The following essay, the fourth in a series of pieces engaged in Welsh and British politics, takes the position that the manifold deficits upon the Welsh political and economic landscape cannot be resolved, as many in Scotland contend, by the current constitutional arrangement or settlement of the United Kingdom. Moreover, against the background of the obsolescence of the constitutional order, Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales will be introduced as an experienced and progressive voice in the Welsh experience, and as an option for an increasingly broad array of citizens in the General Elections of 2015. Despite the fact that it has been around since 1925, still too few in Wales itself know about a political party which is New Left, Green, Socially Liberal, Internationalist and Pro-Europe. What makes Plaid Cymru different from the Westminster parties, including the Greens, is that the Party of Wales no longer believes that Westminster will or can fulfill the aspirations of the people of Wales for a better life. Wales, in this light, needs a voice and direction of its own.
This essay was published in Daily Wales: News for a Sovereign Nation on 29 October 2014.
Discovering Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales
I knew the message of the winter,
The darted hail, the childish snow,
And the wind was my sister suitor;
Wind in me leaped, the hellborn dew;
My veins flowed with the Eastern weather;
Ungotten I knew night and day.
Dylan Thomas, from ‘Before I Knocked’
Wales is a unique world, with a cultural life and social landscape that is incomparable, and this uniqueness must be protected.
Wales is a singular cultural space: the contemporary Welsh experience is distinct within Europe and within the United Kingdom.
Wales is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural democratic country with a rich and venerable history, most recently exhibited in the civil rights movement and successful struggle to allow the Welsh language and culture to survive and whose growth has henceforth been protected. Devolution, for many a half-measure, partially grew out of this civil rights victory.
Wales is the land of the West, implied in Dylan Thomas’ poem. The traveler lives in the West, but still experiences the ‘Eastern weather’, which is an ungotten life of subordination to the power of Westminster, the seat of power which coldly sets the limits of possibility.
A recipient of European Structural funds, Wales has been kept a relatively poor country with a stagnant rate of development and a structural deficit of employment possibilities. In contrast to England, Wales, along with Scotland, nevertheless still has a free health care system for all residents, doctor’s visits, prescriptions, hospital stays: no forms to fill out, no fees to pay. The continuity of healthcare provision has been assured by the Welsh Assembly, resisting, in its own way, the politics of austerity.
The level of funding is determined solely by the Coalition Government. The Welsh Assembly is, in this way, hamstrung in all of its best efforts to function as a real government. It is not a real government, but a devolved bureaucracy with little effective power and a very limited remit.
Wales has an enormous, almost unlimited potential for growth in many possible directions. Much of this growth would occur as new activity, in which projects would seek to address the many deficits in Wales. It is Westminster which is holding such projects back. Each of these deficits is an absence of action, from employment, income inequality, development, and environmental sustainability – the absence of action results from the political constraints imposed upon the people of Wales by the Coalition Government and by the current constitutional order of the United Kingdom, both of which have come increasingly under the microscope of critical scrutiny.
There is water, for instance, or the massive quantities of arable land not under cultivation; undeveloped towns, a capacity and quality deficit in the tourist industry, educational under-funding, the lack of lucrative film and media industries, un-even high-speed internet provision, an incomplete rail network, and the export trap in the agricultural industry which is dominated by sheep husbandry – even as Sainsbury’s in Lampeter sells frozen lamb from New Zealand (though there is an excellent local butchers, Jones Brothers, on College Street).
These are some of the deficits across the Welsh landscape, which, if addressed proactively, will become opportunities. If we are to continue down the road of devolution, the Welsh people must call for the strengthening of the Welsh Assembly’s control over taxation policy, to undertake proactive projects for the development of Wales and to be able to encourage trade with and diversified participatory investment from external sources, such as China, the European Union, and the BRICS nations.
In light of the understandable mistrust in Wales with respect to significant changes in the environment (many have resisted wind farms, road and by-pass construction, and other controversial projects), there must be a conversation amongst the people of Wales with regard to the overall plan and character of Welsh development.
Yet, such a conversation must take place in Wales, with voices representing the Welsh experience, and, simultaneously, this conversation must also become a political movement, working to obtain the capacity for action in respect of the direction of the country as a whole.
Both the traditional supporters and the newcomers to Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, will agree that Wales is a spectacular and unique country, but that it is also, beyond its widely acknowledged poverty, specifically weak in political terms.
It is this political weakness that Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, seeks to address. It is crucial that there exist a viable political party to represent the people of Wales as a country, within the several centuries old political union called the ‘United Kingdom.’
It is vitally important that there be an independent and proven voice from Wales to articulate the concerns and aspirations of the people, these millions who live the Welsh experience – free of the fallow and long-standing co-dependence upon Westminster political parties and their ‘think tanks’, which have imperiously relegated Wales to a secondary status and object of interest and concern. They will never go, they can never go far enough for the people of Wales. As the recently deceased poet Gerallt Lloyd Owen put it in his poem ‘Fy Ngwlad’ or ‘My Country.’
Wylit, wylit, Lywelyn,
Wylit waed pe gwelit hyn.
Ein calon gan estron ŵr,
Ein coron gan goncwerwr,
A gwerin o ffafrgarwyr
Llariaidd eu gwên lle’r oedd gwŷr.
You would cry, you would cry, Llywelyn,
You would cry blood if you saw this.
Our hearts in the hands of a foreign man,
Our crown in the hands of a conqueror,
And a peasant-folk of favour givers
Meek their smile, where men used to be.
(Translated by Rhodri Evans)
Plaid Cymru, founded in 1925 and winning its first seat in 1966, is the only party which has consistently sought to give a voice to the people of Wales in the wider political world. The perspective of Plaid remains therefore indispensable as it is and has been witness to and expressive of the reality of millions of people who live and have lived in Wales. Plaid Cymru keeps alive the spirit of Owain Glyndwr for a free Wales.
A people must be able to look after its own affairs and cannot be beholden to an effectively ‘forced choice, to a conqueror who sets limits to the ability of a people to determine the fundamental character of their own democratic community. In consequence, there is a definite problem in being subservient to Westminster, in not being able to set one’s own agenda for one’s own people, of those diverse many who live each day and experience the distinctive way of life, the ethos, of contemporary Wales.
Against the background of everyday life challenges and the aspirations of the people, the Party of Wales remains a positive force in the Welsh experience. Their small band of MPs have had a major impact in Westminster over the past 48 years and increasingly is demonstrating its universal appeal, to students, greens, liberals, conservationists, pensioners and workers – all real, every day people.
Plaid Cymru remains true to its commitment to independence, but is also a pragmatic party whose style of politics seeks to build relationships with other groups to cultivate progressive coalitions. Leanne Wood (@LeanneWood), Leader of Plaid/Party of Wales, who is a socialist, republican, and green, refers to this position as a progressive ‘civic nationalism.’ Independence is vital for the people of Wales as a pathway of peaceful and cooperative development. It has long been clear that the ‘United Kingdom’ does not work in the interests of Wales, which, as a consequence, has remained suspended, a country in limbo.
In the context of this representation- and self-expression deficit, the Party of Wales is a positive and tried and tested political organisation that is rooted in the lives and desires of the people of Wales. Members of Plaid, such as Mike Parker (@mikeparkerwales), Candidate for MP in Ceredigion, work day after day upon the concrete issues of civil liberties, cultural vitality, health, occupational safety, economic security, and sustainable development, all in the context of the fundamental struggle for the self-determination of the people of Wales.
We all too easily fall into the trap of the discourse on politics that is framed by Westminster, by political parties, like the always underwhelming Labour or the out of touch Tories, who, while having 8 Welsh MPs and remain the official opposition in Cardiff Bay, do not represent everyday Welsh opinion on any of the crucial issues effecting the real lives of the people.
Opposition to Europe, Austerity, Erosion of Civil Liberties – these MPs (along with the neutered Liberal Democratic MPs of the ‘Coalition Government’) are the foot soldiers of the Tory agenda, that of a dangerously inflated property market and the wholesale privatisation of public property without the consent of the people. Tory power in Wales – a Big Business amalgam composed of among others the gated community gentry, luxury retirement home operators, financial services, shipping companies and commuters – is the ironic repetition of colonial rule.
All eight Welsh MPs, for instance, disobeying – from the Right – their own party’s opportunism, voted against the Marriage Equality Act, even though there is overwhelming support for equality in Wales.
On the issues that matter to us, we are left to limp along with nearly nothing, constantly fighting rear-guard battles, rationalising staff levels and expenditures, and never having the chance to escape the ‘Eastern weather.’
We must fight to preserve the world that we have, and work for an ambitious improvement in the lives of the people. Many of us are becoming certain that it is only the people of Wales who can safeguard the future of the Welsh political, economic and cultural landscape, especially with respect to employment, social services, development and environmental sustainability.
It is clear that there have been generations of people working for a better life in Wales, and it is also certain that Plaid Cymru has traveled with millions on this journey, seeking to give voice to the real people who live in this unique country. It is also clear that the current stalemate and stagnation of Wales comes from its subservience to Westminster.
Nevertheless, not enough people, especially younger people, know about Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales. Or, old caricatures still float around of ‘mad Welsh bombers’, the phantoms of gossip and dirty tricks which seek to tarnish the good name, character and admirable history of the Party of Wales.
To put it succinctly, Plaid Cymru is a new left, republican, green, and democratic political force and network, oriented to independence within Europe.
Democratic Socialism, Sustainable Development, Freedom and Internationalism.
Wales must have a voice of its own.
There is an alternative.