After woeful results in the latest Welsh assembly elections the Welsh Nationalist party Plaid Cymru is ready for a serious review of its structure and policies under its new chief executive Rhuanedd Richards. A former journalist, Richards hopes to expand the party’s appeal outside its core Welsh-speaking constituency and garner the support of English-speaking voters in Wales who have traditionally turned to the British Labour or Conservative parties. However even within the seizable Welsh language community (22% of the population of the nation) Plaid enjoys mixed support and has failed to challenge Labour’s long-standing domination of the political landscape of the country.
According to a report at WalesOnline Richards is adamant that Plaid Cymru must,
‘…win the trust of voters across all of Wales – regardless of whether or not they can speak Welsh.
Ms Richards’ conviction that Plaid can be a majority party is rooted in her own experiences growing up in Pontypridd with parents whose first-language was not Welsh.
Her father, Judge Philip Richards, stood for the party in Cynon Valley in the first Assembly election in 1999 and she speaks with passion of her desire for Plaid to overtake Labour.
But she argues that for this goal to become a reality the party must offer a more convincing vision of economic progress.
Her father and her social worker mother, Dot, gave her a vision of independence based not on separatism but a hope for a more confident and just Wales.’
That last sentence of Rhuanedd Richards perhaps sums up both the philosophy and perhaps the problem with Plaid. It has evolved over the last few deacdes into a very much small ‘n‘ nationalist party, less separatist than regionalist, with a focus on language rights and equality in Wales, followed by the devolving of powers from the UK parliament to a ‘home rule’ National Assembly in Cardiff. In this it has been far less ambitious than its nationalist counterparts in Scotland, where the SNP took the basic bones of devolution and ran with them turning the Scottish assembly into a parliament and a Scottish executive into a government.
Unlike Plaid Cymru, the SNP has never really moved away from the issue of independence, though at times the core objective has taken an expedient back place. In Wales expediency, in the face of a less than nationalist electorate, went too far in the wrong direction, and baby was thrown out with bath water. Trying to get a Plaid politician to use the ‘i’ word is like trying to get a nun to swear. It is possible but good luck with it.
While progressive nationalist politics is on the rise elsewhere in Europe (and beyond) Plaid Cymru seems stuck in a rut of its own making, neither fish nor fowl, and their electoral base will remain confined unless they can, like the SNP, create an opposition between Cardiff-based and London-based politics, and show that devolution is not only working but can be expanded to something greater. Alex Salmond’s example of ‘home rule’ representing a stepping stone to greater freedom (to borrow an Irish phrase) is one that has gone down well with Scottish voters – even if they haven’t come around to taking the final steps (yet).
Plaid needs to be more honest with the Welsh people, and more forceful in selling its vision of a new, self-confident Welsh nation. A more intellectually muscular Welsh political nationalism needs to be coupled with the highly successful language nationalism of the last two decades, and moved forward.
In the latter example at least, when it comes to the progressive nationalism of language rights and equality, Plaid Cymru has an enormous amount to show the political parties of the other Celtic nations, the SNP included.