Thursday, 18 May 2017

What's the vision?

One of the consistent themes on this blog is about whether political parties should be leading or merely following public opinion.  The former involves having and setting out a clear vision about the sort of future they want to see and trying to persuade or lead people to follow; the latter is more of a beauty contest, with parties saying much the same thing and arguing about which has the best team to deliver on the popular policies.  The second scenario does not necessarily mean that all policies are identical; there’s still some scope to appeal to different demographics and groups, but in essence, much of the core will look essentially similar, and election campaigns will concentrate on ability to deliver.
In some ways, this election looks like something of an exception.  Jeremy Corbyn seems to be trying to articulate a different set of values and priorities in a way which Labour has not really attempted for decades.  Indeed, that is precisely his biggest sin in the eyes of many of his party’s MPs, who are much more comfortable with the beauty contest style of politics.  The Tories, on the other hand, seem increasingly prepared to say anything which they think might be popular, and to concentrate all their efforts on trying to prove that an automaton is better qualified to implement them than a thoughtful man who actually wants to consider the facts first.
Here in Wales, this dichotomy between the two approaches is a particular problem for Plaid.  The party that I joined in 1971 was, unquestionably, a party which had a vision for a different future for Wales and set out to convince people about that future.  The Plaid contesting next month’s general election seems to be much more in the second camp.  The idea that Plaid might actually be better at defending Wales than the Labour Party has the advantage of probable truth, but ‘we’re more anti-Tory than Labour’ isn’t much of a vision for the future, and seems to me to be playing to an interpretation of Welsh politics which is increasingly divergent from contemporary reality.
At the core of the party’s appeal for this election is the idea that Plaid is the only party that will put the interests of Wales ahead of its own interests, yet that doesn’t always seem to be supported by the detail.  According to this report from BBC Wales’ political editor, Plaid has now accepted that Brexit is inevitable, and a Plaid insider told him that ‘they felt there were no votes to be gained by re-fighting last year's battle’.  As an assessment of the probability of garnering votes on this particular issue at this particular time, I’d agree with that conclusion.  It’s the same problem being faced by the Lib Dems in trying to appeal to voters on the issue – their promise of a second referendum seems to be making little impact. 
The question for me, though, is not about whether it would win votes but about where the best interests of Wales lie.  If someone really believes that the best interests of Wales lie in membership of the European Union, shouldn’t they be making the case for that outcome when given the opportunity, even if less than half the population agree with them?  That does not preclude attempting to influence the nature of any Brexit deal in the interim, nor seeking to maximise any opportunities which may exist, but it does require having and presenting a clear vision about what sort of Wales they want to see, and how they see Wales’ place in the world.
And that brings us to the question of independence.  For sure, the word is given more prominence than has been the case for some years now, with a clear statement right on the first page that “It remains our ambition for Wales to become an independent nation”; but the detail of what independence actually means in a post-Brexit world is conspicuous by its absence.  For decades, the word has been synonymous with ‘full membership of the EU’; but for a party accepting Brexit it must now mean something else.  And if I, as a long-term independentista, don’t know what that is and am unsure about supporting it, what chance of convincing the rest of Wales?  But then, there are even fewer votes to be gained by promoting independence than in opposing Brexit - which brings us right back to the question of what politics should be about.


Davies said...

Great post. The independence movement in Wales seem fragmented in their ideas of how an independent Wales would operate. There seems to be no coherent vision.

Of course that didn't stop Brexit!

Anonymous said...

Kill off the debate about 'the language' and 90% of people living in Wales would vote for independence tomorrow.

Unfortunately the 10% that live and breathe 'the language' will never let this happen. And so independence will never happen.

It's all so simple, we all know it but no-body wants to shout it out loud.

Perhaps you should start shouting .............. but only if it is really what you want.

John Dixon said...


And your evidence for any of those assertions is...? Silly question, I know - anti-Welsh language prejudice requires no evidence. And, in breach of the usual rule about politicians' statistics, in your case, it seems safe to assume that 100% of them are the result of pure invention.

Anonymous said...

John Dixon 10:48

Once again you choose to shout 'anti Welsh language prejudice' before the discussion has hardly started. It seems this is far more important to you than independence for Wales. And I suspect you are in the clear majority when it comes to other Welsh speakers too.

Until we can nail this matter by full and frank discussion 'the language' issue will continue to halt any march towards independence.You know this and I know this. And we both know that Plaid Cymru is a party for 'the language', not a party in search of independence for Wales.

So, how would you suggest we progress matters?

John Dixon said...

One of the problems with allowing people to comment on this blog as 'Anonymous' is that it can be difficult to know when I'm dealing with one person or many. Using a name, or even a consistent pseudonym, makes it a lot easier to be certain about whether a comment is a one-off or part of a series. From style and content, I'm assuming that you're one of those who regularly tries to bring the language into any and every subject, and invariably from a negative perspective, and equally invariably by making sweeping and unsubstantiated assertions.

" 'the language' issue will continue to halt any march towards independence.You know this and I know this. You might think that you 'know' this, but the basis for this mysterious 'knowledge' is unclear to me. I certainly do not 'know', or even believe, any such thing.

"And we both know that Plaid Cymru is a party for 'the language', not a party in search of independence for Wales." Again, this 'knowledge' of yours is unsubstantiated. I think that the problem is a rather different one - Plaid Cymru has become a party which is primarily in search of political power within existing institutions and has lost its way, to a significant extent, on both the language question and the issue of independence. I'd agree that there is a perception that Plaid is more about the language than about anything else, and I'd agree that that perception is an obstacle for as long as Plaid is the only, or the main, vehicle in which people place their hopes and aspirations for independence. But that's a long way from what you're saying. And it's also off-topic on this post.

Spirit of BME said...

I fear I see no Vision in any of the parties, but again the word Vision is badly misused and confused with Mission and Goals.
When you joined Plaid in 1971 – Ah, I remember it well; you could argue that Gwynfor style was based on a Vision that was consistent and forged by his non-conformist chapel upbringing and the principles of Tom Payne. His fight was against the state and its legitimacy and saw all the English parties as guilty of the condition of our country. On the day to day political issues that arose he would throw them against this template and from that he got his mission and goals.
You are right Plaid is hawking around to find some or any formula that might work, but don’t expect any vision, because that would demand a Leadership of far higher quality.