Alan Sandry, Plaid Cymru: An Ideological Analysis. Cardiff: Welsh Academic Press, 2011, 234pp. £48.00 (hbk).
Article first published online: 7 JAN 2013
© The author(s) 2012. Nations and Nationalism © ASEN/Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2012
Nations and Nationalism
Volume 19, Issue 1, pages 198–199, January 2013
How to Cite
Grosvenor, P. C. (2013), Alan Sandry, Plaid Cymru: An Ideological Analysis. Cardiff: Welsh Academic Press, 2011, 234pp. £48.00 (hbk). Nations and Nationalism, 19: 198–199. doi: 10.1111/nana.12008_8
- Issue published online: 22 JAN 2013
- Article first published online: 7 JAN 2013
In March 2012, Plaid Cymru (literally ‘the Party of Wales’) elected Leanne Wood as its first woman leader. Ms Wood is a self-described independentist, socialist, pacifist, feminist, radical ecologist and republican. An anglophone still in the process of learning Welsh, she is the personification of at least some of the ideological heterogeneity within Plaid Cymru that is the subject of this useful work by Alan Sandry, a lecturer in Social and Political Theory at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff.
This is not a study of Welsh nationalism. The cultural and political reassertion of Welsh national identity precedes Plaid Cymru, and historically speaking, it has found varying degrees of support within other political parties in Wales. It also finds powerful expression in civil society organisations such as, e.g. Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society), and the communities pressure group, Cymuned. What is under consideration here is the place of nationalism in the ideological composition of Plaid Cymru.
Sandry's contention is that it is an analytical error to interpret Plaid Cymru as a party that has been consistently informed primarily by nationalist ideology since its foundation in 1925. In reality, nationalism has served as a ‘flag of convenience’ (3) for what has always been an ideologically diverse party – one that has constructed its vision and programme through the appropriation and fusion of other ideological traditions, most significantly the decentralist socialism that has been an influence within the party since the 1930s, and to which it has been formally committed since 1981.
Sandry's analytical framework is Michael Freeden's Ideologies and Political Theories: a Conceptual Approach (1996), and Freeden's essay ‘Is Nationalism a Distinct Ideology? (Political Studies, 1998, XLVI). Freeden has devised a ‘morphological’ analysis of ideologies, according to which they are structural arrangements of political concepts. An ideology's structure consists of three conceptual categories. Core concepts are abstractions that are essential to the ideology. Peripheral concepts are grounded in practice and, therefore, historically contextualised and liable to change over time. Adjacent concepts provide direction and restrict the capacity of an ideology to lend itself to multiple interpretations.
Freeden also distinguishes between ‘full’ ideologies that possess the ability to provide broad answers to the political questions generated by the environments in which they operate, and ‘thin-centred’ ideologies that lack this range of explanatory and prescriptive power. Freeden's designation of nationalism as a thin-centred ideology is central to Sandry's analysis of Plaid Cymru.
Adhering strictly to the Freedenite morphology, Sandry places five concepts at the core of the party's ideology: the acknowledgement and promotion of Welsh national-identity; the assertion of the nation as a legitimate focal point of politics; an emphasis on localism and vicinity, and on ‘communityism’, as the term cymdeithasiaeth translates; the political articulation of non-materialist values, with an emphasis on social harmony; and a philosophy of non-violence. The four concepts identified as peripheral are: ‘holism,’ meaning an internationalism that is the Derridean ‘binary opposite’ of ‘narrow, insular nationalism’ (204); a sense of social fairness that the party's rhetoric asserts is Welsh national tradition; the redistribution of wealth through the actions of the state, the individual and the community; and a liberal championship of freedom that is constrained from developing into Nozickean individualism by the core emphasis on community. Democracy, ‘[o]pposition to all forms of inequality’ (208), and the cultivation of Wales's ‘indigenous entrepreneurialism’ (209) are all, for Sandry, the adjacent concepts of Plaid Cymru's ideology.
Viewed either diachronically or synchronically, Plaid Cymru's ideological eclecticism is undeniable. Sandry's highly informative navigation of his readers through the party's historical recourse to a miscellany of supplementary ideologies lends support to Freeden's assessment that nationalism is a thin-centred ideology. Sandry's conclusion that ‘it would be far more accurate to describe Plaid Cymru's ideology as being akin to socialist ideology than it would be to match the party to a nationalist ideological standpoint’ (209) will be uncongenial to the party's more conservative and nationalist supporters and interpreters, and they will certainly bristle at his normative recommendation that the party should commit itself more robustly to socialism as a Freedenite full ideology.
But, given his conclusion, the concepts Sandry identifies within the party's ideological structure might have been expected to point in a more obviously socialist direction. Instead, they convey the complex hybridities that have resulted from Plaid Cymru's often strained efforts to combine its disparate ideological inputs, and in particular to reconcile universalist ideas with nationalism's avowed politics of place. The selected concepts are all ones that can also be legitimated in the political language of the party's non-socialist ideological traditions, including liberalism, ecologism and the form of Christian democracy implied by the cultural conservatism of its founders. But for those Plaid Cymru radicals who use the internal colonialist analysis, including Ms Wood, socialism may be concomitant to nationalism, not supplementary.