By Conor Holohan
Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, was the only mainstream party leader outside of UKIP who campaigned for Brexit.
Meeting at the National Assembly of Wales in Cardiff Bay, we interviewed Davies to find out what he thought to be most important going forward with Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, or Brexit.
“I think it’s important not discount the significant number of people who did vote remain.
“I chose to support and campaign for Brexit because I think it was in Wales’ best interests, but it doesn’t mean that just because we won the referendum we ignore the many valuable reasons put over by the Remain side and it doesn’t mean that we keep that division.”
Davies gives me the impression his vision for Brexit is an inclusive, pluralistic one.
“As a country, the United Kingdom has many centuries of tradition which we can draw on to unify us, and has a great opportunity to unlock the global aspirations that as a country we’ve had for many centuries as well.”
Davies wishes to ensure that everyone’s views are represented in the Brexit negotiations.
In Scotland, however, the perception that this may not happen has provoked a national warrant for a second independence referendum, led by Nicola Sturgeon.
“A huge frustration of mine is this ‘shock! Horror! They’re talking of a second referendum!’
“There’ll be a third, fourth, fifth referendum so long as the SNP is around on the basis that they’re a nationalist party – it’s in their DNA.
“People run in elections for the SNP to drive the dream as they see it – I personally think it would be a nightmare for Scotland – of independence.”
“Nicola Sturgeon is in real danger of aping her nemesis Donald Trump in the States by building a wall, breaking Scotland off from the rest of the United Kingdom, and it’ll be the Scottish people who pay for it through poorer public services and less take-home pay.
“But economically as well as culturally we know Scotland is a valuable part of the union and I very much hope that those links are kept together, because together we are far stronger.”
Davies is a defender of the Union, however he said he is not surprised that Plaid Cymru are talking of a referendum on Welsh independence.
“Rather than going down nationalist road and breaking up what has been the most successful union for a couple hundred years, economically socially and culturally, we should be setting the roots deeper and making sure that the integration of the union continues for centuries to come.”
Recent NHS data has painted a bleak picture of the health service in Wales, with average A&E waiting times still increasing and the number of those waiting more than 12 hours in A&E also on the rise, despite the Welsh Labour Government’s targeting to lower them.
Speaking on the current state of the NHS, Davies said; “There are strains in all health services in the western world because we can do so much more now than when the NHS was formed.
“Today there aren’t many conditions where some form of medical intervention can improve your prospects.
“However, politically the Labour Party have made choices over the last decade that have been hugely damaging to the NHS here in Wales by cutting the NHS budget in the 2011, 2012, 2013 period, which the health service in Wales has never recovered from.
“We have the by far the worst A&E waiting times when compared to England.
“When it comes to ambulance times the government have moved the goal posts – they don’t even categorise stroke and heart attack calls as category 1 calls anymore, so that they can reach their target of the 8 minute response time.
“What you have is a lot of political gerrymandering going on by the Labour Party instead of getting in and resolving some of these deep seated problems.”
Given his background in agriculture, I was interested to know what spurred Davies from livestock farming into the very different world of politics.
He was galvanised into politics by the Mad Cow debacle of the nineties.
“Politicians weren’t listening to the rural community whose economy was going down the plug hole, instead of getting angry and disenfranchised about that I thought I could do a bit of a better job.
“I like to think I can empathise and listen to people and I thought that was the least that we as a community should have been afforded at that terrible time, so that’s why I put myself forward to be considered as a candidate in the early 2000s.”
Davies was very nonchalant about the differences between the two, and more interested in how fulfilling it was to do both.
“I feel hugely privileged to do two things that I love, but there is no greater role in public service than to give people a voice especially if they don’t understand the system, and help to empathise with those communities and try to make a difference.”
Andrew RT Davies is not a career politician: “When I was in school I had absolutely no interest in going into politics.
“I’m dyslexic and when I was in school, reading the paper or indeed anything was the furthest from anything I was remotely interested in doing.
“But I had a good mentor who helped me with making words meaningful, and I taught myself to read the newspaper cover-to-cover.
“I left school at 16 with bugger-all qualifications and I learned my trade the hard way, selling potatoes on the streets of Cardiff and milking cows at three o’ clock in the morning.”
“I wasn’t stuck in a common room debating the intricacies of Karl Marx and Lenin.”