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11th August 2008

Silence is not an option

In the busy process-obsessed world of modern politics, parties have little time and space to think, discuss and debate their future direction, so it’s good that Plaid too is having its own little summer of introspection.  Cynog is right, of course, to express his concerns - which will be shared by many of the older generation in the party.  These are familiar arguments, of course, which were aired at the time of the debate in the 2003 conference where the party adopted the term ‘independence’ as a description of our long-term constitutional objective for the first time.  Our objective of Welsh membership of the United Nations always implied that we were in favour of independence (though techically there are a small number of UN members that are freely associated members of other states rather than fully independent) but we always dressed it up in different language:  ’full self-government’, ‘full national status’ and the like.  As Professor Richard Wyn Jones has commented, clarity as far as its constitutional aims has never been one of Plaid’s strongest suits.

2003 for me was a huge step forward in the evolution of the party into becoming a serious political party with a clear political programme - short, medium and long-term - not some vague evanescence of ‘Welsh values’.  That is not to say that we should not be ‘political realists’; Cynog is right to stress that to function as a political movement we have to be relevant in the here-and-now.  Welsh independence will not form a central plank of Plaid’s Westminster general election nor 2011 Assembly campaigns (though it will have some relevance to next year’s European elections) for that reason. We cannot, however, maintain a policy of dignified silence as far as our long-term vision for the future of Wales for two over-riding reasons:

i.  Quite simply if we don’t talk about our ultimate aim, then our political opponents will.  Better for us to lead the debate than constantly be on the defensive.

ii.  We need to create a new generation of nationalists.  We do that through presenting clear arguments as to why our vision of an independent Wales offers the greatest opportunity for social progress and prosperity. 

As far as the referendum is concerned, it is vitally important that we make it clear that while we support a Yes vote, the Government of Wales Act 2006 - full of inconsistencies and weaknesses as it is - is not our policy.   That is why last time around in 1997 Dafydd Wigley, as President of Plaid, published a paper calling for a multi-option referendum, including Plaid’s policy of independence in-all-but-name.  If we are open and honest about our ultimate aims then people will respect us even if they disagree.  I fear that any attempts, however well-meaning,  to obscure our nationalism in order to avoid ’frightening the horses’ would be seen as devious at a time when honest politics is at a premium.

9 Responses to “Silence is not an option”

  1. alanindyfed says:
    August 11th, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    Plaid has to be unequivocal in its call for independence. Scotland never prevaricates but is always resolute and clear and will surely gain the prize. Gwynfor was clear when I spoke to him in 1960 - a “nation among nations”, with an empty seat at the UN between Venezuela and Yemen.
    We must be forthright in our aim and be outspoken and unequivocal in approach, as Helen Mary was in her recent press release. Plaid should state its aims honestly and openly, loud and clear, and as you say the party will gain in respect.

  2. John Tyler says:
    August 12th, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    Where just one voter elected to reject Independence, would that be sufficient to fail a referendum on Independence for Wales?

    I have also asked this question of Bethan.

  3. Griff says:
    August 13th, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    Whilst I agree there is a need to clarify Plaid’s policy re Independence, work needs to be done on the presentation of the policy, and the fact that it would only be achieved when the majority of the people of Wales are in favour, and ready for Independence.

    It is important that it does not appear as a policy that would be forced on the people of Wales by Plaid.

  4. John Tyler says:
    August 17th, 2008 at 7:39 am

    If the majority of the people of Wales voted for Independence, what would happen to the minority?

  5. JonHowes says:
    August 18th, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    Adam is right, if Plaid does not make it absolutely clear what our goals are and how we intend to achieve them, for two reasons:-

    Firstly it allows our opponents to define our goals in the public eye and leaves us on the back foot forever saying “That’s not what we mean!”

    Secondly the public will not believe we can achieve our aims and we will be marginalised as extremists or the ‘lunatic fringe’

    I suspect we will only ever get one chance for a referendum on an independant Wales and the only way to get people behind us is to present our policies and plans clearly in an easy to understand and impossible to misconstrue manner without attempting to hide our ultimate goal.

  6. MimosaCymru says:
    August 29th, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    As a lifelong Plaid supporter, I obviously support the aim of independence and the clarity with which that aim is currently stated.

    For me the discussion on how that aim is presented is currently moot because the Welsh electorate in general:

    - See no reason for independence


    - See no reasonable grounds upon which an independent Welsh nation could exist (economically or politically).

    Comparisons with Ireland and Scotland are wide of the mark because the sense of cultural oppression or political/economic suppression are felt so much less here in Wales. From the field of business to the sports field, the majority of people in Wales seem to feel Welsh but consider themselves ‘British’. In many senses, the battle has been lost for Welsh independence based on historical reasons.

    For me, the only way to meet the objective of independence is to start a new battle. Not based on historical reasons - because, let’s face it, only a small percentage of the Welsh are actually aware of them - but instead based on a new vision for a new Wales. We need to build the need and hunger for independence from the ground up over the long term whilst developing the mechanics of state. We’re not ready for an independence referendum in the next 10 years (as the Scots are) because, quite simply, we have not got the institutions and leaders capable of a) delivering a ‘Yes’ vote or b) delivering a stable and progressing nation.

    Ironically, it is the British who have already sown the seeds that could grow into this future - our ‘nationhood’ within the UK in the 1950s, our flag, devolution - it’s up to the representatives of Plaid to persuade the electorate to follow them and elect people who will work toward this vision even if it can not be delivered upon in our own lifetimes.

  7. John Tyler says:
    August 29th, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    MimosaCymru, I might vote for you, your eloquence is outstanding, your understanding of Wales and the Welsh is poetry, Adam Price might like to engage you.

  8. MimosaCymru says:
    September 1st, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    Plaid needs to undertake a long-term campaign of education, persuasion and very intelligent arguments which illuminate the benefits of independence, whilst not shying away from the fact successfully achieving independence would not be painless.

    Most of all, I can’t stress how important I think the future is in all this. Many people I know think that ideas of Welsh independence are ridiculous and based on fantasy. I came across this quotation today that sums up how some feel about Plaid:

    “The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is, in fact, a return to the idealised past.”

    In some ways I think that criticism of that kind is justified - most Welsh nationalists see some element of historical redress in the matter. The most persuasive argument (for real people in the real world) needs to be one about the future - what opportunities could a new, free Wales create?! We don’t exactly have a blank canvas (with plenty of economic and social problems) but we do have significant potential.

    That’s not to say that I think Plaid MPs and AMs should start saying “If we were independent then…” left, right and centre. I think we’re still 10-20 years shy of that point. But if Labour lose the next UK election and a Tory administration starts to take umbrage with Assembly practice - that’s when seeds can be sown. The Welsh electorate might be more persuaded to act if they resent being directed by a Tory PM. I also have a suspicion that the Welsh MPs who are currently fighting tooth and nail to stop more powers being transferred to the Assembly from Westminster might come unstuck when they realise that, as of 2010, there’s a much better chance of Labour influencing policy in Cardiff than in London (having said that, Plaid might not need a coalition if Labour’s support continues to crumble). Plaid needs to engineer its own opportunities to strengthen the need for independence as well as taking advantage of situations beyond its control.

    For me, creating a positive and powerful vision of the future is the key to unlocking Wales’ potential as an independent state and I think Plaid should be overtly working towards that. Getting the numbers to add up and the policies right requires a number of intelligent, informed and astute individuals and I think the question is: ‘Do we have enough people like that on board?’

  9. MimosaCymru says:
    September 1st, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    (John, thanks for your comment though I must admit that I don’t think others would be so kind.)

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