By Rhys Thomas
Wales’ Nationalist party underwent a leadership election this summer. Incumbent Leanne Wood faced off against challengers Rhun ap Iorweth and Adam Price, with the latter coming out on top in the second round ballot.
A former Member of Parliament and post-graduate student at Harvard University, Price is an impressive character. Campaign ideas such as a potential name change for the party and a seven step plan toward Welsh independence carved out his role as the change candidate. Will his election change the fortunes of the party? Price himself has not been afraid to criticise his party, exemplified by his campaign line that Plaid was on a road that will end in defeat.
Unfortunately for him and others in the party, it is a long and winding road with no end in sight.
There is no doubt that Plaid’s future is better off without Wood. Arguably a breath of fresh air when she was elected as a former social worker and Plaid’s first female leader, the party’s fate since 2012 has not significantly improved. In the Welsh Assembly, they find themselves as the third party behind the Conservatives. In UK General Elections there is mixed news, with an additional Member of Parliament but the lowest percentage share of the vote since 1997. In the 2014 European Elections, they dipped by more than three percentage points. No Plaid leader has had the preponderance of coverage that Wood has, and aside from a personal victory in the Rhondda at the Welsh Assembly elections in 2016, the party has failed to gain from the platform which saw her, amongst other things, share a stage with a Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. This is underlined by a poll which showed that Wood was the most popular Plaid leader with their voters along with Labour voters – a recognition she only has due to her inflated media profile, and something which hasn’t actually been turned into votes and seats in a meaningful way.
What are the big issues that Price and Plaid will face? They make a bold claim to be the ‘Party of Wales’, but in reality that could hardly be further from the truth. On the big question of the day, Brexit, they are set against the democratic will of the Welsh people who voted to leave the European Union. Plaid want Wales to be a sovereign state, but when the people of Wales make a sovereign decision that disagrees with Plaid, they want to reverse it. Price has compared Brexit to the Titanic, and stressed that it must be stopped at all costs.
The sight of so-called Welsh Nationalists and their reaction to Brexit has been a sight to behold. For years they have luxuriated in their moral righteousness, defining a “Welshness” which has very much been middle-class and Welsh-speaking. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but it has always been a niche position. Brexit was a realisation that Wales is different to Plaid’s vision. Welsh people were happy to “take back control” from Brussels.
Welsh independence, their raison d’etre, is a minority pursuit. In the annual St. David’s Day poll conducted by ICM and BBC Wales, support for Wales breaking away from the United Kingdom sits at 7%. Still, that’s up from 3% in September 2014 – progress, comrades! The people of Wales have no appetite for independence and are happy remaining a part of the United Kingdom, not that the position of the Welsh people would deter Plaid.
Political parties of all persuasions must engage with their country as it is, and not as they would wish it to be. For it is this political realism that can lead to victory and radical change in the nation which Price has said he wants to see. Plaid are certainly better off with Price, and it may lead to a bump in the polls or a handful of extra seats in the Assembly – but when the foundations are built on a false appreciation of and hostility to the Welsh people, then don’t be surprised when Labour are still rooted in power for the foreseeable future without any credible challenge at Cardiff Bay.