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From The Socialist newspaper, 28 March 2012

Wales: Does Plaid Cymru leadership vote show left turn?

Dave Reid

The election of Leanne Wood, a radical, republican, anti-capitalist woman, as leader of Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru makes a sharp change from the party's more conservative leadership of the past and could attract trade unionists and young people to Plaid.

Leanne has identified as a socialist and trade unionist and is chair of the PCS union group in the Welsh assembly. She has been prominent in support of many workers' struggles, anti-war demonstrations and anti-cuts campaigns.

Her election as leader opens up the prospect of a more robust approach by Plaid in taking up social issues and in calling for independence.

She has ruled out any coalition with the Tories, has been prominent in opposing cuts in public services, criticised the capitalist European Union and clearly opposed nuclear power, traditionally supported by Plaid Cymru because of the power stations that were at Wylfa and Trawsfynydd.

Her election will make Plaid Cymru, at least on the surface, appear as the radical alternative, especially as the "two Eds" - Miliband and Balls - have said a future Labour government would maintain Tory cuts. It will put Welsh Labour under pressure as Wood accuses them of "sitting and waiting" while Wales sinks under the cuts.

During the leadership election Plaid Cymru's membership increased by 23%. A thin but significant layer of young people were drawn into Plaid by Leanne's campaign.

Voting for cuts

However, while being the most prominent politician in Wales in support of workers in struggle, Wood does not have confidence that a mass movement can defeat the cuts or change society.

For example, she opposed the 'needs budget' strategy put forward by a number of trade unionists and Socialist Party Wales that would involve mobilising a mass movement in support of a Welsh government refusing to carry out Con-Dem cuts from Westminster. Reluctantly, she supported a budget that included some cuts.

And while calling for an economy that serves "our people rather than the market" and "a role for the state in the economy", Wood does not propose clearly socialist policies. She favours a "social economy" rather than a socialist economy.

She supports decentralisation and cooperatives rather than nationalisation and calls for "a robust economic infrastructure that can shelter us from future economic storms".

Wood has linked independence with a campaign for social justice that could resonate with many workers.

Most working people have opposed independence partly because of the weakness of the Welsh economy, especially since the destruction of industry by Margaret Thatcher's Tories in the 1980s.

But the prospect opening up for the Welsh economy - already valued at only 74% of the UK per-head average - with massive benefit cuts, regional pay and huge public service cuts, is to sink to eastern European or Greek levels even while part of the UK. The Con-Dem government plans to cut Welsh public sector wages by up to 18% through regional pay.

When challenged by a TV commentator that independence would impoverish Wales, Wood replied: "Well we have that already within the UK."

'Cooperative islands'

Support for independence currently stands at about 10%, but as Scotland moves towards an independence referendum in 2014 and the economic situation worsens in Wales, this is bound to rise.

But Leanne's model of a string of cooperatives, islands of socialism in a stormy sea of capitalism, cannot possibly make up for the past destruction of industry and mining now to be accompanied with public service and welfare cuts. The tidal waves of capitalism would overwhelm these tiny cooperative islands.

A weak, independent, capitalist Wales could withstand the forces of global capitalism even less than Greece or Ireland. Only a socialist Wales linking with workers in Scotland, England, Ireland and the rest of Europe can hope to defy the rigours of the capitalist markets.

Plaid Cymru - a radical party?

While Leanne Wood publicly supported the Occupy Cardiff camp, Neil McEvoy, the Plaid deputy leader of Cardiff council (supposedly on the left of Plaid), denounced occupiers as extremist. He agreed that the camp should be moved from Cardiff Castle's grounds before the police used tasers and horses to break it up.

Plaid-led councils have carried through big cuts in schools and privatisation.

Plaid-controlled Caerphilly council has attacked facilities for Unison. A Plaid councillor has attempted to start a witch-hunt against Unison activists in Carmarthenshire.

Whether Plaid's significant conservative section will accept a radical campaigning party remains to be seen. They could form a drag on Plaid's move to the left and even attempt to undermine Leanne Wood.

A split or series of splits is possible given the breadth of ideas and cross-class support in Plaid.

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In The Socialist 28 March 2012:


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Tories stand for the 1%... We need a voice for the 99%!

Budget for the 1% must be fought

Toasting the cuts - councils show no remorse

Wales: Does Plaid Cymru leadership vote show left turn?

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