What an incredible election it was, with the Scottish National Party winning 56 out of Scotland’s 59 seats! Without doubt the most amazing election I have watched unfold in some fifty years of following politics. Though partly because of that SNP landslide – plus the collapse of the Liberal Democrats and a swing to the Tories – we now have a Conservative and Unionist Party government in London. But as the incoming government has only one MP in Scotland the SNP is already arguing it has no legitimacy to rule Scotland, so we appear to be heading for the constitutional crisis I predicted in my previous post.
Success for the national party was not replicated here in Wales, even with Plaid Cymru’s much more modest ambitions, for it hoped to hold on to its three seats (Arfon, Dwyfor Meirionnydd and Carmarthen East & Dinefwr) and gain anything up to three other seats (Llanelli, Ceredigion and Ynys Môn). In the event, everything stayed the same, and while Ynys Môn went to a recount the results in Llanelli and Ceredigion showed how unrealistic hopes in those areas were. This despite Plaid’s leader Leanne Wood getting more exposure on television, both in Wales and at UK level than any previous leader. But there’s nothing surprising in Plaid Cymru’s failure, for it’s a party that has worked itself into a position from which it just can’t win.
To begin with, Plaid Cymru has refused to challenge the strategy that is turning large parts of Wales into retirement and recreation areas for England – the strategy that (together with anti-Plaid tactical voting) has probably made Ceredigion now unwinnable at Westminster level – because to do so will bring down upon the party condemnation in the English (and ‘Welsh’) media. In the hope of justifying this wilful neglect of Welsh interests Plaid has to pretend that it can win the support of many of the immigrants, after all, they are now living in Wales so surely they want the best for Wales? No. They remain English, with some becoming more English after moving to Wales. And as Plaid’s candidate in Ceredigion told us, among them are out-and-out racists who see us Welsh as just another inferior people to be ridiculed and shouted at.
The corollary to this desperate desire to be liked (by people who are never going to like us anyway), is that Plaid Cymru has ignored the Welsh people in the areas being colonised. Plaid is now so concerned with avoiding any discussion of white flight, with not offending anyone except Ukip (work that out!), with getting pats on the head from Guardian readers, and with being courted by ‘progressive’ elements, within and without Wales, that it has abandoned it’s raison d’être of defending Welsh interests.
In our urban areas we see the managed decline of the Valleys and the region’s close-on one million people, now offered no better future than becoming dormitory communities for Cardiff. Yet despite a century of decline under Westminster rule, a century of Labour MPs, a century of Labour-controlled local authorities, and a Labour-controlled Notional Assembly for the sixteen years of its existence, people in Blaenau Gwent still elected a Labour MP, and those who wanted an alternative to Labour found Ukip and the Tories more attractive than Plaid Cymru! It was the same in Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney, where Ukip got twice the Plaid vote!
Can we explain this vote for Ukip by the presence of predatory hordes of Poles and Romanians in the Heads of the Valleys taking all the jobs? Or is it attributable to the retired English middle classes, sipping their whisky and sodas up at Dowlais golf club while ranting against Johnny Foreigner? Face it, if Plaid Cymru cannot appeal to voters in areas where just about everyone is Welsh-identifying then where, outside of the shrinking redoubts of the Welsh language, does it have any chance?
This is an incredible and self-destructive position for any political party to have worked itself into. To take for granted your rural heartlands, that are being overrun before your eyes (and in the process, destroying Welsh as a community language) yet, paradoxically, still manage to be rejected by most voters outside those heartlands because they view you as a party only concerned with the Welsh language! This is a party with no future.
Something else we learnt from this election (and the EU election last year) is that the myth of ‘Socialist Wales’ is dead. Wales may have been ‘socialist’ when most of us worked in heavy industry, but this should now be seen as the passing phase it was, with our fathers as victims of circumstance motivated by self-interest rather than ideological socialists. And now ‘Socialist Wales’ is gone. The only socialists left belong to 57 fringe groups . . . and Plaid Cymru. The Labour Party is no longer socialist, so why is Plaid Cymru still flogging this long-expired equine? The clarion call of socialism was rejected by those who voted Labour, and rejected even more emphatically by those who voted Tory and Ukip.
Let us look at one result from last Thursday in an area with which I am familiar. Admittedly the Gower constituency contains Mumbles and the eponymous peninsula, which are relatively affluent areas, but the bulk of the seat’s population is to be found in former industrial suburbs to the west and north of Swansea, towns and villages such as Waunarlwydd, Gowerton, Penclawdd, Gorseinon, Clydach, Pontarddulais. I’ve worked in Waunarlwydd, Gowerton and Clydach; I have sunk many a pint in Penclawdd, Gorseinon and ‘Y Bont’. That these thoroughly Welsh communities would be represented by a Tory MP would have been unthinkable thirty years ago. But it’s happened, because the world has moved on . . . but not Plaid Cymru.
How do we explain this self-destructive streak? I believe that at the core of Plaid Cymru there is an influential grouping that has beguiled others into rejecting what it chooses to term ‘narrow nationalism’, and persuaded the party to pursue a more ‘inclusive’ and ‘progressive’ agenda. Am I wrong? Just ask yourself, why was doing a deal with the Greens such a major issue in the run-up to the election? I read more about that than I did of any hopes and ambitions Plaid has for Wales. But a confident national party shouldn’t have to worry about the votes of a few thousand lifestyle migrants and hippies, very few of whom would vote for Plaid even if there was a joint candidate in their constituency. (An unsettling truth we first learnt from Mel Witherden, the Green-Plaid candidate for Monmouth back in 1992.)
Clearly, what ‘narrow nationalism’ means is focusing on Welsh issues, something that gives Plaid Cymru nightmares after the kicking given to Ieuan Wyn Jones by Glenys Kinnock on Question Time some years ago over l’affaire Seimon Glyn, Gwilym ab Ioan et al. But Plaid Cymru only operates in Wales, so not to focus on specifically Welsh issues is perverse. Attempts then have to be made to disguise this bizarre strategy by desperately trying to put a ‘Welsh interpretation’ on issues or concerns that emanate from outside of Wales. Hugging Nicola Sturgeon and the Green woman is great television, being ‘anti-austerity’ is a good slogan, but at the end of the day it’s just idle posturing. Being ‘anti-austerity’ is attractive to Plaid because it’s a cross-border issue allowing it to line up with other ‘progressives’ while avoiding Welsh issues. (I hate that fucking word, and the smug, self-satisfied superiority it conveys. ‘Ooo, look at me, I’m “progressive”, but you’re not’. Maybe those who find the word so attractive should be reminded that it was much-loved by Joe Stalin.)
If I’m wrong about these machinations then someone needs to explain how a political party whose raison d’être is Wales and Welshness consistently refuses to defend Welsh interests. I ask because it doesn’t matter how many Mike Parkers the party attracts the vast majority of English people in Wales – ‘progressive’ or not – are never, ever going to vote for Plaid Cymru. The party’s votes will only ever come from Welsh people, and until the party acknowledges this inescapable truth, and becomes brave enough to speak out for Welsh people, and to take the flak that an anti-colonialist programme will draw, then Plaid Cymru will remain as popular as a pork butcher in Jerusalem.