Salmond And Jones - Fortune favours the brave
In Scotland Alex Salmond is now confirmed as the colossus of Scottish politics and is now commanding an overall majority in Holyrood. His party is clear in it's primary objective - an independent Scotland and Salmond will now ask Westminster to allow a referendum on independence within four years. Would anyone bet against him winning it? Critics claim the SNP never campaigned on that fact during the campaign. Why would they? Everybody knows that is what the SNP are about - it's a no-brainer.. He is a tough no-nonsense Scot. Outspoken, blunt, gregarious and an extremely capable political operator. His party has clear unambiguous aims and everybody knows exactly where they stand on every issue from opposing Trident being replaced through to demanding the right to set their own corporation tax. Alex Salmond is not part of the SNP, he is the SNP.
Compare the different fortunes of Ieuan Wyn Jones and Plaid. Since the first Assembly elections their vote has steadily declined dropping from 28.3% of the vote, 17 seats and being second largest party in 1999 down to 9 seats, 18% and third place now. Does anyone - even Plaid voters, know where Plaid stand on anything? Do Plaid themselves?
Personally I think several factors have lead to Plaid's decline.
Firstly the leader. Ieuan Wyn Jones is undoubtedly a good politician however he has absolutely no charisma and lacks the magnetism of Salmond. Charisma and magnetism aren't specific requirements of a politician but in this media-driven age they most definitely are of a leader. He is simply too quiet, too uncontroversial and too anonymous. I doubt he will be leader by year's end but who is of high enough calibre to replace him? Is there a Welsh Salmond?
Next is policy. It's a mess. Look at Plaid's position over nuclear power and Wylfa B. Completely contradictory. In Scotland even large numbers of English people vote SNP whereas in Wales Plaid is regarded by nearly all English voters (and a lot of Welsh ones) as something that is going to force them to speak Welsh - which it isn't, and little idea about anything else they stand for. Until Plaid shakes that image it will never ever break-through where it matters - the urban south.
Inclusiveness also plays a big part. Salmond always includes another party in everything he does. He's not bothered which and will use the one most sympathetic to his immediate needs at the time. He also pitches at all the inhabitants of Scotland not just the Scots. So inclusive is Salmond's SNP that even people who are outspokenly opposed to independence still vote for him. Plaid however always appears remote, isolated.
Then there's the dirty 'I' word - independence. The SNP make no bones about where they stand on it and the Scottish people accept their stance. In Wales however independence is a word not to be mentioned and when it is, immediately shouted down.
National identity is another big difference. The Scots regard themselves as a nation and their everyday lives reinforce that point. They have their own banknotes. They have their own Scottish versions of all the main newspapers publishing predominantly Scottish news. They have their own legal system and laws. Even their own 'proper' football league with their teams qualifying for Europe. We do not have that in Wales other than a couple of regionals - The Daily Post and Western Mail. Our main newspapers are English in outlook and content. Our best football teams play in the English leagues. The Scots look to Scotland and Holyrood for leadership and decisions. The Welsh look to London.
I can think of half-a-dozen more reasons for the different fortunes of the SNP and Plaid. But I am afraid that unless Plaid becomes more like the SNP and finds itself a leader as tough, limelight-loving, opinionated and high profile as Salmond and comes up with clear unambiguous positions on everything then it will just continue to decline.
Plaid needs to re-invent itself and push the position that it is a Welsh party but not just for the Welsh but for all the people of Wales and that it will always put the interests of Wales and all of it's inhabtants first in everything it saysand does. And some bloody policies that people know and can identify with including - just like the SNP, being absolutely resolute and crystal-clear over one particular issue. Independence.