Battle of the Plaids
A guest post by Welsh Green Matt Townsend
After a year of working towards the Welsh election, we are now on the final sprint. In less than a week we will know whether or not we will have our first Greens in the Welsh Assembly Government.
I’ve only been involved with the Green Party (or Plaid Werdd as it’s also known around here) for a couple of years, since I moved back to my home country of Wales. Being part of the South Wales Central regional team in this election has been very exciting as we have a really good chance of electing our lead candidate and party leader Jake Griffiths.
However, the scale of the challenge in Wales for the Green Party shouldn’t be underestimated. This is already a four party country. In addition to Labour, Tories and Lib Dems we also have Plaid Cymru. In fact, Plaid Cymru are currently the second biggest party, in coalition with Labour in the Welsh Government and with the Lib Dems on Cardiff Council.
During the campaign people occasionally ask me why we need Greens when Wales already has Plaid Cymru. To me the answer is obvious, Plaid Cymru simply aren’t Green enough. As coalition partners in Wales and Cardiff they just haven’t done enough to make this country and its capital city more sustainable. So we need Jake to be as strong a voice for environmental and social justice in Wales as Caroline Lucas is in Westminster, arguing for investment to kick-start the economy and against cuts to public services.
In parts of Wales, Plaid Cymru have benefited from a lack of Green Party opposition. Where the Greens have failed to build an active presence, Plaid Cymru have been the ones to attract votes from people who care about environmental and social justice.
As the Green Party grows in England, an interesting conundrum could be created for Plaid Cymru supporters. Although, as a nationalist party, they have a natural partnership with SNP in Scotland, they have no equivalent in England. Is this important? Well I think it is – to get influence in Westminster and implement policies, it’s important to have as many MPs as possible working towards the same aims.
Plaid Cymru were angry when they were not invited to take part in the televised debates in the general election last year, and were relegated to the debates on Welsh TV which has far fewer viewers than the London-based media.
If the Green Party gain more MPs in the next couple of general elections, we will be in a better position to argue for a greater share of coverage in the UK-wide media, while Plaid Cymru will probably always be restricted to the Welsh media, which many people in Wales do not even follow.
But within Wales, Plaid could be a victim of their own success. We now have the Welsh Government they called for, and with the recent successful referendum, the Assembly has gained increased powers. But with the referendum receiving support from people in all the major parties, Plaid Cymru are no longer the voice for Welsh devolution in the way they once were, while the Green Party commitment to decentralise power to the most local level practical means devolving powers from Westminster is fundamental to us.
Short of pushing for full independence, which there seems to be little appetite for in Wales, Plaid Cymru are left to scrape the barrel, taking on more administrative issues, like devolving the police service – hardly the most exciting subject.
The Welsh language is extremely important to many traditional Plaid Cymru supporters, but they often field candidates who cannot speak the language. Jake’s ability to speak Welsh is a huge asset for the Green Party, increasing our presence in the Welsh language media.
We have focused our campaign around the slogan “2nd vote green”. It’s a simple yet clever message, highlighting the fact that everyone in Wales gets two votes and Greens are only standing on the second (regional) ballot paper. Due the proportional voting system in Wales it’s extremely hard for Labour to get any seats on the second ballot paper – because they are likely to win so many from the first one.
Over 74,000 Labour supporters effectively wasted their vote last time around by voting for Labour twice – we need just a few thousand of them to give their second vote to the Greens to elect Jake. This will appeal to those Labour supporters who would rather see us win seats than Plaid Cymru or the Tories, who have not ruled out forming a coalition together to get Labour out of power.
Plaid Cymru’s approach couldn’t be more different; they are standing on both ballot papers even though in this region they are highly unlikely to win any seats on the first vote. Instead of wooing Labour supporters to get their second votes, they have gone on the attack.
It is a risky strategy – many Plaid Cymru supporters in this area sway towards the left and have sympathies for traditional old Labour. We will only find out which strategy works best on 5th May, but if Greens get our first Assembly Members in to the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru lose ground, it will be the start of a new era in Welsh political history.