Plaid Cymru has to lead the charge for a new Welsh nation – and needs as many people on-board as possible
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM, Plaid Cymru AM for Ynys Môn
I was born in Rhondda Cynon Taf, was brought up in Meirionydd, then Ynys Mon. I lived in Cardiff for years, with a period in London and a splash of Italy thrown in.
I’ve looked at Wales from different angles and from the outside in. I’ve reported on Wales as a journalist, and I’ve been in the news myself.
Through it all, I’ve spent a lifetime thinking and talking about my desire for Wales to flourish, to grow in confidence, to come out from the shadow of its neighbour and establish itself as a nation among nations.
In politics, I chose Plaid Cymru because, for unshackled ambition for our country, there simply is no other choice.
Genuine ambition and a clear national vision can’t be optional extras for a ‘real’ country, as opposed to merely a go-getting ‘region’. (If Wales being a ‘region’ is enough for you… you needn’t read on. Unless you’re curious.)
I’m comfortable with the ‘i’ word, as a lifelong supporter of Welsh independence, but I also understand why the concept of independence makes many people nervous, and that it needs some explaining.
You’ll also hear me using terms like ‘self-Government’ or ‘running our own affairs’. At the end of the day, the terminology used to describe Wales’ status isn’t the most important thing. It’s what we can achieve that’s important.
We must articulate a vision of what we can achieve and how we’ll achieve it rather than playing this continuous and tedious act of building Welsh democracy on a piecemeal basis subject to the inclination of each and every individual Secretary of State for Wales.
And we should explain at all times that this is change for a purpose.
Poverty of ambition in Wales in a constitutional sense has gone hand in hand with real poverty – the kind that should shame a country as rich as ours.
My desire is for a Wales where there’s real equality of opportunity, where our citizens get the support to reach their potential, and when they do, they’re able to – and feel driven to – make a real contribution to their communities and their nation.
We should talk about redistribution of wealth in every sense – not only from the richer to the poorer but also in terms of jobs and capital investment to strengthen local economies across the whole of Wales. (Let’s explore how we can press ahead with the Swansea Tidal Lagoon without waiting for Westminster’s go-ahead, for example!)
Brexit has clarified my vision for Wales. I’ve been asked many times, “how can you support the EU, but not the UK.” The question is often accompanied by a smug “Aha – gotcha… explain that one!”
I can. The Leave campaign sought ‘independence’ for the UK, but the UK was already independent. It is an independent state tied into a large European network – tightly tied in, yes (as the complexity of Brexit negotiations prove) but independent nonetheless.
The independent Wales I seek isn’t that kind of Brexit-style shut-the-world-away, we-can-do-it-alone, Empire-inspired ‘independent’. My independent Wales could comfortably be a EU member and that is clearly my preference (Brexit is undermining and threatening Wales, and those who voted to leave in good faith are being taken advantage of by hard Brexiteers who are indifferent to the needs of Welsh communities).
If being part of wider international networks is a positive vision, by definition Wales could also be a part of a network of sovereign countries within the British isles – a newly redesigned Britain, constituted of three or more independent states.
Some way off? It’s a vision. Not of ‘separatism’, but of new relationships, respecting and reflecting natural cross-border realities and common needs, but recognising and celebrating diversity, distinctiveness and different priorities.
If we’re to get there (or to another vision of what Wales ‘could be’ – please… tell me yours), we have a choice. Either, a) we limit the numbers who can get on board with such a Plaid Cymru vision, or b) we try to attract as many people to the cause as possible – people driven not exclusively by the left-right political axis, but who have a genuine interest in the Welsh-British axis and in wanting to see the development and growth of our nation.
It is an axis which has Britannica’s ‘for Wales see England’ at one end, and at the other stands a confident Welsh nation. I know which I want.
Other political parties self-impose limits on that axis through their unionism. That’s not for me or Plaid Cymru, and I’m firmly of the opinion that people with differing left-right perspectives can contribute to the project.
Some have concluded that this ‘broad church’ pitch necessitates that Plaid Cymru must move ‘from the left’ to the centre ground. I don’t think so. I certainly don’t see that Plaid has to move ‘from the left’ to anywhere.
That just continues to limit breadth, but in a different part of the spectrum. The way I see it is that we must create a people and ideas-driven movement in which those on the left and over towards the centre can feel equally comfortable and feel they have a contribution to make.
What about cooperating with other parties? Not really what we ought to be focussing on, but it’s a question journalists and others will always ask of Plaid, so it’s important to address.
I want a Plaid Cymru majority. No surprises there. But considering there’s never been a single party majority in the history of Welsh devolution, I don’t think I can be accused of defeatism in suggesting that outcome is unlikely any time soon!
Next is forming a minority Government. Now we’re talking! Can we get to that point? Absolutely. However, there are a host of possible outcomes in this strange political system of ours where cooperation of some sort may be necessary.
Can I see a coalition with Labour? We’ve done it before, and I can imagine a results scenario where Labour being a junior partner to Plaid could work.
But I genuinely think another 5 years of Labour-led Welsh Government would be bad for devolution. Very bad. So, I don’t want to back another Labour First Minister.
Conservatives? There isn’t a set of circumstances in which Plaid Cymru could back a Conservative First Minister. In fact, it just couldn’t happen. A Plaid Cymru-led coalition with the Conservatives? I don’t see the appeal in that, either.
Another possibility is a Plaid Cymru-led programme of Government being supported less formally by another party, whichever party that may be, and if that programme could be shown to be truly transformative, that could be an exciting prospect for Wales.
I could find that appealing, as does Leanne and other elected members. But it’s ordinary members and the wider Welsh electorate that would make the call, after the election cards have been dealt.
The point I make is that we must be clear and focussed. Our vision is to take Wales places, to grow as a nation. To become a Wales that looks forward, not over its shoulder. A Wales that rolls up its sleeves to look after its most vulnerable, and that seeks to develop the best ideas in order to prosper.
A Wales that welcomes new citizens, encourages and helps them to embrace its culture, and asks them to make Wales not only their home but their nation, too. That is the broad vision, and to deliver it we must be a broad party.
To those who’ve read this far waiting for an announcement… I apologise. This wasn’t the launch of a campaign. But it does prove my intense strength of feeling that we need to be clearer about our vision, and be willing to discuss it.
I’m on the record saying I’m considering my response to Leanne’s invitation for a debate on the leadership. What that means in reality is that I’m speaking to as many people as possible about how best to take Plaid Cymru forward.
We’re in this for Wales, not ourselves.