Below is the text of a speech made by the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, on the 14th September 2012 at the Plaid Cymru Conference.
It’s an honour to stand here today and address you in my first Leader’s speech to our Annual Conference.
It is, of course, an opportunity to present myself to a new audience.
What you hear and what you see is what you get with me.
No varnish, no veneer. Just Wood!
I promise that is the last Wood joke I will make until I can address you all as the first Plaid Cymru First Minister!
Those of you in the hall, of course, know the kind of leader you elected.
Someone not afraid to speak her mind. Someone who puts principle at the core of her politics.
There are times when that isn’t easy. Times even when it’s maybe not to our advantage in the short-run.
But in the long-run of political life– and politics is a marathon, never a sprint – I’ll tell you this – people have seen through politicians that say one thing, and do another – who promise the earth, and leave nothing but the bitter taste of disappointment in their wake.
People are thirsting for something new, and I’m determined that is what we are going to give them.
I’ve always said I wanted to do politics a little differently, and for me our conference is a space for the leader, not just to speak, but also to listen.
– and I’d like to thank you so much for the words of advice and encouragement you have sent to me over the last few months.
We have four exciting years ahead of us.
And it is my aim to cross the finishing line in 2016 as the winner – leading Plaid, the Government of Wales.
We have got to get over that finishing line together – I’m going to need each and every one you to roll up your sleeves and commit to the hard work necessary to build the organisation and the momentum we will need to get over that line as winners.
The world champion cyclists speeding through this mid-Wales town today are in the race to win! Not to do well. To win. And Plaid Cymru wishes good luck to them all.
Wales now needs more than ever a government that thinks ahead and plans to protect all those people who are at risk of sinking beneath this terrible tide of austerity – wave after wave of cuts in jobs, cuts in benefits, cuts in services, in pay and in real income.
Wales now needs a government that takes responsibility – that tries to solve the problems not just blame others…
What does that mean?
It means a government that protects Welsh pensioners from cuts in council tax benefit by doing a deal with local government – like the one reached in Scotland – rather than simply acting as the Tories’ henchmen.
A government that makes sure it gets the budget for Remploy factories devolved to Wales before the factories are closed down.
We need a government that will ease the burden on that mother who has too much week left at the end of the money.
She needs a Welsh government that makes sure her kids are fed and well-educated, that makes sure her family are warm enough in the winter, one that will legislate to make sure the loan sharks get off her back – that’s what she needs.
And we need her to know that it’s a Plaid Cymru government that will deliver it.
As a party we have four years of hard work ahead of us.
Like all those Olympian and Paralympians, the prize we seek for Wales won’t be won in the final two weeks of the race itself. It will be won in all those months and years of door-knocking in all weathers, tweeting all hours, in the million conversations we need to have to win the trust of a nation.
So we’ve come to Brecon, the town where two rivers meet – the Usk and the Honddu, is a fitting meeting place for this party, where two rivers of thought also mingle.
Two tributaries of the great Welsh radical tradition: the green of Welsh nationalism, green because of our love for our native land, but green too for the love of a planet we share; and the red of socialism, red like our blood to symbolize our common humanity.
If we add the white of peace, we get the red, white and green – three colours united under one banner. The colours of our country.
Geology bequeathed Wales with mineral riches that should have been a blessing but for too many turned out to be a curse.
We cannot make the same mistake again.
We have learned from our history.
Our national, natural resources are our inheritance, ours to harness for the benefit of the people of Wales.
The green economy can be a motor for our economic progress, powering our second industrial revolution. It already employs over 40,000 people, more than financial services and telecommunications combined.
And we can be innovators too. A Cardiff-based company is the first in the world to use a process similar to photosynthesis in its patented solar film. It is also the first in the world to use 100% renewable energy to produce renewable technology. Now that’s what I call sustainability!
But as the Welsh Government’s own Sustainability commissioner, Peter Davies, has argued we are not realising our full potential.
Opportunities are being wasted.
So what will we do?
One of the first acts of a Plaid Cymru government will be to establish our own national powerhouse, a Glas Cymru for green energy, investing in national infrastructure from tidal energy to community-owned wind and hydro power, focused on our own energy needs and yes, where appropriate, exporting this valuable commodity but, and here’s the difference, repatriating the profits and reinvesting them for the benefit of all the people of Wales.
Not like before.
Over the years, people have sacrificed so much, like the miners who lost their lives this time last year in the tragedy at the Gleision mine in the Swansea valley. For many those images unfolding in front of us on the rolling news media stoked deep memories and emotions for those old enough to remember a time when peoples’ lives were littered with such cruel events. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those whose lives were so tragically cut short.
As Gwyn Alf Williams once said, we as a nation have been around for a millennium and a half, it’s about time we had the keys to our own front door.
It’s time, as [one of Plaid’s founders and economist] DJ Davies said, for us to cultivate our own garden.
We must now take control of our economic destiny.
We must take responsibility for where we are going. And what better way than to seed and support our own homegrown businesses.
Locally owned, family owned, co-operatively owned, community- owned – these are the businesses we want to see become the bedrock of our economy.
Here in rural Wales I am very much mindful of the crisis in Welsh agriculture, particularly in the dairy industry. It’s a crisis that has driven people to the edge of desperation. Many Welsh farmers were on the brink of going under with the milk price dispute earlier this summer. But this crisis which strikes to the very heart of our local food system has the potential to hurt us all in the long-run. We need more people producing food not fewer – we must be helping not hindering what is by definition this most essential of all industries.
2013 across the world will be a year of a global food crisis. Extremes of temperatures and drought in places as far apart as the American Mid-West, the Russian Steppes and the Australian Outback will mean food shortages on an unprecedented scale. Already corn prices have risen by 25% worldwide and are set to rise higher. In parts of Africa and Asia this may trigger famine and social upheaval on a vast scale.
We are fortunate to live in a green, fertile, wind-and-rain-swept land. You can tell it’s summer in Wales – the rain is warmer. But we should never take that for granted. Being at the end of a long and distant food chain or relying on oil imports to power our cars or heat our homes is neither sustainable nor ecologically resilient in the long run.
We have the capacity to be energy independent. We have the capacity to be self-sufficient in water – if Westminster allows us – and we can be food-secure, producing more of our food locally for local consumption.
An early action of a Plaid Cymru Government would be to set ambitious but achievable targets to get us powering our cars and our futures renewably, weaning ourselves off our addiction to oil. After all it was Wales that gave the world the fuel cell; let’s now show them how to use it.
You know it’s important in politics as in life to get the right perspective. We may see Wales as a small country, standing on the Brecon Beacons it’s not smallness we see. Behind you stretch the southern seaboard and the valleys. Look north and west and there you’ll see the low green hills of the uplands, and beyond them the mountains of the north. Look at that landscape and reject any doubts you may have. This small nation has it within vast reservoirs of potential.
We have and we can achieve the greatest of things. But first comes those two critical ingredients: hard work and self-belief.
Nowhere has this been more evident than in the Olympics this year. Wales achieved its highest ever tally of golds in the Olympic and Paralympic games. In the two games, we won more medals per head than any other nation in Europe.
Glasgow 2014 here we come!
There we’ll have Welsh athletes in a Welsh team, representing Wales. They will focus all their energy on winning for Wales. And we will do the same.
Their success has allowed us some small distraction from what continue to be very difficult times.
To us in Plaid Cymru, it was obvious from the start that the Westminster Coalition’s strategy was never going to work.
Wales needs jobs. It’s as simple as that. And there’s plenty of work that needs doing. Like Roosevelt and his economic plans in the United States of the ’30s, Wales needs a new New Deal. A green New Deal – aiming to provide skill, work, hope and opportunity for a new generation who have a right to believe that life can be better.
The policies being pursued by the UK Government in Wales have taken a crisis and turned it into a disaster.
And we know all too well who has been hurt the most by austerity.
Look at the victims of welfare reform to see who is paying.
So let’s be clear. Austerity has nothing to do with economics; it has everything to do with politics. The recession has given this Government a golden opportunity to attack the Welfare State and those who rely on it…and attack they have.
Where is the opposition? Who is defending the unemployed from these savage attacks? From what I can see, the official opposition offers Austerity Lite. Hardly surprising after Labour gave us light-touch regulation, the Private Finance Initiative and regional pay. Their latest idea is pre-distribution, which is short-hand for undoing the mistakes that Labour made while in Government.
Plaid Cymru’s economic commission has laid bare the extent of the challenge we face.
Everywhere we look we see the symptoms of our predicament.
Wales has the highest brain drain of all the nations of Britain. Almost 40% of the graduates of universities in Wales have left Wales within six months of graduating – that compares with just 6% in England and 7% in Northern Ireland. They leave – and still leave disproportionately for London – because the opportunities simply aren’t here.
It’s important to remember, and continue to instil in young people the importance of education. Throughout our recent history, those who went before us understood education’s value, especially as a route out of poverty. ‘The miners gave us libraries’ the Manics said, My mother encouraged me – well, nagged would be another word for it – to work hard in school by holding up her hands to me after another shift at the factory, asking me if I wanted my hands to be red-raw like hers. When I think of the fate of this country, I often think of her message to me written in the lines of those outstretched hands.
That was 25 years ago – in the 80s – at a time every bit as challenging as this. Then we in Wales were creating new businesses at the same rate as the rest of the United Kingdom. Now we generate less than two thirds the number of new businesses per person than the rest of the UK. The situation is even worse when it comes to inward investment.
In the early 90s Wales, with just 5% of the population, was securing one in every five of all foreign investment projects into the UK. Now we’re managing less than 2%, one tenth of what we managed twenty years ago – and Mrs Romney’s Welsh cakes are doing a better selling job for Wales abroad than anything done by this Welsh Government.
How did that happen?
It is plain to see that the Welsh economy is seriously under-performing. Our economic under-development is the single biggest hurdle to our progress as a nation. It condemns us to dependence on a Government in Westminster, of whichever hue, that will never have Wales’ interests as its over-riding priority.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Our decline, our poverty, is not, and never has been, inevitable.
It is for all these reasons that we have declared raising Welsh economic performance to a level equal to the rest of the UK the over-riding priority of this party for the decade to come.
To get there we need to use all the skills at our disposal – public, private and voluntary. In a small nation we cannot hide away in our sectoral silos. We have to work together.
Our Economic Commission is looking at a comprehensive strategy. But I have asked the Commission specifically to look at three sets of measures that a Plaid Cymru Government could implement:
Firstly, establishing a new mutual, Innovation and Enterprise Wales – I.E. Wales – IE drosGymru – bringing together the best of the skills of the public and private sectors – to push forward a Welsh New Deal. It was D.J. Davies in the 30s that first called for a development authority for Wales. It’s time again to reinvigorate, regenerate and recreate a new catalyst for creativity in a form fit for the Wales of the 21st century.
Secondly, if the London-based banks won’t lend to Welsh businesses, then we need to create our own financial system, so that more of the money made in Wales stays in Wales. Channel Four has its Bank of Dave – let’s have our Bank of Dai!
Let’s free Finance Wales to become a real development bank, create a wholesale bank for the social enterprise sector, build up a network of business credit unions, and turn the existing patchwork of community lenders into a national savings super-mutual.
Public sector pension funds in Wales have billions in assets, six billion in total, hardly any of which is invested in Wales. Surely we can do better. As part of our further recommendations to the Silk Commission we will seek the power to offer tax breaks – similar to those currently available in Canada – to those pension funds prepared to invest in their own communities. Investing 2 or 3% of our own workers assets in Wales would help transform the Welsh economy while representing no risk at all to the future returns to scheme members.
That’s a flavour of some of what we can and will do in Government. We can do great things.
With hard work. And self-belief.
At Westminster our team led by Elfyn will continue to offer up alternatives to the UK government’s strategy.
And believe me, I will do the same when I meet the new Welsh Secretary.
But the sad truth is that Plan B may be a long time coming.
Government after Government in Westminster believed there was only one game in town, one industry in one City, and that industry was the City and the City was London. And now that industry has been found wanting and so the cupboard is bare.
There is no point looking to London for our salvation. Changing the head of UK Plc will make as much difference to Wales as changing the head of Barclays has done for the culture of the City of London. Personalities come and go in London’s corridors of power but the policies and priorities and the problems for Wales persist.