Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds One of the really striking differences between Scotland and Wales in terms of our expectations for the devolved elections is with regard to the performance of the nationalist parties, the sister parties, the SNP in Scotland, the Plaid Cymru here in Wales. The expectation, of course, in Scotland is the SNP will do extraordinarily well. In Wales, by concerts, there’s a real danger from Plaid Cymru’s perspective that they could even be fourth– It’s possible. –in this election. And that’s a very, very stark difference.
Skip to 0 minutes and 38 seconds Yeah, and such a contrast with the first devolved elections– almost everyone now forgets that in the first devolved elections in 1999, across the two ballots Plaid Cymru actually won a higher share of the votes in Wales than the SNP did in Scotland, something which now seems almost unimaginable. And in terms of how we explain what has happened in Wales since, so you’re moving from a position where they were seriously challenging Labour in the valleys, heartlands, and so on and so forth to the current state of affairs, I mean, I guess that part of the explanation must lie in the way that the other parties in Wales responded to Plaid Cymru’s success in ‘99.
Skip to 1 minute and 19 seconds So one of the things which I recall very, very vividly is the way in particular in 2000 and on we saw Labour but also the conservatives and the lib-dems stressing their Welsh credentials– in a sense playing the small and nationalist card, not allowing Plaid to kind of occupy the ground of the party that stands up for Wales. You know, we are the true party of Wales said Labour and so on and so forth. And so in a since, Plaid Cymru in contrast to the SNP, perhaps, hasn’t had that kind of ground to itself as the defenders of Wales against the Centre.
Skip to 1 minute and 59 seconds Yeah, I think that’s an important part of the story that there hasn’t been in Wales sort of that stark unionist, nationalists division with Plaid say, like with the SNP being more almost the sole occupier of that. But I think the other important dimension is what the parties themselves have done, in particular how effectively and critically they’ve been led. I think, you know, the SNP have been led successively by two extraordinary political leaders, have been an extremely well-organized political party. And put bluntly, Plaid just haven’t been functioning at the same level.
Skip to 2 minutes and 33 seconds And particular through to the 2011 election, they were led by, again, Ieuan Wyn Jones, a man who is in many respects a very effective politician but simply was not an effective sort of charismatic vote-grabber for the party. And so when the current leader Leanne Wood took over in 2012, she was inheriting a policy that in 2011 had its worst ever assembly election while on the same night the SNP had just had their best ever, winning this amazing majority in the Scottish Parliament. Now, you mention Leanne.
Skip to 3 minutes and 3 seconds One of the fascinating elements of last year’s UK general election was the way that the leaders of the smaller parties were given prominent coverage in that and Leanne would move from being a person who was hardly known outside of, like, Plaid Cymru probably to being a national figure in Wales and indeed a person with a UK profile. What has that done in terms of her popularity, in terms of her visibility? Well, the yougov polling evidence shows that it had a big impact, last year’s general election campaign, on Leanne Wood’s personal profile– we are much more well known– and on her popularity.
Skip to 3 minutes and 48 seconds It didn’t actually do much for her party last year in terms of getting it many additional votes and it hasn’t yet translated into substantial increases in Plaid Cymru’s whole rating for this year’s assembly election either. However, as we move into the more intensive period of the campaign, I suppose there is the potential for this to be of some benefit to Plaid Cymru. For the first time since 1999 when Plaid were led by Dafydd Wigley Plaid will have a leader in the assembly election campaign who can pretty much go toe to toe with the leader of Welsh Labour in terms of public profile and public popularity. Plaid have not been remotely in that position ever since 1999.
Skip to 4 minutes and 31 seconds So maybe once we get into the intensive part of the campaign, her profile and relative popularity will help her party actually get some additional support. Moving past the election to the kind of government formation stage, I think one of the really interesting questions and we don’t know the answer it at the moment, is will there be another Labour Plaid coalition?
Skip to 4 minutes and 53 seconds And I mean, one of the things which is really interesting about this is that there is clearly now a perception which has been created in part by what happened to the Liberal Democrats– and we’ve just seen an Irish general election where Labour have been enough annihilated– that the junior partner in the coalition– seems to be a perception, there’s an iron law in politics, that you lose out. Will Plaid Cymru want to go into coalition? Is it the road to annihilation? I’m not sure that iron law is actually true, but the fact that people believe it to be true I think will probably guide their behavior. A great deal would depend on the maths.
Skip to 5 minutes and 30 seconds How many seats do the different parties have? I mean, Plaid’s ultimate dream would be to lead a government themselves. But it looks unlikely that they could be in a position to do that. What looks more likely is we might see Labour as the largest party but well short of a majority. And then if the Liberal Democrats are winning few or maybe even no seats, to get Labour up to a majority on just individual votes, Plaid Cymru may be more or less the only effective possible partner for Labour. Plaid Cymru could be the only game in town, the only party that Labour can really look to do deals with.
Skip to 6 minutes and 6 seconds But so– and then you’ve got these kind of interesting permutations of what the kind of deal that you might have to run a government. So you– obviously, you can have formal coalitions. Than you can have all kinds of arrangements. I recall New Zealand as an example where you can have multiple forms of arrangements between smaller parties and a larger party in order to ensure some kind of continuity of government. Yeah, and I think, you know, certainly speaking to at least some people in Plaid, the area is, well, Labour would have to give us something pretty extraordinary to make it worth our while going into government as the junior coalition partner.
Skip to 6 minutes and 38 seconds And I think it may well be that they take the view they can exert more influence and do politically better, you know, exerting influence from outside the government. You’re supporting it on things like budget votes, supporting it on legislation, in return for specific concessions. Being tied into governments might well, they believe, restrict their freedom of movement much more. Yeah. on the other hand, they may just be saying that because they’re not actually willing to do a deal with the conservatives this time around. Their bargaining power with Labour is much reduced. And therefore, you know, I think they probably need to appear to be coy to give themselves any kind of bargaining power in a post election situation.
Skip to 7 minutes and 19 seconds Yeah, I mean, these things can work two ways. It may well be that Plaid Cymru after the election are Labour’s only potential partner. But similarly, Labour could be Plaid Cymru’s only realistic partner as well. So Plaid may also have really nowhere else to go. That’s right.
Richard Wyn Jones and Roger Scully of Cardiff University discuss Plaid Cymru’s leadership, history and future.
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