How a pragmatic Plaid Cymru can win power

Picture by: Ruth Hartnup

Ifan Morgan Jones

The last few months have felt like something of a boom time for the Welsh national movement – at least, within our own social media bubble.

Several new groups have sprung up or built up a head of steam, such as Yes Cymru and Labour4IndyWales.

It’s a sign of a healthy national movement that such groups exist. But I also wonder whether the sprouting of so many of them within such a short time is a coincidence.

The cross-party Yes Cymru campaign, and the more pragmatic Labour4IndyWales, may well be less a show of strength and more a symptom of Plaid Cymru’s inability to put its finger where the electorate is.

Plaid Cymru has now had a long run of disappointing electoral performances, going back to the early days of devolution.

So what is Plaid Cymru’s problem? Why is the party failing to break through?

In my opinion, there are two fundamental issues:

  1. Plaid Cymru are trying to communicate a whole set of arguments at once which, due to the lack of a strong Welsh media, they simply don’t have the bandwidth to do. They have very, very limited opportunities to get their message across. Which means that their message needs to be focused, consistent and very straightforward.
  2. In many ways, the party’s core is fundamentally misaligned politically and culturally with the nation they want to speak for. So even when they do get their arguments across, many do not appeal to the electorate.

Although I disagree with the plan to set up a new party, I think Royston Jones, in his article here, elaborates on a great deal of the second problem.

Plaid Cymru are seen as having lost touch with the ‘left behind’ in society, i.e. the working class in post-industrial communities or rural communities that are dying on their feet.

Fundamentally, it’s because Plaid Cymru are a ‘front’ row party in a ‘back row’ country.

Plaid Cymru core

The average Welshman

Socially very liberal

Socially mildly conservative

University degree

High school education

Mainly Welsh-speaking

English-speaking

Primarily north and west based

South-east based

Mainly middle-class

Working class

This misalignment means that Plaid Cymru appeals to a niche within a niche. The core vote of left-wing Welsh speaking voters makes up around 10-15% of the voting population, which is essentially what they got in the General Election.

But, I hear the middle-class Plaid Cymru intellectual cry, aren’t we all for helping those in the right column? It’s us that are anti-austerity, anti-bedroom tax, pro lifting the cap on public spending, etc.

Isn’t it just a matter of convincing people that immigration is good for the economy? That Wales did well out of the EU? That they’re being taken by a ride by a cabal of globalists?

Can’t they see that we know better?

Austerity

This is the wrong approach, because:

  1. Again, Plaid Cymru just doesn’t have the bandwidth to change people’s minds on all of these issues.
  2. Disagreeing with the electorate on a myriad of issues just emphasises the divide between the party and those whose votes they’re chasing.

The voters in the right-hand column aren’t necessarily wrong; they just disagree, for their own perfectly valid reasons.

Let’s take public spending as an example. If it wasn’t already obvious then Brexit should have made it so: There is a lot of antipathy to the way money public is spent.

This is hard for the middle-classes to understand. Isn’t our generosity what is keeping struggling people just above the bread line? Without that, people would be destitute. We have their best interests at heart.

But think about what people see. What they see is the country’s administrative class doing very well out of public spending.

While they’re gorging on a feast, the ‘left behind’ are thrown a fish a day to keep them from starving. And the message is that they should be happy with their one fish.

People are fed up of living on a fish a day – they want someone to give them a fishing lesson, and buy them a damned rod.

Having to depend on that one fish is embarrassing. What people want is an opportunity, and work.

When you tell them ‘but Wales got £200m from the EU’, what they hear is ‘you should be thankful to these foreigners for showing pity on you’.

People don’t want pity. They want independence. Personal and national. They want to stand on their own feet.

It gobsmacks me that farmers would risk 80% of their income, which comes from EU farming subsidies, to support Brexit.

But it shows the depths to which people loathe dependency. It’s degrading and it offers no hope of improvement, no way out. Any change is better.

This doesn’t mean not spending money. But it means building a nation where hard work is seen to pay off rather than on keeping people just about ticking over from day to day.

Anti-austerity isn’t enough – people want to see a difference in how money is spent.

This is a fundamental difference in worldview and telling people they’re wrong to think the way they do, that we know better, just won’t cut it.

The core message

The Plaid Cymru leadership can overcome these two core problems if they focus their message on the one issue that cuts across these boundaries.

They do have a core message that does this. Essentially, it is: ‘Wales is being neglected and treated unfairly by Westminster (Tory and Labour) – only a vote for Plaid Cymru can change that’.

It is an anti-establishment message that resonates. It also has the advantage of being true, and there is a daily stream of evidence to show that it is true.

And the message hits home whether you’re:

  • Young or old
  • Welsh speaking or not
  • Live in north or south Wales
  • Middle class or working class
  • Left wing or right wing

Plaid Cymru have never lacked for good ideas. Welsh nationalism has always been an intellectual pursuit.

However, they need to appreciate that a) most of the electorate will never hear about these ideas, and b) they won’t necessarily appeal to the worldview of the majority of the Welsh population.

So, every time anyone within Plaid Cymru has an idea, they should consider:

  1. Does this advance the cause of our central message about Westminster’s mistreatment of Wales?
  2. Do most people in Wales actually agree with our approach, or are we just appealing to well-educated, liberal intellectuals like ourselves?

Plaid Cymru don’t have the resources to fight every battle. And for a national party, anything beyond the central message is superfluous.

Pragmatism

Modern Welsh nationalism has its roots in the religious nationalism of the 19th century, and I think this still shows.

There is a strong moral code at its heart, but in the cut-throat world of politics, such a code is also very restrictive. Sometimes you have to be pragmatic.

The short-term dopamine hit of being right is too often favoured over the long-term strategy that will do the greater good in the long term.

There are a whole host of policy areas where Plaid Cymru are right, but to no avail, as they’re not in power.

Votes for 16-year-olds? Is it right? Yes. Does it advance the central argument? No. Does it divide Welsh voters? Yes. Throw it overboard.

Getting rid of the Royal Family? Is it right? Yes. Does it advance the central argument? No. Does it divide Welsh voters? Yes. Don’t mention it.

Freedom of movement? Is it right? Yes.  Does it advance the central argument? No. Does it divide Welsh voters? Many are against it. Acknowledge their opinions.

Working with the Labour party? Is it right? Sometimes. Does it advance the central argument? No, it undermines it. Does it divide Welsh voters? Yes. Don’t do it.

‘Strip the barnacles off the boat’ as Lynton Crosby is apparently fond of saying.

Following this approach may mean that Plaid Cymru lose opportunities to do good in the meantime.

But it’s arguable that spending time, resources and political capital dealing with symptoms of Wales’ predicament are less important than focusing on the root cause.

Which has been the most successful nationalist party of the last two decades? No, it’s not the SNP, but UKIP.

UKIP are, and have long been, something of a joke as a political party. They had no coherent policies, apart from one: Leaving the EU.

They repeated this argument every opportunity they got, ad nauseam. But when they were saying it for the 500th time someone was hearing it for the first time.

As their arguments gained traction and became more mainstream, the press gave them a platform, and they continued repeating it again and again until they got what they wanted.

If UKIP had a whole host of well-developed but divisive policies that would have split their base into smaller segments, they wouldn’t have been half as successful.

Their very ambiguity on anything beyond their one, central policy was eventually their greatest strength.

Contrast this with Plaid Cymru. When you decide to support the party, you are asked not only to support the central argument that Westminster is neglecting Wales, but a whole left-wing, intellectual way of seeing the world: high public spending, republican, pro-immigration, and socially liberal.

A national party by definition needs to be a bigger tent.

Building bridges

The middle-class intelligentsia worry a lot about the growing political divide in the West, but they think less about what they themselves could do to bridge it.

The onus is put on others to see the error of their ways – to stop being ‘stupid’. Again, I’m as guilty of this as anyone else.

But what are national movements for? Ultimately, they’re about finding common ground between the competing cultural, economic and demographic interests within a nation.

They’re always driven by the middle classes because that’s the group that has the leisure time, and education, to think about and articulate these issues.

However, to take that step from being an intellectual pursuit to a mass movement they need to appeal to a broad swathe of society. That means meeting the electorate halfway.

It means sometimes being pragmatic, and agreeing to disagree, even when you’re bursting wanting to say that something isn’t right.

If Plaid Cymru is to succeed, it needs to become a much more streamlined operation. It needs to push one issue and, on all others, find the electoral middle ground.

This isn’t populism – it’s democracy. It’s listening to the people and responding to them.

If we don’t meet people’s concerns halfway, if we talk down at them, we will see the rise of a different kind of nationalism – Trump and other neo-fascists.

Because, ultimately, many people would really rather a dangerous authoritarian who understands them than a lovely person with a social conscience who doesn’t.

If Plaid Cymru can become a pragmatic party willing to compromise on its point of view for the greatest eventual good, it can win over the voters and get to grips with what’s really ailing Wales.

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48 Comments

  1. The Bellwether

    Bravo! Or should I just say ..brave!

  2. Good article Ifan. I am for independence NOW. Compare Eire’s GDP per capita on accession to the EEC in 1973 to Wales’ GDP per capita in 1973 and they were at 80% of our level. Today Ireland’s GDP per capita is more than double Wales’.

    This disparity arose while both countries were in the EEC/EC/EU.

    On this measure the EU – alongside Westminster and our “membership”of the U.K. – has done very little for Wales.

    We need to be truly independent.

    However the huge stumbling block for Plaid is not that 22% of Welsh people were born in England. It is the fact that around 30-40% of Welsh households have an English-born person residing in them.

    I’m sure we all know English-born converts to Welsh nationalism; I can include two in my own immediate family. The problem is that the prospect of Welsh independence can and will cause family rifts and most people’s loyalty is to their family above their country.

    My belief is that 9 out of 10 Welsh households with an English-born person living in them will oppose Welsh independence from now until eternity.

    So that means the Welsh nationalists will have to convince 80% of the remaining households to support independence. And around 10% of that remaining non-English-household group will be either non-white or white non-UK. Yes I know that some ethnic minorities support Plaid (and could be persuaded to support independence) but most just won’t.

    Unless we can persuade 9/10 “Welsh” households to support independence it just ain’t gonna happen.

  3. I agree with most of what is written here by Ifan, I don’t agree that you can effectively compare Plaid with UKIP the reason they got traction is in large part to the big money backers they had, but I take the point that they were very focussed on one issue and their collatoral messages were filtered through that core issue. I don’t think the comments about English migration are as important as all that, let the new ultra nationalist party wet their pants about that, many English people are members of PC. Issues of identity need to be downplayed – if Wales was independent that wouldn’t make us any less British, in the same way Welsh identity has survived centuries of attempted assimilation being photoshopped out of history and unified with England. Independence doesn’t mean breaking ties with England(okay it does a little, but it’s not like we’re going to float away into the Irish Sea) it means creating new ones which will benefit the people of Wales be they English Estonian or Ethiopian in origin.

    • Well Plaid has around 8000 members. I’ve been a member for half of my life, been to many conferences, hundreds of meetings and I know for a fact that their are far fewer English-born members of Plaid, proportionately, than English-born residents of Wales.

      The people in the Valleys (1 millions of them) fear their identity and communities being eroded by non-UK immigration rather than English immigration. Their fears about immigration are entirely different to those of Fro Gymraeg.

      English people in Wales (and England) will inevitably see, in many individual cases, a desire for Welsh independence as being anti-English. And even for those who don’t see it that way Welsh independence would cause a short-term economic shock and decline in living standards. The City of London would ensure that happens.

      We need to convince 90% of “Welsh” households that our long-term economic and cultural wellbeing would be well served by independence. And that will not be easy.

  4. Jason Morgan

    I think you’ve pretty much encompassed Plaid Cymru’s problems here – although I’m sure you’d concede you’re not the first to do so, many people have for many years and the party has chose to do nothing but sail on.

    There is one glaring omission above, even if it’s not something that can be readily rectified – their politicians. The Assembly group are pathetic – they’re constantly fighting one another, involved in grudges; those with intellect lack political intuition and those with political intuition are intellectually lacking. One minute they’re practically in coalition and the next they go into full opposition mode (their not even *the* opposition anymore, at least partially because of the leadership’s poor management of the group) without actually opposing anything. They’re just completely, utterly useless.

    In contrast the PC Westminster contingent deserve every praise and put the AM’s to shame. But it says a lot that even in 2017 Plaid Cymru’s talent is still in London.

    But as I say, what can you do about that?

    • What could you do about it? You could stand to be elected as a Plaid Cymru politician, Jason, as I am sure you would transform the calibre of the group.
      And if it’s a ‘no thank you’, then create your own movement, or if not, stop moaning.

      • Jason Morgan

        Ha, yes, “Why don’t YOU put yourself in the firing line then?” said the person who won’t even use their real name in the comments section of a website!

        I’m sure if I’d talked the same way about another party it wouldn’t elicit the same response, no?

        There is absolutely **nothing** wrong or hypocritical with someone expecting their elected representatives to perform well without wanting to stand for an election themselves: to say otherwise is ridiculous. If I hired a plumber and he flooded the kitchen then surely I could criticise his performance without wanting to be a plumber myself?

        In essence what you’re saying is that unless someone wants to be a politician they shouldn’t criticise politicians. That’s not good.

        • The difference is that unless you trained to become a plumber, you would have no idea how to fix your flooded kitchen yourself. With all the pontificating and the criticising that you do, surely you’d be an excellent politician?

          • Jason Morgan

            If that’s the criteria, then YES!

            But in all seriousness, anonymous person, I still don’t think the “you don’t want to do it so stop moaning” holds; unless of course you apply that to the 99% of the population that complains about politicians without any desire to be one also.

            • The thing is, you never seem to moan about other parties or politicians that don’t seem to hold your views. You obviously feel a great deal of affinity to Welsh nationalism, and dare I say, Plaid Cymru, so much so you have a blog and talk about it all the tme. What baffles me is that you would rather channel your frustrations in that way, which has no real effect, than to actually get involved and change things, which, of course, is the harder way. All the best.

              • Have you ever tried to get a full time politician to actually listen and absorb your message ? Unless it chimes closely with his/her predisposition ( or in some cases a short cut to a media soundbite or photo op ) you might as well talk to a wall. I still remain to figure out how that party went so bad but it’s got a serious credibility deficit out with us people on the ground. It’s getting to a point where Cymdeithas have a more realistic grip on issues in Wales, and they were branded extremists by the establishment !

  5. Benjiman L. Angwin

    Beth am sefydlu grwpiau o fewn Plaid Cymru er mwyn ehangu’r babell yn lle creu grwpiau newydd a all hollti’r bleidlais?

    Capitalists for Plaid, Working Class Southeast for Plaid, Anarchists for Plaid, Supporters of HRH the Prince of Wales for Plaid, Inner-City for Plaid, English-border Towns for Plaid, Former Labour Anonymous Help Group for Plaid, Toff Landlords for Plaid, Liberals for Plaid (I’ll join this one), conservatives for Plaid, Brexiteers for Plaid, Mormons for Plaid.

  6. Anarchist and Welsh Nash

    Good analysis of the situation Ifan. But, your solution: more pragmatism, and an unwavering focus on Wales being badly treated by Westminster is just anodyne. Hasn’t that been the tactic for donkey’s years anyway?? How is saying that more loudly going to change anything?

    For me, Plaid have stagnated and stagnated for years. But, the Welsh Euro vote last year could well prove to be the straw to break the camel’s back- having been caught short by the Welsh public’s response.

    The problem is now that they are tarnished with having put all their eggs in the Remain camp, when the UK is leaving.. A more tactically astute and savvy party would have allowed one or two of of their outriders to argue the opposite, to reflect public opinion.. But, no that was not allowed.

    One possible answer would be a change in leadership so that a new leader would have a fresh brush so to speak and be able to speak for Wales anew in this unprecedented situation. But as far as I can see, Leanne Wood is not for moving and the feminist cabal around her will not consider that anyway . Who else is there though? Rhun ap Iorwerth, Adam Price, Simon Thomas- not one of them really inspires anyone for various reasons!

    I am coming round to thinking that it actually is a broken model which can’t be put back together however hard one tries.

    Maybe YES Cymru is the future. Or even the new national party, mentioned on this site this week. Two organisations not tainted by years of failure and the EU referendum miscalculation.

  7. Really interesting perspective. But for every UKIP that was successful with a one-policy strategy lacking political ideology, there is an SNP which was equally successful with a detailed manifesto based on an ideology not traditionally associated with its electorate.

    I think the only real trend is that in both cases voters have been able to connect the dots and see how they could potentially benefit more from a party’s programme than that of others. Labour’s record in Scotland was objectively uninspiring, and though Europe was a non-issue UKIP were able nonetheless to convince voters that it was, and that it had failed.

    I think therefore that abandoning innovative policies would be a shot in the foot. The reason Plaid have not made ground is not because of its very character, but because of the specifics of its campaign strategies which have failed to sell these policies well enough. Plaid have focused on the negatives of Labour instead of publicising its own innovative policies and crucially their effects. They’ve also not been able to tailor different aspects of their manifesto to specific demographic groups. The 2016 manifesto was an excellent programme for government (e.g. it received commendation from Friends of the Earth for its environmental policies which were “greener than the Green Party”), but Plaid threw it all away by not going 1 step further doing these 2 basic things.

    In my view therefore, adopting a one-party strategy would therefore kill the advantages that Plaid does have: being a party that can govern in all areas, having a socialist and liberal appeal that could be exploited in regions where these ideologies are favoured over nationalism, great policy ideas that could easily be better sold to the electorate, etc.

    However, relating to the independence issue which is of more concern to many readers, if there is one thing Plaid could do it would be to recognise that the majority of future ‘Yes’ voters don’t speak Welsh and have little interest in grand ideas of ‘rhyddid’. In Scotland only the base 27% were of this tradition, the rest came from other ideological backgrounds. The Welsh nationalism is only one of the four ideologies represented in Wales and there is more potential in the liberal and socialist factions (through visions of an innovative small state or an escape from austerity respectively) than there is in the small section of conservatives who could be persuaded to choose Welsh nationalism over British nationalism.

    But this is just my take on the issue and I’m sure there are other perspectives.

    • Hi Rhydian. I accept your point, but I think the difference between the SNP and Plaid Cymru is that Scotland had and still has a relatively vibrant media, so the SNP had less trouble getting a more detailed message cross.

      ‘The 2016 manifesto was an excellent programme for government (e.g. it received commendation from Friends of the Earth for its environmental policies which were “greener than the Green Party”), but Plaid threw it all away by not going 1 step further doing these 2 basic things.’

      I think you’ve sort of made my point for me, there. How many votes did the Green Party get at the last election? – Ifan

      • Very true re the media, but cannot underestimate the SNP’s ground campaign in both the 2007 and 2011 elections. SNP has one of the best on-the-ground operations in the UK.

        For the Greens – the vote in Scotland for the Greens in 2007 was almost identical to the vote for the Greens in Wales in 2016, and yet the SNP still championed environmentalism, so I think my point is still valid. What the SNP did that Plaid didn’t was actually sell their policies and not just have them written down, although granted that relates to the first point about having more media outlets and better ground campaign.

        But the answer to that must surely be to fix these things (like this website is doing) rather than throw in the towel? – Rhydian

      • As endorced by Friends of the Earth!!. What’s next plaudits from Greenpeace, the Dalai Lama and the National Trust. Just how high does this focus on all things lovely and green rank in the eyes of the voters?

        I voted Plaid at the last election despite their lack of a cutting edge or lack of general charismatic appeal. I can’t see the connection between Plaid and the people in the area I live – no-one ever talks about the environment or fair pay and lots of other issues that obsess politicians. Focus on things that people obsess about every day, the things that really matter to the ones who are voting.

        No meandering around talking about thebtrst however worthy

    • “it received commendation from Friends of the Earth for its environmental policies which were ‘greener than the Green Party'” Yes, and Plaid’s opposition to FGM was another big vote winner. Are you a caricature?

      • You must have realised by now that FGM is a major issue in any attempt to clearly define our inclusive credentials. After all, this new religious zeal for issues is essential if we are to replace that which we lost with the decline in attendance at Methodist and Baptist chapels. Mind you there remains a confusion as to which of the Jews, Zionists, Islamists, Sunnis or Shias et al, et al are the bigger threat especially as we appear unable to come head on and tell all these “cultures” to shape up or ship out. The more welcoming your posture the more entitled they feel that their culture, including the darker primitive bits, is agreeable. So this posturing confuses the new arrivals, and Plaid doesn’t know how to adopt a firm stance with any meaning to it.

        I’m still waiting for their long term strategy on how to deal with the transgender crisis in the health service and the prison service.

        • Thank you, Dafis, I was forgetting transgender toilets, for they talk of naught else in Morriston.

          • The toilet issue was easy to solve – just desegregate them ! Of course that wasn’t enough for the right on progressives, they went and picked a fight over the colour schemes and the gender specific graffiti that appeared on the walls, doors ceilings etc. This ishoo will rumble on for ages until it transitions into the next fad.

  8. In this piece we are presented with a thesis that politics seems to fall into two approaches.The first posits “here are my beliefs and values and this is how I translate them into political action- gather to me” .The second posits “I can not do anything if not elected and therefore I will say the things that get me elected” . If I am correct in my reading Ifan’s post, he believes that PC are in the former camp and he would like a nationalist party closer to the to other camp with a lot simpler and possibly simplistic message. I think Ifan describes an actual syndrome but I am not sure of his diagnosis or perscription.

    There is a problem in how you listen to the public. Ears tend to listen to confirmation bias- and the public can be made to agree with almost any proposition if given a cleverly designed presentation. So if you are going to go for pragmatism a) you had better make sure of your values (and make them public) from the outset else you may either swim to the bottom to gain the craven popularity and/or you can never be sure that you a hearing what exactly you are being told by the populace. b) you need to be sure of the tools you are using to listen to the populace. One can design questionnaires, configure focus groups or organise mass demonstrations or read the Daily Mail to get whatever evidence of support you need.

    The Wales Audit Commission have been working with Cognitive Edge (experts in Complexity) to find ways which get authentic voices of Welsh citizens to evaluate the impact of policies and spending decisions on their lived life, As an alternative to the dichotomy of current politics described by Ifan, this points towards a new politics, fitter for the C21st. We can build a better connected society. We have the means to have more direct input to decisions that effect our lives. However it is not the politics of changing direction based on the most recent focus group you listened to.

    • ‘.The second posits “I can not do anything if not elected and therefore I will say the things that get me elected” .’

      That’s not quite right – Plaid Cymru have a MASSIVE job to change the public’s mind on one issue – that Wales would be better off as a nation in and of itself. What I’m saying is that this in and of itself is a large enough goal for Plaid given its limited coverage in the media, and that it should focus on that rather than trying to also trying to save the world at the same time. -Ifan

  9. A very good article. But do you honestly see the majority of their current crop of AM’s being able to curb their virtue signalling on every liberal ishoo which is fashionable for one moment? I do though think that McEvoy is a slightly different breed. But we all know how he was treated.

    • Red Dragon Jim

      What are the exact ‘ishoos’ should they drop? I can’t work out what this means alot of the time.

      • I’m not exactly sure that anyone is arguing for any particular issue to be dropped, but rather pointing out the need to focus on the day to day plight of ordinary people. As Dafis said “The toilet issue was easy to solve – just desegregate them !” End of story. Most of these ‘ishoos’ are things that can be dealt with very easily with no fuss, and basically perhaps a libertarian approach could be taken that if something doesn’t cause any harm, then it’s basically not an issue. And if someone, let’s say a transgender person is subject to say, violence, then it becomes a matter for the police and criminal law – is violence any better if it’s directed against a heterosexual male? It may be that there is a case to be made for the monitoring of reasons why someone is attacked, so that we as a society know why people are being targeted so that we know if we really have a problem, but as far as I’m concerned, a human who has been subject to violent attack is just that, and deserves to be supported, no matter how they identify, but once again, this is more a matter of administration rather than a major policy plank.

        It sometimes seems as if the ‘progressive’ elements of our political establishment have lost touch with the everyday concerns of ordinary people, and to a large extent this is true. Where are the savage criticisms of the Westminster government’s inhumane ‘welfare reform’ that has led to the deaths of so many? Where are the calls from Plaid Cymru and Labour for jail time for people like Duncan Smith and Lord Freud, the architects of the changes to our social security system that is causing increased levels of homelessness, destitution and suicide?

        And what about all the jobs that people need in many areas of Wales where hope is rapidly disappearing? It’s one thing to continuously rabbit on about the Objective One and how it’s made a difference, as if a few tress planted and a few benches put in place will make any kind of long term difference to the economic fortunes of an area. All Objective One really achieved was to enrich the Welsh petit bourgeoisie and the much vaunted long term effects overstated and exaggerated.

        It’s actually quite stark staringly simple, and if ordinary people had been listened to and their concerns addressed then perhaps the ‘ishoos’ that seem to preoccupy the minds of our political elite might make some sense, and also might receive more widespread support, as a people who are relaxed with themselves and fundamentally happy with their lot can be very generous. It’s as if the political elite has actually created the conditions for what they most fear occurring by not listening to ordinary people’s concerns, which has then created a space for the nasty to flourish, and I include in that space Tories and groups and individuals to the right of them

    • Neil McEvoy is an interesting one. I think he ‘gets’ all of the above. Unfortunately he seems to rub everyone up the wrong way. I haven’t had experience of this myself but plenty of people have told me that he’s very difficult to work with. If he could temper his abrasive style somewhat (when dealing with fellow Plaid) I think he could do a lot of good within the party. It’s a shame. – Ifan

  10. CambroUiDunlainge

    “Although I disagree with the plan to set up a new party,”

    As you know a fair few of the people in that movement are ex-Plaid members who’ve been saying much of what you’re saying here for years… decades even. Plaid shows no sign of changing. Maybe a new party will shake them up? Maybe the challenge will stop them taking the nationalist vote for granted? You may disagree with it but it is needed. At this juncture its too late to spend the time trying to change Plaid… because there’ll be resistance and people just not listening because if they were willing to listen we wouldn’t have come to this. If they haemorrhage votes its their fault. We’re at a critical point where Westminster is scrabbling to hold onto power… its never been weaker in recent centuries. The question is whether Plaid Cymru and Leanne Wood are upto the task? Because right now its still stuck droning on about being in the EU when its got an open road towards gaining the upper hand in Wales and laying solid foundations for Independence. The EU can be revisited but it should never come before the opportunity we’ve got here. Just needs an inclusive vision.

    “Modern Welsh nationalism has its roots in the religious nationalism of the 19th century, and I think this still shows.”

    I don’t agree here though. Welsh nationalism has found ways to express itself over the centuries and non-conformism was one of those ways but its been pretty constant since Gruffydd ap Cynan. I think the troublemakers and leaders of our nationalist movement had been largely dealt with one way or another by the time of Bosworth and what we saw after this was the fallout without that individual who would act as a focal point. Although those left over have largely lost their identities in tandem with our nation as a whole. Worth pointing out that there’s always Owain Glyndwr banners at nationalist events though showing the continuity I speak of.

    • Sibrydionmawr

      Interesting you mention Glyndwr banners. It’s not actually been that long that it’s been common to see Glyndwr’s flag at events in large numbers. Glyndwr is perhaps an ideal historical figure for us to use symbolically as part of the national myth, far more so than Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, who tends to appeal more to the political right, and in any case was just another chancer who was out to carve out a feudal fiefdom, just like his Anglo- Norman contemporaries. Ordinary Welsh people would have been just as oppressed by him as by any English overlord. No doubt Glyndwr has skeletons in his garderobe, but as a national hero he has far more going for him. He was never caught, and no-one knows exactly when he died, so he has that going for him for a start. He was also the first leader who conceived of Wales as a nation in the modern sense, a concept which would have been almost completely alien to our robber baron class a few centuries earlier. He proposed, as we know, a Welsh church, separate from Canterbury, and also two universities, one in the north and one in the south. He also held parliaments, and was a genuinely popular figure amongst the ordinary people of Wales.

      Glyndwr is also an historical figure, a part of the historical myth that appeals to people from right across the political spectrum, apart from maybe anarchists, but even this anarchist has to admire the genuine popularity he inspired, as well as the immense support he obtained from all classes of people in Wales.

      And yes, Glyndwr does have that continuity, he was never forgotten, wheras Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was largely forgotten about until resurrected sometime during the 19th century. Even the myth surrounding this character looks somewhat weak when comparing the myth surrounding Glyndwr, who had myths aplenty surrounding him in his own time – it’s not many about whom it was believed could control the weather and recruit it to his own cause! And that’s another very modern aspect of Glyndwr, he was aware of the power of myth, and played it for all it was worth. He was no mean propagandist.

      In terms of ‘modern’ Welsh nationalism, I think it’s correct to trace its origins to the late 18th century. We have to remember that modern ideas about nationalism really only came about with the French and American revolutions when the modern nation state came into being, (by definition, the UK isn’t really a modern nation-state, as what we have is modernised feudalism really – we don’t really have any rights, and we’re all fundamentally serfs, so only have privileges really, though I guess it is a bit of a moot point, as to all intents and purposes, we have rights, well, at least until the government tells us we haven’t!) and that certainly shaped ideas of ourselves as a nation in the modern sense. If you’re talking of a sense of common identity as expressed through language and culture, that’s something different. Native peoples all over the world have a sense of common culture, language and identity without it expressing itself in modern nationalist terms, i.e. seeking to become a nation-state.

      • CambroUiDunlainge

        I think its more of a case that part of the colonisation of Wales means the breaking of our identity. You’ve got to ask yourself why focus was put on Owain? Why was he important? More specifically who was he important too. Lets put a bit of context on him first… his flag: whats on it? Its not just Mathrafal, its Dinefwr as well. It was not enough that he be Mathrafal. His mothers claim as being Dinefwr meant everything. Not only to Owain but his maternal cousins the Tudors of Penmynydd – this would be specifically of use to his cousin Meredudd, or at least his son Owain, who would go on to become Owain Tudor. But during Owain Glyndwr’s rising neither Dinefwr or Aberffraw is mentioned at all… some sources claim Dinefwr died out with Tomas ap Phillip which would conveniently mean that the nearest claimants to the Dinefwr line would be the Tudors. Lets introduce another figure here… Ieuan ap Owain ap Gruffydd Fychan… the illegitimate son of Owain Glyndwr. He completely disappears from history – and lets not forget here bastardy rarely mattered in Welsh culture – yet still he is written out, much as any other lines of Dinefwr that could dispute the Tudor claim (a few were known to survive easily in Henry VIII’s reign if you’re curious). Ieuan was known to have children, who had children. We know Aberffraw exists still today, and its likely Dinefwr does too.

        The teaching of history is controlled, and always has been. We are told what we are deemed worthy of knowing. We know this even today with the little we are taught of it – over the centuries even those who survived all those conflicts either saw their origins as a lesser curiosity or completely lost touch with their identity. I don’t think its about support of Owain or support of Llywelyn… because both had their Welsh enemies and its certainly not about “Left” or “Right” (or any of those other foreign French Revolutionary ideas) – neither is it about looking at them through the perverse perception of the “English Monarchy”.

        In terms of the modern… migration due to industrialisation watered down an already struggling culture. Many people who call themselves Welsh today are in reality not completely assimilated due to the controls on the teaching of Welsh identity. Those of us who come from families migrating East lost much of our identity by coming into the March. What really is modern Welsh nationalism anyway? A beast that has achieved very little in a century and largely has no direction. I wonder what could be missing…

        • ” I wonder what could be missing…” May I suggest that it’s a matter of Identity which of itself is a bit of a shapeshifter depending on who you are and how you see yourself. I am of “native” stock insofar as I can look back to my great grandparents and find that they were all Welsh speaking, country folk through each successive generation down to me. So part 1 of Identity was easy for me. The missing bit included being passed through an education system that was delivered entirely through the medium of English from 7 to 18, with the exception of Cymraeg – Iaith a Llenyddiaeth. Nevertheless I managed to retain my contact with the language and culture mainly because when in Welsh-speaking company there was only one default language ( and bollox to anyone who thought that was rude !)

          Now I don’t regard this as the only way to secure a slice of this identity, far from it. You see this is not about ethnicity although a portion of that can help,or hinder if you feel inferior about it. I have seen enough cases of new in-migrants settling and adapting to their surroundings to know that assimilation works, a little Sais can become a Cymro, even big Saeson have managed it. On other sites in the past I have recalled a series of radio programmes about previous migrants, who tackled the challenge of adapting and integrating without any assistance other than patient conversation practice with those natives around them. Evacuees and Italian POW’s of the WW2 period in the North Sir Gar &Teifi valley were notable for their successful transitions. By the autumn and winter of their lives they were part of the rich heritage of local communities that looked on in horror as the new arrivals of the late 20th century and early 21st landed amongst them and expected the natives to modify their norms to fit around the newcomers ! Yet there are those among this most recent wave of arrivals who take steps to adjust to their new community but they are fewer and further between. Not surprising therefore that the more militant among us react to this erosion of identity, indeed it says something that resort to serious violence remains a rarity.

          • CambroUiDunlainge

            Oh I didn’t mean for it to sound out like “natives” and ethnicity kind of thing. I don’t believe there is a Welsh ethnicity. What I mean is that the idea of modern Welsh nationalism surfacing in the last 200 years is part and parcel of effects on Welsh identity stemming from the Blue Books and mass immigration from England due to industrialisation. Wales essentially could not facilitate integration in those times – so a half-nationalism (Lets call it Anglo-Welsh – something I include myself in to an extent) evolved from the partial assimilation and some what reinforced by the pro-English education system found within the March to this day. As Sibrydionmawr pointed out people like Llywelyn and others are largely overshadowed by Owain Glyndwr – but thats not because Owain was greater its because our system does not facilitate adequate means for people to truly understand what being Welsh is, and why Welsh language is important.

            What I think is missing is reconnecting with that past and to be honest I feel Welsh nationalism hasn’t gone that far without those older families who fought for us (Mathrafal in the instance of Owain, included). But people tend to look at them through English eyes and in the context of modern monarchy rather than what those stand out leaders actually were: leaders of a nationalist movement, earned.

  11. SNP stuck to their principles through thick and thin, worked hard on establishing a grass roots movement and were not tempted to become a populist movement. I’m probably one of the Welsh speaking middle class North Western members of Plaid. I don’t feel that I can influence on any of their policies. There is a shortage of brain power within politics in Wales. There is nothing inspiring in any of their messages. Whilst I accept the media bandwidth argument, if you don’t have the national press then at least work on the local level. I fear that we don’ have the organisation locally to influence on anything. Plaid need to use the limited opportunity they have for publicity to it’s maximum. Recent pathetic deal on devolved powers over our water is a good example. Plaid should have made more a far stronger statement. Stick to your principles, don’t follow the crowd, work harder on a local level, listen to your communities, stop pandering to bodies who want Wales to be playground ramblers and holidaymakers, make the economic case for independence simple and easy for people to understand, stop talking the possibility of independence down and finally find a new leader. LW has ben invisible since the election.

  12. Greenham common and the demise of Plaid!

    Some people will understand the cryptics I’m sure. Some very well meaning people were simply tocic

    We need a return to beliefs – the things that drove Gwynfor to think of things like celtic leagues and all the test of the romantacisms that are really important and cannot be underestimated.

  13. Jonathan Edwards Sir Benfro

    Here is why Plaid has not developed “Mormons for Plaid” etc. And here is the problem issue (ishoo). The Constitution of Plaid Cymru states all the aims you would expect. BUT there is one condition.
    2.2
    Sicrhau llewyrch economaidd, cyfiawnder cymdeithasol a lles yr amgylchedd naturiol, yn seiliedig ar sosialaeth ddatganolaidd.

    Whatever Plaid aims for has to be “based on decentralised socialism”. The problems are obvious.
    We have no widely understood definition of “decentralised socialism”
    To restrict Plaid socialism to decentralised socialism cuts it down to a microcosm. Month Python skewered this sort of politics decades ago – “People’s Liberation Front of Judea” etc etc
    Anyway, why has the National Party of all the Welsh got to be socialist?
    And why, for your face to fit in Plaid, are you obliged to be a paid-up feminist?
    Why is everyone not welcome, including the middle of the road or even slightly conservative?
    Yes you could have “Socialists for Plaid”, as well as Benjimans’s “Mormons for Plaid” or “Rotary Members for Plaid”. The wider the net the better, surely? Obvious to any serious political party?
    Prof.Gwyn Alf Williams, a Communist, made exactly this point decades ago. He wanted a National Movement. He didn’t want a clique in which everyone agreed with him or the standard BritLeft line.
    Yet that is what we now have.
    No wonder we are getting the New Party and Yes Cymru.
    Yes, we will need someone to unite them all. But for now we have turmoil – creative I hope.

    • Those are good points Jonathan – I hadn’t realised this was written into the constitution. But nothing is written in stone. The solution to that is to form a group within Plaid Cymru that would campaign for a constitutional amendment! – Ifan

  14. Insightful piece and I agree with central message that Plaid needs a more focused message with a wider appeal but several points that don’t ring true

    The fact that Plaid support won’t get above 15% or so if it only appeals to people meeting more or less all the criteria in your left hand column is obviously true. But, without having data to prove it, I suspect that your “average Welshman” meeting more or less all the criteria on the right is quite far from a majority as well. What about e.g. urban middle classes in Cardiff and Swansea (and increasingly in places like Pontypridd also). Your “average Welshman” is a diminishing group and an aging one too. Moving from 15% support to, say, 30 or 35% might feel like a victory but isn’t actually going to help us become an independent nation. This will need 60-70% as a minimum

    Related to this I think ‘Wales is being neglected and treated unfairly by Westminster (Tory and Labour) – only a vote for Plaid Cymru can change that’ is a hopelessly negative message. It plays to the very dependency which you argue people hate. It saps confidence in any kind of autonomy, let alone independence. And it plays right into the core message of Welsh Labour – “Wales is so poor and dependent. We’ll look after you and beg more from England”. Whats needed is a confident core message of how independence will make our great country even greater.

    Unionism is a diminishing worldview with an ever more elderly support base. We can see it in diverse situations in Scotland, Catalonia, Northern Ireland. We need a straightforward, positive case for how independence is the transformation Wales needs

  15. An excellent piece. I am fed up of having no option to vote for independence other than choosing the Labour-Lite or Labour-fun-sized option. You do not need to be a socialist to want independence, I want independence so that Wales can prosper and grow and in my opinion that largely precludes setting off on a path to a socialist economy. I know others have equally valid (but probably wrong 😉 views, but Independence comes first and all the other stuff comes second. While Plaid campaigns on a manifesto, that Momentum could be happy with, then people will be happy to ignore them and go for the real thing and vote Labour. While this strategy did work well for the SNP for a good period, it is starting to unravel now just when things seemed within our grasp.

  16. Jonathan Edwards Sir Benfro

    Ifan
    You have made the point that 20 organised people could change Plaid from within. Yes they could.
    I have tried to work out why YesCymru and the New Party don’t do this. I think there are two reasons.
    1. “Give me a fulcrum and I can move the world” Archimedes. Sometimes it takes a lawyer to point out the fulcrum, the key point. Yes – just change the aims of Plaid. Ok, you have the target. What happens if you shoot for the now clear and obvious target – widen Plaid to all the Welsh?
    2. You get an instant and unbelievably powerful reaction.
    I have been soaked in US politics for 2 years now and it has happened in the the US. When Trump was elected (reflecting an awful lot of genuine American Opinion, Brits should note) the reaction has been so violent and extreme that it does take some thinking about. You have a polarised media in the US, so the reaction is amplified. But lets look at the reaction stripped of the media amplification. The core political reaction has been visceral and total. You may have heard about the recent “Scream” against Trump. This was not very large and had its comic – even cathartic – side. But there was a Primal Scream. Which did reflect something. The Democratic Party has become somewhat feminised. Hillary’s only discernible policy (having shafted Sanders) was the feminist agenda. She took it to extremes. The Abortion issue is alive in the US (unlike the UK) and very near the core of party politics. And produced this visceral reaction based on a fear that must of what they took for granted might unravel and be taken from them. As I say, this could actually happen in the US. I am not talking about the UK, or Plaid.
    Even if you don’t agree with me about the feminist angle (the Helen Mary, Nerys Evans, Bethan Jenkins, Leanne Wood axis) Plaid has gone long way in a certain direction. It will have to be dragged a long way back.
    This will not be easy. Royston and Co don’t think it can be done.
    And they are right, rebuilding Plaid will be hard and you will face a very nasty fight indeed. Plaid has become a machine for supporting salaried AMs who do not have to raise their own budget. There is a lot to lose here. Don’t expect a polite academic debate just on finding more suitable wider aims for Plaid. Expect blood on the carpet. Careers are at stake. Expect complaints to the Ombudsman, National Executive, the police, Bangor University your employers as the complaints tactics of Welsh politics take hold. You will be bullied by being falsely accused of bullying. it will be rough.
    You might not want to leave your ivory tower!
    But if you are old enough and ugly enough to be OK in a fight and you are not too worried about a few more scars, you might want to roll up your sleeves. Caring about Wales, like caring for your family, might have that effect!

  17. Sorry to say this Ifan but almost seems as if you’re suggesting plaid should become a welsh version of ukip and the welsh electorate will come flocking to the plaid banner? So it’s worth asking how many constituencies did the kippers win in the last uk general election? zero i believe, meanwhile the disastrously progressive plaid equaled its best ever performance in a uk general election. Regarding plaid’s position on brexit well its very revealing i think that since the brexit vote plaid is the only party challenging unionists at westminster from using brexit to roll back welsh devolution – those alleged welsh nats who backed brexit are strangely silent on this issue. So while still never missing an opportunity to denounce the brussels bogeyman it seems as if they are happy to see westminster use brexit as a opportunity to mount a power grab against wales and scotland. A somewhat odd position for any self respecting welsh nationalist to hold dont you think

    Regarding votes for 16 year olds well there’s a compelling argument which says if people can have sex, start work and join the british army at 16 they should be allowed to vote. Just as there’s a compelling argument which says hereditary monarchies are outdated relics from medieval times and that the suggestion we should continue to bow and scrape to a representative of the house of windsor after we have secured independence is nauseating. And there’s a compelling argument which shows the welsh nhs needs the thousands of workers who have come from eu countries via freedom of movement in order to function. To its credit plaid isnt afraid to make those arguments – sad to see you seem to have thrown the towel in on such matters.

    Also why do people still peddle this outdated nonsense about wales being a ‘socially conservative’ country? Many people in wales welcome the progress we’ve made in recent decades on issues like women’s rights and gay rights and enjoy the fact wales is now a multi cultural multi racial country. Only the most reactionary elements in welsh society – the kind of ‘different kind of nationalists’ you warn about in your piece – would want to see the clock turned back on these major areas of social progress.

    Also this seeming obsession among some here to try to shift plaid to the right is hard to fathom – plaid is a progressive left of centre party led by a progressive left of centre woman, and that aint gonna change. Indeed plaid has occupied the same left of centre political ground for decades now. It offers a vision of an independent and progressive wales with a commitment to economic equality and social justice at it’s centrepiece – no other party in wales offers such a vision. Yes the creation of an indy for wales group in the welsh labour party that you wax lyrical about is an encouraging development but the fact remains there isnt a single significant figure in the welsh labour party who is on record as supporting independence for Wales. Contrast this with the party you chastise and anonymous posters routinely attack – plaid cymru a party which exists to secure independence and a seat at the united nations for wales.

    For those for whom plaid’s progressive brand of politics isnt to their liking there appears to be a alternative emerging in the shape of Jac’s proposed new centre right party. And far be it from me as a welsh socialist to act as a recruiting officer for such a venture but in view of what you and posters like jonathan edwards sir benfro have said here you should both be getting on the blower and requesting a membership form from royston pronto! From what you have written here i think you might be more at home there Ifan.

  18. Once again, a thought provoking price. Plaid lacks a core central message, as identified. At the 20:20 Vision fringe at Conference, I spoke about this. Sovereignty should be at the heart of everything we do. That’s the glue which should glue a much needed movement together.

  19. Leigh Richards wrote: “…….meanwhile the disastrously progressive plaid equaled its best ever performance in a uk general election”

    Once you made that claim, I knew that it wasn’t really worth reading the rest of your comment. Unfortunately, I did. Two wasted minutes of my life I’ll never get back. But fair play, you did make me laugh. 😉

    Do you honestly believe what you wrote in the above sentence?

  20. Shame on Nation.Cymru for repeating the insidious anti-McEvoy whispering from the leadership, excusing their hostility with ‘very difficult to work with’ when on the ground we find the opposite.

    “Neil McEvoy is an interesting one. I think he ‘gets’ all of the above. Unfortunately he seems to rub everyone up the wrong way. I haven’t had experience of this myself but plenty of people have told me that he’s very difficult to work with. ”

    “rub everyone up the wrong way” ?? McEvoy’s fringe meeting at the September Plaid Conference was packed out and showed the greatest ferment of the whole event. Leanne got herself into a whole in declaring “impossible to work with” and her colleagues in the leadership loyally stick with her ostracising him, while grass-roots activists give him a lot of support.

    McEvoy was on the Senedd steps yesterday, pictured with Jane Hutt and RT Davies (and the Plaid town mayor of Barry), receiving a deputation from the anti-incinerator campaign… keeping Plaid’s flag flying despite the in-fighting.

    • Hi Max. This has nothing to do with the Plaid Cymru leadership. I’ve never met Neil McEvoy personally, but I keep being told, by a lot of people who have and are not part of the PC leadership, and independently of each other, that he’s difficult to work with. They give me examples of specific instances where he has said or done things that rubbed them up the wrong way. I know these people well and have no reason to believe that they’re all part of a plot against Neil McEvoy.

      As I said, this is a shame as I think his view of the way forward for Plaid Cymru is in many ways correct. But he also needs to realise that there is something about the way he operates that, for one reason or another, has annoyed a lot of those people he is trying to work with. Rather than crying ‘conspiracy’ perhaps it would be worth concentrating instead on addressing what that is? – Ifan

      • You shouldn’t be making assertions like that. Some blokes down the pub who I know very well and who have worked with him said he was great to work with. I don’t think I have a reason to believe these people are in anyway part of a plot to see him elevated. So that cancels out the nonsense you said.

    • McEvoy is a sound political practitioner with an eye and ear cocked to respond to his constituents. Not given to engaging in the spurious empty promotion of himself or fashionable causes. Lots of those prancing poseurs from his own and other parties would do well to learn from him.

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