The barriers to Plaid Cymru’s success are bigger than any change of leader can surmount
Ifan Morgan Jones
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price is currently on paternity leave but will probably not be oblivious to the fact that heat is being turned up on his leadership.
Yesterday, former leader Leanne Wood recorded a BBC podcast criticising his stance on Brexit and how independence was placed at the forefront of the Senedd campaign.
Former Plaid North Wales PCC, Arfon Jones, followed that up by saying that it was time for Plaid Cymru to think about changing leader.
Perhaps this is inevitable after a Senedd election in which Plaid Cymru lost one constituency seat and, to be frank, probably owed their extra list seats to the collapse of UKIP.
Leadership talk after an election is par for the course for the party. In fact only one Senedd election, 2007, has not been followed by leadership rumblings or changes in Plaid Cymru – after 1999 Dafydd Wigley was replaced by Ieuan Wyn Jones, who retained his leadership after resigning following the 2003 election. He was replaced by Leanne Wood after the 2011 election, who was then replaced by Adam Price after 2016.
What’s clear however is that this has not made much difference to the party’s fortunes. With three very different leaders – Ieuan Wyn Jones, Leanne Wood and Adam Price – the party’s overall constituency vote only changed 1.3% between the 2011 and 2021 elections.
Considering that they would really need around 40% of the vote to form a Plaid Cymru government, a few percentage points north and south of 20% is no real gain or loss.
It suggests that both the strengths and weaknesses of the party are more fundamental than anything a change of party leader can realistically change or fix.
There are two big, fundamental, baked-in problems that make it very difficult for Plaid Cymru to advance much further.
The first is the relative weakness of the Welsh media compared to the British press, with the latter placing all the focus on the adversarial two-party contest between Labour and the Conservatives.
The Welsh media has strengthened somewhat over the past year, but the huge focus on the Covid-19 pandemic mainly benefitted the incumbent Welsh Labour government rather than Plaid Cymru.
The second problem for Plaid Cymru is that, as a Welsh national party, there are simply not enough Welsh nationalists in Wales.
Research by Richard Wyn Jones of Cardiff University and others following the election demonstrated to what extent the votes for Plaid Cymru, Labour and the Conservatives were tied to national identity.
The “stark” findings showed that those who identified strongly as Welsh not British tended to vote Plaid Cymru, those who felt around equally Welsh and British voted Labour, while those who felt British not Welsh voted Conservative.
To win, Plaid Cymru need more people who feel Welsh not British. ‘A Welsh national party needs more Welsh nationalists’ may seem like an obvious point. But are these extra nationalists something a Plaid Cymru leader can realistically be expected to conjure up – as well as strengthening a Welsh media in his spare time?
Or do Plaid Cymru members need to accept that much of what needs to change in Wales to ensure Plaid Cymru’s success are just, actually, fundamentally not really Plaid Cymru’s job?
Only a grassroots national movement can achieve that kind of fundamental sea change in the way the people of Wales see themselves. Plaid Cymru’s job is to most effectively hoover up their votes after they do so.
Of course, there are some problems a Plaid Cymru leader can get to grips with, which have been handled well and poorly at different times by present and previous leaders.
These include clarity of message, maximising membership, ensuring an effective ground campaign during an election, and dealing with internal discipline.
But in the grand scheme of things, these are quite marginal things that could eke out a few extra seats for Plaid Cymru in marginals like Llanelli, Rhondda, Aberconwy and Caerphilly but are unlikely to be enough in themselves to put them over the top and into government.
Ultimately, if you’re a Welsh nationalist and complaining about Plaid Cymru’s leadership you’re shifting responsibility. The change needs to come from the grassroots – the change needs to come from you and people like you.
As for Adam Price, he has essentially had one normal, pandemic free-year as leader since taking over in late 2018.
Any moves to replace him now would just be a distraction – a change of wallpaper over the deeper and more fundamental crack in the walls.
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Leanne Wood did not – repeat NOT – threaten to quit Plaid’s Senedd group during the last term if she didn’t get her own way on a disciplinary matter. She is in no way responsible for her own electoral debacle and the damage caused to the campaign in Cardiff.
She’s in no way responsible for her humiliating defeat? Get a grip.
For me, the big deal is Yes Cymru, not Plaid. If Yes can keep the entryists from sneaking in, and plough a common sense program, the future looks a deal brighter.
Plaid was crippled years ago, by the very same types that tried to take over Yes.
Yes Cymru has a important role in raising awareness in independence for wales – but independence can only come thru the ballot box ie. by voting for parties which support independence. At present – and certainly for the forseeable future – plaid cymru is the only meaningful electoral vehicle for welsh independence
Totally agree changing the leader now would be both pointless and a mistake. Plaid’s result in may was on a par with their performance in every other senedd election (the extraordinary result in ’99 excepted). Also May’s elections have to be seen thru the prism of the worst pandemic in our lifetimes, and it’s impossible to know what effect this had on the final result (but anecdotal evidence suggests it helped mark drakeford and his party). But where i think the party has made a big mistake is in not appointing a interim leader while Adam’s on paternity leave. Right… Read more »
Adam Price as leader is not the problem, His tenure has managed to clear out Neil McEvoy ( is he a nationalist or just a self promotion machine ?), who was toxic to brand Plaid, seen off AWA, UKIP. Plaid Problem is regretfully Leanne Wood and her ready interjection on seemingly every UK issue, but avoiding the big issue which is that Wales has no legitimancy in the World until Independence. Adam Price advanced towards that legitimancy with the manifesto pledge for a referendum , and a move towards what is in essence will be a ‘muscular nationalism’, Events have… Read more »
I think PC might be best served by looking out rather than in.
It is probably the most successful opposing rather than opposition party in the U.K.
It sets many Wales agenda items , develops ideas and gathers many disparate and talented individuals to move things along.together.
It’s sad lack of local organisation these days however does not reflect a public dislike of it – but rather varying set of views from the Welsh public around specific issues or policies.
Plaid will continue to pay the price for doubling down on the wrong side of the Brexit electorate, for DECADES to come.
Damaged goods, I’m afraid!
Given Brexit was roughly a 50:50 split anyone who took sides was going to upset half the population
Not really. They are one of the few parties that have stuck to their principles on Brexit. It may have lost them votes in the short-term, but they will regain these and many more as the damage of Brexit becomes more and more obvious.
They will always, always be seen as the party of middle class Welsh speakers. But with the ethnic cleansing of the traditional heartlands, and indigenous Welsh having long fled Wales for work opportunities or at best, the left-wing bastions of Grangetown, they have lost their power base. Plaid’s terminal decline started with Leanne Wood and Adam was the nail in the coffin. The man lives on another planet and simply doesn’t have the interest of the majority of Welsh people at heart. He still has the anti-Thatcher strike mindset, still sees the EU as saviour … So out of touch.… Read more »
So how did Gwlad do in the recent senedd election matthew? 🤔. ‘Terminal decline’? Plaid polled roughly the same level of support in May that they have in every senedd election for the last 20 years. Plaid may not have made the progress many of us would have liked to see in recent times but by no stretch of the definition are they in terminal decline
What a load of rot.
Adam Price is not part of the problem. He is the problem.
I think that the problem is that a lot of non-Welsh speakers would never vote for Plaid because they are perceived as the party of the Welsh language. Someone from Newport, for example, could be left wing and agree with Plaid’s policies, but they may have had an experience where they felt as though they were placed as an outsider, effectively denied of their own right to be Welsh and to assert that identity. When it comes to the ballot box, this is what holds them back, and they vote Labour. Our greatest chance of gaining independence is for the… Read more »
Well, to be fair, I forgot about Plaid Wrecsam. Now then, here’s your model!
I think the “Welsh language only” image is on the decline, and anyway it’s conceived as less of a “threat” now with more people learning the language than ever. Leanne Wood didn’t push the language; she didn’t even push Welsh identity. She failed because she tried to promote bought-in issues that were irrelevant to most Welsh people. Paradoxically, one of the reasons for Adam Price’s failure in May was that he pushed indy too soon; support for it has only this year begun to build up. Far better to have active local branches like Plaid Wrecsam, who very nearly nailed… Read more »
Why should Labour do that? What do they have to gain?
For us mere mortals who thirst for a sovereign Wales there is one simple rule. Only vote for Indy supporting parties. Not bandwagon Indy hinting parties but real patriotic parties. That narrows our choice right now does it not? Having some airy fairy personal if and but agenda will gain us nothing, only big battalions win. For us that means a broad church party that has a machine.
Plaid members were so desperate to ditch Leanne Wood that they made the wrong choice in Adam Price. But who else is there in Plaid Cymru?
I think there is a different way to look at it. A lot of people enjoyed being part of YesCymru : chats in the pub about legalising weed, everything being “fairer”, “the tories”, etc. They no doubt loved the coach trips, banner waving and motivational pepping from Hardeep Singh Kohli and a man from Catalonia they probably couldn’t name now as they stood there in warm clothes taking selfies on £700 worth of phone while they discussed oppression. That was all it was though. Now that things are opening up, these very same people will move on to winter breaks,… Read more »
For all the doom mongers’ attitudes and predictions, the 99 Welsh General Election aside, Plaid Cymru are pretty much where they have always been in the era of devolution and that’s not bad, it just isn’t particularly good either. However, the fact that Plaid have maintained their overall position is something of an achievement in of itself when you take into account all the obstacles they have had to overcome. These are, but not limited to, the UK wide media’s obsession with the Labour/Tory political establishment, being labelled a Welsh language and/or middle class party, bickering between the regional cliques… Read more »
What we need is a very charismatic person to come along and united all the warring fractions plus have a broad appeal with the general public.I’m not a big Labour fan but it was the charisma of Tony Blair that kept the Tories out for 13 years, if he hadn’t been leader I’m pretty sure thay wouldn’t have been in power half as long. Charisma wins hearts regardless of the persons abilities.
I usually agree with your comments Steve and yes, I know a lot of people who were taken in by his populist antics (a bit like the Bojo idiocity) however Blair only had a self-serving agenda (and still has) and is responsible for a lot of the world’s problems today.
The biggest problem that Plaid Cymru has today is the continual influx of english incomers which displaces the Welsh votes. Sadly, we face the very same problem in our fight for Independence!
Can somebody please tell me why PC turned on Leanne Wood? I’m not a PC member but I liked her and felt she was trying her best. She certainly wasn’t afraid to face the media and put her views forward. She seemed to me to be a person with charisma and determination. Winning the Rhondda seat seemed to me to be a huge achievement to her credit (although I am a North Walian so I concede I don’t know that area so well). I never understood why the party turned on her. I am puzzled. Please enlighten ….
Perhaps Adam Price could boost his credentials by condemning the behaviour of the Plaid Leadership at Carmarthen County Council. It is all very well “talking the talk” but it is action that is required. He calls for politicians that lie to be prosecuted but turns a blind eye to his own. He has the necessary proof of what has taken place, so why is he prepared to ignore the situation? Leading by example would be a start. One could imagine his comments if leaders of other parties took paternity leave and failed to make provision for a capable “stand in”… Read more »