An interview with Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood

WITH the pollsters predicting that the General Election was likely to result in a hung parliament, the role of the smaller nationalist parties became increasingly important. This increased role has meant that their leaders have become more familiar and recognisable to the general public. Jonny and Maisie met up with one of those leaders – Leanne Wood, Leader of Plaid Cymru.

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Maisie: Do you think that basic ideas about consent and sex education should be taught as part of the core curriculum in a subject like PSHE from an early age?

Leanne Wood: Yes I do and I’ve put forward in the past an argument for a comprehensive generational hate crime strategy which looks at hate crime in the widest possible definition from consent through to racism and homophobia – any kind of crimes or discrimination against people because of certain characteristics. I think that if a programme of education of that kind was introduced at a very young age to people in school then that has got the best chance of challenging stigmatising and discriminatory attitudes and behaviours.

Jonny: When it comes to the generation who weren’t brought up around the Welsh language, especially in areas of South Wales who have a reluctance to vote Plaid as they don’t believe they represent them – how would you change this?

Leanne: Well I think that our candidate in Ceredigion, Mike Parker, is somebody who is in a prime position to challenge the myths that have surrounded Plaid Cymru for many years. Mike has moved in, he is an Englishman, a proud Englishman, but he is very connected to Welsh communities and younger people and people who are connected with green politics. So he is able to speak to a wide range of people in this constituency and take up a range of issues that are perhaps not stereotypical Plaid Cymru issues.

Maisie: What powers, in particular, do you think that Wales needs in order to become more independent and, following on from that, would you support the idea of a federalised UK?

Leanne: I think there are dangers with federalism in that if all elements of a federal system were of equal size and wealth then it could work. Given that there are such disparities between the different countries that make up the United Kingdom, a fully federal system without taking account of those imbalances would be problematic. In terms of the powers that Wales needs, we need, immediately, powers over the criminal justice system, full powers over energy generation and the ability to raise taxes. That is the key question as far as I am concerned for the next stage in our development. If we are going to improve our economy then the widest range of possible levers available from a tax perspective and borrowing powers are essential. So, the next stage in our development requires parity with Scotland and that is why we have put that question at the heart of our election campaign. Parity in terms of resources but, crucially, also powers as well. We would like, and I published a series of ideas in a paper last summer called Bring our Government home which outlines a model for moving towards writing our own constitution and allowing the citizens to shape the Welsh constitution and I would like to see us moving in that direction and obtaining the powers that we need to shape society in the direction that we want to.

Jonny: The local campaign literature here in Ceredigion states that the Liberal Democrat candidate, Mark Williams, has voted with the government 97% of the time. However, if there is a Labour majority come May 8th and Plaid Cymru play a role – would there not be a similar situation whereby you sided with Labour the majority of the time?

Leanne: No, I have said that we are not prepared to prop up a Conservative government and neither are we prepared to prop up a Labour government intent on pursuing Tory policies. So our price for supporting a minority Labour government would be that they reconsider their position on austerity and we have highlighted the priority of trident replacement. Furthermore, the question of re-balancing power of wealth parity with Scotland which would deliver £1.2 billion to the Welsh block grant is something that we would demand they reconsider before we would be prepared to give them our support.

Maisie: You talked about women in your speech earlier and you obviously want more women to be involved in politics, but how would you encourage more women to get involved in government?

Leanne: I think if we want to see things change then we have all got to be prepared to play our part in making that change happen and so I think the time is up now on us looking at the problem and whinging about it. We have got to be prepared to roll up our sleeves, get involved in political activity to shape the change that we want to see and I would appeal to all women, all people really, who are not happy with the current setup to get behind Plaid Cymru; join us, get involved in being active for us, even stand for positions for us because Wales won’t change unless people change their attitudes towards doing things like that.

Jonny: You talk a lot about the problems in Westminster. In terms of Cardiff Bay, does there need to be a reassessment of attitudes and understanding that there is a rural Wales as well and that needs to be dealt with, not just the south of Wales?

Leanne: You’re spot on there. Just last week I was in Bangor University making exactly that point that what we can’t afford to do is replicate the mistakes of the British state whereby London and the South-East overheat to the detriment of areas away from that centre. There is a danger that we would repeat those mistakes with South-East Wales overheating to the detriment of the rest of the country and so we’ve got to make great effort to re-distribute power and wealth within the country as well as within the United Kingdom. That’s why we’ve been so critical about the Welsh Government’s decision to spend a £1 billion of the entire borrowing capacity on fifteen miles of the M4 when there are infrastructure projects, transport projects elsewhere in the country that need urgent attention.

Jonny: Have you got a message for students across the UK – If you could say anything, what would it be?

Leanne: Make your voice count. Make your demands heard and make sure that politicians in the next parliament cannot ignore you…by voting Plaid Cymru.