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Leanne Wood interview: another Wales is possible

Leanne Wood 2014The annual conference of Plaid Cymru starts tomorrow. Here their leader, Leanne Wood, talks about the Scottish referendum and devolution, questions EVEL (English votes for English Laws) and opposes the evils of austerity. She is interviewed by Socialist Resistance

SR: You were a very high profile and active supporter of the Yes campaign in Scotland. Why did you think it was important to do that?

LW: Scotland’s Yes movement had a clear aim – they wanted the future of their country in their own hands. They wanted to end Tory rule they didn’t vote for and they wanted to be free from the shackles of the broken Westminster system. Had people in Scotland voted yes, an opportunity to break with the 30+ year long neo-liberal consensus would have opened up for many of us outside of Scotland too. While the vote was a matter for people in Scotland, there were wider implications. When I went to Scotland I was able to talk to people about the potential impact for Wales.

SR: Everyone was impressed by the depth, breadth and radicalism of the Yes campaign. What do you think made is so successful?

LW: Two things – it was a grass roots movement and it offered hope that an alternative to austerity and compassion-less, greed and hate based politics.

Because it offered an alternative, the campaign was able to engage empower those who had previously felt marginalised and ignored. The public meetings, the street work, door knocking, online activity and the wide range of creative / artistic active activity made the yes campaign visible and exciting.

It was striking how well informed people were informed and how everyone I spoke to on my visits there had an opinion.  I’ve not experienced anything like this in politics before. It was the polar opposite of the disillusion, disenchantment and disconnectedness that has been growing in politics outside of Scotland for many years.

SR: The Tories’ class instincts kicked in immediately. They reneged on their promises to Scottish voters and used the result to humiliate Labour and steal some of UKIP’s English nationalist ideas. Do you have any views on what a democratic settlement for England might look like?

LW: It was not a great surprise to see “the vow” being backtracked. Promises of “devo max” for Scotland seem to have been kicked into the long grass, yet there has been plenty of talk about “English votes for English laws” – something that was not on the table during the referendum campaign, yet was magicked up an a crucial issue afterwards.

The Westminster establishment is now more concerned about those key marginals in England that will deliver the result in next year’s general election than they care about Scotland, Wales, Ireland or the constitution.

On the face of it, the principle of English votes for English laws (EVEL) should be supported. However, it is not as quite clear cut a question as it is presented. The health service in Wales is devolved as it is in Scotland. Under EVEL, Welsh MPs would be prevented from voting on all matters relating to the English NHS. However, the two health services are linked through budget allocations so that a decision to cut the NHS budget in England would result in a corresponding cut to the Welsh block grant, from which the Welsh NHS in financed. Decisions on financing of the NHS in England are of direct relevance interest for Welsh MPs, so how would the line be drawn?

The future constitutional settlement for England however must be a matter for the people of England.   Likewise, the future constitutional settlement for Wales must be a matter for people here.

SR: Wales has arguably been worse affected by Thatcher’s legacy and neo-liberalism than Scotland has. Where do you think most Plaid Cymru voters are when it comes to the issue of independence? Would they be happy with more devolved powers for the Assembly?

LW: There is demand for greater powers for the National Assembly of Wales, as confirmed by numerous polls.

Whichever party is in charge in Westminster, austerity will continue, services will continue to be lost, people on benefits and immigrants will continue to be scapegoated, divide and rule will carry on.  Whoever wins, Westminster will have a right-wing government in change hell-bent on selling off our public assets. Both the Tories or Labour as signed up to austerity politics and a neo-liberal agenda. In Scotland, where the devolution settlement is much stronger, the Government has been able to afford more protection to its citizens. For example, people there have been shielded from the dreadful bedroom tax.

Wales needs to work towards ending our fiscal dependence so that we can be in a position to have decent public services and social security in the long term.  To do that, more powers combined with and a plan to create decent jobs will be necessary.  Plaid Cymru has been saying this for a long time, but I believe that more people will see the potential merits behind this thinking as austerity bites deeper, as they did in Scotland. The alternative is more austerity and more neo-liberalism via UKIP-type right-wing / Thatcherist politics.  How could it make sense for people harmed by such politics to back a harder line version of it?

SR: The swell in support for Scottish independence surprised even those of us who have always supported it. Are there any lessons from the Scottish campaign and you and Plaid Cymru will apply to Wales?

LW: The yes campaign showed what the power of people can achieve with hope and positivity against the might of the entire British establishment and corporate media. They achieved their impact due to painstakingly building a network of people in communities and online and using large numbers of people to bud and disseminate the arguments. YES was a campaign of the people, by the people. It captured the imagination, it inspired and it gave people hope. The biggest lesson is that no matter how grim politics can seem when we suffer from the over-exposure of the right, what happened in Scotland has shown me that another Wales, indeed, another world is very possible.

This interview first appeared at Socialist Resistance and is reprinted with their permission

Image credit: Plaid Cymru

10 Comments

  1. Ric Euteneuer says:

    A fairly partial interview, unfortunately. Not “Everyone was impressed by the depth, breadth and radicalism of the Yes campaign” – I thought they were petty, obtuse, disingenuous (saying voting no was equivalent to voting Tory, for one), and ultimately unsuccessful because of this. Leanne Woods marks a paradigm shift for Welsh nationalism. A non-Welsh speaker, in a party long identified mainly with Welsh language rights, and considerably to the left of prior Plaid leaders, Woods also represents a return to demands for Welsh independence, after Plaid had abandoned this in recent years. The article – perhaps unwittingly- however makes some important points. There’s no substitute for local and regional activism, and relying on erratic press messages to make your running is a foolhardy pursuit. Getting a clear and consistent message across is key. The ScotNats failed in part because they couldn’t definitively answer key questions about independence – “we’ll have the British pound as a currency – probably – if not the Scottish pound, and then maybe the Euro”. And Labour (still) has a hill to climb in gaining credibility outside The metropolitan bubble.

  2. James Martin says:

    LW – “In Scotland, where the devolution settlement is much stronger, the Government has been able to afford more protection to its citizens”.

    Yes Leanne, either that or perhaps it is due to the recognised flawed statistical underpinning to the Barnett funding formula that means Scottish regional and local government have had to make far less cuts than elsewhere. I’m quite sure that there would have been a lot of English councils and councillors crowing about how they have managed to protect jobs and services in their areas if they had extra funding to the tune of £1,500 per resident (which is the case in Scotland)!

    But in any case I’m nit at all sure why LF is reprinting articles from a nationalist supporting sect who slobber at even the thought of the balkanisation and break up of the British labour movement?

    1. Ric Euteneuer says:

      Well, quite ! I suppose Left Futures may have been short of copy, and thought that by printing the article, it may provoke debate…hmmm.

      According to Wikipedia, “Socialist Resistance (SR) is an ecosocialist, feminist and revolutionary organisation in Britain, which publishes a Marxist periodical of the same name. In July 2009 the International Socialist Group (ISG) merged into it, making SR the British Section of the Fourth International”.

      So, for us leftist trainspotters, a grand melange of “Socialist Outlook”, some former members of the Militant Tendency; SR want to merge with Workers’ Power and ex-SWPers, the International Socialist Network.

      1. Jon Lansman says:

        Ric/James: I’m simply less interested than you seem to be in the politics of the author/interviewer and more interested in the content of the article which entirely focuses on the politics of the interviewee rather than the interviewer anyway. I think this interview is worth reading, Leanne Wood is clearly a good socialist even if I disagree with her (and Socialist Resistance for that matter) on some things.

        1. Ric Euteneuer says:

          Er, in my first statement on here, I did say some praiseworthy things about Ms. Woods. She understands there needs to be a clear and consistent message; that there’s no replacement for ground level activism; and that she’s shifted the party away from solely Welsh language concerns. But she wraps it all up in an isolationist Welsh independence stance, which doesn’t serve the Welsh people well (nor indeed the rest of the UK). For that, socialist or not, she deserves challenging and criticism.

  3. Robert says:

    Wales can and should look at finding a party which is at least close enough to give labour a run for it’s money maybe Plaid and the Liberals, because right now labour are in power and although they have not won an election out right they are miles away from losing.

    Labour are starting to look tired and to be honest with England holding the purse strings for devolution people will start losing interest before long.

    The next election for Wales is in 2016 and it does look likely that the Tories will try to have a coalition again, will it work doubt it so it will be labour again.

    1. Ric Euteneuer says:

      The likelihood of a Plaid Majority government is remote. Plaid and Labour have enough in common to work out a radical programme – why not go for that instead ? Anyone putting any store by a Plaid – Liberal coalition is going to have a long wait

      1. Robert says:

        They did it once and Plaid was almost wiped out, now I think it just as likely to see the labour party and Tories come together, the reason is plaid is way to small so are the Liberals.

        It may even happen in England it may be the only way Miliband can keep his job.

        NO well we will see.

        1. Ric Euteneuer says:

          Plaid didn’t have a left wing leadership at the time of the last coalition

  4. David Melvin says:

    Plaid and the Greens look to be renewing their electoral alliance in Wales. Is that the best left of Labour option in Wales?

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