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Leanne Wood – an independent leadership

It was standing room only at the Pick and Shovel Club in Ammanford for the formal launch of Leanne Wood’s campaign for the leadership of Plaid Cymru. The former miners’ club provided a solid Welsh working class reference point for Wood’s own political background, and she recalled formative impressions, made 20 years before, in the same club, at a commemoration of  International Brigade members and the fight against Franco’s fascists.

The venue was also appropriate as Plaid Cymru has been actively rejuvenating community pubs and clubs, formerly the province of Labour and the unions, all round Wales.

So the launch message, in this first week of the year, was of education, self-advancement, community and culture – a politically literate people, building from the grassroots to reground the Welsh values of ‘collectivism’ and ‘communityism’.

That history, and these values encourage her to take on the challenges of life in Wales today – people without food and heating, more and more without safe and secure homes, while the 1% live on in luxury.

On these foundations she brought in the ‘I’ word: independence. Both she and her first sponsor, MP Jonathan Edwards of Carmarthen, leaned heavily on the SNP’s electoral successes in Scotland, where Labour has provided a much easier Blairite target for populist policies. The SNP has stood to the left of Scottish Labour on many issues and has been rewarded by the electorate.

In Wales, Plaid is self-critical for its dalliance in coalition with a Labour Party that, under Rhodri Morgan, retained a modicum of ‘clear red water’ against Westminster and just held on to Assembly power, despite the British electoral disaster. Plaid was seriously damaged, losing both seats and leading campaigners.

Wood avoided the rightist anti-Labour rhetoric that currently dominates Plaid’s media work – and also satisfies Plaid’s Labour-alienated left. In the week when Labour’s Liam Byrne launched his ‘Welfare Reform’, barely distinguishable from the Tories; when Twigg set about education in a similar vein, and when Dianne Abbott’s loose but innocuous tweet was met by Labour with cringing apologies instead of forthright anti-racist defence, Leanne could have made more of the opportunity to put Plaid firmly at the forefront of the growing numbers that want to see politicians stand up to all this Tory tosh, lead the fight for jobs and against the cuts. She has already prepared the ground with her vigorous campaigning and her ‘Greenprint for the Valleys’, a serious attempt to move towards a ‘green economy’ in Wales.

If independence is the answer, then that is how it will be built. Nationalism won’t win; policies for Wales will. That is why the Welsh powers’ referendum was such a success and why Plaid’s turn away from these co-operative successes with the better side of Labour, and towards nationalism, has reaped a poor harvest. Despite their legitimate enthusiasm for the SNP, Plaid has missed the fact that in Scotland, the SNP’s success has been built on left-populism (too frightening for Scottish Labour) and putting ‘independence’ on the back burner.

There is a great debate to have about the nature of independence, beyond devolution, but one thing is for sure. People in Scotland and Wales have made clear to their parties that last thing they want is Tories. Politicians that start to come to terms with the substance of that, will be the ones that deserve to lead our political parties, and Leanne Wood is well versed on that ground.

Gordon Gibson

Nominations for Plaid Cymru leadership are now open and voting will take place in March. There are three others standing: another woman, Elin Jones AM, (Lord) Dafydd Elis Thomas AM, and Simon Thomas AM.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. a pleasing and accurate summing up of leanne’s launch gordon….and encouraging that progresive non plaid individuals like yourself were present..as a key plus of someone like leanne campaigning for the leadership of plaid cymru will be to reach out to ordinary people in wales who are deeply worried about the re-emergence of a confident ruthless thatcherite tory party at westminister but who at the same time see no hope in the shape of milliband’s welfare recipient hating labour ….or carwyn’s jones apparently comatose welsh labour either!

    But there are however a couple of things i must take issue with you on. You write ‘plaid’s turn towards nationalism reaped a poor harvest”. Gordon plaid’s principal aim is full self government for wales. To play that down would be to be dishonest with welsh voters and render plaid virtually indistinguishable from welsh labour. Also far from ‘putting independence on the back burner’ the SNP has been enthusiastic in posting notice that there wil be a referendum on scotland leaving the uk within the lifetime of this scottish parliament.

    You’re right to say that “there’s a debate to be had about the nature of independence beyond devolution” and that debate is already taking place.
    The candidacy for the leadership of plaid of a committed socialist, republican and advocate of independence like leanne wood should perhaps be seen as a development of this debate. While in scotland polls are showing 90 percent support for so called ‘devo-max’ whereby all but defence issues would be governed by the scottish parliament with a smaller figure, but nonetheless a majority of scots, supporting outright independence.

    Should the people of scotland vote yes to independence as well as ending the existence of the uk as a political state i suspect such a development would sharply concentrate the minds of many in wales as they face up to the grim prospect of remaining in a ‘union’ with england that would have an in built and permanent tory majority! So there can be no question that a vote for independence in scotland will have a tumultuous effect on politics in wales too!

    When ron davies famously and memorably commented that “devolution is a process and not an event” how right he was..and that process appears to be heading in only one direction!

    January 8, 2012
    • Thanks Leigh. Your contribution is very welcome.
      We certainly hope that Leanne’s candidacy will promote a vigorous discussion in the pages of Celyn and elsewhere on the independence debate. Even more, we hope her candidacy will help galvanise Welsh action againnst the Tory coalition and its policies.
      You slightly get ahead of yourself with the likely impact in Wales of a Scottish ‘yes’ vote on independence. Let’s see what the vote is about first, then how people vote. The SNP is playing a very slick game and I’m afraid you are not correct about how they have dealt with the independence issue. Only recently have they enjoyed the better terrain on which to permit ‘independence’ to reemerge. They have been much more coy than you suggest.
      Even now, they are still playing with words, devo-max being one formulation, ‘everything but defence’, another. For me, ‘clear red water’ still provides the most solid foundation for ‘degrees of independence’. For some in Plaid, independence is the starting point. For me, the starting point is the fight against finance capital, austerity, the EU bloc, the attack on the NHS, education, housing and the welfare state, the threat of war on Iran; against the Tories. If that means building on the gains of devolution, I can run with that.

      January 8, 2012

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