Friday, 22 August 2008

Independence versus Part of the Union

Ever wondered what Welsh Labour's views are on the future of Wales, but were too afraid to ask for fear of upsetting a coalition-caring AM? Ask a councillor. How far should Wales travel down the road towards independence? Following Plaid Cymru AM Helen Mary Jones’ essay on the issue, Labour councillor David Rees today presents an alternative view.

I WOULD like to set out for the Welsh people what I believe are the key facts about the devastating impact separation from Britain would have on Wales.

Recent research by Channel 4 News has highlighted the fact that Wales receives £5.4bn more to spend on public services each year than we pay in taxes.

This is the approximate amount of money that Wales spends each year on the entire NHS. This money would disappear from Wales on day one of separation.

There would be no transition period of 20 years. The English Government, as it would be, would, quite rightly, keep this money to spend in England.

What the English Government would do with all this extra money, we cannot know. They could increase public sector pay. This would result in a brain drain from Wales to England of nurses and teachers.

They could slash corporation tax. This would result in Welsh companies being unable to compete and relocating just over the border, taking thousands of jobs with them.

In addition, on day one of independence, Wales would receive its share of what was the United Kingdom’s debt. We can only assume this would be derived on a pro rata basis of the population. Current UK national debt is approximately £500bn. This would mean on day one of Plaid Cymru’s independent Wales, they would have to finance approximately £25bn of debt.

Now I’m not a pessimist by nature, but I can foresee that were this to happen, Plaid Cymru would be going to the International Monetary Fund with the begging bowl on day two of independence.

Helen Mary Jones makes the case for independence by pointing out the relatively high GDPs of countries like Ireland and Norway. What she fails to mention are the true facts behind these figures. Ireland’s relatively current high GDP figures mask the fact that much of this wealth is held by multinationals, which Ireland has attracted with the aid of lavish handouts from European taxpayers. However, money held by multinationals goes back to the parent country of the company and does not get circulated in the domestic economy.

Norway is probably the richest country on earth per head of population. There is one simple reason for this. Norway is surrounded by huge amounts of oil and gas. Norway is the world’s third biggest exporter of oil. Successive governments there have kept hold of the money generated to create the only sovereign wealth fund of any western country, valued at approximately $400bn.

To my knowledge there are no vast reserves of gas and oil off the Welsh coast that we can sell.

What plan would Plaid Cymru have in place to provide jobs to the thousands of civil servants who will surely lose their jobs on day one of independence?

Thousands of civil servants will be jobless from the DVLA, the Office for National Statistics, the Patent Office and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs Offices.

This would have a devastating effect on those local economies.

How many millions of pounds find their way into the tills of shopkeepers in Swansea from the many staff working at the DVLA?

Thousands of military personal would be jobless and we could very quickly say goodbye to the £16bn training academy in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Plaid Cymru will say people like me talk Wales down. Far from it. All I am doing is highlighting the realistic facts.

The fact is that Wales does very well from being a strong player in the United Kingdom and that the United Kingdom is immensely stronger for having Wales as part of it.

Independence for Plaid is an ideology, nothing else. A dream, if it came true, which would have very serious consequences in 21st century Wales.


alanindyfed 22 August 2008 at 10:42  

These arguments, mostly spurious, constitute further scare-mongering myths. We already have a catalogue of these and do not need more to add to them.
It is in the nation's interest to work for independence. This is not an ideology or a dream, but a practical and sensible alternative to what we have now which, to be realistic, is no benefit to Wales.

Al Iguana 22 August 2008 at 11:05  

to paraphrase:

"What plan would Plaid Cymru have in place to provide a job for an old-skool labourite like ME on day one of independence?"

Labour people always put themselves, and their personal fortune, ahead of the country. Always will do.

Nick 22 August 2008 at 11:30  

In truth I don't think Wales would fall apart on day one of independence, but I'm yet to hear HMJ or any other independence advocate actually explain the economic benefit to Wales of independence. It seems clear there would be significantly less money to go round.

An independent Wales would cope, but I don't believe it would prosper.

Pleasingly there remains very little support for the notion according to those opinion polls that are publically available.

Plaid and their internal independence group are working purely off ideology over practicality.

Anonymous 22 August 2008 at 12:45  

When the topic of independence comes up you dont often here rational opinions like Nicks above. Myself, i would like Wales to become an independent nation eventually and i think we would prosper but we have to do a considerable amount of nation building first. What i hear from Tories and Labourites alike is that Wales will be poor, we will fall apart or we cant look after ourselves properly - how do we know this and isnt it a little degrading to think that we havent got the peope of quality that other small nations have? Even the Tories in Scotland believe that the people of Scotland would do well as an independent nation but they believe above all the Scotland prospers even further as part of the union, an arguement i dont agree with but one that i respect very much.

jolly roger 22 August 2008 at 14:50  

Alanindyfeds back on the trail
Of his independent dream that's just bound to fail.
He just trots out the same old guff,
Telling we Welshies what we should do 'n stuff.
He doesn't listen to cogent debate,
But just gets worked up into a terrible state.
He dismisses all arguments, ignores the fact.
And bores us all with his patriotic act.

Councillor David Rees has told his tale well.
It's certainly worth reading, that I can tell.
But of course Al insists that he's mongering a scare,
But where's your evidence Al, where is it, where?
Wales on its own would sink like a stone,
And Dai Rees has certainly seen it.
A united UK is simply OK, believe me, I really mean it.

Anonymous 22 August 2008 at 20:28  

what is really sad is that the Western Mail is carrying two articles that have been written umpteen times in various formats before by both Plaid Cymru and Labour people, we don't have credible economics from Plaid Cymru on independence or solid defence from Labour about the Union, so these arguments will keep going round in circles.

Dr. Christopher Wood 22 August 2008 at 21:34  

... meanwhile after about ten years of WAG Wales is at the very bottom of the British economic league tables by GVA per head of population (‘An Overview of the Welsh economy” by Professor Brian Morgan, in ‘Who’s Who in Wales 2008’ published by the Western Mail, see especially page 9 thereof).

Al Iguana 23 August 2008 at 02:15  

@Dr Wood: of course we are. The old UK systems are breaking down, the old industry that was put in Wales by the UK gov is closing down or pulling out to Europe. Where is the new industry going? (if there is such a thing). I bet it's the South-East of England. If we want any better, we'll have to fight for it. And we can't do that if the WAG's hands are tied by people in London who would rather keep the good stuff for themselves thank you very much.

Dr. Christopher Wood 23 August 2008 at 03:04  

Sorry, I don't buy it that it's all England's fault - WAG has been in charge of business development in Wales for some years now. WAG has done some VERY dumb things such as recently forcing business rates on empty speculative build - e.g., on newly built but as yet un-leased factory space. This insanity during an economic downturn is going to undermine speculative factory and office building.

On the intellectual property front, Wales (c/o WAG) lags behind Europe and is miles behind former third world nations in Asia. There is a university which is a fraction of the size of the University of Wales yet this non-Welsh university has far more patents that the whole of the University of Wales, only the Welsh Medical School (now merged with Cardiff University) has made the effort to protect its intellectual property. How can Wales have a knowledge based economy if WAG does not take the necessary steps to ensure important innovation and discoveries are protected?

Wales can NO LONGER afford (if Wales ever could) to give up its intellectual property. But that is what Wales has been doing for ages and it leads to a narrow base of hi-tech industry which narrows choices for those Welsh PhD qualified scientists who would like to work in a thriving hi-tech Welsh sector, but absent a thriving Welsh hi-tech industry either take jobs in the Welsh public sector or are obliged to leave Wales in search of R&D work that fully utilizes their hard earned skill set.

If Welsh inventions are not protected then any Tom, Dick, Harry, country etc. can copy, make, distribute and sell Welsh 'innovation' without permission and without paying a royalty. My specialty is biotechnology, I am aware of several very important discoveries made by Welsh scientists that were not properly protected. Without IP protection we can't have, for example, a meaningful indigenous biotech industry - what private equity fund will provide funds to commercialize an important Welsh discovery absent proper patent protection?, Without IP protection we squander our future tax base, and without a strong tax base how can Wales become independent? We need a strong tax base to fund Welsh infrastructure, to fund hospitals and so on.

Wales has the innate capacity to develop a knowledge based industry, but WAG has failed miserably in harnessing Welsh scientific talent to create new jobs and wealth for Wales and as a direct consequence Wales remains at the very bottom of the UK economic league tables as reported by Welsh economist Professor Brian Morgan.

Wales can do a lot better, but sadly Wales is burdened by an inefficient insular Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) that fails to listen, fails to lead, and seems more interested in claiming expenses on second homes than in properly managing and building the Welsh economy.

Al Iguana 23 August 2008 at 08:30  

absolutely, I agree with you 100%. So let's fix it. Let's get a Welsh Government that works in the interest of Wales, and nothing else. It's no good saying "the WAG is rubbish, so let's stick with the UK Government". Rather, let's say "we must make the wag BETTER than the UK Government." Let's make Wales better. A more attractive place for investment, innovation, work etc.

Rhetoric Innes 23 August 2008 at 12:39  

One cannot agree more with Christopher Wood. Intellectual property and its protection is so important to small clever nations.
WAG has been in control of business development and the knowledge that it could not find match funding for its EU convergence grant and having to send money back to Brussels is a
slur on the administration.
Independence would not be a good thing. European Integration is a better scenario for the future. Especially with the emergence of china .
Independence would cause emigration away from Wales of the skilled and a huge amount of speculators coming in to buy up properties (which will have declined dramatically in price).

Dr. Christopher Wood 23 August 2008 at 15:20  

Al Iguana and Rhetoric Innes > I felt proud (Welsh proud) to read that you agree that Wales is a small smart nation and as such needs careful nurturing to build on its many innate talents. With a vibrant innovation-knowledge centered economy Wales will keep more of its PhD qualified applied scientists and engineers because there will be jobs in Wales for them. In my case I had to leave Wales because even though I had very marketable applied science skills – they were only such outside Wales for lack of a decent jobs base in Wales. Wales positively bleeds talent and skills c/o WAG.

I have a story to tell … this story begins with an epiphany back in 1997. I was a Research Officer (posh title for “post-doc” funded by a grant from Brussels) at Bath University in England; I needed to work with a rather dangerous bug and the UK’s Centre for Applied Microbiology & Research (CAMR) at Porton Down on Salisbury Plain in England let me work in one of their containment labs. While waiting for a culture to grow I would often kill time in the research center’s library and browsing its shelves one day I happened upon a book on protecting scientific intellectual property, not in England or Wales or Scotland, but in the USA. I read that book cover to cover. It opened my eyes to what was possible for Wales – and it depressed me too because it suddenly dawned on me the true damage being done to the Welsh economy through lack of proper IP protection for its many inventions and discoveries.

I decided to move to the USA to learn first hand how the US protected its university and private sector’s intellectual property and five years later I had a US law degree from DePaul law school in Chicago, had passed the American Bar, and less than a year later the Federal Patent Bar and was a fully qualified American IP lawyer with some five or six years of IP law experience (I worked full time as a IP law clerk, putting in long hours – I did night and weekend classes and the odd day class as long as it did not conflict too much with my full time job, which I needed to pay rent on an apartment, mortgage on my house in Cardiff, meals, bus fares, etc). It was tough, law school tuition put me into about $60,000 of debt. I am still paying it off. It took my about six or seven years before I could afford a car, which if anyone knows America meant I had a struggle doing even the most basic things like going to the bank, shopping etc.

After qualifying I came back to Wales to talk to any Welsh AM willing to listen to what I had learned about the American IP system, but apart from a couple of AMs could not find anyone willing to give me the time of day, which would be fine if WAG was doing well at building a thriving knowledge economy, but it wasn’t and still isn’t. One senior AM did agree to see me, I spent part of an afternoon in his office showing him stats on Chicago University’s registered (i.e. issued) patents and how they compared with the patent output of the University of Wales. A fair comparison I thought because Chicago University is much smaller than the University of Wales, I had found out that Chicago University had an order of magnitude more issued patents that the whole of the University of Wales (I lumped in Swansea, Cardiff, the Welsh Medical School, Bangor, Aberystwyth), only the Welsh Medical School (now part of Cardiff University) had a decent portfolio of registered patents but Chicago University on Chicago’s south side had an order of magnitude of registered patents.

This should have been an eye opener for that senior AM, but sadly he died a few weeks later while visiting "A Touch of Class" in Cardiff.

Dr. Christopher Wood 23 August 2008 at 15:31  

Typo: missed out “more” as in “more than an order of magnitude”. More specifically, a single private university a fraction of the size of the University of Wales had an order of magnitude more issued patents than the whole of the University of Wales - I included Swansea, Cardiff, the Welsh Medical School, Bangor, and Aberystwyth; the Welsh Medical School is now part of Cardiff University and Cardiff University is no longer a full member of the University of Wales.

See also:

Dr. Christopher Wood 23 August 2008 at 15:52  

Updated Issued Patent Search ...

Keep in mind that any large institute that goes for a patent almost certainly files a copy of the patent with the US Patent Office which is one of the cheapest patent filing countries in the world (covers all 50 states of the union for one filing fee compared to filing in the EU where the fee to cover all the EU states is about 10 times higher).

Applying the following Boolean search strings to the US Patent Database.

Using the following Boolean:

an/(university and (Swansea or Cardiff or Bangor or Aberystwyth or Newport or Pontypridd or Metropolitan))

Output: 51 issued patents as of August 23, 2008.

I've just checked the latest patent filings for the University of Chicago (which looking at their facts page is no larger than Cardiff University and the Medical School combined, but keep in mind that the University of Chicago is handicapped somewhat because it lacks an engineering faculty) – running Boolean (1):

an/("University of Chicago")

… the University of Chicago has 422 issued US patents and 241 US pending patents (making for about 660 issued or pending patents). This figure is below the true figure because the University of Chicago used to file patents under the banner ARCH Development Corporation (Chicago, IL); if I run the Boolean (2):

AN/"University of Chicago" OR AN/(ARCH AND Development): 777 (issued patents).

where “an” signifies assignee (hence I am not including inventors at the University of Chicago who filed in their own right). With this more accurate Boolean the University of Chicago has 760 issued patents.

an/(University) and ic/cardiff

Which covers any assignee with "university" in the title and based in the city of Cardiff (not case sensitive) produces 62 issued patents (as of August 23, 2008).

Dr. Christopher Wood 23 August 2008 at 15:59  

typo: "Chicago has 760 issued patents" should read: "Chicago has 777 issued patents".

Dr. Christopher Wood 23 August 2008 at 16:31  

Applying the National University of Singapore as a control; this university is located in a former third world environment, which according to Wikipedia compares well with Cardiff University (which includes the Welsh Medical School); certainly the National University of Singapore has far fewer staff and students than the University of Wales (with Cardiff added in) see below:

Results of Search in US Patent Collection db for:
AN/((university AND national) AND singapore): 237 (issued) patents.

And for Cardiff University:

Results of Search in US Patent Collection db for:
AN/(university AND cardiff): 38 (issued) patents.

The above Boolean covers: “University College Cardiff Consultants Limited (Cardiff)”

Now adding the previous issued patents attributed to the Welsh Medical or Pharmacy Schools:

AN/(welsh AND (medicine OR pharmacy)): 4 patents.

The above Boolean covers: “The Welsh National School of Medicine (Cardiff, GB)” and any issued patent assigned to any Welsh school of Medicine or Pharmacy regardless of location, but I am surprised at the low count; perhaps there has been some reassigning of the previously owned Welsh School of Medicine patents to University College Cardiff Consultants Limited – perhaps to hide the fact that Cardiff University (without its medical school) has an atrocious issued patent record in direct comparison with foreign universities; perhaps someone can solve this puzzle.

So lets double the number of patents for Cardiff University: 2 * (38 +4) = 84

It looks like a university in a former third world environment is outperforming Cardiff University by at least a factor of two.

Anyone at WAG listening?

Al Iguana 23 August 2008 at 17:44  

I doubt it, since this blog is (was) banned from the WAG. Although what you have is a serious issue for future innovation in Wales, and it needs to be looked at. Set up a petition on the Senedd website, then tell us where so we can all go over and sign it. All petitions are discussed in committee, so it will get the discussion started.

former oecd statistician 23 August 2008 at 18:03  

An independent Wales? No way! The country would be needing food parcel drops within three years of being an independent nation. Get real for God's sake. None of you patently have any grasp of the economics involved in either becoming or sustaining a viable nation state. You are all deluded if you think Wales could survive beyond three years. You have no natural resources to either export in raw, processed or manufactured form. You would become spongers on the EU/UN in no time at all. Whatever drugs you people are on, then please stop taking them and join the real world. Nationalist aspiration on self-detemination is one thing - deliberately and purposefully impoverishing your people is something completely different. Trust me, you cannot eat a flag - so stop this nonsense now!
(P.S. The Welsh people are far too sensible to fall any of this nonsense. They bascially know which side their Unionist bread is buttered - thank God!)

Dr. Christopher Wood 23 August 2008 at 18:18  

I'm already receiving a lot of heat for being a Welshman in America so me putting a petition up regardless of its intrinsic importance to Wales would probably be ignored in favour of throwing comments at me leaving Wales (temporarily I hope) to seek work in the USA (in the IP field); well, I don't recall any job in Welsh IP being advertized when I was looking for a IP job. So much so in fact that it was easier to land a job at an IP law firm in Chicago.

Anways/Milliways … apparently I’m not Welsh even though I have brothers and a sister all born, like me, in Cardiff, Wales; in fact my family goes back generations in Wales.

My maternal Welsh grandparents ran the White Hart Inn in Bedwas for many years and for a time managed the Conservative Club of Bedwas. My father grew up in a village near Port Talbot. I have relatives all over the shop in Wales.

But apparently I’m not a Welshman because I have a piece of paper that lets me work in America without visa restrictions – no longer Welsh even though I have lived a lot longer in Wales than in America. Not Welsh even though I am Welsh by birthplace, Welsh blood and Welsh spirit which extends to following Welsh Affairs and wanting Wales to finally have a thriving hi-tech knowledge based economy protected by patents as required for inward investment and Welsh job and Welsh wealth creation enabling Wales to one day make a meaningful try for independence albeit within the framework of the EU or what ever name sake it takes on.

As a ‘non-Welshman” - it is my wish to be buried next to my Welsh grandparents and my Welsh mother (when its time).

I’m Welsh born, Welsh bred, and one day I will Welsh dead. (Borrowing a line from, on information and belief, a Cardiff folk song.)

Dr. Christopher Wood 23 August 2008 at 18:29  

Sorry, I type fast; "I will Welsh dead" should read "I will BE Welsh dead"; emphasis added in capitals. Did I mention that I learnt how to type at the Friary Centre off Queen Street in Cardiff, South Wales? I learnt to write at Cefn Onn infant and Junior schools in Llanishen, Cardiff; I learnt long multiplication and long division from a teacher at Greenway Junior School near Trowbridge Estate on the east side of Cardiff. The first swing I went on as a kid was built by my Welsh father who worked at the local Welsh steel works (Eastmoores probably). But apparently I am not Welsh anymore. So can't join Welsh IP programs to give expert insight into filing patents in the USA - apparently I can fly 3,500 miles to see them at a meeting, but I can't be on an email list c/o stupid WAG rules. I wonder y Rhodri Morgan bothered to travel to the USA to tell Welsh expats to take an interest in Welsh matters (affairs if you will) when the organization he resides over bans Welsh expats from email lists. It’s a strange world that Welsh ministers live in.

Anonymous 27 August 2008 at 18:03  

Is that the same Helen Mary Jones who said in 2001, on the BBC, that "Cuba is the only indepedent country in the world"? Or a different one?

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