A couple of weeks ago, Leanne Wood was on a BBC3 programme called Free Speech, facing an audience of people aged 16-34. The full programme is here, but I want to concentrate on this question about badgers:
It might be worth reminding people about the context of the question. The badger cull was a key part of the policy to control Bovine TB introduced by Elin Jones as Minister for Rural Affairs during the One Wales Labour-Plaid coalition between 2007 and 2011.
A number of legal challenges were made, but Elin was determined to press ahead with the cull. After several legal hurdles were overcome, the policy was eventually declared lawful in a judicial review in April 2010, but the Badger Trust was given leave to appeal a few months later, and uncertainty over the outcome coupled with the looming Assembly elections meant that although plans were made for it to go ahead, the cull was never implemented.
The election in 2011 resulted in Labour being able to govern Wales without having to rely on Plaid Cymru support. One of the first things they did was put the cull on hold pending a review of the scientific evidence. Plaid's criticism of this decision was fierce. Elin Jones called the decision a "slap in the face" for farmers, and said to John Griffiths, the new minister: "In your first act you've let farmers down."
Towards the end of 2011, following the announcement that the Tory-led government in Westminster was to go ahead with a badger cull in England, Plaid's new spokesperson on Rural Affairs, Llyr Huws Gruffydd, again re-iterated that Plaid's policy in favour of a badger cull had not changed, saying:
“This announcement is another severe embarrassment for the Labour Welsh Government and highlights its policy of inactivity.
“With a Plaid Cymru Minister in the previous Welsh Government, Wales had a comprehensive Bovine TB eradication plan. Now under Labour, eradication plans are on hold and the Minister is refusing to say what, if anything, he intends to do about this massive problem for our rural areas."
The scientific review concluded that vaccination was a better option that culling, and John Griffiths announced that the cull would not go ahead in March 2012. But, even so, Plaid Cymru still maintained that culling was necessary. This was Llyr Huws Gruffydd's response:
"The Labour minister has displayed blind ignorance by disregarding the scientific evidence, and all because he has to fall in line with Labour's new policy in London. Wales is now swimming against the tide of scientific evidence that has seen England adopt a culling policy, with Northern Ireland also moving in that direction."
Elin Jones' response was even more revealing: it was personal, petulant and irresponsible. In fact, it would probably be construed as an incitement for farmers to break the law:
"Farmers will now have to decide how best to protect their cattle and I for one would not blame them for anything they do."
So it should be perfectly clear that Plaid Cymru's policy has been to cull badgers, even after a review of the scientific evidence had concluded that vaccination was a better option that culling.
So how is it possible to reconcile these facts with what Leanne Wood has just said in the video clip above?
She said that Plaid had "moved on" because there were now better alternatives to culling. But, as we can see from the evidence above, even after the scientific review had concluded that vaccination was a better option than culling, Plaid was still in favour of culling.
I think this highlights how deep-rooted Plaid Cymru's problems are when it comes to formulating what their policy on any issue is, and then how to communicate that policy to the public at large.
An anecdote might help. A few years ago I attended the Plaid Cymru Summer School at Bala. One of the sessions was on tricky policy issues and was headed by Nerys Evans, who was Plaid's Director of Policy. The emphasis was not on stating, let alone explaining, what party policy was. In fact, it was often far from clear what Plaid's policy was even to the hard-core activists who go to an event like a Summer School. Instead the emphasis seemed to be on being able to give what I can only call a "sweet" answer to the interviewer or member of the public who might ask an awkward question. Something that showed you understood their concern and agreed with it, rather than run the risk of alienating them by giving an answer that they might not like.
As I got to move among the leadership over my years in Plaid, I came to realize that this attitude pervades the leadership of the party; and I think this, more than anything else, explains why Plaid are so inconsistent when it comes to tricky policy issues. The answer that anyone in a position of leadership gives at any time is tailored to suit the people they are addressing. In extreme cases, it results in people giving two different and opposite answers to the same question depending on who they are talking to – but more usually it results in people giving an answer that suits them and which they personally feel comfortable with, simply because they would find it too awkward to go out on a limb and defend a policy they might not agree with or which they thought the people they were talking to might not agree with.
I found this attitude disappointing and increasingly annoying. For me, what is important is what Plaid Cymru's policy on any issue actually is, and why it is what it is. So, on the particular issue of badger culling, I'd want to know whether they are for or against it. Any straight question deserves an objective, and consistent, answer.
I've now done some fairly thorough research, and I cannot find anything that would indicate that Plaid Cymru had or has changed its policy on culling badgers. It may well be the case that Plaid has now reversed its policy, but if the party has indeed made a U-turn of such magnitude (bearing in mind how fervently they were once in favour of culling and how viciously they castigated Labour for cancelling the cull) they owed it to their membership and, more importantly, to the public at large to first say that they had changed their policy and then explain why they had done so. A professional party would surely have issued a statement or press release to that effect. It would have been headline news.
But they didn't. What Leanne said in the video clip above is, so far as I can ascertain, the first indication of any change.
And this raises a rather disturbing possibility. Given Plaid's track record on tricky policy issues, I have to say that it is just as likely that the party's policy on culling badgers was never changed, and that Leanne was simply giving an answer that she thought would go down well with the audience she happened to be addressing. To put it bluntly, that she thought giving a "sweet" answer was more important for Plaid's electoral chances at this election than telling the truth.