Spring has arrived, and along with it, the conferences of British political parties. One particular conference that caught my attention was Plaid Cymru’s. A speech by its leader, Leanne Wood, suggests that the Party of Wales has joined the political bandwagon in a fight against UKIP encroaching on their territories and taking their votes. Essentially, Plaid’s leader has branded UKIP an ‘un-Welsh party’ (a term that was in the original script but was not mentioned in her real speech) by saying that UKIP’s values are not Welsh and a vote for it is a vote against Wales.
Plaid Cymru, apart from being a nationalist party, is centre-left; its leader calls herself a proud socialist and republican. It is therefore understandable why Ms. Wood made such an attack in her speech. The two parties are ideologically opposite. However, surely this difference is not a good enough justification for the allegation. How, then, can UKIP be un-Welsh?
This could be explained by the big political issue of our time: Europe. Wales benefits much more from the European Union than England. Plaid Cymru is therefore, understandably, far more supportive of this than most other parties. It is also acknowledged by the Welsh government that 150,000 jobs in the country are fully reliant on EU membership. Moreover, between 2007 and 2013, EU funded projects in the country amounted, in total, to just under £2 billion; this is more than the amount of money each Welsh citizen puts into the EU budget. A short stroll in Cardiff would be enough for people to encounter a number of development projects paid for by the European Union. Thus, a vote for a party wanting to get the UK out of the EU is bound to be against Wales.
However, unlike what some nationalists wish, Wales is a part of the UK, and if leaving the EU will benefit Britain overall, the benefits will trickle down to Wales. Most people would probably agree with this logic. To further Plaid Cymru’s problem, only around 10% of the population supports independence. This bleak possibility of national self-determination means that what is good for Britain as a whole will continue to be good for Wales for quite a while. Additionally, as a UKIP candidate for Wales in this year’s European Parliament Elections pointed out, there is nothing un-Welsh about letting the Welsh people decide whether they wish to remain in the EU. Indeed, more people there would prefer to leave if given the chance.
Wood’s attack is therefore, sadly, another unconstructive attempt of a political party trying to prevent the rise of the Eurosceptic party. Her statement is also based on a false supposition that the people in Wales who support UKIP are intentionally trying to undermine their nation. This claim may have been more credible in the past when UKIP’s stance was to abolish the National Assembly, but this is no longer the case. Strangely, according to Ms. Wood’s logic, the nationalist Plaid Cymru would itself be un-Welsh. This is because, in the eyes of some people who do not vote for her party, independence, or greater power to the devolved assembly, may make Wales worse off.
On the other hand, outside the issue of Europe, Plaid Cymru does indeed reflect the thoughts of the Welsh people much more than UKIP. Wales definitely has a more left-wing demographic compared to most other parts of Britain. It is a Labour heartland with a strong coal-mining heritage and with more communitarian values. By no means does it sound like a place where many people would vote for UKIP were they to consider its whole manifesto properly. However, rather than saying that UKIP is un-Welsh for this reason, it would be better to say that it is less Wales-focused.
Plaid Cymru’s leader has made a terrible mistake in branding her party’s opponent un-Welsh in order to save its only European Parliament seat from being lost this year. UKIP is now capitalising on this as can be seen from a short visit onto its Welsh website. The only hope Plaid has now is to attract as many Green and Liberal Democrat supporters as possible to vote for it this May. At the end of the day, political parties have no right to decide what is un-Welsh and neither should they try to do so. This power lies with the people of Wales, and polls are suggesting that the majority of them disagree with Ms. Wood.