Allowing Labour to punch us in the face

Here is the exchange between Leanne Wood and Carwyn Jones from yesterday's questions to the First Minister:


When we announced the plan for a tax or levy on sugary drinks as a means to both reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and employ a thousand additional doctors in Wales, the first thing I did was was check to see whether the figures added up. It didn't take more than a couple of hours for me to see that they did, and I wrote this post about it.

The main point I made was that any policy announcements we make need to be backed up with enough detail to show that our proposals are practical and properly costed. But, despite my plea, we did not do this ... and the direct result of our failure to provide this detail has been to allow our political opponents to land the sort of punches on us that Carwyn did yesterday.

Carwyn is wrong. The purpose of the tax or levy (it will be a tax if we are allowed to introduce new taxes under the proposed Wales Act, but if the Assembly is not given these powers it can be introduced under existing powers as a levy) is to reduce the consumption of sugar as a public health measure designed to combat the very high level of obesity in Wales. Yet even after allowing for this reduced consumption, the money raised will fund a thousand additional doctors. It is a win-win proposal.

But I'm sorry to have to say that Carwyn had a point when he said that we have been silent on the issue and called the proposal a cheap and uncosted political slogan. Unless we publish the detail to back it up, that is all it is.

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Anonymous said...

Never mind, it will be Labour policy for the next Assembly elections and they'll dress it up as their own. That's how it goes. Plaid's policies are ridiculed then attacked then discected then adopted by Labour ... well, everyone except anything to strengthen the Welsh language.

Owen said...

You covered all the points I would've made in your first post on this, MH. It took me a similar amount of time to work out the policy was potentially feasible and a "win-win" for the same reasons you say. For a group of professionals and party workers, it should've been even easier for them.

One of Plaid's weaknesses is that they blurt out relatively eye-catching policies - not just this, but the recent postal service suggestion, and going further back, things like one-on-one literacy teaching - without providing any of the details or evidence underlying those policies.

Headlines and soundbites are great, but facts and figures are needed otherwise there's nothing there. It's the political equivalent of going commando and being pantsed.

Anonymous said...

Jokes are often made about Plaid ideas becoming Labour policy but in this case I am almost certain it is something Mark Drakeford would want to do. More so than other Plaid policies. It has public health and government intervention written all over it, and ticks the box as being a policy that marks us out from England.

Anonymous said...

This sort of stuff really does make the electorate laugh out loud...... Plaid and its sugary drinks tax.

Unfortunately you should have checked with the EU first. School kids, school teachers and the odd S4C broadcaster to boot.

It really is time the party grew up!

MH said...

The tragedy is that I know that Plaid have some very good researchers, and that the policy has been fairly well worked out, Owen. One or two rough edges, maybe, but small things that would be bound to come under scrutiny and fixed in committee as a bill worked its way through the Assembly. That's the way legislation works.

All I am criticizing is the fact that we haven't published the detail; and that by not publishing it we in Plaid have opened ourselves up to cheap punches such as the one Carwyn was able to throw on Tuesday.


I remember Vaughan Roderick saying, on one of the programmes covering our conference, that the danger of announcing policy so far before an election is that it will get snapped up by other parties and presented as their own. He thought that the idea of a non-profit-distributing energy company was more of a "goer" than the sugary drinks tax/levy. I thought the opposite. So yes, I agree with 15:15 and 20:30 that this is something that other parties are likely to pick up. Labour in particular. I think Mark Drakeford is one of the better Labour AMs, and that he would be quite happy to go along with it. Obesity is a ticking time bomb in terms of future health costs, and we would be mad not to try and do things to reduce future liability. We must think long-term.


22:17 might laugh out loud, but look at other counties that have introduced a sugary drinks tax. There's a list here. In particular Denmark and France have introduced it, with more details on the French version here. But I'll also give a link to the Daily Mail version, as this seems to be the sort of paper 20:37 is likely to believe.

If two EU member states can introduce this tax without difficulty, why does 22:17 think the EU would stand in the way of us doing it? It is also something that is specifically mentioned in the Silk Report, Section 4.6. The Silk Commission would not have done so if the idea of such a tax or levy was in any way illegal.


For those who are interested, I'd particularly recommend reading A Children's Future Fund from this page. It sets out the argument in some detail, backed by a large number of organizations. All I would disagree with is their recommendation to only tax drinks with added sugar. Naturally sugary drinks are just as much of a problem ... and perhaps more so, in that people consider them to be "healthy" even though they contribute to obesity as much as drinks with added sugar. Eating fruit is better than drinking fruit juice.

kp said...

MH, You must not confuse a general tax on 'sugar' and a more specific tax on 'sugary drinks'. One is permissible under EU law, the other is not.

Your links seem rather odd. The USA/New York has nothing to do with the EU. Nor Norway. As for Denmark 'it instituted a soft drink tax in the 1930s (pre-EU days) but recently announced they were going to abolish it with the goal of creating jobs and helping the economy'. Not particularly supportive of your position.

Indeed, the only country that appears to have done anything along the lines you are thinking is France. And yet here it is a tax on all 'soft drinks', sugary, artificially sugary or otherwise. In other words, a blanket tax.

I think you and your colleagues in Plaid need to think again.

Anonymous said...

People can joke about this and claim the electorate will "laugh" but i'm not so sure. This would be a stand-out policy for Wales and would be completely in keeping with the public health agenda set out here.

The stand-out Welsh policies tend to be popular with the electorate, like the carrier bag levy, organ donation, etc. It's unfortunately almost certain that this will become Labour policy further down the line, but only once the obesity issue worsens (as it unfortunately will, costing us massively through the NHS).

Owen said...


It looks to have solid ground based on the numbers. They're similar to what MH has said in previous posts and along the same lines I had thought. I just hope Plaid remember to include at least a few details next time they announce a "headline-grabber".

MH said...

I suggest you read what I wrote a few more times, KP. You might then understand it.

But I do in fact agree with you on one point. I think that the tax or levy should be per gram of sugar. This would be fairer in that it would take into account the wide variation in sugar content in different drinks.


To 10:56, I agree that this policy is so good that other parties will pick up on it, as others have also said in earlier comments.

I don't mind that at all. The tax or levy isn't an original Plaid Cymru policy, it had already been proposed in the Children's Future Fund document and has been in various forms in other countries. What is original is to link this with the problem of doctor shortages in Wales, taking full advantage of the possibilities that tax-setting powers will have for Wales. It's important to move away from "academic discussion" about whether the Assembly should have more powers, and come up with practical examples of how they can be used to solve some very real problems ... in this case, two problems at the same time.

On another note, even though it doesn't have to be a hypothecated tax, linking a new tax to what it could pay for is a very good thing to do in political terms, especially if we want to break away from the simplistic "all taxes are bad" attitude of bodies like the Taxpayers Alliance. On the contrary, taxes are good if the money raised from them is used for good things. I think the Welsh public will understand this and support the idea.


Yes, Owen. I'm glad that Plaid have put more details on the website, and it should have been done before. But better late than later. The only criticism I have of what has been posted is that I'd have liked to see links or footnotes for the facts and figures quoted.

Ian Johnson (a Plaid councillor in Barry and AM candidate for the Vale of Glamorgan in 2016) put it together, and he came up with some details that I didn't know about: for example Finland, Hungary and Ireland, and a hard figure for the expected reduction in consumption based on what's happened in France. He's one of the sharpest minds in Plaid.

I had seen a draft a few weeks ago, and knew that it was intended to be sent to the Western Mail for publication. I find it amazing that they didn't publish it, and have just written about that in a new post today.

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