This was an event intended to rally Plaid’s troops in advance of the local authority elections in May with most of the slots on the main stage given over the reports from local authority groups.
Plaid’s line from the conference was that only a vote for Plaid would allow people in Wales to “take control” of their lives”. This was massively overshadowed by a developing story about Neil McEvoy (South Wales Central)(PC). Mr McEvoy was found to have behaved in a bullying way towards a Cardiff Council employ in his capacity as a councillor by the Adjudication Panel for Wales on Friday. Tweeting on Saturday morning, Bethan Jenkins (South Wales West)(PC) questioned the decision by the party’s leadership to allow Mr McEvoy to address conference. The leadership said they will consider what further action to take next week.
Addressing the conference on Saturday afternoon, Mr McEvoy gave his version of the previous day’s events. He said: “Bullies stop when you hit them back. Attack is sometimes the best form of defence.” He said he was a man who “did what needed doing”. He suggested Labour were bullies and it was Plaid’s job “to move them out of the way”. He suggested Labour was “in meltdown” and it was a mistake by Plaid Cymru to enter into a compact with them.
Elsewhere, a speech from Leanne Wood (Rhondda)(PC) ran like a report on the last 12 months for the party. She set out how Plaid was working to defend Welsh interests in the face of Brexit, the Conservative Government at Westminster and the Labour Government in Cardiff.
Her comments regarding the Welsh Labour Government were heavily caveated with repeated suggestions that sometimes it was appropriate to cooperate to bring about positive change in Wales. She cited investment in apprenticeships, childcare and mental health services in the last Welsh budget as well as the white paper on Securing Wales Future as examples of this. She stressed that Plaid was unafraid to “hold Labour to account where appropriate”.
She warned that the Welsh economy risked becoming unbalanced in the same way that the English economy was – with an overheated capital and an underdeveloped hinterland. She said Plaid Cymru was committed to a rebalancing, citing support for the Carmarthen to Aber rail line as an example.
Turning to the upcoming local authority election, she noted a lack of media coverage of Welsh politics, and urged activists to take the message that “Wales doesn’t have to settle for second best” to voters. She concluded: “Don’t let Wales be ignored. Building the new Wales starts with us and with you”.
Sian Gwenllian (Arfon)(PC) opened the event with a call to activists to “demand justice” for Welsh communities. She highlighted how returning Plaid councillors could benefit communities in Wales.
Rhun ap Iorwerth (Ynys Mon)(PC) praised NHS staff in Wales but accused the Welsh Government failing to acknowledge shortcomings and deflecting all criticism as “politicisation” of the NHS. He suggested the Labour Party was “lethargic” in its approach to healthcare in Wales.
Bethan Jenkins (South Wales West)(PC) gave an impassioned speech about media coverage of Welsh politics. She said the democratic deficit, warning that the biggest risk to Wales “was not fake news but no news or English news”. She said the Communications, Culture & Welsh Language Committee was committed to holding all Public Sector Broadcasters to account on this point.
There were also two panel discussions on Friday. On Friday morning, Cardiff University sponsored an event entitled: Innovation in Wales: Where Next? This considered the importance of joint working between further education, higher education and business to develop ideas to boost economic prosperity in Wales. Adam Price called on the Welsh Government to use economic levers more imaginatively. Noting that much funding for innovation came from the EU, Dr Adrian Healy of Cardiff University suggested a possible role for a national innovation body post-Brexit.
On Friday afternoon, the Farmers’ Union of Wales hosted a session entitled: The Welsh Rural Economy Post-Brexit: Challenged and Opportunities. Panellists suggested that a short-term picture was worrying but, with effective policy interventions, particularly around smoothing transition between generations, the future for Welsh farming was very bright. Simon Thomas (Mid & West Wales)(PC) suggested a British Islands Single Market needed to be established to protect trade with and within Ireland.
On Saturday morning, there was a discussion session sponsored by Community Pharmacy Wales on Modernising Primary Care in Wales. Participating in the discussion, Dai Lloyd (South Wales West)(PC) urged delegates not to think of the NHS in Wales as failing but as highly successful because people in Wales were living longer, healthier lives. Speaking on behalf of the Royal College of GPs, Dr Rebecca Payne expressed concern over how funding was allocated across the primary sector. She suggested that more strategic contracts should be drawn up to prevent competition across the primary sector. Rhodri Thomas, Community Pharmacy Wales outlined the role community pharmacy could play on alleviating pressure on other areas of primary care. He stressed the need for consistent messaging across LHBs on what should be accessed through community pharmacy.
On Saturday afternoon, a discussion session, sponsored by the European Free Alliance considered the post-EU future of Wales in Europe. Jill Evans MEP stressed that Wales maybe be leaving the European Union but it would not be leaving Europe. She told conference that she had already begun to examine how Wales could maintain the links which would give young people in Wales the best opportunities. Steffan Lewis (South Wales East)(PC) later said that Ms Evans would play a “central role” in Wales’ negotiations around Brexit.
Hywel Williams MP (Arfon)(PC) spoke on the role Plaid could play in representing Wales’ interests through the Brexit process.
Finally, Adam Price (Carmarthen East & Dinefwr)(PC) considered how 18 years of devolution had impacted on Wales. He suggested Labour was “propagating a mindset of social inertia”. He also outlined his proposals for an income tax levy to support health and social services. He also said the Assembly Group would launch “an idea lab” to develop ideas for “Novo Cambria”. He concluded Plaid was here to build a new Wales.
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