Cult of personality will hurt Welsh nationalism too
The rise, rise and sudden fall of Nicola Sturgeon is why politics intrigues the human mind. While she has failed in her bid to hold another referendum – let alone win independence – the leader of the SNP mattered, both to the DNA of modern Scotland and the future of Britain.
Her hastily convened press conference, in the inimitable surroundings of Bute House, and its days of global coverage was a testament to Sturgeon’s unprecedented stature as First Minister.
This is why Shakespeare is often invoked in political commentary. The playwright is shorthand for the fact that “events, dear boy” are dramatic. Take the question put by the New York Times after Sturgeon’s resignation, “What’s Next for Scotland?”.
The answer, a subjective one, is itself theatrical. Nobody truly knows whether Scottish nationalists’ mission of independence has been made easier with the chance of fresh leadership or knocked sideways by the departure of the greatest asset the campaign has ever had.
What is obvious, I think, is the astute judgement of the First Minister. Her “heart and mind” was right to acknowledge that it was the right time to go. The visceral fallout from a gender self-identification law turned a policy debate into a constitutional battle and showed no signs of going away.
The threat levels to Sturgeon may not have been existential, in line with her experience of other ‘crises’ over recent years (see: ferries fiasco, the fallout with Alex Salmond, a calamitous NHS). But, perhaps most important among a plethora of reasons for Sturgeon stepping down was that the path to a second plebiscite on the national question looked impossible.
And her strategy of using the next election as leverage for a mandate was the best that could be conjured up, an idea that had a frosty reception even across her own party.
Welsh nationalists have lamented the political passing of this great almost-achiever. Plaid Cymru, alongside the grassroots YesCymru, has been second tier nationalism compared to the electoral dominance overseen by Nicola Sturgeon and the campaign skill of YesScot.
If the First Minister’s resignation has re-focused one view in British politics it is that there are three national(ist) parties that dominate: the SNP in Scotland, the Conservatives in England and Labour in Wales, of which the latter is the most successful in electoral terms this century.
This is not a column to exhume age-old criticism of Plaid Cymru, which I have made plenty of in these pages. I expect the party to dissect and despair in equal measure during their Spring Conference in Llanelli next month, particularly if the new ‘political strategy’ which was leaked to the Western Mail is to be believed.
The central tenet seems to be to take the party to the left of Welsh Labour while supporting it as the minor partner in a coalition after the next election. Old habits die hard.
Another key point, if we follow the Western Mail report, is that Plaid Cymru will seek to convert the Welsh Government from proposing the continuation of the Union to being ‘neutral’ on the issue, before finally advocating independence. Readers of Nation.Cymru will, like me, have to wait to judge “Cymru for All” according to its own words.
But taken in isolation some of the ideas appear to be for the birds, highly dependent on growing support for independence in Scotland. An organic burst of Welsh nationalism seems unlikely during Mark Drakeford’s remaining tenure, after all.
More relevant for Plaid Cymru to consider is the danger for all nationalisms: the cult of personality. The SNP relied on one person, a seminal leader but now equally divisive politician, to deliver its core mission over the last eight years.
True, the double act was originally Salmond and Sturgeon, but now both are gone with no obvious generational shift taking hold in the SNP. There is no clear successor, so much so that a recent Panelbase poll showed that ‘Don’t Know’ was the runaway candidate to be the next First Minister of Scotland with 69 per cent of votes.
Adam Price is almost as closely aligned to Plaid Cymru’s brand as Sturgeon is to the SNP. This is no bad thing inherently, but there are risks around tying one person to the party’s success. Price has long-lived with the self-produced pressure of being the saviour of Welsh nationalism, experiencing an over-hyped leadership coronation that lasted over a decade.
More recently, in the context of criticism of the complaints process within Plaid Cymru, there have also been concerns that Price surrounds himself with a “clique” of associates as divisions emerge within the party.
This is not as much of an issue for others. For example, there are plenty of candidates (good ones and less so) to succeed Mark Drakeford. Welsh Conservatives have a wide pool of selection, too, though the party remains tormented by whether to participate seriously in political life.
Plaid Cymru’s challenges are more existential since it lingers behind even the Tories, competing hopelessly with Welsh Labour for votes. There have been many other factors to explain electoral challenges, but has the strategy of focusing entirely on its leader (Leanne Wood from 2012-2018, and Price thereafter) paid off?
Sturgeon’s fall should be a warning that storm clouds are never too far away. The leader gets all the credit, until something goes seriously wrong. And then what? Welsh nationalists have some thinking to do.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.
Asked of Labour…take me to your leader…reply…which one?
Unfortunately we do not have any personalities you would want to follow!
100% Gaynor. The ‘cult of personality’ around Welsh politicians is a figment of the collective imagination of the Cardiff media class. No coherence, just the sub-par mood boards of people who couldn’t get hired at PR firms in Clifton or Shoreditch. Gwelliant gloi sydd eisiau.
A brutally honest and astute assessment. I worked in various Welsh sinecures for over a decade in Cardiff including the media. The lack of talent and ability was breathtaking. Sadly, I feel Nation.Cymru, despite a promising start is just an extension of the Grangetown left mindset and is tone deaf to who Welsh people actually are and what they want/don’t want.
The word ‘nationalist’ is so 20th century and, spat out venom, latter day Johnsonianist.
How about community-based, localist, people first, grass roots, environmentalist, internationalist, tolerant, inclusive, even simply kind to describe our national movements?
And our movements are more than just one person.
Not trying to be too harsh, Meic, but your suggestion is as fraught with problems as with the term you criticize – maybe more so: your ‘localism’ may not be the same as mine, your ‘internationalism’ may not be the same as mine, your ‘environmentalism’ may not be the same as ‘mine. Not a single political party in the history of party politics has said that they aren’t “People first” or “Inclusive” – they may not be according to your definition, but your definitions (and mine) are of no consequence. Instead of this constant branding exercise, can we get back… Read more »
In respect of kindness, expulsion of the gaslighting, misogynist trans loons would be a good start.
Sadly can’t find the Western Mail article of which Theo speaks
Reading on facebook on the Nation Cymru about the Low life Lee Anderson the Tory M P who said bring back hanging and people can feed a family on 30p now on there he said and i agree with the low life ABOUT ENGLISH INDEPENDENCE AND THE SHOULD FREE ENGLAND FROM THE SCROUNGERS SCOTLAND WALES AND NORTHERN IRELAND and that only england counts i am surprised it has not appeared on here a Tory M P saying that and i wish to god it wouls happen
Not so sure about the smokescreen of Welsh nationalism Theo, It would appear you have a problem with Wales per se.
Nationalist is nothing but one’s care for his or her own nation and people. It’s been perverted to mean anti others! When in reality thats not the case at all. If a mother and father puts the care of their child first, does that make them evil or bad? NO! It’s human nature to care for you and yours first. WW2 was perfect for those people who want some nations to exist and other not to. British (in form of English nationalism) = Correct. Cymro (Real British Nationalism) and Scottish Nationalism = incorrect and somehow immorally Racist
Im under the impression this is another anti Nationalist rant from this writer
A snide fact lite hatchet piece on both Nicola Sturgeon and Adam Price – keep it up theo….you’ll be getting a gig on the telegraph soon 😉.
You have to hand it to Theo, never known to miss a chance to get it wrong.
There is always a danger of cult personality when many get their news through media outlets. It is the job of Plaid Cymru and YesCymru to be a member driven movement for national independence. YesCymru – the multi-party campaigning group and Plaid Cymru – the party of Wales as the political representatives in parliaments should be and remain a broad movement of differing ideas post independence day. Plaid Cymru is a ‘decentralising’ party and thus its roots are with the social liberal traditions of Wales. It is not a case of positioning itself ‘left’ or ‘right’ of Labour as if… Read more »