How do you solve a problem like McEvoy?
Ifan Morgan Jones
It’s difficult to have a sensible discussion about Neil McEvoy without becoming embroiled in an ill-tempered argument on Facebook or Twitter, or indeed the comments section on Nation.Cymru.
His supporters see any opposition to him within the Assembly as a plot orchestrated by shadowy figures who fear he will expose them.
His detractors will attempt to convince you that he’s a bully unfit for public office.
In truth, the reality seems to be far less complex. Neil McEvoy is just an independently minded man.
This is a virtue in many ways – he certainly isn’t part of the Cardiff Bay establishment and he isn’t afraid to ask difficult questions.
But it’s also makes working with him very difficult for the Plaid Cymru Assembly Group.
Their best-laid plans can go out of the window if Neil McEvoy just states his own opinion rather than sticking to party policy.
On some issues – such as the right to buy and domestic violence charities – he has directly contradicted the party leadership in a way that has created embarrassing headlines for them.
I don’t think the disagreement between him and the rest of the Plaid Cymru group is ultimately any more complex than that.
There are further accusations against him but because we don’t know what they are it’s impossible to comment, so I’m not going to. Innocent until proven guilty.
And since the internal investigation within Plaid Cymru is still ongoing we have to conclude that it was his independent streak rather than anything else that was behind this decision.
Neil McEvoy’s expulsion from Plaid Cymru isn’t the end of the story. He’s still a Plaid member and has the support of Cardiff West Plaid Cymru, and will no doubt be nominated by them at the next election.
For Plaid Cymru, the important thing now is to avoid a damaging split. That Leanne becomes the leader of one faction that sees the benefit of a more consensual style of politics and Neil McEvoy the de facto leader of a more anti-establishment alternative.
This isn’t unusual within political parties. Labour have Blairites and Brownities and Corbynistas, the Tories had their wets and dries and now their Brexit rebels and Eurosceptics.
But what the national movement really wants to avoid is that one branch or another breaks away into another party entirely. That would just split the vote and benefit no one.
However, Neil McEvoy’s expulsion could turn out to be a good thing in the long run, both for him and Plaid Cymru.
Unshackled from party discipline, Neil McEvoy can get on with what he does best – giving the Welsh Government both barrels.
His anti-establishment credentials will be burnished and he can attract votes from those who want to shake up the order at Cardiff Bay.
Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru will have lanced a long-festering boil and can get on with the job of being a disciplined team while keeping their distance from McEvoy’s more controversial views.
I believe that Neil McEvoy has a lot to offer Plaid Cymru. He’s a charismatic figure and seems to have a knack for inspiring a part of the electorate – the working class and diverse communities – that Plaid Cymru has struggled to attract.
He’s a good communicator, he’s ambitious, and he’s had proven electoral success in Cardiff.
But he’s just one talented AM out of many that Plaid Cymru does have. He has his strengths and others have their own.
Any national movement needs to be a broad church and Plaid Cymru is stronger for having them all as part of the party.