I didn’t vote in the European elections yesterday. In fact, this was the first time ever that I failed to vote in an election. Previously, I had always voted Plaid Cymru at Assembly, Westminster and European elections (there’s rarely a Plaid candidate for local elections). I got a bit twitchy as the ten o’clock deadline approached, but after a good night’s sleep I felt much better, like I’d finally rid myself of a bad habit. So why did I do it?
To begin with – and as readers of this blog will know – I don’t really support Plaid Cymru, I haven’t supported the party for decades. I don’t believe in Plaid Cymru, it’s policies, its leaders, its anything. Which means that since I lost faith in the party I have been voting Plaid Cymru for the wrong reasons: 1/ Because there is no real alternative and 2/ Because I hoped that my vote, and the votes of others like me, would help Plaid Cymru to be viewed – in England – as ‘the voice of Welsh nationalism’ and might therefore get Wales a better deal. But the first reason is totally negative and the second is nonsense, because anyone who studies Plaid Cymru for ten minutes knows that far from being a threat to the constitutional status quo it is actually one of its pillars.
So why did I make the decision at this time? In a word, or if you prefer, an acronym, Ukip. The rise and rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party posed a threat to Plaid Cymru’s European seat and this resulted in social media being alive with desperate pleas to ‘vote Plaid to stop Ukip / Tories / Labour getting a second seat which, again, is a very negative reason for voting for any party, and no better than Labour’s message at every election: ‘(Ignore our appalling record and) send a message to London by voting Labour’. In addition, I was being told that Liberal Democrats I’d never heard of, and equally unknown Greens, were heeding this call and being collectively described as “progressive elements”. Jesus! “progressive elements”; now there’s a truly chilling phrase, from the same Stalinist lexicon as ‘freedom-loving peoples’, ‘enemy of the people’ and all the other phrases earlier generations came to love. Knowing I’d be on the same side as these ‘progressive elements’ was another reason to finally break with Plaid. (Those unfamiliar with my views on Liberal Democrats and Greens should either scroll down to Wales Euro Election 2014: Runners and Riders or click on the link.)
I’m writing this before the Euro results are declared, I can do this because the actual result is irrelevant to my decision, and to my feelings towards Plaid Cymru. Which can be summed up quite simply – Plaid Cymru is a complete and utter failure. It first lost its way a few decades ago when it turned its back on Welsh issues to adopt some flavour-of-the-month left-liberalism. (This happened around the same time as I have always believed the party was compromised.) The death-knell was rung when it decided that discussion of our survival as a nation was a taboo subject following the mauling received by Councillor Seimon Glyn in the English media, and the humiliation dished out to party leader Ieuan Wyn Jones by Glenys Kinnock on Question Time. (Here’s a report.) Which means that the colonisation of Wales, and our inevitable assimilation into England, is off the agenda . . . of a ‘national’ party!
On the purely political front, Plaid Cymru has now reached a ‘plateau’ on the lower slopes of electoral success from which it is incapable of advancing and will, before long, and inevitably, start sliding back. At the European level, this ‘plateau’ means 1 seat or no seat (of four); at Westminster level; 2 – 5 seats (of 40); and in the Assembly 8 – 18 AMs (of 60). The reason for the inevitability of Plaid’s demise lies in the fact that its support is concentrated in those areas – largely Welsh speaking – targetted for social engineering. The English immigrants to these areas won’t vote Plaid, and the diminishing percentage of Welsh in these areas’ populations will soon realise that Plaid has failed them. Couple these painful realities with the ‘breakthrough in the south’ never materialising and it should become obvious to all that time is running out for Plaid Cymru.
Over almost fifty years of political activism of one kind or another I have heard all sorts of theories, been made all kinds of offers, and been involved in some pretty weird shit myself, but the more I think about the abject failure of Plaid Cymru the more I remember something I heard that, with hindsight, and looking at the state of Wales and Welsh politics, makes sense, of a kind.
The suggestion was that it might have been better for Wales if Plaid Cymru had never been formed. Because then, Labour would have taken on the mantle of Wales’ defender and been able to do a much better job without accusations of being ‘nationalist’. (I am of course talking here of the Welsh Labour Party of S. O. Davies, Cledwyn Hughes, James Griffiths, Gwilym Prys Davies, Elystan Morgan et al.) Also because it has widespread support across the country and could form a government in London. But as things stand today, Labour – and especially at Westminster level – often takes up positions inimical to Wales’ best interests almost to spite Plaid Cymru and to avoid being seen – or accused of – ‘making concessions to nationalism’. While Plaid, stuck on its ‘plateau’, will never achieve its objectives yet blocks the emergence of a genuine nationalist party. The worst of all possible worlds.
The real irony is that Labour’s vote in the south, the vote Plaid needs to become the biggest party in Wales, has never been solid. In many cases it is a vote Labour gains due solely to the absence of an attractive alternative of the kind the SNP is, but Plaid Cymru is not. Earlier this year I posted a piece on an opinion poll that showed most people, even Labour voters, were dissatisfied with Labour’s running of Wales – yet most of them still intended to vote Labour. Today I read that Ukip is set to become the second party in the Heads of the Valleys region, because Welsh working class men find Ukip more attractive than Plaid Cymru. Clearly, much of Labour’s southern vote is there for the taking . . . but not by a party with all the appeal of Sinn Féin on the Shankill Road!
Plaid Cymru should now do the honest thing. It should admit that it has been a miserable failure. Concede that it will never become a national party. Then it should apologise for wasting everybody’s time for the past ninety years and promise to disband so that a genuinely national party can arise.
But no. Instead, Plaid Cymru plans to enter into a formal coalition with the Green Party of Englandandwales. With a single stroke of tactical genius Plaid’s leaders not only prove me wrong but guarantee my future support. Where do I join? (Hope I don’t get trampled in the rush.)