Although not a Plaid member, I’m a reliable Plaid voter at every election. I’m in that rock-solid 15% below which Plaid rarely fall and upon which future growth must be built. I would vote Plaid if the candidate were a chimpanzee, for the simple reason that they are the only Welsh party on the ballot paper – the alternatives being Welsh sub-branches of British parties. To me Plaid Cymru is a vehicle, its sole purpose to carry Wales to independence. When Wales achieves that independence (note confident “when” not ambivalent “if”) we will develop the full spectrum of political parties found in all nation states – and, I like to think, a few idiosyncratic Welsh variations too. That will be the time to debate and fine-tune policies and positions on all the issues. Plaid Cymru has long been a left-of-centre party, going with the grain of Wales’ ancient traditions of egalitarianism, cooperation and solidarity, which makes voting Plaid a lot easier than if they were the type of right-wing ‘nationalist’ party that commonly evolved in the Soviet-bloc nations, for example. But, frankly, Plaid’s ideas about, say, elderly care are neither here nor there; their primary task is to actualise the idea of Wales. With that in mind, here’s my critique of the four candidates who have declared their intention to stand in the March leadership election.*
DAFYDD ELIS-THOMAS If anything could stretch even my Plaid loyalty close to snapping point it would be the election of Dafydd Elis-Thomas as leader. Surely nobody could possibly contemplate voting for him? He’s already been Plaid leader between 1984 and 1991, so to reinstall him would be as ridiculous as Labour putting Neil Kinnock back in charge. I can’t think why the veteran Dwyfor Meirionnydd AM is standing – unless it’s because he’s so used to the limelight after 12 years as the Assembly’s first Presiding Officer that a future sorting out parking problems in Porthmadog doesn’t appeal. Looking at the well-upholstered arch-establishment figure he has become, it’s easy to forget his salad days as a lean and hungry radical on the left of the party when first elected as Meirionnydd MP in 1974. At that juncture he, and Dafydd Wigley elected at Caernarfon at the same time, were Plaid’s first MPs after Gwynfor Evans (1912-2005). It should not be forgotten that Gwynfor’s historic win in the 1966 Carmarthen by-election (he was Carmarthen MP 1966-1970 and 1974-1979) happened a full 16 months before the SNP made their first breakthrough in Scotland at the 1967 Hamilton by-election. When one compares the trajectories of Plaid and the SNP in the 45 years since, one gets a stark picture of the failure of the Elis-Thomas generation in Wales: Scotland is on the brink of independence; Wales is hoping London might allow it to run landfill sites (decision expected by 2013). The pivotal moment was the 1979 devolution referendum, in which a devastating 80% voted ‘no’. From then on Plaid’s leadership lost its bottle, settling for softly-softly, don’t-frighten-the-horses, devolution-by-stealth – a misreading of the 1979 vote, which was more about rejecting anything cooked up by the rotten Labour government of James Callaghan (1912-2005). Through the pre-devolution years the Elis-Thomas/Wigley strategy of treading water in the hope somebody turned up with a life-raft eventually paid off with the narrow victory in the 1997 referendum – but only because the misery heaped on Wales by the Thatcher government clinched the case for devolution within the Welsh Labour and LibDem parties, not due to anything inspiring, progressive or passionate from Plaid. Daf-El’s credibility had been blown out of the water anyhow in 1992 when he accepted a life peerage, becoming Lord Elis-Thomas of Nant Conwy, the first Plaid Cymru politician to be co-opted by the baubles and flummery of England’s unelected second chamber until Dafydd Wigley joined him in 2011 as Baron Wigley of Caernarfon. His rightward drift into the orbit of the British ruling class, a well-travelled route for a certain type of Welshman ever since the 16th century, was a textbook example of the fine art of the sell-out, with Plaid’s raison d’être, an independent Wales, progressively diluted into meaningless weasel-words about “home rule”. Written off as yesterday’s man, he then resurrected his fortunes and, to a degree, rehabilitated his reputation as the smoothly efficient grandee Presiding Officer from the Asembly’s inception in 1999 – bringing gravitas and dignity (if that’s your thing) to the fledgling institution in its tricky early years, for which Wales in time will I’m sure be duly grateful. During this period Ieuan Wyn Jones’ drably cautious leadership delivered the coalition with Labour that led to the 2011 referendum victory, inching Wales another step forward. But none of this added up to any electoral progress for Plaid. Cowering before the Unionist agenda set by the media, the party was intimidated into never playing the one and only Ace in its hand – the very ‘nationalist’ label its enemies always sought to pin on it. My literary hero Jean Genet (1910-1986) sums it up best: “Be what you are accused of.” All around me in south Cardiff, territory where Plaid Cymru’s pitiful vote hasn’t risen in 40 years, back gardens are a-flutter with the Draig Goch and unapologetic Welsh patriotism is routine – but the Plaid of Elis-Thomas was too lofty, bureaucratic and navel-gazing to tap into this version of Welshness. That must change; and now that Plaid has reasserted its commitment to independence there must be someone whole-heartedly wedded to that principle at the helm – self-evidently not Dafydd Elis-Thomas. Diolch yn fawr iawn, fy Arglwydd – a nos da.
ELIN JONES Ceredigion AM since 1999, and still only 45, Health spokesperson Elin Jones has impeccable credentials as an articulate advocate of Welsh autonomy. She’s warm and bright, the sort of person you’d happily invite round for a slice of caraway seed cake and a pale sherry, and she would certainly broaden Plaid’s appeal to voters. As Minister for Rural Affairs in the Labour/Plaid ‘One Wales’ coalition of 2007-2011 the farmer’s daughter was a big hit with the influential Welsh farming lobby, giving them virtually everything they asked for – including an irrational and cruel badger cull (currently on hold pending a review). And it is this readiness to slaughter sentient mammals en masse at the behest of vested interests that puts me right off Elin Jones. The Welsh word for badger, “broch”, is one of the few that has crossed over into English as “brock”, the folk name for this intelligent, retiring beast. Mister Brock was making his snug homes and complex societies in the Welsh earth long before the industrial farming of cattle, and with it bovine TB, was imposed on the land. Any person so willing to reject coexistence with wild nature is not fit to lead Plaid towards the only future that makes any sense and for which Wales is uniquely suited: a Deep Green future.
SIMON THOMAS Thomas is another strong candidate, illustrating how Plaid has far more talent than all the other parties combined. He’s an assured, experienced political operator, Ceredigion MP from 2000 to 2005 and AM for the Mid & West Wales region since 2011, who knows the Senedd’s corridors like the back of his hand after spending his years out of office as a Plaid special adviser in the coalition period. I notice he no longer sports the rakish earring of yore, symbolic perhaps of a shift into bland, identikit, jargon-soaked vacuity as per the British political model. He is all in favour of independence for Wales, he says, but “it is not the answer to today’s immediate problems and voters’ daily difficulties.” Such a statement differs little from what opponents of devolution always said. It seems not to have occurred to Simon that those “problems” and “difficulties” might have something to do with being run from London for 500 years. We don’t need another back-sliding, technocratic insider.
LEANNE WOOD The South Wales Central AM is working class (from Penygraig where she still lives) with a lovely valleys accent, socialist, republican, green, down-to-earth, intelligent, hard-working, energetic, and, oh yes, she’s a woman. What’s not to like? Leanne would take Plaid into unexplored territory as the party’s first female leader, first non-Welsh speaking leader (she’s a learner), first proletarian leader and first unequivocally left-wing leader: in other words, she would connect the party in one way or another to the experiences of the vast majority of the Welsh people, nail the lies that Plaid is just for the crachach, or for rural dwellers, or for Welsh speakers, and draw attention to the vast differences, usually glossed over, between Wales’ socialist bone-marrow and England’s hierarchical mind-set. She is the candidate the other parties dread winning because she has the potential to double Plaid’s vote by the time of the next Assembly election – and as Scotland proceeds towards inevitable eventual independence it is becoming ever more urgent for Plaid to quickly reach tipping-point levels of support, lest we be abandoned by our fellow Celts to the horrendous prospect of a future as England’s disenfranchised spare part in an ‘Englandandwales’ that would be 95% ‘England’. Variations on the legend of the sleeping warrior are common in Welsh folklore; the dream of a Welsh saviour, slumbering somewhere in a mountain cave to one day wake and lead Wales to freedom, a lucid metaphor of hope for a conquered people. Those legends, passed through word-of-mouth story-telling down the many generations, never anticipated a beautiful woman from the Rhondda rousing the Welsh nation. It’s time to make new legends for the Welsh yet to come. It’s time for Leanne Wood.
*Non-members who join before January 25th are entitled to vote in the leadership election. See www.plaidcymru.org
Could not agree with you more. An accurate articulate critique of the Plaid leadership contenders and totally agree with your conclusion. Leanne Woods will put the fear of god into the British Labour party in Wales because she has true Socialist values, not corrupted by the “What does Westminster want” version. She is also a honest conviction politician which again differentiates her from British labour in Wales.
She can indeed lead Plaid to not only new territory but the realistic chance of majority at the Senedd leading to freedom. Sooner rather than later please!
I agree, Leanne can drive the party to success nationwide!
I’m in Melbourne Australia and have been trying to join for the last fortnight with no success, any suggestions, help please?
Perhaps you could try phoning their office (029 2047 2272 – not sure what the international code would be from Australia), or writing: Ty Gwynfor, Marine Chamber, Anson Court, Cardiff CF10 4AL.
I think you’re being unfair to Elyn Jones on the badger matter. And I’ve never heard of ‘broch’. We call them ‘Moch daear’ around here. Or ‘Mochyn daear’ in the singular. TB has to be controlled.
Authoritative, peer-reviewed, independent scientific studies have concluded that badger-culling makes no difference to the control of TB – only farmers, ever keen to get out the shot-gun and the poison, support a cull. The reason we have bovine TB in the UK (it’s been eradicated in mainland Europe) is because of penny-pinching farming practices in which profit is the only motive. All wild carnivorous mammals are likely to carry TB – would you have them all exterminated so that Wales becomes a species desert fit only to produce BigMacs? “Broch” is in my Geiriadur Mawr, as is “Mochyn Daear”: I was trying to illustrate (most) people’s profound and abiding affection for the creature.
The Chief Veterinary Officer of Wales supported the measure. She is a scientist and not a farmer.
How do you know that farmers are ‘keen to get out the shot-gun and the poison,……’? That’s a generalisation. Any evidence?
I’m not a farmer, and I support the cull in the pilot area. It does not mean that badgers will be made extinct…..even in Wales.. I know many others who support it too who are not farmers. It’s not just farmers livelihoods which depend on agriculture all over Wales. Would you like me to start listing some of the? I think you’d be surprised.
‘Profit it the only motive’? Try running any business at a loss. I can assure you that there are farmers who are often also motivated by things which don’t involve financial profit. I knew of one who had ornamental pheasants. I know of another who had ponies. Another who tried to protect a young deer on his land….which was eventually shot by somebody…..who was not a farmer. I know of this retired farmer who is a good friend of mine who always tells me that he is always moved more by the suffering of animals than of people. I must admit that I personally can’t get my head around that one. However, your are talking rubbish about trigger happy, profit only motivated farmers. Of course, they do exist, but you are making massive generalisations.
It’s a shame that your dislike of farmers is clouding your judgement as I was initially pointed towards this blog by somebody who shared broadly the same views as I do, ie to make our country a self-respecting nation.
Yes I am generalising, but that’s because the 2 bodies that speak for Welsh farming, the FUW and NFU Cymru, are both champing at the bit to get on with the cull. I’m presuming these deeply conservative organisations are pretty representative of their general membership. Actually, there are plenty of farmers who oppose the cull – but they tend to be smallholders, tenants and surviving old farming families who care about Wales, and not the subsidy-bloated agents of Agribusiness I’m having a go at. Exploiting Welsh land as, excuse the pun, a cash cow has been going on since all useable ground was stolen in the conquest and parcelled out into the huge estates of the ‘landed gentry’ – a state of affairs that has hardly altered in 500 years. The results have been catastrophic. 90% of all woodlands, hedgerows, meadowlands, wetlands and heathlands have gone in the last century alone, habitats have been obliterated wholesale and virtually every species has been decimated. Our mountains have been stripped bare, our soil soaked with chemicals, our waterways fouled, our special places raped, lifeless ranks of conifer plantations and the whooshing blades of vast wind farms despoil our high ground, and our pasturelands have been rendered monocultural, highly inefficient factories of 2nd-hand protein where, inevitably, “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted”. And all so that a miniscule few can line their pockets – while creating a laboratory for horrible new diseases (remember BSE?) and still failing to make Wales self-sufficient in food (something that should be readily achievable). None of this is inevitable, and it would not have been like this had Wales been running its own affairs. That’s why, when Plaid for the first time ever had a little bit of a say in how our land is used, it was so disappointing that Elin Jones just went along with the old FUW/NFU/Western Mail agenda. The party needs to think creatively and radically about our much-abused country, not just dance to the ugly, discredited tunes of Agribusiness. Incidentally, I’ve lived in both rural Powys and Dyfed, surrounded by farmland. So, yes, I’ve got evidence. I’ll never forget the day the Carmarthenshire Hunt galloped, uninvited, through my garden…
“Daf-El’s credibility had been blown out of the water anyhow in 1992 when he accepted a life peerage, becoming Lord Elis-Thomas of Nant Conwy, the only Plaid Cymru politician to this day to be co-opted by the baubles and flummery of England’s unelected second chamber”.
Hasn’t D Wigley now taken up his peerage?
Bloody hell yes – that sell-out passed me by! Cheers, correction made in text.
I see you forgot to comment on the fact that the Chief Veterinary Officer supported the cull? As did other Plaid AM’s. In fact, it had cross party support except of a few exceptions like Peter Black. And where is Labour in Wales now? They don’t have the bottle to come to a decision. Elin Jones was strong enough to take action. One which was very unpopular amongst a vociferous group…..mostly incomers in the rural areas.
I prefer to pay heed to the 2007 official ISG report into badger culling rather than to a vet whose job it is to represent farming. It took 9 years to compile and cost £49 million of public money and concluded that a cull would have to cover 265 square kilometres and be continuous for at least 4 years to have a hope of eradicating TB in that area – and then it would only raise TB levels outside the cull area. The ISG rejected a cull and suggested better animal husbandry combined with a vaccination programme (of both calves and badger cubs). Oh, but that would cost money and require a bit of effort – so eradicating a species to serve the interests of the Dairy Industry is preferable? We come down to philosophical questions – is this planet just here for human convenience, do other animals have no rights? – as well as political ones about the ownership and control of land in Wales.
Interesting well written analysis and you are probably correct. It’s a pity that Elin Jones’s prospects are being dogged by badgers.