We delivered a lot by working with Labour – but the real battle is about to begin
Adam Price, Plaid Cymru AM for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr
When it comes to casting their votes most people ask two questions of candidates: what have you done and what will you do.
Those from governing parties will have answers to both those questions, while Opposition candidates most of the time only have an answer to the latter.
That’s why governing parties are re-elected most of the time (Labour has a 100% record so far post-devolution) and one-term Presidents are the exception not the rule.
Tangible gains that deliver to key constituencies of support are key building blocks of electoral success – every bit as important as slogans.
Gwynfor “dual carriageway” Evans’ reputation as a champion of vitally important local infrastructure was as crucial to his victory in 1966 as his status as a nationalist hero.
This classically pre-figurative strategy – improving the Wales that is while imagining the Wales that could be – was reflected in our adoption in this Assembly term of a stance of ‘constructive opposition’.
Our view was and is that if we are to have any chance of winning the next election then we need to demonstrate the practical difference that Plaid Cymru makes – not in the dim and distant future, but in the here and now.
Eighteen months in, how successful has that strategy been?
In total, between the two budget agreements and the original Compact, we’ve managed to secure two-thirds of a billion of extra investment in our policy priorities.
Proportionally that’s about thirty times better than a similar number of DUP members were able to achieve at Westminster, in what many have lauded as a master-class in deal-making.
A £675m deal for an Opposition party is certainly unprecedented since the start of devolution. It means that the majority of major spending pledges – (>£1m) from our 2016 Assembly Manifesto – will have been delivered in total or in part.
Not bad in Opposition! Imagine what we could do in Government. This will be a narrative we’ll seek to drive home in the months and years ahead.
Behind the headlines there are some achievements that should not go unnoticed by nation-building nationalists.
A total of £80m in additional Investment has been secured for the Welsh language, the biggest single increase in Welsh language funding since the creation of S4C over thirty years ago.
Moving from the national to the political, some of what we’ve achieved will make a difference to the lives of Welsh people in the most tangible way imaginable.
Thanks to Steffan Lewis’ passionate advocacy our budget agreement means that mothers and their babies will in the future be able to receive perinatal inpatient mental health care in their own country again.
The urgent additional investment in roads like the A487 and the bypass solution to the air quality crisis in Llandeilo will also, we hope, soon help in saving lives cut short tragically and unnecessarily.
This is the kind of difference for which most of us went into politics to make.
In a number of cases we used our budget leverage to actively change Welsh Government policy:
- Creating a new Welsh language promotion agency
- 100% business rate relief for community hydro schemes
- Launching a young farmers entrants scheme (a One Wales policy ditched by Labour)
- A Brexit Preparedness Fund for business (another Steffan Lewis victory).
As a member of the LGBT community I’m especially proud that it’s Plaid Cymru that secured a gender identity clinic for Wales.
This has been long overdue, especially given the fact it was a Welshman who was responsible for the first gender reassignment in the UK over fifty years ago.
The Government has also agreed to fund the first stages of a new economic collaboration focused on the Welsh-speaking West, the ‘Arfor’ idea first floated by me in a Plaid discussion paper six years ago.
Getting a greater spread of Investment across Wales was also a priority for us:
- Abolishing the Cleddau Bridge tolls
- Upgrading the Traws Cymru service from bus to coach
- Establishing a National cultural institution for the first time in the North East (the Wrexham Football Museum) since the First World War (when the Royal Commission on Welsh Historic Monuments was briefly based there)
- Work towards an integrated Transport system for Swansea Bay and the Western Valleys plus a Metro line in the Rhondda Fach
- A full feasibility study on reopening the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen railway line
- A medical training hub for the North West, and many more locally important investments.
Labour and Conservative politicians attacked this as pork barrel politics but delivering for our constituencies to us is the very essence of democracy.
We hope the National Infrastructure Commission – another Plaid policy gain – will ensure a better all-Wales spread of investment in future.
Wales under Labour is undoubtedly stuck in a rut of historic proportions.
One-Party-Statism and the managerialist muddling-through mediocrity of Carwyn Jones’ leadership are doing real damage to our fledgling Welsh democracy.
Plaid’s historic task is now undoubtedly to create the conditions for the first non-Labour-led administration since the creation of the Assembly and the first nationalist-led Government since Glyndwr.
The first step in that strategy was amassing a record of achievement, even while in Opposition, that demonstrates tangibly the spirit in which a Plaid Cymru Government would govern.
Government innovation is an oxymoron under Carwyn, but in the Plaid budget deal you see a glimpse of the transformed nation that Wales could yet be, scouring the world for ways of working better.
Whether it’s the Dutch Buurtzorg approach to social care, leading the UK with a bottle deposit scheme, or the first major pilot of the made-in-Wales concept of the Foundational Economy.
Show, don’t tell, is a good mantra in politics as in life. Plaid has plenty to show for its eighteen months of constructive opposition. But now we are entering a new phase.
Where there has been accord, there can now be antagonism – not for its own sake, but with passion for a purpose.
In recent weeks we have opposed the Government on hospital downgrading plans in the rural west, on their lack of support for small businesses, and on their failure to deal rapidly with the homelessness crisis.
These are all areas where Plaid Cymru has better answers.
To move beyond little victories we have to win the greater prize of governing ourselves. Success in this next phase necessitates us communicating the difference we have made. It will also require the iron discipline and steely determination of a long campaign.
Win we can and win we must, because if we fail so does Wales. The longest and loudest battle of ideas in the recent history of Wales is about to begin.
It’s an exciting time to be an optimist, a radical and Welsh.