A well-known, outspoken figure in South Wales’ local politics for several years and no stranger to controversy, Neil McEvoy shares a rather illustrious position with Plaid Cymru’s leader Leanne Wood, namely being a sitting Plaid AM outside of Plaid’s traditional rural heartlands of North and Mid Wales. Furthermore, McEvoy is also a Cardiff City Councillor, acting as the leader of the Plaid Cymru group.
South Wales born and bred, McEvoy first became involved in politics in the 1980s under the Thatcher government, describing the Miner’s Strike as “Radicalizing”. “Being a 17 year-old growing up in the 80s, it seemed a natural progression to fight against the injustice coming out of Westminster”.
His first elected position came in 1999 as a Labour Party Cardiff City Councillor and sat on the council for four years. McEvoy began to become disillusioned with the party in 2001 however, describing the Iraq War as “Almost the final nail in the coffin”. When it came time for his reselection in 2003, feeling there was a move to drive him and those sympathetic to him out of the party, McEvoy resigned along with 16 other members in November 2003, defecting to Plaid Cymru.
“Many of us who were in Labour had held on to the hope the we could somehow reform the party, make it better, but I think, at that particular time the Labour Party was beyond redemption”.
McEvoy now describes Plaid as the only “Welsh Party”, describing the other major parties as “London-based” and “English parties claiming to be British”. We went on to describe his politics as “localist” stating that “globalization is failing”, pointing to the rise of the far-right in the west and stating a desire for a shift back to “local communities, local people, catering for local needs”.
When asked about how he balances his roles as an AM and a Councillor, McEvoy described a “complete synergy”, stating that his dual role had him more effective at both jobs. In particular, his ability to raise issues in the Senedd has, in his words “enabled me to make progress with a number of issues on the council”. McEvoy went on to state that he has no interest in two salaries, donating his Councillors’ pay to his community.
On the topic of the number of controversies he has been involved in during his time as part of Plaid, McEvoy strongly defended himself.
On the subject of his 2011 controversy over comments about Safer Wales and Welsh Women’s Aid, two domestic abuse charities he accused of supporting women who “break court orders” and “denying good fathers contact”, he stressed that his later apology over the issue was purely for the language he used, not his overall position. “If you have followed what’s happened, a number of bits of evidence have become available, independent investigations and so on, which were actioned, to essentially support what I was saying”.
His tone was not entirely combative however. “I’m more experienced person in politics now and I pursue issues but possibly choose my language slightly more carefully than I used to”. He also said he has had a fruitful conversation with one of the charities he criticized, stating that they were now “More open to having a rational discussion”.
When criticisms made of Mr McEvoy by the presiding officer Elin Jones back in July over his implications in the Senedd that First Minister Carwyn Jones misled the Assembly and was a liar were brought up, McEvoy once again came out strong. “If you look at the record I never called him a liar. I believe he mislead the Assembly, I never actually used the term liar because we are not allowed to. What we were going through then with the presiding officer was a process of bedding in really and getting used to each other and there is no problem really”.
He went on to detail two instances where he feels the First Minister did mislead the Assembly, firstly over local development plans and more recently over lobbying. Specifically he cited a change in tack by the First Minister where he originally denied that lobbyists have access to ministers then later stated that they have no ‘formal access’ to ministers.
When asked a more general question about Plaid Cymru’s chances of breaking into and winning more seats in the traditional Labour heartland of South Wales as he has done, McEvoy’s response was upbeat. “What we’ve seen is a historic shift in terms of how people identify themselves politically in South Wales”. “In my council ward Labour used to get 80% of the vote through the ballot box. Now over the last couple of elections at a council level, we’ve obtained roughly 50%”.
He proceeded to list numerous social ills in Cardiff including open drug dealing and dangerous drivers, issues he claimed Labour MPs have done nothing to tackle. He also described Welsh Labour as being composed of disconnected elites with Plaid’s more grassroots nature being better suited to dealing with Cardiff’s issues.
The interview concluded on question of whether Plaid currently stands to benefit from the windfall of anti-establishment UKIP members leaving the party post-Brexit vote. McEvoy expressed an interest in “educating UKIP voters” but also “going out and educating everybody really and telling people what we (Plaid) are about”.