I did not plan to write a column this weekend. It’s Easter, after all. I told the editor that it was time for a weekend off.

There’s been too much for my liking recently on the cracks in the Union, attacks against the Welsh language, and that dreaded flag war. They all reflect how the wider picture in Wales is a bit depressing.

A divisive but crucial election is upon us too, so I wanted to save my energy for those over-promised and badly-costed manifestos in the days ahead. You’re probably just as excited as I am... Surely, I thought, nothing would be so cruel as to draw me back in?

Alas, with thanks to my fellow devoted patriots in the Abolish the Welsh Assembly party, I was wrong. Lee Canning, one of the party’s senior activists, this week tweeted a photo of Leanne Wood with the caption: “the ugly face of nationalism”. Graceful, as ever.

The social media circus which erupted afterwards was warranted. The post has been deleted – it was “inappropriate” the party admitted – but it was quick enough to add that some of its supporters have received “far worse” from nationalist supporters. “The mainstream media is not interested in that”, apparently. Pŵr-dab.

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Adam Price was quick to react too, calling out the misogynistic personal attack for what it was. So were other parties, to their credit. Although that wasn’t enough for Price; a letter had to be written, demanding that Abolish was removed from the upcoming BBC Wales leaders' debate. Aunty held firm, stressing their fair and impartial editorial process. Is that enough attention for the abolitionists from the mainstream media?

I am with the devo-sceptics on this particular issue. Adam Price has no right to dictate editorial decisions to a public service broadcaster, as Abolish said in its statement. The party has been polling at record levels and is on course to win four seats next month. The Welsh Liberal Democrats and UKIP are smaller fish in comparison. Abolish deserves to be heard.

We would all do well to remember that devo-scepticism is no new phenomenon in Wales either. Rather, it is a key part of the modern Welsh political dynamic. In 1997 we were split down the middle. Since then the devo-sceptic cause has failed to find a vehicle.

But the current coronavirus crisis has exposed the dysfunctionality of the UK – prompting the surging growth of nationalism, Welsh and British. Plaid Cymru and Abolish the Welsh Assembly are reacting to the same problem although in different ways: one wants to re-create Welsh democracy while the other wants to eviscerate it.

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Hence the need to have a debate. Even though I am not convinced of the usefulness of having half a dozen or more politicians shouting over a BBC journalist for an hour or two, unfortunately nobody has been smart enough to think of another format. Abolish should be part of that nevertheless – so that the party can put its ideas forward on how to improve the Welsh economy, education, health, transport, infrastructure, local government, language policy, and so on.

Here’s the trouble: it has no policies. Just a lazy call for fewer politicians – exactly what the experts on constitutional democracy in Wales do not recommend (but we don’t like them anymore, do we?) – and for no representative parliament for Wales. No ideas. No positive vision. No coherent strategy. A cowboys and bandits approach to rid Wales of its Senedd, an institution that has filled the pockets of Abolish candidates such as Gareth Bennett (remember when he spent £10,000 of public money on an office that never opened?), as well as fulfilling the ever-shapeshifting political ambitions of Mark Reckless. They are Abolish at its finest.

Oddly they are by no means easy targets, though. While the BBC is right to include the cowboys in the shoot-out, it’s a dangerous game. For many, the call to cull politicians in Cardiff Bay is an invigorating trumpet to arms. It will be cheap and easy to make hits on the party leaders who have it all to lose too.

Every other leader in the debate therefore has a responsibility to challenge Abolish candidates on the stump. To probe them. To disable their arguments. Leaders must muster the courage (yes, even you RT) to tell these anti-everythings that their politics is not reflective of the broader views of Welsh society and to challenge them on what they would do for their local areas, rather than what they’d tweet about.

This is where they struggle. Get these cowboys into a Texan fast draw and they will struggle. Where will they look? What will they say? Anyone? Their fingers are sweating on the trigger: arguing that the Senedd is not fit for purpose and unnecessary just won’t cut it when they’re put difficult questions on what they stand for, rather than against.

It is so ironic considering that Richard Suchorzewski said that he wanted to #SaveWales by ridding it of its Senedd: a waste of resources and totally unnecessary, the leader of Abolish the Welsh Assembly says. That’s where the tweet stops. There is no argument beyond the rhetoric above. It is intellectually baseless, damned by the opinion polls and damned by the political opposition they will face in the weeks ahead.

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Still, let them come to debate. Show them to their podium. Mind their soundbites – they will do some damage – but close this lot down when you have a chance. Do so in a way which gives the audience enough time to know they are of little relevance to forming the next government of Wales but shows respect to their presence. All you need to do with this lot is ask a question, and then another, and another. After about three or four, they’ve got nothing else to say. Then they’ll be exposed for what they really are.

Theo Davies-Lewis is a commentator on Welsh affairs

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