Plaid have everything they need, almost – so why aren’t they getting the votes?

Adam Price: Picture by Plaid Cymru (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

I have been to Plaid Cymru conferences before as a journalist, but last week’s conference was my first as a member.

It was very enjoyable. Working as a journalist at party conferences is exhausting. I hadn’t really appreciated the social aspects – the chance to see friends, go to a bar, feel part of a tribe, etc.

It was like a mini-Eisteddfod. Partly, to be honest, because many of people I saw there the same people I would see at an Eisteddfod.

Which was a slight problem. There was certainly a buzz and a feel-good vibe at the conference, but I wonder how much of that had to do with the location.

Taking Welsh nationalism to Caernarfon is a little bit like taking coal to Flint.

Yes, Caernarfon is in Arfon, a seat Plaid came within a few hundred votes of losing at the General Election, and on the doorstep of another crucial seat, Ynys Môn.

But the party’s problems are in nearby Labour-leaning Bangor, where – coincidentally – a lot of people who live on Anglesey work. Perhaps it would have been better to set up camp just up the road instead.

A broad church

There are, however, a lot of positive things to say about the conference. What struck me was that the party’s AMs were very keen to stress that Plaid was a broad church and open to new ideas.

Plaid Cymru is above all a nationalist party, they said, and there is room for Welsh nationalists of all stripes within it.

This seemed to be in direct response to the not entirely unfair accusation levelled at the party during Leanne Wood’s tenure that Plaid is primarily a party of the British left.

These comments seemed to me to be an open invitation for those unhappy what Plaid Cymru is currently offering to get stuck in. A lot has been written – much of it on this website – about how Plaid Cymru are closed to ideas.

However, it’s notable that when important subjects such as independence were discussed, and votes were taken, the keyboard warriors were absent.

A merry band of 20 or so members from the pro-independence camp, or conservative nationalists, could have made a huge difference to the party’s direction of travel.

The lesson perhaps is that all discussion is positive, and has clearly had an effect; but if you really want to change things, you must take part, not complain from the sidelines.

Cabinet

Journalists seemed to have decided before the conference that the big story would be a challenge to Leanne Wood’s leadership.

However, that plotline seemed to fizzle out on the first day, when even Dafydd El’s successor as conference dissenter, Neil McEvoy, made it clear that he backed the leader.

Wood isn’t a Theresa May, in situ because no one better is available. Adam Price, Rhun ap Iorwerth and Liz Saville Roberts were particularly impressive.

In fact, what struck me as I visited the conference was that this was a party brimming with policy ideas and which included a very strong field of politicians.

Problems

Unfortunately, good policy ideas and talented politicians won’t solve the party’s two main problems, which seemed to be little discussed at the conference:

  • Very little of what they have to say reaches the voters
  • They’re Welsh nationalists in a British nationalist country

The answer to both these problems is to strengthen the Welsh media.

There is a vast store of academic literature that emphasises the importance of a strong native media to the success of national movements.

If people don’t come across media that treat Wales as a nation and its residents as a people apart, British nationalism will continue to win out.

A strong media would also foster the kind of public sphere that would ensure that Plaid’s good policy ideas would be discussed.

However, the importance of the Welsh media seems to be a topic little discussed within the party, when it should be goal #1.

I thank Plaid for inviting me to contribute my thoughts about the media within a broader discussion about the future of democracy in Wales, but the question really deserves a more sustained focus.

The party has supported the devolution of broadcasting for a long time, but they need to realise there’s an awful lot you can do without TV and Radio.

Adam Price has managed to crowbar £210m out of the Welsh Government in exchange for Plaid not voting against the Budget.

This included £20m towards the new Arfor region. Now, Arfor is an extremely important project which I support wholeheartedly (although councils may feel differently).

But imagine what £20m could have done for Wales’ media. It could have been used to set up Wales’ first online professional English language national news service.

Electorally, this would do Plaid Cymru more good than all the well-thought-out policies in the world.

Overall, therefore, this was a good conference. There was a much-needed buzz after a difficult year and a half.

The challenge now is to ensure that it’s more than just an Eisteddfod – a short adrenalin rush in a parallel universe where all is well – and channel it into electoral success.


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JD
Guest
JD

Because it will always be a party for Welsh speakers, which is something they should stick to and not pretend otherwise. Best to look after north and west Wales and team up with a nationalist centre-right party if one ever materialises. Because of their pro-EU stance and total ignorance of the electorate who voted to leave the EU. When their leader is actively seen protesting with a woman wearing a niqab Being totally OK with freedom of movement and taking in refugees but being totally against English people moving to Wales. Did you know there are more Polish people than… Read more »

Nic
Guest
Nic

Actually being “a party for Welsh speakers” and being perceived as ‘a party for Welsh speakers” are two different things. It would be impossible to find any real evidence for the former but I think the latter is largely true in many parts of the country. I agree that their ‘come-one-come-all’ attitude towards immigration is probably their biggest obstacle to increasing their popularity. I haven’t sensed/seen/heard anything that would suggest they’re “totally against English people moving to Wales”. Again, it might be true of many but it certainly isn’t the official line. There would also be sufficient non-racist reasons to… Read more »

Aaron Clwyd Jones
Guest
Aaron Clwyd Jones

JD, it’s obvious to me you don’t really understand the nature of linguistic decline so I will do my best to explain it. If a language is to remain alive in an area around 75% of the people of the area must be speakers or the language goes into decline which escalates as the years go on eventually resulting in death, this happens more gradually if the people who live in the area do not speak the invasive language but seeing as all Welsh people are now bilingual the situation is built on sand. With 1/4 of the Welsh Heartland… Read more »

sianiflewog
Guest
sianiflewog

Keyboard warriors: i attended the conference at one of the plushest places in Caernarfon. PC very middle class not my sort of place. Couldn’t attend Mcelvoys speech because was working on Friday. When PC appeals emotionally to the working class they’ll have more support from us. I suggest they form a more clearly focussed right-wing nationalist group, whilst the rest of us left of centre concentrate on either reforming the unionist welsh labor party (impossible in my view) or forming a new party with a focus on social justice (dealing with all the problems that have accrued over 30 years… Read more »

Red Dragon Jim
Guest
Red Dragon Jim

My theory is that they get about as many votes as Welsh nationalism has support. In 1999 they won non-nationalists over (but still came a very distant second). Occasionally a Wood figure will win localised success elsewhere.

I agree that getting involved improves things. The “buzz” from Plaid is at odds with online comments, because as the author says there are keyboard warriors at play.

They should be getting money for a Welsh media and also the language.

The Bellwether
Guest
The Bellwether

IMJ’s contention that a properly funded ‘professional’ (sic) online english language media would help Plaid’s electability (visibility?) is interesting – he would say that wouldn’t he! I tend to agree with him though. Revolutions throughout history have been driven, even initiated, by papyrus, parchment, street pamphlets, newpapers and now facebook. Plaid are very good at social media but it seems to be confined to their ‘bubble’ and would never be ‘seen’ by ordinary voters as they, Plaid, probably can’t afford to throw alot of money ‘promoting’ it (unlike the Russians?). As in the US, it does boil down to money… Read more »

Royston Jones
Guest

The “parallel universe” Plaid Cymru inhabits has no place for the harsh realities of colonisation nor, more generally, colonialist exploitation. It’s a universe inhabited by people like them, both within Wales and beyond: Trump is frightful, Brexit must be fought; it’s ‘Croeso i Refugees’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’. http://jacothenorth.net/blog/plaid-cymru-escapist-politics/ With the result that Plaid Cymru has nothing to say to most Welsh people, either in the putative Arfor or the Valleys, let alone the cities and the larger towns. That Plaid Cymru has made progress in Cardiff is down to the square peg that is Neil McEvoy, an effective politician… Read more »

Nic
Guest
Nic

I’d probably be classed as a keyboard warrior and whilst I haven’t attended a Plaid conference I did join the local party and attend local meetings. I then suspended my membership and have since been looking for a new political ‘home’. Before appealing to those that have hitherto completely ignored Plaid, they’d do better to concentrate on those who have voted Plaid in the past and those that would love to again, but that have been there, bought the T-shirt and been basically told “Listen Sonny, we want minions not opinions”. There is a huge disconnect between how that party… Read more »

Bendigedig
Guest
Bendigedig

“Because it will always be a party for Welsh speakers, which is something they should stick to and not pretend otherwise.” Then the max support base is 20%. It already isn’t a party just for Welsh speakers. The revue held on Saturday night was in English, done by people who don’t speak Welsh fluently. Welsh speakers are currently over-represented, but the party is open to anyone who shares its values and this message should come across. “When their leader is actively seen protesting with a woman wearing a niqab” Do you want to elaborate on that? Are you against protesting… Read more »

Bendigedig
Guest
Bendigedig

“That Plaid Cymru has made progress in Cardiff is down to the square peg that is Neil McEvoy”

This is true, but remember that its councillors have now retreated to the Plaid Cardiff ‘hinterland’ of Fairwater where McEvoy’s based. The reason many people gave for not voting Plaid in other parts of Cardiff was… well I think you can guess.

Bendigedig
Guest
Bendigedig

“enthusiastic Joe turning up, brimming with ideas, enthusiasm and a willingness to help only to be told “Shut up, put up and take two days off work to put flyers through people’s letterboxes.”

Sounds like you had problems with a local volunteer officer, not with the party as a whole.

Nic
Guest
Nic

It was the local branch, yes. And to most people the local branch IS Plaid. The community councillors ARE Plaid. The County councillors ARE Plaid. These are most people’s only connection to the party. It’s not like Leanne is likely to come round your house every Tuesday morning for a Hobnob and a chat, is it? So all you have is what happens locally and what happens locally isn’t always a great reflection of the party.

JD
Guest
JD

Then the max support base is 20%. It already isn’t a party just for Welsh speakers. The revue held on Saturday night was in English, done by people who don’t speak Welsh fluently. Welsh speakers are currently over-represented, but the party is open to anyone who shares its values and this message should come across. – You are clearly in denial. And many people are uncomfortable with having a leader who doesn’t speak Welsh fluently. There’s no point spreading such precious little support so thinly across Wales as the appetite isn’t there. Play to your strengths and keep the support… Read more »

Red Dragon Jim
Guest
Red Dragon Jim

If you left Plaid Cymru over Wood standing next to a woman in a Niqab, there IS a chance that you are the one who has the wrong priorities.

This kind of view would bring you towards a Welsh UKIP. I just can’t imagine Plaid members or politicians agreeing with you. I wouldn’t be comfortable in a party where people held views about what clothes people could wear.

JD
Guest
JD

So I suppose you’re OK with a woman having to cover her face in public and to be subordinate to her husband?

This isn’t a debate about what a woman can or can’t wear, it’s about equality, integration and national security.

Nothing wrong with voting UKIP – they are a creation of people like yourselves for ignoring the genuine concerns of everyday people.

Red Dragon Jim
Guest
Red Dragon Jim

I don’t think a woman should be sub-ordinated to a husband, or to you, over what she wears. The reach of the state to intervene into families is limited and for good reason. There are alot of things wrong with voting UKIP but it’s a matter of opinion. My responsibility is to challenge UKIP style ideas when I see them. My take then is this isn’t Plaid Cymru’s fault, and that leaving them over an issue of a Niqab is not reasonable behaviour. Further, how many online criticisms of Plaid Cymru are based on policy positions which are not that… Read more »

Radek
Guest
Radek

Will the children of Syrian refugees not go to school? Will they not learn English and Welsh I’m school? Are you saying that these children born in Wales will never be Welsh?

JD
Guest
JD

Pretty much, yes.

Efnisien fab Euroswydd
Guest
Efnisien fab Euroswydd

My god, this is naive. Rhetoric is one thing; practice quite another. As someone has already pointed out, your experience of the party is clearly vastly different to that of others’, for obvious reasons.

Maybe the ‘keyboard warriors’ to whom you refer didn’t make it to the independence discussion because they were shouted down, ignored, and then physically assaulted the day before!

You’re better than this, Ifan, which is more than can be said for Plaid in its current state.

Benjiman L. Angwin
Guest
Benjiman L. Angwin

I joined Plaid in 2013/14, almost entirely to support Cymraeg as a living language and no other reason, after having supported Nick Clegg in 2010. As time went by, I found we had disagreements, but my disagreements with Labour were more so, and Plaid Cymru were warm and welcoming to me as an immigrant in a way which I value to this day. I disagreed with Leanne Wood on a few things though I found her to be a wonderful person in the flesh, and i began drifting towards the Lib Dems again on economic matters and civil liberties. When… Read more »

DH
Guest
DH

A good piece. Agree wholeheartedly with your observations about venue. This, I think, speaks to Plaid’s deeper problem of always reaching for the low-hanging branches – the language, ensuring the Gogs are happy (often one and the same thing) – which is usually explained away as “protecting the base vote” but which ignores the total absence of work that should have gone into building on the Rhondda success, but hasn’t so far. I’d also agree with your assessment of the tiresome but obligatory leadership challenge story that we have, well, more than once a year. I think it comes from… Read more »

michael williams
Guest
michael williams

I find quite amusing when I read that Plaid is only for Welsh speakers. I am ashamed to admit that I don’t speak welsh, and yet I have been a Plaid, Borough, District, and County Councillor since 1968, having joined the party when I was 16 years of age. I feel completely at home within the family of Plaid among both Welsh and English speakers. When will these ignoramuses wake up? Plaid is and always has been a wide church. The priority is the nation of Wales. After over 100 years of Labour dominance we are reduced to one of… Read more »

Fi
Guest
Fi

Plaid Cymru is, rightly or wrongly, perceived by many as being a one-issue party (Welsh language), in much the same way as Ukip is with Europe.

Gerallt
Guest
Gerallt

Nic “it is therefore fair to conclude your experience of the party machine would be vastly different to that of an ordinary yet enthusiastic Joe turning up, brimming with ideas, enthusiasm and a willingness to help only to be told “Shut up, put up and take two days off work to put flyers through people’s letterboxes.” Completely agree! Even when you’ve been a member for a good few years, this is all you’re seen fit for doing. Ifan, “The lesson perhaps is that all discussion is positive, and has clearly had an effect; but if you really want to change… Read more »

Teilo
Guest
Teilo

I’ve never been to the conference or to any local meetings although a member. I feel personally a responsibility to at least try and influence the party before abandoning them. That being said many of the keyboard warriors sound like they have tried and failed to influence Plaid in a way they find acceptable. I’m starting to think that Ifan is right about centre right nationalists, it’s got to be a lot easier to influence an existing party than starting from scratch. If the centre right could do a “momentum” utilising their keyboard warrior support they could be more effective… Read more »

Hannah
Guest
Hannah

A simple point only, on the idea of an ‘English-language national news service’. This is dangerous, as are all the comments concerning Plaid as being ‘for Welsh-speakers’. The polarisation of the two main languages of Wales does nobody any benefit, and the perpetuation of an ideology that the languages are (or should be) separate feeds the error that ‘Welsh-speaking’ and ‘English-speaking’ are ethnic characterizations or essential, immutable properties. Mae’r holl drafodaeth fan hyn yn digwydd yn Saesneg, er gwaetha’r ffaith bod y rhan fwyaf yn ddwyieithog a phawb yn gallu naill ai ddysgu Cymraeu neu ddefnyddio Google Translate er mwyn… Read more »

Nic
Guest
Nic

Personally, I think the snide references to “keyboard warriors” need to stop. The inference is of course that “keyboard warriors” spend their lives whining online and doing nothing else. Firstly, no one knows how active they are offline. Secondly, it belittles the impact large-scale online protest or activism can have . The fact is that the “keyboard warriors” often get more done than those who’ve been dutifully putting flyers through letterboxes year after year. Think of the Flint Iron Ring and the Llangennech School ‘incidents’, both were influenced by “keyboard warriors” to no small degree. Plaid have been sending people… Read more »

Dafis
Guest
Dafis

Ifan Fe ysgrifenais ymateb i Royston yn hwyr prynhawn heddiw yn canolbwyntio ar ei sylw am 4 pwynt negyddol yn safbwynt Plaid Cymru. Am ryw reswm nid yw fy sylw wedi ymddangos. Oes yna reswm penodol neu a fu ryw fethiant pen hyn neu yn eich trefn chi ?

CambroUiDunlainge
Guest
CambroUiDunlainge

This is going to be a long one that i’ll take a step at a time. Plaid has often been seen as being too close with Labour if the past few years. What makes it easier to believe is the fact that Leanne is a Socialist Republican and probably has a fair bit in common with Jeremy Corbyn. Trust me as some one from the same area its very hard to shake that Labour mindset. A few other things point to Plaid being “on the British left” – the fact they so overtly broke off their relationship before their conference… Read more »

gaynor
Guest
gaynor

That hit the nail on the head

Neil McEvoy
Guest
Neil McEvoy

Quick reply to Bendigedig. In May, Cardiff saw its biggest ever Plaid vote, despite fewer candidates. The vote of candidates in target seats went up over 70%. We won 3, came 2nd in 20 and a winnable 3rd in 5. When I joined in 2003, we had an interest in just 1 seat. It is clear that Plaid needs to broaden its base. I would invite all pro-Wales contributors to join or re-join Plaid.

David Jones
Guest
David Jones

Plaid don’t seem to engage very well with their members. When I joined Plaid online, I recieved only an email to say payment was going to be taken. The ‘Welcome to Plaid’ email took a week to arrive, then nothing more came until I got a card in the post a few weeks later. Nothing else. The online ‘Member area’ is a joke. There is no useful info, nothing to interact with, nothing asking for an opinion, no way to contact local members. In the members area there is a way to donate more money, and a way to volunteer.… Read more »