I had my doubts about Plaid’s prospects in the 2011 elections the moment that resounding Yes vote came back in the real referendum this year. Whereas AV stirred debate, the Welsh referendum stood out as a campaign fought on the issue that was on the table, something Westminster might do well to learn from. However, with the success on greater law making powers for Wales, there was always the danger that the mandate that Plaid had left, was gone. Greater or increased powers for the Assembly were plausible, independence less so. Given Plaid’s reluctance in recent years to even mention the word ‘independence’, it left them in a very difficult campaigning position this time around. With greater powers in the bag, and independence off of the agenda, just what was there for Plaid to talk about?
An indistinct leadership and a manifesto that could have been copy and pasted from any of the other parties, meant that, let alone there being anything radical about Plaid’s campaign, there was very little to campaign on at all. Apart from showing a desire to stay in power, even though much of the talking was targeted at undermining the position of the only party who could realistically offer the party that possibility, there was no real substance to the fight. As Dafydd Elis Thomas stressed on the BBC, ‘what is wrong with that’, when challenged with the idea that Plaid only appeared to want to be in power.
A lot is the problem with that approach. Without a radical, or at the very least a distinctive manifesto, it is unlikely Welsh voters will back Plaid on mass. There is the very real danger that, having secured greater law making powers for the Assembly, many will have seen Plaid go as far as they can do as a reforming party. Such a situation will not be resolved without a clear change in direction.
Plaid have a choice in 2011. Looking 5 years from now, the party can probably be confident in maintaining their current level of representation in the Assembly without lifting too many weights. For them to return to the position of the second party in Wales, before even considering gathering an SNP level of government running support, a clear and distinct manifesto needs to be put forward to the people of Wales, and with that, a break from the, now looking very old, Plaid of the One Wales Agreement. There is an aging feel to the face of Plaid, it is a party that felt throughout the campaign as it was holding on, rather than fighting for more. The next generation of Plaid must take this opportunity. Elis-Thomas, Wyn Jones, H-M Jones, all names that should be respected and revered in Plaid, but possibly remembered as well. Getting into power should no longer be enough for the party, not if it wants to be a credible distinct political entity going into 2016. Whether the youth of the party have the level of radicalism that has been abandoned by the old guard is yet to be seen, but without it we can only expect to see Plaid’s support decrease than anything else.