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Has the co-operation agreement been a success for Plaid Cymru?

29 Mar 2024 9 minute read
First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford and leader of Plaid Cymru Adam Price sign the Co-operation Agreement.

Emily Price

Plaid Cymru’s co-operation agreement with the Welsh Labour Government is due to run out in December and the possibility of it being renewed before the 2026 Senedd election is unlikely.

But has the co-operation agreement been a success for Plaid Cymru and why is it incorrect to describe the deal as a coalition?

First, lets take a look at where it all began…

In May 2021, Labour won half the seats in the Senedd. Although this was enough to govern – it carried the risk of the other parties ganging up to block plans.

At the end of that year, former First Minister Mark Drakeford and Plaid Cymru former leader, Adam Price announced a unique deal that would see them team up.

But how would this benefit Plaid Cymru?

The party wanted to be to be able to claim credit for tangible changes that helped Welsh people.

But they also wanted to act as an opposition party in areas where they don’t agree with the Welsh Government.

The two leaders signed a three-year co-operation agreement for the parties to deliver a shared programme of work on 46 policy areas.

The agreement was described as a collective effort to fulfil a promise of a new politics – radical in content and co-operative in approach.

‘Bespoke’

Plaid Cymru spokesperson for health and care, Mabon ap Gwynfor said: “The co-operation agreement was a first of its kind and bespoke to the situation that Wales found itself in following the general election in 2021.

“It showed the extraordinary vision and ability of Adam Price to craft a deal that showed how politics should work, where parties work together when there is common ground in the interest of the people that elected us.”

The deal focused on defined policy areas where the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru had shared and common interests.

This included extending free school meals to all primary school pupils, protecting Welsh place names, a larger Senedd, the Sustainable Farming Scheme and making Wales the most LGBTQ+ friendly nation in Europe.

The agreement came in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and in the face of climate and nature emergencies.

The two parties said the deal would enable the Welsh Parliament to respond effectively to those challenges and make lasting change for people in Wales.

Legal advice

The Welsh Conservatives have been relentless in their claims that the deal between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Labour Government is a “coalition”.

Following a series of recent protests by farmers frustrated with Welsh Government agricultural subsidy proposals, the Welsh Conservatives said: “Plaid Cymru are in coalition with Labour in Cardiff Bay. They’re helping Labour cut the rural budget. They’re letting Labour steal 20% of farmers’ land through the SFS.”

They were later accused of misrepresenting the agreement. But the Conservatives in the Senedd say Plaid Cymru is responsible for “propping up” the Welsh Government.

So are the Tories right? Is the co-operation agreement actually a coalition? The short answer is no – because Plaid remain in opposition in Wales.

Shortly after the co-operation agreement was announced, the Senedd’s Presiding Officer sought legal advice on several matters in relation to the deal.

Llywydd, Elin Jones was advised: “The Co-operation Agreement is not a coalition” because:

    • Plaid Cymru will not be represented by Ministerial or Deputy Ministerial appointments in the Welsh Government.
    • The formal and legal responsibility for the decision made will rest with Welsh Ministers.
    • Plaid Cymru designated members will not have access to civil servants beyond the machinery agreed by the Ministers.
    • All issues outside the Co-operation Agreement will be handled in the normal course of political engagement.

Identities 

For matters that lie outside of the agreement, the two parties say they recognise the legitimacy of each other’s distinctive political identities.

This means Plaid Cymru can still question and scrutinise the work of the Welsh Government on issues outside of the co-operation agreement.

A coalition would mean Plaid Cymru Members could join the Welsh Government as Ministers or Deputy Ministers – and this is simply not happening.

However, Plaid Cymru can appoint advisers to offices of the Welsh Government.

As Plaid Cymru elected Members are not Welsh Government Ministers or Deputy Ministers – they are not entitled to a seat at Cabinet meetings.

But they may be invited to attend when the co-operation agreement is being discussed.

While the policies under the co-operation agreement have been jointly developed and overseen by the two partners – the formal and legal responsibility for decisions rest with Welsh Government Ministers.

Plaid Cymru members participating in activities as part of the co-operation agreement, are bound by a Code of Conduct, which reflects sections of the Ministerial Code.

Committees made up of Welsh Ministers and Plaid Cymru designated members meet regularly and reach agreement on issues covered by the deal.

But was the co-operation agreement a success story for Plaid Cymru?

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic when footballer Marcus Rashford was campaigning for free school meals in England, Plaid Cymru was calling for the same for Welsh school children.

The party began by calling for free school meals for families on Universal Credit – but Welsh Labour voted against the proposal.

Labour members also voted against Plaid’s call to use the remaining budget from funds set aside to deal with the pandemic to provide free school meals to all children in families on universal credit.

Welsh Labour also voted against Plaid calls to set out a timeline for universal free school meals to all school pupils.

These votes all occurred prior to the co-operation agreement in 2021.

In initiating the agreement, Plaid Cymru were able to work with the Welsh Government to finally roll out universal free school meals for primary school pupils in Wales.

The co-operation agreement also included plans for a publicly-funded company to help get green energy off the ground in Wales.

£2.47m has been earmarked for ‘Ynni Cymru’ along with £10m for infrastructure.

£750,000 worth of grants has been given out by the Welsh Government to 11 projects so far.

Mabon ap Gwynfor said: “I’m in politics to deliver on our vision of a better Wales, and to try to make a difference. And this co-operation agreement has delivered and will advance the national project.

“It will put Welsh democracy on a more resilient footing while also ensuring that the playing field is at least a little bit more even. Consider housing – the national movement has advocated for the reforms that are now being implemented for two generations, and now they are being realised.

“Free school meals will be transformative for thousands of children. Increasing local procurement will make the Welsh pound go further and help our small businesses. These are bread and butter policies that are making a difference today.

“But we also have the nation building policies that will take us closer to our ambition of building an independent nation state that respects all citizens equally.

“The most obvious policy is the Senedd reform which will empower our democracy, but the work being done on the constitution commission and the shadow broadcasting authority are equally important as we look to build a better Wales.

“There are many lessons to be learnt from this experience and I have no doubt that parties across Europe are looking at what is being done here and will emulate it. The Tories in Wales, on the other hand, have nothing to offer and find themselves shouting into an increasingly shrinking echo chamber.”

Opposed

The co-operation agreement will also see an expanded Senedd – a controversial policy area and one heavily opposed by the Welsh Conservatives

The plans will see the number of Senedd Members increase from 60 to 96 with elections every four years.

Senedd reform has been criticised for its cost and plans for closed proportional lists which will see seats allocated to parties using the D’Hondt formula.

In recent weeks the co-operation agreement has appeared to be on shaky ground following Welsh Government agriculture reform proposals.

Earlier this month thousands of farmers arrived in Cardiff Bay to protest against subsidises for farmers to replace previous grant funding when Britain was part of the EU.

Plaid Cymru MSs told protestors the party was on the side of Welsh farmers.

But as the new Sustainable Farming Scheme was one of the policy areas included the co-operation agreement, there were calls to end the deal early.

Plaid Cymru asked for the scheme’s consultation to be paused to allow changes to be made but the Welsh Government went ahead saying the scheme will look different once it’s rolled out.

Both original signatories of the agreement have now returned to the their party’s back benches as the final months of the agreement play out.

Plaid Cymru’s current leader says he will hold Wales’ new First Minister Vaughan Gething, firmly to account.

As Mark Drakeford stepped down, Plaid Cymru nominated Rhun ap Iorwerth in the vote to elect a new First Minister of Wales.

The act was merely symbolic but appeared to show the party’s stance on Vaughan Gething’s campaign which was mired in controversy over a huge donation and the role of unions in nominating him.

In a recent interview Plaid’s leader pointed out that there has never been a one-party majority in the history of devolution in Wales.

He suggested the system was designed to “promote cooperation” and says he’s open to future cooperation agreements with parties in the Senedd.

Mr ap Iorwerth said: “Would I be willing to work with others in order to pursue the interests of Wales and Welsh communities?

“Well, yes. We should all – whichever political colour we are – be finding ways to cooperate.

“Where we have been able to agree on a set of policies that the Welsh Government and ourselves think are important, I would always be ready to see how that could be done, whether that’s us as a larger party or a smaller party. You look at ways of cooperating.”


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Annibendod
Annibendod
11 days ago

Glad we were prepared to step up and get our policies realised by the Welsh Government. Policies that Welsh Labour previously voted against. That we conceeded on electoral reform remains the bitter taste of a compromise too far IMHO. However, the manner of Vaughan Gething’s becoming Welsh Labour leader gives us the imperative to call time on this agreement. We have a new Welsh Government and its leader is a man of deeply dubious character. We must now bring scrutiny to bear on Gething and his administration.

Richard
Richard
11 days ago

Always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Plaids’ eternal dilemma 🙁

Annibendod
Annibendod
10 days ago
Reply to  Richard

What we need is for good people to join Plaid and get out campaigning. I’m sure there’ll be a warm welcome for former Welsh Labour members who share our values. Together we can fight for Democratic Welsh Statehood in a Pluralist British constitutional landscape – just one part of the reform needed across the British Isles.

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