Interesting debate over at Normal Mouth’s following a rather tongue-in-cheek post about a possible split in Plaid. NM is right, of course, to say that when people use the term ‘progressive’ they are always referring to their own views, and talk of a ‘progressive alliance’ always means ‘come and join us’. After all, has any politician, anywhere, at any time, ever described himself or herself as ‘regressive’? I doubt it - although I’m always open to correction.
In the tongue in cheek form posited by Normal Mouth, I don't think that there is any danger of a Plaid split in 2008. But that is not the same as saying that there is not more tension below the surface than might be apparent, as Valleys Mam has also suggested in her comment.
I have argued before that when nationalists refer to the 'unionist/ nationalist' split within Labour, the analysis owes more to wishful thinking than to reality. The original post from Bethan Jenkins seems, on the surface, to be based on exactly that analysis, effectively labelling the ‘nationalist’ wing of Labour as progressive, and the ‘unionist’ wing as ‘regressive’. Of course there are tensions within Labour, over a whole series of issues, including the constitutional issue, but this analysis is simply far too simplistic.
Plaid also have their internal tensions, but these are not as straightforward as might appear either. Plaid’s membership has a long tradition of extreme loyalty to its leadership, even when members are unhappy about the overall direction, and my prediction for 2008 at least is that that loyalty has some considerable way to run before being seriously challenged.
There are certainly some local difficulties over education in the party’s Gwynedd heartlands, but the party’s leadership is unlikely to be blamed for this situation. The real problems for Plaid will start when the honeymoon period for 'One Wales' finally comes to an end.
There are several issues over which that could happen in due course, but it is likely to require a combination of a number of these before the party really hits trouble. The underlying theme will be a divergence between passionately held views on what policy should be, and the realities of Government actions which run contra to the party’s policies.
If that is so, then the threat to Plaid is not from losing its most ‘regressive’ elements, but that it will lose the enthusiasm and support of its more ‘progressive’ elements. In that sense, the prediction made by Bethan Jenkins may well be more prescient than it appears to be at first sight – or possibly even than was intended.