A New Chapter


By Jocelyn Davies AM.

Today marks the opening of a new chapter in Plaid Cymru’s history with the election of our new party leader.  The leadership campaign has seen a tremendous rousing of enthusiasm from grassroots members across the nation, the lively leadership contest having seen a renewed determination for the party to rebuild and reinvigorate.  As we open that new chapter today, I want to pay tribute to outgoing leader Ieuan Wyn Jones who has steered the party through a momentous twelve years.

During Ieuan’s tenure, Plaid Cymru came of age.  We took the first tentative steps from an opposition protest party into a party of government, with far-reaching responsibilities over the economy and transport, rural affairs, housing and regeneration and heritage. Our achievements in office, including the aforementioned referendum victory, official status for the Welsh language, exceeding affordable housing targets among many others, are a credit to the wider party for taking those steps from protest to power, but also to Ieuan for the selflessness and political guile he demonstrated at the time.

Ieuan Wyn Jones could have been First Minister of our country.  Instead, Ieuan put Wales first and recommended we enter government with Labour to ensure that we could deliver the significant constitutional change that was needed. This act is typical of Ieuan’s political values; the ability to recognise the wider political landscape and being guided by what is best for the nation.  Plaid Cymru owes Ieuan a huge debt of gratitude for all that he has given in the service of his country.  Our next leader will be following a true great of Welsh politics.

And the very first challenge facing our new leader will be to provide hope for our communities on the issue of economic renewal.  Earlier this week GDP figures were published showing again, that Welsh levels are well below the UK and EU averages and that we are being outperformed by countries who were, until relatively recently, under the stranglehold of communism.  Perhaps one of the saddest aspects of these figures is that they did not come as a surprise.  A dangerous inevitability surrounds our economic fate.  But we are not inevitably poor.  Our economic performance is stifled by fundamental structural flaws in the Welsh economy and putting ourselves at the mercy of the economic policies of Westminster are, and always have been, contrary to our national interests.

Our new leader will need to address those structural flaws, and I would recommend starting with infrastructure.  This week I joined representatives of all of Wales’s political parties, in addition to business leaders and other interested bodies to a cross-party group in Westminster, calling for the electrification of the Welsh rail network, including the Valleys, so provide a boost for the economic prospects of our country.  If Wales hopes to compete with other parts of the UK, it is vital that our transport network is fast, reliable and efficient.

It is also worth remembering that Wales is entitled to £1.9 billion of consequential funding as a result of the HS2 project in England and I would expect the Welsh Secretary to secure this funding for Wales and further expect her government to back the cross-party call for electrification.

Upgrading the network will open a new and exciting opportunity for job creation, giving us the basis for the long-term economic renewal we so badly need.  Just as the new chapter opens for Plaid Cymru today, I hope a new chapter will open in the economic story of Wales in the very near future.