Can Plaid capitalise this time?
Wales goes to the polls in May to choose a Welsh Assembly. We asked Evening Post columnist and public affairs specialist Lawrence Bailey to sketch out the state of the parties, their policies and how they might fare.
His six-part series starts today with PLAID CYMRU.
This election is a make or break contest for the Party of Wales. It’s arguable that the same can be said for party leader Leanne Wood.
Plaid Cymru’s seat tally since 1999 has been gradually declining. This campaign offers hope of a reverse in fortunes and even reinstatement as the second largest party in the Senedd.
Although expected to perform reasonably well in their heartlands, the prospects of outright victory are remote. It could be the choices are whether the party goes into some kind of informal coalition with Labour or into continued opposition.
If past experience tells us anything however, it’s that things are rarely straightforward in Welsh politics.
"My plan is a long-term one and building up a nation is not an overnight step. I am not intending to go away and I am in it for the long run"
Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru leader
Plaid aim to regain ground in Assembly
The polls have been sending mixed messages to Plaid Cymru of late. A few months ago, projections put the party as headed towards its lowest point since the Welsh Assembly came into being.
More recently, the polls indicate the Party of Wales could be about regain its status as second largest group in the Senedd.
This changeability is probably more to do with the reliability of polling methods than actual electoral chances. Plaid’s canvassers have consistently reported encouraging levels of doorstep support.
It’s nineteen years since a slim majority of voters decided it was going to was a very good morning for Wales. Shortly afterwards, it became an exceptionally good one for Plaid Cymru as they took 17 seats in the newly formed Welsh Assembly.
Things have been a bit downhill since then. Some writers believe this trend reflects voter perception of Plaid Cymru’s mission becoming less relevant as quasi-independence gets further established through devolution.
The party’s emotional appeal is still robust but support is geographically patchy. Where they are strong they are very strong – and yet they don’t have a single county councillor in Swansea and Gower.
Plaid’s own analysis admitted to having fought the wrong campaign in 2011 while several candidates took the wrong option in terms of regional or constituency seat. I don’t have the space to go into the details here, but I know some people who think history could be partially repeating itself.
I’d say however that a key difference is the enhanced leadership of Leanne Wood. The Rhondda girl made good used the general election very effectively. Being pictured alongside Nicola Sturgeon both improved her personal stock and gave the party renewed national status.
According to current forecasts, Plaid Cymru stands to make moderate net gains. How that translates into actual performance will come down to the strength of their campaign – plus a recognition that social media is no substitute for boots on the ground.
Plaid’s instinctive antipathy may be towards Labour but their electoral nemesis is UKIP.
An article I recently read concluded that the new kids on the block may have flexible notions about sovereignty but they represent an opportunity for someone to be ‘nationalist’ in Wales without necessarily having to support the Welsh language. We shall see.
A failure by Plaid Cymru to make any inroads at all in May will inevitably reflect on the leadership.
In that instance, Adam Price, who has been eulogised in some sections of the press as the prince across the water, may put his name forward. Again, we shall see.
Meantime, the party has no shortage of fresh and innovative ideas in its manifesto. Council tax reform is an eye-catcher although there is probably less voter appetite for another NHS reorganisation, no matter how well intentioned.
The ability to actually deliver these policies is another matter, of course.
There’s plenty of unhelpful speculation about a post-election arrangement with Labour. That said, we’ve also seen that wheeler- dealing per policy with a minority government can be just as productive –not to mention less electorally damaging.
Maybe we’ve had a glimpse of the future.