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Plaid Cymru - good old fashioned socialism?
IN ITS manifesto, Plaid Cymru/The Party of Wales (the Welsh nationalist party), aims to appeal to disenchanted Labour voters, a programme described by President Ieuan Wyn Jones as "good old fashioned socialism". But is it? GEOFF JONES of Socialist Party Wales examines this claim.
ONE FEAR haunting the Welsh Labour Party is the fear of massive gains by Plaid Cymru. Between 1997 and the 1999 Assembly elections, Plaid's vote nearly doubled, making them Wales' second largest party with 28% of the vote to Labour's 38%. And their gains were in working-class South Wales, Labour heartland for nearly a century, traditionally hostile to nationalism.
Wales is poor relative to the rest of the UK and has got poorer over the years of the Labour government (GDP per head dropped from 82% of the UK average to 79% between 1996 and 1998). But Plaid says nothing about the reasons for this poverty, ie a capitalist market economy.
They avoid the fact that the Welsh economy still depends primarily on manufacturing - on multinational firms who close a factory at a day's notice with no comeback. Wales is going to be hit far worse than the rest of Britain by the economic downturn (over the last three months, unemployment in the rest of the UK has gone down by 1.2%, in Wales it has actually risen by 1.2%!).
Plaid only mention in passing the destruction of the Welsh steel industry by CORUS and make no demands for the renationalisation of steel.
Their only reference to nationalisation, or any democratic workers' control over the economy is the nationalisation of Railtrack - not the rail companies - with the government buying up Railtrack's shares!
PLAID POINT to welfare cuts, disguised by New Labour spin, and that because poverty is higher in Wales, facilities are even more stretched than in other parts of the UK.
At the moment, public money is allocated to Wales on the basis of population relative to the population of Britain as a whole (the 'Barnett Formula'). Plaid points out rightly that Wales is poorer and so requires relatively more spending on health and social services. They demand money from the Treasury is allocated on the basis of need rather than a head count.
Plaid's manifesto although well to the left of New Labour is very far short of socialism.
Its policies offer no more than the old warmed-over policies of previous Wilson/Callaghan Labour governments - governments that in the face of capitalist opposition massively cut public spending on welfare and allowed unemployment to rocket upwards. Labour Chancellor Denis Healey in 1974 famously boasted of "squeezing the rich till the pips squeak" - only to abandon higher taxes on big business and the wealthy under pressure from a 'strike' of finance capital.
Social reforms without measures of socialist nationalistion carried through by a mass working-class movement will inevitably be neutered by opposition from the capitalist class.
Indeed, Plaid's record in local councils such as Rhondda/Cynon/Taff has shown that they will not even fight against implementing cuts in jobs and services imposed by central government.
Plaid has to walk a careful path, attracting new working-class support without alienating their traditional supporters in the countryside. They don't say if they are for or against hunting. Similarly, while supporting reform of the Common Agricultural Policy they do not criticise the stranglehold of rich farmers and supermarkets over agricultural production.
Many Welsh workers may vote Plaid Cymru where they have no genuine socialist alternative. But more and more are realising that the programme put forward by Socialist Party Wales and its parliamentary candidates standing under the banner of the Welsh Socialist Alliance represents the only way forward.
Welsh Socialist Alliance phone 029 20635783 or email:
In The Socialist 25 May 2001: