Plaid Cymru needs to fight back rather than conform

Caernarfon in Gwynedd. Picture by Reading Tom (CC BY 2.0)

 

Aled Gwyn Job

Wales became a modern nation because of the growth of nonconformism.

The Methodist revivals of the 18th Century led directly to a range of far-reaching educational, social and political changes in turn.

These developments were born of the foundational idea that Wales had a mind of its own, and would not blindly follow what the UK Government told it to do.

We won’t be told what’s best for our own nation by distant authorities, thank you very much.

But, I wonder whether the harsh truth today is that Wales is by now a deeply conformist nation in so many ways.

A kind of stoic acceptance that we must accept the status quo seems to have permeated all aspects of our politics – even, sadly, Plaid Cymru, who claim to want to upturn the political order.

It was seen clearly on Friday, as county councillors gathered in Caernarfon to vote on Gwynedd Council’s Local Development Plan.

This plan will see a total of almost 8,000 new homes built in Gwynedd and Ynys Môn – the last real heartlands of the Welsh language – between 2011 and 2026.

The vote was split down the middle at 30-30, with most Plaid Cymru councillors supporting the Local Development Plan. The Council Chair gave her casting vote in favour.

What was really depressing were the arguments set out by those in favour.

Despite the protestations of deep concern and love for the Welsh language that preceded almost every speech in favour of the plan, not a single councillor in favour argued that the development plan would boost the language in the two counties.

One had anticipated that at least one of the cabinet members would try to convince their fellow councillors that all the new houses could, for example, attract Welsh speakers back to Gwynedd to start new businesses and the like.

They could have argued that this, in turn, could help meet one of the council’s key strategic priorities, i.e. raising the number of Welsh speakers in the county from 65% to 70% by 2021.

But no. No attempt was made to present such a narrative.

Their core message was that they had no choice but to obey the requirements of the Planning Inspector and implement this development plan (which is essentially a plan foisted on local authorities by the Planning Inspectorate in London).

They raised a whole host of doomsday scenarios which could come into play if councillors had the temerity to vote no:

  • the Labour Government could implement the Development Plan from Cardiff
  • the Government could send in Commissioners to run the Council directly
  • developers could rub their hands in glee at the prospect of no development plan in place

Great store was also placed on the fact that the Planning Inspectorate had praised the robustness of the plan.

It was hard to reconcile this “robustness” with the fact that the plan will mean a 20% increase in new houses in Pwllheli and a 30% increase in Llangefni by 2026.

These are two of the only three towns in Wales where 80% of local people speak Welsh (Caernarfon being the other).

It seems almost criminally negligent that a Plaid Cymru administration can contemplate threatening such a cultural heritage by accepting these housing projections in such an abject way

Are we to believe that the inspector knows more about how best to preserve the culture and history of Gwynedd than the councillors elected by the people to represent their best interests?

The motto of Gwynedd County Council is ‘Cadernid Gwynedd’ (The Fastness of Gwynedd), but it’s hard to believe that they were living up to their name in this instance.

Always right

The cabinet members who spoke in the debate seemed to forget that they were politicians, and spoke like administrators.

That is, that they now see their role almost as civil servants to all intents and purposes, there to implement whatever is imposed upon them.

They forgot that a politician’s job is to create a political reality, not accept orders handed down from above.

There is a strong case to be made that the Cabinet system now used in Welsh Local Government has facilitated a process by which cabinet members spending more of their council time with Officers rather than in the company of their fellow councillors.

And it is a common complaint from ordinary councillors from all political stripes that they are now mere bystanders in county council politics.

And, of course, the administrators are always right. There seemed to be no shred of doubt in Dafydd Meurig (Planning Portfolio) and Dyfrig Siencyn (Council Leader)’s minds about the essential virtues and benefits of the development plan.

One almost felt at times that they were arguing about their own integrity and sincerity as individuals, rather than arguing objectively about the merits of the development plan.

“Trust us, folks, we know what we’re doing,” was their plea, which reminded me of the arch-persuader himself, the former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Lobby

It was very ironic that one of the best speeches made in the chamber came from a Labour councillor, Sion Jones from Bethel. He was a breath of fresh air after the spin presented by the administrators.

He acknowledged that opposing the development plan was going against his own party’s wishes, but he said that protecting the Welsh language in Môn and Gwynedd was more important than his own political welfare.

He said that choosing to allow so many new houses would only attract more migrants into the two counties, putting the Welsh language under even further pressure.

He argued that Gwynedd County Council should have lobbied hard for Gwynedd and Mon to be granted special linguistic status as part of the planning process in Wales.

It should be taken into account, he said, that these two counties are the only areas where Welsh remains a living, community language on a large scale in the whole of modern-day Wales.

But, no, it seems that using their political capital to fight for such an outcome occurred to the ‘administrators’.

Disappointment

The truth is that administering and conforming rather than politicking and challenging is a blight on the whole of Wales by now.

Perhaps this can even be traced back to the onset of devolution itself when Plaid Cymru took a conscious decision that their main task was to solidify and secure the future of the fledgling Assembly by extending every help possible to the Labour Party.

This support for Labour and helping Labour to “administer” Wales has been an ever-constant feature of Welsh politics since 1999.

This passive, administrative approach has been one of the reasons why devolution has proved to be such a disappointment to so many people.

But even worse than that, this technocratic process has turned into a defining feature of our national life on every level.

This overwhelming emphasis on administration more often than not leads to conformity: that is the very nature of the beast. And conformity in our present circumstances is deadly in so many ways.

It is painfully clear in so many facets of our national life that we sorely need a new non-conformist spirit in Wales.

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BATTLEFORFTTP
Guest

Good read. Given me much to ponder on. thanks.

Owen Llywelyn
Guest

“Their core message was that they had no choice but to obey the requirements of the Planning Inspector and implement this development plan (which is essentially a plan foisted on local authorities by the Planning Inspectorate in London).” Mae hwn yn swnio mor drist o gyfarwydd. Yr un dadleuon wedi cael eu defnyddio dros gynlluniau datblygu lleol yng Ngheredigion gan gynghorwyr Plaid Cymru a phleidiau eraill yn y gorffennol. Onid yw’n bryd i gynghorau sy’n cael eu arwain gan PC yn y gorllewin ddod ynghyd a dweud na, mae’r hyn sy’n cael eu gorfodi arnyn nhw drwy’r cynlluniau datblygu yn… Read more »

glasiad
Guest
glasiad

As a former county councillor (Bridgend) I can testify that this article hits the nail on the head. Although most councillors of all parties are well meaning people, they are ground down and cowed by the bureaucratic chiefs. These top bureaucrats have perfected the arts of persuasive arguments and veiled threats to ensure their directives are approved. Most councillors start with the intent to represent the interests of their community in the council. After a spell of indoctrination they soon start representing the council in their community. Mind you, it never worked on me. I don’t know how many times… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
Guest
Sibrydionmawr

Unfortunatelyfro your argument, Brexit is now the new conformity from which no-one is allowed to sway without the wrath of the Brexit totalitarians. You also seem to need reminding that democracy is a process, and not an event. The Brexit vote was an event, which triggered a process that currently doesn’t seem to be going too well. Brexiteers are people who insist that that a turd can be shined, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The EU may have some serious shortcomings, but none of what Brexiteers accuse it of, or indeed what most of them seem to believe,… Read more »

glasiad
Guest
glasiad

You can like the EU, you can feel our membership in the EU is essential, you can be a passionate Remainer – but you still have to admit that the Leave vote winning was the biggest voter revolt in living memory. Even UKIP boss Nigel Farage confessed that he thought Remain would win on counting night. The result was a severe punch in the gut to the UK political elites and Establishment. BBC is still staggering from the shock. There is nothing ‘totalitarian’ about a referendum, whatever the result. There is something quite sinister however in try to block of… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
Guest
Sibrydionmawr

Nothing sinister whatsoever – there may have been a majority vote for Brexit, that is beyond dispute, (however much many of those who voted for it who are now having second thoughts) but it was a very close vote, and 48% of those who voted, voted to remain, and if we live in a democracy, that 48% also deserve to be heard. Referenda are very much instruments of totalitarianism – it’s exactly how the Nazis attained their power in 1930s Germany, and as we have seen with the Brexit vote, the extreme right played on peoples fears. Brexit is a… Read more »

glasiad
Guest
glasiad

Wow! What a reply. I had to read it over a few times. It pretty much sums up in a nutshell everything that is wrong with the argument to ignore the Brexit referendum result. I’m going to save your comment. I think it will have historical interest in the future. – Gweiddibach 🙂

kim erswell
Guest
kim erswell

Find myself, again, agreeing with Glasiad. Yet, laughing that, Sibrydionmawr, has introduced “Godwin’s Law” – something that seems to occur more and more in online debate. During the 2016 referendum it was common of Remainers to call Brexiters, Nazis…especially when they – Leavers – made good points in the debate and they had no real response.

Sibrydionmawr
Guest
Sibrydionmawr

It may be ‘Godwin’s Law’ but none the less, appropriate. If there were other ways of pointing out the pitfalls of referenda, then I would use them. And has it escaped you that perhaps analogies towards nazism and totaltiarianism may indeed be appropriate, as many who support Brexit tend towards the political extreme-right? Glasiad – there is nothing whatsoever wrong with suggesting that the vote for Brexit should be ignored, again, you make the mistake of denying people the right to express an opinion. Do you feel there is anything wrong with your apparent assertion that those of us, nearly… Read more »

CambroUiDunlainge
Guest
CambroUiDunlainge

Was Brexit conformity? The Prime Minister at the time, a Tory I might add wanted to Remain within the EU. So Wales voted Leave. Polls showed Tories would gain in Wales, Theresa May went to Bridgend… she thought she had enough support to gain an even bigger majority. All those people who voted Leave in Wales pretty much rejected her trying to harness their vote.

Cofi dre
Guest
Cofi dre

Plaid Cymru in Arfon, most of them, and certainly the AM and MP, have been negligent and cowardly, and have almost certainly doomed Arfon to becoming a Labour seat next time around. The anger around here is palpable, and everyone knows that if the AM and MP had shown leadership then Plaid would have resisted and if the worst came to the worst it would have been implemented by force from outside – thus showing up the Labour party and showing Plaid fighting its corner. But no – they caved in when they didn’t have to, and a couple of… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
Guest
Sibrydionmawr

I guess the only thing that can be said about Plaid Cymru in this is ‘Brad!’ But what of people on the ground, Welsh speaking people who are going to see their community destroyed by the LDP? There is no way in the world that 8,000 new houses are needed in Gwynedd and Môn, as I’m pretty sure there is already more than sufficient housing that is unused the vast majority of the year. There is no nice way to put it, this kind of craven decision on the part of Plaid Cymru councillors makes them complicit in the financial… Read more »

CambroUiDunlainge
Guest
CambroUiDunlainge

I’d have to disagree about being governed by distant authorities… I don’t think thats the issues here. Some one on Ynys Mon could easily say the same thing about Cardiff (and the culture drift adds to that!). It’s about an authority that cares not for Wales – that shields itself with our apathy and as you say the conformism which has surface in recently decades. I don’t think we should use the death of non-conformist religion in Wales as metre for whether Wales is becoming more conformist… I think its death was in part due to growing number of atheists… Read more »

H
Guest
H

Words that come to mind for describing Plaid Cymru: feeble, spineless.

Brynhp
Guest
Brynhp

If we’re serious about not just maintaining the number of Welsh speakers but increasing them what about making it mandatory for every local and regional development plan to consider the effect of the proposal on the Welsh language and for there to be a presumption against any development unless it has a positive impact on Welsh? Whilst my heart tells me to vote for Plaid I simply cannot bring myself to do so whilst it remains so totally wet. Having moved back to Wales when I retired because that is where my roots belong, I have to confess I am… Read more »

Al
Guest

This article is a real eye- opener for many. I think one of your respondents has also nailed it when he said that many of our plaid cymru councillors are not bad people- they are just weak people who have not really got a wide-lens awareness of what being a nationalist actually is. They are just too many in their midst who feel that they are there to represent their area- without an implicit understanding that they are also there to represent the Welsh National Interest. But then, when Plaid Cymru have virtually given up on any real nationalist mission… Read more »

Royston Jones
Guest

I have argued for 30 years or more that Plaid Cymru is part of the problem not part of the solution. It is of more use to England now than to Wales. Not only because it refuses to rock the boat and challenge, as in the case of this LDP, but because it sits there, pretending to be a national party, and all the while blocking the emergence of a genuine national party. The tragedy is that we’ve had 90 years of Plaid Cymru masquerading as the ‘national party’, 90 years that can never be made up; 90 years that… Read more »

Cofi dre
Guest
Cofi dre

There’s a time and place to discuss Brexit, and this isn’t either of them. The issue here is a basic one: not only is Plaid not able to be principled, it’s not even able to be pragmatic without cocking it up. There were votes to be regained by outflanking Labour on the LDP, and if they really wanted to implement it they could at least have fought it and then allowed themselves to be overruled. No. Instead they let a Labour councillor appear to stand up to his party while Plaid visibly didn’t stand up for itself. He’ll get votes,… Read more »

Gwyn Williams
Guest
Gwyn Williams

You’ve completely misunderstood the LDP.

Dafydd Thomas
Guest
Dafydd Thomas

Perhaps Leanne should tell the Plad councillors in Gwynedd to grow a backbone. It seems as if the vast majority of the 8000 houses, if not all will go to retirees from over the border. Theses retirees, almost 90% of whom will have pre existing medical conditions, will be a burden on Wales NHS, depriving funds for the education budget for our children all over Wales. It all comes from the Welsh budget. This number of houses is equivalent to some 150,000 houses (300,000 people) built in England for retirees from Europe, and burdening England NHS with an annual expenditure… Read more »

Alwyn ap Huw
Guest

What the councillors who voted in favour of the LDP said is correct; the Labour Government could implement a Development Plan from Cardiff; the Government could send in Commissioners to run the Council directly and developers would rub their hands in glee at the prospect of no development plan being in place to restrict even more developments than were in the plan. Before nonconformity became the accepted religion of Wales in the 1850s earlier pioneers of the cause had been martyred, imprisoned, exiled and assaulted. If we want Plaid councillors in Gwynedd (Labour councillors in Cardiff, Tory councillors in Monmouth,… Read more »

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Guest

Into the last heartland, just like the Romans wiping out the Druids the British government is doing the same.

Voting Tory or LIb Dem got you where you are just like in the south voting Labour! Believing in the British was our first mistake not saying enough is enough years ago the second.

Rise or die, it is up to all Welsh people the last ball is in your court!

Max Wallis
Guest

Caerphilly Council last year rejected their LDP, standing up to the bullying to conform to the WG’s Planning Inspectorate. http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/14630612.Caerphilly_council_scraps_land_plan_for_12_400_proposed_new_homes/
No disastrous consequences, no ‘direct rule’ from Cardiff.
Just recently, the Vale of Glamorgan supinely accepted their LDP, with a lot more house-building than even the WG projections. Plaid cllrs did vote against, but tokenist only. They failed to replicate the fight in Caerphilly and win over the independents and many of the Tories who said they were opposed – to the Labour-driven expansionist LDP.

Martin
Guest
Martin

But this is Plaid Cymru Gwynedd’s own LDP that they have put together for several years.

Bryn Daf
Guest

What is going on with Plaid Cymru over there.

WEAK WEAK WEAK

Martin
Guest
Martin

They should explain their side of the story, with an article for balance.

Leia
Guest

I oncur – would love to see some more interview-style articles challenging directly on this sort of thing.

Martin
Guest
Martin

Not happy with it. Seimon Glyn and my parents councillor being called “bradwyr”? Not buying it. Think it’s bad form and destructive. Want to see the other side of the story.

Cofi dre
Guest
Cofi dre

Hywel Williams won by less than 100 votes last election. He’s a good MP and I admire him. But on this the MP and AM stood on the sidelines, and that will cost them in any upcoming election. If Caerphilly can stand up to the LDP then surely Gwynedd can. It scraped through by one vote – one! several abstained, several didn’t turn up, and some were on holiday. One faction of Plaid was pushing for the LDP and one was pushing against it. To have it win by 1 vote should make a lot of us wonder what we… Read more »

desdelguinardo
Guest
desdelguinardo

I admire Nation.cymru and the amount of work that seemingly goes into the project, but since the General Election, it has seemed to turn into 1) a platform for those who are not involved in Plaid Cymru to say how they would change Plaid Cymru if they were and 2) a blog driven by opinion articles and not offering a news service, as the intention was to begin with. Many of us gave funds at the beginning to contribute to a news service, not an opinion platform. The constant flow of articles by people who are not involved in Plaid… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
Guest
Sibrydionmawr

You are correct, there are many people here who are not involved with Plaid Cymru expressing opinions about what they think Plaid Cymru should be, including myself. But, I think that most of us who comment on Plaid Cymru have in the past been members of Plaid Cymru, who have eventually become frustrated by the party’s cowardice, lack of backbone and it’s constant pandering to a pacifist elite still cowed into obsequious Blue Book engendered forelock tugging, or moves of appeasement in the hope of appealing to the monster’s (Brit Imperialism) better side. I was once an enthusiastic member of… Read more »

Huw
Guest
Huw

1) it doesn’t seem that there are an abundance of articles here on the direction of Plaid, and it seems natural that during an election period, and after a momentous decision such as this, that there is attention given to these questions – it would be more worrying for the party if people weren’t interested 2) all this sort of discussion seems very healthy anyway because it is critical engagement with the nationalist movement – the English language public discourse is badly lacking this sort of discussion that begins from the perspective that Welsh nationalism is a positive thing; in… Read more »

kim erswell
Guest
kim erswell

Very interesting,Sibrydionmawr, and informative. I agree also that their is no point in catering to the English/British establishment. Yet, when most people talk about the English their – I feel – talking about a very small minority that do look down on the Welsh. In fact, look down on everyone: including most of the English themselves. Having lived in Wales I think a major problem is your not vocal enough – unlike the Scots or Irish who seem to register more in the pyche through greater media attention by making vociferous demands. Passiveness and playing by the Marquis of Queensbury… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
Guest
Sibrydionmawr

I think you’re right. There are indeed probably only a minority of English people in Wales who are vocal in their condescension, but I know from personal experience that there are a great many who have consciously refused to acknowledge that they are living in someone else’s country, even to the point of deliberately mis-pronouncing place names after having lived in the area for many years. I have found quite shocking the attitudes of many English expats in Wales. Much of it is of a casual nature, so I’m not talking of the kind of people such as Protic or… Read more »

desdelguinardo
Guest
desdelguinardo

You seem to enjoy leaving comments on sites. Why not establish another party or organisation if changing Plaid is so futile? I just don’t get why all of you don’t just do it.

leigh richards
Guest

Well said desdelguinardo! After promising beginnings based on the laudable premise of providing ‘a news service by the people of Wales, for the people of Wales’ i worry this website is in danger of degenerating into a bubble for a narrow and remote group of right wing critics of plaid cymru. Such people are of course perfectly entitled to their opinions, but trust me ordinary people the length and breadth of wales are not currently bemoaning the fact plaid is a left of center party. I also feel bound to say to these right wing detractors that there is an… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
Guest
Sibrydionmawr

Not this critic of Plaid Cymru. A right wing critic. moi?!! I have no problem with Plaid being left of centre, it’s just not left of centre enough! I swing towards anarchism, community communism etc. Hardly right wing.

Bet
Guest
Bet

Surel this hás to be the last straw

When is a centre right nationalist party going to be set up?

A party like this would put heritage and tradition above this constant deference to Labour in Cardiff Bay. It could be a properly nationalist party not afraid to stand up for Wales.

It could stand for independence and a sound economy based on entrepreneurship and fully releasing all the talents of the people of Wales.

When are the next Assemly elections?

Martin
Guest
Martin

And it would stand in Gwynedd against Plaid Cymru at the council? Would any of the Plaid councillors who voted against the LDP join it do you think?

desdelguinardo
Guest
desdelguinardo

One of the greatest problems with Wales, especially post-devolution Wales, is lack of action. In Catalonia, if a load of people think that there’s a space for a Christian Democratic Federalist party, for example, guess what they do? Oh yeah that’s right, they come together, get off the comments columns of websites, and establish one.

I suggest you do the same and see how you get on.

Andrew M.
Guest
Andrew M.

I’m not sure there’s much difference between a News service and an opinion platform. Articles like this encourage activity and readers… as well as opinions. Pretty much the lifeblood of any media outlet. You are correct about attention on Plaid since the election… but there’s a lot of discontent and disenfranchised nationalists out there and Plaid Cymru’s performance in both elections was pretty dire. Thing is… Plaid’s rhetoric about being the only party of the Welsh people, the voice of Wales and the only party which puts the Welsh people first means that they are accountable when it all goes… Read more »

glynadda
Guest
Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

This whole story is really depressing. The English authorities tried this on in North East Wales a few years ago, and lost – in an area where Plaid Cymru has weaker representation!
Wales really needs to get its act together with regard to these local development plans; they are nothing less than colonialism. I thought planning issues were devolved to this country after the Senedd was established.
Planning should be based on housing need, and Gwynedd does not need 8,000 new houses. If Plaid are complicit in this, they need roasting on an open fire.