Monday, 25 June 2012

Jobs based on a different future, please

Last week’s news that the Labour Party in Wales would support the move of Trident to Milford Haven if Scotland becomes independent caused a flurry, but was hardly a surprise.  It’s entirely consistent with Labour’s position on nuclear weapons over many years.
But the underlying reasoning behind the move by the First Minister is really nothing to do with the argument about nuclear weapons per se.  It is, rather, based on a much simpler logic which runs something like this:
·        Wales needs jobs
·        ‘This project’ provides jobs
·        Wales should welcome ‘this project’.
One could substitute almost anything for ‘this project’; and in that sense, Carwyn Jones’ position on Trident isn’t that different from the position of many other politicians on other projects – such as Wylfa B or the Severn Barrage for instance.  The logic is exactly the same.
There is scope for debate, of course, about how many real jobs ‘this project’ provides.  The only certainty is that the numbers will be overstated by supporters of the project, and will inevitably include a number of jobs to be filled by those relocating with the project.  And whilst the debate about the number of jobs is far from irrelevant, it has more to do with whether any particular project represents value for money than with the underlying principle.
And it’s the consideration of the principle which is missing from the logic above.  It’s easier to see a principle in relation to Trident than it is for a number of other projects, but that simply underlines the fact that different people draw the line in different places.  Rather then admitting that the real issue is where to draw the line, most politicians seem to fall back on criticising anyone who opposes ‘this project’ as being anti-jobs – and it was notable that that was exactly what Jones did last week, in his side-swipe at Plaid over Trident.
I’m clear that I want to see a demilitarised Wales (and world, come to that, but let’s start with that part for which we bear the most direct responsibility), and that Trident, or any other variety of WMD, doesn’t fit with that view.  (Just as I’m also clear that I want to see an energy policy based on renewables, and that Wylfa B doesn’t fit with that view.)  That means that there are some projects to which I would be opposed, no matter how many jobs they would bring.  Ultimately, I want to see employment in Wales based on creating a new future, not on simply perpetuating the status quo.
To argue that we should ignore such questions – and all the strategies produced by government – in pursuit of jobs, in whatever field, is to avoid taking responsibility for building a different kind of future for our country and the world.  Politicians who argue otherwise are simply reacting to and managing ‘what is’ rather than building ‘what should be’.


Welsh not British said...

We need jobs, that is obvious. But we should be in a position where companies are begging us to let them in.

If we had control of our water and energy then we could limit what went across the border. Instantly putting their prices up and ours down. Combined with our cheaper labour costs this would make Wales a far more attractive place to do business than England.

Labour would never sign up for this and we're still waiting for Plaid to start making it's economic case.

John Dixon said...

Whilst I'd certainly agree that we need to have control over our own natural resources (and control means rather more than just control of the planning regime, which is all that some seem to be asking for), I wouldn't agree with your approach to economics here. The point of having control is surely to close the gap in earnings, not to depend on cheaper labour in Wales, isn't it? And charging more for exported energy and water may well run into a few little difficulties with EU rules...

Increasing the gap between costs and prices would certainly increase the profit levels; but Wales, and the people of Wales, would only benefit directly from such an approach if the etnerprises concerned were state-owned, and the profit used to fund state services; it would otherwise simply disappear into the pockets of the business owners.

Anonymous said...

The mind boggles, it really does.

"If we had control of our water and energy then we could limit what went across the border. Instantly putting their prices up and ours down"

Wouldn't 'they' just reduce their prices to match ours? Isn't that how competition works?

State ownership of resources is also questionable under EU law isn't it?

John Dixon said...

"State ownership of resources is also questionable under EU law isn't it?"

I cannot quote chapter and verse here, but it isn't quite as simple as that. The EU certainly does not mandate that 'resources' cannot be state-owned - if it did, the the Crown Estate could no longer exist, for instance. So passing ownership of Crown Estate property in Wales to the Welsh people, to be exercised through the National Assembly would not be a problem. (And without having checked it in detail, I suspect that there is a degree of state ownership of resources in most EU countries.)

It gets more complex when we talk about ownership of the companies which exploit those resources - and, as I implied in my previous comment, that's where the bulk of any profit would end up. Again, the EU does not ban state ownership of enterprises per se - the railway system in many European countries, for instance, is state-owned. (And state-owned countries can even buy up private companies elsewhere - Arriva Trains, for instance, is now largely owned by the German state through the state-owned railway company).

There is an issue about taking private owned companies into state ownership (nationalisation, in effect), but that wasn't a bar to the state taking huge equity stakes in the banks as a result of the financial crisis. EU competition law is a complex area, but it should not present insurmountable obstacles to any Welsh Government which was serious about making sure that Wales benefited from her own natural resources. Where there's a will...

I agree with you, though, that the suggestion of simply increasing prices for exported water and energy is over-simplistic.