I’m voting for Leanne Wood. Here’s why you should too…

I’d intended on simply voting quietly and privately in this leadership election. I’d told my friends how I intended to vote, and why. But I didn’t envisage sharing my thoughts more widely.

But as the ballot papers drop tomorrow, what’s become clear is that we’ve not really been addressing the real issues. The vacuum has been filled, for sure. Filled with the soundbites politics we’ve all become used to; pushing personality over beliefs; concepts (some of which are good) touted as policies; triangulating messages; managerialism etc. The type of PRollocks-ridden politics that has led more and more people away from trusting politicians.

The thing is, this is the easy way. This is how politics is done. Done by professional politicians to a population who are fast giving up on politics as an answer to their problems. The result of politics like this is a fast-track to the far right. Why? Because unless we do something to change outcomes for those living precarious lives, or those whose lives have dropped into real poverty, they will end up choosing the strongmen who use politics to blame others. Others are so easy to find aren’t they? Remember which politician has consistently stood up for those ‘others’. Yup, Leanne.

Meanwhile, in the real world of everyday Wales, we have multiple crises at play. We are fast approaching 40% child poverty; we pay millions to sports car manufacturers owned by the richest people in the world to make cars nobody in Wales will ever afford; and we pay public funds into the coffers on the super-rich on the promise of economic growth. And we also have the very real impact of Brexit on our doorstep. Brexit was, in my opinion, a massive two-fingers to a system that’s failed too many.

We can spend (& waste) energy blaming Westminster, Welsh Labour, Nigel Farage, the EU…., all of the above. We can even spend our energy trying to reverse the decision. In, and of, themselves important. But until we address the reasons why, we’re simply storing up these concerns for the next opportunity, to stick it to ‘the man’. Brexit doesn’t just need fighting; it needs addressing.

Economy – Over the past decade (unlike all the candidates, and most of their advisors) I’ve worked across communities in Wales, supporting lots of different people with their own small and micro businesses. In that time, I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve learnt that this group really matter in Wales. They matter in communities up and down the Country. They don’t just provide financial wealth; they provide social wealth too. I’ve learnt that many of these business owners have been waiting on the promise of politicians since devolution, and all they’ve seen is a failure to deliver, apart from for a select few. They’re fed up seeing promises of the next economic nirvana resulting in nothing.

I’m clear on a number of issues. Firstly, the concept of trickle-down economics is a fallacy, which blows the idea of a big transformative project out of the water. When the state uses scarce resources to fund say, a call centre whose owners are based in India, the profits that operation make don’t stay in Cardiff; they jump over the Severn Bridge, get on a plane at Heathrow and head to Mumbai. Trickle-down is actually a cover for more extractivism that Wales has been subjected to for centuries. Only now it’s not coal and steel, it’s financial returns (oh, and water!).

Secondly, we need to start to address a world with much less work. Until politicians begin thinking properly about the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on the world of work, we will forever be stuck in a rut of economic dependency. Hardly addressed by any of the candidates.

Finally, and most importantly, the economy must mean something. Even if all the grandest of ideas come off, if we don’t solve the pressing social issues of our time, inequality, poverty and climate change, what is the point? It’s important for the societal construct to come before the financial. It does with Leanne.

Leadership – There have been some very personal criticisms of Leanne’s leadership style over the course of this campaign. Whether they’ve been orchestrated or not, isn’t important. What is important is creating some balance within all this negativity. Plaid’s leadership, especially at the Assembly seemed to me to have been a joint endeavour, especially amongst the three standing for Leader. The manifestos were joint endeavours, and if they failed to set the world alight, I’d suggest that failure should be collectively owned.

Outside of the politically active bubble, Leanne consistently polls well, and above the competition (internal and external). In my personal experience she has a unrivalled ability to get a message across to the general public. She is liked. In the shrill world of cut’n’thrust, bloke-centric, politics, being liked is too often overlooked as a strong political characteristic. Just think about it; do you give more time to those you like, or those you don’t? The electorate are the same. If the message didn’t quite work, perhaps it isn’t the messenger who should get all the blame?

Independence – As some will know, I’m a newcomer to the cause of Welsh independence. I’ve said before, I’m one of the increasing number who struggle to see an answer to Wales’ problems via the status quo. In fact, I do think the status quo is damaging to Wales (for the record, I think the same is true of much of England, Scotland and the north of Ireland). I think those who share my concerns over ways we’re likely to address the issues of inequality and poverty, are also persuadable to the cause of Welsh independence. They’re less enamoured by the (valid though they are) cultural arguments. The civic and cultural arguments for independence need to be brought together.

But one thing concerns me, and it relates to our own personal dependence. If Wales is to truly be independent, it needs to be able to remove its dependence on single transformational events, messianic individuals, and especially the tired old ideas from outside. Our answers lie within. Within our towns and villages, our communities and our individuals. It’s always easiest to fall back on traditional economic thinking; mimicking the global, unequal world of market efficiency and financialisation. The problem with this – it just doesn’t work, and it won’t work for Wales.

If anything, repeating more of the same old mistakes will likely push people away from the independence movement, in the same way Brexit prevailed. If we want to build a better Wales, it needs to be less about owning the next iPhone, however beguiling, and more about reducing inequality and ending poverty. That won’t be solved by markets, growth & trickle-down redistribution. It will be solved by being radical. Upholding and supporting social capital, and especially when there is a direct choice between that and financial capital. Only one of the contenders gets that; Leanne.

Alliances & Electoral Success – My concerns about the situation Wales is in helps me to be a pragmatist. Why? Because, I think we’re in deep trouble. I don’t agree with any of the candidates that we need a Plaid Government to deliver independence. We firstly need to understand how damaging the current political system is to Wales’ communities. We then need to lead a consensus of those who want to change that system – the only way to do this is with ALL the levers of power in our hands. That can’t be anything other than independence. If members of other parties buy into this vision of a different economic system in Wales, then that is sufficient for me to want to work with them.

This also brings me to the issue of electoral success. Some are expecting a change of leader to radically change the Party’s electoral fortunes. I think that is pie-in-the-sky thinking. If Plaid is serious about electoral success in the medium term, it must become a radical force; it must deliver on ‘The Change Wales Needs’; Leanne’s pamphlet.

Voting for Leanne – So I’m voting for Leanne as my first and only choice. I won’t be using my second vote. Does this mean I’m failing to participate fully in this democratic process? I’d argue not.

Rhun has yet to set out anything of substance, policy-wise. He’s talked about being a great communicator, but I wanted to know more about his politics, and that really hasn’t got out. The race is almost run, and I think he’s left it too late.

I’ve spoken with Adam during the campaign about some of his ideas. He has said he’s not prepared to give up on the big transformative projects, and his focus is clearly on ‘the economy’. This is standard fare for mainstream politicians – after all, wasn’t it Bill Clinton who famously said ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’, and you can’t get more mainstream than Bill, can you? But the economy is a social construct. The economy as it currently operates is there to make rich people richer – it creates inequality. It also destroys our ecology.

I want our economy to do more. I want it to be set to give prominence to ensuring no child starts their days in poverty in one of the richest economies in the world. That’s the language I wanted to hear, and I’ve not heard it from him.

That doesn’t mean I don’t respect both Rhun and Adam for standing. Nor does it mean, that the policy debates that they’ve raised (or plan to) aren’t worthy of serious debate. Nor does it mean, I disagree with all they’re saying. Far from it, and given we’re all members of the same party, I’d be shocked if I did disagree entirely.

However, on the substantive questions of diagnosing Wales’ current position and setting a clear political vision, there are differences, and they are significant.

An economy that is full of publicly supported companies like Aston Martin, Airbus, Ford and all the others, but fails to address inequality and poverty, isn’t an economy; it’s a con. An economy that funds billionaires over those on the edge of precarity, isn’t an economy; it’s a con. An economy that provides tax cuts to rival the lowest around to attract the entrepreneurial class and global corporations who have no foundation, isn’t an economy; it’s a con. And finally, an economy that ends up looking anything like the unequal U.K., with an overheating core and a dependent hinterland, isn’t an economy; it’s a massive con.

I didn’t want to write this blog, but I felt I needed to. If, like me, you have a vote in this leadership election, and if like me you are committed to Wales being a fairer, more inclusive country; a country where no child starts their life (and undoubtedly ends it too) in poverty, then the only way to vote is with Leanne Wood.

No politician is perfect. They’re just like the rest of us. To expect otherwise is plain daft. And to suggest otherwise, of others, is equally daft. But what I’m sure of, the desperate straits we find ourselves in doesn’t call for a mainstream leader. We need someone who’ll fight to realign our economy to better suit everyone; not try to make a bad system grow.

At the end of the day, I believe the system isn’t working for Wales, and we must change things, now. Don’t expect radical, socialist policies from anyone other than Leanne, because it just isn’t going to happen. They’ve told you they’re going the way of markets and capital. It’s crystal clear.

If you want radical, vote for the only radical on the ticket. Leanne Wood.

NB – I’ve written this in a personal capacity. I’ve not sought Leanne’s permission, or approval. She hasn’t sought to approve or censure my blog, and had she asked, I wouldn’t have obliged. The first time Leanne reads this, will be the first time you could’ve read it.
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#WeAreWales #NiYwCymru

The last few days have seen the Country react to the Secretary State of Wales’ obscene and unnecessary attack on Plaid Cymru’s leader, Leanne Wood on the BBC’s Question Time programme. You can watch the clip here.

Just to get the politics out of the way – Alun Cairns has proven himself out of his depth, and shouldn’t be allowed to resign, he should be sacked. This doesn’t surprise me – I wasn’t impressed when I stood against him in 2005, and during his time as an Assembly member he got into hot water regarding his second property & a purchase of an iPod from his office account. Most relevant to his attack on the integrity of members of Plaid Cymru he has form in racist stereotyping (this earned him a suspension as Vale of Glamorgan Parliamentary Candidate at the time).

What has interested me more, is how people have expressed what Wales means to them via the #WeAreWales & #NiYwCymru hashtags. The hashtags trended over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday as people from all parties and none used Twitter to say what they felt about the Country they call home.

I’ve trawled through over a thousand #WeAreWales tweets and I was struck by what they didn’t say, as much as what they did.

What none of them mention is individualism, division or competitiveness. The economic growth at all costs rhetoric isn’t included in how we, as people who live in Wales, want the world to see us. In fact the language we’ve used is softer, more community-centric, and more family orientated. Lots of people are talking of their own personal heritage; others have highlighted the cultural depth, diversity and history of Wales. Some have talked about bi-lingualism and a few have pointed out the physical, natural beauty of our landscape. I even spotted a few tweeters who made reference to our communal struggles against adversity. The best ones for me were the ones that recollected our non-conformist tradition.

Yet our politicians and business leaders don’t seem to think this is that important. I think they’re wrong. The route they’re taking us down, where we attempt to mimic the growth trajectory of others misses the very soul of who we are.

We could chart a different course, where these #WeAreWales values are centre stage, but that would require vision and leadership, instead of following the global crowd.

Poverty, we all know is relative. It’s also multi-dimensional. What #WeAreWales has highlighted for me is the richness of spirit and solidarity we share as a Nation. This is the first building block of nationhood, and the most important one too.

When people say Wales is too poor, point them in the direction of these tweets, and ask them to think again.

#WeAreWales #NiYwCymru

#indyCURIOUS 

#indyCURIOUS – I’ll be speaking at the Glyndŵr Rally for an independent Wales tomorrow. Here’s the gist of my contribution.

Before I start, I want to thank Sandra Clubb who introduced the word #indyCURIOUS into my vocabulary. It’s a welcome addition, as I hope you’ll find out. There’s more from Sandy in her blog here. Sandy is also another of the speakers at tomorrow’s rally.

A few weeks ago, I explained why I joined Plaid Cymru, and also that I was making a commitment to do my bit to move Wales from dependent status to an independent nation. I wasn’t aware but I went someway to explaining how I moved from a Pro-UK stance on Wales, and eventually on to #indyCONFIDENT (another Sandyism – Diolch). On the way I became #indyCURIOUS, and this was where things began to change for me.

I’d like to explain a little bit more about that journey, and why it’s important that we focus on developing more people into indycurious types rather than simply cajole and embolden those who already stand alongside us.

Firstly though, I want to recognise the role of the 6% (or 8%, or 10%, or whatever it really is) who have shouldered the burden of carrying the flame of independence thus far. They’ve been pilloried over the years, but haven’t lost the faith, despite the knocks. Often ridiculed, they knew this was a long game, and they’ve stuck with it. For that alone, they deserve a massive vote of thanks.

My personal journey to #indyCONFIDENT was pragmatic and considered. It was also, in the scheme of things, pretty quick. Unlike most on this side of the fence, I didn’t start from the ‘heart’ side of the argument. That doesn’t mean I’m not there now, but it wasn’t my starting point.

On Indycube‘s first sortie to the north, Mike Scott and I set off from Swansea, via Aberystwyth, and then onward to Caernarfon. Day 2 involved a trip along the coast – Bangor, Rhyl and briefly into Chester. Just after leaving Aber, Mike asked if I thought Wales was capable of being independent. I trotted out the well rehearsed answers – too small, too poor, too wedded to the England & Wales model that’s kept us for this long…. I believed my answers to be true. At the end of the day, that was the narrative that has been sub-consciously dripped into every Welsh resident for, well, ever!

His reply stuck with me.

He said “I’m really surprised. Whenever we talk about things, you rarely accept the old logic of others; you challenge it. Yet regarding an independent Wales, you’ve just accepted it.”

“If we accept their rules, then perhaps those things you say are true. But if you don’t, and Wales played by its own rules…..”

We didn’t talk about independence for a little while after that. But it got me thinking. I had become, unknowingly, #indyCURIOUS.

For a long time, I’ve been thinking & talking about a world that is changing dramatically around us. Most of the changes relate to the benefits of automation, artificial intelligence, and the ‘information-age’, but some also relate to a world that is beginning to realise that globalisation isn’t working for the vast majority of people. In fact, the world economic model has been set perversely against the forces of equality and in favour of ‘the 1%’; it’s been set against the natural world resources and in favour of the global corp; and here in Wales it’s been set against those who live in the majority of the Country, in favour of a few who live in the nicest parts of our cities.

I’d come to a point, where not only did I realise that’s just not right or fair; but to the point where I was actually going to do something to change things. I was convinced that the forces of change & chaos about to be unleashed across the world, represented an opportunity for us to build a better Wales. That a chance was emerging for us to redefine the rules by which we play ‘the game’. To change the rules, however, we need all the levers of power in our collective hands.

It was here, at this realisation, that I moved from #indyCURIOUS to #indyCONFIDENT.

The chance for change is here & now. Sadly, the opportunity to tighten the grip on resources to keep them in the hands of the few exists for those on the other side of the argument too. A battle for better awaits.

As things stand, despite the recent poll ratings, an independent Wales isn’t on a lot of minds of people living in Wales, and of those who have been asked whether they’d support the idea, or not, it still remains on the margins. Post Brexit polling did suggest an improvement in support for independence, but Roger Scully’s subsequent analysis is worth reading before planning our post Indy street festivals.

Those of us who find ourselves on the independence frontline, I think, need to find a different way of persuading others to sign up. We need people to be willing to be curious about an independent Wales. And that involves meaningful conversations. If you’re #indyCONFIDENT get your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours engaged. Just a bit, initially. Get them receptive. That’s all of our jobs.

Another job for all of us ‘in the choir’. We need to be confident in our assertions. The consistent narrative that we’ve succumbed to around being too small, too poor etc., are deeply embedded. The worst thing we can do is sit in a corner and bemoan this fact. We need to get out and state confidently that we believe in a better Wales; one that is governed solely by the people who live here, for the people who live here.

Next, we must create a narrative around independence that will make people’s lives better. This won’t be easy. There’s a significant body of evidence that Wales needs the cash resources of its ‘richer’ neighbour in order to exist. But that’s playing by the rules of somebody else’s game. Our rules needn’t be the same. We could, for example, decide that in Wales, we’re going to end inequality in our Country. In a world of effective (or more accurately, ineffective) abundance, this is doable. But there would be consequences. For example, if we led more fulfilling, happier lives would we care if we owned the latest iPhone7?

Finally, let’s try and avoid the anti-colonial narrative. Whilst I’ve moved to a position of understanding the impact of colonisation, we need to remember, if we are to win this battle that’s on our doorstep, we must bring the population with us. They will be turned off by anti-English sentiment. Ultimately, we surely want to live in peace and harmony with our nearest neighbours, we just don’t want to dance to their tune anymore.

The independence movement in Wales is at a sold ground zero, primarily down to the work done by all those who’ve kept the faith. It’s rare that the opportunity for change is so clearly presented, but we’ve got to remember this is a battle, which the other side is prepared to fight hard for.

Let’s start by helping people to engage their curiosity, like I did just past Aberystwyth a few years ago. Let’s create an #indyCURIOUS Wales.

Follow @YesCaerdydd on Twitter for updates & please do start using the hashtags #indyCURIOUS #indyCONFIDENT & #indyWales