Populist and proud or a Welsh UKIP? – an interview with Ein Gwlad
Since Ein Gwlad launched in the summer, the newest political party to campaign for an independent Wales has drawn a mixture of interest, bemusement and hostility from those that follow Welsh politics.
They have been characterised by some critics as a Welsh UKIP but welcomed by others for campaigning for independence from a less socialist perspective than Plaid Cymru.
Ein Gwlad themselves claim to be a party of neither the left or right, describing themselves as “the first syncretic party in Wales”.
Few leading members so far can boast much of a political profile or any obvious experience. Which made more significant the announcement last month that Siân Caiach had joined the party, and would head the new Llanelli branch, one of only three in the country.
A Plaid member for over 30 years before quitting the party in 2009, Caiach is a well-regarded councillor in Carmarthenshire.
But she has also been a consistent thorn in the side of some Welsh nationalists, who blame her for taking enough votes to prevent Plaid Cymru ousting Labour in Llanelli in the 2011 and 2016 Assembly election.
Speaking to Nation.Cymru, however, she shrugs off the suggestion than Ein Gwlad’s mission will simply be to pinch Plaid Cymru’s supporters and split the pro-independence vote across the country.
Having campaigned in Scotland for the Yes in the 2014 independence referendum, she believes Ein Gwlad can attract support from independence-minded voters from across the political spectrum in Wales.
“A lot of people in all parties, not just in Plaid Cymru, really would like Wales to be a better place, have a better government and have more autonomy and even independence,” she said.
“And really, we’re not thinking let’s go and pinch all Plaid Cymru’s members because I don’t think that’s even possible.
“But to go for those other groups, and certainly having worked in the Scottish referendum, these groups are out there.
“It’s surprising when you give people an opportunity to actually work for an independent country; people will step up to the mark.
“If you stand in elections you’re standing against all the other parties. My impression here in Carmarthenshire is that Plaid has a bedrock support of cultural nationalists and I don’t think it’s likely to be shifted in the near future.
“But I think there are many people who are different and come from different backgrounds, who are just outraged by how dreadful Wales is, in the way it’s being run and its prospects.
“And I think really the people we want are the people who would like Wales to do a lot better, be governed a lot better and get independence.”
She suggested that her intention in standing against Plaid Cymru in Llanelli was certainly not to help keep Labour in power.
“I am not a great Labour supporter,” she said. “In fact I will always say that Labour are the most unionist of all parties and are the biggest threat to independence because they need our votes and without our votes they will never get power in Westminster.
“You’ve heard the general Labour Party line. The whole thing is to keep us poor, blame the Tories, harvest the votes and then do bugger all.
“As far as I’m concerned, and I’ve got many friends in the Labour Party, that is what is happening at the moment.”
‘Like the SNP’
Explaining her decision to join the fledgeling Ein Gwlad party, Siân Caiach said she thought she could bring a level of political know-how currently missing from the party.
“Basically I was becoming very frustrated with the rather slow progress to independence in Wales and the general standard of government in Wales,” she said.
“I was looking for something. I was looking for a new party and they ended up looking for me.
“I’ve got a political profile. Back in 1987 I started the all-party campaign for a Welsh Assembly and since then I’ve done quite a bit of campaigns and cross-party working. And for me personally I would hate the devolution project in Wales to end with the Welsh Assembly.
“I don’t think my profile is particularly important to them but I think I can lend quite a lot to the party because of my knowledge of organisation and how things work.”
Reflecting on Ein Gwlad’s branding as a syncretic, populist party, Caiach cited the SNP as a syncretic, populist, centrist party they would like to emulate.
“I think the word syncretic is difficult because actually in a liberal democracy with a welfare state all parties to a degree have a syncretic attitude,” she said.
“It’s a descriptive term and people who don’t study politics and economics have no idea what it means.
“I think populism is certainly on the move and it has been adopted by the SNP and by Corbyn’s Labour Party because that’s the way things went.
“I don’t think populism is a difficult label but lots of people say ‘oh if you’re populist you’ve got to be fascist and neo-Nazi as well’ which really is nuts but cheap insults don’t particularly bother me.”
Brushing off the hostility expressed to Ein Gwlad from some of the party’s opponents, Caiach says: “I feel quite comfortable within the party and I really haven’t had any negative comments from anybody locally.
“My family are quite happy with everything and quite a few People First members have either joined or are quite sympathetic.
“It’s difficult when you are a new party and I think when we become more prominent, we are going around, doing lectures and presentations, and not only is that helping with our message and the feedback we are getting but also it will help people realise we are not bogeymen or strange Neo-fascists or whatever we are being accused of.”
With just over 50 paid up members and 250 registered supporters Ein Gwlad’s aim now is to build towards fielding candidates in the 2021 National Assembly elections but they will also look at fielding candidates in council by-elections and Assembly by-elections, if there are any in the next three years.
“At the moment it is just funded by membership and therefore we are going to have to do a fair bit of fundraising when we stand in the National Assembly elections in 2021,” Siân Caiach said.
“At the moment we haven’t got an awful lot of members. I think if there were elections we are going to have to get the supporters in because they’ll probably be quite happy to put out a few leaflets or whatever but again it’s horses for courses.
“For the Assembly elections we are going to concentrate on the list but we will probably be standing in seats as well.
“And the nice thing about Assembly elections is you do get one free leaflet delivery by post where we hit every voting house, so it does mean we can at least put our ideas and policies out there.
“The council elections may coincide with the with the Assembly elections or not. I’m not sure if the Assembly has quite worked that out yet but certainly what we would do is, if there are council by-elections or even an assembly member by-election we would certainly like to stand and get some practice at fighting elections.
“The hardest thing for a political party is to get fundraising and organisation and we are going to work hard on it.”
As for winning over the party’s critics, she added: “I think people who are hostile to us now probably will remain hostile. There is no point in people going out of their way to insult us. They are probably not going to become our mates.
“In a way it’s probably quite flattering that they feel they have to attack us before they even realise who we are, what our policies are, or what we are going to do.”