The huge challenge facing Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru will gather for its annual conference with support for an independent Wales at just 3 per cent.

Plaid Cymru will gather for its annual conference with support for an independent Wales at just 3 per cent

Plaid Cymru will today gather for its annual conference in the small town of Llangollen in the north east of Wales.

This will be the first conference for the Welsh nationalists following last months’ referendum in Scotland which saw a clear majority opting to remain within the Union.

With all parties in Wales now falling over themselves to call for greater powers to be given to Cardiff Bay, Plaid’s leader Leanne Wood has quite a job on her hands when she addresses delegates later today, namely to give a clear explanation as to why Plaid are relevant.

Unfortunately for Plaid, whilst the SNP have secured outright control on the levers of power at Holyrood and are now predicted by some to be on course for potentially 20 seats in the UK parliament, the SNP’s sister party now finds itself stuck in a rut.

The European Elections in May saw Plaid facing the humiliating spectacle of being relegated to 4th place, behind Labour, UKIP and the Conservatives, narrowly holding on to its one MEP in Brussels. It did so as its share of the vote fell from that which it secured in the 2009 Euro elections by 3.25 per cent.

Writing on his blog, Roger Scully, a professor at Cardiff University, has noted that when looking at the Wales-only polls that have been conducted so far this year, Plaid are averaging 12.1 per cent of the vote in terms of General Election voting intention, equal with UKIP.

Meanwhile the Welsh nationalists continue to make what Scully himself dubs “limited progress” in voting intentions for the Assembly, remaining second behind Labour when it comes to the constituency vote on around 20.2 per cent of the vote, a little above the 19.3 per cent it  secured in the 2011 elections to the Welsh Assembly on this part of the vote.

So why are Plaid not making the kind of gains that they potentially should be given all the talk of extra powers for Cardiff?

Scully observes that one of Plaid’s biggest problems is its continued failure to make the kind of breakthroughs that it needs to in the South if it is to stand a chance of mounting a credible challenge to Labour’s stranglehold over Wales. As he explains:

“A significant problem for Plaid, however, is that these short-term priorities and goals will require channelling resources into parts of Wales that do little to help Plaid address its longer-term stategic objectives. As I have discussed at greater length elsewhere, if Plaid Cymru are ever to crack Labour’s hegemony over Welsh politics then they must break out of their traditional north and west Wales heartland, and be consistently challenging for seats across south Wales.

“Without beginning to make a serious impact on Labour’s stranglehold over the constituency seats in the three south Wales regions, Plaid can never challenge Labour effectively for the status of largest party in the Assembly. Senior figures in the party are fully aware of this. But they are also, surely, aware that investments of resources in south Wales will have uncertain short-term payoffs, and risk denuding Plaid’s efforts in more immediately promising territory. There is no obvious answer to this dilemma.”

He continues:

“As I mentioned this time last year, one of Leanne Wood’s favourite Welsh words seems to be ‘Ymlaen’. Over the last twelve months, her party has indeed moved forwards. But a UK general election, in which a Wales-only party will inevitably be marginalised by the UK news-media, presents risks as well as opportunities. And achieving the desired result in 2016 will, for Plaid, require moving forward much further than it has managed thus far.”

Noting meanwhile that Plaid members will meet this weekend in “buoyant mood” as they seek to capitalise on the Scottish referendum, the BBC’s political editor in Wales, Nick Servini, has never the less picked up on the challenges facing the party, explaining:

“But there are difficulties, including how the party differentiates itself when so many of the other parties are supporting the roll out of further devolution. Senior figures insist this territory belongs to them so we can expect plenty of speeches taking ownership of constitutional change.

“Leanne Wood’s in the middle of an electoral cycle that will define her time as leader of the party.

“One of the challenges she faces is to set out how extra powers are not just needed for their own sake but because they will make a difference to people’s lives.”

And for all the speeches made at the conference, Plaid will be acutely aware that they will be made against a backdrop of support for their cherished ideal, namely an independent Wales is, at 3 per cent, at its lowest level ever.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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7 Responses to “The huge challenge facing Plaid Cymru”

  1. The_Average_Joe_UK

    At 3% its not even worth a debate.

  2. littleoddsandpieces

    The Greens (a socialist left party) offer an end to starvation caused by welfare reform that leaves the poor without food money for months at a time, when it takes a month to die of starvation.

    The Greens offer in 2015 election manifesto:

    universal Citizen Income, non-withdrawable, til state pension payout which will be at the same level.

    Plaid Cymru need to look at a way to compete with The Greens in the impoverished south of Wales, with whole towns with little job prospects, which also means that the ageism in getting jobs for the over 50s on tiny works pension, early retired in lieu of redundancy under austerity job cuts.

    If Plaid Cymru told women born from 1953 and men born from 1951 of the total loss of state pension coming to them, and to the poorest workers,
    and offered a 2015 election manifesto,
    to pay out women’s state pension at 55 at the same or better rate than that offered by The Greens, for Welsh pensioners, who already get more than the state pension in other nations of the UK.

    Pension Bill 2014 that brought in law Flat Rate Pension 2016, abolishes Pension Credit for new claimants as above and reduces the pension by the end of State Earnings Related Scheme and State Second Pension.

    The Greens are not offering to bring back women’s state pension at 60 and men at 65.

    The state pension is payable if remain in work or retire, and is not a benefit.

    As the London government told the Scots, the source of the state pension that is the ring fenced National Insurance Fund is full, not needing a top up from tax for decades.

    Independence is not a criteria in these days, when people are being left more and more with nil food money that may have caused many deaths, and certainly is a cause in Wales of the growth of malnutrition hospital admissions according to doctors reporting in The Lancet.

    As Gandhi observed, People’s Politics are Their Daily Bread.

    And this need is not being met by food banks, as the huge rise of the benefit sanctioned cannot access food vouchers to get food.

    In Europe, the hungry are fed every day of the week in free cafes providing a hot cooked meal and hot drink, which includes, as in the UK, the majority being in work and poor pensioners, not only the unemployed, that include the disabled / chronic sick losing benefit just as much as here in UK. Even at 60 for women / 65 for men when also lost state pension payout.

    If Plaid Cymru set up charity shops / free cafes now, this would be a most practical way to gain ‘brand awareness’ beyond just the independence policy.

    And feed the working poor on housing benefit, the poor with a benefit sanction letter, the disabled / chronic sick with year long delays in getting those benefit or losing it altogether when DLA is replaced by PIP or losing ESA (support) and then the working ESA.

    And even a kids’ breakfast club for the children of such as the above.

    Then watch Plaid Cymru going into the stratosphere for votes.

  3. The_Average_Joe_UK

    But then again the people of Wales could say more socialism means even more of the same: No jobs, poverty, no opportunity and windbags selling their ideological BS.

    People of Wales reject this sh!t, find leaders who can generate investment, jobs, a future for the young. A proud Wales. The choice is yours.

  4. treborc1

    True but then again nobody has actually asked us.

  5. The_Average_Joe_UK

    Do the welsh have oil? Err no, 97% of the Welsh know that they need cash from the rest of the UK. Presumably the 3% have the same intellectual capacity as Leon.

    Slowly they are waking up to the fact that Socialism doesn’t provide Jobs and Growth.

  6. The voice of reason

    A very poor article.
    The tone would suggest that Plaid Cymru are in meltdown; the only evidence of this is a poor result in the European elections and the lack of a miracle in the polls. Losing 3% since 2009 is not what any party would hope for but to suggest this is humiliation is dishonest, after all the polls until the very end were showing that Plaid Cymru would lose it’s representation in Europe which in reality was kept. Likewise any party would like to gain more than 2% over two years, but progress is progress. Two years ago it looked like Plaid would lose two of it’s seats at Westminster, but now it looks like it will keep it’s current seats and have a fair chance of gaining a few.

    Interesting that you didn’t quote this from Roger Scully instead.

    effective rallying of Plaid’s vote in the European election, and the
    strong performance in both local elections and the Assembly by-election
    on Ynys Môn in 2013, have suggested that Plaid may be re-discovering how
    to fight elections effectively after some years of lassitude and
    decline. There are other causes for at least qualified Plaid optimism:
    the steady decline in Labour support over the last year or more; the
    slowly growing profile, confidence and public popularity
    of Leanne Wood; and the possibility of a more favourable electoral
    context in 2016 than was the case in 2011. None of this makes a repeat
    of 1999’s ‘quiet earthquake’ inevitable, or even likely, but it does
    suggest that somewhat brighter electoral prospects for the party may
    well lie ahead.”

    Plaid Cymru’s challenge is to persuade people that they do a better job than Labour when protecting Welsh interests. Plaid Cymru’s challenge is to ensure that the disillusioned thousands turning to UKIP finds new hope by voting for a party that wants to fight for them. Low support for independence, whether it’s on 3% or 17% isn’t the challenge at all.

  7. Ian Johnson

    Using the ‘3%’ figure suggests the author fails to understand Welsh politics, or is being deliberately mischievous. This wasn’t a yes/no question (the most recent from YouGov pre-indyref suggesting 20%/80% split) but a multi-option question where 52% of people said they wanted more powers for Wales. As Plaid Cymru are the only party to set out exactly which extra powers they want, that doesn’t suggest any particular reason to worry – in fact, it suggests that Plaid Cymru are in step with the Welsh population.

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