“What do we want?” “___*___“
“When do we want it?” “Now!”
(*Insert here a pithy description of no more than three words. The answer to the second question is always ‘now’.)
It was a useful catch-all. Gareth Hughes has already drawn a comparison between that and Plaid’s latest statements. It’s a useful comparison. The message is much less straightforward and seems these days to run something like this:
“What do we want?” “Not entirely sure at the moment – can we get back to you on that?”
“When do we want it?” “Ooh. Difficult one. Not now obviously – in a decade or three perhaps?”
As slogans go it’s somewhat lacking in both immediacy and the power to inspire.
Of course, it could be just an attempt to be over nuanced. The problem with over nuanced messages, though, is that they simply don’t work. (I say that from experience. I still remember Plaid’s slogan for the common market referendum in 1975 – “Europe yes; EEC no”. It was an accurate summary of the party’s position, but a disaster in campaigning terms.)
The problem with this latest attempt at nuance, if that’s what it is, is that it’s losing the party all distinctiveness on the constitutional question. What exactly is the difference between the two statements in each of these following pairs?
1a “Wales is too poor to be independent”
1b “Wales cannot be independent until its economy has been fixed.”
2a “Only continued membership of the UK can bring prosperity to Wales.”
2b “We can’t leave the UK until we’re sufficiently prosperous.”
In each case the first is the line often taken by members of the unionist parties and the second seems to be Plaid’s current position. But in each case the statements sound, in effect, remarkably similar to me.
Not only is Plaid now sounding very like the unionist parties on this question, it’s also standing on its head the argument that I (and plenty of others) spent 40 years promoting. Whereas in the past we argued that we would never be able to fix the Welsh economy until Wales took responsibility for all its own affairs, Plaid now seems to be arguing that we can’t take that responsibility until the economy has been fixed (and inevitably it sounds like that means ‘fixed by somebody else’).
Now in reality it was never as black-and-white as that, of course. Independence doesn’t guarantee prosperity any more than continued union guarantees continued relative poverty (or vice versa in each case). But I always generally believed – and still do – that it is much more likely that a Welsh government, with its focus solely on Wales, would address the economic problems better than a UK government driven by UK wide concerns.
Perhaps Plaid are really just trying to say that devolution of some further economic levers to Wales will be enough to achieve that economic turnaround without full independence, although I’m struggling to see where anyone has defined precisely which of those levers are the key ones, and how and where stopping short of full control gives ‘enough’ control. And even the party’s current approach to fiscal devolution seems to be somewhat timid.
It’s hard to see the latest statement as anything other than a further redefinition of Plaid as a devolutionist rather than a nationalist party; and given that we’ve already got three of those, I’m not convinced that we really need a fourth.