Wales is a nation. It has a capital city, a Parliament and a Government. It has a border, an anthem and two official languages. It has national sports teams, a National Museum, Library, Opera and Poet. And yet, it has no seat in the European Union or United Nations. Its Government can legislate only on a limited range of issues and can raise no taxes. It has no separate legal jurisdiction. In this quandary exists 21st century Wales: a nation in all but power and status, a nation but not a nation state.
In my view, this nation can be so much more. It can be a nation state in its own right. Its economic potential has remained stifled and untapped. As a people, we should not accept the inevitability of poverty, as promoted by our political opponents. Our economic weakness is as a direct consequence of 40 years of UK economic policy having paid no attention to the plight of the Welsh economy and basing economic growth on the financial sectors of south-east England. It is time for economic and fiscal levers to be vested with Welsh Government, and Welsh Government needs to promote an imaginative Economic Plan for Wales. By unleashing the talent of our small businesses and workers, the Welsh economy can flourish.
Our abundant natural resources should be exploited fully for the benefit of the Welsh people and our economy. Increasing our renewable energy and food production would contribute to national self-sufficiency in a volatile world needing to reduce dramatically its dependence on carbon. Now is the time for our nation’s second industrial revolution – based again on our natural resources, but, this time, exploited for our own benefit, not for the benefit of others. Decisions on our energy, water, land and sea should be made in our Welsh Parliament.
A stronger economy can maintain a strong public service, to better educate and care for our people. Aneurin Bevan’s British NHS has ceased to exist. Fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS in England over the past 15 years has wholly undermined the NHS in that country. However, Aneurin Bevan’s NHS must continue to thrive in Wales, its birthplace. Our NHS must treat and care for all our citizens for free, for public gain and not private profit, and at the time and place of need.
Wales needs to provide our children with a modern high standard of education. It must provide all our children with the basic skills required for 21st century life and employment, and it must provide the challenge for our children and young people to reach their full potential.
As we work to build a fairer, more prosperous society in Wales, we can seek to increase the prosperity of all, but we must commit to reducing the income gap between the richest and poorest in society. That income gap has become wider under successive Tory and Labour UK Governments. We must support a progressive tax system that redistributes wealth from the most well-off to the least well-off. Taxes based on income and the ability to pay are the fairest form of taxation, and we must not be shy to promote a progressive tax system. Too many of our children are brought up in poverty. We cannot allow another generation of children’s life chances to be stifled by the poverty of their upbringing – it hinders the individual, the economy and society.
Both official languages in Wales should flourish side by side and we must enhance our education system to grow our numbers of Welsh-speakers. We have not yet secured the future of our Welsh language, and our actions must continue to support its growth and re-invigoration. We can enable our citizens to use their bilingualism as a stepping stone to multi-lingualism and an understanding of the richness of European and global linguistic diversity. We can use our country’s varied environment and rich heritage to inspire our communal aspiration to protect our planet’s future and to sustain its plural cultures and identities.
Our greatest asset is our people. Their decisions shape our future and their democratic will – and theirs alone – will decide our nation’s fate.
Plaid Cymru members in our everyday lives and in our political actions are continuing to build our nation. However, as we near the marking of the 500th anniversary of the passing of the first Act of Union in 1536, we must re-double our efforts. In this Leadership election, and for the next 25 years, I pledge to re-double my efforts.
In 25 years time, in 2036, our nation must not still be dependent on a Westminster Government, whose devolution of power to Wales is limited and whose economic and social policies ignore the needs and values of Wales. We can break the ties of 1536 and become a nation state in our own right – of equal status with England and Scotland, with open borders and free movement of people and trade. A partnership of nations, working alongside each other and with others in the European Union and the world.