For too long, Plaid Cymru has been apologetic and evasive on the question of Welsh independence. Our credibility has, in my view, suffered as a result. If the electorate understand anything about what we stand for, most people ‘get’ that we are for Welsh independence. Yet they are unclear as to what we mean by that. We must therefore develop a clear vision of an independent Wales and a plan for getting there.
Leanne Wood beat rivals Elin Jones, AM for Ceredigion, and Lord Elis Thomas, AM for Meirionnydd and Nant Conwy, after gaining an overall 55 per cent when second preference votes were counted. She received the most votes in the first round, with 2,879, when Lord Elis Thomas was eliminated, and gained a further 447 second preference votes, pushing her over the 50 per cent threshold. In the first round of voting Ms Wood won 2879 votes to Ms Jones’ 1884 and Lord Elis-Thomas with 1278. In the second and decisive round Ms. Wood beat Ms. Jones by 3326 votes to 2494. The voting meant that about 75 per cent of Plaid’s membership took part in the postal ballot.
Speaking after the result was announced, Ms Wood, a republican from the left-wing of Plaid Cymru, said she intended to combat “points-scoring and egotism” in politics, and vowed to lead the “people’s party”. She added: “I may not be the leader of the official opposition, but I intend to lead the official proposition.” Ms Jones, AM for Ceredigion, said Ms Wood had won a “handsome victory”, while third-placed Lord Elis Thomas said Plaid had taken “a hugely radical step forward – to elect a feminist of the left”.
We can learn a lot from the SNP’s success, but we are not in the same place as they are, politically or electorally. The ground must be prepared to push independence. We must develop the economic case for Wales becoming an independent state.
We must also recognise that our party was founded with a wider vision than constitutional independence alone. Of course, we seek constitutional independence for our nation, but we seek more than that; what Raymond Williams called “real independence” – genuinely working to end war, inequality and discrimination.
I would recommend both a short and longer-term approach to our aims. Agreement and clarity on our long-term vision should ensure that short-term, day-to-day actions and election campaigning must contribute to, rather than undermine, our longer-term vision. Short-term campaigns should always contribute to greater legislative and fiscal devolution. Everything we do in the short term should contribute towards the case for real independence.
Our long-term vision must be framed in the context of the international economic crisis. We must respond to people’s economic concerns today as well as developing a long-term economic strategy for Wales which aims to equalise Wales’s position with similar sized European nations and regions. Our vision must be one which leaves no-one behind and strives for economic equality within the country. It should also build resilience or counter the long-term threats facing Wales – long-term unemployment and the associated social problems, reduced welfare, lack of security, rising food and energy bills (peak oil), community break-down and climate change.
The choice between a progressive, equal future on the one hand and one where wealth and power is concentrated in the hands of the few on the other has never been starker.
We should also not be apologetic about our progressive policies and values, policies that members consistently support at annual conference. As the crisis deepens, our values supporting sustainability, economic responsibility, a role for the state in the economy, and indigenous rights (versus globalisation) are becoming more mainstream.
Food and fuel ‘sovereignty’ to aim for a healthier population and to build resilience against climate change and peak oil is a green and progressive agenda aimed at reducing dependence by building self-reliance and is one Plaid Cymru should follow.
Our support for the European Union is far too unconditional: we must develop a clear line about the kind of Europe we want to build in the current crisis. We should continue to explicitly state that we are Europeans but that ‘European regionalism’ is wedded to neoliberal economics and imposing uniform rates of fiscal policy across the Union – precisely what we’re arguing against in the UK. We should portray ourselves as the most pro-European party but for a Europe of the peoples, not a Europe of the bosses/markets.
Plaid Cymru has the policy framework and record to position itself firmly in the alternative camp, but to do this, inconsistencies need to be addressed: trust and honesty are essential if we are to persuade people to trust us with our economic/independence vision.
A clear and consistent sustainability/renewable energy policy and the sticking to our policy for a nuclear-free Wales means we should not welcome all jobs, no matter the long-term cost. Short-term individual constituency issues should not be allowed to take precedence over the national interest. But we must recognise that we have a wider responsibility than merely to oppose UK Government plans for our energy, we need to push for an alternative to the technologies of the past, and look to a future which protects the environmental as well as economic futures of our children.
We should rule out a coalition with the Tories, whose leader in Wales opposes stronger devolution, and also recognise that we must isolate those in Labour who stand in the way of further devolution. Apart from the obvious point that we cannot work with people who put so much effort into obstructing our path to independence, such a stance would make the Tories unelectable and irrelevant in Wales, and show how in practical terms our vision will take us on a progressive path, rather than a neo-liberal one. This would help us to convince those people who are currently Labour voters that we are serious about their concerns. Unless we break new ground in the highly populated areas where Labour picks up their seats, we will never become Wales’s largest party.
We must work to shake off the perception that Plaid Cymru is only concerned with the interests of those who speak Welsh, but this must be done in a way that is unapologetic in our support for the Welsh language. We should work to establish the right to speak Welsh as an equalities issue, with protection against discrimination on the grounds of language use. A combination of legislation and public education has changed acceptable public attitudes towards racism, sexism, homophobia, disability. It remains socially acceptable to ridicule and discriminate against people who speak Welsh. Our vision is of an inclusive Wales, where all of us who live here have the right to live in a society which is as equal as we can make it. We must seek to support the necessary and challenging economic, legislative and policy changes to secure the future of the language as a thriving language at a community level.