Plaid Cymru leader says Welsh independence back on agenda in local elections

Andrew Marr grills Mark Drakeford on Welsh independence

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People across the UK head to the ballot box on Thursday to decide who governs their local council, while in Northern Ireland voters will decide who they want to see in Stormont. This year’s local elections have been focused on the cost of living crisis and the number of scandals that have hit Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party. The Partygate saga will be fresh in voters’ minds after he, his wife Carrie Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak were fined for breaking the law and attending a gathering at No10 during the coronavirus lockdown.

Further parties are thought to have taken place at Downing Street and other Government buildings.

Mr Johnson is also facing criticism over the actions of his own MPs, including Neil Parish, who was caught watching porn in the House of Commons — the place where the country’s most important decisions are debated and voted on.

Some predictions suggest the Tories could lose as many as 550 council seats, with the Labour Party close behind to woo disgruntled voters.

In Wales, 22 councils are up for grabs with more than 1,200 county councillors, and more community councillors being elected across the country from Ynys Mon and Conwy in the north to Newport, Blaenau Gwent and Cardiff councils in the south.

Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru, is hoping for a good run in many of the seats, including in Labour dominated Cardiff.

He told Express.co.uk that many voters who are tired with the failings of Welsh Labour, and more recently the affairs unfolding in Westminster with the Tories, are turning to Plaid.

This, he argued, was a perfect opportunity for the party — the only major outfit in Wales advocating for independence — to spread its UK-breakaway message with a view to the next general election.

He said: “I come from a Labour family, and in many traditional Labour areas the political loyalty runs deep.

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“But once you break with that and you start voting Plaid even at a local government level, that’s the bridge that gets people to start thinking about us and voting for us at other levels.

“These elections are a fantastic opportunity for us to have that [independence] conversation with news voters, and that’s what we’re seeing at this election actually.

“Not just former Labour votes in those traditional Labour areas, many of whom are coming over to plaid and are attracted by a positive program that we’ve put forward, but also Tory voters who are looking at what’s happening in Westminster and are completely disgusted by the state of British politics and everything that’s been going on.”

Support for Welsh independence among Wales’ population has on average grown since 2014.

In a March YouGov poll, 21 percent of people asked said they would vote for independence while 53 percent said they would vote against, and another 26 percent said they were unsure.

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The pollster found that popularity for a Wales breakaway peaked in February 2021 when 25 percent of people supported the idea, but other polls from a similar time period found as many as 33 percent of respondents saying they would vote for independence.

Plaid are the third largest party in the Senedd, three seats behind the Welsh Conservatives.

However, late last year, Mr Price and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford unveiled a brand new partnership that sees the party and Welsh Labour work together on 50 policy areas.

This included a radical new plan that included setting up a publicly owned energy company and driving forward a free nationwide social care system.

While they disagree on several key policy areas, perhaps the biggest elephant in the room remains the question of independence.

Mr Drakeford has repeatedly opposed the idea of Wales leaving the UK, but Mr Price has on more than one occasion suggested that the First Minister remains “indy-curious”.

Compared to support for independence in Scotland, Wales lags far behind.

But Mr Price believes Wales is entering a “new phase” where voters are no longer “frightened” to talk about it.

He said: “We still get negativity around it, but people have got questions.

“They’ve got questions about how the economics are going to work, about the practicalities.

“But that to me is a really positive sign because I think it says we’ve shifted into a new phase, we’re not frightened of the question.

“It’s almost as if many people in their hearts would like to see it, but they’ve got questions, legitimate questions that they want answers to — and that’s what we’re doing now.”

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