I returned yesterday, not-so-fresh, on a packed train from Llandudno. The Plaid annual conference is great for catching up with old friends and making new ones – with late night conversations often finishing just a few hours before the 'official' debates on the conference floor.
On Thursday, I chaired a discussion called "Is going green a luxury Wales can't afford?" where there was general agreement that we cannot continue to consume as we are and that we should now be looking beyond material wealth as a measure of a prosperous society. We passed motions calling for a maximum wage, against cuts to front-line local authority services, for a campaign to defend disability benefits as well as opposing the privatisation of the Royal Mail and the Royal Mint.
With the possible exceptions of the hilarious entertainment provided by Plaid youth section CymruX's 'Have I Got News for Plaid', George Monbiot's speech at the conference dinner and the demolition of Welsh Conservatism by Adam Price, my personal conference highlight was the UNDEB fringe meeting, ’Unions after the Union’. Our guest speakers were England football fan and author Mark Perryman, and Professor Gregor Gall from Edinburgh, expert in industrial relations, author and editorial board member of the Scottish Socialist review, Celyn's sister magazine. It was sponsored by the Public and Commercial Services Union Cymru, and UNISON Cymru. This union sponsorship was a first for UNDEB, and a first for Plaid.
Both speakers put forward strong but challenging arguments. Gregor outlined the reasons as to why the independence movement in Scotland has gained strength. He argued that self government would provide an opportunity to improve the lives of working Scots, and that the numbers of people who are pro-independence is now on the rise. He smashed the argument that independence would mean a break in solidarity between workers who are currently in Britain-wide unions by pointing to the situation in Ireland.
Mark put forward a clear and undisputable case for a multi-cultural, democratic and non-imperialist English nationalism to counteract the rapid rise in support for the far right in England - a force, he argued, which is less dominant and relatively easier to defeat in Wales and Scotland. He spoke of the effect of prejudice-based humour such as that of Jeremy Clarkson, Anne Robinson and Gary Bushell, who portray anti-Welsh and Scot sentiment on our TV screens. His work through the England Football Supporters group involves attempting to redefine the St George Cross as a symbol which represents a civic pride in a multi-racial country, as opposed to a badge of racism and hooliganism. Together with Billy Bragg he argues that England and Britain are not one entity, that Union Jacks should not be flown at England games and that 'God Save the Queen' should be replaced by a new anthem for England. They stand for an independent England with good relationships with its neighbours. He argued that the battle for English identity is currently being won by right-wing and far right bigots and that the situation simply had to be contested. This is not an academic question - turning the debate around is a huge task. The outcomes of failing to do so are frightening.
We had a good discussion as to what could be done to work across borders to stop the vile hate-based and nonsensical politics of parties like the BNP, who are rising on a wave of race-based English identity. Plans for more work together have been hatched.
The feedback from the 50 or so attendees couldn't have been more positive. Most said it got them thinking. You can't ask for more than that.