Q&A: Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood answers readers’ questions ahead of the General Election
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood has answered questions from PinkNews readers on a range of issues ahead of the General Election.
The leader of the Welsh party is the second in our series of readers’ Q&As, after Prime Minister Theresa May.
Q – Kurt, Swansea: What exactly are your party’s intentions regarding LGBT-inclusive sex and relations education in Wales?
A – Hi Kurt. Sex and relationships education have to take account of and teach about all kinds of relationships, including gay and bisexual relationships as well as an understanding of transgender issues. Creating a friendly and safe environment for gay pupils has been on the agenda of Plaid Cymru for many years. We’ve been at the fore of highlighting incidences of homophobic bullying in schools. We have proposed to compel Welsh schools to keep a register of homophobic bullying incidents, to take action where necessary and to involve students in anti-bullying initiatives. We also proposed to work with youth clubs and other organisations to reduce homophobic behaviour, as well as sexist and racist behaviour, as part of broader efforts towards healthier lifestyles and in order to promote LGBT participation in sport.
More work needs to be done in schools to remove the stigma that still exists in some quarters about sexuality and to create the safe and inclusive environment that every pupil deserves.
Q – Owen, Wassenaar: Having been born raised and educated in Wales, after university I find myself unable to find a job in Wales as I am overqualified for many jobs and have had to move abroad for work. I know this is the case for many of my peers, either having to move abroad or to a big city outside of Wales e.g. London. How can you make sure that there are good jobs in Wales to retain the talent that comes through our universities?
A – This is a common problem Owen. The economy in Wales is much weaker than it should be and every year we often lose many bright people who go in search of opportunities Wales cannot currently provide. Incomes in Wales are much lower than the UK average – as much as 30% lower. This perpetuates our disadvantaged economic position and the cycle continues. This is nothing new – it has been ongoing for generations. Both Tory and Labour governments have failed to address and reverse the decline of heavy industry in Wales.
When I became leader of Plaid Cymru I made the transformation of our economy a priority. Wales can be a more prosperous place but only if we do things differently. The status quo has not worked and carrying on as we always have is not acceptable to me. Part of our problem is not having control of the major economic levers of power to make a big difference but, in the meantime, there are things that can be done to boost our economy. Plaid Cymru has proposed the implementation of a comprehensive National Economic Plan to achieve our goal of parity with the rest of the UK. In short, the plan will consist of three dimensions: raising skill levels, an active industrial strategy and a comprehensive plan for infrastructure investment.
We must be ambitious and radical if we are to reverse the decline and enable Wales’ economy to reach its full potential.
Q – (Many readers): What are your thoughts on reports of gay “concentration camps” in Chechnya?
A – I’m disgusted that they exist. The reports of torture and so-called ‘honour-killing’ of gay men from Chechnya are more than deeply disturbing. The international community must bring influence to bear to stop them and to bring some much-needed humanity, compassion and understanding of sexual diversity to the region.
Q – Neil, Wrexham: Many LGBT people are still shocked by the deal you did with UKIP in the Welsh Assembly last year. How can LGBT people trust you if you’re so willing to work with a homophobic party?
A – Hi Neil, thanks for the opportunity to set the record straight. There was no deal with UKIP in the Assembly last year. Our political opponents have tried to spin that there was but that is not what happened. The Plaid Cymru group decided to put my name forward for First Minister because Labour were unwilling to make certain concessions we felt were important.
The Labour group acted like a majority party when they had a minority of AMs. We therefore decided to challenge Labour’s sense of entitlement. How AMs from other political parties voted that day was a matter for them but there was no deal. Anyone who has watched any recent televised leadership debate or who watched them back in 2015, can be in no doubt about my views towards UKIP and their style of politics. I see UKIP as being the polar opposite to Plaid Cymru.
Challenging Labour’s First Minister nomination meant we were able to secure much bigger concessions than we would have done otherwise. These concessions provided financial allocation towards some of our manifesto priorities, including an extra £30m for higher and further education, £25m for local government and £44m additional investment in the health service, prioritising mental health services.
Q – Paul, Cardiff: Given the majority Leave vote in Wales, how can you be so against the will of the Welsh people who voted for Brexit. Mass migration is massively unpopular in wales with our bursting infrastructure, so why do you want Wales to be a ‘migrant sanctuary’?
A – Hi Paul. Please don’t misunderstand the difference between freedom of movement and refugees. Wales becoming a migrant sanctuary means that we can follow best practise when we take our share of the world’s refugees, making sure that public services are available for all and that no-one loses out.
We have international obligations to offer a safe place for people, many of whom are children, who are risking their lives to flee war torn areas. All European countries have to play a role and many are doing their bit. It is time for the UK to step up and fulfil its obligations. After all, should any of us need to flee to a safe country, I’m sure you would want the option of doing so. That is why international agreements are in place.
To take the separate issue of inward migration, this is not the same issue in Wales as it is in other parts of the UK. The numbers of people from other EU countries here is relatively tiny. The media coverage fails to differentiate between various parts of the UK. Wales’ problem with migration is that many people are leaving our country in search of work and are not coming back. We are depopulating and this has big implications for the provision of public services and houses. That is something I want to tackle by providing the jobs and opportunities in Wales so that people don’t have to move away.
Q – Tom, Warwick: Like many English voters, I like a lot of Plaid Cymru policies – including its support of LGBT rights – who do you think I should vote for in England? Which party do you think best mirrors Plaid Cymru?
A – Hi Tom. Thanks for your email and interest in Plaid Cymru. Since Plaid Cymru doesn’t stand candidates in England – and never will – the Green Party is the political party that we’re probably closest to in England. We have worked with them, and the SNP, in the past to oppose the austerity consensus that took hold in Westminster. I am also an admirer of Caroline Lucas who I have worked with on a number of issues in the past. My strong advice though would be – anyone but the “coalition of chaos” that the Tories and UKIP seem to be forming.
Q – Adah, St Davids: What can we – and Welsh parliamentarians – do to promote LGBT rights in places around the world where there is persecution?
A – Foreign policy is not devolved yet Adah so there are no direct diplomatic channels between Wales and foreign countries. Despite that we can still take positions in the Welsh Parliament and hold debates on issues concerning international affairs. I would like to see the Foreign Office of the UK Government taking a more proactive response in challenging those countries which persecute people based on their gender and their sexual orientation. Discrimination and persecution on these grounds should have no place in the 21st century.
Q – Kathleen, Newport: Given the significance of the European Convention on Human Rights in protecting LGBT people, will you support us remaining party to the treaty despite Brexit?
A – We should remain party to the treaty Kathleen. I have no faith in the Tory Party to deliver an alternative bill of rights that will offer citizens the level of protection we currently receive as a result of the European Convention on Human Rights. This election campaign – and the calling of the election itself – has shown they cannot be trusted to keep their word on anything. I would wager that the proposed ‘British Bill of Rights’ would be nothing more than a watered down version of what we have in place already.
Q – (Many readers): Would you attend a local Pride event?
A – For a few years I didn’t miss the one we have in Cardiff. Then they changed the date!
In Cardiff we have a fabulous annual Pride event organised by PRIDE CYMRU. I have addressed the crowd in solidarity on many occasions. There is always a good number of Plaid Pride members at the event as well. It’s a great event and I would recommend everyone coming along.
Q – Anthony, London: I would very much like to start a family with my fiancé and we are exploring the possibility of having a child via a surrogate mother with my sister as the egg donor. It will only be possible for us to have a baby this way via IVF. However, as we are a gay male couple, we are not entitled to any IVF support on the NHS, unlike straight or lesbian couples. As a doctor working in the NHS, I am well aware of the strain on our services but I also know that it is important to fairly allocate resources. I’m sure that you will agree that we have the same rights to start a family as any other loving couple, so should the NHS provide IVF to us as well as straight and lesbian couples?
A – Hi Anthony. I was not aware of this anomaly. I agree with you that there should be equal rights across the piece and I will look into this matter in the Welsh NHS, which is devolved from Westminster. In the meantime, I wish you and your fiancé all the very best in starting your family.
Q – Carla, Swansea: Some countries like New Zealand allow people to have gender-neutral or Gender X passports. Do you support people of Wales and the UK having the same option? Do you back efforts to make official paperwork gender neutral wherever possible?
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A – Hi Carla. I see no reason why we cannot have gender neutral passports in the UK. As you rightly point out, it is offered in other countries such as New Zealand already. I understand Australia and Nepal also offer the same service. I also note that banks are beginning to allow gender neutral titles as well. This is promising and a step in the right direction.
Q – Elizabeth, London: Would you commit to making it illegal to offer services that claim to “cure” homosexuality to young people as is the case in several jurisdictions around the world?
A – Hi Elizabeth, thanks for your question. I understand that anyone caught practising such ‘cures’ will be struck off. I also think this so-called “treatment” should be made illegal in the UK. It has no basis in medical evidence and perpetuates stigma. Allowing it can be damaging to people’s mental health. Not only is it a con, but it is also harming efforts to secure equality for gay people.
Q – Ben, London: Who would you say is your Gay Icon and why?
A – Will you allow me to be cheeky and say – Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Adam Price? Why? Because he’s gay, Welsh, sound politically and has been a good friend for many years. Most of my Pride visits and gay clubbing experiences have been in his company. And what fantastic company that is!
Q&As with Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley, Nicola Sturgeon and Paul Nuttall will be published soon