Hopefully, the dust has settled enough by now to take a rather more objective view of the Plaid position paper on defence which was ‘leaked’ to the media before the party even had a chance to discuss it. The response by some was a little hysterical to say the least; one might almost think that challenging the basis on which defence policy should be built is another taboo subject.
As far as I can see there was nothing particularly new or radical in the paper; most of it seemed to be just repeating what Plaid had said over many years. In that context, my favourite response has to be that of Alun Davies AM - calling Jill Evans a 'nutter' for continuing to espouse a policy stance on which, as I recall, Davies himself fought elections in the past. Does that make him a lapsed nutter?
Anyway, I digress. There were really two aspects to what Evans wrote; the first was a restatement of the principles underpinning Plaid’s defence policy, and the second was a discussion of the Defence Training establishment at St Athans.
Plaid has a serious problem on the whole issue of defence, because they have to try and frame two different policies - one to deal with the way they would like to see an independent Wales behaving, and the other for the (what they would presumably see as interim) period until that point. Clashes and contradictions between these two policies are inevitable.
The soft option would be to frame only a very short term policy, and state that anything else is too far in the future to be worth even considering at this stage. It would avoid many of the contradictions, and enable the party to argue, perfectly naturally for a nationalist party, that Wales should have its fair share of military expenditure and jobs.
But that soft option would be a complete cop-out, and it is surely to the credit of Evans that she has been honest and open on the issue, and has stuck to her principles - something which so few politicians seem to be willing to do these days - rather than simply looking for a more populist position.
It is interesting that the responses all seemed to be attempting to ridicule Evans and her party rather than engage in serious debate. Neither Ireland nor Sweden, for instance (although both members of the EU) are part of NATO, and their miltary policies are geared largely to defence rather than offence – a position quite similar to what I understand that Evans was advocating. Anyone want to go to either of those countries and tell them that their defence policy is so utterly ludicrous that it doesn’t even merit serious debate? For a small independent country, it's a sensible position - surely there can be no great surprise that Plaid would come to similar conclusions.
But an independent Wales, if there is ever to be one, is far in the future; of more immediate significance, perhaps, is the issue of the Defence Training Academy at St Athans. Here we have a direct clash between the economic driver of getting more jobs and investment into the Welsh economy, and the deeply-held views of some people who oppose militarism. It was presented as a problem for Plaid. It certainly is; but it is also a problem for Labour. Perhaps Plaid's anti-militarist wing is more obvious, and stronger within that party, but the strength of similar feelings amongst many long-standing members of the Labour Party should not be underestimated either.
It is a mistake to turn this into a purely party political issue, with the different parties merely trying to score points. There are some serious questions to be answered about the extent to which we want jobs at any price. There are questions about the involvement of companies that are involved in the arms trade, and there are certainly questions to be asked about the training of soldiers for countries whose regimes use their military forces for internal oppression.
Evans and Plaid have raised legitimate concerns; they deserve to be debated, not dismissed. The suggestions, which some appeared to be making, that we cannot afford to even discuss these issues for fear of losing the jobs, or that to even ask such questions is somehow undermining ‘our boys’ is little more than an unworthy attempt to suppress an important debate.