Adam Price, Plaid Cymru AM for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr
Welsh politics is at a hinge-point in its history. By the end of this year all our political rivals will have a different leader from 2016, with an accompanying shift, however, subtle, in style, platform and appeal.
The crucial question, of course, is whether these surface changes in Welsh politics will result in the more fundamental changes that we need to take Wales forward in the world.
Even among Labour supporters, there is a growing recognition that after twenty years of Labour rule, Welsh politics has become dull, repetitive, tired and complacent, out of touch and out of ideas.
Against that backdrop, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Plaid, as the only party that can end Labour’s dilapidated hegemony, should be doing better – and arguably, a lot better -than we are.
We need to effect a real and substantial change in Welsh living standards; we need to be driving the policy agenda for the critical change our people are calling out for on a daily basis.
So, let’s get to it; it’s time to resolve the very much harder question facing our people, our members and our party.
Where ARE we are going wrong?
An important part of this involves the practical challenges of party organisation. We’ve allowed the impressive campaigning structures we invested in a decade ago to wither.
But with reform, the right plan and some greater focus and application, I am sure we can, together, rectify that.
However, there’s a more difficult – and strategic – challenge that we must confront.
The way we frame our politics; the projection of who we are, what we stand for, what we have fought long and hard for and what’s ultimately important to us. The areas where we will not compromise; the places where we can work with partners.
Our 2016 manifesto was widely praised as a detailed and popular prospectus for an alternative future.
Excellent work has been done in discrete areas like Simon Thomas’ work in energy, Bethan Sayed’s opposition to the super-prison, Jill Evans’ and the Westminster team’s campaign around continuing EU Citizenship – just a few exemplars from a talented pool of committed representatives.
But I have to say it’s my view, and I believe that of many others in this great party, that we have generally failed to consistently articulate a comprehensive and compelling vision of the future.
Our comfort zone has been a strange mixture of philosophical abstraction and the predictable, plodding politics of the parsimonious press release, the tired tweet and the formulaic FB status.
Nowhere has this shallowness been more exposed than on the question of independence, our very raison d’être, where our failure to present a clear and persuasive exposition explains why we have lost more than a thousand of our eight thousand members in the last eight months, while the civil society Yes Cymru movement has blossomed.
Pressing the reset button for our party has to start NOW; and it comes with the hard but vital work of developing a creative and credible body of ideas that will excite the interest and inspire the confidence of the people of Wales.
For me it is axiomatic that this programme will be about social transformation as much as national liberation.
It all means nothing if the mass of our people are left languishing in poverty.
I see little real disagreement on the centrality of economic justice to Welsh Nationalism – and that’s true whether people style themselves decentralist socialists (as I do), or radical liberals (in the Nonconformist sense) or Tolstoyan pacifists as Gwynfor was so effectively.
We have always been a broad church with a radical creed and a heart of steel, coal and rolling green landscapes. We are one Wales and we should never let others divide us.
My late great uncle, the farmer Gwyn Price, and my father, the miner Rufus, both ended up in the Plaid family, though they got here decades apart and by different paths.
The intrinsic beauty Welsh Nationalism is its social solidarity – the sense of us – which allows people to build bridges across divides of ideology, class and geography.
It’s that “pan-Wales politics” – a judicious mix of red and green, well exemplified by Dafydd Wigley – that proves it’s easier to justify progressive ideas through the persuasive force of dynamic nationalism, than to try and do things the other way round.
Talking by default in the conventional Left/Right terms of UK political discourse is counter-productive. If that is perceived as the key axis of Welsh politics, then why shouldn’t our supporters vote for Corbyn’s Labour Party?
The key dividing line should always be between the Welsh People and the British State, and its Unionist cheerleaders, Labour and Tory alike.
If we are to defeat them in 2021, we need an effective change project.
We need it badly and we need it fast.
I assert that the ‘one more heave’ school of thought will inevitably disappoint, as it does in most parties that do not flex their thinking in response to persistent underperformance.
I contend that this is not about personalities. For instance, what is the value of simply ousting Leanne via a leadership challenge? One definite consequence is that it would leave a toxic residue of bitterness and recrimination.
We need to be healing the self-inflicted wounds of division in our party, not creating new ones.
There is a different way forward; one which is optimistic, vibrant and retains and builds upon the positive breakthrough that Leanne’s leadership has produced-in the Rhondda, among young people, women and non-native Welsh speakers – while also recognising the need for the injection of fresh impetus and new ideas and energy.
Let’s redefine what the leadership could be like in a 21st century, progressive democracy.
It’s obvious to me that no single leader in any party will ever be able to deliver the conflicting demands we place upon them.
We want them to be unwavering in their principles, but also agile and adaptive in the face of change.
We want them to deliver our unrealistic expectations and when they come up short, we simply transfer our loyalties to the next in line who also, in due course, show us their feet of clay.
So here’s a passionate but nevertheless a thought through view.
I would like to propose a very different way of doing politics.
A co-leadership model, where two leaders, male and female, jointly lead the party, can give us a radical and powerful leadership that will avoid the traditional vulnerabilities of placing power in a single pair of hands.
It’s time to put two hearts and two minds forward; to provide balance, insight and critical challenge. That’s why an increasing number of parties around the world are adopting co-leadership, from Green Parties everywhere, to the Left Party in Germany, to the Kurdish HDP and the Maori Party in New Zealand.
In our own party, co-leadership would allow us to embrace all viewpoints, to harness all drive and commitment for the widest political progress possible.
It would allow us to blend the competing ideas of what Plaid is for which the late great Phil Williams defined as choosing between being the conscience of the nation or its Government. That tension reminds me of the famous conversation between Aneurin Bevan and Jennie Lee in which he berated his ILP supporting partner:
“And as for you, I’ll tell you what the epitaph of you Scottish dissenters is going to be – pure but impotent.”
Idealism without power is as empty as power without idealism. What Wales is crying out for is a creative synthesis of the two, which is why it’s so vital that we win in 2021.
Yes, we will have to work hard and work smartly – but the prize is worth it and the people of Wales are thirsty for us to find a pathway for such progress.
I believe if we, together, enthusiastically lead they will enthusiastically respond and support us.
It’s time to make it happen.