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Last Updated: Friday, 5 August 2005, 06:06 GMT 07:06 UK
Shadow over Plaid's 80th birthday

By Mark Hannaby
Political Reporter

Plaid Cymru birthday cake
Protest to politics: Plaid Cymru marks its 80th birthday
Plaid Cymru is 80 years old today, but as members celebrate at the National Eisteddfod they find the party at something of a crossroads.

The death of Gwynfor Evans in April deprived it of its most totemic figure.

It also had a disappointing general election, losing the Ceredigion seat and failing to make any gains.

Gwynfor Evans won its first parliamentary seat in Carmarthen in 1966, but until the 50s Plaid was more pressure group than political party.


Early leaders like Saunders Lewis pursued direct action campaigns against the erosion of Welsh language and culture.

Lewis went to prison for setting fire to the RAF bombing school at Penyberth in 1936.

Former Plaid candidate and party expert Professor Laura McAllister said: "The party was formed by a small group of individuals who felt that there needed to be a much greater Welsh dimension to politics and a separate Welsh party.

The stark electoral facts are that Plaid Cymru is very, very unlikely to form a government in Cardiff Bay on its own
Professor Laura McAllister

"They talked about campaigning for Welsh freedom in those days so we didn't have any of the language of independence or self-government and they were very much tied in with an idea of a Welsh civilisation and the Welsh language.

"They were campaigning electorally and trying to put up candidates for some elections with very little success in the early days but they were also trying to fight direct action campaigns on specific issues.

"And therein lies the history of Plaid Cymru, really: this tension between being a political party and being a campaigning or pressure group."

Gwynfor Evans
First MP: Gwynfor Evans died in April aged 92

But Prof McAllister said today's Plaid had failed to adjust well to devolution and argued that it had to think seriously about coalition with other parties.

"The stark electoral facts are that Plaid Cymru is very, very unlikely to form a government in Cardiff Bay on its own," she said.

"I don't see there's any way the party can avoid this issue because if it's really serious about shedding its pressure group past and moving to becoming a serious political party and a party of government it has to think about its relationship with the other parties."

Plaid reached a pinnacle in 1999, when in the first Welsh assembly elections it won traditional Labour strongholds like Islwyn, Rhondda and Llanelli, as well as Rhondda Cynon Taf and Caerphilly councils.

Plaid Cymru has not presented a modern corporate image: the party as a whole does not resonate with the people of Wales
Former councillor Syd Morgan

But in 2003 Plaid lost those assembly seats and the following year both the valley councils.

In this year's general election not only did it lose Ceredigion, but failed to regain its main target seat of Ynys Mon.

What happened? Critics might argue the party is still too much in thrall to particular campaigns - the fate of the Welsh language, the vexed question of "independence," or the need for affordable rural housing, for example.

But that was denied by South Wales West AM Helen Mary Jones.

"I think that's absolutely not the case," she said. "Plaid Cymru speaks to and for all the people of Wales.

"Affordable housing isn't an issue for rural communities any more. It's an issue for all of us, and it's an issue the British political parties are singularly failing to address."

She did, however, concede that the party needed to rebuild its electoral organisation from the ground up.

'Less organised'

Former Rhondda Cynon Taf Plaid councillor Syd Morgan described it as "the only party in Wales that hasn't adjusted to devolution.

"Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems have all rebranded themselves as Welsh parties with distinctive Welsh policies," said Mr Morgan.

"Plaid Cymru has not presented a modern corporate image: the party as a whole does not resonate with the people of Wales.

"Plaid Cymru nowadays tends to be less organised than things were and the party needs to get itself into gear at all kinds of levels.

"I don't think there's much wrong with Plaid Cymru's message, but (the party has) difficulty in getting that message over."

In Pictures: Gwynfor Evans' funeral
27 Apr 05 |  In Pictures

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