WALES BLOCKS FASCISM FLOOD; IN the Second of His Series of Interviews with Wales' Four Party Leaders a Year before the Next Assembly Elections, Chief Reporter MARTIN SHIPTON Talks to First Minister Rhodri Morgan and Plaid Cymru President Ieuan Wyn Jones
Byline: MARTIN SHIPTON
STATE OF THE PARTIES
PLAID CYMRU LEADER IEUAN WYN JONES
nWHEN Wales goes to the polls in exactly a year's time, there will only be two potential First Ministers on offer - the incumbent, Rhodri Morgan, and Plaid Cymru president Ieuan Wyn Jones.
After Plaid's spectacular performance in 1999, gaining 17 seats including previous Labour strongholds like Islwyn, Llanelli and Rhondda, it's worth noting that they only need a further swing of six per cent to become Wales' largest party.
Mr Jones had a baptism of fire as Plaid leader, quickly becoming embroiled in the row surrounding the controversial remarks by his party's councillor Seimon Glyn about incomers to Welsh language heartlands. An appearance on BBC's Question Time when he was savaged by Glenys Kinnock made matters worse.
But Mr Jones reckons he has learnt important lessons from the experience and is now ready to challenge for the top job in Wales. There is little doubt that Plaid lost votes at last year's General Election because of the Seimon Glyn affair and it is therefore unsurprising that Mr Jones does not want media coverage of the 2003 Assembly campaign to focus on it. He says that before the 1999 election there was an agreement between the parties not to make the Welsh language an election issue and he hopes the same applies next year.
``It's very irresponsible to drive a wedge between Welsh-speakers and non Welsh-speakers.,'' he said.
``We should be taking steps to safeguard the Welsh language without alienating non Welshspeakers.
``Labour wants to concentrate on this issue to divert attention from their failings in the core areas like health, education, integrated transport, economic development and agriculture.''
Mr Jones says there will be three main strands to Plaid's election campaign.
Its policy themes will stress the need to improve public services. Mr Jones said: ``We shall be attacking Labour's record on the health service, for example.
``What the NHS needs is more beds, more nurses and more doctors. Obviously it takes time to recruit more nurses and more doctors, but increasing bed capacity must be an urgent priority.
``Welsh hospitals lost 6,000 beds between 1988 and 1998 and that's a major cause of the long waits people still experience.''
On the economic front, Mr Jones is critical of Labour's performance on Objective One. He believes there should be regional targets for job creation and a Plaid-led administration would seek to set an example by transferring some Assembly departments out of Cardiff.
The second campaign strand will involve a change of style in the way the Assembly operates.
Mr Jones said: ``Many people are alienated by the Assembly. They don't feel it belongs to them, particularly outside Cardiff. ``To address this the Assembly's committees should hold their meetings in different parts of Wales.
``There is also a sense that the Cabinet system as it currently operates is autocratic. The committees should become proper decisionmaking bodies. ``We believe there is a need for the Assembly to get proper law-making powers, but until that happens we need to negotiate with Westminster about the specifically Welsh Bills we want to see passed.
``The arrangement isn't working well at present.
Despite all-party agreement at the Assembly, we have so far been refused parliamentary time for a Bill to make St David's Day a Bank Holiday.
``What is the point of devolution if Westminster won't listen to us?'' The third strand of Plaid's campaign will be gaining respect for the Assembly as an institution. Mr Jones said: ``At Westminster there are big events which draw attention to Parliament like the Queen's Speech and Budget Day. We have nothing like that at the Assembly.
``What's needed is some big events where ordinary people can look at the Assembly and see it providing a national focus. …