The election of a straight-talking leader, who is a committed nationalist, socialist, and republican marks, in every one of those aspects, the most decisive break with the last 12 years which Plaid Cymru could have made, and I’ll admit that the clarity of that decision came as something of a surprise to me. In electing Leanne, the party has chosen the candidate who was furthest away from Ieuan Wyn Jones in her thinking.
I was surprised to see Elin described during the campaign as the ‘continuity candidate’. If there was a continuity candidate (i.e. someone likely to continue along the route set by Ieuan) in the race, it was surely Dafydd Elis-Thomas. I rather suspect that Elin’s inability to articulate successfully the extent of the difference between her position and that of her predecessor owes more to a natural sense of loyalty than to any intention to simply carry on along the same route.
I have no doubt that Leanne will be courageous and honest in putting forward a clear alternative vision for Wales, and in attempting to lead rather than follow public opinion. And I have long been convinced that that is the proper role for a nationalist party in Wales.
Leanne does face a number of problems however. Not the least of them is a raised, and probably unrealistic, level of expectation. The idea that some seem to have that merely setting out a route forward and articulating her party’s objectives with a great deal more clarity will be enough to grow support for those objectives is over simplistic. And the idea that there is a great groundswell of radical left-leaning voters in industrial South Wales just waiting for the right leader owes more to a romantic view of the past than to any analysis of harsh reality.
In that context, one of the most important things that the party needs to do is to define what ‘success’ means. And it needs to self-define that, rather than have it defined for it by others, because others will define it solely in terms of electoral progress, whereas the real measure of success for a national party is in terms of progress towards its objectives. Sometimes the two coincide; but they don’t necessarily do so at all times. Conflating the two - or rather allowing success to be defined solely in terms of the one - has been a part of the problem.