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Adam Price on the future for Plaid

15/06/2022

Today's article from the Western Mail by Adam Price.

Adam Price was Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr from 2001 to 2010

Plaid Cymru should admit it dreams of independence, re-focus on the economy and reach out to people who cannot speak Welsh to leave a disappointing election behind and lay the foundation for a new kind of government, writes leading party thinker Adam Price

IN POLITICS momentum is everything and there can be little doubting the fact that Plaid Cymru has slipped into reverse gear.

Becoming the third, not the second, biggest party in the National Assembly is particularly disappointing, because that means the landscape of Welsh politics has become less distinctly Welsh. We now have an Official Opposition – the Conservatives – that can never form a government since my party would never under any circumstances back a Tory-led coalition.

So what advice would I give to Plaid’s new chief executive, about to be appointed over the next few weeks?

Firstly, I think we need a period of calm heads. While the result was bad, it wasn’t as disastrous, say, as that of the Bloc Quebecois, who lost all but four of their 49 seats in the recent Canadian general election, or that of our Catalan sister party, Esquerra, which lost more than half its seats as punishment for participation as a junior party in its version of One Wales, in coalition with the Socialists in the Catalan Government.

So things could have been worse.

Highs and lows are part and parcel of the pendulum swing of politics. This is particularly true of nationalist movements, bound up as they are with the national psyche that seems to vacillate between euphoria and despair. Plaid needs to heed the sage advice of Israel’s Ariel Sharon: stay on the big wheel, as in politics your time will come round again.

This is no cataclysm then. But it is an opportunity to reflect on some deeper issues, which have come to the fore during earlier periods of enforced introspection – after the 2005 Westminster election for example – but remain unresolved.

The first one is the perception that we are a party only for Welsh speakers. This remains our biggest challenge, and there have been repeated attempts to reach out – changing our logo from the mountain peaks of Snowdonia to the more ubiquitous Welsh poppy was an attempt, for example, to adopt a pan-Wales appeal. While the party’s reinvention was partially successful – our vote went up in the next Assembly and European elections – it obviously didn’t go far enough.

Internal polling by the party has shown that our level of support among English-speaking women, in particular, is worryingly low. We have to become a truly national party, and the most obvious place to start is the party’s name, reverting to our roots as it happens: Plaid Cymru must also be the “Welsh National Party”, a party for everyone who lives here.

The second issue we have to confront is the continued confusion over our constitutional policy. We behave – to borrow an analogy from another context – like “closet nationalists”, frightened of people’s reactions to who we really are and what we believe. This convinces no-one and leaves us looking weak and even devious, which is worse. It’s time we came out and said it: our dream is Welsh independence.

For that dream ever to become reality then the biggest problem we must solve is economic. As Gerry Holtham argues in an extremely perceptive piece in the current edition of the Welsh-language monthly Barn, we should place our economic policy four square at the forefront of our political programme.

This will be a major departure for the party – though it carries with it echoes of an earlier upsurge in the party’s support in the 1970s, when Dafydd Wigley, Phil Williams and Eurfyl ap Gwilym came up with the masterful Economic Plan for Wales that was to lay the foundations for the creation of the WDA.

For most of its history, however, Plaid has tended to prioritise cultural demands. From the 1980s, the party widened its focus to include social and environmental objectives. Important as these are they fail to address the single biggest underlying reason why the national movement in Wales is weaker than Scotland: a concern for our economic viability as a nation.

Closing Offa’s gap – the prosperity divide with England – has to become our psychological contract with the Welsh people – if we achieve that, then they may take a second look at the prospects for independence.

Many on both the left wing and the right wing of my party, for different reasons, either fail to understand or refuse to accept that the fundamental difference between us and the Labour Party is not one of values. We both stem broadly from the same progressive tradition of the European centre-left. The difference is one of aspiration.

The incoming Economy Minister, Edwina Hart, for example, sought to lower expectations of what could be achieved on the economic front by a “regional Government on the edge of Europe”. Similarly the Labour Government’s much-touted emphasis on delivery is in actual fact a recipe for five years of the worst kind of micro-managerialism, a vacuum of inspiration and ideas.

Wales needs an alternative to that, and Plaid needs to make clear that its ambition is to provide a non-Labour, left- of-centre alternative Government, as the SNP has successfully done in Scotland.

That means going into the 2016 and all subsequent elections with a clear commitment that the only Government that we will join is one in which we lead. Let’s leave the eternal apprentice role to the Lib Dems.

Which leaves us with the question of what to do now on two pressing fronts: that of the question of the party’s leadership and the issue of whether to re-enter the coalition in the interim.

As regards the former I think that Ieuan Wyn Jones is to be commended on providing the party with the breathing space it needs to put in place all the changes that the incoming new chief executive will, no doubt, want to institute.

A leadership election can be a source of renewal, but in the party’s current state I fear it might be something of a distraction.

The problems the party faces are much deeper than one of personnel.

Regarding “One Wales Two” I can only envisage one prize that is big enough to merit Plaid re-entering government in the short-term and that is a commitment to a commission to consider the constitutional implications for Wales of a Yes Vote in the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum, including a pledge to consult the Welsh people on Wales’ future in the wake of Scottish independence.

It’s tough to argue the case against the right to self-determination. If nothing else, it would be fascinating to see Carwyn Jones try.