Welsh nationalist has his eyes set on toppling Mark Drakeford from power
Independence: Wales decision ‘must be respected’ says Drakeford
Mark Drakeford has been Welsh First Minister since 2018, the longest-serving such leader anywhere in the UK.
He has the weight of the Labour Party behind him, an outfit that Wales has voted for at every UK general election since 1922, and every Assembly and Senedd election since 1999.
Despite changing trends across the UK, Wales has stayed loyal to its traditional working class and labour-intensive roots, the country and party sharing a close and intimate history.
The Welsh Conservatives have tried and failed time and again to shift this tradition, but only one party has come close to sitting in government without actually being voted in: Plaid Cymru.
The Party of Wales, as it is called in Welsh, is currently in a cooperation agreement with Welsh Labour, though this hasn’t stopped its new leader Rhun ap Iorwerth from pulling any punches and telling Express.co.uk that he has his eye on Mr Drakeford’s job.
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“We cooperate with this government on a number of things and I think that’s a positive, mature thing to do,” he said. “But we believe that there’s a better way of governing Wales, and we believe that this government needs to be held to account.
“I want to take that right to Welsh Government because on so many levels, be it health, education, or the economy, this is not as good as it can get for Wales.” Despite being a land of vast resources — both natural and man-made — Wales is struggling in many sectors.
The country consistently comes out as the most impoverished nation in the UK, with the latest data analysed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation putting the poverty rate at around 24 percent to England’s 22 percent, Scotland’s 18 percent, and Northern Ireland’s 17 percent.
A 2022 Welsh Budget report acknowledged the short and long-term effects of this poverty, noting that “the longer-term economic challenges and opportunities facing Wales are largely unchanged […] a key long run challenge remains relatively weak productivity, the key long-run driver of sustainable increases in pay, prosperity and the tax base”.
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While Wales possesses a strong industrial heritage — it was at one point the largest coal exporter in the world — a shift towards the services sector has largely failed.
Currently, Wales’ output per hour is 17.2 percent below the UK average, and it has three of the top 10 least productive parts of the UK and none in the top 10.
“Mismanagement” is the word on Mr ap Iorwerth’s mind, something that has been presided over by Mr Drakeford and Welsh Labour for years.
“There’s been a failure by Welsh Labour in government to make sure that the workforce is sustainable, that we have enough people with the right skills in the right places so we can serve the people of Wales,” he said.
This, he said, extends to NHS Wales, an increasingly failing health service that, like its English and Scottish counterparts, appears to be on its knees. “I have no doubt that there has been a failure to manage the NHS in a way that builds it into something sustainable,” he noted.
“We’ve seen successive Labour health ministers over 24 years basically continuing the work of their predecessors when actually, you need what would feel like a fresh start. [But] it’s very difficult for Labour to have that kind of fresh start because that would be to admit that they have got it wrong all these years.
“Couple that with the determination of the Tories since 2010 to make sure sure that there’s enough money available for public spending so that we can invest properly in health and education, and then you have a real, real problem.”
This year, BMA Cymru chairwoman Dr Iona Collins said long waiting times were leading to rapidly deteriorating health in patients. Things are so bad, she said, that people in Wales could no longer rely on ambulances “delivering us to an accident and emergency for life-saving treatment”.
Some 30,000 people in Wales have been waiting more than two years after being referred for hospital treatment. In comparison, at its peak in England 20 months ago, 24,424 patients were waiting more than two years.
Failures on behalf of Welsh Labour only go so far as explaining the country’s decline, according to Mr ap Iorwerth.
For him, as with all Plaid politicians and members, and even some Welsh Labour figures, the only true path to success is to break away from the UK and build a newly independent Wales.
“Of course, big challenges will come in the period of change,” he said. “But all across Europe, across the world, there are countries smaller than Wales with people like the people in Wales, with smaller economies and markets much further away, who more than manage because they have to because they have a need and desire to build a better future for their people.
“No government in London will ever prioritise building a stronger economic future of Wales, why would it think first about the three million people on the western edges of the UK? It never will. But we can.”
If Wales went to the polls tomorrow the country would vote to remain in the UK.
Many do not believe it has the strength or resources to act independently of Westminster, with just 22 percent of people saying yes to the latest Statista poll in September which asked, ‘Should Wales be an independent country?’
Mr ap Iorwerth realises this but says he is convinced that it is Wales’ destiny. But will it really happen in his lifetime? “It can, absolutely,” he said.
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