Creating a democratic and empowered Wales

Leanne Wood sets out her vision for Plaid Cymru and communities in Wales

We must reconnect our politics to values and principles. That disconnection has contributed to the widespread indifference and disillusionment that has grown in Welsh politics. There is a need to discuss politics and the steps we can all take in the new political context we find ourselves.

In my most recent Plaid Cymru Conference speech I pledged to undertake a full tour of community engagement meetings. To coincide with this tour, I have written a publication which sets out a range of political values together with some policy ideas, which are designed to provide an alternative to the mess we are in by empowering people and communities in Wales to solve our own problems for ourselves.

Today I’ll deliver a lecture in our capital city to outline the concepts, themes and ideas in the publication which I want to discuss with people. I am also keen to forge new connections between Plaid Cymru and people in communities across the country.

It isn’t an election manifesto. Plaid Cymru’s manifesto will be unveiled closer to the next Assembly elections. But I hope that the ideas and proposals in the document will be developed after I have heard people’s views on them, and that they will go on to inform the party’s policy development in the coming period. The most important aspect of it is that I want people to engage, to debate and to discuss it.

I want this tour and publication to offer ideas for an alternative set of politics to both the increasingly right-wing and regressive Tories, and the London-centric, centralising agenda embodied by the Labour Party. Neither of those parties represent the interests of Wales, and voting for both of them in historically large numbers has not helped meet our country’s needs.

Wales faces a myriad of challenges. Many of them are specific to the nation and its political context, but others are international and of course linked to Brexit. The real weakness of Welsh democracy, the democratic deficit and the lack of awareness as to which parties are running the country and which powers are devolved can probably only be tackled where we go directly into communities and speak with people face-to-face.

Our country’s economic stagnation and sluggish recovery (if that word can even be used) from the financial crisis is identified as the central cause of disillusionment. Actual poverty is matched by a poverty of ambition from those who govern us.

I identify several concepts which could break through the fog of indifference hanging over Wales.

We must decentralise power throughout Wales. The Party of Wales has called for years with our long-held policies to rebalance Wales, but this message will go unheard by many in those communities that would benefit from such rebalancing unless we take it out to those places and speak to people.

‘Decentralist socialism’ is a central tenet of Plaid Cymru for decades. But what does it mean? I will be fleshing out how we can use this concept in practical and meaningful ways to provide solutions to some of challenges our people and country faces today.

I want Plaid Cymru to represent a vision which is rooted in community and co-operation, which trusts individuals and empowers them and which builds our economy and nation while striving to reduce inequalities in all their forms. In some areas I advocate a move away from state-provided solutions towards more participatory models including community ownership, especially of energy projects and co-operative enterprises.

The aim of this project is to spark conversations about the kind of Wales we want to be. Following on from the meetings, I will be asking our members and supporters to help me make the case in their own communities and sign people up for the prospectus that decisions affecting Wales should be made in Wales.

“If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always got” – is a powerful argument for change. That’s why I am putting forward this programme of radical and transformative ideas to rebalance power and give people greater control over they lives, wherever in Wales they live.

Wales is at a crossroads and we have options. We can choose a path towards governing ourselves or one that sees us sleepwalking towards becoming absorbed into a Westminster-dominated England and Wales state. If we have a full and genuine discussion about what kind of country we want to live in, we have the potential to be awake to and then to avoid that absorption. That discussion is bigger than any single party can entertain alone, but we in Plaid Cymru intend to spearhead it, because we recognise that if we are to unlock our country’s fantastic potential, we must now choose a different path.

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Leanne Wood is leader of Plaid Cymru and AM for Rhondda.