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One Wales showed the way

Ian Johnson on the One Wales coalition advances and where Plaid goes after recent setbacks


s far as results go, Plaid Cymru will be disappointed with the 2011 Welsh General Election.

Compared with 2007, the party lost four of their 15 seats at the Senedd and fell behind the Conservatives in both number of seats and votes for the first time since the Assembly was formed in 1999, the Conservative vote probably inflated by holding the Alternative Vote referendum on the same day.

It was in 2007 that, for the first time in the party's then-82 year history, Plaid Cymru became a party of government, joining Labour in the ‘One Wales' coalition, and putting in place an agreed programme which has been followed in the past four years.

The party will be happy with achieving its red lines, not least the successful conclusion to a referendum which gives the new Welsh Government lawmaking powers over health, education, housing, planning etc. With Wales seemingly permanently several steps to the left of government at Westminster, there is no talk here of free schools, GP commissioning and the Localism Bill.

Plaid will also be happy with the findings of an independent commission set up at Plaid's behest which found that the Barnett funding formula used to allocate monies to the devolved governments is both unfair and largely arbitrary, while pushing through laws for greater linguistic parity between English and Welsh in Wales and forcing a backtrack from the Conservatives over one of their shibboleths – the right to buy.

More than that, there was the UK's first mortgage rescue scheme, launched in 2008, which kept hundreds with a roof over their head while Westminster dithered, and the ProAct and ReAct policies to re-train and support workers facing redundancy as the recession bit. Not to mention scrapping the NHS internal market and stopping closure of community hospitals.

With positives to look back upon – and little valid or sustainable criticism of their four portfolios, Plaid therefore enter opposition once again with their heads held high.

Plaid are unlikely to provide a negative opposition to Labour and will support the government when they put forward progressive policies. As One Wales showed, there can be many areas of mutual agreement.

Indeed, Labour leader Carwyn Jones parked his tanks very successfully on Plaid's lawn during the election, with Labour's slogan that he would ‘Stand up for Wales'.

He faces a difficult balancing act to argue against Conservative cuts being handed down to Wales from Westminster whilst at the same time arguing against further powers to prevent them impacting upon us. There are only so many times that you can write strongly worded letters to a Minister in London before people start to call you out on it.

Meanwhile, in addition to putting forward a strong agenda against those cuts, Plaid will continue to push for further powers for the Senedd – rejecting police commissioners in favour a Welsh criminal justice system which focuses on rehabilitation; ‘bringing home' responsibility on broadcasting in Wales, most obviously on S4C and arguing for the financial powers discussed in the independent Holtham Commission report on funding Wales.

At the top of the party, Ieuan Wyn Jones, who has led the party for the past decade, has announced his intention to leave the role within the first half of this Assembly term.

After those disappointing election results, the party will almost certainly face internal changes. Following the experience of being in government, Plaid will surely be re-assessing priorities, refreshing themselves and setting out a series of goals as to how they will create a community socialist Wales.