cable ties
Wire Trees: my desk at work with two trees (the black one is on a black background so doesn’t show up well) and the material used to make them
So that’s what I did, I made one then and there (it must have been a quiet time at work). Several weeks later, while waiting for a slow computer to do something (while trying to fix a problem on it), I built a second tree and used the webcam on my laptop to take some photographs (I don’t tend to take any other camera to work with me). The trees need more work to finish them, but will presumably end up on the layout at some point.

Modelling Foundations

Following the events chronicled in the first post on my model railway projects, I made a trip to our nearest Jewson store in search of a sheet of plywood and two lengths of 2-by-1 timber. Unfortunately they did not have birch ply, which my internet searches indicated was the recommended material for model railway baseboard surfaces. They did have sheets of ply the size I was after (2ft by 4ft) though so I purchased one along with the 2-by-1 timber which they cut into two lengths for me.

Back at home, work continued on the baseboard legs. I cannot remember the exact sequence of events, but each of the tasks undertaken will be covered here (just not necessarily in the correct order).

Photo of baseboard framework on legs
Unstable Table: my baseboard much as it would have appeared following the events of the previous post (except that the bolts holding the legs on weren’t installed then)
Somebody had found me some bolts to attach the legs, so four holes (one for each corner of the baseboard) were drilled to accept the bolts. As with the legs, the timer of the framework was rather hard; each hole took a while to drill and required a fair amount of pressure. The result of this was the drill would jump forward dramatically once it was finally through, hitting the internal bracing of the framework and causing me some alarm that the strength of the structure might be compromised. Fortunately the damage was minor and I was reassured that it was not a problem.

Close-up photograph of timber with a notch cut in it
Notched: one end of one of the two new brace timbers (the second timber, already installed, can be seen in the background)
After some measurements, I made a notch a short distance from each end of the two new lengths of 2-by-1 softwood timber. This was done by sawing roughly halfway through the timber and chiselling out the wood in between. The cutting was much easier than the old timber, and I doubt I would have been able to chisel it by hand as I did with the new stuff.
Close-up of baseboard leg brace timbers
Braced? Close-up of the two braces slotted into place on one of the legs (they aren’t fixed, to allow me to dismantle the structure)
These two lengths were then used to hold the base of the legs apart, with the notches slotting over the lower horizontal brace of the leg assemblies. At some point (probably before the notches were cut) it was noticed that these horizontals were not the same height above the ground, so one had to be moved to correct this so that the new spacers could work. Even now however, the table still wobbles slightly, though my idea of the new notched lengths of timber seems to help.

Photo of baseboard support structure (braced legs and framework)
Framework Supported: the near-complete baseboard, just waiting for the plywood top
I got out some track and had a play to make sure the layout I had in mind would fit. Interestingly, the arrangement I came up with was different from the plans I had created using layout planning software, so I recorded the plan (in the layout-planning program SCARM) before packing the track away.

The ply sheet was varnished, both sides, and measurements were made in an attempt to get the ply centred on the framework (the framework is slightly smaller than the ply sheet). Eventually it was pinned onto the framework using about 12 pins around the edges. I may have got the ply slightly off centre, despite all the measuring, but I’m happy enough.

Photo of bare baseboard outside shed
Outside The Shed: the ‘completed’ baseboard (now only slightly wobbly).

Scaling Down

It is a fact that I am a rather disorganised person. This blog is a good example of that, there’s no fixed time in my week allocated to ensuring that I regularly manage to publish posts. Thus, the blog can go months without a post, then have a run of posts at weekly intervals. That probably isn’t going to change, but my lack of organisation is not the sole reason for the irregular posting. There’s only a limited amount of content I can put out, and the stories I have are generally too lengthy to be completed in one sitting (so they get left in the drafts folder for months or even years). I’ve decided to try and resolve that second issue by broadening the scope of the blog.

Rather than just talking about real-life transport (and important but off-topic issues), starting with this post I will also cover my model-railway project(s). I have a dream to construct a rather large layout, but currently I have next to no space to set up a model railway. After many years hoping to find space, I have given up and decided to build something small and try to squeeze it in anywhere I can. This will also give me a chance to practice and improve my (currently very limited) modelling skills in order that, if I ever get onto my big project, I have a chance doing the idea justice.

Anyway, the starting point for this ‘something small’ is one of three baseboard frameworks of 2-by-1 timber made by my father for the layout I had in our previous house (the other two frameworks will remain in storage for the time being). I cannot find the legs the baseboards once stood on, maybe somebody used them to build something else. The first order of business therefore was to design and build some new legs. Design-wise, the big problem was how to attach them to the framework; initially I planned to have them hinge up under the board but it was pointed out to me that the bracing of the framework would get in the way of the screwdriver when I tried to attach the hinges. Outside hinges couldn’t be attached at one end, due to some damage on the timber, and they would have put the legs outside the framework. Back to the drawing board. I want the layout to be portable, meaning fixed legs are undesirable. With hinges ruled out, the new plan was detachable legs (held on by nuts and bolts).

Photo of damaged screwheads
Mangled Screwheads; they’re all too soft
Using some 2-by-1 timber found in our ‘random bits of wood’ storage area, a pair of legs (each formed of two verticals with two horizontals as bracing) were assembled over the weekend of 12-13th November 2016. The timber was very hard, sawing it to length was a pain and efforts to screw the components together were thwarted. The screws heads were too soft, with the slot for the screwdriver getting mangled (this happened both with brass-coloured screws and silver-coloured ones). After a few screws, the drill bit used for making the pilot holes snapped and screwing was abandoned in favour of nailing.

Parts of model railway baseboard in workshop
My baseboard legs and the framework leaning against the woodwork bench
Once the legs had been made, the structure was loose-assembled (we did not have bolts yet) and it was found the structure was not sufficiently stable; the framework would wiggle back and forth. Quite a disappointment, but I had an idea to solve it. The idea involved more 2-by-1 timber, and the remaining lengths from the stash I had found were not long enough.

That didn’t matter too much since I was intending to go wood-shopping anyway; the chipboard tops from the old layout have probably been thrown away, so some ply to form the new surface was on my shopping list. Progress would however have to wait until the shopping had been done.

So, I now have at least one follow-up post to write, but I don’t know yet whether this modelling series will run for very long.

Silent Threat

Yesterday morning (15th November 2016) at about 08:32, BBC radio 4 had an interview with Bernie Sanders, one of the Democratic party’s candidates who were in the running to fight the recent presidential election in the USA. Of course, it was Hillary Clinton who the party eventually put forward, but back to the BBC’s interview.

Asked what he feared now that Donald Trump has been elected as the next president. First, he replied that he was afraid racism and sexism would rise, but he didn’t stop there. Importantly, he continued to voice the very same fear that I have; that Trump believes climate change is a hoax. Mr Sanders was very clear on this, climate change is NOT a hoax and Trump’s failure to recognise that frightens him very much.

Yet Trump’s dangerous stance was hardly presented during the campaign, and the interviewer yesterday asked whether Mr Sanders thought of Donald Trump as a fascist (he didn’t), and whether he thought he would have had a better chance of beating Trump than Hillary, but there was nothing more on the climate. Similarly, the coverage of the UK general election last year and national assembly for Wales election this year barely featured the various party’s policies on greenhouse gas emissions.

It appears that much of the media won’t talk about climate change. That’s a very dangerous silence, yesterday’s interview also asked how Trump could be stopped on issues like women’s rights, given that the republicans control Congress and President Trump will be able to appoint people to the relevant court. Bernie Sanders answered that they would need to educate and mobilise millions of people, to make the political cost of implementing such measures too expensive for the republications to go ahead.

Mobilise and educate millions; that would be rather difficult if you cannot reach them because the media refuse to transmit the messages. It is time they gave the climate the coverage it needs.

Fractured Nation

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, and that this one is very much ‘off the rails’ (and in fact doesn’t mention public transport at all).

People have voted to leave the European Union. Note that I did not say “the United Kingdom has voted”, because certain areas, including all of Scotland and a few parts of Wales (such as Ceredigion) returned a majority for ‘Remain’.

When I heard the result of the EU referendum, I was instantly terrified that ‘Great Britain’ could now be doomed. I wasn’t going to vote in the referendum, but had a sudden change of mind in the evening on polling day and voted remain primarily because I expected Scotland to vote remain, and I wanted to be on their side to keep Britain together and hence keep Britain great. I don’t want another Scottish independence referendum, as I have a strong emotional attachment to ‘Great Britain’ as the union of England, Wales and Scotland. I consider myself to be Welsh too, but I think my attachment to Great Britain is even stronger.

As I have noted before, Dan Snow, on the BBC’s “Panorama Live” programme following the 2015 general election, voiced the opinion that most of Scotland really wants to stay British. He stated that we are being driven apart by the divisive First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system. I feel that the EU referendum has had the same effect, it has been incredibly divisive; the conspiracy theorist in me says that it was deliberately called by the Conservative government in order to split everybody else so that the EU-related rift in the Conservative party looks normal. If that really was the reason for the referendum, it certainly seems to have succeeded.

I feel that, with Scotland, we can keep Britain great, inside the EU or out. It will be hard work, we need to ditch FPTP and the people need to be involved; in designing its replacement, in deciding what relationship we have with the EU in future and in determining which regulations to keep following exit from the EU.

My opinion is that Scotland, England and Wales are countries, but they aren’t independent countries. We need a system that reflects that, with self-governance for the member-nations with the UK government dealing with issues that only independent countries need to worry about (like defence).

Sorting that little lot out could take some time. So could sorting my head out after such a jolting result, so it might be quite a while before I write another blog post.

Regardless of when you’ll hear from me again; now and forever,
Keep Britain Great.

Quiet Uprising

I had planned to release a slightly different post this week, which would essentially have been a rant about how the two parties which dominate our political system don’t really offer a meaningful choice in some key policy areas, but I wasn’t happy with it. That may still appear at some point, after some revisions and the Welsh Assembly and Scottish parliament elections, but for now it suffices to say the following.

The Tories, and elements of the Labour party (the parts that disagree with having Jeremy Corbyn as their leader I believe), represent the ‘neo-liberal’ agenda, which includes deregulation and privatisation. George Monbiot has written much more about neo-liberalism if you want to know. Both these parties benefit from the First Past The Post voting system (FPTP), and love to claim that you must vote for them to keep the other out. This, sadly is generally true, because of FPTP. The Conservatives have even been at it in their campaign for today’s Welsh Assembly elections; don’t fall for it though because they only have a few more seats in the assembly than Plaid Cymru thanks in part to the fact that only 40 of the 60 assembly members are elected using FPTP. The other 20 seats are filled using a proportional system, so anything can happen.

Today then, at the Welsh Assembly and Scottish parliament elections, we have a chance to implement a quiet uprising against the two-party status quo, by voting for smaller parties. Here in Wales, the main choices are of course Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens. I believe all four of these parties have ruled out the £1bn plus second M4 around Newport, the ‘Black Route’, with most favouring the upgraded A-road alternative to a second M4, known as the ‘Blue Route’. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives have ruled out the second M4.

Make Votes Matter Day 2016 (Demo For Democracy) Advert
Make Votes Matter Day 2016 Advert

The elections will be followed on Saturday (May 7th) by two events in London, which hopefully will also amount to a peaceful uprising. One is the ‘Demo For Democracy’, organised by ‘Make Votes Matter’, who are probably the latest group to make a stand against FPTP. The other is called ‘Own The Future’ and aims to counter the neo-liberal consensus on privatisation, instead protecting nationalised public services. This is organised by the ‘We Own It’ group.

Election 2016 – Leader Q&A

Over the course of last week, BBC Wales ran a series of five half-hour ”Ask The Leader’ television programmes, broadcast from around Wales. Each featured the leader of a political party, who was questioned by the members of a small audience.

Monday’s programme featured Andrew R.T. Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, UKIP’s Nathan Gill was in the spotlight on Tuesday, Kirsty Williams of the Liberal Democrats took to the stage on Wednesday, followed by Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood on Thursday and finally Carwyn Jones, the leader of Welsh Labour, on Friday.

This blog post mainly discusses the points I singled out as being noteworthy from a climate and/or transport perspective.

Andrew R. T. Davies (Welsh Conservatives)

Andrew R.T. Davies was asked whether he supported carbon taxes, but didn’t give a straight answer either way. He dodged the question by saying he favoured a mix of low-cost energy sources, which to me sounded like “cut subsidies for renewable electricity generation and keep burning fossil fuels”.

Another question accused Labour of concentrating mostly on the Cardiff area and ignoring the rest of Wales, asking whether the Conservatives would be any different. I may not have been paying full attention at the time, but the only specific project mentioned was making the A40 (in Pembrokeshire, presumably) into a dual carriageway. More capacity for more polluting cars, and speeding up journeys for motorists at the expense of the rail network; not my idea of a good policy.

A few days later, the Welsh Conservatives announced that they intend to try and introduce 80mph speed limits on the M4 and A55, again speeding up journeys for motorists at the expense of the rail network. When will the counter-productive transport policies stop?

Nathan Gill (United Kingdom Independence Party (Wales))

Nathan Gill confirmed my fears that UKIP are a reckless party of environmental suicide. I still accuse both Labour and the Conservatives of similar, but they’re not quite as bad as UKIP.

Happily, one audience member had the courage to dub UKIP’s plan to ignore climate change as their craziest policy yet. Against a statement that almost all scientists agree that current climate change is man-made, Mr Gill tried to defend his position by suggesting that most of those scientists are not climate scientists, and that we should look it up on the internet. So I did, and most climate scientists also seem to agree that we are causing climate change. Even in the unlikely case that humanity is not the cause, consider the other part of Nathan Gill’s argument. He didn’t deny that the climate was changing, but suggested that stopping it was akin to trying to stop the tide coming in. The tide we know about, and can generally allow for. On the contrary, we have no idea what the world will be like if the 2 degree climate threshold is passed. Natural climate fluctuations in the distant past are suspected to have caused mass extinctions, so it is not unreasonable to fear a mass extinction might occur should the current changes to our climate continue. Thus, if we accept Nathan Gill’s stance on climate change we must accept that we are doomed. Thankfully, we don’t have to vote for his party.

On transport, Nathan Gill stated that UKIP preferred the ‘Blue Route’ M4 relief road at £400m to the £1bn second motorway (Labour’s ‘Black Route’). Sadly, this saving on the M4 wasn’t to fund public transport; instead he proposed spending the rest of that £1bn on the A55 and A470, suggesting it was currently easier to drive via England (using motorways) than use the A470.

Nathan also suggested he would break EU law if elected, by making the Welsh government use only Welsh steel. If he did this, would Wales be fined by the EU? Also, a survey has apparently shown that immigration is the second most important issue for voters in the forthcoming election, despite the fact that is not a devolved matter. These are issues for the EU referendum in June; clearly the role of the Welsh Assembly hasn’t been made nearly clear enough to the people of Wales.

Kirsty Williams (Welsh Liberal Democrats)

One of the questions Kirsty Williams was asked was similar to one of those put to Andrew R.T. Davies earlier in the week; regarding paying more attention to / spending more money on, more of Wales than just the Cardiff area. Her response was in stark contrast to the Welsh Conservative leader’s; rather than pledging future road investment she focused on other issues such as education. For example, she stated that her party had in the past achieved a better spread of schools funding across Wales, presumably as a condition of the Liberal Democrats supporting Labour’s budget.

The same focus on other areas was evident when the subject of the M4 came up. Like UKIP, the Lib Dems would scrap the hugely destructive £1bn ‘Black Route’, but would spend the money saved on creating more ‘affordable’ housing. She didn’t say where the houses would be built, but provided they are put somewhere with strong public transport links the policy articulated by Kirsty is by far the most sensible position of all the leaders questioned so far in the BBC’s series. Such a shame then that her party is still being attacked over some of the Tory policies they were unable to block in coalition, particularly university tuition fees. The British public needs to get over this; the tuition fees went up because they voted the Tories in, not because of the Lib Dems.

Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru)

Some of the questions on the fourth evening were quite different to those put to the other four leaders over the week. Nobody else was asked about Bovine TB and the controversial (and apparently futile) measures to eradicate it. Neither did the issue of nuclear power receive as much attention in the other programmes, making this episode the nearest the series came to discussing measures to tackle climate change. Plaid Cymru, it was revealed, are opposed to ‘fracking’, would not open new open-cast coal mines and don’t want to see a new nuclear power station anywhere other than on Anglesey, where they are looking to safeguard jobs following the shutdown of the current plant.

Leanne seemed keen to avoid a coalition with another party following the election, but only ruled out the Conservatives and UKIP as potential coalition partners.

Carwyn Jones (Welsh Labour Party)

The incumbent First Minster was at least the third leader to be asked about the Cardiff-focus of the current Welsh Government. Specifically, in this case (with the programme being broadcast from Llangollen), the question was why North Wales sometimes feels more remote Cardiff Bay than Westminster. Much like the Conservative’s on Monday, the Welsh Labour leader turned to roads in his attempt to address this. Apparently, Labour’s preferred hugely destructive M4 project being funded via borrowing would leave the current roads budget untouched, allowing major work on the A55 as well including a new bridge across the Menai Strait.

While Labour, along with the Tories, seem to be planning the most destructive roads, the Labour leader did at least have something to say about public transport as well. Carwyn Jones announced a ‘North Wales Metro’, to be paid for via a ‘City Deal’, and claimed improvements would come from devolving rail and bus services. Exactly what they would do with the powers if/when they get them devolved was not elaborated on though.

The Missing Party?

There the BBC’s series ended, there was no sixth programme to feature Alice Hooker-Stroud, leader of the Wales Green Party. The recently-started ‘BBC Wales Today’ election tour features a large cut-out figures of the five leaders discussed above in the tent, but Alice Hooker-Stroud is not pictured. Neither UKIP nor the Greens have any seats in the Welsh Assembly, so why does UKIP feature in the BBC’s coverage as much as the four parties who do have seats?

I suppose the BBC do occasionally acknowledge the existence of the Greens. ‘Wales Today’ covered the launch of the Green’s manifesto on Tuesday, just before the UKIP leader’s programme. The BBC will also be including all six main parties in a forthcoming televised debate, but I don’t believe the amount of coverage they are getting in comparison to UKIP is at all fair.