Manifesto Check: Plaid Cymru’s defence policy is ‘vague and uncosted’

Moving out? Plaid’s plans for relocation are light on the details. Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Defence

Keith Hartley, Emeritus Professor at the University of York

To begin with, it is worth noting that Plaid Cymru is not calling for defence to be devolved to Wales. Even so, the party’s manifesto contains a vague and uncosted defence policy. There is just one costed commitment; namely, opposition to a Trident replacement, which the party claims (more or less correctly) would cost £100 billion. Other commitments refer to basing Welsh army units in Wales, support for veterans and cyberdefence.

The manifesto fails to refer to, or identify, any specific defence and security threats to the UK and Wales. Nor is there any reference to the party’s preferred level of UK defence spending – though its leader’s previous statements on the matter indicate that they would prefer a much lower level.

In its manifesto, Plaid Cymru pledge to use any savings from the cancellation of a Trident replacement to provide public services and safeguard jobs. The costs of Trident are incurred over a 50 year lifetime, which means an annual average saving from cancellation of some £2 billion per year. These savings would accrue to the UK, with the Welsh share amounting to 5% – or £100 million per year – based on population.

No details are given as to which public services will be provided and how many jobs in which sectors will be safeguarded. Nor is there any recognition of the cancellation costs of the Trident replacement and the loss of potential jobs from its cancellation.

There is a commitment to base Welsh army units in Wales to improve relationships with the local community and help soldiers’ families. This commitment lacks any details of the likely numbers involved, the impact on military effectiveness and the costs of re-basing. Presumably, current army units will need to be re-located and provided with appropriate training facilities. This will not be a costless option. The closest example in current policy is the re-location of the British Army from Germany to the UK, which is set to cost £1.8 billion.

Plaid Cymru plans to provide improved support for veterans. Again, this is a vague policy which lacks details and costings. We are not informed of the problem, its magnitude, how it will be solved, or the likely costs. Evidence suggests that the defence industry makes a direct contribution to the supply of highly qualified labour in the UK. Plaid does not provide any evidence on the employability of veterans, and whether measures such as improved training would offer a cost-effective solution.

There is a mention of “looking after our Armed Forces by providing a peaceful and secure world, not by putting them unnecessarily in harm’s way”. But this proposal fails to recognise that Armed Forces are likely to be involved in conflicts to provide security and protection for UK citizens, and that inevitably such conflicts will put military personnel in “harm’s way”. This raises profound questions about the definition of unnecessary conflicts, and new models of governance in a potential federal state of Wales.

There is also a proposal for an EU civilian peace corps. This appears to be an attractive suggestion but again, it is long on emotion and short on details. There is no indication of how much would it cost, and how the burden would be shared between EU member states.

Plaid also pledges to “bolster cybersecurity defence capabilities to increase security and prevent cyber-attacks”. No details are given as to how this threat will be countered, or at what cost. Cyber-attacks are certainly a real threat, but it is a UK-wide threat and not a threat specific to Wales.

Tackling extremism

Benedict Wilkinson, King’s College London

At only 70 words long, Plaid Cymru’s policy on tackling extremism leaves many questions unanswered. Its basic assertion is that a Welsh civic identity, promoted through a variety of channels including schools and community organisations, will challenge the ideologies that drive individuals towards extremist views and activity. Under this logic, a stronger, more inclusive identity creates a more cohesive and resilient society, which dampens extremist tendencies and cuts the extremism problem off at the roots.

This might sound good, but it is not without issues. First, there’s the question of what constitutes this Welsh civic identity, and how such a thing could be promoted, while maintaining its legitimacy. It’s unclear how Plaid Cymru would persuade both real and potential extremists to relinquish their radical ideological views and adopt those it prefers; particularly since the current government’s Prevent initiatives to promote “identities” are widely viewed with suspicion.

A second issue concerns the scope of the policy – there is no mention of how much funding will it receive, or whether it will target violent extremism, non-violent extremism, or both. Nor does Plaid explain whether its policies will focus on all forms of extremism – including eco-terrorism and right wing extremism – or purely on Islamist extremism.

Plaid Cymru claims that its policies sits in opposition to “the UK Government’s divisive and stigmatising proposals that blame particular groups”. But in reality, they are not that far removed from one of the existing aspects of Prevent, which advocates for a “stronger sense of ‘belonging’ and citizenship that makes communities more resilient to terrorist ideology and propagandists” and “depends on integration, democratic participation and a strong interfaith dialogue”.

The Conversation’s Manifesto Check deploys academic expertise to scrutinise the parties’ plans.

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