Plaid Cymru risks losing Gwynedd unless it returns to the energy and vision of the past

Ysgol y Ganllwyd which closed in 2017

Gwion Owain

As a child, one Sunday night every three weeks in our house was different. The parlour would have more chairs and my mother would have the best china out. This was the local Plaid Cymru branch meeting.

Not that there would have been other suitable parlours in the Nantlle Valley of course but my father would have been the first to volunteer the house for the meeting.

This would have been the mid-Eighties but it was nothing new. Since the late sixties my parents held fund-raisers in the house for the local branch and worked tirelessly, with other committed members in the area to build support for Plaid, work that eventually secured the Arfon seat for Dafydd Wigley in 1974.

But things were different then. Open commitment to Plaid Cymru was a convert’s game and the jibe of being of the ‘blaid bach’ was an insult thrown by many who would later switch allegiances to Plaid.

But membership and commitment to the cause was a labour of love and, unlike the Labour party, Plaid could offer little in terms of career advancement or favour from the authorities – and in any case that’s not how we do things.

Today, the Westminster seats of Arfon and Dwyfor Meirionnydd are held by Plaid Cymru. Gwynedd Council is run by a majority Plaid administration.  On the face of it things are good for Plaid in this part of Wales.

However, I have long held a fear that Plaid are nearing a very dangerous inflection point in Gwynedd.  Plaid Cymru’s leadership in Gwynedd has been blighted by the same culture of managerialism that we all too often accuse the Welsh Labour party of displaying in the Assembly.

Lack of political sensitivity

For the best part of the past 15 years there has been precious little in terms of political vision offered from the part of Wales most loyal to our party. When budgetary cuts to the education budget forced the closure of small rural schools the policy was adopted with an evangelical zeal and repackaged as a far-sighted plan to merge local schools despite the misgivings of the party’s core support and emotional attachment of the population to their community schools.

Accepting that there were many cases where there may have been a sound case to re-organise education this was approached with a lack of political sensitivity and an unsettling arrogance towards their core support and communities throughout Gwynedd.

Lamentably, the same can be said on a range of other matters from the LDP’s to Nuclear power to the closure of the Gwynedd Language Centres.

The opportunity and platform that the solid support built over decades amongst the people of Gwynedd gave Plaid Cymru has been eschewed in favour of a narrow definition of politics focussed on administration.

My mother is no longer a member of Plaid Cymru. Despite her fundamental principles remaining solidly the same she no longer views it as the same party she joined in the 1950s.

My fear is that the relationship between Plaid Cymru and its core support in Gwynedd is weakening and that every opportunity has to be taken to offer a new and bold vision and restore Plaid’s rightful place, often expressed to me on the doorstep, as the party that fights for us.

Vision

The Assembly elections in 2021 have a particular significance as, in all likelihood, Plaid in Dwyfor Meirionnydd will not only face the British parties but also Dafydd Elis Thomas standing on an Independent ticket with a weighty personal vote.

The choice of candidate to fight this election has a significance beyond just fighting the election.  We need to make a clear statement regarding our intentions not only for the election but for the future direction of Plaid in Gwynedd.

This is why I’m supporting the candidature of Simon Brooks.  Simon is someone who has a history and national profile of campaigning and the intellectual breadth and dexterity to deal with both local issues and the challenges of a broader strategy.

Plaid has changed, it is now possible for a committed person to envisage a career in politics and the other candidates each have substantial strengths, but our politics needs to be more than that. There is always a danger in invoking the spirit of past generations, people who are no longer here to speak for themselves.

But those people in the 60s, 70s, and 80s who were so committed to building Plaid’s support base in Gwynedd would be overjoyed by what has been achieved. They would also realise that the dangers that they saw in those days for our culture, language, and communities and for Wales’ place as a European nation are now that much closer and infinitely more real particularly with Brexit and a renewed British nationalism threatening devolution and our identity and existence as a nation.

This is a time for a candidate that has a local and national vision that can replicate the energy and vision we are beginning to see in the independence movement in Wales and not a time to retreat into committee room politics.

This why I’m supporting Simon’s candidature. I urge you to do likewise.

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