Conference season starts amid Brexit uncertainty

This week should be the first week we (for better or worse) are no longer members of the European Union. I have very clear memories of the day following the referendum and, whether people were happy about the result or not, it was a strange atmosphere. People were tense and it was clear that something huge and unknown had happened. Whether you saw that unknown as a brilliant opportunity or a terrifying disaster, I don’t think anyone would have expected that the unknown would remain almost three years later.

At the time of writing, we are aware that the date for leaving the EU has been delayed, but that delay is either to 12th April, in the event of No Deal, or the 22nd of May if there is a deal or at least some sort of plan. As Brexit is the main focus of Westminster (as it has been for so long now) and the media, it may have passed you by the Plaid Cymru held their spring conference in Bangor last weekend. Unsurprisingly, discussions around Brexit took centre stage there too; frankly it’s a topic that is unavoidable.

The speeches at the conference mostly focused on an optimistic look forward, discussing Plaid Cymru’s plans for Wales after Brexit and the 2021 Assembly election when they aim to be in Government in the Assembly. Although there were also several mentions and tributes looking back over the career and life of Steffan Lewis AM, who died earlier this year.

This was Adam Price’s first spring conference as leader, and his speech was an optimistic and patriotic one, focusing on where Wales should aim to be in the future rather than where it is now. During his election campaign he had discussed rebranding Plaid Cymru as the New Wales Party and his speech was reflective of this, speaking about innovative ways of governing, changing systems and aiming to improve the nation as a whole. Following on from the theme of to the future, he also appointed Delyth Jewell, the new AM for South Wales East, to be the Shadow Minister for the Future, echoing Plaid Cymru’s aim to be the “party of the future”. This new position is perhaps more than a subtle dig at Labour’s creation of the post of Future Generation’s Commissioner, which Price described as the governing party “subcontracting its conscious to a Future Generations Commissioner with no power”.

Other notable speeches over the weekend came from Housing Spokesperson Leanne Wood, whose speech focused on independence and ensuring that in the event that Plaid Cymru’s are able to run an independence campaign, it is the “polar opposite” of the Brexit campaign and should encourage unity and connection rather than division. She also highlighted the need for more attention to be devoted to the environment, saving her big housing announcements for the following week, announcing her party’s ambition to deliver 20,000 social homes in the next Assembly.

On her return to conference as an AM for the first time since 2011, Helen Mary Jones – AM for Mid and West Wales and the Health Spokesperson for Plaid Cymru – declared her support for the implementation of a Scottish-style social care system. This would mean that social care would be funded through taxation and free at the point of need. She acknowledged that there’s a chance that this would require a tax rise, but iterated that she believed people would be happier to pay higher taxes to avoid elderly people losing their homes and savings in order to pay for their care.

Plaid Cymru’s conference opened up the Welsh political party conference season and may have begrudged the national media being distracted by Brexit news, but it looks unlikely for this to be any different for any of the other conferences. Labour is up next, starting on April 12th, which could end up being Brexit day if there ends up being no deal which will certainly be taking the headlines.