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Making hope possible in Wales: interview with Plaid Cymru leadership candidates

openDemocracy interviews the three candidates for leader of Plaid Cymru about the future of Wales and the UK.

Editor’s note: Plaid Cymru currently has a leadership election, in which the Assembly Members Adam Price and Rhun Ap Iorwerth are standing against the incumbent Leanne Wood. openDemocracy asked them all the same five questions, here’s how they responded. - Adam

Leanne Wood

The British State is in crisis. Scottish independence and Irish unity seem possible within a decade. How can Plaid grow the movement for Welsh independence?

It's ironic, isn't it, that the flag-waving Little Englander mentality that powered the Brexit vote could see the British state dismantled. Polls show that Irish unity and Scottish independence are likely to become realities and that is also a game changer for Wales. Being part of a Greater England or striking out as an independent nation is the stark choice now for Wales. The growing national pride we are seeing in Wales can be seen with the rise of Yes Cymru and diverse groups such as Welsh Football Fans for Independence. That's in part because we're seeing the naked contempt with which the Tory government in London treats Wales – whether it's cancelling high-speed rail, scrapping Swansea Tidal Lagoon or re-naming the Severn Bridge. The Labour Government in Wales is failing to stand up for Wales and our interests, which is why it's so important that independence is seen as a viable alternative to the status quo.

That why I've called for a Welsh Independence Convention, on the lines of that developed in Scotland in the run-up to the referendum there. This would bring together all aspects of Welsh society and a breadth of organisations united behind one goal – to win independence for Wales by building up a mass movement. No single party can win independence in isolation – we need civic society to back the project. Plaid Cymru is the cutting edge of that movement in the political sphere.

How can Plaid win young voters in the age of Corbyn?

Young voters have grown up with our diluted devolution settlement. It's the norm for them. They see Scotland and N Ireland – and even Manchester – gaining more powers than us in Wales and we're seeing a growing number joining through our youth movement Plaid Ifanc because they're dissatisfied with the status quo. The current troubles of the Labour party centrally coupled with the lacklustre, lazy performance of its Welsh branch in government for the past two decades means that the gloss has come off the Corbyn bandwagon.

Furthermore, our position on Brexit is much more in tune with the views of young people. We have campaigned to remain in the Single Market and the Customs Union and I have pushed for a People’s Vote on the final terms of our post-Brexit deal. Within that there should be a route back into the European Union if enough people want it in the face of a bad deal for the UK. By way of contrast, the Labour party under Corbyn has allowed the Tories to get away with floundering, fighting with each other and posturing during European negotiations without actually achieving anything. With less than 200 days until we depart the European Union, Corbyn should have the Tory government on the ropes but he has failed on this.

What would be your priority as first minister of Wales?

I want decisions that affect Wales being made here in Wales. That means getting control over the criminal justice system, which is devolved to Scotland and N Ireland, it means having full control over our economy, which is failing because we're a forgotten back water of the British state. It is a basic principle of Plaid Cymru – and indeed democracy – that the best decisions are made when they are made closer to the people they affect. One of the fundamental reasons why parts of Wales is among the poorest parts of western Europe, why we haven’t yet got a single mile of electrified railway track and why our country is poorly connected is because of decisions taken by the British state.  Rarely, if ever, are these decisions made in Wales’ best interests. A Plaid Cymru government would set about reversing this trend so that we can empower our country, our communities and everyone that lives here.

How will you grow Plaid Cymru's membership?

We will grow our membership in the same way that we win power in 2021 and gain independence. It's going to be a slog and I've never shied away from that personally or telling our members that. It's dishonest to pretend there's a magic formula or that passion or rhetoric alone can do it. We need do-ers alongside our dreamers to achieve what we're aiming for and I'm someone who can visualise freedom as well as pound the streets every week to achieve it. I've done it in the Rhondda – a seat that I was told time and time again was unwinnable – and I'll do it throughout Wales in 2021.

I'm not content to be one of those who can interpret the failings in society, I want to transform our country from being one of the poorest parts of Europe to being a world leader. I'll lead by example and employ grassroots organisers to build the party locally. People generally know that Labour is failing Wales in government – they need to know in their droves that there is a positive alternative from Plaid Cymru and that is where the hard, but achievable, work lies.

Raymond Williams said that it’s the job of the radical to make hope seem possible, not despair convincing. How will you do this?

The politics of fear and hatred have gripped many Western democracies of late – it's a development that we must resist. The antidote to hate is hope, to shine a light on the darkness that can threaten to engulf humanity at times. We are a Welsh internationalist party, proud of our heritage, culture and history but also determined to be a modern nation that plays its part in the world. That can't happen in this over-centralised British State.

Raymond Williams also told us that we need to unite with others and build coalitions of people within our communities in favour of positive changes, rather than just join with others on the basis of negatives – being “against” something. Plaid Cymru members right throughout the country are working on projects which unite communities in favour of overturning decisions made as a result of austerity and bringing back some service or facility that has been lost.

We are uniting communities on the basis of something positive and this is something we can grow. As Wales is a community of communities – if we get this basic community building block right, we can make the whole of the country work better for everyone. We have a lot we can learn from Raymond Williams which is why so many of his ideas can be found in my recent publication – The Change We Need.

Adam Price

Adam Price. Image, BBC, fair use

The British State is in crisis. Scottish independence and Irish unity seem possible within a decade. How can Plaid grow the movement for Welsh independence?

I have little doubt that Brexit will end the British State. I launched my campaign to lead Plaid Cymru by publishing a Seven Steps to Independence plan. It is a clear and credible pathway to political freedom. My plan includes detailed economic analysis, the passing of a Referendum Act, and proposals for a National Independence Commission to empower citizens to write the constitution of our free country. We can take Wales on the path to independence by 2030.

Wales faces a choice of two futures: either we get subsumed into England or we chart our own course as an independent nation. The leadership election is a chance for party members to decide if they're content with the status quo or wish to set sail on the course to independence with me as their leader.

How can Plaid win young voters in the age of Corbyn?

Traditionally Plaid Cymru receives good support amongst young people. The reality is that changing the colour of the government at Westminster doesn't make a difference to Welsh communities.

Corbyn is an old-style 'command and control' Westminster politician who understands little and cares even less about Wales.

The real radical project in Welsh politics is independence. I believe putting this at the heart of our work and a future Plaid Cymru government will see more and more young people getting on board.

What would be your priority as first minister of Wales?

The Economy. I have published a National Economic Plan which consists of no fewer than 50 policy ideas with the aim of putting Wales on a sound economic footing, investing in communities and the skills of our people, and creating the conditions for Wales to achieve independence, realising our full potential as a people and as a nation. These exciting and creative ideas have been described by the Western Mail as "impressive" and "setting the bar for leadership candidates in all parties." I believe we can excite the people of Wales by realising these economic ideas in government.

How will you grow Plaid Cymru's membership?

Less than 5 per cent of those who vote for Plaid Cymru at Westminster elections are members of the party. I have set out my proposals to turn our party into an election-winning machine by investing in both our party machinery and our membership.

The work starts with inspiring people and demonstrating that Plaid Cymru has a vision.  Once we present a positive policy platform with which voters consider credible, I believe we can substantially grow the party's membership. They key then, however, is ensuring we invest properly in our personal relationships, provide more opportunities for members to influence our work and ensure they are at the heart of our party.

Raymond Williams said that it's the job of the radical to make hope seem possible, not despair convincing. How will you do this?

A Plaid Cymru government can show the people of Wales that there is nothing inevitable about our circumstances. We will govern well and demonstrate that a different, more confident and more prosperous future is possible.

The Welsh economy and Welsh independence have been the two key themes of this leadership election. I am pleased to have run a positive campaign based on ideas and hope for creating a New Wales. I'm asking Plaid Cymru members for the opportunity to do that and lead our party into government.

Rhun Ap Iorwerth

Rhun Ap Iorwerth. Image, rhunapiorwerth.cymru, fair use

The British State is in crisis. Scottish independence and Irish unity seem possible within a decade. How can Plaid grow the movement for Welsh independence?

The current British State is coming to an end. This is not unusual. Significant change in the relationship between the nations of these islands has happened at regular intervals throughout history. Now is the time for another of those historical pivot-points, and Wales must ensure it’s part of that change. I have a clear vision of how I’d like that change to look. I firmly believe that we would ALL benefit in these islands from redesigning the relationship between us – independent countries working together. That Wales – in stark contrast to bridge-burning, wall-building hard Brexit Britain – would be an open one, rejecting isolation, and always striving to work in partnership with others.

How can Plaid win young voters in the age of Corbyn?

We win the support of young people by painting a picture of a future that excites them. Every new generation needs inspiration, and they are not wed to the past. That vision has to be communicated in a way young people can trust and identify with – consistent, honest, and ambitious. Young people have to feel that future isn’t something that happens to them – they have to be a part of the vision, so this has to be a 2-way conversation. The peer-to-peer element is key, which is why an active and inspired Plaid Ifanc is so important.

What would be your priority as first minister of Wales?

I could run through some policy areas – the need for a clearly focussed new economic plan for Wales being a central part of it – but the first change that comes from my election as first minister is a change in attitude that will underpin all we do as a government. The change is from “how can our limited ambitions be accommodated within a wider UK framework” (“let’s not push things too far, folks – the preservation of the union is far more important than aspiration for Wales”), to “let’s be uncompromising in pursuing what’s right for the people and communities of Wales”.

How will you grow Plaid Cymru's membership?

I want Plaid Cymru to be a natural home for all those who want to join in the venture of building this nation – all those who share the ambition of making this country a better, a more equal, a more prosperous, healthier more confident and a happier place to live. We have to be the go-to for those who agree with us on pursuing this ambition, regardless of background, where they live, which language they speak, and whether they were born and bred here, or moved here yesterday – if people choose to make Wales their home, I want them to go a step further and make it their nation. We grow membership by making this explicit in all we do, and creating a new pride in being part of an inclusive national movement.

Raymond Williams said that it’s the job of the radical to make hope seem possible, not despair convincing. How will you do this?

I want to change the ‘story’ of Plaid Cymru, and to do so in order to change the story of Wales. All too often we’ve been a party on the defensive, rather lacking in confidence. Let’s move hope on to the front foot, and with a new positive attitude, present to all Welsh citizens a confident vision of what Wales could be.

About the authors

Adam Ramsay is the Co-Editor of openDemocracyUK and also works with Bright Green. Before, he was a full time campaigner with People & Planet. You can follow him at @adamramsay.

Leanne Wood is the leader of Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales.

Rhun ap Iorwerth is the Plaid Cymru Member of the Welsh Assembly for Ynys Môn.

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