Like all the other main parties, Plaid claim that their manifesto is the one with the ideas and the vision. It certainly has the rhetoric of ideas and vision, and if I were awarding the prize for rhetoric, I’d give it to Plaid. I’m more interested in looking at the substance, though, and asking whether it really does what it says on the tin.
Plaid have four main pledges for this election, and the first has probably received the most attention – the commitment to reduce the level of illiteracy and innumeracy amongst children leaving our primary schools. It’s an important issue; lack of basic skills is certainly something which holds individuals back from achieving their full potential, and it is unacceptable that our children do not gain these basic skills.
However, stripped of the rhetoric, is this commitment really any more than a statement that primary schools should teach children to read, write, and count? I wouldn’t want to understate the importance of that as an outcome, but it really doesn’t strike me as a particularly big, or even original, idea. And I certainly don’t believe that the other parties actually want the current levels of failure to continue, even if they’ve not chosen to give this issue top billing.
The way in which Plaid propose to achieve this result is to learn from best practice elsewhere and then apply it to Wales. Again, that is a sensible, if not exactly a revolutionary idea. In fact, it’s a highly managerial approach, essentially similar to what any of the other parties would do (although I don’t think any of the others have set as specific a target as 95% plus, or told us that it will take them nine years to achieve it).
The claim that it is some sort of big idea ultimately boils down to a claim not that Plaid would do something radically different, but that Plaid would deliver on the pledge, whilst the other parties have failed. That the other parties have failed our children when in government is irrefutable, but why changing the party managing the system will do any better is a good deal less clear. It is, in effect, another form of the ‘we can manage Wales better’ message.