Could Leanne Wood enable Plaid to challenge Labour in Wales like the SNP has in Scotland?
By Jon Lansman
Nominations closed today in the race for the leadership of Plaid Cymru with Leanne Wood emerging as the 4-5 favourite according to online bookmaker Paddy Power. She faces three of her fellow assembly members in the contest — former MP and now AM for Mid and West Wales, Simon Thomas, another former MP and leader in the 1980s, Lord Elis-Thomas, and Elin Jones, former Welsh rural affairs minister and, at evens, probably her main opponent.
Coming from the Labour heartlands in South Wales and with an impressive range of backers, Leanne Wood is clearly the Left candidate, with strong links in and some appeal to the Welsh Labour movement. Elin Jones, on the other hand appeals more to the traditional nationalist wing of Plaid, and is playing up the commitment to independence. The question for Labour is whether Leanne could enable Plaid not only to recover from their setback as last year’s assembly elections, but also to make serious inroads into Labour’s core support as Alex Salmond’s SNP has done in Scotland. The answer must be: quite possibly.
Leanne’s supporters include popular and widely-respected former left-wing MP Adam Price (once tipped as Plaid’s next leader himself), from two of the seven AMs who are not themselves candidates, Bethan Jenkins and Lindsay Whittle; from Allan Pritchard, the Plaid leader of Caerphilly Council; from one of Plaid’s three Westminster MPs, Jonathan Edwards; from Gwenllian Lansdown Davies, Plaid Cymru’s former chief executive; and from Cerith Griffiths, the FBU’s chair for Wales. And she has an energetic following of her own. Leanne was, in the past, an enthusiastic supporter of working closely with the Labour Left and is still involved in the joint initiative, Celyn.
Last year, Plaid suffered the consequences of a term of Coalition government with a Welsh Labour party that had, under Rhodri Morgan, put clear red water between itself and New Labour. Poorly differentiated from Labour, and in the context of a Tory-Liberal Coalition in London, Plaid lost 4 seats in the 60-seat assembly. Now governing Wales alone, Labour is being forced to make substantial cuts whilst, in Westminster, Labour is announcing that “the starting point….is we’re going to have to keep all these cuts” when it returns to government and accept real-term cuts in public sector pay in the meantime.
There is no doubt that a Left-led Plaid could appeal to disaffected Labour core voters. The success of the SNP in Labour’s Scottish heartlands will encourage that. A yes vote for Scottish independence or even “devo-max” would further enhance Plaid’s appeal to the wider electorate, even if they stopped well short of backing independence. Some might say that the amount of “clear red water” between Welsh Labour and UK Labour has diminished. and Labour in London has no commitment yet to devolve power within the party to Wales as it has to Scotland. Leanne Wood is clearly a good socialist and we wish her well, but Labour would do well to face up to the implications of her victory.
This article is republished from Left Futures