Monday, 23 July 2012

Manufacturing more armaments in Wales?

I welcome the publication of the report by Plaid’s Economics Commission (Offa’s Gap, available here).  One of the problems with debating the economics of Wales is the lack of dependable figures.  For a variety of reasons, there are no such things as definitive answers, and this report itself has inevitably had to make estimates or inferences at times.  Nothing wrong with that; it’s sometimes the only option available.  The assumptions underlying those estimates and inferences will be, of necessity, open to challenge, but they seem to me to be reasonable.
The authors make it clear that this report is aimed merely at establishing what the baseline is, rather than at suggesting solutions, but there are some hints of possible ways forward.  In this context, it’s interesting to compare the report itself with the article based on it over at ClickOnWales.  That article is obviously very heavily based on the report – to the extent that many of the paragraphs in it are lifted, more or less unchanged, from the report itself.
There’s nothing wrong with that as an approach, but for those of us with reasonable short term memories, reading one followed by the other tends as a result to highlight the differences.  And there is one difference in particular which struck me as being interesting to say the least.
Take this paragraph from the article on ClickOnWales:
“Particular thought should be given to the opportunities offered in the public sector.  These include opportunities in the defence industry where Wales is currently under-represented in procurement terms.  They also include new opportunities arising out of the privatisation policies in health and education being followed by the Westminster Government.”
Then compare what I take to be the original, from the report itself:
“Particular thought should be given to the opportunities offered in the public sector, including potential new opportunities which may arise out of the privatisation policies in health and education being pursued by the Westminster Government.”
Spot the difference?  It leapt out at me, and I then went through the report again.  The word 'defence' doesn't appear in it once.  The ClickOnWales article, however, mentioned the ‘defence industry’ again towards the end, saying “Some of these prescriptions will be controversial for a variety of reasons.  What role is there for the defence industry at a time of falling defence spending?”
Why the proposal to expand the armaments industry in Wales appears in one but not the other is an open question.  An individual – in this case, Adam Price – trying to float an idea is the most obvious potential explanation.  Whether it’s a deliberate attempt by the party to float an idea at arm’s length, whilst retaining what Nixon called 'credible deniability', or whether it’s just an individual expressing a view is another open question however.
The one thing that is certain is that the extent to which the defence industry has a future at a time of falling defence spending is far from being the only thing that would make such a proposal controversial.  A deliberate decision to expand the defence industry in Wales would be a huge change from the position held by most members of Plaid over many decades.


Siônnyn said...

Perhaps when he mentions defence, he is referring to his cricket loving successor, Jonathon Edwards's Forward Defence?

Anonymous said...

Price is of course one of party leader Leanne Wood's strongest supporters (or is it the other way round?) so we can be sure that this idea is being floated wit the full support of the leadership.

I left Plaid several years ago, objecting to its increasing opportunism and lack of principles, and this sucking up to the arms industry, just like they did when they supported the military academy in the vale of glamorgan, is a clear example of it.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing new in this. Wasn't it Price who signed Plaid up to supporting the Defence Academy in the first place?

maen_tramgwydd said...

I must admit that I missed that when I read both.

In Adam's defence, please excuse the pun, won't an independent Wales need defending?

If you agree that it will, and there is no way that you can't agree, then that will require defence procurement. Wales' armed defence forces will need equipping, and that equipment should where possible be produced and supplied in Wales.

Adam doesn't spell out what he means by 'defence procurement', and he could well be criticised for not doing so, but it might be unfair to assume his comment means the procurement of purely offensive weapons.

I'm sure that Wales hasn't had its fair share of the UK's defence budget in the past, and that money would more than pay for an independent Wales' defence needs. It's arguable that that amount of money, at least should be spent in Wales and not elsewhere.

I'm not a pacifist. The world we live in is rough and tough. There are no clear lines when it comes to issues like defence.

Won't an independent Welsh military need training? What's the difference in moral terms between sending them to Dartmouth/Sandhurst, and having an academy in Wales? Like it or not, they will have to be trained in methods of killing people.

Having said that, I share your concern. I want less, a lot less, defence spending. Adam should spell out what he means.

Plaid should provide us with an outline of an independent Wales' defence requirements too, along the lines that Owen did in his blog a while ago, in an interesting series of articles.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a pacifist but conscious of our need (in Plaid) to support SOME cuts. We can't oppose all cuts. Well, we can, but it isn't honest. There are alot of cuts that can be supported, particularly in defence spending. It is a heavily subsidised industry. I'm willing to see exactly what Adam means by this though.

M_T St Athan wasn't really a Welsh equivalent of Sandhurst though. It was a PFI scheme to centralise all of the UK state's non-combat training (and training of its various totalitarian allies) in one location (in Wales). Aside from pacifist objections there were political objections to be made in terms of the PFI and how uneconomic it was. And that was in fact what eventually made the project collapse. To the UK taxpayer it is more efficient to actually have the training spread out, because the cost of constructing one huge academy, through a PFI, would have been astronomical.

I would imagine that Price supported it on the basis of jobs. He may well have withdrawn his support later on when details of the problems around the PFI contract and the lack of jobs for local people became more apparent. But who knows. Leanne Wood was always opposed to it as far as I know, so Anonymous 17:54's comment doesn't make sense.

You can't ultimately please everyone as a modern political party, but there's also the risk of pleasing no-one!

John Dixon said...

It's quite true that Wales does not receive her 'fair share' of defence procurement. The question, both politically and economically, is about the response to that. Do we demand that there be more defence spending in Wales, or do we demand our share of the money so that we can decide how to spend it? I opt for the latter, and wouldn't choose to spend it on armaments.

I accept that not all nationalists are pacifists - although the national movement has long contained a strong pacifist element - and I also accept that an independent Wales would need to spend some of its resources on defence. But that isn't what was being suggested.

The sentence has to be taken in context. The paragraph preceding the one I quoted from the ClickOnWales article (and the preceding paragraph in the report itself is very similar) says:

"Secondly, a key part of the new export-oriented economic strategy will be to devise an appropriate plan to maximize the economic opportunity offered by our nearest and biggest neighbour, England – a high-value market, 45 million people of which are within two hours travelling time of Wales. The Welsh public and private sectors need to pool their intelligence and resources in seeking to sell Welsh goods and services to England. The appallingly low participation of Welsh firms in the Olympic Games are symptomatic of a systematic failure by the Welsh economy to adapt to the changing nature of opportunities within the wider UK economy."

I cannot see how that can be interpreted as being other than a suggestion that Wales should be looking to export defence equipment to England and beyond. And that is a solution to our economic problems which I would reject.

Siônnyn said...

Adam loves throwing fat in the fire, just to see the reaction. Had he been an elected politician, he could not have been this provocative.

He is flying kites - which is exactly what this exercise is supposed to be about. I think that a sensible defence strategy based on Wales's post independence needs should be discussed now. But I really don't want to sell bombs to the English, let alone anyone else.

I do like his idea about using not for profit Welsh companies to deliver healthcare for our beloved neighbours, though!