Plaid @ 85

Eighty-five years today, six people with a passionate concern for the survival of Welsh identity gathered in a room and Plaid Cymru was born.

Within half a decade the party committed itself to winning dominion status for Wales.
Canada had achieved de facto independence in 1867, the Australian colonies had a formed a self-governing federation in 1901, and the Irish Free State was launched in 1922.

True, Welsh autonomy would require radical changes to the way the island of Britain – then the pivot of an empire – was governed, but this was an age of revolutionary possibility.

The unprecedented savagery of World War I had stripped communities across Wales of fathers, sons and brothers and exposed the need for a new recognition of the rights and dignity of the individual.

Furthermore, far from being a staid society of unflinching deference, Britain was in the throes of transformation.

In 1920 the Church in Wales was disestablished and in 1928 the suffragettes won women the same voting rights as men.

Against such achievements, what seems most extraordinary is not the wild dreaming of Welsh nationalists but the fact that Britain in 2010 still has a hereditary monarchy with splendiferous levels of pomp, an ermine-packed House of Lords and a first-past-the-post voting system for the Commons.

Of course, reform does not equal progress and it is worth noting that this chimerical system of tradition and democracy held together a country which succumbed to neither fascism nor Communism, fought Nazis, delivered the wonder that is the NHS, decolonised without detonating and is now integrating into Europe.

However, if the six people who came together to form Plaid in 1925 were transported into the present they might marvel at multicultural Wales but ask why Canadian-style self-rule still seems more of a concept than a prospect.

Did Cold War politics and the post-1945 rebuilding of the UK effectively push the pause button on the evolution of Britain? Is this why Plaid had to wait until 1966 to win a parliamentary seat; until 1997 for Wales to vote for an Assembly; and until 2007 to enter power as Labour’s junior partner?

Would they be excited at the prospect of Plaid sending its first representatives to the Lords or would they call for the abandonment of Westminster and a bold focus on the Assembly? This would mute the influence of the party’s three MPs but send a striking message that the party considered an imperfect Assembly nevertheless a true expression of Welsh sovereignty.

In 2025, the party will probably be alive to celebrate its 100th birthday. But the questions it will confront and the dreams it chooses to pursue in the next 15 years will be some of the most important in its history.

A Thursday column