A Shameful Omission from Plaid's Manifesto

I've thought hard about whether I should write this post or not, but in the end have decided to do so because politics should always be about principle, and a party that compromises its principles should not be surprised if it loses votes as a result of being afraid to say what it believes and why.

Plaid is a party that has long opposed nuclear power and remains opposed to nuclear power. So I have to say that I am ashamed that Plaid's manifesto makes no mention of this. It is particularly galling because other parties fighting this election are not afraid to make their position clear.

The Greens say:

We can get all of our energy from clean renewable sources, we do not need dangerous nuclear power.

We would ... Phase out nuclear power and resolutely oppose any new nuclear power stations. Stop any further investment in new coal-fuelled power stations.

Green Party of Wales Manifesto, 2011

The LibDems say:

We will lead a green revolution in Welsh energy supply by ... issuing a formal statement that the Welsh Government supports renewable and community energy projects as a priority and opposes new nuclear power both because of its detrimental impact on human health and its long-term unsustainability. We will also oppose new carbon-based power that does not have appropriate capture and storage built in.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Manifesto, 2011

Here are two parties making clear statements against nuclear. But to see a party I support largely, though of course not only, because its green credentials are second only to those of the Green Party itself failing to make a clear statement against nuclear in its manifesto is simply not good enough. It's not good enough because the manifesto that a party fights any election on is more important than what is contained in a policy statement somewhere else. A manifesto is the party's contract with the electorate, and the public are entitled to hold each party to account for what they choose to put in it.


Now I do accept that a manifesto is a short document that cannot include every detail of every policy. But it could and should refer to where that detail can be found. Labour's manifesto for this election provides a good example of how to do this. It says:

The Assembly Government's Low Carbon Energy Statement sets out how we intend to maximise energy savings and energy efficiency, making the majority of the energy production we need in Wales from low carbon sources.

Welsh Labour Manifesto, 2011

And if we turn to that document, it says:

Our approach to nuclear power in Wales is ... we remain of the view that the high level of interest in exploiting the huge potential for renewable energy reduces the need for other, more hazardous, forms of low carbon energy and obviates the need for new nuclear power stations.

Low Carbon Energy Statement, March 2010

I hardly need to remind anyone that Plaid Cymru was a part of the One Wales government that produced this statement. Yet if Labour can refer to a clear statement that Wales does not need new nuclear power stations, it makes it all the more amazing that Plaid Cymru does not.

However one thing I do find interesting is that Labour has changed its position from the one it held in the 2010 election to Westminster. Labour's manifesto for that election did include unequivocal support for new nuclear power:

•  We will make Wales a leading provider of green energy, produced not only by wind, but also from biomass, marine and microgeneration. This will not only combat climate change but generate thousands of new jobs, for example through Anglesey's vision of an 'energy island' with offshore wind and other industries located there, and construction of the Wylfa B Nuclear Power Station which Labour fully supports.

Welsh Labour Manifesto, 2010

I pointed out at the time that this was a direct contradiction of what the Welsh Government had said in its Low Carbon Energy Statement, a document which had been published only a few weeks beforehand. This, of course, is a sign of the deep divisions between the Peter Hain and Carwyn Jones factions in the party. If I were an optimist, I could say that the fact that Labour's previous support for Wylfa has been dropped from the Assembly manifesto is a sign that the Peter Hain faction was losing. But the realist in me knows full well that Hain and Jones are simply playing out the roles of "hard cop" and "soft cop". It is one thing to make a manifesto commitment, but quite another thing to be credible when making it. When a party flip-flops on an issue, people are bound to ask whether they will flip, or flop, again.


Nonetheless, so far as Plaid is concerned, the uncomfortable fact remains: we have allowed three other parties to present themselves to the public in this election with better statements on nuclear power than us.

I am not one to talk often about "sending a message" because the phrase is normally used as some sort of code to criticize or support a policy that has only marginal relevance to something else. But a party manifesto is all about sending a message, because it is a document in which a party sets out what it considers to be important. That means that the public have every right to conclude that anything not mentioned in it is of no, or of very little, importance to that party.


It is no secret that Plaid Cymru has a leader who is at odds with his party on the matter of nuclear power. To an extent that is acceptable ... but only to an extent. Let me set out what those limits should be.

It is obvious that in all parties there will be agreement and disagreement about some things, with not every member agreeing on every aspect of policy. That is healthy. But to me it is fundamental that a party decides policy through its membership and organizational structure, for the only alternative is for the leadership of the party to dictate what its policy should be. I'm glad that Plaid is not that sort of top-down party; but the inevitable consequence of being an open, democratic party is that there will be some subjects on which a prominent member is at odds with the majority of his or her party.

However we go beyond what is acceptable when we try to brush a policy under the carpet simply because our leader happens to disagree with it. And that is exactly what Plaid Cymru has done on this issue.

I'm sure that Ieuan Wyn Jones might consider it something of a success that he has managed to get this policy quietly dropped from the manifesto. But it is a hollow victory that I think he will come to regret, because it will lose us far more votes than we could hope to gain. For in the eye of the public what loses votes is not so much whether you hold one policy or the other; what loses votes is for a party to be two faced on an issue of principle.

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John Dixon said...

This is a well-written, clearly sincere, and carefully-worded post. I'm sure that it will come as no surprise that I agree with the sentiments expressed.

As one who gave not a little time and effort over the years to trying to manage a balance between the personal views of the leader on this issue and the democratically-determined position of the party, I can understand how the position has come about.

However, during the 2010 UK Election I came, with great reluctance, to the conclusion that whilst a party can handle and manage a situation where a candidate in one constituency says something at odds with party policy, it is simply not credible for a party to say that its position is different from that of the leader on any substantical issue of policy such as this. I've tried it, and it doesn't work.

Bear in mind also that last year's annual conference displayed clearly that it isn't just the leader who doesn't support the policy on this issue. A number of other elected members and candidates took to the rostrum to support the building of Wylfa B. In that sense, it may actually be more honest for a party to not say something than to try and pretend that it has a credible united policy.

Anonymous said...

My views on nuclear are mixed.
BUT, isn't this the Welsh Referendum, and is nuclear devolved?. Even if we have a Greens Majority we could do nout all about nuclear coming to Wales, so stating that we would refuse it is a total waste of paper.
It is for this reason that a lot of pledges in the manifestos annoy me, as they are not within the remit of the Assembly.

On nuclear I think Plaid and Labour are in a really difficult position. I support Plaid and am against Nuclear on principal. But, and this is a VERY big but. There is already a nuclear power station on Anglesey, there are next to no jobs there, and the people support it. If is for this reason why I support a 'Wylfa B'. It may be a weak argument; but you tell that to the people of Ynys Mon.
So the Plaid policy remains anti-nuclear, but anti-nuclear 'lite'. In other words if there were proposals to create a new one in somewhere like Ceredigion, I think you'll find that the anti-nuclear policy would most definitely kick in.

It's a very weak principle I know, but a strong one politically. Thus, the question one must ask is Plaid and Labour in the business of politics or principals?.
Looking at One Wales, recent Daf-El comment I think I know what!

MH said...

John, I certainly didn't wish to imply that Ieuan is the only one to disagree with Plaid's policy. It represents a strand of opinion in Plaid, but only a minority strand.

It should be acceptable for a candidate to say that they personally disagree with one or two of their party's policies. But it would be wrong for them to think that they could get away with actively opposing what they disagree with. That is where the boundary lies. For example Dylan Rees took the view that he "couldn't speak against nuclear" when he stood in the 2010 Westminster election. That is just about credible. But if he took the view that he would support it, it would be a step too far. So far as I am aware, he didn't. But I was obviously not at every meeting to know what he did or didn't say.

I'm not exactly sure what Ieuan's position is, for he can be less than forthright on the matter by hiding behind the fact that large scale power generation is not a devolved issue and therefore what he thinks doesn't matter anyway. But although that "Rhodri Morgan excuse" (for he took the same line when asked about the UK's involvemnt in Iraq) might work if you have no intention of Wales ever having control over whether its armed forces go to war, it doesn't sit well with a party that is campaigning for decision making power on large scale energy to be devolved to Wales. The public has every right to know what your position would be if and when you get the decision making power you're fighting for.


Now I think I might just about know enough to understand your personal position with regard to Ieuan, but I have to say that I still don't agree with your conclusion. I think it must be possible for a leader or prominent member of a party to disagree with the party position on one or two issues. For if it isn't, then we'll either end up with the party being forced to accept the leader's position, or with people in the party (or indeed the leader) being prevented from saying what they believe. Neither is good. But with the media's focus on personality in politics, it would take considerable strength to say what your party's policy is, yet be candid enough to state that you personally do not agree with it. If you try to fudge it, you'll rightly be torn to shreds.

The crux of the issue is in your last sentence. I would agree that if there was genuine disagreement which prevented Plaid from reaching a position one way or the other on an issue, it would be better to keep quiet and hope nobody notices. But that is emphatically not the position with nuclear energy in Plaid. If we look at this page of the party's website, it says:

"We call for emission performance standards for all new power stations and we reaffirm our opposition to the construction of any new nuclear power stations in Wales."

So Plaid's position is crystal clear. What is wrong is that this clear and fundamental policy statement has been deliberately omitted from the manifesto. That is what this post is about.

MH said...

Anon 16:56, I think I covered the point you are making in my response to John. If you are fighting for decision making power on large scale energy to be devolved to Wales (and that is in Plaid's manifesto) then you must be clear about what you would do if it was.

The same goes for other issues. It might be acceptable for parties who have no intention of anything more being devolved to Wales to take the view that a subject is outside the remit of this election ... but Plaid can't do that. Besides, the whole of Labour's campaign is built on something that Wales can do absolutely nothing about with the powers it currently has: namely the cut in the block grant given to us by Westminster. Strictly speaking, all the next Welsh Government can do with its current powers is decide how best to spend the reduced amount of money we're going to get. To be credible, Labour should be fighting against the cuts by getting more responsibility for how the money the WG spends is raised.


On the subject of nuclear power itself, you're free to support nuclear power. This post wasn't actually about the pros and cons of nuclear power, but about Plaid having decided a policy position, but not including it in its manifesto.

Of course Ynys Môn needs jobs. But if Plaid Cymru fudges its principles it at best dilutes, and at worst obliterates, two messages. First that decommissioning, making safe, and eventually clearing up the mess made by the existing Wylfa reactors is going to employ many people on the island for many, many years to come; and second that emphasis and investment in renewable power will bring many more jobs to the island than new nuclear ever could. So there is no reason why there should be a divide between principles and politics.

And yes, you put the case of new nuclear power in Ceredigion. But isn't it equally true that even if switching to a pro-nuclear policy won Plaid some votes in Ynys Môn, it would lose us votes in other parts of Wales ... in particular seats that Plaid are just as concerned to hold on to, such as Ceredigion? So even if you were the sort of person who would put electability before principle, it would backfire on you anyway.

Anonymous said...

Nuclear Power is not even that dangerous, I am appalled people in Plaid are against Nuclear Power, I am afraid it employs hundreds on Ynys Mon, it is a clean energy, more effective than anything else to do with wind and is here to stay, nuclear power is the way forward, it might be dangerous but we are humans, everything is dangerous, taking risks is what makes us human, we sit on huge reserves of coal but we cannot utilise this to reform our economy as the green people want a environmentally friendly world, what comes first poverty or the environment? nuclear Power is not a devolved matter

as plaid keep talking about policies that are not devolved coming into this election NUCLEAR POLICY is not devolved and will never be,

MH said...

If you are in favour of nuclear energy, vote for a party that supports it, 18:53. That's what democracy is all about. But as you don't believe energy policy will ever be devolved to Wales, Plaid would never get your vote anyway ... so what would be the point of changing our policy to suit people like you?

And even though you seem to have made two contradictory statements about how safe nuclear is, I would only repeat what I've said before. My objection to nuclear is not primarily because it's dangerous. I believe it is possible to keep the risks to a low level, but only by spending huge sums of money on a strict safety regime and making the commitment to spend those large sums for hundreds of years to come. Only a fool would spend that sort of money when we have enough renewable resources to produce all the energy Wales needs.

Leave nuclear energy to those countries that do not have the same level of renewable resources as we do, it's better than burning fossil fuels. But leave them to pay for it.

Lyndon said...

Thank God Plaid has seen some sense and ditched the anti-nuclear Luddite nonsense.

MH said...

Lyndon, much as you might like to believe that, Plaid hasn't. If a party leader embarks on a collision course with the party's membership, the membership will win.

Anonymous said...

"It represents a strand of opinion in Plaid, but only a minority strand."

I am agnostic on nuclear - doesn't really bother me, but I do question that saying it is a 'minority strand' is backed up by any meaningful statistics. Granted, the party has democratically voted for the current policy, but that is the done through a vote in conference, which only a certain section of members can and will attend.

It swings both ways though for me. I am not an instinctive green myself, but happy with most plaid policy in that area. The issue of windfarms to me seems an area of principle whereby the passionate greens in Plaid need to defend, because to be blunt they are not very popular with local people.

I am yet to see the very same anti-nuclear faction man up when faced with criticisms of windfarms - funny how principle goes missing then isn't it?

I agree with John that it does stretch credibility that the leader is against party policy. However, IWJ is faced with a massive local demand for the jobs on Wylfa b.

Ultimately it is always difficult, principles or no principles, when your electorate has you down the barrel of gun.

It is those people, not the 50 or so in conference who vote him in.

MH said...

You can't seriously believe that the electorate of Ynys Môn have IWJ down the barrel of a gun, Anon 21:52. Victor Chandler have him at 20/1 on, with Labour at 7/1 against and everyone else nowhere.

So there is no danger of him losing Ynys Môn. However there is a very real danger of Plaid losing votes elsewhere in Wales if Plaid's principles are seen as being so easily forgotten in its manifesto.

John Dixon said...

There are a few things in your response worthy of discussion, but this is perhaps not the place to do that.

On the specific, you make a rational and reasoned case that a leader should be able to disagree with his or her party on some issues, and I cannot disagree with your logic. However, logic doesn't always hold sway, and from experience I have concluded that a party cannot convince people that it holds a certain position on an issue if the leader is saying something different, particularly if the leader happens to be in government. Unfair, I know, and at odds with the objective facts concerning formal decisions taken by the party concerned, but people will believe (aided and abetted by the nature of media coverage of politics), that what the leader says is what the party thinks (or perhaps more importantly, what the party will actually do if it is in power).

Whether on nuclear energy, or on student fees, or on anything else, a party will always struggle to present a clear message if the leader says something different.

siorsyn said...

The truth is that Plaid is afraid of expressing its feelings on a number of issues. It will not discuss independence, the obvious example. It patronises the electorate by pretending that independence is not the party's raison d'etre, but the electorate is not stupid, and whilst Plaid continue to try to duck and dive and bob and weave rather than having the confidence to present its arguments, they will not vote for Plaid in with a majority.

MH said...

Siorsyn, I can't answer for the whole of Plaid, but I've never shied away from talking about independence. And while there are people like me around, I'll make sure the issue continues to be talked about.

Yet I would caution against thinking either that independence is all that Plaid is about, or that Plaid should be the only party to want it. If we look at Scotland, it is not only the SNP that wants independence, but the Green Party and Scottish Socialists too. It may not be too long before we see the same happen in Wales.

In fact if we look at Catalunya, independence used to be advocated only by the ERC. But now there are new parties such as Solidaritat per la Independència that also want independence; and we can see signs that other parties, particularly the Convergència part of Convergència i Unió, are moving towards a pro-independence position.

I've sometimes joked that in just the same way as Labour say they delivered devolution to Wales, and in fact are now claiming that they delivered an Assembly with primary lawmaking powers, they will in fifteen years be claiming that they delivered independence for Wales. Where we lead, they will follow.

We are developing more and more self-confidence as a nation; confidence that we are able to decide for ourselves what is best for us, rather than simply tag along with whatever the people of England decide is best for them. At election time, it's easy to get caught up in the details of day-to-day politics, yet fail to see that big picture.

Alex Rello said...

There is already a nuclear power station on Anglesey, there are next to no jobs there, and the people support it. I believe it is possible to keep the risks to a low level, but only by spending huge sums of money on a strict safety regime and making the commitment to spend those large sums for hundreds of years to come.

siorsyn said...

MH, I agree that independence is all that Plaid is about, but I would contend it should be more central to its aims than, say, socialism, and has been at times in the past. Obviously it isn't true of ALL Plaid members that they shy away from talk of independence, but collectively they do, and it does not form the central thrust of its message, as I believe it should.

I also agree that other parties are likely to call for independence. Ironically, I think the Welsh Conservatives are closer to this than either Labour or LibDems.

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