Page last updated at 17:39 GMT, Saturday, 4 April 2009 18:39 UK

Plaid's future hopes for powers

By Adrian Browne
BBC News

A Plaid Cymru banner
The Plaid Cymru conference was held ahead of European elections

One sentence you regularly hear from opponents of further Welsh assembly powers is that with the economy in deep trouble, now is not the time to focus on constitutional matters.

Speakers at the Plaid Cymru spring conference in Cardiff have spent the last two days seeking to dispel that argument.

Rather than being a distraction from finding a way out of recession, the party's leading figures have insisted that further devolution would help Wales to navigate the road to recovery.

They have also claimed that the more powers are transferred from London to Cardiff, the better Wales's chances of avoiding future downturns or at least weathering them better.

With European elections in June and a UK general election in a year or so, it anticipates accusations from opponents that Plaid is only interested in assembly powers and Welsh independence and not the 'bread and butter matters' of concern to the voters.

Two years into and halfway through the One Wales coalition deal with Labour which established the current assembly government the vehicle's shiny, spanking new phase is behind Plaid members.

There have been a few dents in the bodywork, most notably recently with the public spat over student support, but it is intact and "moving forward" in management speak.

'Difficult decisions'

Indeed, Plaid Cymru finds itself uniquely placed as it eyes the next few elections.

It can claim credit for all the assembly government is doing, something Conservatives and Lib Dems can't.

It can, and does, also criticise Gordon Brown's Labour Government for any spending cuts when Plaid ministers make "difficult decisions" with their Labour partners in Cardiff.

While Welsh Labour can have a bit of a go at the Treasury, a full frontal assault on a UK Labour administration is not really an option.

That's the good news for Plaid. The bad news, or the "challenges", as politicians more positively call them, is that money is getting increasingly tight.

Many more "difficult decisions" on where to impose cuts in Welsh budgets will be unavoidable. And there could be disappointment amongst Plaid Cymru members over a bid to gain more powers over the Welsh language.

Plus, the stand-off over how much power to restrict the right to buy council houses the assembly should have has still to be resolved.

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