With a couple of notable exceptions, Plaid Cymru had a very disappointing election night.
The Arfon result was sobering; although it should be remembered that it’s a university city and that this seat was actually a Plaid gain from Labour in 2010 when first contested under new boundaries.
The biggest disappointment was Ynys Môn, where a high-profile former leader came a humiliating third behind a Conservative candidate that had no apparent connection with the island.
So what of the future? Is there any hope to offer for Plaid and the nationalist movement?
Yes, but only as long as Plaid Cymru put independence back on the agenda.
It’s the one USP which distinguishes them from all other parties. Yet for some reason, they never seem to want to talk openly about it.
Plaid’s excuse at this election was that the debate became polarised around the contrasting ideologies of Corbyn and May.
But instead of moaning about this, Plaid need to force their own polarisation by offering the electorate something explicitly different to their rivals.
They have to create their own political weather, rather than complain that it’s raining.
The issues Plaid campaigned on – social justice, income equality, public services etc – were all worthwhile issues.
But those who heard their argument could be forgiven for asking “what’s the point in voting Plaid? Labour offers much the same and has a better chance of forming a government”.
Contrast Plaid with the SNP, who have taken complete ownership of independence as an issue, and have pushed it on to the political agenda there.
While the Tories and Labour have polarised England and Wales around the contrasting ideologies promoted by May and Corbyn, the SNP have succeeded in doing the same in Scotland around the issue of independence.
Stand out from the crowd, don’t get lost in it – put independence front and center in all campaigns.
Make the economic case for independence
Wales will only ever opt for independence if the economic reasoning is sound, and Plaid need to concentrate all of their efforts on building that case.
It has always amazed me that Plaid never made greater political capital out of the financial crisis of 2007/8 and the decade that followed.
Wales, which has precisely zero financial institutions that required a bail-out, had to suffer swingeing austerity in order to underwrite the debt used to support failing banks in London and Edinburgh.
The incredible irony, of course, is that Scottish institutions in the form of HBOS and RBS were at the center of the crisis, and yet the SNP were able to successfully present the case for independence!
Whatever economics boffins Plaid have in their ranks, they should get together pronto, to start building and sharing a picture of an independent Welsh economy.
What will income tax rates be set? How will corporation tax be dealt with? The public sector? Borrowing? Investment? The energy sector? Manufacturing?
There are plenty of economic messages that could be put out there that support the Plaid cause.
I work in financial services and frequently hear how major companies struggle to attract and retain 18-year-olds to jobs on £18k-£20k salaries in English cities.
Bring those jobs to Wales and you’d probably have quality graduates queuing up with their CVs.
In the public sector, the Financial Ombudsman Service is a perfect example of a body that isn’t served well (and doesn’t serve the public well) by being located in London.
In the City’s Square Mile, those with the skills required by the FOS are comfortably better paid than what the Civil Service offers even with London salary weighting.
Yet the FOS bases their operation in London.
Bring those jobs to any part of Wales, and you give the local economy a huge boost, provide better service to the public and at a lower cost to the taxpayer.
Plaid also need to make the case that the UK Government has deliberately held Wales’ economy back.
The UK’s free market economy is a myth; everything is planned for the benefit of London and the South-East.
Taxation, borrowing, spending, infrastructure, all planned for the benefit of one corner of the UK. Anything or anyone that threatens to compete with that corner is shot down.
Airport tax is a good example. Scotland has full power to set its own level of APD (Airline Passenger Duty) and is in the process of changing the taxation to increase the competitiveness of their airports.
In Northern Ireland, the government was given the power to reduce APD from its airports to allow them to compete with Dublin airport.
Give Wales control over APD? No chance! Cardiff airport is way too close to Heathrow for comfort – we wouldn’t want the Welsh competing with the South East for air traffic now, would we?
There are no doubt plenty of other examples where independence makes perfect economic sense for Wales, so making that reasonable economic case has to be high on Plaid’s to do list.
The tired old cliché is that Wales cannot financially afford to be an independent nation.
Plaid must turn that phrase into a weapon, arguing that Wales can no longer afford to remain part of a union which has saddled itself with a huge, growing national debt in support of an economy which serves only a small part of these islands.
A means to an end
It has always struck me as odd that other parties are so easily able to characterise supporters of Independence as ‘extremists’ without any real challenge.
For me, independence is simply a means to an end. The means of giving Wales its own voice on every international stage not just a handful of team sports, the means of Wales holding all the keys and levers to support and shape its own economy.
The means to design laws, taxation, spend and investment that work for all of Wales, not just one (South-Eastern) corner of the UK.
It is, in fact, the other parties who have allow their extreme British Nationalism to cloud their judgment regarding what would be best for Wales.
No matter how unfairly Wales might be treated, no matter how poorly managed or under-funded, Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems will always put their blind loyalty to the UK ahead of any concern for Wales.
Westminster could impose direct tax increases on the Welsh or reintroduce the Welsh Not, and it still wouldn’t materially change the British parties’ views on independence.
Portraying Independence as a means to a reasonable end, and smashing the myth that any of the other mainstream parties ave the best interest of Wales at heart has to be a priority for Plaid over the next few years.
Whenever and wherever Plaid has a platform to communicate with the electorate, they must use it to focus on Wales and independence.
Whenever I hear an SNP MP or MSP speak in public, they come across as having absolute conviction in their belief in independence. Their focus is on Scotland and Scotland alone.
The SNP don’t use their time in Holyrood, Westminster, or on TV, Radio etc. trying to fix all of the world’s problems.
It simply distracts from their core message and further blurs the lines between them and Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens.
Forget a progressive alliance. When Labour and Plaid’s political aims do align, as we saw last Thursday, it doesn’t end well for Plaid.
Plaid must develop a discipline and laser-like focus on their ultimate goal. And must use every resource at their disposal to further that cause.