Plaid should push for another referendum

Gareth Hughes argues that the party of Wales shouldn’t hide its light under a bushel

Political parties crave publicity. They crave such oxygen for they know that to be ignored inevitably leads to decline. Criticism is preferable to invisibility. Minority parties have to work hard to be heard.

Now that Plaid Cymru are no longer the official Opposition in the Assembly there is a danger that they might find themselves increasingly marginalised and getting less and less attention.

OK Plaid Cymru might get a headline or two in the next few months as they conduct the leadership contest, but what then? How will they grab the news agenda by the throat and demand to be heard?

More of the same will not do. To discuss the nuances of service delivery by the Welsh Government important though that role is, it is not enough. Even developing policies does not guarantee attention. After all the other parties are doing the same.

No, Plaid gets the attention when they’re dealing with matters of nationhood.  Whether they like it or not “independence” is the issue most voters associate with Plaid Cymru. After all that is why they were established.

Now as a party they’ve tended to play down this aspiration sensing that it commands little support amongst the Welsh electorate. They with some justification adopted a gradualist approach, taking the line that strengthening the National Assembly was their first priority.

Indeed they passed the opportunity to form a Rainbow Government with themselves in the driving seat in order to win over Labour’s support and more importantly their votes, to trigger a referendum on law making powers.

The National Assembly is now a law making body. So where next for Plaid? Their historic aspiration of ‘independence’ now becomes centre stage. It’s centre stage because the SNP are going to have a referendum on the issue.

The Scottish referendum will dominate the political news agenda for the next few years.

Indeed Mr Cameron is taking the threat to the Union so seriously that he’s instructed cabinet ministers to visit Scotland to underline the advantages of the current settlement. A dubious strategy methinks, but nevertheless it shows Cameron’s serious intent to do all he can to keep the status quo.

So the debate on ‘independence’ will be out there. So what will Plaid’s stance be? Should it ignore the debate or should it too enter the fray.

Plaid Cymru should now start pushing hard for a referendum in Wales. Why should the Scots have all the fun and all the attention?

If nothing else Plaid would be seen setting the political agenda again and the party centre stage spouting on about an issue that is close to its historic heart. The people of Wales might see the relevance of the party again and the haemorrhaging of its vote might stop.

And who knows, they may even succeed in building a head of steam for a more satisfying political system for the countries of the island that is Britain. If not independence, then perhaps Federalism is the answer.

Gareth Hughes is a political commentator who blogs here

6 thoughts on “Plaid should push for another referendum

  1. So now the argument for highlighting independence, according to Gareth Hughes, is to ensure that Plaid grabs some media attention!
    He might bear in mind that independence was not the reason for establishing Plaid Cymru – he should look at Saunders Lewis’s Principles of Nationalism, even though he may dislike the man whose thinking dominated Plaid Cymru for well-nigh twenty years. SL actually argued against independence.
    Plaid’s mission is to build the nation, a mammoth task that could nevertheless mobilise widespread support.
    A key to realising that support is to show that Plaid is open to alternative solutions to the British question, federalism being one and independence another – though what the latter might mean in practical terms is at this time anybody’s guess.
    Building the nation of course involves, among other things, serious policy development, of which Gareth speaks so dismissively.
    The fact that Plaid is having some difficulty in achieving an electoral breakthough at the moment is not an argument for suspending intelligent debate as opposed to lapsing into sloganising and isolating itself from mainstream Welsh opinion.

  2. Cynog’s observations here show why people such as him are missed in everyday politics – although I cannot blame him for tiring of the political jousting AMs and MPs endure.

    Independence is one thing, realism is another. Too much attention towards Plaid’s performance in 2011 has been of a tabloid nature. In January, few would have expected to see such a vast tide of opinion turn towards real devolution as they did at the referendum. Plaid put everything into securing this vote and history is likely to adjudge that this has been an outstanding year for Plaid, especially as the electorate increasingly appreciates how many of its objectives are in Wales’s interests.

    In 2011, Plaid has served Wales by being a catalyst for public opinion and preparing the ground for a fresh round of nation building.

    Turning this into votes for one party is of course another thing. I will leave aside those who see politics as ‘hating’ one party or another. This is politics at the level of football ‘fans’ throwing bricks and bottles at each other. What matters for a party is appealing to the electorate. For Plaid, this means taking a step back and taking a profound look at their policies and policy developments that they are making the conversation of the nation (at least from 10.30 tomorrow morning, but that is another story) rather than responding to cheap jibes and reheated clichés.

    Fear and loathing about the Welsh language is fading as Welsh society matures, but remains an area where tinder exists for the flames of irrationality. There are areas where I have real concerns. The posturing as a party solely of the left is an exclusive one and one which has implications when seeking to reclaim what has been lost. To be a Party of Wales, Plaid has to reach out to all of Wales. As the referendum showed this year, many more agree with what it stands for than vote for it…for now.

  3. I would say we should campaign for independence. Our failure to do so is the reason why we have failed to make the progress the SNP have. If we are not for an independent state what is the point of Plaid Cymru? Why would any one vote for us rather than a unionist party? Do we really want Clegg, Cameron or Miliband have to any control over the internal or external affairs of Wales?
    Plaid Cymru has not campaigned for independence, people in Wales do not support it yet because they have not been told of the benefits of independence. They will come round. Adam Price’s research is a key part of this debate. Saunders Lewis although a founder of the party was muddled and unrealistic in his demands. Gwynfor Evans was in favour of a Free Wales.

  4. Cynog: “though what the latter [independence] might mean in practical terms is at this time anybody’s guess.”

    I can’t get my head around comments like this one, and things like “But what does independence actually mean”.

    It’s quite simple. Ireland. France. Belgium. Denmark. Sweden . . . .

  5. Cynog states “A key to realising that support is to show that Plaid is open to alternative solutions to the British question, federalism being one and independence another – though what the latter might mean in practical terms is at this time anybody’s guess”

    Federalism isn’t being seriously considered in Plaid, apart from yourself Cynog. I respect you in many ways, but muddying the water regarding the main aim of Plaid isn’t what the party needs, and it’s clear that the party is strengthening it’s stance on independence. For far too long the party has been coy and spineless on the main aim of the party. Internally, I believe it’s a lack of confidence to take the bull by the horns on the issue, but externally this has come over as shiftiness like the party has something to hide.

    At the end of the day, it’s up to Plaid to convince the people of Wales that independence is the best way to make Wales a better place. There’s no point in being shy about this. It is up to the people of Wales as to how far they want to go down this road, but Plaid has finally realised (I hope) that they’ve got a duty in showing the people of Wales the virtue of independence.

    Cynog, I was at a meeting when you were trying to convince Plaid members that Federalism was the way forward for Plaid policy. This was based on the idea that voters are more likely to support federalism than independence, and therefore Plaid are more likely to gain support. I completely disagree with you on this point. The party should not exist just to win power, it should exist for a reason and have a mission. It is up to the party to bring the people of Wales on this journey, because at the end of the day, Plaid has pushed Wales forward and devolution wouldn’t be here without the party.

    Thankfully, it seems the party has grown in confidence regarding independence, and even if voters don’t agree with the aim today, maybe they will do when the party finally puts forward a real case for it. Even if a voter would never support independence, at least they would respect the party for sticking to it’s guns and not look like a weak party.

    At the end of the day, Plaid wants what is best for Wales.

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