Why am I in favour of keeping Leanne Wood as Plaid Cymru leader?
It’s important to note at the beginning that I’m not in favour of Leanne because I’m against Rhun or Adam. Both of them are capable, and substantial politicians and are great assets to Plaid Cymru and to politics in Wales. I’m glad to work with them and know them as friends and fellow party members.
I’m not a ‘Leannite’ either, since Plaid Cymru is not a one-person party — we, the members, are Plaid Cymru. I’m a Plaid member.
I support Leanne for tactical political reasons, and I believe, because of my interpretation of politics, that Leanne is the most likely to ensure that Plaid forms a Government that will in turn lead us to independence.
Three ways towards independence
There are three ways, as far as I can see, of achieving our aim of becoming an independent sovereign state in our own right:
1) An armed revolution;
2) The British Parliament, under pressure from England, decides to get rid of Wales because we’re too much of a burden to them and too much of a nuisance;
3) Wales demands its independence by means of the ballot box.
It will be no surprise to those of you who know me that I’m not in favour of the first option ( I’m a pacifist!). But the truth is that Wales has never supported this option either, since, apart from actions by the MAC and some other individuals in the middle of the last century, Wales has on the whole used peaceful methods of attaining its political aims.
Maybe indeed England may decide to ‘give’ us our independence following the departure of Scotland and the 6 Counties of Northern Ireland. Maybe the chorus from England about the parasitic nature of Wales — living off the fat of England (nonsense of course) — will be enough to mean that England wants to get rid of Wales. We’ll see.
The most likely route towards independence is that we demand it through political means — the ballot box. Or, to be more accurate, through several ballot boxes.
Because before reaching the date of an independence referendum (and it will come) it’s necessary first to have a government that’s willing to legislate so as to provide that referendum.
The referendum can come through the agreement of the state government, as happened in Scotland in 2014, or as a consultative referendum without the agreement of the state but through the hands of the devolved Government, as occurred in Catalunya. Either way, it needs a government in Cardiff Bay that wants it to happen.
Until now, the only political party that has shown the readiness to do this is Plaid Cymru. Every other party elected at every level in Wales is a unionist party, which opposes independence for Wales.
Plaid Cymru in Government
The truth is, if we want to see Wales gaining its independence, then first we must ensure that Plaid Cymru leads the Welsh Government.
But how can this be achieved?
On the one hand, it’s a matter of basic mathematics — how many votes need to be won; who is likely to lend Plaid their vote; and how can these people be brought out to vote on election day.
The same is true also on the ‘independence’ question — when referendum day arrives, it will need 50% + 1 votes to win (unless it is a multiple choice referendum, which is quite likely).
As Paul Kavanagh, the ‘Wee Ginger Dug’ blogger, said in Caernarfon this week, “We only need a simple majority. We don’t have to please all of the people”.
To this end, Leanne Wood is quite right: it’s a matter of hard work. It needs people going out, walking the streets and collecting information. We need to knock doors and talk to people.
What is obvious, as Cai Larsen has previously noted, is that the majority of voters who are likely to vote for Plaid Cymru have, historically, voted for Labour. The same is true in Scotland, and of course what has happened there is that it is mainly Labour voters, together with new voters, who have gone over to SNP. Only a very small number of Tory voters have transferred to the SNP.
Note than in 2010, 1,035,028 voted for Labour in Scotland. Of this total vote, Labour kept over half, but ten times more Labour voters voted for the SNP than voted for the Tories. Almost a third of their voters (over 300,000) turned to SNP. Only 3% went over to the Tories.
Now, what would be the response if the SNP had announced they were ready to go into coalition with the Tories? Would these Labour voters have gone over to the SNP, with Labour shouting loudly ‘Vote SNP, get Tory!’? It’s pretty clear that the word ‘toxic’ is completely appropriate for the Tories in Wales as it is in Scotland.
In the same way in Wales in 1999, all the anecdotal evidence shows that it was traditional Labour voters who gave their votes to Plaid Cymru at that time
The most dramatic results of all were Plaid’s victories in Islwyn, Rhondda and Llanelli, all previously rock-solid Labour seats. At Islwyn, Neil Kinnock’s former constituency, the nationalists’ vote rose by a huge 35.7 per cent, which propelled it from fourth to first place. In Rhondda, Wayne David, Euro MP and Mr Blair’s favourite to become leader of the assembly if Mr Michael lost, was beaten into second place, falling victim to a swing of 35.4 per cent towards Plaid.
In North Wales, Plaid quadrupled its vote to take Conwy from Labour.
Other swings towards the nationalists among industrial seats in the south were: Cynon Valley 31.9 per cent, Neath 27.6 per cent and Pontypridd 26.8 per cent. Conversely, Labour lost 34.7 per cent of its general election votes in Islwyn, 33.9 per cent in Rhondda, 32.7 per cent in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, 31.1 per cent at Torfaen and 29.8 per cent in Swansea East.
If you look at the support for independence, which is Plaid Cymru’s raison d’etre, we see, according to the opinion polls that the potential for support comes mainly from Labour voters. In the Yes Cymru opinion poll held in May 2017, over half of Tory voters were completely opposed to independence. On a scale of 0–10, with 0 being totally opposed and 10 totally supportive, 51% of Tories gave their score as 0 – totally opposed. Only 12% of Conservatives had a favourable opinion (score of 6–10). However, 29% of Labour supporters had a favourable attitude towards independence. When these supporters were asked to imagine that the Conservatives would regain power (before the 2017 election) 44% Labour supporters expressed that they would have a favourable attitude towards independence, with over 1 in 5 totally supportive.
It is perfectly clear that the Tories have no interest in Wales, or in the constitutional future of Wales. It is obvious also that Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives have nothing in common. Very few Conservative voters come over to Plaid. There are some exceptions of course, but on the whole the beliefs of Plaid are alien to Conservative voters.
It is wise, therefore, to state here and now that Plaid Cymru has no intention of making any kind of coalition with the Conservatives.
A Presidential Campaign
A number of the people who read this article will be people who take an interest in politics. But the majority of people pay very little attention to politics in their daily life. I remember one politician telling me that being a Member of Parliament was similar to being a third division footballer — about the same level of pay and about the same level of recognition.
Political ‘Brand recognition’ — familiarity with the person — is extremely rare and very, very valuable. This is why British politics is becoming more and more like the Presidential politics of the USA. People identify with the leader more than with the political party. This is evidenced today by the growth of Corbyn. Many voters think that they’re voting for him, though the majority of MPs who benefit from their votes oppose Corbyn and his politics!
All evidence shows that Leanne Wood is one of the most identifiable politicians in Wales. She, together with Carwyn Jones, are indeed the two most recognizable politicians. Nobody else comes close to them in terms of recognition.
According to the opinion poll held in March this year, 27% of Welsh electors said they had no opinion on Carwyn Jones (i.e. they did not know enough about him), with almost a quarter of Labour supporters failing to express an opinion about him!
Over half of the electors said they had no opinion on Andrew RT Davies, though he had been leader of the Conservatives, h the accompanying public platform, since 2011. The level of recognition of his successor will be tiny. 70% of Welsh electors said they had no opinion about the likely successor to Carwyn Jones, Mark Drakeford — though he’s been a high profile Cabinet Secretary since 2012!
Compare this with the response to Leanne Wood, with only 31% unable to express an opinion, and 36% of Labour electors having a favourable opinion about her (45% of Labour electors had a favourable opinion of Carwyn Jones).
(At this point it’s also worth noting the response of Plaid Cymru electors to Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May, with 67% of Plaid Cymru voters holding unfavourable attitudes towards Theresa May, and 39% with unfavourable attitudes towards Corbyn).
Lack of Recognition
In the opinion poll held in June this year, people were asked who would be the best of Carwyn Jones’ potential successors. 65% of those who responded said they didn’t know, with another 17% supporting none of them. Mark Drakeford gained only 3% and Vaughan Gething 4%.
This is amazing! Compare it with the figures for Leanne Wood, above.
At a time when every other party is divided and will have new leaders that no one knows anything about, we have the most recognizable politician, who is umiversally liked, and appeals greatly to the range of voters that we need to win over. Getting rid of Leanne in my opinion would be foolish and irresponsible. I know she isn’t to everyone’s taste— who is? But if we’re serious about gaining power, and forming a government in order to have a referendum on our independence, then we must take advantage of every political weapon we have.
The evidence is clear. There’s no doubt that Leanne Wood is one of our most effective political assets.
With another leader instead of Leanne, we would have to start again to build recognition and a national profile. The truth is that the platform doesn’t exist between now and 2021 to allow us to build this recognition.
The reason that people drink Coca-Cola and not Panda Cola is because they’re familiar with the brand. There’s little difference between the ingredients.
Winning in 2021
Winning the election in 2021 will be difficult enough anyway, but it will be even more difficult with a new, unfamiliar leader; but this election offers a much better opportunity for us with Leanne, a leader who is likeable, well-known and credible.
Lastly, with Brexit rapidly approaching and destroying everything that comes within a hundred miles of it, Plaid Cymru must show consistency and leadership. We have the opportunity to show we are a credible, united party with an experienced leader at the helm to lead us through stormy waters. The other two main parties will have new leaders, who will have to spend much of their time getting their new cabinets into shape, and familiarity with their roles and responsibilities. Voters will see disorder and uncertainty.
By keeping Leanne Wood we can present a picture of confidence and experience — features that are key for anyone who intends to form a Government and to win the support of voters.
There is no point debating differences in policy—the membership is sovereign in this matter. The three candidates should be saying the same things.
It is a tactical question, and in my mind it’s fairly clear: Leanne Wood must be kept as leader so as to give the best possible opportunity for us to be able to form a Government in 2021.