It’s interesting that Plaid seem to be facing one of their most significant internal debates for many a year by holding an election for the rather meaningless post of party president. The party isn’t even sure what the job is, if it exists at all (I think Bethan Jenkins is suggesting that it doesn’t). Penderyn sets out a number of possible options as to what the job actually comprises, which I suppose is as good a place as any to start. After all, if the members don’t know what the job is for, how are they to judge who’s the best person to fill it?
The big question, as Dafydd Iwan himself is asking (according to the Western Mail) is why has Elfyn Llwyd decided to stand and force an election? Llwyd himself is being less than clear in spelling out his reasons, leaving anonymous ‘sources’ to mutter darkly in reporters’ ears.
The first reason suggested is that this has something to do with the Gwynedd schools issue. Not very credible to me – Iwan wasn’t the author of the policy, he’s already lost his council seat, and the policy has to all intents and purposes been scrapped. What is the value in removing him from a non-job as well?
Secondly, there are some carefully worded suggestions that Iwan says things that others don’t like. Referring to Independence seems to be one of his sins – it is a word that has rarely, if ever, passed the lips of party leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones. Again, not really credible when one of Llwyd’s prominent backers, Adam Price, has himself been using the I-word extensively this week.
Suggestions that Iwan has a different view from the party’s elected members on issues such as St Athan might be closer to the truth, although I don’t recall Iwan actually saying anything on that (and on my reading of Plaid’s traditional response to military installations in Wales, even if he had, he would have been closer to the party’s core values on this issue. If anyone is out of line, it’s the party’s elected members, many of whom gave strong support to the scheme).
I think Betsan Powys was closest to the real issue in her post, with her implicit suggestion that Plaid’s leader wants to be allowed to ‘get on with the job’ with no danger of being criticised when he makes ‘difficult’ (i.e. contrary to the party’s policy/ values) decisions.
The key to decoding the statements being made revolves around the talk of ‘professionalising’ Plaid, in my view. The party’s unpaid officers are not subject to the control of the party leader. That makes them dangerous; far better for all the main posts to be in the hands of elected members who will do as the leader says. Iwan is the first one to be targeted and the most prominent; but other national officers who are not currently elected public representatives might want to watch their backs.
So, for what it’s worth, my take on this is that this is really a battle to determine whether the future strategy, direction and policies of Plaid Cymru are determined by the membership as a whole, or only by the leader and elected politicians who will follow his line. It mirrors the changes which the Labour Party has been through, which ended up with a nominally democratic party being run autocratically by the leader alone. Are Plaid about to follow the same path?