Plaid stares into the abyss of a limbo land existence

John Osmond says the party of Wales has to decide whether it wants to be a party of government

Plaid Cymru has a big decision to make in the coming days and few weeks. But if the party is to have any substantial impact on the fourth Assembly it can’t leave making that decision any longer. Put quite simply, does Plaid Cymru want to be a party of government with a future influential role in Welsh politics? Or does it want to sleep walk into a limbo land and abandon its destiny of being the one party that has building the political nation as its unique selling point?

In the recent election it sold that pass to Welsh Labour. But ‘standing up for Wales’ is not the same as ‘building the political nation’. If that were the case, then Labour would have included in its manifesto clear messages about taking the Welsh constitutional process forward, in terms of:

  1. Establishing a Welsh jurisdiction to accompany the primary legislative powers acquired in the 3 March referendum. This is not for its own sake but for three clear reasons: (i) to enable the Assembly’s new powers to be exercised effectively – as First Minister Carwyn Jones himself has stated more than once, “I’m not aware of any other part of the world where two primary lawmaking institutions exist within the same jurisdiction, passing laws in the same areas of responsibility”; (ii) to place the Assembly in a position where it can have the same beneficial system as Scotland in which all powers are devolved except those specified (such as defence and foreign affairs), rather than the present position where nothing is devolved except what is itemised in lengthy, legally confusing schedules; and (iii) leave Wales free to develop its service legal economy in advantageous ways.
  2. Pressing for an early  change to the Barnett formula to ensure fairer funding for Wales and to accept that income tax varying powers are likely to be the quid pro quo for this – Labour’s manifesto stated in terms that it would “not seek powers to vary income tax”.
  3. Arguing for borrowing powers to match those that are being allowed the Scottish Government.

In response to those who might argue that none of these are immediate or urgent matters, the fact is that within a few weeks the Conservative-led coalition government in London will be setting in train a process to establish a Calman-style Commission for Wales (following the one that reported in Scotland) to examine these very questions. Remember that the Calman remit was very wide-ranging indeed:

“To review the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 in the light of experience and to recommend any changes to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the Scottish Parliament to serve the people of Scotland better, improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament, and continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom.”

What will be the newly established Welsh Labour Government’s response to this kind of agenda when it is put forward by the Welsh Commission that will begin work later this Autumn? Surely, its resolve would be stiffened if it were joined in a coalition by Plaid Cymru Ministers. Surely, too, in any coalition negotiations the three points listed above would be high on Plaid’s agenda.

But does Plaid want to be in a position to press such a constitutional enhancement for Wales? Does it want to put the country in a better position ‘to stand up for itself’ against policies it doesn’t like emanating from across the border? Put like that, surely there can only be one answer? However, if some Plaid voices in recent days are to be believed, the party is “relishing” the prospect of “going into opposition” in order to regroup and rethink what it is about and what it should learn from the recent election campaign.

This is woolly, lazy, and worse, irresponsible thinking. First of all, Plaid can’t ‘go into opposition’ by itself in the multi-party system we have in the Assembly. Anyway, such opposition as there is will be led by the Conservatives, now the largest ‘opposition’ party, and not by Plaid Cymru. More importantly, if Plaid takes this route it will end up in the cul de sac of a limbo land in which it will make no decisions and have no influence.  It will become a talking shop party that demonstrably and deliberately has put the fate of the people of Wales solely in the hands of the unionist parties. You can be sure that if Plaid abandons the people of Wales in this way then they will abandon it to an extent that will make the result of the recent election look like a high point in the party’s fortunes.

Yet such a limbo land beckons if Plaid follows its current, interim leader Ieuan Wyn Jones and his suggestion that he might hang on for another two-and-a-half years to, as he put it in his resignation statement last Friday, to give the party “time to reflect on the results, look long and hard at our message, our party structures and campaigning abilities.”

Such a course would mean oblivion for Plaid Cymru so far as the next five years are concerned. Ieuan Wyn Jones has an honourable record in leading his party into the One Wales coalition with Labour in 2007 and then delivering the referendum on greater powers for the Assembly last March. If he wants to secure that record he should announce his resignation with immediate effect, and launch a leadership election process to take place over the summer months, culminating in Plaid’s annual conference in late September.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA.

12 thoughts on “Plaid stares into the abyss of a limbo land existence

  1. Perhaps the best way forward would be for Plaid to merge with the Labour Party and act as a ginger group wthin it. Is that Dafydd El’s plan, I wonder?

  2. Absolute nonsense. Why on earth does Plaid need to rush into a coalition in days or weeks and where is there any evidence that either Labour are interested or that it would strengthen the position of Wales in any way?
    I have no idea when IWJ actually intends to stand down (please note that there is not yet any leadership race, so one appears to be jumping the gun already), but suspect that it will not be 2 and a half years. However, how can a party that has been through a bruising election walk blind into a coalition, when despite your assertions, there are no clear red lines and not yet any clear reasons why London should treat Wales any differently if we were in coalition.
    We are hardly in the same position as the SNP and would not be if we were in with Labour either, so the sudden rush to beg for a coalition is premature and frankly ‘mindless’, to quote a colleague.
    Let Labour settle in, Plaid re-set its priorities and the other parties do what they feel is best for themselves and Wales.
    Coalitions may well be the norm rather than the exception in Wales and for the sake of Wales should always be considered. However, they should be considered very carefully and for Plaid to walk in with Labour now in a weaker position than they they were in One Wales, would be another form of political abyss that Plaid would be stuck in for 5 years, with a far harder result to swallow in 2016.
    A coalition cannot be ruled out, but it can for the days and weeks that you suggest, I’m afraid.

  3. Grass-roots members will simply not accept another coalition with Labour, just to satisfy a few egos at the top. Being in opposition will prove to be a creative space in two different, but complementing ways:
    i) It will allow PC to concentrate on building up a real national movement, educating, agitating, persuading and raising people’s awareness about the need for independence.
    ii) Within the senedd, PC can work alongside the Conservatives, and Lib Dems to show up the limitations of Labour’s ambitions for Wales. The oppositional agenda will truly prove to be the agenda for Wales’s future and Plaid can lead this agenda.

    Both of the above strategies, allied to a the emergence of a new forceful leader, can lead us to our best ever election result in 2016.

  4. The argument is not that Plaid should “rush into a coalition”. Far from it. That opportunity may or may not come in the next year or so. It’s not in Plaid’s gift. It depends on the kind of five-year programme that Welsh Labour puts forward in the next few months, the cohesion of the opposition parties, and as ever, unforeseen ‘events’. The point is that unless and until Plaid puts itself together as a cohesive Group in the Assembly, with the essential requirement being an effective and reinvigorated leadership with a clear sense of direction, it will not be in a position to make any impact let alone position itself to take advantage of any opportunities to press the case for taking Wales forward, as and when opportunities arise. To let the leadership question hang in abeyance for perhaps a year to 18 months, never mind two-and-a-half years, would hamstring the party. The initiative should be siezed now.

  5. John wrote: “To let the leadership question hang in abeyance for perhaps a year to 18 months, never mind two-and-a-half years, would hamstring the party. The initiative should be siezed now.”
    There’s a big difference between now and eighteen months time. To my mind, Plaid’s internal review is as important as its leadership contest. Marcus Warner makes that point eloquently here:

  6. Aren’t you missing a basic point here? Labour has decided to go it alone – and hasn’t chosen to open negotiations with Plaid. So your point is a bit irrelevant.
    If you were to ask about Labour’s future given the decision they have made to go it alone – it may be worth discussion. Lets face it – for Labour there is a rough road ahead.

  7. The review of the way forward is already on track as is a separate election review; the latter feeding into the former.

    Now is not the time for a leadership race but any new leader requires enough time to establish themselves, with the conclusions of the main review. There also needs to be time for every member to be consulted on this at conference and other regional opportunities.
    No-one in Plaid has any intention of enjoying some lazy oppositional position, as Wales cannot afford this. However, moving ahead under a new leader without a clear set of new objectives would be of equal folly.

  8. Surely Plaid needs to find out what it is for before rushing into a leadership election. So many of the ideas about the nature of Welsh politics, and about Wales itself that were once the preserve of the nationalists have been accepted as axiomatic by all the other parties – Labour, sadly, less than the others.

    I’m afraid that if a leadership election was held now, DET would win almost by default – and that would certainly spell disaster.

    Plaid has achieved so much, but there is so much more left to achieve, and we still don’t have a very clear idea of what it is yet, or how we propose to achieve it.

    The situation in Scotland also needs time to digest, as whatever happens, the situation in the UK will be very different in 5 years to the one that pertains now, and we should be planning to articulate loudly and clearly during that time the dangers and possibilities these developments present to our nation. There is a smug assumption amongst unionists that we can just watch Scotland secede, and everything can just carry on as before for the rest of us, which is obviously ridiculous, so we need to do everything we can to shake them out of their complacency.

  9. Albert Jones is right. I look forward – that’s not the right word of course – to the only Labour government in the UK now slashing public expenditure the same as the Tories, as they always planned. No doubt this same ‘dull as ditchwater’ cabinet will also give us its usual share of wasteful expenditure, incompetent decisions and lack of imagination. I only hope that Cardiff Bay Plaid ‘get’s it’ (at last).

  10. I’m puzzled about what you – quoting Carwyn Jones – mean when you refer to a Welsh jurisdiction. You give priority to your call for ‘Establishing a Welsh jurisdiction to accompany the primary legislative powers acquired in the 3 March referendum’. Your first reason is ‘to enable the Assembly’s new powers to be exercised effectively – as First Minister Carwyn Jones himself has stated more than once, “I’m not aware of any other part of the world where two primary lawmaking institutions exist within the same jurisdiction”.’

    My starting point is that concurent jurisdictions are common – e.g. where federal and state legislatures may both legislate and both sets of courts can determine cases. I assume that you are not calling for an exclusive Welsh jurisdiction. Moreover, primary laws made by the Assembly are binding and enforced by our courts if they relate to matters within its competence. So, how would their ‘effectiveness’ be improved? Is the only issue that there should be an administrative split of first tier courts from those in England?

    I suspect that the term ‘Welsh jurisdiction’ means different things to different people. What exactly is your meaning, what would be the practical effects of the Welsh jurisdiction for which you call and why is it of such importance?

  11. Marcus Warner – would clearly love to see what you have contributed to this interesting debate but your blog refuses to let me in – and your profile is your blog so I can’t email you. Deadly embrace of IT.

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