The Road Not Taken

Former Plaid Cymru ministers now adapting to life in opposition must wonder how different their world might be if they had taken a different turning in the road four short years ago.

Together with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, they thrashed out a programme for government and party leader Ieuan Wyn Jones seemed on the verge of not just taking Plaid into government for the first time but doing so as First Minister.

But when deep divisions in the Lib Dems were dramatically exposed – and Labour’s Rhodri Morgan was installed as the leader of a minority government – the allure of a “rainbow coalition” faded. Instead, the left-leaning nationalists negotiated the One Wales coalition pact with Labour and Plaid’s ministerial team embraced their new roles with energy and optimism.

Party conferences over the subsequent years were not characterised by soul-searching or public frustration with Labour. Instead, there was keen excitement at the prospect of a referendum on full law-making powers in devolved areas for the Assembly.

Plaid forged a government with Labour because the party led Mr Morgan promised stability and pledged to deliver this historic vote.

Labour was true to their word and the Assembly now has turbo-charged powers. But the irony is that Plaid is on the electoral sidelines and Labour ministers are the only AMs with access to these shiny new levers of power.

There is, of course, the possibility that Labour will seek a stability pact or even a full coalition at some point in the five-year term. But this is only the smallest crumb of comfort.

The contrast with Scotland is glaring. The SNP’s Alex Salmond led a minority Government and this month the electorate handed him a thumping majority; Plaid, meanwhile, have slipped behind the Tories in their share of seats.

It is true four years of Plaid-led government would have transformed Wales’ perception of the party but there is no guarantee it would have achieved its greater goal and won the march 3 referendum with a resounding 63.49% of the vote.

Even if the three-way coalition had held together, would popular support more powers have cemented? Opposition in Labour ranks to devolution would have intensified every time First Minister Jones appeared on television; the Welsh Labour leadership battle would have been about who could best thrash Plaid.

Labour is today adamant that the referendum would not have been won without its efforts; similarly, this month’s election proves that the party now led by Carwyn Jones has not suffered through its association with Plaid.

A rainbow coalition would have made history but One Wales quietly achieved wholescale climate change.

A Thursday column

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