Plaid Cymru students host MEPs

Politics editor Greg Landon sits down with Plaid MEP Jill Evans and SNP MEP Alyn Smith

It’s no secret that Plaid Cymru are looking to the rising success of the Scottish National Party for inspiration. On Thursday, Plaid Cymru students from Cardiff University hosted a drop-in session in the Woodville Pub where Plaid MEP Jill Evans and SNP MEP Alyn Smith voiced their opinions. Jill Evans has been a Member of the European Parliament for Wales since 1999, while Alyn Smith has been a representative for Scotland in Brussels since 2004.

The latter began by talking at length about the Scottish Independence referendum in September, outlining why he and his SNP party are pressing hard for separation from the UK. While he put forward a convincing case, it appears the electorate currently does not share his view. The latest research by YouGov put the ‘Yes’ for independence vote at 37%, compared to 52% in the ‘No’ column. With at least one in ten Scots undecided though, the results are anything but a guarantee.

The numbers are not deterring Alyn Smith’s optimism however. He maintained he was “very optimistic” with the numbers, because “all the movement that we’re seeing is people are going from no to don’t know to yes; and from no to tell me more to I’m interested to I’m really enthusiastic.”

One point he was keen to stress was that Scotland would be able to obtain EU membership should it vote for independence. This point has been widely contested ever since European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said last month that it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for that to happen.

Alyn Smith unequivocally stated that Barosso was wrong: “the EU is an expansionist entity – they do not want to lose us.” He went on to talk about the EU’s vested interests in Scotland’s resources and claimed that the question of whether Europe would welcome the country “doesn’t stand analysis.”

When questioned on whether the EU’s open door policy would cause Scotland problems, Smith was equally unambiguous. “Scotland is not full. We do not have a problem with immigration – full stop.” Discussing Europe, it was obviously not long before the subject of Ukip came up.

Smith talked of a “toxic Ukip influence”, saying the party was “pandering to the worst of human nature.” He went to say that he had not seen the previous night’s preliminary debate between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg, stating “they need each other more than the country needs them.”

Conversely, Jill Evans had followed the previous night’s events, although predictably gave an equally scathing evaluation. She labeled it “uninspiring”, and bemoaned the fact “it wasn’t about Wales” in any way. She also noted that “the debate for Wales’ future in the EU is quite different from the UK debate” due to existing economic differences and inequalities.

As a Plaid member, Ms Evans was also understandably keen to talk about Welsh independence and the country’s place within the UK. When asked whether she thought Wales would ever achieve independence under a Labour government, she replied: “I find it very hard to imagine that at the moment.”

Later, she went on to say that the current government’s failure to push for independence showed “a lack of ambition for this nation”. She also readily praised the SNP for their role in pushing for an independence referendum, and hoped that one day Plaid could emulate the feat.

This talk of sovereignty and independence developed into a discussion on Crimea. The self-deterministic nature of Plaid leans itself to support Crimeans, but their democratic and humanitarian consciousness makes such support difficult. Ms Evans stated that “the people of Crimea have the right to determine their own future and the right to do that in a referendum.” She went to say however, that “a referendum cannot be legitimate when there are soldiers and tanks on the streets.”

Even though I went as someone who is anything but a Plaid and SNP supporter, it was nonetheless a worthwhile event. Both MEPs were personable, they engaged well with the students, and they put forward convincing arguments for their parties and ideologies.

The fact they were willing to come and talk openly with students in a pub setting was also fantastic. Ultimately, that is the way politicians should be willing interact with the electorate, but it so rarely is.