Plaid Cymru and Labour’s radical, nation-building agreement has made Wales an exciting country to be in once again
Cynog Dafis, former Plaid Cymru AM and MP for Ceredigion
Following last May’s Senedd election, one pundit castigated Plaid Cymru for concentrating on preparing a detailed programme for government at the expense of building an effective election-winning machine.
The historic agreement revealed yesterday vindicates the priorities of both parties: Labour saw off the Conservative threat, and much of the visionary substance the Plaid manifesto has found its way into a ground-breaking programme for government modestly entitled The Cooperation Agreement. It is a major achievement of negotiation, four months in the making.
In it we find a coming together of radical social democracy and nation-building. Plaid Cymru has long espoused its particular version of the former, while Labour has with increasing momentum moved towards the latter. Witness its adoption of “radical federalism” in constitutional policy, its unequivocal support for the restoration of the Welsh language and, most remarkably perhaps, Vaughan Gethin’s commitment to stem the tide of out-migration of the young as a key plank in his economic development strategy. Speaking as one who observed Welsh Labour at close quarters in the first Assembly, I find the current reincarnation almost unrecognisable.
For Plaid, all those years of earnest policy-development, of trying to reconcile vision and practicality, now promise to come to fruition. Dig beyond the headline-grabbing free school meals and tackling the holiday-home issue and you will find a range of potentially transformative nation-building measures: two publicly-owned bodies, for housing and renewable energy; our national history mandatory in the school curriculum; support for devolution of broadcasting and a clear intention to build a distinctive Welsh media landscape: working towards an integrated national public service; an expanded and more proportional Senedd – just a few examples.
Now then, let’s not kid ourselves. There’s no way that a programme this ambitious can be delivered in one Senedd term, much less the three years of this agreement. This means that some permutation of this Plaid-Labour collaboration (potentially reinforced by a few Greens) will be with us for much longer.
Commentators will obsess about the electoral risks for Plaid in this; on the other hand, the party and its policy agenda will gain increasing credibility as a major force in Welsh (and indeed British) politics. More importantly, the task of building the new Wales will have begun.
Building a social-democratic, distinctive Wales cheek-by-jowl with a nationalistic, neo-liberal centralist English government won’t be easy. There will be constraints of capacity, time, powers and financial resources. There will of course be “events”.
But we are in for (shall we say?) a decade of intense, innovative, constructive hard work. Wales will be an exciting country, the place to be in, especially for the young. The prospect is almost enough to make me want to survive the decade.
One further point. This deal reflects well on the leadership of Adam Price. I understand though that the initiative for this agreement came from Mark Drakeford. For this and for many other things, we are in his debt. His legacy is secure.