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  • Lawrence Bailey

Plaid Cymru: more than independent thinking?

It’s not surprising that homeward bound delegates from Plaid Cymru’s autumn conference in Llangollen last weekend were in a generally positive frame of mind.

The party’s critics, both external and from within, have been talking about ‘under-achievement’, but leader Leanne Wood recounted an impressive success story from the podium, including a decent Assembly budget deal with Labour.

Furthermore, while her speech didn’t quite urge members to go back to their constituencies and prepare for government, she put the prospect out there nonetheless.

It was smart move by a leader whose detractors have ended up doing her the favour of marginalising themselves.

Back at the beginning of the year, the political intelligentsia foresaw a poor show in the polls for the Party of Wales and a swift change of leadership. They were wrong on both counts.

Indeed, not only has Ms Wood withstood a sustained sniping campaign from opponents, she has demonstrated a keen eye for any opportunity to promote party policy and party standing in equal measure.

Having very publicly forestalled the First Minister’s automatic accession, her Senedd colleagues slipped into ‘engaged opposition’ mode and to not inconsiderable effect.

Her scathing references to the action of Labour AMs in joining with the Conservatives and UKIP to defeat a Plaid Cymru call for continued membership of the European Single Market is also an illustration of intent.

Yet it’s not all about attacking Labour. When she talked about members being “genuinely torn” over the prospect of coalition in Cardiff Bay, the sneaking impression was that she herself was possibly open to persuasion.

Writing on his blog recently, former Lib Dem AM Peter Black insists that Plaid would be unable to fulfil a meaningful level of scrutiny from within. Mr Black’s insights are based on first-hand experiences of coalitions and it would be unwise of me to contradict him.

Of course, this is far from being uncharted territory. Labour and Plaid formed the ‘One Wales’ government from 2007-2011. It didn’t end well for Plaid, electorally speaking.

It should be added that Labour AMs are less than ecstatic at the prospect themselves. Most feel the departure of Dafydd Elis-Thomas to the independent benches is a sufficient game changer.

There’s no denying that the next few months will present more significant challenges for Leanne Wood. Yet she seems up to the task with an attitude very different to her predecessor who expended most of his time avoiding any buck that looked like it was headed in his direction.

The Party of Wales has previously sought to define itself as something singularly tangible in voter’s minds. Things now seem to be moving towards creating a broader appeal.

I suspect they will have their work cut out given that the party’s parliamentary wing still think the future involves actions like demanding a £1bn ransom from the Treasury in exchange for three votes backing the Heathrow expansion.

Plaid Cymru came away from their conference with a vision. The question now is whether they try to deliver it from somewhere within or from the sidelines.


Do we have a need for speed?

People often make the understandable error of thinking that I’m a big car fan because I worked in the auto industry for thirty-something years. The truth is a bit different.

That said, I’m greatly taken with the idea of a city centre motor event, which as the blurb says would see various sports classes competing and even an F1 demonstration.

It’s early days and we’re not exactly talking about the Goodwood Festival of Speed but is sounds like something your average petrol-head would travel to see.

Swansea has shown that its more than capable of staging good quality events such the National Air Show. There’s no reason to think things would be any less professional on the ground.

The challenge however, is that of you’re going to promote city-living as a regeneration option then you also need to figure out how to balance the competing needs of visitors and residents. Best of luck with that one.


Lost in translation

The thing about local democracy, or so the theory goes, is that priorities are determined locally and by the people we elect.

So, when the Wales Audit Office blames ‘poor leadership’ for a lack of coordination between national, regional and local priorities over public safety, my reaction is to reach for a pinch of salt.

I mean, when you think about it, the government’s public safety priorities are inevitably going to be based around counter-terrorism measures whereas local neighbourhoods are more concerned about speed bumps and anti-social behaviour.

The great thing about being an auditor - and I speak from experience – is that you can state the blindingly obvious without having the responsibility to address the problem you’ve ‘highlighted’.

Don’t get me wrong, the local decision-making process can only benefit by being subjected to effective and independent external scrutiny. It’s just that there’s a big difference between informing priorities and trying to influence them.

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