Confirmation last week that independent AM Neil McEvoy had registered the name The Welsh National Party with the Electoral Commission, while hardly unexpected, is strategically an interesting move as the slow build-up to the 2021 Senedd elections gets underway.
Since he was temporarily expelled by Plaid Cymru in 2018 McEvoy fought a protracted battle to overturn his exclusion to no avail. It was clear there was no way back for him in the party after a bid to replace ex-Arfon AM Alun Ffred Jones as Plaid Cymru Chair failed during the party’s annual conference in Swansea last October. Dr Dewi Evans, who had expressed support for allowing independent McEvoy back into the party, was defeated in the conference vote.
With the official launch of the new party at the Hilton hotel in Cardiff on April the 3rd, McEvoy was in a bullish mood as he looked forward to getting the ball rolling as the first person of colour to front a Welsh political party.
“We are a party of activists and we are people that want to get things done,” he said, shying away from defining the party in terms of left or right he says of the new organisation.
“We call ourselves a sovereignist party. Clearly, we want national sovereignty for Wales but also there is the issue of individual sovereignty, where today in Wales people don’t have the rights they should.
“We need to empower people and that’s the key message really. We need independent people to enable a sovereign Welsh nation.”
Confirming the new party will be funded by the membership and will field candidates at all levels Welsh elections – council, Senedd and Westminster – in the future, McEvoy believes there is a large and untapped pool of potential voters that can be harnessed to support the WNP.
“There are 50% of people in Wales who don’t actually vote, so what we want to do is engage with these people and give them a reason to vote,” he said.
“The Assembly is simply not working for north Wales – it’s not working for Butetown, which is just 400 metres from the Senedd.
“We need to look at housing, solve the housing crisis – there is no excuse for people to be homeless in today’s society. And you walk around Cardiff – it’s shameful! You walk around any town, any city in Wales.
“These are crucial issues that need to be addressed. And we have had 20 years of a Labour Government and to be frank without serious opposition. So, we intend to be serious opposition.”
Citing the success he had in increasing support in Cardiff West for Plaid Cymru prior to his expulsion from the party, he said that he was very optimistic about the party’s prospects.
“People are crying out for a change and my whole political track record is bringing people into the arena of politics,” he said.
“When I started off in the council, in my local ward, we increased the turnout by 25%. Also, if you look at Cardiff West, over the time I’ve been campaigning there, we’ve increased turnout by 25%.
“So, what we want to do is speak to people who are alienated from the system at the moment and people who are disempowered. We want to motivate those people and give them an opportunity. We want to give them something different to vote for.
“We’re looking to draw support from whoever wants a more just, a more free, a more equal and a more prosperous Wales.
“We have a particular way of campaigning; we call it the Fairwater formula. We will roll that out across Wales, and I know it will be successful. So, we are looking for candidates for the 2022 election, the council elections, because we are going to be a force in Welsh politics and we are going to be a force for good.”
McEvoy rejects the accusation from some quarters that the WNP will simply be a party for disgruntled former Plaid members and supporters.
“It’s a party for people who want to change Wales and I think we need to draw a line with Plaid Cymru,” he said.
“My best wishes to them. I think they can carry on and campaign in their way and we will campaign in our way.”
With elections to the Senedd still a year away but with the promise some noteworthy candidates will be unveiled in the near future, the initial target for the WNP appears to be building a base at councillor level.
The three former Plaid Cymru councillors in Cardiff who quit the party last October to sit as independents look certain to switch to the WNP.
McEvoy confirmed the new party is making good progress in talks with other councillors across Wales who are keen to switch, claiming “even now we have more councillors in the cities of Wales in the south than any other party based in Wales”.
The WNP appears on the scene less than two years after the launch of Ein Gwlad (now Gwlad Gwlad) who have also sought to bring new supporters to the cause of Welsh independence. There have been suggestions that Gwlad Gwlad, who have had their struggles with internal rifts and public apathy in recent months, could be killed off by the emergence of the new party.
While keen to distance the Welsh National Party politically, Neil McEvoy said: “I’m not sure if they really got going to be honest. I respect them because they are essentially a conservative party, a Welsh conservative party, which is completely different to us.
“We are not conservatives, we never pretend to be, and the best of luck to them in attracting conservative-minded voters.”
Neil McEvoy said that the problem with Plaid Cymru was that after 95 years they were very restricted in who they attract.
“Outside of the traditional areas there is not a great deal of support,” he said. “So, what we intend to do is to attract people to the national cause who are not there yet.
“There are many of us who over the years have been on a journey and we are where we are now with the Welsh National Party and what we want to do is enable and bring people on our journey to enable them to fight for and support a sovereign Wales.”
The bigger picture, of course, remains next year’s Senedd elections and McEvoy’s aim of turfing Labour’s First Minister Mark Drakeford out of his Cardiff West seat.
McEvoy stood against him in the 2016 election, boosting Plaid’s share of the vote by 12% and reducing the incumbent’s majority to 1,176, effectively turning the former Labour stronghold into a marginal.
But with the WNP and Plaid both fielding candidates next year any chance of any upset could be slim.
When asked if he would consider working to come to any sort of working arrangement he said:
“I think really the big question is for Adam Price and it is for Plaid because the only person that can beat Labour’s First Minister is me.
“The only party able to defeat the Labour Party in Cardiff West is the Welsh National Party now. So, is Plaid Cymru going to try to enable a Labour First Minister to be re-elected?
“That’s the big question really, because the way it is looking in the capital is that the whole raison d’être now of Plaid Cymru is to enable Mark Drakeford to be re-elected. So, I think that really is a question for them while we set our stall out.”