Wednesday, 11 May 2011
Since the referendum in March, many party members and commentators have asked the question 'what is Plaid Cymru for?' We had very little time to consider our answer. Two months before the election, Plaid Cymru contributed vast staff and volunteer resources to the 'Yes for Wales' campaign. We had comfortably secured a strong YES vote in the referendum on the Assembly's law making powers, which, we must remember, had only come about because of Ieuan Wyn Jones's insistence and persistence.
By then, Plaid had met all of its short term goals. As part of the One Wales agreement, the Holtham Commission managed to finally persuade the other parties of the need for reform of the way the Assembly is funded. The other major gain for Plaid had been to secure legislation to protect the future of the Welsh language, granting its' official status for the first time. A key question was asked: what is Plaid's Unique Selling Point was now that all of that has been achieved?
Comparisons with Scotland's election results can't be avoided. Some will argue that a more independent broadcast and print media would have helped to ensure that the election there was fought on Scottish issues. That the election in Wales was dominated by the UK coalition government's cuts and Labour's claim to 'stand up for Wales' went unscrutinised. How, exactly, are they going to stand up against the Tory cuts? The political context has changed beyond all recognition since the last UK general election. The SNP (and Labour in Wales) have managed to work out their response to the new context quickly. Has Plaid? The SNP's UK-wide known, strong, tub-thumping leader is only part of the SNP's success story. Salmond was able to push a clear message with a clear Unique Selling Point – uncompromising promotion of independence and a means to fund it (through controlling Scotland's natural resources and fiscal autonomy). No-one is in any doubt what the SNP is for.
At the first Plaid Cymru Assembly group meeting, it was decided to recommend to the party's National Executive Committee that a root and branch review of all aspects of Plaid's structures, communication, messages and organisation takes place so that we can work out what needs to change. The plan is to look at everything. But before we work out the processes, we must first address the 'what is Plaid for' question. As members, we all know why we do the work we do, but can we explain it to people in simple, understandable terms? In answering this question, we will have to show what makes Plaid unique. There should be no ambiguity. People should be left in no doubt as to what Plaid Cymru is for.
Last summer, I presented a lecture at Plaid Cymru's Summer School outlining the decentralist/co-operative ideas of DJ Davies and his wife Noelle Ffrench who emphasised the power of 'community' to create an alternative, viable economy for Wales. DJ and Noelle were part of the first group of people who came together to form Plaid Cymru in 1925. The pair spent years during the financial crash of the 1930s carrying out detailed work which provided a basis for Plaid to offer a vision of a different, better, economically-functioning post-imperial Wales. They provided the economic case for self-government in very difficult financial times and it is inspriring. Can their work be applied to the cuts context we are in now? The Davies/Ffrench programme offered practical solutions to tackle unemployment, limited state welfare and the lack of control over our natural resources. Community, co-operation and self-sufficiency have been the basic principles underlying Plaid's economic philosophy since the party was formed. They are principles which can be re-applied today to offer a vision for a better, economically and environmentally sustainable and more equal Wales which would be radically different to the same-old management approach to Wales favoured by the British parties. Wales faces a range of challenges which can not be met with more managerialism. Plaid Cymru now has the time to work on this and to make sure our message is radical and bold. Why not? And if not now, when?