Leanne Wood is facing the first challenge for her leadership of Plaid Cymru since securing the position in 2012. The three-way battle pits her against Rhun ap Iorwerth – the AM for Anglesey since 2013 – and Adam Price, the former MP and current AM for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. Both confirmed they would stand against her early last month, after Wood had previously stated that she would welcome any challenge to her leadership.
Having worked closely with both her rivals, Leanne Wood says she doesn’t see many differences between herself and them in terms of policy, but feels that if she loses the contest it could signal a repositioning of the party.
“I think it is about the future direction of the party. There has been a discussion with people saying things like Plaid Cymru has to move more into the centre ground. That we need to be more open to working with the Conservatives in a coalition after the next election and I am opposed to both of those things. In terms of what are the differences between the candidates that is where the differences lie.”
She accepts claims Plaid hasn’t been clear enough about its support for Welsh independence in the past but pledged a referendum on the matter after two terms of a majority Plaid Cymru government.
“I think that’s a fair criticism to make up until the point I became leader. I remember being in a number of different conferences prior to 2012. We had all kinds of discussions around what we call our long-term constitutional objective. The people know what independence means especially after the Scottish referendum.”
“I want to go further though than just constitutional independence. I am not interested in just creating a mini Britain on a Welsh scale where the centre overheats to the detriment of everywhere else. The purpose of independence for me is so that we can do things completely differently.”
“I look at Raymond Williams’ concept of real independence. To talk about a shift in attitudes as well, so that we empower ourselves as individuals and as communities, as well as a nation, to be able to do more for ourselves and throw off the dependency culture we’ve managed to get stuck in for such a long period of time.”
“I hear people’s frustration quite a lot that we are not independent already but we can’t put the cart before the horse. We have got to get into government first. There has to be a majority government who are in favour of progressing towards independence before we can even move on this.”
“My message to the National movement is to get behind Plaid Cymru and ensure that we have got enough constituency seats in order to be the government after 2021, so we can put in place those foundations that every other independent nation has got.”
“We’ve got no banking and finance system. We’ve got no criminal justice system. The taxation powers we’ve got are very, very limited. We need to have a first term to build on all of that, put those building blocks in place and then I think we’ll be ready to have a conversation about our national future”.
Ruling out the possibility of forming a coalition government, the Rhondda AM says she would only consider striking deals with other parties in the event that Plaid failed to secure an overall majority if they shared her party’s aims.
“We will work with other parties that want independence if our goal is to have an independence referendum. I want to see Plaid Cymru govern on our own platform, on our own programme and if other parties want to vote for that, that is fine but it is on our terms and that means not doing coalitions with other parties either.”
Prior to the 2016 Assembly election Wood scored the highest approval rating of any politician but that profile has failed to lead to the hoped-for the surge at the ballot box, something she believes is due to the limited coverage of politics in Wales.
“I think it’s a question of communication and we struggle because we don’t have the devolution of broadcasting. We have a situation where the vast majority of people in this country receive their media from sources that are created in London or even further afield. We don’t have a national conversation like they do in Scotland. I think that’s been a huge challenge which is why I put so much emphasis on our activists having individual conversations with people.”
”I’ve asked members to get engaged in projects at a community level. To hook up and engage with other people. To use those opportunities to have those conversations about our national future. We have to do that. It is hard work. It is slog and grit. It is a big effort but we get nowhere without it.”