Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dark clouds gather over Clocaenog Forest

So....It came as no surprise when the coalition energy supremo, Ed Davey, MP for Kingston and Surbiton, rubber stamped the planning application by German global energy corporation RWE, to build a thirty two turbine wind farm in Clocaenog Forest. For those who argue for devolving power away from the London political mafia to the nations and regions, the Clocaenog decision, highlights the rotten and corrupt way decisions like this are made. A project which will have huge social and environmental consequences in North Wales, decided in London by a Southern English Liberal MP who almost certainly has never even set foot in Clocaenog Forest.

For these people and the global energy corporations they serve, places like Clocaenog, The Hiraethog and the Arenig outliers, are just contour lines on a map.  Relatively empty expanses, remote and easy to exploit.Elevation..tick: thinly spread population..tick: compliant political machine..tick: sympathetic landowners (In this case The Welsh Government) tick.

The Right Honourable Edward Davey MP. Member for Kingston and Surbition....and global energy corporations.

A while ago I outlined the serious impact the wind farm could have on residents in the Vale of Clwyd through the risk of increased flooding caused by extensive deforestation; ( The Vale of Clwyd is the most at risk area in the whole of Wales and one of the highest at risk areas in the UK) See ‘All this Useless Beauty’. I also outlined why the planning enquiry then taking place was a total sham. The tracks within the forest were already being widened and reinforced to take heavy plant machines and borrow pits (quarries) were being  reopened and extensively worked to provide aggregate for the development.

As with most of these huge industrial scale developments, the name of the game is profits. Huge heavily subsidised profits at that. As I write, electricity provided by these wind farms is down 20% on 2013 levels, despite more wind farms opening and operating. Quite simply, the wind is not blowing as strongly this year! One of the biggest scams to incense environmentalists is when the government pays the wind farm operators to close down their sites in periods when the UK’s nuclear, coal and gas power stations are producing too much energy. For example, when it becomes unseasonal warm and electricity demand drops.

Factors like this will not affect RWE’s profits though as the UK government guarantees a fixed rate for renewable energy, despite this economic strategy falling outside of its neo liberal philosophy which preaches the absolute laws of the market must prevail. Whereas ship building, coal mining, car production etc-is allowed to fail and production out sourced to the far east, the so called renewable sector is feather bedded and protected. Little wonder that investors gather like swine around a steaming subsidy trough!

Economic and political factors apart; I am left wondering who will notice when the red squirrel, the black grouse and the red kite are wiped out in Clocaenog Forest and who will pick up the tab if-and some would say when- serious flooding impacts on those vulnerable valley communities? Not RWE or its shareholders that's for sure!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Scotland's declaration of dependence. was not to be...this time! The most momentous political event in the UK in my lifetime and an all too rare opportunity to actually achieve real positive change through the ballot box came to naught. A one sided media blitzkrieg and a panic stricken political establishment  promising the world, was enough to persuade the grey conservative constituency within Scotland to remain under Westminster rule. For the demographics show the over 55’s were the bedrock of the No campaign. A sizable element that neutralized the votes of the 71% of young voters who had voted for independence. 

Depending on your perspective, these older voters who were targeted by the Better Together crew were either ‘Wee Timorous Beasties’ frit of change, or a vulnerable element who were ruthlessly exploited by Project Fear’s scaremongering. Everything from pensions to TV licences, food prices to mortgages. The grey vote was basically battered into submission by an endless stream of negative propaganda and basically, enough of them swallowed it. 

For the young and the young at heart, it can feel like a betrayal. A triumph of fear over hope...of cynicism over self belief. It is a fact though, that the conservative constituency is literally a dying constituency. The older generation- many of whom  have a WW2 brothers in arms camaraderie with their English, Welsh and Irish fellow combatants; have experienced the deprivations which followed the war and moved through to the relative prosperity of a post 1950’s economy when jobs were plentiful and industries like mining and shipbuilding still thrived- are undeniably more sympathetic to the concept of unionism and see Great Britain as a benign construct.

By contrast, the present generation have seen a weakening of the ties that bind to the extent that the majority see an independent Scottish state as a natural progression from its current devolved state. More European in outlook and just as likely to visit Amsterdam or Berlin as London, this young outward looking generation is more likely to observe the advantages of living in a modern Nordic state than in a tired imperial relic. It is this constituency that eminent left wing Scottish historian Tom Devine refers to when he declares that the ‘independence genie has been let out of the bottle and it cannot ever return’. From the triumphalist Tory journalists who declare that the UK has killed the idea of Scottish independence stone dead- ignoring the 45% vote for independence-to the more sober Guardianists who say that the issue is ‘over for a generation’. I would suggest that with almost half the population voting for independence and with Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow voting break away from Ruritania, then this significant element of Scottish society is not about to meekly touch their forelocks, accept that might is right and slunk off into the night .

There is a new political force in Scotland which crosses the progressive political spectrum. The Yes campaign has managed to capture the centre/left ground, embracing vibrant new non aligned  movements, harnessing articulate new young voices and consigning the dismal Labour Party led by the hapless and hopeless Miliband to its rightful place with the rest of the centre/right UK establishment parties.  The great city of Glasgow has been a shining light in this great conversation. Ignoring the siren voices of the tame media and the UK political cabal and reviving the spirit of ‘The Red Clyde’. Politically savvy and unafraid to pursue a radical agenda. By contrast, the genteel folk of Edinburgh rather confirming Billy Connolly’s observation that ‘a Glasgow funeral is more fun than an Edinburgh wedding’ ! Conservative, tame and reserved. A city with a sizable constituency of that group recognized by political pollsters as ‘Shy Tories’. Or in this case ‘Shy Unionists’.

As for the future? The UK economy is £1.2 trillion in debt (88% of GDP) and can only function if a tame populace accept zero contract hours, low pay, long hours, welfare cuts, austerity and continued massive borrowing. The irony being that Scotland was continually told it was economically nonviable despite its obvious wealth and potential compared to the rest of the UK.  A useful analogy would be to have seen the referendum as a launching of a lifeboat. The provisions had been stashed; a course had been plotted; people had starting climbing aboard but at the 11th hour, with land and deliverance in sight, everyone was ordered to get back on board The UK Titanic!

To be continued......

John Appleby

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Scotland....Dare to Dream!

The most important political event that has taken place in these islands in my lifetime is just two days away. Unlike the pointless musical chairs that take place in a UK general election where three or is it now four?, neo liberal parties take turns in governing on behalf of the South East, The City and the Global corporations-a process which as Russell Brand so rightly points out is pretty pointless if you want to see real radical change. The Scottish referendum for once, offers the people a unique opportunity to prize London’s bony fingers from around their throats and build a prosperous future in their own free state.

A future free of the dead hand of Conservatism or New Labour. A Country with a built in centre left majority which can look to the more progressive Nordic states as role models rather than remain tied to-in George Monbiot’s words- ‘a corrupt and dysfunctional  British state’.

I was watching a re-run of Jonathan Meades Off Kilter Series from a few years ago this week. In an episode entitled ‘The Football Pools Towns’ Meades travelled around those little outposts on the east coast of Scotland which most people south of the border only know from the football results. This was not the Scotland of mountains and glens or tartan and shortbread; it was a Scotland of empty factories, abandoned coal mines and boarded up shops. It was a Scotland where the working classes having served their economic purpose had been cast adrift. Surviving on brutal housing estates whose very existence is a damning indictment of the politicians, planners and architects who put them there. It was a part of Scotland which shows the highest rate of Heroin use in Europe; a Scotland of poor diets, high cancer deaths, heart disease and lowest life expectancy. It was a Scotland where 11% of the people claimed disability allowance and where suicide rates amongst the young is frequent and unquestioned.

This is the Scotland that London built. Particularly since 1979 when Thatcher’s neo liberal economic policies laid waste to great parts of the nation which depended for its life blood on industries like Shipbuilding, car manufacturing and coal mining. In the new ideologically driven age, The Westminster government now served international capital and traditional industries could be closed down and everything from cars to coal could be imported. The new Britain which New Labour now also embraces as enthusiastically as the Tories, saw an economic future where pushing numbers around in The City was to be at the prime heart of the new economy. An economy which Westminster was increasingly building as a sort of European China. An economy of long hours, low wages and zero hours contracts. An economy of workfare, austerity, tax breaks for the rich and all based on outrageous levels of state borrowing. A level which has continued to rise under this government and now stands at almost 90% of the UK’s GDP.

This is the Great Britain that the people of Scotland are being told they would be insane to leave. But what would they be leaving? A nation with an unelected head of state and where UK residents are subjects without a bill of rights.( In an independent Scotland they would be citizens with a BOR). A nation with an unelected second chamber and the only country in the world- apart from Iran- where religious leaders can automatically take a place in a state legislature. A state with an ingrained class system of Lords, Dukes, Earls and all manner of medieval titles, all backed up by a ludicrous honours system.

A state which has proportionally the 4th highest military spending in the world and in which Gordon Brown’s last Labour government commissioned the Trident weapons system which eventually will cost us £50 billion pounds! A weapons system based of course in Scotland...not the Thames Estuary!  A Great Britain which has seen the gap between rich and poorer grow wider year on year. In fact the gap grew greater during the Blair/Brown New Labour era than during the Thatcher era.

As I write, the establishment are undergoing a collective nervous breakdown. Never before have I witnesses such a one sided propaganda blitz during what is supposed to be a democratic process. The UK has revealed itself as almost authoritarian in its manipulation of the media. It’s blitzkrieg of lies, scaremongering, smearing of independence supporters and threats, would do credit to a tin pot banana republic. The Mass Media, The Banks, The City, unelected EU bureaucrats, foreign leaders and the Westminster cabal, marching in train with the Far Right under a tatted Union Jack. The nauseous sight of the Duke of Westminster’s son in law, Dan Snow and the former picture editor of Tatler, Ben Fogle, rallying a contemptible band of has beens, tax exiles and millionaire celebrities under the union banner, is just one of the many vomit inducing stunts which Better Together have foisted upon a public which increasingly shows itself inured to ’Project Fear’.

But will the Scottish people finally cave in to this propaganda blitz?  A campaign so outrageously based on lies and distortions that Joseph Goebbels would blush! It would be truly an amazing and wonderful thing if Scotland held its nerve and chose freedom over subservience. A progressive future over a stultifying and soul destroying  attachment to a decaying right wing Ruritania. Scotland will be independent, of that be I am no doubt. It would be such a tragedy though, if a failure of nerve at the final moment, condemned the country to more of the same. More Centre Right governments of Bullingdon Boys or Labour Dinosaurs. More wars, more tax breaks for the rich, more austerity, more food banks and soup kitchens, a crippled NHS and education system and the continued dumbing down and Murdochisation of sport and culture.

If Scotland votes YES then I could not do better than recall those lines from Wordsworth, writing about The French Revolution ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven’. For it is for the young that Scotland must build its brighter future. Not leaving the country in the hands of the grey emotionally dead, self serving undertakers of the old order. The Alistair Darlings and Gordon Browns of this world. Politicians so venal and incompetent during their own terms of office that the UK is still suffering the after-shocks of their City friendly policies.  However, I would turn to a less lauded poet, to summarize why I feel Scotland should grasp this opportunity with both hands and cry freedom. In the words of John Lyndon aka Johnny Rotten... “ There is no future in England’s dreaming’. The UK began to break up nearly a hundred years ago with the Irish Easter rising. Centralized states where one dominant nation controls it's empire from its capital are doomed to fail. Be they The Soviet Union, China, Yugoslavia or Great Britain. The future is with small self governing nations, controlling their own destinies but in a spirit of international cooperation.

Scotland...I pray with all my heart that you break the chains that bind you to, in Edward Abbey's words..."that dear, tepid,vapid,insipid, stuffy little country'.

John Appleby

Friday, September 12, 2014

Chalk marks cause a dust storm

Photo: Snowdon Mountain Guides

An artist has-with permission from the National Trust who own the land- created a  text mural upon a slab within Cwm Tregalan on the flanks of Yr Wyddfa (or Mount Snowdon as it’s known in English!) The work was created to promote a National Theatre of Wales production ‘The Gathering’ and is an extract from a poem by Wales’s national poet, Gillian Clarke. 

The work has created quite a brouhaha amongst many in the mountain fraternity, including many of my friends who have vented their displeasure through the social media. It resembles a similar art v nature debate a couple of years ago over in Yorkshire. Simon Armitage’s Stanza Stones project which caused passions to fly on the UKC forum. In that project, a local stone engraver, Pip Hall, had carved calligraphic text of six Armitage poems into slabs of rock at various locations around Ilkley Moor.

In the North Wales project, lines from Gillian Clarke’s poetry has been chalked onto the rock using natural clay product which is designed to be washed off after the play has finished. It’s strange how these things stimulate outrage in the outdoor community. See the Llanberis slate of the art project, or witness the contempt for mountain memorials and cairn waymarkers on the forums.

I find it strange because North Wales is hardly a pristine corner of Patagonia. It’s popular mountains are carved up with beaten tracks; the popular crags are polished and speckled with chalk. Yr Wyddfa itself has a bloody railway going up it and cafe resembling a Lidl supermarket on the summit for God’s sake! We look out from the tops to busy roads and wind farms. Many of the tracks we follow pass old workings and dissect fences and walls.  The land is virtually a sheep cropped monoculture, as natural as a window box in a city flat! It’s a mountain theme park in its way. A theme park which hasn’t developed organically, but which has been shaped by commerce. might sound like heresy but I don’t mind a bit of art in the great outdoors providing it has some creative merit. The sculptures of Andy Goldsworthy or David Nash appear to not just tolerated but acclaimed, even though they are usually sited in a natural setting. Often a setting which is lot more natural and unspoiled than a popular trail in Snowdonia. In fact, I’d like to see more art in the national park. Especially in those northern bounds which is suffering from overuse and which have become scarred and pitted by millions of pairs of boots. 

Gillian Clarke’s poetry graffiti on a small slab or a crocodile of walkers queuing up to touch Yr Wyddfa’s trig point on a summer’s bank holiday. No prizes for guessing which one I find uglier!

Photo: Snowdon Mountain Guides.