Adam Price's Spring Conference Speech
Everything Adam Price said in his inspiring speech at Plaid Cymru's Spring Conference, Friday 5 March 2021.
I speak to you at a time we traditionally mark as a turning point, when the world’s tilted axis propels us from a season of darkness to a season of light, from the winter of our despair to a great spring of hope.
This year that hope is a deep yearning for change. That better days are coming.
The determined hope that all the pain and sorrow and grief of this cruel year will not be forgotten. And certainly will not have been in vain.
History teaches us to believe in the power and possibility of hope.
No event since World War Two has had as intense, as complete, as global an impact as COVID-19.
But therein too lies a great seed of hope.
Because in the shadow of that war, exhausted, and with all the privations that they faced, a generation vowed across the world that they would not go back to things as they were before.
That’s the historic opportunity we have in front of us in the next few weeks.
In our time too we are called to be a generation that when confronted by the failures of our past through the challenges of our present, decides to face the future together.
Every crisis is in some sense a crossroads.
But this one is the most profound we are likely to have experience in our life-times.
Do we now stick to the road we were already on before misfortune befell us, or do we seek out a new direction?
Well, the year we have had should give us our answer.
The word emergency comes from the Latin word for emergence – to bring to light.
And Covid-19 has certainly shone a painfully penetrating light on the prior pandemic, the deep social disease, chronic and debilitating, of inequality and poverty, of low pay and poor housing that has defined so many of our communities.
The cancer, long diagnosed but left untreated, that has gnawed away at the lives and the life-chances of too many of our people for far too long.
All over the world the thick spike proteins of this awful disease have latched on to poverty with a grim predictability.
Among developed countries, it is those with deeper inequalities that have the highest number of deaths – the United States and the United Kingdom – as societies not united but divided by class, geography, race and wealth – principal among them.
But Wales, by January, had suffered the worst death rate even in the context of Britain.
It will be for a future public inquiry to give us the accurate diagnosis of the successes and failures of the response to the pandemic. But I think we can confidently predict that history’s verdict will be kinder to the Welsh Government than it will be to Westminster.
However, one thing we don’t need an inquiry to tell us is why, with a disease that has placed the greatest burden on the poor, Wales has suffered the most.
It’s because we already had among the highest sickness levels and lowest life expectancies in Europe; because poverty has scarred our communities over decades like Covid this last year our lungs.
Behind those terrible daily headlines, the cumulative toll of the last twelve months, are individual human tragedies. But the scale of our suffering points to a deeper collective truth.
If we are to choose the direction we want to take as a country in a few short weeks then let us acknowledge and confront that truth.
We are not the country that we should be. We are not the country that we can be. And we are not the country we want to be.
The statistics tell the story.
There are 70,000 children in poverty in Wales that don’t even receive free school meals.
67,000 families on housing waiting lists.
Over half of our care workers are paid less than the Real Living Wage.
Let this be the year when we say no more. No more child hunger. No more homelessness and housing crisis. No more poverty pay.
So as we all of us, united as one, over the next few weeks and months roll up our sleeves to receive our jabs, let’s also commit to doing the collective work we need to heal the deeper wounds of this nation.
Let’s ask ourselves “When all this is over, how do we want our world and our Wales to be different?”
One of the worst things we could do is fall into the trap of believing that we were doing ok before disaster struck, and that all we need to do is get back on that path – with a few minor adjustments. That’s not hope. That’s false optimism. It’s self-delusion and complacency. It is the conservatism of incumbency, in a moment that is crying out for change.
That change can’t be delivered by me. It can only be delivered by us. All of us, together, resolved to do things differently because in the shadow of death we have realised the preciousness of life.
We were not the first to live through one of humanity’s great wake up calls.
75 years ago people in nations across the world decided they would solve the great problems of their age – rather than learning to live with them.
We had a generation of political leaders, not least here in Wales, that were committed not to ameliorating poverty but eradicating it, and in the decades after World War Two, Wales and the world made unprecedented strides toward reducing childhood mortality, increasing life expectancy, expanding literacy, and much else besides.
That’s the scale of ambition and the breadth of vision that is required of us today.
I was a product of the foundations laid in those decades of hope. I was born in a council house; my father had a good wage working as a face worker thanks to the National Coal Board; my mother saved up for a deposit on her own home which she bought for the princely sum of £3500 and clung on to despite the best efforts of Mrs Thatcher; all three of us as children went to University.
I was born at a time when society took its caring responsibilities, from cradle to grave, as seriously materially as did my own parents emotionally.
Fifty years later and we find ourselves in a very different place.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed, as the editor of the Lancet has written, how little care and protection we provide at either end of the age spectrum.
We have systematically neglected our elderly with a care system hopelessly starved of resources.
We have spent decades underinvesting in education, leaving generations of children to struggle, with little hope and dwindling prospects – and a third of them in Wales growing up in poverty.
For so many of them life is a lottery where they’re even denied the ticket.
When I had the privilege of being elected leader of Plaid Cymru two and a half years ago, I said then that we are ready to lead.
That in us burns the flame of hope where there once was despair - and that no one would be left behind as we create a prosperous, self-confident and independent Wales
The world has changed since then, and for many, it has changed for the worse.
Over the past year grief and politics have been discussed as one - physical health and corporate health in daily tension.
Thanks to our health service heroes, more and more of us are taking the opportunity to get the vaccine.
Our children and teachers are returning to the classroom after months of learning from the living room.
And our businesses are looking forward to a spring awakening after winter hibernation.
Everything is changing, and our politics also need to change.
Now is the time to accelerate the process of realising what I said in September 2018.
For too long the space that is comfortable for us has been an alien space for others while trying to engender the goodwill of the electorate.
Moving Wales forward and rebuilding anew, turning old thinking into progressive ideas and re-prioritising instead of re-electing the same Government.
Doing the same thing over and over again is not the answer to poverty, disease and low wages. The result is neither better nor different.
But neither does it come from talking abstractly about the Wales we want to see.
If Labour always disappoints us and the Conservatives confirm our worst fears - then who are we?
In order for people to listen, you need a story to tell.
From Connah's Quay to New Quay, Amlwch to Aberavon - we will be the Government of the whole of Wales - its people, its language, its institutions and its aspirations.
From the cradle to the grave - we will work with you, care for you and help you.
We will invest in our most valuable resource - our young people - with an injection of new money for our schools.
For Welsh families I promise a fair deal by offering generous early years education that provides 30 hours of free childcare for all two-year-olds
As well as giving young people a chance we will ensure dignity for our elderly people by providing free social care.
We will go further than any previous Government in Wales. We will complete the work not begun by a previous Government in Wales.
As the Labour Party put the ball in their own net on a weekly basis, we will be Wales' answer to Marcus Rashford - extending free school meals to all on universal credit.
And we will reward the deserving work of care workers with a fair wage of £10 an hour.
Plaid Cymru in power - on your side, by your side and for Wales.
I know how difficult it is for people. I remember the dinner token - I remember the family trying to make ends meet.
I know the burdens of life are challenging - you, like me, see one parent having to care for another.
I also know the power of the door that opens - the helping hand that is the path to success.
It wasn't every school kid who set his sights on going from Tŷ Croes to the House of Commons - and knowing what I know now I wouldn’t want that time again!
But at least I've lived through unfairness and felt the power of hope - and I know the importance of creating a bridge from one to the other.
Despite the new normal, the legacy of the old way of life will be a rotten root.
Only planting new seeds in the Welsh spring will ensure evergreen buds.
Nine weeks will decide the next five years.
For people in Wales I say this:
Our programme of government for the benefit of society will be transformational, and the first of its kind in Wales.
Instead of protecting vested interests, we will build new partnerships that put the voice of our communities first.
New social housing to foster communities that are Welsh speaking and communities that are Welsh in character.
Turning the square mile into a food mile to keep the pound local.
And paying the living wage to everyone who works in our public services.
Nine weeks to convince. Nine weeks to change minds and win hearts. Nine weeks to elect a Plaid Cymru Government.
The prize is big.
We are the first party in the history of our modern democracy to stand on the promise of a referendum on independence for Wales by 2026.
We are the first party to put our people's democratic right to choose their future on the ballot paper.
We would be the first Government to show genuine faith in Wales to guide its own fate.
The aim is not to gain independence for its own sake. But for the sake of the thousands of families who rely on a more effective, responsible and altruistic Government in power that will change their lives for the better.
It is easy for Labour to start talking about home rule with the election looming.
It is easy for the Conservatives to sing the praises of a British Prime Minister who is rapidly turning Parliament into a circus.
But it is even easier to see the truth.
Whether it's 'Home Rule' or 'Tory Rule' – the result is the same for our nation - a party at the helm that puts London before Wales.
42 years ago this week I was a ten-year-old boy - remembering but not quite realising the anger and disappointment of learning that Wales had said 'no' to creating its own Assembly in the ’79 referendum.
We had to wait another 20 years for that Parliament - restless and impatient - knowing that Wales could do so much better.
Today, the ghosts of '79 are threatening again - stirring up hatred and questioning Wales' right to exist.
But despite the sadness of the 1979 ‘No’ vote, Plaid continued - consistently and firmly in our belief that it is ourselves that will deliver a better future for Wales, not any London Government regardless of political colour.
Leading public opinion not following public opinion.
By forming alliances and working with others through the hardships of the eighties, we built a movement for self-government for Wales by the turn of the century.
When Plaid Cymru succeeds, Wales succeeds.
When the people of Wales vote for Wales, we have the power.
And in 2011, it was Plaid Cymru in power that delivered a real Parliament for Wales, turning the majority of ‘No’ in 1979 into a big Yes for Wales: from 4 to 1 against 2 to 1 in a generation.
Even Wayne Pivac would be proud.
So the simple question for anyone who wants to see the people of Wales become the architects of our own future: who do you trust to achieve that: the Party that has Welsh self-government as its reason for being, or a party that wants to tie our fate to a system that has never cared for Wales?
Britain isn’t working for us anymore – the Britain of my parents’ generation, a brave and hopeful place, no longer exists, it has been erased from the landscape and in its place, we have the moral vacuum that is Westminster.
We need a nation which values above all else kindness, empathy and cooperation locked into a political system increasingly based on selfishness and greed.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the reality of modern Britain: a state defined by crushing poverty, ruled by a corrupt elite that gives contracts to its friends and denies furlough to its neighbours.
It’s no surprise is it that this week saw the highest level of support for independence ever.
The future cannot be like the past. And it will not be if we decide our own future.
The poverty we see around us as a nation is not our destiny. But it is our moment of truth.
Seize that moment and there is nothing that is impossible.
We can and will end child hunger in Wales. We will extend free school meals beginning with those families on Universal Credit. If our children are too hungry to grow, to think and learn then that is not only a moral abomination it is a practical imperative that we do something about it if we regard the next generation, as we surely must, as our nation’s most treasured asset.
We can and will end homelessness and the housing crisis in Wales. We will set a target of 10,000 truly affordable homes a year. If we could build at that rate in the 1970s and in the 1950s then why can’t we do so now?
We can end poverty pay for those that care for the elderly and the sick, starting with a £10 an hour minimum wage for the care workers we have clapped.
The First Minister says these policies are unaffordable. We say it is inhumanity we cannot afford. It’s inequality we cannot tolerate. And injustice we cannot embrace.
What are we if we accept a child going hungry, a family homeless a care worker on poverty pay? And at what cost in broken lives and broken promises to build the good society?
The religion of socialism is the language of priorities, so said Aneurin Bevan. Well, I cannot speak for the First Minister’s socialism but the poor, the unhoused and the hungry, our under-paid key workers that have kept us alive, the struggling small business and family farm that are the backbone of our economy, all those crying out for help, they will be the priorities for us because they are the people that our democracy should serve. With the closure of schools, and the scourge of unemployment the young have carried the greatest burden. So the starting point of change has to be a better future for them. Let’s value education every bit as much as we do our health. Parents everywhere have realised the value of schools and appreciated the hard work of teachers. We will put thousands of new teachers into those classrooms, not just to catch up on the last twelve months but the last decade of cuts. We will guarantee a job or high-class training to every young person that needs it. And we will give older workers a lifelong learning entitlement, a £5000 training voucher, so they can retrain throughout their lives.
It is not only young people who are bearing the brunt of Covid’s consequences – their families too have been juggling homeworking with home-schooling whilst balancing the household budget.
That is why ensuring fair play for families will be at the heart of a Plaid Cymru government’s programme.
Our council tax policy will reform Labour’s outdated and deeply unfair system, resulting in a saving of hundreds of pounds for thousands of households.
And we will offer more help to those who need it the most by making targeted payments of £10 a week per child, rising to £35 over our first term, to families in receipt of Universal Credit.
And we will offer more help with the cost of childcare too.
By offering universal free childcare for everyone from 24 months and piloting the scheme from 12 months onwards in areas of the highest need, we will help parents get back to work and make the weekly budget go further – and give more of our children a fair start in life.
To give us the resources we need to build the new Wales and create quality jobs in every part of our country, we will power up the Welsh economy, with agility, with urgency, with creativity and skill . Our rapid recovery plan will get our economy back on its feet. Our plan to prosper centred on a Green Economic Stimulus will create tens of thousands of jobs in renewables, energy efficiency, transport and digital infrastructure, giving us a future economy that will work not just for our people but for our planet too.
As a Government we will ensure more of our contracts go to local Welsh firms through a new pro-Local procurement policy, growing our own economy by watering the roots. We will offer start-up and bounce back loans to new and existing businesses, on the best possible terms through the Development Bank and a new Community Bank. And we will create a powerful new economic agency, staffed with the best talent that we can find, that will build up our home-grown businesses and identify new opportunities for them at home and abroad.
The last year has proven why we should treasure the NHS but also should give us added impetus to strengthen its foundations and further extend its reach. To build the best NHS we urgently need a plan to deliver a 1,000 new doctors and 5,000 new nurses and allied professionals so we can prevent burnout in over-stretched services from GPs to intensive care – and we need to pay our staff properly.
We need social care to be free to everyone and at long last integrated within the NHS as a single seamless service. And if this year has taught us nothing else, now surely is the time to see mental ill health given the same priority as the physical. We will increase the proportion of the NHS budget devoted to mental health every year. We will also ensure more interventionist disease prevention and health promotion campaigns across people’s lifetimes, prioritising in particular cancer prevention through a network of new diagnostic centres.
To finish on a bit of personal good news I’d like to share with you. I’m going to become a father again in June, this time to a baby daughter. So whatever happens in the election, it’s going to be a good Summer – though a busy one too.
Becoming a parent has changed me. In ways I didn’t fully anticipate. It focuses your mind fully on the needs of someone other than yourself. It makes you think about the future in a different kind of way. And it makes you keenly aware of the advantages that some children possess, and some will never have.
I don’t think about the future any more in abstract terms. I think about the world and the Wales I want to bequeath to them. I think about having to look into their eyes about the choices that we make now and the opportunities for a better life that will give them and their generation.
That is why I am absolutely determined that we will place at the heart of our manifesto the most radical commitments to deal with the climate and biodiversity crisis that we have ever made in a Senedd election, because that is what this moment requires of us.
Whatever happens in the election, my children will not go hungry. They will have a roof over their head. They will have a fair start in their life.
I want that for every child in Wales. No child left behind. No child forgotten. No child unaccounted for.
That’s the reason I’m standing here. It’s the reason I’m standing in this election, for the post of First Minister.
I want every child to have the chance that I had.
Within each of us there is still the child we once were.
In me it’s a boy holding in his hand a little blue token for free school meals.
I was hungry and you fed me. I needed a home and you housed me. I wanted to learn and you taught me.
I was lifted up on the shoulders of a nation.
I want us to be that nation again so we know again that the generations that come after us will have greater opportunities than our own.
I know you want to be that nation too. Now is our chance.
In many ways the moment in which we are living is an extraordinary moment, full of hope. Our task – our collective task – all of us, - is to reflect on on what this moment t demands of us, and what it might make possible.
It’s time to look beyond this appalling, cruel pandemic and towards a more optimistic future.
Hope is the rainbow after the storm – and it’s the sign our children have placed in our windows and chalked on our paths.
It’s time to follow that rainbow all the way to independence.
It’s time to put hope at the centre of our politics. Our dreams of the Wales to come.
We have a vision for that Wales.
We have a coherent, determined and optimistic plan for national rejuvenation.
Covid-19 has given us the reason – finally – not to rest until we have reframed our Wales and refashioned our world so that they are no longer divided between the healthy and the wealthy, the poor and the prosperous, because we have built a future where we invest together in all the forces – decent, affordable housing, good schools, liveable wages, a fair economy, clean air – that will create a Wales that works for all of us, a Nation of Equals, a safer, kinder and more prosperous haven for everyone, in good years and bad.
But to turn that vision into our new reality every one of us has a part to play. And now is the time.
If you believe in the promise of our future.
If you believe there is no problem in Wales that Wales cannot solve.
If you believe we can build the future together.
I ask you to do this one thing.
On May 6th, Vote for Wales.
Vote Plaid Cymru.