Leanne Wood describes herself as socialist, republican, environmentalist, anti-racist and feminist. She has announced that she is contesting Plaid Cymru’s leadership election. The party currently has three MPs in the Westminster Parliament and eleven members in the Welsh Assembly.
Socialist Resistance supports voting for Plaid Cymru in Wales against New Labour candidates and we support Leanne’s campaign. You can get regular updates on it from her site, her Facebook page and Twitter. This is her vision for the party.
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.
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.
Plaid Cymru local meetings can be improved, as can our engagement with the membership. Discussion meetings, where someone with expertise on an issue gave a short presentation before an open Q&A, would make branch or constituency meetings far more interesting and would ensure that Plaid Cymru members were fully equipped with the arguments for canvassing. Elected members should make themselves available to attend such meetings.
Our internal structures should enable members to contribute to the building of the economic case for independence and for disseminating the information for the building of that case to our network of activists.
Consideration should be given to developing mechanisms for grassroots discussions to feed into the leadership groups within the party. Strengthening the communication between the leadership at the different levels of government and the grassroots is essential if the leadership is to stay in touch with the membership.
Plaid Cymru leaflets need to focus on the party’s wider vision. The central communications unit should prepare a weekly digest of political leaflet ‘tit-bits’ to be e-mailed out to local members/candidates/councillors. These messages/tit-bits should always push the national vision. Leaflets should also include information about community projects and details telling people how they can get involved.
There should be regular communication with our members and network of community activists – new media can be used for this.
I would also support turning Welsh Nation/Y Ddraig Goch into a for-sale publication, marketed at potential supporters as well as on a standing order based subscription for members. It should include political analysis as well as news. The SNP’s ‘Independence’ magazine could be used as a model, but careful consideration would need to be given to making it financially viable and sustainable, including initially publishing it online.
Members should be clear what role they can play to further the aims of our independence project. They should be provided with options of things they can do ‘to help build Wales’. These options can range from drafting leaflets, writing letters to the press, social media activity, trade union work, getting involved in a collective community project, canvassing, organising coffee mornings or social events etc. A tier of ‘active members’ willing to do this work, connected to each other online should be encouraged to contribute to policy development and decision making.
Our members should be supported in their work as community activists. Our members should live the party’s narrative. Plaid Cymru at grassroots/community level should be about people helping to build their community, inspiring others to get involved – we should literally be building the Wales we want to become. Our structures and communication should facilitate community action and inter-connectivity between members/community activists, so good practice can be shared.
Greater efforts should be made to recruit from within the trades union movement and youth through active university branches. Consideration should be given to the creation of a TU/youth organiser position so that a targeted recruitment campaign can be implemented.