One hugely significant thing which happened at Plaid Cymru’s conference at the start of this month was their new leader, Adam Price, making his first major speech. Members greeted him with applause at the conference in Cardigan before he even began to speak, a clear indication that Price is already popular within the party.
Plaid Cymru Party Conference 2018
Just a week prior to the conference, on the 28th of September, Price won the leadership election. The members of Plaid Cymru are entitled to a vote on the leadership every two years, but this was the first time the previous leader, Leanne Woods, who had held her position since 2012, had been challenged. Despite the tension this could have caused, the party put up a united front: Woods attended the conference with a front row seat at the new leader’s speech, even giving a speech herself, and Price accredited and praised her. This was a nice contrast to the divisions within the Labour and Conservative parties we are so used to hearing about.
As party leader, Price’s ultimate vision for Wales is simple: make Wales a more autonomous nation. Using a phrase which echoed Barack Obama in 2008, he strove to convince his audience ‘yes, Wales can’. He called for a ‘new chapter’ in which Wales controlled itself, and made its own decisions, rather than following rules made by the centralised government at Westminster.
Naturally, Brexit was high on the party’s agenda. Speaking passionately of the historic ties between the Welsh and the Europeans, Price described Brexit for Wales as being ‘on the Titanic, heading for an Iceberg’. His party have vowed to campaign to remain in the European Union. The party have voiced their support for a People’s Vote – a second Brexit referendum – and Price has stressed previously that he would like to see ‘Remain’ on the ballot if that’s what it came down to. The youth branch of the party (Plaid Ifanc) are also campaigning along these lines. Their campaign for votes for 16s ties into this hugely: of course, leaving the EU will have the biggest impact on young people, and for this reason, Plaid Ifanc believe that young people deserve their voices heard. Whether this will be supported by the majority of Welsh people is yet to be discovered: 52.5% of those who voted in Wales opted to leave the European Union in 2016.
Plaid Cymru have also rejected Conservative Secretary of State for Wales Alan Cairns’ plan for a ‘Western Powerhouse’ linking Newport, Cardiff and Bristol, which he said would give the Welsh economy a boost. Instead, if they get into power, Plaid Cymru aim to build their own fast, reliable and modern railway (National Western Rail Line), powered by renewable energy, stretching from Swansea to Bangor. This idea is fitting with the theme that ran throughout Price’s speech; that the Welsh people should be able to shape their country themselves. This will be their ultimate challenge.
Significantly, at the conference, Price assured party members that Plaid Cymru would call an independence referendum if they got into power. His worry is that England and Wales will be tied together indefinitely, and Wales will end up ‘at the mercy of Westminster’, especially in terms of the final Brexit deal. It is unclear at the moment how the Welsh people would feel about this. Polls over the past 5 years have shown that support for complete Welsh independence is very low; however, support for more devolved powers for the assembly is much more popular and this may be a more likely outcome.
All of these ideas are progressive and exciting for Wales, but it’s unclear if and when they will materialise. Wales has traditionally been a Labour heartland, and Welsh Labour are still the biggest party in the Welsh assembly. At the conference, Price spoke passionately about replacing the ‘hundred-year rule’ of Labour in Wales with the government of Plaid Cymru. At the moment, Plaid Cymru is the third biggest party in the Welsh Assembly, but they remain hopeful that they can take over seats in the 2021 elections. In the light of Brexit these are turbulent political days and what will happen next for Plaid Cymru, and for the youth of Wales is anybody’s guess.