Half a year to the next election and where next for Plaid?
A good question, maybe we should look at where they have been in the last few years?
Undoubtedly Plaid Ministers have done well. They have proven to be competent and have shined at their briefs, as much as the restrictions inherent in our devolution settlement allows. They have also worked well with their Labour partners, we have seen none of the forecast tensions and fallouts predicted by the doom mongers. Have they pushed a distinct Plaid line in government? Well no, and they were not expected to. All parties involved have pursued a common agenda, that laid out in the One Wales Agreement, which was a fusion of Plaid and Labour aspirations.
So what next? There will be no gentle disengagement between the ministers from the two parties over the next six months - government has to continue, but I think we will see distinct platforms emerge. These I suspect will be pushed more by party speakers rather than ministers.
Labour think that they are in with a chance of a majority government, given a forecast collapse in the Lib Dem vote, so I think we can see them trying to rubbish Plaid in a way that they haven't for a few years.
The Liberal Democrats are in a fix, their coalition with the Tories, although inevitable, seems to have put them in an impossible situation. The Welsh Party dependent on English money can't sustain a full blown campaign and attack Westminster. They have had to perform numerous 180 degree policy turn arounds to appease their Westminster colleagues and coalition partners. Their distinct message has become blurred and the Assembly members in Cardiff Bay have become cheer leaders for the coalition at Westminster. This is of course the fate of most junior partners in a coalition. Plaid have been far better at handling this that the Lib Dems.
The Tories did well at the last Welsh election, piping Plaid for second in the regional list vote and just behind in the constituency vote. There is a real danger that the collapse of the Lib Dem vote will see them as the principle beneficiary rather than Labour. A hand full of votes in key seats or in regional lists will see the Tories over take Plaid for second place. For them to succeed they have to blame the Welsh coalition for the cuts to be imposed due to Westminster spending cuts, and enough people have to be convinced of this for them to make gains. Not an easy thing to do, but its doable.
So what do Plaid have to do to win votes? First they have to be honest. We are going to have a tough 4 years, the cuts are coming and they will hurt. Front line services will suffer. You can't just trim a few heads in agencies and expect that to be the cuts. All sectors will be affected and tens of thousands will lose their jobs. That is a bleak and uncompromising message to give, but it has to be the one that is given. However any party standing on that platform alone will be slaughtered. Together with this honesty Plaid will have to set out a stall which provides new Welsh solutions to service provision. They have to move from cheeseparing and abandoning large chunks of service provision to investigating how services can be reorganised to provide the similar or better benefits, if not the exact same benefits. This is where think different think Plaid will really come into play. We need to engage the population in this, not just top down policy but sector by sector we need to involve the people in making these decisions. I think that will be Plaid's USP, a real community effort, engaging people in forums, in conferences to map out how the range of services will be changed within the budgetary constraints.
A true people's democracy.