Rhys ab Owen, Plaid Cymru candidate in Cardiff West
The Senedd election later this year will be the first time that independence has been firmly on the Welsh agenda. A Plaid Cymru government will hold a referendum in its first term, subject to a majority vote in the Senedd.
The ‘I’ word has of course been raised before – in 1999 the Labour Party used independence to attack Plaid Cymru, whilst Dafydd Wigley and others (including my father) argued that Plaid had never actually advocated it. That’s one element of the ‘spirit of 99’ that won’t be replicated this time!
The main reason why independence is on the agenda is due to the sterling work of the non-party-political campaign YesCymru. Through their rallies and stickers, they have made independence a relevant and exciting prospect. They have successfully harnessed the growing concern about the UK Government’s handling of Brexit and Covid-19 and translated that into growing support for Welsh independence.
There has been much talk on Welsh twitter about why YesCymru does not support Plaid. I understand YC’s position. Pluralism and building a broad consensus is key to winning any independence referendum.
However, the Senedd election later this year is different. Yes, Plaid Cymru supports the same aim as the Labour for Independence organisation, but Plaid is the only party that can currently be the vehicle to achieve that aim.
Yes, Labour has supported Home Rule in the past. There have been many Labour politicians that have promoted self-government and worked tirelessly to secure Welsh devolution. And I can see in the foreseeable future elected Labour politicians coming out in support of Welsh independence.
But we are not there yet. Labour comes from a completely different tradition to Plaid. For every Keir Hardie there was a Ramsay MacDonald, for every S. O. Davies there was a George Thomas and so on and so forth! Too often Wales was ignored and these ideals were sacrificed to assist the party across the UK. Plaid on the other hand has always supported Welsh independence, albeit by using different words such as ‘dominion status’ or ‘self-government’.
Named after Keir Hardie, the current Labour leader, Keir Starmer, is very different from his namesake who championed Welsh Home Rule, and largely ignores Wales. The leading Welsh academic Professor Richard Wyn Jones described his much-trumpeted devolution speech as “vacuous stuff” that “ignored the very existence of the Welsh Government”.
Meanwhile, not one of Labour’s elected politicians openly supports Welsh independence. The party only has one candidate, Ben Gwalchmai, who is openly in favour of the cause. But being fourth on the Mid and West Wales list means he has no chance of being elected.
Compare that to Plaid, where all of our candidates support Welsh independence. We will work tirelessly for that aim and remain answerable to the people of Wales only. I may be stating the obvious, but if you want Welsh independence or even if you just want a serious debate to take place the only chance of this happening any time soon is to vote Plaid Cymru.
If the 2020 opinion poll by YouGov and YesCymru is correct, 51% of Labour voters support independence. Plaid Cymru supporters have been asked over the decades to lend their support to Labour ‘to keep the Tories out’. Now is the time for Labour supporters to lend their support to Plaid, to put Wales on the road to independence.
The Labour party in Wales has no plan for the constitutional future of Wales. Waiting to see what Scotland does is not good enough. Plaid has a plan, Plaid has a commitment and Plaid is not answerable to a HQ in England.
However, if voting for Plaid at a constituency level is a step too far for some Labour supporters due to tradition or loyalty to their candidate, the regional vote must be seen differently. On current polling, Labour is unlikely to win any regional seats except in Mid and West Wales. In 2016, Labour won 319,196 regional votes of which most were wasted votes, as they did not translate into seats.
If we are serious about keeping parties such as Abolish the Welsh Assembly out of the Senedd it is time for Labour supporters to lend their vote to Plaid.
Plaid can’t win the independence argument alone – but it is the only way we can get there anytime soon.