By Jamie McKay
2016 marks sixty years since Plaid Cymru won their first parliamentary seat and the party will be hoping the upcoming Assembly elections in May will mark a new breakthrough in their history. The Party of Wales held their Spring Conference in Llanelli over the first weekend of the month, their last conference before the upcoming Assembly elections, and they were keen to make the most of it. Plaid’s former coalition partners, Welsh Labour, have promised Wales a ‘decade of delivery’ and First Minister Carwyn Jones has warned voters of handing power to a ‘ragtag coalition of other parties’. The Welsh Government between 2007 and 2011 was made from a coalition of Labour and Plaid Cymru. Party leader Leanne Wood mocked the First Minister’s line, referring to Labour’s record as a ‘decade of decay’.
The party is confident that May will see gains made against Labour, who have been in every Welsh Government since the National Assembly began seventeen years ago. Plaid economic spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth went on the offensive stating “they have already lost any sense of direction, any scrap of creativity, of vision, of drive”. Plaid currently make up one sixth of the Welsh Assembly and aims for more, vowing to reach far beyond its loyal heartlands and make an appeal to the whole of Wales. In her speech to conference party leader Leanne Wood encouraged members to continue campaigning in the run up to the elections referring to “just 62 days to secure five years of a Plaid Cymru government that will deliver the change Wales needs”. This may prove challenging however, as current polling shows little change in the party’s support since the last Assembly elections in 2011. In fact Plaid is currently on course to lose seats in the Assembly and desperately fending of UKIP for third place amid the recent Eurosceptic surge in Wales.
With Assembly elections fast approaching Plaid have unveiled new policies they hope will give them a last minute boost in support. The dire state of the Welsh NHS has seen particular attention as the party promise an extra one thousand doctors and five thousand nurses in an effort to cut waiting times. A cancer guarantee where patients are diagnosed within 28 days was also promised. Wood has unveiled plans to create a new Wales Development Agency (WDA) to help Welsh business given a recent decline in the value of Welsh exports. The party also unveiled their ‘Cradle to career’ education package which includes free education from the age of three, a premium of 10 per cent for teachers qualified to a master’s level and a learning bond where students who live and work in Wales within 5 years of graduating will see £6,000 of their loans written off per year. Welsh voters might also be interested in plans to introduce online voting.
Though Labour lead the polls in Wales no party is expected to gain an overall majority in the Senedd and it’s believed that parties are already engaging in negotiations in case of this outcome. Plaid have already ruled out a coalition with the Conservatives but Welsh Conservative leaders have challenged Wood to rule out a coalition with Labour arguing that real change would include an end to Labour’s 17 year dominance of the Assembly.
With election day fast approaching students are urged to register to vote if they want a say in how Wales in run in the next few years.