In January I was at a conference in Wales where I was on a panel with Adam Price, then the leader of Plaid Cymru. Just before we were about to go onto the panel the news broke about the tragic and unexpected death of the wife of Labour leader Mark Drakeford.
I’ve known Adam for a few years and like him a lot. He’s a very humane person. In his reaction to the news of Clare Drakeford I noted not a flurry of calls strategising what this all meant and how to respond but a real sadness. The first thing he did on that panel was to ask everyone to observe a minute’s silence. It reinforced my high opinion of him.
I’m therefore pretty gutted that he has stepped down as Plaid Cymru leader, for all sorts of reasons. But I really want Scotland to understand what has happened here and to encourage you to think really hard about the light Adam’s actions cast on Scottish politics.
(I’ve had two briefings on current events. In what I write below I am going to withhold almost all of the detail because a number of these issues remain ongoing and wading into sensitive matters in Welsh politics does not help the argument I’m making here. Clearly I’m not speaking for Plaid Cymru or Adam Price. These are my opinions.)
The story is sad but straightforward. In 2020 a Welsh politician (whose constituency overlaps with Adam’s) was cautioned by the police over an incident of domestic violence. The politician was suspended, rejoined and then permanently left the party. Some felt the response was too harsh, others that it was too lenient. But it opened up the issue of the culture inside Plaid Cymru.
Over the next two years there were two other incidents inside the party which raised questions about party culture. So Adam Price brought in an independent, external HR consultancy to do a review. He also set up a process where people in the party could report incidences of behaviour that they thought unacceptable.
Think of it as a sort of ‘Plaid Cymru #MeToo’ process, carried out independently of the leadership. It raised enough concerns that a fully independent review by a former Plaid politician who was a respected sexual abuse campaigner was set up. She was specifically told to pull no punches and get to the truth.
That report is the one you have read about raising concerns about bullying and misogyny in parts of the party, and it inevitably criticised the leadership for not doing more to stamp this out. There is much more to this but the long and short of it is roughly that Adam Price reached a position where he felt someone had to take a collective fall for all of this and decided it had to be him.
What I want you to look at here is the Welsh Tory leader’s response to this news which you can read in the National story here. It is restrained and dignified and unlike say the response from Douglas Ross to Nicola Sturgeon’s departure. Are Welsh Tories just more civilised people?
I don’t think so. I think the point that needs to be taken away from this is that Adam Price has tried to cover up nothing, has dismissed nothing as being ‘fake’ or ‘grievance’, has instituted a series of genuinely independent reviews which he explicitly instructed to seek the honest truth and, when that came out, he fully accepted the outcome, apologised and took collective responsibility for failure.
Why are opponents behaving in a dignified manner? Partly because there isn’t an awful lot to criticise Adam Price or Plaid Cymru for which they have not proactively criticised themselves over, but largely because Adam behaved with dignity throughout.
Think of it as a sort of ‘Plaid Cymru #MeToo’ process, carried out independently of the leadership
I want you to compare this with Scotland. I am very conscious of the risks of ever creating a hierarchy of abuse, but let me put it like this – none of the problems which occurred inside Plaid Cymru to lead to this haven’t happened in the SNP, and to a greater degree.
In fact on Friday I had a long Zoom call with an MS (for those who don’t follow Welsh politics, changing the name of the Welsh Assembly to the Senedd, Welsh for parliament, is at least in part one of Adam’s legacies). We talked about the various problems happening in our two countries.
I read out some basic reporting from the day of what had been happening in the North Lanarkshire Council SNP group in relation to its claims of internal abuse problems. This MS’s jaw was hanging down. And then I had to explain that this is utterly bog-standard in the current SNP. And that it has strenuously resisted looking at its own internal culture.
In fact, I explained that, in 2016, I was copied in to a complaint to SNP HQ regarding a then-and-current MSP. I knew the person making the complaint and asked her why she’d CCed me in to it. She told me that she had sent the complaint twice already and hadn’t even had an acknowledgement of receipt. She thought that if she copied in a known figure in the movement it might force them to respond.
It didn’t. She left the party. Two weeks ago another prominent and very respected member of the same constituency contacted me about a string of other complaints about the same politician (including, I believe, one of physical violence, though I cannot confirm that), none of which were investigated. That person left the party 18 months ago.
(I want to emphasise here that I do not know if those complaints are fair or accurate, I just know that from the content of the complaints they should certainly have been properly investigated.)
In Wales a political party in which there is accusation of bad behaviour is expected to take action. In Scotland’s respectable mainstream media you can read the view that inside the SNP, disciplinary procedures are only used on the leadership’s opponents and allies are provided immunity. Everyone shrugs.
Everyone shrugs because frankly abuse has been utterly normalised in the modern SNP. It’s just not possible to list the publicly available examples to support that because there are too many. Let’s just take the party’s former Westminster leader clearly telling a group meeting to back an abuser and not the abused, even after the Standards Commissioner confirmed the abuse, as a good indicator.
The culture of Scottish politics is broken. I blame Scottish Labour for starting this. In 2007 they lost the Scottish Election but, in a Trump-like rage, basically refused to accept the fact. At the time I knew someone who had shifted from Labour to SNP who was actually pinned against a wall at a party by a then-senior Labour politician who was shouting at them about how the SNP were illegitimate because they were ‘fascists’.
That set the tone for the SNP era, but we know the long, sorry saga of what has happened since. Surely all of this tells us that there is something deeply wrong in Scottish politics? I can’t think of a party in Scotland that does not need to clean up its act. Leaderships rigging the party in their own interests seems almost to be universal now.
Anas Sarwar effectively used a ‘disciplinary-adjacent process’ to prevent respected local left-wing councillor Matt Kerr from standing so he could hand the seat to his millionaire neighbour. The co-leader of the Scottish Greens is not in the parliament because she was voted high on the party’s regional list but because she was put there by the leadership after losing out on the listing vote.
We were supposed to be the generation which changed the political culture
Yes, this shit has been happening forever and forever. Don’t get me started on my experience of Lanarkshire Labour in the 1990s. It was truly, honestly stinking, corrupt and unpleasant (frankly scary at times). But that’s the point – we were supposed to be the generation which changed the political culture.
After all, that was what the Scottish Parliament was supposed to be, a fresh start, openness, honesty, collaboration, rejection of the dirty politics of Westminster, a new era. There are few people left working in Scottish politics who was a stronger supporter of that vision than me, my mother having been on the Constitutional Convention which proposed that vision.
It greatly pains me therefore to say that we have failed, we have failed to create that better parliament. Different, but not better. We can go over why that is forever and forever, but we have to do something about it.
And the SNP is undoubtedly the worst offender, as is very often the case with whichever party is in power, simply because the stakes are always higher. So I have come to the view that the SNP needs its own #MeToo movement, because it is clear its leadership will never, ever act to clean up the party.
It needs to hear stories of what is wrong loud and clear and in a way it cannot ignore. It must be shamed into change. And so should the rest of them. We can’t afford to create yet another generation of politicians who absorb this stuff as ‘normal behaviour’ – because it isn’t.
And yet there is a parliament in Britain which is, at least in part, showing a better way. Or, more accurately, a Senedd. Wales has been pursuing a great many genuinely innovative and radical policies, not least a National Energy Company which Scotland talked about but Wales did.
Wales really is leaving Scotland behind on ambition and delivery just now, and in part that is because it is living up to the dream of a new politics a bit more. Part of why all this is all happening is because Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour signed a cooperation agreement and are both pushing each other further in government than certainly Labour would alone. As collaborators, not enemies.
And while it may not feel like it in Wales just now (people I am in touch with are devastated by what is happening), they have just taken a step I would dearly love to happen in Scotland. A political party stepped forwards and took steps to sort itself out before it became a full-on scandal, its leader took responsibility and real change is coming. The contrast with Scotland is startling.
I want to pay tribute to Adam Price, a gay man from the Welsh coalfields who grew up in real poverty (how many politicians can you say that about now?) and has faced homophobia his whole life and yet has achieved so much in a few years. I always found him to be a kind, thoughtful and engaging man.
He created a commission for independence based loosely on Common Weal’s How to Start a New Country which started building a strong, coherent case for Welsh independence. He commissioned a major, independent review into Welsh finances from an independent economist which basically took apart their version of GERS and showed that Wales was not in deficit at all. He has created a feasible political strategy for Plaid Cymru to deliver independence in ten years which he got passed at their recent conference.
And he set in train the development of plans for a ‘National School for Government’, a major national institution to train and improve the quality of Wales’s politicians so that one day, when Wales becomes independent, it has a deep political base of a sufficient quality to run a new country. Oh my god how Scotland needs that.
As an independence supporter and in a fraction of a second, I would grasp Adam’s legacy for Scotland in comparison to what we have. He has done the right thing, left with honour and left behind a legacy to be proud of.
Please Scotland, learn from this. We’re not the example to the world we wanted to be – we’re turning into a warning about complacency. If Plaid Cymru can step back and take the painful action it needs to become a party fit to deliver a Welsh independence worth having, what is it that is so, so wrong in the SNP? And the rest of Scotland’s political parties?