Spluttered Cornflakes all over the Western Mail

I want to thank the Western Mail and Wales on Sunday, and Martin Shipton in particular, for such extensive spreads in the two papers on Friday and yesterday. The articles are on line here and here, and there was also an editorial which is not on line but can be read here.

When I and others made our formal complaint about what Dafydd Elis-Thomas and Rhodri Glyn Thomas had said, our first purpose was not to get either man deselected. We sought a conciliatory solution, recommending that the party should formally instruct them to make public statements saying unequivocally that they support the aims of the party ... and specifically the aims of independence for Wales within Europe and Wales becoming a member of the United Nations. We only wanted to see a more severe sanction if they refused to make such a statement, and suggested that this should be removal from the party's national register of candidates so that they could not stand for Plaid Cymru in future elections.

Both men had treated the disciplinary procedure with contempt by refusing to take any part in it or make a statement of the kind we requested. So one of the satisfying results of making what happened known to the wider public has been to see Dafydd Elis-Thomas and Rhodri Glyn Thomas treat a journalist with more respect than they showed anyone in their own party, by making clear statements about where they stood on the matter. Their responses are interesting because they are so different.

     

Rhodri Glyn Thomas said:

"This is just totally irrelevant to the real politics of Wales. The economy is in crisis, unemployment is rising month by month and someone wants to talk about a concept no-one fully understands.

"Unfortunately, because the SNP are holding a referendum on Scottish independence, some people think we should be doing the same in Wales. I suggest they go to Scotland.

"Independence is a long-term aim of the party and I've no problem with that, but this is nothing to do with the here and now. If we don’t concentrate on the crisis facing Wales today, the electorate will treat us with the contempt we deserve."

Perhaps it's best to start by clarifying the timescale. The constitution of the party doesn't describe independence for Wales as either a long, short or medium term aim and, so far as I am aware, no-one in Plaid Cymru is calling for a referendum on independence now. As has happened in Scotland, we in Wales won't get a referendum on independence until Plaid has won enough seats in the National Assembly to get such a referendum bill through or until other parties come to realize that independence is in Wales' best interests. And nobody doubts that in order to form a government Plaid Cymru will need to present convincing arguments on a whole range of issues.

But for me, these other issues are in no way separate from the issue of independence, they are part and parcel of the argument for it. In short, the best way to improve things like the level of employment is for us in Wales to take more, and eventually all, responsibility for the economy into our own hands.

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But if we look at his statement carefully, it's clear that Rhodri Glyn hasn't changed his position at all. He is talking about the party's position on independence (which all of us know about) but carefully skirting round the issue of whether he has changed his own position from what it was in this interview where he said:

Let me say it's not my view. It may be the party's view, but it's never been my view.

And in a way, that's fair enough. I'll give him due credit for sticking to his principles and refusing to change his mind on an issue he obviously feels strongly about. Providing he doesn't use his position within the party to put forward his personal views and undermine the aims of the party he will not put himself at risk of another disciplinary procedure. But I'm sure he now realizes that it will be all but impossible for him to get selected as a Plaid Cymru candidate in the next Assembly election, not least because the new candidate agreement will require every candidate to explicitly confirm that they support the aims of the party. In effect, he has just deselected himself.

     

In contrast, Dafydd Elis-Thomas went the other way. He has come out with an amazing statement saying that he is now an enthusiastic supporter of independence for Wales:

Lord Elis-Thomas said: "I voted enthusiastically for the motion [in favour of independence in Europe] at the Llandudno conference, and so far as I am concerned David Cameron has proved that we must have it."

Anybody who is even remotely aware of politics in Wales will have spluttered their cornflakes all over the Western Mail (or their computer screen) when they read this, for it represents a truly seismic shift in his thinking. Here is a short selection of articles showing the strength of his opposition to independence in the past:

     Western Mail, 17 September 2004
     Scotsman, 22 September 2004
     Western Mail, 12 November 2004
     Daily Post, 30 December 2010
     Daily Post, 8 September 2011

His U-turn is all the more remarkable because in the last of these articles he said, "I will not change my personal convictions." Yet he now wants us to believe that he completely reversed his position only two days later.

It will be up to him how he reconciles his previous views on independence with what he's just said in the Western Mail, but if he's looking for some ideas this explanation is probably going to be more credible than any other, and he's more than welcome to use it.

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Now it's not impossible for him to have had a genuine change of opinion on the matter. After all, if our arguments in favour of independence are convincing, we should expect to win over many hundreds of thousands of voters in Wales in the next few years. Therefore why shouldn't he be one of them?

As a result of what happened in Brussels the week before last, Carwyn Jones came to realize for the first time that Wales' national interests are not always the same as the interests of the UK as a whole, and would be advanced better by the Welsh Government having direct representation in the EU:

For the first time, I am now seriously concerned about whether the interests of Wales can be advanced effectively in Europe by the UK Government. For those of us who are committed to the United Kingdom, and the place of the UK within the European Union, this is a deeply concerning position to be in.

Western Mail, 13 December 2011

It is a mark of maturity for someone to reconsider their position when circumstances change, so I for one am going to give Carwyn credit for it rather than criticize him for not having seen it before now. Why should I do any less if Dafydd El has genuinely changed his mind?

The only question is whether he has or whether he's just saying it, for he has been manoeuvred into a position where he has little choice but to say that he supports independence. Unlike Rhodri Glyn he cannot simply be quiet about the subject, for if he still harbours ambitions to lead Plaid Cymru he knows full well that he wouldn't be able to sidestep the issue of independence during the leadership contest. If he continued to say he was against it he would be subject to more disciplinary procedures in the party; and if he continued to be vague, cryptic or ambivalent about it he knows that questions about it would be at the forefront of every public meeting and media interview. So what other choice does he have?

And besides that, he must surely know that the overwhelming majority of Plaid Cymru members support independence for Wales, so it would be sheer stupidity for him not to come round if he wants to get votes in the leadership contest. He might not be as principled as Rhodri Glyn, but he's certainly no fool.

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24 comments:

Penderyn said...

MH, I find myself an unlikely ally for Dafydd Elis-Thomas in this particular regard ... i.e. his support for independence. You seem to suggest that Dafydd may not be genuine in his views. For what its worth, my view is that the key defining feature of Dafydd Elis-Thomas' political ideology is intellectual dynamism (others may choose a less kind term). Threre's an early 90s article on Dafydd's political journey in Planet which charts part of this journey, but no Dafydd El watcher could be surprised that his perspectives change with the changing circumstances. They've done so for the past 50 years, so why would we expect anything different now. He is, if nothing else, a great thinker!

Anonymous said...

I have always believed that Wales needs two nationalist parties - one more associated with cultural nationalism and led primarily by language issues, and not focussing on poiltical settlements;

- the other more radical, promoting republicanism and an independent Wales, and not obsessing with language issues;

Two such parties can compete against each other for votes and seats, but should be able to work together in coalition - with the party winning the most seats having the greater say as to whether the emphasis should be on culture or constitution.

It is quite clear that the current coaition of views within Plaid is unsustainable and both sides are holding the other back.

Penddu

Anonymous said...

"He is, if nothing else, a great thinker!"

I'd go for the 'nothing else'.

Anonymous said...

Penddu - all parties are coalitions, apart from the Popular Front of Judea.

Glyndo said...

"- the other more radical, promoting republicanism and an independent Wales,"

As Wales cannot be a Republic without first becoming Independent, I suggest you drop the republican bit and allow the people of an Independent Wales to decide for themdelves.

Anonymous said...

Penddu

I'm not convinced that Wales needs two nationalist parties along the lines you suggest.

It needs one party focused on appealing to all of Wales' inhabitants, regardless of language, ethnicity and religion.

Hitherto Plaid has largely failed in that respect.

True, it has in recent decades made some inroads in the largely non-Welsh-speaking valleys of South Wales, but I think its support has been more of a protest at the failures of the Labour party in those areas, rather than support for Plaid's policies.

Regrettably the perception is that Plaid is mainly a party for Welsh-speaking people, and whilst that perception persists, it isn't going to make the breakthrough required to achieve fundamental constitutional reform as a prelude for regenerating Wales' economy and raising the country's profile in the world community.

Unless and until it addresses the perception or misperception.. head on, the party will continue to flounder. At present it isn't showing any sign of so doing.

The election of Leanne Wood as leader could be a first step in that direction, and a historic break with the leadership of the past.

The party owes a debt to its founders and trail-blazers, but unfortunately they've left a legacy which is difficult to discard.

Plaid has all to play for. The UK is in decline and there is a rise in national sentiment in all the nations of these islands.

It's a demonstrable fact that Wales is the poor relation, and that London government by both parties has repeatedly failed us.

The SNP's recent victory has shaken the unionist foundation and in four years' time things will be very different, regardless of the outcome of their referendum.

Anonymous said...

I agree and sypatahize with some of the comments above against my suggestion for having two nationalist parties, but I believe that until we do then Plaid will never achieve the success of the SNP.

If Leanne is elected as Plaid leader, then Plaid should grow into the radical nationalist party - and let Llais Gwynedd (Cymru) or Cymuned pick up the disaffected cultural nationalists (maybe providing a home to DET & RGT).

If DET wins then Plaid will contract into its heartlands and leave a vacuum behind in the Valleys which will need to be filled by someone...

Penddu

Syd Morgan said...

Chwarae teg! Michael Haggett is the only serious investigative political journalist in the country. The rest are just churnalists.

Being Objective said...

If Lord El is a "great thinker", then I'm the Queen of Sheba!

Do not let the unintelligible gibberish of the "liberal" intellectuals intimidate you or discourage you; do not conclude: "It must be deep, because I don’t understand it."

For the past 20 years all Lord El has done is try to hide the fact that he's in the wrong party behind layer upon layer of meaningless words and specious drivel. A truly "great thinker" is able to convey what he means in sincere, unambiguous words.

Efrogwr said...

@ Syd: hear, hear!
@ Anon: if we had a more proportional electoral system we could have a range of nationalist parties as they do in the Basque Country and Catalynia but I cannot see that as anything other than electoral suicide for the national movement under the current Assembly and Westminter systems.

MH said...

I was not my intention to suggest that DET may not be genuine in his views, Penderyn. In fact I was trying to do exactly the opposite.

I think the natural reaction of almost everyone in Wales, and in particular those who have never had much time for him, is that he is lying through his teeth in an attempt to save his own skin.

In this post I have pointed to a number of very good reasons for Dafydd to have changed his mind, and said that the last thing we should now do is criticize him for it if he has. The main purpose of initiating disciplinary procedings against these two men was to unite the party behind its aims. By making the statement that he enthusiastically supports independence for Wales, Dafydd has done exactly what we asked for in our formal complaint. We can let the matter rest there ... unless, of course, he goes back on what he's just said.

The only sad thing is that he didn't do this before. If he had shown any respect for the party when asked to account for his statements, there would have been no need for any of this to have come out in public. He could have made his statement in support of independence in his own time and in whatever way he chose.

However my advice to him is not to try and maintain that what he now describes as his euthusiatic support for independence is what he always meant. He will come across as more sincere if he simply says that he has changed his mind about independence; and this will perhaps do more to win over the hearts and minds of people outside the party to independence for Wales than all the damage caused by his previous statements against it.

Siônnyn said...

If it is true, MH, that you have brought about a Demascene conversion in Thomas, then you are to be congratulated. A lot of of us will not have been convinced by his guest post where he tried to suggest by 'Mirrage' he meant a French fighter aircraft, rather than the normal usage, which is a distant illusion. I felt I was having the piss taken out of me. Still - I think we must all give him the benefit of the doubt during the campaign. When is he going to start publishing his manifesto? Leanne's is well under way, and very impressive too.

Anonymous said...

Great quote from Alex Salmond from the third link in the list:

Mr Salmond said, 'Most of the criticism of the SNP actually comes from those who say we have lost sight of the vision of an independent Scotland by getting involved in devolution and getting wrapped up in the day-to-day running of politics.

'We have to do both. Where I disagree with my distinguished colleague [DE-T] is that you have to have a successful national party. You have to have a vision of independence galvanising support and the promise of what independence can deliver linked to a social and economic vision that you want to deliver. The job of the SNP is not to substitute the constitutional debate with the social and economic debate or vice versa but to link the two.'


That was in 2004, and by doing it the SNP were elected as a minority government in 2007 and a majority government in 2011. Take note. This is exactly what Plaid Cymru now needs to do. If we can link the two we can form the next Welsh government in 2016.

Anonymous said...

The entire saga of DET speaks for itself.

In my opinion he shouldn't be representing Plaid in the Assembly and neither should RhGT.

If DET was genuine about his apparent change of view on independence, then he should arrange an interview with the BBC so as to explain clearly to the people of Wales why he has changed his mind after all these years, conveniently when he's standing for the leadership.

Unfortunately he hasn't been clear about anything when I've heard him speak. I was always left wondering what exactly he meant. If that is what marks a 'great thinker' then pity help us.

If I understand him correctly he would make another suicide pact with Labour. Perhaps it would be better if he simply joined them today.

I couldn't support Plaid if he were elected its leader, and I'm surprised that he's described as a front runner in the press.

Hopefully the new leader will cut out all the dead 'wood' in the party and knock it into shape over the next two to three years.

Jac o' the North said...

I've just twigged. That 'guest post' was kosher? All that crap about French fighter aircraft?

Anonymous said...

Surely that guest post by Thomas-Elis (notice, not Elis-Thomas) was a scam. Wasn't it?! MH?

Either way, I think it needs to be clarified, because it is obvious that some readers are convinced it is a scam and others are convinced it is bona fide.

Iwan Rhys

MH said...

I've already done so, Iwan, but perhaps I should repeat it in this post as well.

I didn't think this needed to be said; but what Dafydd Thomas-Elis, the AM for Mwyfor Deirionnydd with a birthmark on his right cheek, has said in this post is not necessarily what Dafydd Elis-Thomas, the AM for Dwyfor Meirionnydd with a birthmark on his left cheek, might say. It's satire.

He is going to have to come up with his own explanation about how he could make such a spectacular U-turn only two days after saying, "I will not change my personal convictions."

The only thing he could possibly say that would sound sincere or convincing is that he made a mistake and has come to see that he was wrong. But I don't think his pride will allow him do that, so he's welcome to use this rather far-fetched explanation instead.


Let me apologize to those who did think DET wrote it. All I can say is that satire only works to the extent that it is plausible, i.e. that it is the sort of thing the person concerned would say. I was caricaturing the sort of sophistry that DET has resorted to before to show how ridiculous it would be for him to try it again now.

Anonymous said...

Oh, so, it was a hoax. Sorry, had me fooled too. So, DET has not changed his view.

Feel a bit twp now!

Well, at least it makes it easier in the election contest then, it's between the two women - Elin and Leanne. Their the only ones wearing the trousers in Plaid.

Anonymous said...

Penddu is mistaken in his analysis. There is no need to play down "obsessing with the language" as actually Leanne Wood is more forceful in terms of linguistic policies than Dafydd-El or Rhodri Glyn, despite your portayal of those men as "cultural nationalists". The idea of RhGT or DET in Cymuned is a joke.

Anonymous said...

You are giving my rambling thoughts too much credibility by referring to them as an analysis...

I am not a Plaid member so I maybe I shouldnt be commenting and while I am supportve of the language - my support is passive.

But I actively support anything that wil take Wales closer to independence!

Penddu

Anonymous said...

Join Plaid, Penddu, and vote for a leader who pushes the independence cause! (then you can quit, minus your membership fee, if one of the others are elected).

And for all the ones who have written or said "I'll join Plaid Cymru if Leanne Wood is elected." Join now, and help make that the case!

Iwan Rhys

Anonymous said...

Politics is about policies - not just personalities - but any party needs a strong leader to provide direction and inspiration. When Plaid have one and who proves that he has vision and the ability to deliver I will consider joining and becoming active from within.

But until then I will watch from the outside.

Penddu

Anonymous said...

he (or she)... sorry

Penddu

Siônnyn said...

Have a look at Leanne's vision. So far she is the only one to actually say what sort of a future she wants for Wales, and I , for one, am impressed!

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