The Plaid leadership debate is now well underway and the most positive aspect so far has been to see Welsh independence being talked about again.
Over the past six years it hasn’t been mentioned much. The Plaid leadership was simply more interested in, what Jonathan Edwards has called, ‘niche issues’ rather than Welsh sovereignty.
This rejection of Welsh nationalism by Plaid has been an abdication of responsibility to our nation, and it must not continue. We need to be upfront with people about our aims for Wales.
Whoever wins, it will be a good time to be leader because the simple truth is that it's such a time of opportunity. Welsh people are in a revolutionary mood. They’ve voted to leave the EU, they gave UKIP large returns in EU elections, they even flirted with the Conservatives in the last UK general election. Voters are prepared to try different parties in pursuit of change. So far that hasn’t included Plaid, but with the right leadership and direction, the opportunity is there.
What Plaid has to start doing is engaging with the people who have been forgotten about. These are the millions of people in Wales who don’t stand out because of what they wear, or their age, their sexual orientation or any other ‘niche’. They’re the backbone of Wales and they’re the people we need on board in order to run the country.
It’s clear to me many Welsh people started to feel forgotten about and soon after that, they felt under threat. That’s not where people need to be in order to vote Plaid and vote for our nation.
What the forgotten masses can see so clearly now is that the establishment looks down on them and works against them. It's Hilary Clinton referring to millions of Americans as deplorable. It's Labour's Emily Thornberry denigrating a house in Rochester for having England flags outside it. Now the establishment is dismissing people as ‘gammon’, a really disgraceful, self-loathing term based on people’s skin colour and lack of some ‘niche’.
The truly wealthy carry on regardless. They developed an economic system in the City of London and they set it up so perfectly that even when they crashed the global financial system they stayed in their jobs and continued to rake in their massive bonuses. If anything they profited even more as ordinary people bailed them out through their hard earned tax money.
Plaid needs to engage more with this profound moment. Austerity has been talked about but that’s the symptom; just trying to get more bandages on an open sore.
But where Plaid has really failed is by being associated with the growing political establishment in Wales. And that’s because at a time when people can see the utter contempt the establishment has for ordinary people, Plaid looks distinctly establishment. That’s quite an achievement for a party that has only been in government, as a junior coalition partner, for 4 of its 93 year history. But this is the price we pay for being so cosy with the Labour party, which is the British establishment in Wales.
Devolution is starting to resemble the exact same British state in Wales. The south east, in general, is now prey to property investors from outside Wales who are buying our houses and then renting them back to us. Labour is allowing our beautiful countryside to be destroyed so that massive housing developers can build unaffordable housing all over it. And it’s as if the rest of Wales doesn’t exist; forgotten about by London and Cardiff. Where is the Plaid leadership when all this is taking place?
I’ve been holding packed public meetings about Labour’s Cardiff Local Development Plan in the last few weeks. People are really concerned about the affect it will have on congestion, on the loss of green fields, on the lack of proper public transport and doctors places.
But it reflects an even bigger problem. I’ve said before at Plaid conference that LDPs are the biggest extraction of wealth out of Wales in modern times. In Cardiff, much of the land is being sold by the Earl of Plymouth. That’s £700 million that will be directed out of our country. And his estate is throwing off the Rees family, who are tenant farmers who had an agreement to be there for three generations.
This situation is absolutely feudal. Welsh tenant farmers being turfed off the land so that aristocracy from England can make hundreds of millions. Meanwhile, the corporate building firms make millions building houses all over our countryside that local people will never be able to afford.
We have two counties now, split between the business and political elite and the forgotten masses. We’ve got to stand up for these people. The great realignment that was kick started with the financial crisis has not been completed. But what’s for certain is that Wales will keep changing and Plaid needs to change.
We could be really pushing to reindustrialise Wales for the 21st Century to give people meaningful work. During the industrial revolution we were the hardest working, most entrepreneurial people on earth and we must get back to that.
Identity politics has its place but our identity and values as a Welsh nation must be paramount. We've got to talk about the things that are actually important to most people in a way that gives us some credibility.
I just don't see the current plaid leadership as a radical force that can do this. It fits so neatly into the Welsh establishment. There are so many Plaid people profiting in the Bay Bubble. They’ve joined the ranks of Labour Apparatchiks and Nomenklatura for an easy life of government money. That makes Plaid so comfortable working with Labour when they are the party we need to beat.
What we don’t need is more distraction. Independence, sovereignty, whatever you want to call it, is radical enough for most people. That's about Welsh people making a real choice to reject the failed neoliberalism that the City of London created by saying Yes to Wales.
This country really needs change. This party really needs change. And this leadership contest is long overdue.