Plaid Cymru needs to change tack

On Thursday, Roger Scully was kind enough to post an advance copy of the latest YouGov poll on voting intentions in Wales, based on fieldwork conducted between 11 and 22 April.

With less than a month to go before the elections to the European Parliament, I'd like to concentrate on the figures for that election.

YouGov Poll, April 2014

Labour ... 39% (no change)
UKIP ... 20% (+2%)
Conservative ... 18% (+1%)
Plaid Cymru ... 11% (-1%)
LibDems ... 7% (no change)

Wales Political Barometer, February 2014

Labour ... 39% (-2%)
UKIP ... 18% (+5%)
Conservative ... 17% (-3%)
Plaid Cymru ... 12% (-1%)
LibDems ... 7% (-5%)

Wales Political Barometer, February 2014

This is how the four Welsh seats would be distributed, based on the latest poll:

First seat ... Labour ... 39%
Second seat ... UKIP ... 20%
Third seat ... Labour ... 19.5%
Fourth seat ... Conservative ... 18%

Notional fifth seat ... Labour ... 13%
Notional sixth seat ... Plaid Cymru ... 11%
Notional seventh seat ... UKIP ... 10%
Notional eighth seat ... Labour ... 9.75%
Notional ninth seat ... Conservative ... 9%
Notional tenth seat ... Labour ... 7.8%
Notional eleventh seat ... LibDems ... 7%

I commented in some detail on the previous figures in this post last month, following Leanne Wood's attack on UKIP at the Plaid Cymru spring conference. These latest figures from YouGov simply confirm the points I made at the time: namely that if Jill Evans is to have any hope of holding on to her seat, the party that Plaid needs to beat in the election is in fact the Conservatives, not UKIP. This is because UKIP are ahead of the Tories, and the gap between them is growing. As Labour are all but certain to win two seats, it is a three-way contest between the Conservatives, UKIP and ourselves for the remaining two seats.

In tactical terms, Plaid needs to pick off the weaker of those two parties. It was therefore a mistake to concentrate our attack on UKIP. It was as if we were basing our tactics on the last European Parliament elections, when UKIP only got 12.8% of the vote and the Tories topped the poll with 21.2% ... but things have changed a lot over the past five years.

I had hoped that the party leadership would realize this and change tack (after all, that was the point of writing what I did) but I have to say that I have not seen any sign of that. Asking around within the party, it would appear that we are instead relying on getting our "core vote" out and hoping that will be enough. I wasn't convinced by that way of thinking before, and I'm even less convinced by it now that these new figures have been published. In the February poll Plaid was at 12%, 5% behind the Tories on 17%; but the latest poll shows that our support has dropped to 11% and that the gap has now widened to 7%. It should therefore be obvious that we need to change our tactics.


I am not particularly convinced by the idea that any party should primarily base its tactics on attacking other parties. But to the extent that we do (and I believe we should always be careful to attack performance and policies rather than characterize a whole party and those who vote for them as being "against Wales") we need to focus our attack on the Tories rather than UKIP. That really shouldn't be too difficult, as the performance and policies of the Tory-led govermnent at Westminster over the last four years have provided us with ample ammunition to use against them.

The second thing that we need to do is to highlight our own policies ... or, at the very least, not be ashamed of them. One thing Leanne said in her speech is that she hoped Greens and Liberal Democrats would vote for Plaid. That definitely is a good, and in fact necessary, thing to aim for; but we can only have any hope of getting them to vote for Plaid on the basis of our policies, not out of any sense of loyalty to us. However, one thing that is certainly fundamental to Green voters is our position on nuclear power, and there is probably a large percentage of LibDems who are disguntled about the way their party recently changed its policy on the issue.

In the past, I too have urged Green Party supporters in Wales to vote for Plaid—for example this is what I wrote before the last European election in 2009—but I can't, in good conscience, ask or expect anyone who votes Green to vote for Plaid Cymru now. This is because Plaid's leadership has completely turned its back on our policy of opposition to the construction of any new nuclear power stations in Wales, including Wylfa B. Our leaders have sat on their hands and done absolutely nothing to correct the lies and misinformation about our policy that have been put out by a few prominent members of the party such as Elfyn Llwyd, Bob Parry, Dafydd Elis-Thomas and, most recently, by Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Make no mistake, Plaid's poor position in these polls means that support from the Greens and from LibDems who are unhappy with their party's U-turn on nuclear power is going to make all the difference between Jill keeping her seat and losing it. But Jill, even though I know she is against nuclear power, has been effectively silenced by those in positions of power within Plaid Cymru who will not let her, nor our spokesman on energy Llyr Gruffydd, nor even Leanne herself as our leader speak out for what we stand for. This silence is deafening and needs to be broken. Unless we as a party learn to be honest with the Welsh electorate about our policies, we cannot hope to win support from others.


But we face a more serious problem than that. As I noted above, the message that is being put out is that Plaid will be alright if we get our "core vote" out. But why on earth should we expect this "core vote" to turn out? One of Plaid Cymru's great strengths is that it is meant to be a transparent and democratic party in which policies are decided by members at conference. But how can we expect our supporters to turn out and vote for Plaid unless our leaders are prepared to stand up for these policies? Instead what we have is a group of people in positions of power in the party who seem determined to ignore policies that ordinary members have voted for and keep voting for. A party which treats its ordinary members and supporters with such contempt will, as sure as night follows day, see that contempt reflected in a loss of support in the ballot box.

We made the mistake of allowing Rhun ap Iorwerth to misrepresent our policies to the electorate, presumably because those in positions of power within the party thought that it would make it easier to win the Ynys Môn by-election last summer. I warned them at the time that it was a miscalculation: first because it was a safe seat at Assembly level anyway and therefore we didn't need to do it; but second, and more importantly, because it would cost us support across Wales as a whole in future elections. I was one of the few people in the party who stood up and said it at the time, because I realized the danger of the party being seen as two-faced. It is not a matter of nuclear power per se, as if this particular policy is somehow more important than any other. It is a matter of being honest with our supporters across Wales as a whole, rather than pandering to narrow-interest groups within the party. It is a matter of consistency, credibility and trust with the electorate ... for, without that, we have no right to expect people to turn out and vote for us.


In truth, it really didn't matter whether we won the Ynys Môn by-election last summer by a margin of 9,000 or a margin of 3,000 votes, so we threw away our reputation for honesty for nothing. The tragedy is that we have let nine months pass without doing a single thing to try and reclaim it.

But does matter very much if we lose our seat in the European Parliament. To put it bluntly, it will be a disaster for Plaid Cymru if we do. This poll from YouGov shows beyond any doubt that we are going to lose it unless we change tack. So we need to stop focusing on UKIP and turn our attention to the party that we really need to beat in this election, which is the Tories. And our leaders need to find their backbone and reaffirm support for the policies, like our opposition to building new nuclear power stations, that members across Wales have voted for time and again. Mark my words; if we don't do this we will not only alienate much of our own core vote, but will be throwing away any hope of people who would otherwise vote Green or LibDem voting for us instead.

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It's good to see Cymdeithas Yr Iaith taking action to highlight just how little the Welsh Government is doing about Welsh, both with Robin Farrar's can of spray paint earlier this week and today's protest in the reception area of the government's Cathays Park offices.



I want to express my support for what what they're doing, and would like to see them keep up this campaign of peaceful pressure until it spurs the government to take more action than they've shown any appetite for so far.

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Leaking more gas than Wales consumes

I thought I'd re-post this article from this evening's Channel 4 News on Williston, North Dakota, the centre of the current boom in fracking in the USA. The written version is here.


The line that particularly caught my attention was that the waste flares burn off the same amount of gas that Wales consumes and pays for ... the greenhouse gas equivalent of a million cars. Yet another indication that "the size of Wales" is an internationally recognized unit of measurement. In essence, the operators there are only really interested in the oil, and regard the methane released as a waste product. More about that here.


Even though such a high level of waste is scandalous enough in itself, the problem is that not burning the methane that escapes is much worse than burning it, because methane is many times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.

The idea behind fracking is to shatter rock formations to so as to release oil and gas that could otherwise not be extracted. But it is far from a precise process. One of the greatest dangers, even when the intention is to collect methane (as it would be in Britain), is that not all the methane released by fracking will be collected, and that it will eventually find its way to the surface in an uncontrolled way. This has always been known to be a problem, but it seems that the problem is far, far worse than had been thought. Only a few days ago it was reported that unburned methane emission rates in south west Pennsylvania were 1,000 times higher than had previously been estimated by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Fracking might well be a way of helping to achieve energy self-sufficiency, but it is a complete disaster in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

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The sort of energy Wales really wants

While reading this post on the excellent Ynni Cymru website, I found out that a poll had been conducted last year about how people thought we should generate electricity in Wales.

The results are summarized here, and the full tables are available in pdf and spreadsheet form.

The first question was a general question about the place of wind energy.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement. "I support the continuing development of wind power as part of a mix of renewable and conventional forms of electricity generation."

Agree ... 64%
Neutral ... 12%
Disagree ... 21%

The second question asked whether people were generally for, neither for nor against, or generally against the development of different types of large-scale energy projects in their areas.

In general, would you be for or against the development of large-scale projects being built in your local council area involving each of the following energy sources?

Coal ... 38% for ... 23% neutral ... 31% against
Shale Gas ... 24% for ... 20% neutral ... 38% against
Gas (excluding shale gas) ... 42% for ... 25% neutral ... 22% against
Nuclear ... 27% for ... 16% neutral ... 48% against
Oil ... 30% for ... 32% neutral ... 27% against

Wind ... 64% for ... 11% neutral ... 20% against
Solar ... 82% for ... 8% neutral ... 5% against
Hydro ... 82% for ... 9% neutral ... 3% against
Bioenergy ... 56% for ... 18% neutral ... 9% against

The percentages in favour of renewable energy (the bottom four) are all remarkably high. It's interesting to note that, for wind energy, the figures for this second question are virtually identical to the figures for the first question. The first question is a general question, but the second is specifically about large scale development in people's own local area. This suggests that there is not much nimbyism in Wales about wind farms: those who are in favour of wind energy do not object to windfarms in their areas; and those who object to windfarms in their areas object to windfarms per se rather than because they are visible from their back yard.

More people in Wales are against nuclear energy than against any other form of power.

The third question asked people to choose from which one source they would prefer to receive the majority of their electricity.

In general, from which ONE of the following energy sources would you choose to receive the majority of your electricity?

Solar ... 26%
Hydro ... 23%
Wind ... 16%
Bioenergy ... 4%

Total for renewables ... 69%

Nuclear ... 10%
Gas (excluding shale gas) ... 4%
Coal ... 3%
Shale gas ... 1%
Oil ... 1%

Total for non-renewables ... 19%

Other ... 1%
Don't know ... 13%

Finally, there was a question on the impact of windfarms on tourism.

Generally speaking, would the presence of a wind farm affect or not affect your decision of visiting that area?

Would be affected ... 26%
Would not be affected ... 66%
Don't know ... 9%

I think results like these don't need much commentary. Overwhelmingly, we want our energy to be produced from renewable sources rather than from fossil fuels or nuclear. And, with our wealth of renewable resources, Wales is easily able to do this.

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OECD Report - Improving Schools in Wales

I had a bit of difficulty finding a link to the actual OECD report into the state of education in Wales, as reported by both the BBC and WalesOnline.

So to make it easier for others who are looking for it, it's here.


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The proposed e-smoking ban

I've just read this article by Victoria Winckler on the Bevan Foundation blog about the Welsh Government's proposed ban on smoking e-cigarettes in public places.


I agree with what she says and think it's well worth taking five minutes to read.

The real battle is to help people quit smoking tobacco, and e-cigarettes are more likely to be part of the solution than part of the problem.

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A real Jewell

Plaid Cymru is fortunate to have an excellent team of researchers, both in Cardiff and in Westminster. So it wasn't so much of a surprise to find out last night that Delyth Jewell has just won the Overall Researcher of the Year award at Westminster.

The panel of judges, made up of MPs, peers and the National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses which sponsors the event, said that her work on the stalking bill “went far beyond what would be asked of a researcher”.


In case anyone is wondering why she's holding two trophies, it's because she also won the award for Crossbench or Other Parties’ Researcher of the Year.

More details here.

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