Jonathan Edwards argues that as leader Leanne Wood would be able to unite her party and expand its appeal
These are exciting times for Plaid Cymru and for Wales. In January, Plaid published its internal report on the party’s future and by mid March the members will have elected a new party leader. There is no doubt that the current leadership contest has captured the public’s imagination. An increase of 23 per cent in membership – around one thousand five hundred people re-joining or joining Plaid for the first time is proof of this. Just like millions across the world, the Welsh people are tired of the economic structures that impoverish the majority and reward the few. They seek an alternative model – a model that places their communities at the heart of politics.
The nature of the British State is rapidly changing. With Scotland leading the way to their independence, the people of Wales are looking to Plaid Cymru for Welsh solutions and direction. It will be the job of the next party leader to harness this support, appeal to the whole of Wales and set a clear vision for the future of our country.
Plaid members have a big decision ahead of them over the coming weeks. We are not talking here about the leader of their respective Assembly Groups as is the case with the unionist parties. We are electing a figurehead for the whole of Wales. With the eyes of the world on Wales as events develop in Scotland, it will be the leader of the national movement who will speak for our country.
We have seen over the past decades that Plaid is the party that sets the political agenda here in Wales. It has carved out the constitutional roadmap, forcing the unionist parties to come with it on the journey. But we cannot rest on our laurels. The magnitude of the Yes vote in the Welsh referendum was a huge achievement – a historic success for the national movement – but we must now concentrate on the job ahead and choose a party leader who is able to unite our party as well as expand its appeal.
I believe that very leader is Leanne Wood. In modern politics the leader above all else defines its party. Leanne has proven over the years that she is one of the party’s leading communicators. People connect to her, they trust her, and these attributes would place her leadership and the party in a very strong position in these very exciting times for our nation. She is a conviction politician whose vision has always been centred on the needs of ordinary working people and families across Wales.
With the unionist parties all obsessed with restoring a business as usual approach to a totally discredited neo-liberal economic order, the people of our country are looking for a Leader who can articulate a different vision. They want a system that works in the interests of the common good rather than the select few. The answer to our country’s problems won’t come from changing the colour of a government in London to another which holds exactly the same views.
Leanne’s appeal has already led to endorsements from progressive voices outside the national movement like the Fire Brigade Union and Mark Serwotka from the Public and Commercial Services Union. For Plaid Cymru to become a major political force over the coming years, the key political battleground will be the south Wales Valleys. The party needs a figurehead for our drive to challenge Labour’s hegemony in these vital political battlegrounds. Leanne is the one who can do that.
At the very heart of Leanne’s campaign is her vision for real independence, a sense in which the journey to independence is just as important as the goal itself. Her vision, rooted firmly in Raymond Williams’ thinking, challenges nationalists to ask themselves why we want independence, how we intend getting there and in what way we wish to see independence safeguarding and transforming our communities. Leanne has emphasised that in order to achieve our aims we must get Wales into a stronger position economically with control over job creating levers a vital strategic objective. This message of hope for our communities contrasts starkly with the current position of the unionist parties which base our future on dependence and fiscal transfers from London.
Leanne’s vision for real independence is rooted in Plaid Cymru’s past. She doesn’t claim to have new Welsh solutions, but rather has managed to shed new light on Plaid Cymru’s core economic principles enshrined in the works of those two great Carmarthenshire Welsh political philosophers, D.J. Davies and D.J. Williams. She has shown how Plaid’s decentralist tradition offers solutions to challenging some of the biggest economic and cultural problems facing us as a nation today.
From Robert Owen’s co-operative ideas to Leopold Kohr’s vision of smallness being the basis for economic resilience and stability, Leanne has been able to craft a new narrative for Plaid Cymru that is chiming with people from Penygroes in Gwynedd to Caerffili in Gwent.
They can see that her ideas are key in order to protect our Welsh language communities. They can see that her ideas offer solutions to the high levels of unemployment in our communities. At the heart of her political project is the Greenprint. This is the basis for a radically different economic infrastructure based on the values of co-operation and self-sufficiency. The Greenprint shows that creating resilient, sustainable communities must be our top priority, creating top quality jobs in people’s local areas and offering support to our local businesses. Plaid Cymru has incorporated the principles from the Greenprint into its local elections manifesto. Already, her vision is on the move.
We in Plaid Cymru should be grateful that we have in Leanne Wood, a politician whose principles are rooted in Plaid Cymru’s original vision but who has the ability to communicate the message with the whole of Wales. She is exactly what Plaid Cymru and Wales has been waiting for. She is a leader with a vision, ready to make the best of all of our talents as we strive to unlock the potential of our people and our country.