What a difference a year makes. This time 12 months ago, there were so many questions unanswered, so many challenges to meet for Plaid Cymru, as a party and as part of the Welsh Government. At that time, commentators were quick to question whether our ambitious commitments on the language and affordable housing would be met; whether we could set a clear and radical new course for the economy; how we would respond to plans by Labour and the Tories at UK level to substantially reduce the Welsh budget; and, of course, whether the agreed referendum on further lawmaking powers for the National Assembly would happen. While these important questions had to be answered – the ongoing economic crisis overshadowed everything.
Reports from the Party Leaders at the Year’s End
Yesterday we heard from First Minister and Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones. Tomorrow is the turn of Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams, and on Thursday the leader of the Welsh Conservatives Nick Bourne.
ClickonWales wishes all our readers a prosperous and happy New Year!
Now, 12 months on, most would recognise that the questions have been answered, and it’s fair to note that most doubters have fallen silent. We can proudly say that Plaid Cymru in coalition as part of the Welsh Government has achieved those things we set out to achieve when the One Wales agreement was signed. We have also shown that, during a uniquely challenging period in our history as a nation, we have shown an innate ability to lead and do what is best for Wales when the difficult issues arise.
As leader of Plaid Cymru, I’ve been struck by the maturity with which the party has entrusted its’ group in the National Assembly to deliver on what we set out to achieve – even when dealing with totemic and often emotive issues. From the language measure to student finance, and from the Tory /Lib Dem’s cuts agenda to the future of our national legislature, Plaid has succeeded in taking up the challenge of government with great commitment, composure and a determination to change those things where we believe in better.
The reason for that is simple. Plaid Cymru has one overarching agenda – it is and always will be to do what is in the best interests of Wales. It is so much easier for any party or organisation to maintain such belief and confidence when results are forthcoming. Our ability to deliver has been central to keeping up the huge level of commitment and motivation that exists within the party. I am proud of every member, every supporter, and every voter who has patiently waited and believed that we could make a difference if given the chance. I hope they share in my pride at our record in government.
However, we have had to overcome obstacles along the way. While the Welsh Government has to continue to make bids, on a case by case basis, for powers before being able to legislate – its ability to deliver will always be dependent on the political views of others. It will remain dependant on the will of Westminster politicians rather than on the settled will of the Welsh electorate.
That is what the current system entails, and it is an inefficient and nonsensical impediment to the workings of our democracy. Numerous legislative proposals (for Carers, the Language and Housing for example) have been held-up in the bureaucratic ping-pong which at best delays the important improvements that the government has committed to delivering, and at worst risks bringing pieces of legislation to a grinding halt.
The case for leaving this ridiculous system behind and saving money as a result is overwhelming. Ensuring that we do just that will dominate the initial months of 2011.
The case presented by the few who are campaigning against law making powers is driven by those who want to hold Wales back – those who are reluctant to see Wales taking on the same responsibilities as Scotland and Northern Ireland. Their argument is illogical. They say that we don’t deserve to make our own laws, and they dust off those tired old sound bites that they have used to oppose devolution down the years. Their rationale that the ‘Welsh Assembly’ hasn’t done enough to justify having extra powers is flawed and short-sighted in the extreme. The Welsh public understands that if they are unhappy with the performance of a Welsh Government, then they should vote accordingly at the next election. Ensuring that the legislative process remains embarrassingly flawed is only likely to hamper the efforts of future governments.
This important referendum will be followed closely by the party political contest of the May Assembly elections – our first elections to a proper Welsh Parliament when the Welsh public will decide whose plans for the next four years are best for Wales. These elections will take place within a whole new context – a context of severely shrinking budgets and UK government decisions to withdraw support and jobs from Wales.
Money will be tight, and our manifesto will have to reflect that reality. However, we cannot let austerity smother ambition. We must continue to offer radical new ways for the Welsh Government to provide services and increase prosperity, and it is my party’s intention to do so.
Radical change does not always cost money. Earlier this year I announced the radical new approach I have decided to adopt for economic development. It represents a big change for us in Wales. Instead of offering huge incentives to multinationals to relocate here, sometimes for short periods, we’re focusing government funding on transforming the business environment for all business in Wales – large and small – encouraging investment, entrepreneurship, and job creation which is sustainable in the longer term.
One ambitious element to this plan is a pledge to provide Next generation broadband to all businesses in Wales by 2016 and I am proud to have set that development in motion through putting the contract out to tender over the last few weeks. All this is focusing resources more efficiently and effectively. Plaid now has its sights set on doing the same for the education system. We must tackle the problem of children in Wales who leave school unable to read and write. This is destroying their life chances and is holding back our economic performance in some parts of our country. Ensuring that our children are given the best start in life surely is the most effective way of tackling poverty and creating a stronger economy.
Plaid has already begun to talk publicly about some of the ideas we want to incorporate into our future plans – and that process will continue into the New Year. And what an important year it will be for Wales.
2010 has been a year of delivery for Plaid Cymru – protecting the jobs of thousands of workers, ensuring greater fairness for our students, maintaining our commitment to free bus passes and childcare, delivering new language legislation, reaching our affordable homes targets, creating a radical new direction for our economy and yes, delivering the much needed referendum, too. 2011 with bring with it a new set of challenges – challenges which Plaid will meet head-on with the same tenacity and determination to change Wales for the better.