THIS Friday Aberystwyth played host to the Plaid Cymru annual conference, the Arts Centre bristling with delegates and members of the press. While there was much to be debated and reported on, and many big names were also present, the main attraction of the day was Leanne Wood as she outlined the party’s goals and ambitions in her address.
Having been on stage earlier in the day to shake hands and stand united with Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP, she attacked Westminster for its slow progress on devolution, Welsh Labour on their work with the NHS, and demanded an end to ‘the treatment of the Welsh people as second-class citizens’.
Sturgeon had been rousing attendees with her vision of Wales as independent and free, as an SNP Scotland wished to be. Talking up the policies they shared with Plaid, and stressing that the sister parties could have the influence in government they wanted; speaking as though Plaid had already won and Leanne Wood was the only woman fit to lead the country.
The intention had been to stir the national pride in the audience and give Wood the platform to leave the press writing of her resounding success at the lectern, but the freedom Sturgeon had to make quips about the rugby and warm up the crowd in her speech left Wood looking less comfortable by comparison.
Laying out her plan for the country, Wood stressed the shortcomings of Welsh Labour and Westminster’s weak attempts to further Welsh devolution, intermittent with the party’s plan for the country. When outlining a Plaid NHS, and aware of the older demographic attending the conference, she promised care package for everyone over the age of 65 and shorter waiting times for all. In education two big claims took centre stage: a commitment to increasing teachers’ pay ‘across the board’, and the more divisive decision to lower the school starting age to three years old.
Finding her rhythm as she continued into the speech she talked confidently of the future. She had pointed out the problems of the other parties but went even further when talking about Plaid’s environmental goals, branding Westminster as climate change deniers, and promising a plan in the first 100 days to make Wales’ energy 100% renewable. Wood made their stance on fracking very clear too:
“Not one inch of Welsh soil will be fracked under a Plaid Cymru Government.”
Now in full flow she hit the topics Nicola Sturgeon had had such success with just hours before; standing equally strong on abandoning Trident and bringing in the 50-year anniversary of the flooding of Tryweryn to stoke the nationalist fires. Signing off with emotion, Leanne Wood reminded the great hall that ‘there is nothing about our people that should be taken for granted’ and the applause rang out once again. Oddly there were times it seemed even Wood herself was surprised at the success of her address as she and her shadow cabinet stood for press shots. With this strong a start to the campaign she may have to adjust quickly.