Wales First?

30qa26w4_0In the first of a series of articles we look at the impact of the Scottish constitutional movement from around the rUK and Ireland, Stewart McDonald reports from Aberystwyth. What’s happening elsewhere and what are the connections?

Plaid Cymru’s tanks are on Labour’s lawn.

It was to come to me sitting in Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Packed in to a busy conference hall where I had spent half the time faffing with a headset to ensure that I was on the right channel to receive the Welsh-English translation, I realised that Plaid Cymru will be the next Welsh Government.

I spent two days at the annual national conference of the Party of Wales and was struck by the party’s message before I had even made it through the front door: ‘Wales First’. That sign, welcoming delegates on the windows of the conference venue, stopped me in my tracks. It was everything that a Welsh party should be; bold, confident and unashamedly Welsh.

As I entered the conference venue and signed in I went through what seemed like a constant stream of introductions, with my brain trying to process the pronunciation of Welsh names. I now know what it must be like for Johann Lamont trying to understand the economics of an oil fund – difficult, but I think I had more success.

The first thing that struck me is how welcoming our Welsh cousins are. Every person I met went out of their way to engage me in conversation, ask questions about the Scottish referendum and tell me about the ‘bus load’ that would be coming from [insert Welsh constituency here], and how they could not wait to get involved.

The political highlight of the conference was, as one would expect, the leader’s speech.

Having met Leanne previously at both SNP conference and Cardiff Mardi Gras, I was sure that she would be the darling of the conference. I was expecting a speech that would showcase her growing confidence in her position as party leader, and a speech that would show the people of Wales that her party differed from the Westminster way of doing politics. What else would you expect two years out from the Assembly elections? I was wrong.

Standing behind a lectern that was emblazoned ‘Wales First’, Leanne Wood did much more than that. There were big ideas on health, education, jobs, the economy, housing and she wasn’t even half way through her speech.

Leanne, the first woman leader of Plaid Cymru, addressed head on the crisis in living standards that people in Wales – and beyond – are living with. She outlined her party’s idea of creating a Welsh national energy company that would bring cheaper energy to consumers; rent controls to help Welsh communities through the housing crisis; a tax on sugary drinks that would directly fund 1000 new doctors; and plans to get young people working across Wales. You knew that this was a speech that would have the nation sitting up in their arm-chairs.

Leanne’s speech also covered Wales’ place in the world. Is the limit of Plaid Cymru’s ambition to remain a part of a UK political system that seems to not understand, and not willing to understand, Wales, or was it to put Wales on a forward path so that it can reclaim its position as a normal, independent nation?

Ms Wood puts forward that independence for Wales is quite some time away, but despite lazy media attempts to portray her as somehow having gone soft on the idea of independence, Leanne has shown that she knows exactly what she’s doing. She wants to get the Welsh economy on a stable path, tackle the crisis in living standards, and show Plaid Cymru as a credible party of government, so that by raising the confidence of the nation Wales will then begin to have its independence debate with the real possibility of achieving it.

The buzz that her speech generated amongst the party faithful was palpable. There’s a realist understanding that going from the second opposition party to the party of government is a big ask, but they can see that Leanne and her team have well and truly put the party on track. Add to this an army of activists that are up to the challenge rights across the country and the possibility becomes very real indeed.

All of this against a backdrop of a Labour government in Wales that is managing rather than governing; in office but not in power. Leanne has taken Plaid Cymru’s tanks and pitched them on Labour’s lawn. The message to Carwyn Jones and his team was clear: If you’re not up to putting Wales first then we will.

And the best part? Labour hasn’t seen it coming. Leanne’s style is not the typical macho bullishness that has come to symbolise political discourse. Confident in her ideas and her abilities, coupled with a strong team of able Assembly Members and candidates for the next election, Leanne is quite happy to do politics on her own terms.

At last week’s FMQs, Carwyn Jones said, in his usual dismissive way, that he would ‘take lectures from Plaid Cymru when they start coming up with some policies of their own’. After that strong, policy heavy conference, Carwyn Jones might just be about to eat his own words.

Ymlaen!

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  1. Ray Bell says:

    Diolch yn fawr – good article.

    Always found it funny how Unionists consistently forget about Wales. Millions of people in rUK don’t live in England.

  2. There’s a video of Leanne Wood’s speech here:

  3. Leanne Wood has impressed me since the very first time I saw her on Question Time, with her lovely calming South Wales valley accent and her left-wing politics. I also love the fact she’s such a staunch republican. If Wales don’t elect her as First Minister in 2015, I think we should ask her to move up here and stand for election in 2016 instead.

    (Preferably in my constituency.)

  4. bellacaledonia says:

    Totally agree Doug. Met her in Edinburgh last year.

  5. habibbarri says:

    Wales: shift from Government of the people by the rich for the rich to, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

  6. wanvote says:

    A truly inspirational women speaking from the heart as well as the head.

  7. aledgwyn says:

    Interesting take on things.

    One additional point that needs to be made is that Leanne Wood is very popular with grass-roots nationalists here in Wales. In the past, the leadership of Plaid Cymru has been very detached from the grass-roots- almost to the point of saying “we can do all this without you”. Leanne has turned this on its head, visiting branches all over Wales, taking an active part in various election campaigns and making everyone feel they have an important part to play in our national movement.

    Electing Leanne Wood as party leader in 2011 was a very significant development. As the first non-Welsh speaking leader in Plaid Cymru’s 90 year history, it signalled a new determination to unite Welsh speaking Wales( roughly 25% of the population) with English speaking Wales(75%) to move our country forward. This divide has been an obstacle to the national movement in modern times, although it can be overplayed bearing in mind that as much as 80% of the people of Wales spoke Welsh as recently as 1870.

    The general consensus here is that people are warming to Leanne Wood, although this is yet to be translated into firm electoral support( the successful by-election on Ynys Mon this summer being an exception in this case). But Plaid Cymru are up against a century of Labour dominance in Welsh politics as well as an overwhelmingly English-based media, and even a panglossian nationalist like myself finds it very hard to believe we can go from 12 seats in 2011 to 31 in 2016, thus being able to govern Wales alone.

    However next year’s Scottish referendum does offer one hope. I believe that what the people of Wales need more than anything else is a fillip of confidence, and a YES vote in Scotland in 2014 can provide an external fillip of confidence, in the sense that it would persuade more of us that we would also be best served by governing ourselves.

    Such a constitutional game-changer along with Leanne Wood’s people-based political approach could make the 2016 elections in Wales very, very interesting.

  8. Mark says:

    I think she’s great. She seems very genuine. I get the impression though that while the Welsh that speak Welsh would be well up for nationalism and independence, the Welsh that speak English are still getting used to the concept and are not yet confident. And also, and this is the biggest point, I get the impression that Labour in Wales is quite different to Scottish Labour. The Welsh have never really followed Scotland in getting sick of Labour, presumably because Welsh Labour haven’t governed as badly (especially as they had a successful coalition with Plaid). Either way, I wish PC well and hope they can improve their electoral fortunes. Westminster needs remaining that there are different nations in these isles who should be empowered to make their own choices. PC and Leanne Wood have a crucial task to play and seem to be getting themselves in order.

  9. Brian Powell says:

    It is a fundamental problem for Labour that they have consistently put their Party first, and ignored where they live!
    In Scotland we get the mantra of Labour must help everyone, everywhere (in the UK) but skim over the fact that they have constituencies that are some of the poorest in the UK and in Western Europe. It effectively takes away their responsibility for their constituency. Poverty and low expectation among their voters and constituents is their life blood.
    It can be heard in the speeches of Lamont and Robertson. It is extraordinary, where else could politicians openly say, ‘you have no culture’, and ‘you are a something for nothing society’, and an expression of self-belief makes you a virus.
    They said these things because they weren’t concerned about the people around them, it was said for those who matter to them, Westminster and their Party leaders.
    So it was Scotland Second!

    1. habibbarri says:

      I lived the first 25 years of my life in Scotland. My family was social assistance class. I was able to study at university because of the grants available to poor students. I grew up ashamed of my class, my speech, and being taught, mainly by the assumption of my teachers which I imbibed by osmosis, that England was better than Scotland, and anything English was better than anything Scottish. People of lower working class and social assistance class were self deprecating by osmosis. For the next 40 years I lived, studied and worked in France, the USA, Canada, West Africa and Korea. I have never paid back my dues to Scotland, but now I’m beginning to do so.

      In none of the countries where I have lived, I have ever found people so self-deprecating as I experienced in Scotland. Everywhere else people are proud of their country and culture. In West Africa, people were ashamed of their country because of dictatorships and corruption. Those, however, were brought about by French imperialism. People were so heavily taxed that had to engage in corrupt practises to survive. But they were were proud of their ethni, their language, and their rich and honourable history and culture. I am deeply saddened that educated people in positions of leadership should be so ashamed of their country, languages culture, and that they despise them, even to the point of denying that they exist. This is what the Union has brought about. These people have been so dominated, so culturally impoverished by the imperial power, that they don’t recognise that they have been brainwashed into giving allegiance to that power, its language and its culture. They may well celebrate St Andrew’s day, Burns day and Hogmanay, but those are moments when they come up out of the swamp of shame and deprecation of their country, languages and culture, only to sink back down into it.

      The only way to recover our legitimate pride is to become independent, teach the national languages, and have our children educated in them throughout the entire curriculum. It’s beginning to happen for Gaelic. It also needs to happen for Scots.

      Yes Scotland! We will be better together as two independent and EQUAL countries.

      1. habibbarri says:

        BTW my name is actually William Steele (Rev.)

      2. braco says:

        Hear, hear (Rev) habibbarri !

      3. Luke says:

        So bugger Wales then the country the article is about and you’ve wilfully ignored. Since when has the UK ever been Scotland and England… It seems to me that the English are getting you all to frame this as a English/Scottish thing and to ignore the 2 others. Where as if, like this article you involve Wales and even N.Ireland. It’s a very easy fight to win.

        Wilingly “forgetting” your Celtic cousins is very unwise.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          This doesn’t make any sense

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