Leanne Wood is one of those most recognisable politicians in Welsh politics. From being a proponent of Welsh independence to the first female leader of Plaid Cymru, she has excelled in her party as well driving Plaid Cymru to the forefront of Welsh politics. The leader has been a driving force of social justice in Wales and giving a voice for young people in Wales in matters such as Brexit, where perhaps they are too often forgotten. This was a chance for Gair Rhydd to ask Leanne Wood, about what sparked her inspiration to join Plaid Cymru, and how she plans to steer her party in this post-Brexit society.
The leader of Plaid Cymru has fought for social justice all of her life, and her story to becoming the leader began from her studies in ‘Social Work’ at Cardiff University. When asked whether this was her inspiration for her involvement in politics she whole-heartedly agreed. “Yes, it was. It was the thing that came first, I remember being a teenager and wanting to change aspects of peoples lives, my parents actually adopted our cousin and he had contact with social services, and probation officers for youths as well.” Leanne Wood later revealed that whilst it was that very profession that enabled her to try and solve people’s problems, soon after becoming a probation officer, she realised that many of the problems that people were facing were political, and they needed political action to solve them.
The conversation then turned to the classic record of ‘Brexit’. Cardiff is the capital of Wales, a heavy student population, and a city that voted to remain in the European Union. As Wales is a country that has a great financial benefit from the European Union, a young population that voted to remain inside the European Union, yet exits polls demonstrated that Wales voted to leave the European Union, is Plaid Cymru the party for young people in Wales? Leanne Wood whole-heartedly agreed: “ I felt that during the EU referendum campaign the voice of young people wasn’t involved at all and subsequently after the referendum result, young people weren’t involved about how Brexit is shaped. Questions such as continued membership of the single market, and the customs union I was keen to explore what young peoples views were on those matters. Leanne Wood later went on adding how she had spoken to around seven hundred young Welsh people, through taking a ballot box and a survey around asking young peoples opinions on questions such as “ should there be votes at sixteen?” “ Should we remain in the EU market?” “ If there was a referendum tomorrow, would you vote to remain or leave?”
Wood intends to collate all of those responses when they reach 1,000, which will be published to reflect the opinions of young people. She added that “there has been a concerted attempt to engage with, and listen to and reflect on the voice of young people in Wales. Of course, the younger age group are the ones who are going to have to live with the result the longest so, it is vitally important that they are involved with shaping things now when so much is up in the air.”
I was keen to ask Leanne Wood whether Plaid Cymru who has a pro-EU stance could best represent a Welsh population, which the majority of whom voted to leave the European Union. When asked, Wood expressed the fragility of the current devolution laws in Wales “I think that one of the things that can unite everybody is the importance of making sure that we don’t lose powers from our national assembly, and that is something that is a real question that’s up for grabs here in Wales.”
The delicacy of the current devolution powers sparked the process of voting for a continuity bill in the national assembly, to ensure that those powers that do leave Westminster to come straight to the national assembly and are not grabbed by Westminster. Woods stance on the current threat of devolved powers highlights that Brexit is just more than leaving the European Union, it’s arguably a threat to Welsh democracy and devolution. Wood alluded to this highlighting that even the United Kingdoms Independence Party voted alongside Plaid Cymru “Interestingly UKIP politicians voted for that [Continuity Bill], which tells me that this is an issue that is not just a remain/leave voting issue, it is something that affects everybody, and I think that it is something that we can unite everybody behind.”
With Welsh Independence being an idea held by many Welsh nationalists and a policy associated with Plaid Cymru, I wanted to find out whether a post-Brexit society fuels a need for a Welsh Independence Vote. Wood responded by noting that the Scottish and Irish had voted to remain inside the European Union, yet alongside the Welsh and English, they too are on board this Brexit bus, yet if the United Kingdom pursues a hard Brexit, or receives a bad deal this could trigger another referendum in Scotland. With this in mind, Wood stated “it could see politics develop in a different way in Ireland as well. The question for Wales is, do we get further sucked in, and incorporated into an England and Wales body, or should we try and seek alliances with the Scots and the Irish? Wood was not hesitant on recognising that it could be an option but stressed that “ it’s going to be a big debate for us to have, and I think when we have that debate all our options should be on the table, including independence, and including a return to the European Union. “
Throughout the spring term for many students at Cardiff University, this term was met with a mass disruption caused by striking lecturers. Wood highlighted that is in support of the lecturers right to defend their pensions as well as the students, she believes that the “onus falls down onto the Universities”. Wood began to unfold that “Universities have now become businesses, and because there’s a financial transaction when students lose out because of dispute like this, then they should be compensated by the University”.
Leanne Wood has been a key leader for the party and Welsh history and has been as influential as the likes of Gwynfor Evans. Wood’s passion for justice and change is what has led her to be at the heart of Welsh politics, and at the heart of her constituency ‘Rhondda Cynon Taf’. As a closing note, Leanne Wood said:
“ Cardiff is a lovely city, is a great place to study, and we are very fortunate to have such a great University here”