Manifesto Check: Plaid Cymru’s political reforms see Wales withdrawing from Westminster

Pull up another (20) chairs. Barry Batchelor/PA Archive

Plaid Cymru’s manifesto for political reform is pretty standard centre-left fare. It includes a rather vague commitment to strengthening the community level of democracy, as part of what it terms a “grassroots approach”. Plaid also supports the right to recall errant elected representatives, and remains part of the growing group of parties who favour lowering the voting age to 16.

The party also pledges its continuing support for a wholly elected second chamber to replace the House of Lords. It wishes to see this chamber elected on territorial basis – presumably the kind of “nations and regions” approach that is now being championed by sections of the Labour party. More distinctive is the reiteration of Plaid’s long-standing support for the use of Single Transferable Vote (STV), an electoral system that it wants to see used for electing the second chamber as well as (“when applicable”) in all other elections.

More AMs, fewer MPs

Unsurprisingly, the most distinctive elements of this section of the manifesto relate to the relationship between Wales and Westminster.

Plaid’s manifesto reiterates the party’s commitment to increasing the size of the Welsh Assembly. The case for a larger assembly is widely accepted in political circles in Wales, and focuses on the need to ensure effective scrutiny of Welsh legislation as well as the Welsh government. Plaid’s manifesto does not mention any specific number for an enlarged National Assembly. But it has long been understood that this would mean moving from the current 60 Assembly Members to a minimum of 80, though the intellectual case for 100 members is also compelling.

What is distinctive in Plaid’s position is its explicit linking of the case for larger assembly to the reduction in the number of Welsh MPs. While the size of the Scottish contingent in the House of Commons was reduced as a result of Scottish devolution, this has not (yet) occurred in the case of Wales, and it remains a contentious issue. Especially – though not exclusively – in the ranks of the Labour party, which has long dominated Welsh representation in the Commons.

Support for EVEL

A particularly striking feature of Plaid’s manifesto is the party’s explicit support for the principle of English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) at Westminster. But their caveat about Welsh MPs remaining free to vote on matters that do have implications for Wales touches on the difficult issue (which the manifesto does not talk about explicitly).

There are questions to be addressed around how EVEL might be made meaningful, given the workings of the Barnett Formula – which links funding allocations for the devolved territories to spending decisions for England – and the difficulties of identifying English-only laws, especially in the context of the single England and Wales legal jurisdiction. Nonetheless, this explicit support for EVEL may well become relevant in the context of a hung parliament.

Plaid also calls for official status for the Welsh language in parliament, although in practice they only appear to envisage the language being used in specifically Welsh committees. This goal may win some sympathy from those aware of the current, preposterous situation where it is – at least officially – permissible to use Norman French in parliament but not to use the non-English native languages of Britain.

Plaid’s call for a Welsh Civil Service lacks detail. But the wording of the manifesto suggests an autonomous civil service on the Northern Irish model, rather than an autonomous “integrated public service” for Wales, as has occasionally been suggested in the past.

For more on Plaid Cymru’s devolution proposals, click here.

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