At first sight, Plaid Cymru’s commitment to hold a referendum on Welsh independence during the next five years may seem like an exercise in hubris.
Polls – including our St David’s Day poll from YouGov – suggest that despite the energy created by the pro-independence group Yes Cymru, Welsh voters would heavily reject the opportunity to establish a separate state.
Such an outcome would deal a devastating blow to Welsh nationalism, potentially ending the chance of another referendum for decades.
So why is Plaid Cymru pursuing this policy?
Could there be method in their policy’s apparent madness?
It’s worth recalling Plaid’s previous referendum policy, enunciated by Adam Price months before he became party leader in September 2018.
Our St David’s Day poll from YouGov covers issues including Brexit, this year’s Senedd elections, independence for Wales and coroanvirus.
Our political writers have also analysed some of the poll findings.
In a speech delivered at the party’s Spring conference in Llangollen that year, Mr Price outlined a detailed strategy that would see a referendum on independence called not in the coming Senedd term, but by 2030, towards the end of the second term of a Plaid-led government which would have proved its ability to govern effectively
The speech, which is reproduced in Mr Price’s book Wales – The First and Final Colony – looked forward to the 2021 Senedd election that is almost upon us.
He said: “Our nation is crying out for change in 2021.
“We have to win. Not for ourselves. Not for our party. Not for the ordinary stuff of political gain.
“We have to win for Wales, for democracy and for our future. Because if Labour wins again and rules unchallenged for 30 years then everything we have won, everything we have fought for and everything we cherish is at risk.
“The stakes really are that painfully high.”
Mr Price went on to describe the kind of Wales a Plaid-led government would seek to build during its two terms in power in the run-up to an independence referendum.
It would have a new national railway line connecting north and south, a national expressway, a digital fibre spine to equal those in Scandinavia and South Korea, and a national energy grid, with a national energy company connecting locally owned energy-generating companies in every part of Wales.
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Wales would be an associate member of UN bodies like Unesco and would have not just its own airport, but a national airline with direct connections to the Americas and mainland Europe, as well as to the rest of the UK and the rest of Wales through a network of regional airports.
A clean, green Wales would be created by 2030, with plastic banned as well as petrol and diesel cars.
University education would be free again for Welsh students studying in Wales, and there would be a free, universal and fully bilingual childcare service, as well as a guaranteed minimum income for all those in full-time work or education, and a guaranteed job for the unemployed and under-employed.
Wales would have its own national digital parallel currency, alongside the pound, facilitating creative ways of working round Westminster austerity and increasing local procurement.
A national housing company would be set up to build new homes and new towns across the nation and end homelessness completely by 2030.
Modern public transport systems would be built everywhere in Wales, and, step by step, they would become free for all.
Every school would be a bilingual school so that by 2030 no child would leave the education system without knowledge of Welsh and English, and most children would leave with the knowledge of three or more languages.
A National Care Service would be funded by general taxation, delivered through local government, free at the point of use.
After listing all these pledges, Mr Price said: “We will end this decade of democracy in action by pledging to organise a national referendum on the constitutional future of our country, which will ask this coming generation where they want Wales to be mid-century, and will certainly include independence as a realistic option.
“And that is a referendum that at that point in our history we could win, because we will have demonstrated at last what self-government could mean.”
Leaving aside any doubts one may have about the affordability of such an ambitious programme, it’s difficult to fault Mr Price’s logic that a Plaid-led government which managed to deliver it could well be in with a shout of winning an independence referendum.
But the 2018 strategy has been jettisoned, and instead Mr Price is now promising a referendum in the first term of a Plaid administration.
What has changed to make Plaid ditch what could be seen as a credible strategy in favour of what many will consider a reckless gamble?
There are two reasons.
Since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, relations between his government and the devolved administrations have reached such a low point that the prospect of the UK breaking up has ratcheted up from unlikely to highly possible.
If a second Scottish independence referendum is called during the Scottish Parliamentary term that begins after the election in May, and the Yes campaign prevails, and if Ireland is reunited following a border poll, Wales will be left in an extremely vulnerable position as the junior partner in a rump southern Britain dominated by England and with little leverage.
In such circumstances the realistic choice could be between independence or assimilation.
More immediately, Plaid is trying to garner as many votes in the Senedd election as it can on the back of the growth of Yes Cymru.
With not far short of 40% of Labour voters saying they would back independence in a referendum, Mr Price is telling them that if they really want an independent Wales, they should vote for Plaid – or “for Wales”, as the party is putting it.
As one senior Plaid source said: “The plan is to get as many independence supporters to vote for us as possible.
“The referendum would only be triggered if we could win a majority vote in the Senedd. If we won enough seats to do that, the chances are we could win a referendum.”