Commentators and others are still pondering the general election results that few expected. What occurred on May 7 will leave a lasting impression not just on the governance of the UK. It also sets the context for next year’s Welsh general election that poses challenges for parties here in Wales.
Scotland’s results, whilst anticipated by many, constituted a political earthquake. The SNP now has a strong mandate to secure for Scotland an alternative to punitive austerity and significant national empowerment. For Plaid Cymru, it was disappointing that we did not increase our number of MPs.
There are, however, positives to take from the campaign. Despite being expected to lose ground, for the first election in many years we held it. In areas where the party has not traditionally been strong electorally, there were encouraging signs of new support. In those constituencies where there were effective and continuous local campaigns, Plaid Cymru did well.
And our inclusion on UK-wide televised leaders’ debates as well as an increase in the general exposure for the party has given us an unprecedented foundation for the Welsh general election next year. As is the case after every election campaign, there will be competing and sometimes contradictory reasons for individual campaigns not fulfilling expectations.
I am grateful for the feedback from so many candidates and campaigners as well as well-wishers – all of whom want to see Plaid Cymru at its best so that Wales can be at its best. It’s worth now reflecting on how we build on what we have achieved so that Wales can have a change of government next year.
I am Plaid Cymru’s candidate for First Minister. Next year, Plaid Cymru will be presenting an alternative programme for government and we will seek a mandate for its implementation. Pundits and commentators will look at current polling and suggest that – eleven months out – the election is already decided. That inevitably Wales is destined to another term of Labour rule. As the UK election has just demonstrated, anyone taking anything for granted a week before an election, let alone almost a year out, should think again.
It is perfectly legitimate for people to ask what Plaid Cymru will do now to put itself in the best possible position as an alternative to the status quo. We will demonstrate our competence as a team; my shadow cabinet includes the personnel who have what it takes to lead our nation’s government.
Our plans will centre on building a successful nation; closing divisions and building the national infrastructure so that our country can be the success we know that it can be. Our alternative will be all about people. I want to work with others so that we have a decent constitutional framework for Wales agreed well ahead of the Welsh general election next year.
Not just so that we can go some way to get the tools we need as a country but because I want the next Welsh general election to be the first that is a contest of ideas between parties on matters like the NHS, reversing our poor educational attainment, releasing the business potential, boosting people’s quality of life and maximising prospects for individuals, families and communities.
If Welsh politics continues to be dominated by debates on institutions then our election won’t be a dialogue about people, their hopes and their expectations. That does a disservice to everyone who looks to political parties for a vibrant and challenging competition for votes.
The next Welsh general election must be about what direction and priorities the next government of Wales will pursue and people should have the opportunity to vote on that basis. Wales is in need of a new beginning. I want to lead a party that is engaging with people in every part of our nation over the coming year to deliver that new beginning.
Many people in Wales look to Scotland as the beacon of possibility. The greatest inspiration I take from what has occurred is the unparalleled grassroots movement that has swept every community in Scotland. People – not politicians – are the custodians of the national movement. Ours is a bottom-up movement that has reshaped and reframed politics forever.
Over the coming weeks and months, as Wales’ general election approaches, I will visit towns and cities throughout the country to listen and speak with people so that we can build our own movement for Wales – a grassroots national movement that can sweep the old politics to one side and begin again the process of rebuilding our nation. A new government and a new beginning is possible in Wales. It is needed now more than ever.
Leanne Wood is the Member of the Welsh Assembly for South Wales Central and has been leader of Plaid Cymru since 2012