To win Plaid Cymru need to bury the myth that they’re a party for Welsh speakers

Picture by Still ePsiLoN (CC BY 2.0).

Philip Jones

There’s been much talk in recent days that new Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price will be the man who’ll cut through with voters who haven’t previously voted for the party.

Who knows? Maybe that will turn out to be the case.

It does, however, remain an uncomfortable truth for many in Plaid Cymru and the wider independence movement that an awful lot of people in the great swathes of anglophone Wales have no great passion for the Welsh language.

Quite the opposite, in fact – and they still genuinely fear being governed in an independent nation in a tongue that they don’t understand.

Growing up in one deeply anglicised part of Wales and now living in another, I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve heard the old cliche ‘I wouldn’t vote Plaid as I can’t speak Welsh’ and ‘they’re a party only for Welsh speakers,’ or any number of variants on the same theme.

The problem is that for many people that view is still deeply embedded and, over the years, Plaid has probably done little in real terms to alter this perception.

It’s also a reality that despite appalling neglect from unionist political parties over many decades that’s led to Wales containing some of the poorest regions in Northern Europe, a very sizeable proportion of the population here really like being British.

They identify with the British monarchy and military. They invariably vote for unionist parties. Much of the media they consume is proud to wave the Union Jack. Welsh and British, yes, but often it’s British first and then Welsh.

Well, sod them then, some in the nationalist community may feel inclined to say. The problem is, of course, that without the national movement capturing the imagination of the majority English speaking monoglots, independence will only ever be a pipe dream.

Reaching out

Should Plaid and the cheerleaders for independence abandon their deeply held passion for the Welsh language and culture? Of course, not.

However, when looking at why key messages haven’t cut through in the same way as they have in Scotland, the party’s strong association with the Welsh language needs to be under consideration.

No two countries are the same, but the SNP have made it clear that you do not need to belong to a specific culture or speak a specific language to be a member.

Let’s cherish, nurture and protect the Welsh language and never forget the colonial efforts to eradicate it, but let’s also be under no illusions.

Wales is a very long way away from being the kind of bilingual utopia many nationalists believe it should be and the more the issue is forced the more anglophones will be turned away from not only the language but the prospect of an independent nation.

Supporters of independence have been presented with some unique opportunities in recent times. The rejection by Westminster of rail electrification and the Swansea Bay lagoon. The second Severn crossing re-naming fiasco. The dumping of ‘nuclear mud’ off the Welsh coast and the fall-out from Brexit.

There is a real chance for Plaid and the independence-supporting community to capitalise on these political gifts and to become an unstoppable force but only if they sincerely reach out to those who’ve historically feared them.

It’s an unpopular view, but a dogged determination to promote any particular cultural or linguistic vision of Wales will kill any hopes of Plaid success and the longer-term goal of independence will be further away than ever.

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