Comment: Plaid Cymru needs to raise its game

Leanne Wood has failed to capitalise on the development of the Assembly in Wales

 

Plaid Cymru members will gather today for the start of the party’s annual conference in Aberystwyth, the last before next May’s elections to the Welsh Assembly.

They will do so at the end of a year in which the party’s leader, Leanne Wood, has had the kind of exposure her predecessors could only have dreamed of.

Ms Wood’s appearance before the general election on the UK-wide leaders’ debates gave her an equality of status that the party had hoped would propel them to great things at the ballot box.

Indeed, murmuring in the party had suggested it could secure five seats at Westminster which would have been the its best ever performance in a UK general election.

As it was, despite all the hype and expectation, Plaid came out of the election with three MPs – the same number that it had started with.  And its vote share increased by less than 1 per cent.

In the aftermath of the campaign, AM Simon Thomas argued that there was now ‘huge potential’ to portray Wood as a credible alternative first minister; still, the sense of disappointment at the party’s performance was palpable.

Speaking to the Western Mail after the election, the party’s former leader and presiding officer in the Welsh Assembly Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas concluded that the party’s campaign had come across as ‘a bit sectarian’, too focused on complaining rather than providing a positive alternative vision.

“Clearly the campaign did not seem to be focused on an argument about where Wales needs to be going in terms of powers and its future development, and it tended to concentrate mainly on drawing comparisons with Scotland.”

Plaid has failed to capitalise on the development of the Assembly in Wales in the way that the SNP has so skilfully done in Scotland. That is why next May’s elections to Cardiff Bay are crucial.

Leanne Wood needs to show that the party is going forward and has, at the very least, the opportunity to put its hands on the levers of power within a coalition government.

According to the most recent Welsh Political Barometer published at the end of last month however, the prospects do not look good. 18 per cent of people plan to vote for Plaid Cymru in the constituency section of the Assembly elections, down 2 points from the last poll in June and down by just over one point on the share of the constituency vote it secured in 2011 Assembly elections.

Likewise, on the regional list vote, the polling shows Plaid also on 18 per cent, down two points since June but about the same share as it secured in 2011.

Replicated at the elections next year, such results would hand Plaid 10 seats in the Assembly, one less than it secured in 2011.

In his assessment of the party’s fortunes, Roger Scully of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre has observed:

“Leanne Wood has had a good last twelve months. But her party – well, not so much. And the next few months, both the period before the Assembly election and that immediately after it, are likely to pose considerable challenges for both the leader and her party. They will need to raise their game further to prove remotely equal to those challenges.”

If Ms Wood cannot meet the challenges the party faces, a new leader may be on the cards. Wood will be hoping that Nicola Sturgeon’s praise at the party conference today will provide the boost she now needs.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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