Elin Jones, the Assembly Member for Ceredigion, recently had an interview with the BBC School Report group of my school, the “only entirely pupil-run School Report group in the UK”. A small group of budding journalists, myself included, interviewed the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly of Wales.
We began by discussing the central idea of Plaid Cymru, the push for Welsh Independence. Jones said that she believed that “Wales could become an independent country…decisions about the future of Wales should be taken in Wales.” Jones also speculated on Plaid Cymru’s future, stating that “Plaid could possibly cease to exist” once independence was achieved.
However, Elin Jones and Plaid Cymru are concerned about seeming as narrowly nationalistic. Thus meaning that she affirmed that her “want in Wales becoming an independent country is not in the context of Wales shutting itself away from the world, it’s more in terms of Wales asserting its authority, independence and enthusiasm in the world and becoming an equal country with other countries in the world.” When pressured on the economic arguments for and against independence, Elin Jones said that her “priority” for Wales is to make the country “economically more prosperous”, she continued by arguing that “the economic arguments for Welsh independence are weak at the moment, but that’s not to say that it will stay that way.”
There seems to have been a shift lately towards independence by Plaid Cymru since the Brexit vote. Leanne Wood wrote an article in the Guardian saying that the ‘Party of Wales has placed an independent Wales back on the agenda’; however, is the idea of an independent Wales on the agenda of the people of Wales? It seems that Welsh support for independence is growing, perhaps due to the growing support for Plaid Cymru, the national party of Wales. A poll since the Brexit vote showed that a growing 28% of Welsh people support independence and that only 53% oppose the idea. This news must be welcome to Elin Jones and other Plaid Cymru members.
Naturally, the conversation moved towards the biggest political issue of the time. When asked about Brexit, Elin Jones stated that “There should be opportunities to think again about whether the UK has to leave the EU, as it was a very simplistic decision that was put in front of the people, but the European Union is complex.” She continued by saying that “a lot of the detail [of Brexit] was not fathomed out in the question on the referendum”. Yet, as a true Cardi, who went to school at Lampeter Comprehensive, Elin’s main concerns were for the rural communities. She said that “there are huge challenges for what the exit from the EU could mean for a rural area”, then continued by saying that she has a “great fear that [rural communities] may not be the priorities of the UK government, farmers from West Wales may not be on the forefront of Theresa May’s mind.” Wales, and especially Ceredigion, are exporters. This means that being able to sell freely to our European neighbours is of great importance to the Welsh economy. This is why, Plaid Cymru argue, Wales should remain committed to being members of the single market, a free trading area of European countries, including some who are not EU members (such as Norway).
However, not all in Ceredigion voted to remain in the EU. After looking at the Remain/Leave vote by ward, it is clear that there was a wide variety of views. Aberystwyth voted strongly for remain, while many areas in the south, such as Cardigan, voted to Leave. Due to this, the reporters asked Elin Jones what she will be doing to make sure that all of the opinions of her constituents are heard. She replied by saying that she takes her “main lead from the fact that the majority of people in Ceredigion voted to remain”. Her responsibility is to “challenge the process, so that the process is done in a way that is questioned along the way”.
Another thing that Elin Jones wishes to challenge is right-wing populism. She said that, “Plaid Cymru needs to offer the alternative as a positive voice that appeals to a wider audience rather than a vocal minority”. The Presiding Officer also believes that there is a “responsibility on parties across Wales to challenge that and to appeal again to people’s fundamental good values of human rights and that all citizens are equal and should be treated as such in our community.”
Right-wing populist parties are often described as nationalist parties. So, the School Reporters challenged Elin Jones by asking whether Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, is a Nationalist or Internationalist party. She replied by saying that she believes that Plaid Cymru is “both”. She argued that the “nationalism of Plaid Cymru, our desire to see Wales become a self-governing country where we decide our own future, it is nationalism, but its civic nationalism not an identity based nationalism.” She elaborated on this by saying that Plaid Cymru’s nationalism and aspiration for Wales isn’t for a country that sees itself as “shutting itself away from countries in and outside the UK. We see ourselves as an internationalist country and party. We are very strongly pro-EU and we form alliances with countries which are smaller and have a lesser voice in the world than the great big corporate countries, sometimes, small really is beautiful. Having a greater breadth of countries could make the 21st century a better place.”
Elin Jones from Plaid Cymru, says that she supports Traws Link Cymru’s plan to reopen a railway line between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen. Jones commented that she’s seen big progress in how they’ve won community support and support from Ministers. “We now have the commitment for a full technical feasibility study; the next stage is to find the funding to reopen the railway” she explained. Lastly she added what the long term priority was her priority is for there to be a railway that connects all the communities like these to the wider world because “trains are part of the future of transport”.
In times like these, with the recent vote to leave the EU and the election of Donald Trump, many on the liberal left feel concerned for the future of politics. Yet, Elin Jones feels hopeful, believing that we “will see political progress…even though I feel that my political values have been shaken by Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory, because I’ve been in politics long enough, I know that things change as well. Despite the reality of today, fundamentally I still believe that the majority of people still believe in social justice and economic justice.”
In order to achieve “social and economic justice”, Elin Jones believes that left leaning governments are necessary. So, what does she think of the ‘broad-tent’ of the left, the Labour Party? She said,“There is an element of the Labour Party that I feel reasonably enthused by, but Corbyn seems to be spectacularly unsuccessful in doing the leadership part of leading Labour…Labour seem to be in a very confused state of mind. There’s a real difference between Corbyn’s UK Labour and Carwyn’s Welsh Labour, they’re almost separate entities.” The Presiding Officer continued by saying, “It saddens me that Corbyn is not able to, as leader of the Opposition, challenge Theresa May, she’s having a free-reign on almost everything. There is a need for an opposition more than any time for the last 10 or 15 years with of the huge issue of Brexit that needs to be challenged and got right, otherwise we’ll drift into something and nobody will know what that something is. So, I’m pretty glad that I’m in a more stable party than the Labour Party!”
However, as a politician, Elin Jones’ position is not entirely stable. When asked what she would be doing if she were not an Assembly Member, Elin Jones said that she “wouldn’t do” anything economic or political, but instead she would “like to run a Caffi!” With a smile on her face, Elin Jones promised the School Reporters that they could have free coffee once her café opened.