I was asked by a Scottish friend this week “Why are Plaid not doing as well as the SNP?”
The point is that the SNP (Scottish National Party) are dominating Scottish politics and Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales are not. The answer to me as a Welshman is obvious, however it may not appear so to someone not from Wales. Wales and Scotland do both suffer from marginalisation within the UK. The UK has been governed by right wing neo-liberal governments that were not supported by the majority of Welsh or Scottish people for over thirty years. In both countries the Labour party has traditionally been the major political party and is perceived as not doing enough for their core supporters, pandering to the swing voters in key English constituencies. So, there is a case for suggesting that support for the Nationalist parties in the two countries should be similar, especially given that the two parties have a similar history.
There are two major reasons for the difference between Welsh and Scottish politics.The rise of the SNP in Scotland is partly as they have displaced Labour as being the traditional anti-Tory party nationwide. This has not happened in Wales.
The first reason is Welshness. In Wales some people are described as ‘very Welsh’ . I am not ‘very Welsh’ yet am equally Welsh as such people. These ‘very Welsh’ people tend to be fluent Welsh speakers, attend Eisteddfoddau and exhibit a particular brand of ‘Welshness’. There is nothing wrogn with being ‘very Welsh’ however such people founded the Welsh nationalist movement. Early campaigns concerned gaining parity and legal recognition of the language. As such Plaid is perceived, perhaps especially in South Wales as being ‘very Welsh’ and hence ‘not for the likes of us’. Plaid has tried to shake this peception, but it has stuck. It has perhaps prevented the party breakign through in the Valleys, the ‘heartlands’ of Welsh Labour.
The second reason is demographics. Wales has a relatively long porous border with England. The Scottish border is relatively shorter to Wales’. As such there is a greater movement of young Welsh people out to seek career opportunities in England and beyond. There is a movement of older ‘English’ people moving to rural Wales towards the end of their working lives. These incomers take time to integrate into Welsh society and tend to bring with them their pre-existing political sensibilities, which are largely conservative.
So, Plaid Cymru struggle to overcome these two factors holding back any potential breakthrough for the party.