Whether it was actually true or not is an interesting question for some harmless speculation. Personally, I doubt it. In the first General Election during my period of party membership, in February 1974, the party won 2 seats on 10.8% of the vote (adding a third seat later the same year on the same percentage). Fast forward 41 years, and in the election earlier this month, the party won 3 seats on 12.1% of the vote. In all the intervening elections, the number of seats won has varied between 3 and 4; and the percentage of the vote has varied between 7.3% and 14.3%. It’s a fairly consistent long term pattern at UK level.
However, whether I believe that sidelining even further the question of independence would transform the party’s electoral chances is irrelevant. What’s more important here is that there certainly are people within the party who believe it (and there are others who don’t support the aim at all – but I’m going to ignore that group). One of the responses to last week’s post suggested that the author was far from certain that adopting a more full-blooded position of support for independence would have worked for Plaid in the election. And actually, I agree – but that wasn’t the question that I was raising. My question was more about what is the route from where we are to achieving independence.
There are certainly some who believe that the two are the same thing – that the route to independence is through Plaid achieving electoral success, and that the party needs to do whatever it takes to achieve that success. The problem is that that leads to a curious position which claims that:
a) The only way that we can win independence is if Plaid Cymru wins elections
b) The only way that Plaid Cymru can win elections is by sidelining the question of independence.
I’m sure that Baldrick would describe this as a plan more cunning than the cunningest cunning plan ever devised, but the logic of it escapes me. And an endorsement from Baldrick, given the success rate of his cunning plans, wouldn’t be much of a recommendation anyway.
I oversimplify the position – of course. It’s clouded and complicated by talk of ‘nation-building’, the creation of institutions, and the need to take things one at a time. But sometimes, a drastic simplification is the best way of exposing the central fallacy of an argument; and in this case, the fallacy is clear; no matter how the argument is finessed, winning elections on a platform which does not include independence will never bring about that independence. A corollary is that no argument was ever won by not putting the case.
But that in turn just highlights the core question – what is Plaid for?
If it is ‘for’ winning elections and gaining and exercising power, then it is arguable that the current strategy might well be the best one, even if it isn’t proving very successful (there's no rule that says even the best plan will necessarily succeed). But if it is ‘for’ gaining independence for Wales, then the current strategy is doomed to fail, based as it is on arguing that the core aim is not even open to consideration in the foreseeable future. It leaves one important open question, though. If that isn’t the vehicle for achieving independence, what is?