New Plaid coalition with Labour inevitable

John Osmond hears why Dafydd Elis-Thomas wants to lead his party

Meirionnydd and Dwyfor AM Dafydd Elis-Thomas last night set out his stall on two controversial issues surrounding his bid to take over as Plaid Cymru’s leader next Spring – coalition with Labour and the party’s constitutional position on independence. In conversation with former BBC Wales political editor David Williams before an audience at the Galeri in Caernarfon he was unequivocal on both issues.

He said a coalition with Labour in the National Assembly would be inevitable during the present term. “We can’t carry on with 28 to 28 voting,” he said. “We’ve had ten of these votes already since May. Will we have a 28 to 28 split on the budget?”

He insisted that another Plaid Labour coalition was the only possibility. As he put it, “The other two parties are governing in another place.” Many in Plaid are wary of being seen to prop up Labour in the present term, preferring to go into the next election in 2016 with a clean sheet, unencumbered by association with another party and by a record of the difficult decisions that being in government inevitably brings. However, last night Dafydd Elis-Thomas said it was his party’s duty to aspire to be in government.

“We’re a political party that belongs to the people that live in Wales,” he said. “We are a sign of the sovereignty of the people of Wales. So Plaid Cymru should be in government as often as possible.”

Another reason why Plaid Cymru was needed in government was the paucity of ideas and action coming from the present Labour administration. He described this as a disgrace. “The people voted for legislative powers in the referendum in March, but there is no legislation to be made. That is disgraceful.”

He said the first duty of politicians in the Assembly was to ensure there was a stable government. The One Wales Labour Plaid coalition during the last term had been excellent in that respect. It had provided stability in terms of a First Minister, a functioning cabinet and a budget.

In the interview the former Presiding Officer dealt with some length with his views on Plaid Cymru’s constitutional objectives which some in the party regard as debarring him from the leadership. At this year’s annual conference in Llandudno Plaid voted unambiguously to place independence for Wales at the heart of its programme. In the past Dafydd Elis-Thomas has appeared to reject this as an out-moded, unrealistic prospect, preferring instead to stress Wales’ destiny as part of an inter-dependent European regional structure.

Last night he said, “I’m quite happy with the concept of independence in Europe”, although he added that there were problems with misinterpretation of the notion of ‘independence’. Account had to be taken of the realities of the direction the European Union was taking in the 21st Century, when nation-states such as France and Germany were increasingly sharing their sovereignty within a larger unit. He said that in these circumstances Wales should follow the paths being forged by societies such as those in Scotland, Quebec, Catalonia and the Basque Country which were seeking the maximum possible autonomy in relation to surrounding states. “That is the model for us in Wales,” he said.

“It is citizenship that drives politics,” he added. “We are a nation and a constitutional polity and have been so for many centuries. Now we are living in a world where the nation-state is beginning to dissolve in Europe. Wales can be a pioneer in this new Europe. We can become a basic model of how this new Europe will develop. We will have to learn to adapt to the new structures that are emerging.”

Part of the new constitutional reality for Wales was that, driven by Scotland and its demand for a referendum on independence, Britain in its present form was coming to an end. He predicted that a major test for Wales would be how to react to the eventuality of England wanting to distance itself or even pull out of the European Union. “Scotland and Wales would not want to follow that route,” he said. “We would want to remain part of the European project. That is what I call devolution max.”

Asked about his personal aspirations and whether he intended to contest the next election in 2o16, when he will be approaching 70-years-old, he pointed to the newly-elected President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins who is 70. “Older men in politics benefit from experience,” he said.

Plaid Cymru’s election of a leader to succeed Ieuan Wyn Jones will be triggered early in the New Year. Nominations will open in January and the result of a postal ballot of members of the party will be announced at Plaid’s Spring conference in March. Dafydd Elis-Thomas declared his candidacy immediately following Ieuan Wyn Jones’ announcement during the summer that he would be relinquishing the leadership.  The only other candidate to declare so far is Plaid’s Ceredigion AM Elin Jones.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA.

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