What next for Wales from Plaid Cymru?

Leanne Wood’s speech at the Atrium, Cardiff on 20th May 2015.

Good morning.

Almost a fortnight has passed since the UK general election and this week marks the first convening of the new Westminster Parliament.

Already, a number of issues have arisen that have significant consequences for us in Wales.

My intention this morning is to set out Plaid Cymru’s position now that a new UK government is in place.

Now that we are clearer on the priorities of that government I want to outline Plaid Cymru’s response and proposals.

What I also want to do this morning is begin a demarcation in our national debate between the UK election that has just been and the Welsh General Election that is to come.

It is my hope that the next Welsh General Election will be the first one where our existence as a normal democracy is evident.

What I mean by that is that there should be a competition of ideas between competing parties for the improving and strengthen of public services, communities and the economy.

It would be a disservice if people were denied that opportunity.

Too often, political parties here have sought to lay blame for all our ills on others.

Whilst Wales has been continually disadvantaged at the hands of successive UK governments, what people in Wales deserve now is a contest between their politicians on what they will do, not what they don’t want others to do.

There are three primary parts to my address this morning.

Firstly, the urgent steps needed to ensure a constitutional framework for the UK that properly respects devolution.

Secondly, Plaid Cymru’s position on issues that will emerge in the coming period as a result of the election of a majority Conservative UK government.

And thirdly, Plaid Cymru’s approach ahead of next year’s Welsh General Election.

The UK on the morning of May the Eighth was a very different one to that of May the Seventh.

Few could have foreseen that outcome.

Three constituent parts of the UK did not give a mandate to the current UK government.

One nation voted convincingly for a party with distinctly different priorities and solutions to the UK government.

In Wales, I was of course disappointed that Plaid Cymru fell short of matching our best ever Westminster result in terms of both share of the vote and number of MPs elected.

We were just 229 votes way from equalling our highest number of MPs elected

To hold our ground and to come so close to gaining ground, in that context at least, is a positive.

This week, I was in London to meet with our new team of MPs and I am delighted that Jonathan Edwards is our new Parliamentary Leader.

Jonathan and his team are clear in how they are going to further Welsh interests in Westminster and I know the three will make formidable advocates for Wales.

In the context of the new electoral map of the UK, it is inevitable that the issue of the constitution should feature.

The UK – far from being one nation – is very much a multi-national state and now the institutions of that state must recognise and respect that reality.

I urge the UK government and all the devolved governments to seek and secure a swift yet satisfactory resolution so that the sovereignty of the peoples of these islands can be properly facilitated.

During the UK election, I took every opportunity to speak for Wales.

This morning I would like to spend part of what I say talking about the United Kingdom.

The endless process, of debate, election, cross party commissions, arguments, half-steps forward and universally unsatisfactory outcomes must end.

We all know that devolution is a process not event, but the process – as it is – is excruciating.

Today, I want to outline Plaid Cymru’s proposals for immediate steps that can be taken that can accommodate the sovereignty of the peoples, can maintain devolution as an evolving process and crucially can usher in an era of cooperation between the governments of the UK.

Last year, Plaid Cymru proposed that the Joint Ministerial Committee should be scrapped and replaced with a new UK Council of Ministers.

Sometime after the referendum in Scotland last year, a similar proposal was supported by the Smith Commission.

That new body, enshrined in law should be part of a written constitutional framework for the UK.

This would ensure that democratically elected governments in the nations can implement the commitments made to those they are elected to serve.

It would further ensure cooperation and arbitration between the governments.

It should also result in scrutiny of UK policy and accountability of the UK government to the others.

Westminster is not sovereign – people are.

It’s time that was reflected.

Within that proposal of course there must be room for England to have its national conversation on how it wants to be governed.

Plaid Cymru has said and I repeat today, that we can support the principle of English votes for English laws as long as there are Welsh votes for Welsh laws too.

Plaid Cymru supports too the principle of devolution within England, provided Wales has national equality with the other nations of the UK.

We are nearing a point where city regions in England will have greater autonomy that the Welsh nation.

That is not acceptable and we advocate Wales having a place as a nation among equals in these islands.

That would form the basis for devolution to and within the nations.

Plaid Cymru has always been constructive and we will continue to be.

For the UK-wide structures to work though, there must be a permanent place for the devolution process to flourish without the need for any one part of the UK to jump through endless hoops for minimal transfers of responsibility.

Plaid Cymru proposes today that all responsibilities except for those over defence, foreign affairs, the Crown and currency, should be transferrable to any one or all devolved governments, provided a majority vote in favour of such a transfer in the respective national legislatures.

In practice, that would mean parties can seek a mandate for greater autonomy on specific matters and if they secure that mandate, such responsibilities would be transferred.

This flexible approach allows for each nation to build a constitutional framework that is in the specific interests of the nation, but guarantees the need for the consent of the people at all times.

A strong Council of Ministers at UK level to enshrine cooperation between all governments.

A permanent and clear process for devolution, tailored to each nation and a guaranteed requirement for a mandate for further powers.

That twin approach from Plaid Cymru, I believe, will serve all the nations and peoples in these islands far better than the current web of complexities.

It is – in effect – a proposal for a Confederal UK, with the centre serving the peoples, rather than the other way round.

I urge the UK Government to take these proposals seriously.

And there are other matters where the UK Government must listen to Wales.

The two matters that are prominent in these, the early days of the new government, are the question of UK membership of the European Union and the determination of the UK government to repeal the Human Rights Act.

With the EU referendum likely to be held earlier than 2017, I reiterate today Plaid Cymru’s belief that it is in Wales’ best interests for us to remain a part of the European Union.

The Party of Wales will work with others for that outcome and I would urge all who share our position to come together at the earliest opportunity to begin planning for a cross-party campaign.

I would also like to put on record my belief that a campaign for continued EU membership based on fear, on the status quo or on perceived dangers of withdrawal alone, should be avoided at all costs.

We cannot afford a re-run of the negative Scottish ‘No’ campaign on the question of EU membership.

The campaign for continued membership must be positive, it must be based on what has been and what could be achieved with us as members of the EU.

Plaid Cymru MPs will support the necessary legislation that would allow that referendum to take place but such legislation must respect Wales’ nationhood.

There are three tests for that.

Firstly, the referendum, if it is brought forward to next year, should not under any circumstances be held on the same day as Wales’ General Election.

The people of Wales deserve a full campaign that is focussed on the question on who should form the next government of the country and people should have a full and unfettered opportunity to scrutinise the platforms of the competing parties.

Wales is already having to put up with elections for Police and Crime Commissioners on that day – elections few in Wales want.

The decision facing people in terms of a new government for Wales, deserves the necessary space for consideration in the electoral calendar.

Secondly, the result of the referendum should be declared at national level so that we all have full transparency in terms of how each constituent part of the UK has voted.

Thirdly, provision should be made for the possibility of there being a lack of unanimity among the nations of the UK.

Plaid Cymru’s position is that there should be no withdrawal from the EU, unless there is unanimity among the nations of the UK.

And Plaid Cymru also believes the UK government’s proposed repeal of the Human Rights Act and withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, is not simply a matter for the UK government or the Westminster Parliament.

It is a matter for all parliaments and governments in the UK.

Plaid Cymru opposes both the repeal of the Human Rights Act and the proposed withdrawal of the UK from the ECHR.

Our MPs will oppose at every opportunity attempts at both.

As the Human Rights Act is enshrined in the Government of Wales Act, it is our understanding that its removal from the Act would require consent from the National Assembly.

Such consent will not be forthcoming from Plaid Cymru assembly members.

I urge the UK government to drop its unnecessary pursuit of regressive human rights proposals at the earliest opportunity.

Fundamental human rights are the basic premise of a democracy and should remain so in our democracy here.

I would like to conclude today with remarks regarding the year ahead for Wales as we look to the Welsh General Election.

What we now know of the UK context is that if we want to see progress in our country then we must now do it for ourselves.

Debates around the constitution have always and will always feature in any democracy but I want to be clear to people in Wales today that our priority for the campaign will be to deliver transformational improvements in health, in education and in the economy, whatever the constitutional framework.

I want the next Welsh General Election to be one where the focus is on Labour’s poor record of delivery and Plaid’s promise of real change.

People want to see things get better in their lives, in their GP surgery, their school, their hospital and in their workplace.

Plaid Cymru’s programme for government will be about delivering that.

At the dawn of devolution, Plaid Cymru was seen by many as the custodian of devolution itself.

After a very tentative and marginal mandate from people for a national assembly in the first place, it was right that our focus was on securing Wales’ national future.

But now, sixteen years and a further referendum on, it is clear that self-government, currently in the form of devolution, is the settled will of the people.

The people themselves are its custodians now, no individual party.

Our democracy must normalise now so that our general election is all about debating the issues and must be a process for people to decide on which party they wish to lead our country.

And people in Wales deserve to know now that in terms of what a mandate for Plaid Cymru would mean in the first term of a Plaid Cymru government.

The next Assembly term needs to focus on delivery, objectives and real outcomes that will improve the lives of the people of Wales.

Wales will only truly have the confidence to stand on its own two feet when its people are ready to champion our democracy as a beacon of success.

This will never happen under this tired Labour administration which has starved itself of ambition, progress and hope.

In terms of empowering Wales, we will be seeking the full implementation of both Silk Commission reports – already agreed by all parties – and the adoption of the Smith Commission recommendations.

Plaid Cymru believes that the adoption of all these, cross party recommendations, will result in a meaningful self-government framework for Wales and coupled with Wales being properly funded, would be a package that could help deliver for people and communities across Wales.

We must build our nation from the bottom up.

But I want to be clear with people in Wales today that Plaid Cymru’s programme for government will be fully deliverable, regardless of the constitutional framework within which we have to work.

Our unwavering priorities will be centred on securing and improving the NHS, raising standards and prospects in schools and creating the economic conditions for thriving businesses and well-paid job opportunities.

I ask people to trust Plaid Cymru, to give us the chance to show what we can do in government.

We are beginning to see the direction in which our current party of government in Wales is moving at a UK level.

Many in that party are talking of ‘aspiration’ and moving away from speaking for people who are struggling.

Aspiration is a term that party usually uses as a way of masking its move to regressive politics – aspiration for the already privileged few.

But Plaid Cymru talks about aspiration in terms of its potential for everyone – our collective ambition.

Every individual, every business, every community and every country has potential.

Government can and should create the conditions for all to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

That opportunity shouldn’t be limited or confined to the few who shout the loudest.

It should be available to all and Plaid Cymru in government will broaden the opportunities for all, regardless of background and regardless of financial means.

As the centre of political gravity shifts once again in Westminster, people in Wales can be sure that Plaid Cymru will not abandon our values of social justice, of compassion.

I am and I will be, Plaid Cymru’s candidate for First Minister at next year’s Welsh General Election.

It is my sincere and heartfelt belief that Wales needs a change of government and a new direction.

Colleagues in journalism in particular will be crunching numbers and will look at polls and election results and try to ascertain the likelihood of that happening.

That is part of their job after all.

If the recent UK election taught us anything, it is that nothing should be taken for granted and there is nothing that is inevitable a week, let alone a year, ahead of an election.

Plaid Cymru will be presenting its programme for government to the people and we will seek a mandate to deliver it.

I hope to see the terms of debate in Welsh politics elevated to a level that is worthy of our people.

I ask people to consider not what has gone before us, but what could be ahead of us if we choose to change course, embrace a new opportunity.

A new start for Wales, with Plaid Cymru.


Leanne Wood is the Leader of Plaid Cymru.

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