Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Party in search of a plot

The Conservatives in Scotland are thinking of rebranding themselves with a change of name, because in recent years they have failed to make any headway north of the border.

In the current Scottish Parliament of a 129 members they have 15 Members and in Westminster only 1. Contrast this with the Scottish National Party who have 69 members in the Parliament in Holyrood and 6 in Westminster.

The Conservatives in Wales in an Assembly of 60 they have 14 members and 8 members in Westminster. Plaid Cymru have 11 in the Assembly and 3 in Westminster.
The question that needs to be asked on the eve of Plaid Cymru’s conference why has their sister party the SNP done so much better than them in electoral terms.

Part of the answer surely lays in the dilemma the Scottish Conservatives find themselves the SNP have successfully stolen the anti-Labour vote in Scotland. The Tories and Liberal Democrats have been squeezed out.  

The SNP have positioned themselves politically in the centre ground of politics in order to make it easy for Conservatives and Liberal Democrat voters to make the jump, without to much of a crisis of conscience.

What they have’nt shied away from however, is independence. They push independence as often as they can and this has produced a small majority in the polls for such. A factor that would have been unthinkable even a few months ago.

Now in Wales, Plaid Cymru have been more robust on where they stand in the political spectrum – they are an avowed left of centre party. Indeed their campaign strategy in the Assembly elections was to attack Labour from the left.

A campaign, however, that failed miserably. The worst election results for Plaid Cymru ever in Assembly elections. The Conservatives have seen their votes and membership grow from 1999 to now. In the same time period  Plaid Cymru’s vote and representation has fallen.

Whereas the Scottish Nationalists successfully targeted the Tory votes the reverse has happened in Wales. The Tories have gone after the Plaid vote. This is not an accident. They branded themselves as “Welsh Conservatives.” Support for the language and their U-turn on devolution were shameless attempts to win votes from Plaid Cymru. The results speak for themselves.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM’s opinion was sought for this blog on what went wrong. His views are quite scathing about the party.
"Considering we spent almost a £100,000 0n research, canvassing and mailings at the last election I am astounded we couldn’t come up with a clear message and convey it to the electorate. We had the big idea – probably the only big idea – in Build4Wales but failed to sell it to the voters. I admit we had a well researched manifesto but very few people read the manifesto. We needed to give the electorate a reason to vote Plaid and that’s where we failed."

He went onto to say that other parties had moved forward since the Assembly was set up but Plaid Cymru hadn’t.

“Since 1999  we have seen Labour and the Conservatives adapt to devolution and reach out to the people of Wales and we as a party have sat back and waited for the electorate to come to us. Whatever anyone thinks about the clear red water – Welsh Labour, the party which delivered full legislative powers,  resonated with the voters. 

The Welsh Conservative Party is a very different animal to the pre 1997 anti devolutionists and has a clear identity. It’s difficult to understand what Plaid Cymru is saying other than that a coalition government which includes Plaid Cymru is on the whole a good thing for Wales. Hardly a unique selling point,” said Mr Thomas.

Now  Plaid Cymru are in the business of seeking a new leader.  Ieuan Wyn Jones will step down next Spring. The contenders that are after his job need to address some pretty fundamental questions. What is Plaid Cymru for? What is it’s unique selling point? Where on the political spectrum is it going to place itself? Does it want independence and if so will it actively promote it?

Unless the party has a settled will on these issues it is immaterial who they choose as leader. They will be like a Luigi  Pirandello play  Six Characters in Search of an Author.

Plaid Cymru desperately need an author that knows the plot and can give the party a purpose.

1 comment:

  1. This is always an interesting debate but the SNP clearly branded itself as a left-of-centre party. Today Alex Salmond is anticipated for the Telegraph's Most Influential Left-Wing Thinker. Their website makes a direct claim that they represent social democracy and that that ideology represents "Scottish values". The difference in terms of Tories is that in Scotland there is an indigenous Scottish capitalist class and that sufficient numbers of them perceive independence as being potentially useful. No such class exists in Wales. Perhaps more the pity when you compare Scotland's record in innovation to Wales'. The problem for Plaid was more with being a coalition partner and not an obvious alternative with Labour. As bad for Plaid was Labour taking their votes ("Standing up for Wales"), rather than Tories. Indeed there was coverage during the election in Carmarthen (or maybe Llanelli) market where an old Welsh-speaking woman recognised Carwyn Jones as being Plaid. He looked very uncomfortable explaining to her "blaid Llafur" but really that's exactly the message he wanted to put across. The answer to Gareth's question about why the SNP did better lies with answering the wider question, why the SNP does better in general, because they are in different countries, Scotland has already been independent (and is institutionally ready for self-rule), and doesn't have the same colonial profile as Wales.