Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Wales as victim

I’ll admit that I’ve been surprised at the extent to which, and the speed with which, the Labour Party in Wales have adopted the ‘Wales as victim’ narrative in response to the planned cuts by the UK government. It is, after all, precisely the sort of narrative for which they have spent years criticising Plaid Cymru.

At a political level, it certainly seems to have had the effect of wrong-footing many Plaid spokespersons; it sometimes looks to me that they end up sounding like copies of Labour rather than promoting a different message – and I’m convinced that only the Labour Party will gain from that.

The problem though is that Labour seem to have the zeal of the convert – they’ve picked up on the negative side of the message, with no attempt to promote the positive. Pointing out the ways in which Wales loses by being governed from London has always been a valid part of a nationalist message, but it has never been adequate in itself.

Unless accompanied by a positive message about the advantages of self-government, it just sounds like whingeing – and that’s exactly the accusation hurled at Plaid by Labour over many years. I’ve never thought it an entirely fair criticism – but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely unfair either. It has often been the case that it is easier to get coverage for a negative, critical story than for a positive one setting out an alternative view. That in turn means both that the coverage of Plaid’s views never properly reflected the output of opinions – and it also encourages more negativity.

‘Protecting Wales from the cuts’ is not something with which I can disagree, of course. But it needs to be more than what it sounds like at present – which is that the cuts should fall on someone else rather than on us; it’s a narrative which seems to be saying that cuts are fine as long as they don’t affect me. And that’s a narrative which seems to be increasingly common – it’s a self-interested reaction to the situation rather than a collective one.

Given that the effect of Labour’s spending plans would not have been that radically different, I can see their problem in trying to put an alternative across; it’s much easier just to ‘go negative’. Plaid have no such difficulty; the party’s manifesto for the last election set quite a different direction economically.

A self-governing Wales could take a different view on the rate at which the Welsh deficit should be repaid; it could vary (downwards) the rates of business taxation to aid the recovery; it could decide on a different mix of cuts and tax increases; it could decide to invest in a number of small scale renewable energy projects instead of the grand schemes favoured by London; it could decide to spend public money on sustainable developments instead of huge military projects.

Far from being, as some claim, damaging to the concept of Welsh independence, the current economic difficulties are a real opportunity to put the case for an alternative, more decentralised and local, approach to economics. And not just whinge.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

the other danger for Plaid Cymru is that devolution was sold to the Welsh public as a shield from Tory Government's and tough cuts.

But with Labour Minister's at WAG (supported by Plaid Cymru) likely to cut even harder and exasperate the difficulties for short term political gains after today's CSR, it's likely to turn even more people off further devolution and drive people back into the Labour fold. What happens to Plaid Cymru?

Valleys Mam said...

Whats needed is a strategy to deal with the cuts that are announced.
Plus a realistic SWOT on whats coming out way - there may be opportunities as you said to push for more self government and control over our economy.
Plaid needs to be ready with answers and get them out there quickly, not wait on the coat tales of labour and civil srvants
Plaid has some good economic gurus ,whay arent they using them ?

John Dixon said...

Anon,

"the other danger for Plaid Cymru is that devolution was sold to the Welsh public as a shield from Tory Government's and tough cuts"

I think that was more the basis on which it was sold to the reluctant members of the Labour Party than to the public.

"But with Labour Minister's at WAG (supported by Plaid Cymru) likely to cut even harder and exasperate the difficulties for short term political gains"

Well, I don't know about that. I'd certainly hope for a bit more honesty than is implied by the statement. Interestingly, Betsan Powys seems to think that the cuts in Wales may well be at a lower level than anticipated.

John Dixon said...

VM,

"Plaid needs to be ready with answers and get them out there quickly, not wait on the coat tales of labour and civil srvants "

I agree. But that means a greater willingness than I can currently see to present a party view which may be at variance from a government view.

Anonymous said...

Plaid can't go with the 'victim' mentality narrative. Labour got us into this mess, it's Peter Hain's 'settled will' which means our Assembly has no power to get us out of it.

Plaid's narrative should be; 'we've been left in this mess by Labour, only Plaid and more power for the Assembly can get us out'.

A positive not winging answer.

'Give us power of the Crown Estates, water, taxation and we'll show another way to get out of this recession'.

And as someone said, why aren't Plaid using Ron Davies on tv and radio? Where is he? He'd speak with authority and experience.

Anonymous said...

im afraid i really dont know where anon is coming from on this issue! far from 'turning people off devolution' the consequence of the british govts cuts - and their other recent major decisions to have adversely affected wales - will be to strengthen support for devolution for wales!

People in wales will be looking for some means of defending themselves from the worst consequences of the british govts crazy slash and burn policies and the welsh govt in cardiff is the only means by which we can do this!

I dont know which party will benefit the most when people go the polls in the welsh general election next may - tho it goes without saying both condem parties can anticipate a hammering - but i think it can be safely said that the first major political consequence of whats happening right now is that the yes side will enjoy an even bigger margin of victory in next years referendum on lawmaking powers for the assembly than many of us had hitherto expected!

Many people in wales are feeling 'victimised' at present and rightly feel that wales is being singled out for 'special treatment' by the westminster govt - with such a national mood taking effect in wales it really is difficult to see anything but a big yes vote next march!

Leigh Richards

Llyr Factory said...

Great post John.

I must admit frustration at the way we have responded to Labour's two faced, deceitful narrative. My concern is that we all are warmed by the sense of being right, but the public either don't know or don't care that we have been mugged by Labour.

It harks back to the Barnett Formula and the general election. Essentially it was a demand based on a negative (a wholly real one granted).

Plaid simply have to become more nationalist - but a more progressive and proactive nationalism is vital. I would place at the centre of our manifesto to be what 'We Can' do, not what we cannot.

We need to make clear that with more powers and independence we can forge our own path - based on our needs as a parallel but connected narrative.

And that does not mean we HAVE to do anything different to the Westminster Government at all costs. We should constantly say; "What would we do as an independent nation?" when entering these UK debates.

The lexicon of debate has to shift.

Welsh Ramblings said...

"But with Labour Minister's at WAG (supported by Plaid Cymru) likely to cut even harder and exasperate the difficulties for short term political gains after today's CSR, it's likely to turn even more people off further devolution and drive people back into the Labour fold. What happens to Plaid Cymru?"

I think that's a valid fear, but also a contradiction.

If Labour have to 'cut harder' in Wales, they will blame Westminster. How could such a thing put people off further devolution? And, how could it put people off devolution yet at the same time drive more voters into the arms of the Labour party that is implementing those cuts in Wales?

I do also wonder what happens with Plaid in such a scenario by the way- I would suggest that Plaid needs to completely reject the British lexicon, and approach things from a Welsh mindset. It shouldn't be seen as a bad thing for the UK PLC to be in difficulties- nationalists should ruthlessly exploit those problems and point out how the British state cannot provide any answers for Wales, no matter which political party holds power there.

A more provocative question could be why should nationalists support economic policies that are designed to restore and strengthen the credibility of a union we want to gradually withdraw from?

Spirit of BME said...

Your last para - Hear!,Hear!,Hear!.

It is sad however that most people in Wales and the Plaid leadership think like a conqured people.

Aled G J said...

I would agree with other posters that Plaid really have to up the ante as regards a nationalist, alternative vision for Wales in the wake of the savage cuts agenda unleashed by the Tories.I agree with you John that these straitened economic times could prove to be very fruitful ground for such a vision. My problem is who exactly have we got to propound the vision?! IWJ is just not a vision politican full stop.

With a lack of a clear personality to fulfill this role at present,
maybe Plaid need to reach out to the wider nationalist movement to present a united nationalist platform not just to stand up for Wales but to transform Wales with a set of radical and distinctive policies.

Anonymous said...

To say that Ieuan Wyn Jones is not a vision politician is a bit of an understatement isn't it? The impression given is that not only does he not have one, he doesn't see any need for one, and is extremely uncomfortable if anyone else does. Result? Plaid's supine membership is afraid to put an alternative view, and can only be negative.