Sunday, 3 April 2011

Welsh Assembly Election: Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru was founded in 1925, but had to wait until 1966 before it was able to win its first parliamentary constituency (in the Carmarthen by-election). Although it lost that seat at the 1970 general election, that election saw the party poll 178,454 votes across Wales. In the February 1974 election, they won their first two seats (Caernarvon and Meironeth), Carmarthen came back into the Plaid fold in the October election but they lost that in the 1979 election.

They stayed still until 1987 when they gained Ynys Môn from the Conservatives, shocked everyone by gaining Ceredigion and Pembroke North in 1992 and despite all their hopes were foiled by the Labour landslide in 1997 in their hopes to gain Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (the latest version of their own Carmarthen seat), but did manage to poll 158,204 votes in the process. However, this was 20,000 fewer votes than they had polled in the 1970 general election and people wondered if Plaid could ever mount a serious challenge to Labour outside by-elections. And then came 1999.

Going into the first Assembly elections, most experts agreed that Plaid could only really bank on Carmarthen East (4.14% swing to gain), and would probably reduce the majority in Llanelli to less than 20% behind Labour and cement a few second places in South Wales. So you can imagine their surprise when as the first seat to declare (a role it continued in both 2003 and 2007) Islwyn announced a Plaid Cymru GAIN from Labour with a majority of 3% on a swing to Plaid of 35%. To put that swing into context, the best by-election swing to Plaid since 1950 had been a 29% swing in Rhondda West in 1967 and Caerphilly in 1968 and even the Carmarthen by-election gain of 1966 was only a mere 18% swing to Plaid.

Suddenly every single Labour seat in Wales looked dodgy (especially the South Wales heartlands) as seat after seat declared staggering swings to Plaid. Rhondda (Plaid GAIN) on a swing of 35%, Cynon Valley (Lab HOLD) on a swing of 28%, Neath (Lab HOLD) on a swing of 28%, Llanelli (Plaid GAIN) on a swing of 21%, Clwyd South (Lab HOLD) on a swing of 17%, Carmarthen East (Plaid GAIN) on a swing of 15%, Conwy (Plaid GAIN) on a swing of 14% and when it was all over Plaid had polled 290,572 votes (28.40%), winning 9 constituencies (their biggest haul ever) and thanks to the regional list system won an extra 8 seats making Dafydd Wigley AM (Plaid, Caernarfon) leader of a Plaid Cymru opposition in the National Assembly as Alun Michael AM (Lab, Mid and West Wales) was elected First Minister.

The 2003 elections were held in the light of Plaid's best ever Westminster election. They won 14% of the Welsh vote, gained an extra seat in the form of Carmarthen East but at the same time (thanks to Ieuan Wyn Jones leaving Westminster for the Assembly) lost Ynys Môn to Labour. A result that sent nerves jangling amongst North Walian Plaid members especially as the swing in Ynys Môn from Plaid to Lab would be more than enough to take Plaid back to their heartlands of the West of Wales and sure enough come Election Night that is precisely what happened.

A national swing of 4.83% from Plaid to Lab saw them lose Islwyn (19% to Lab), Rhondda (21% to Lab) as well as Conwy and Llanelli (on swings of less than 1.5% to Lab) and see Ynys Môn turn into a marginal (8.9% over Con) as well as lose a regional member in Wales South East. It is perhaps no wonder that after those elections Ieuan Wyn Jones resigned as overall head of Plaid Cymru and stood as leader of the Assembly grouping, with a Westminster leader (Elfyn Llwyd, Merionnydd Nant Conwy) and a national leader (Dafydd Iwan, the famous Welsh language folk singer).

2007 saw Labour plunge the depths of electoral popularity polling just 32% of the constituency vote and winning 24 constituencies (their lowest number since 1983) losing seats to the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and Independents as Plaid won back the Llanelli constituency and the new Arfon (formerly Caernarfon) and Aberconwy (combining Merionnydd and Conwy) and after tense negotiations saw the formation of the One Wales agreement - a Labour and Plaid Cymru coalition government for the Assembly. This saw Ieuan Wyn Jones become Deputy First Minister, and so was the the first Plaid member ever to hold such a position in a government.

However, as Plaid look towards the 2011 elections for the Assembly, there will be several nagging doubts. In 2008, they lost control of Gwynedd council by losing 17 seats, primarily to Llais Gwynedd (a party formed by people protesting the closure of Welsh medium primary schools in the county) including the seat of their national leader. In 2009, despite all the doom and gloom that Labour were in, their share of the vote in the European Elections only rose by 1.08% (as opposed to Labour's vote dropping 12.27%) and in 2010 at the Westminster general election, their vote fell by 1% allowing them to gain Arfon from Labour (but only by 6%) and miss out on their top target of Ceredigion (11% swing from Plaid to Lib Dem) and still be unable to gain Ynys Môn back from Lab (2% swing from Plaid to Lab).

Plaid Cymru Battleground :



AM / Candidate

% Majority / % Swing


Dwyfor, Meirionnydd

Lord Elis Thomas AM



Carmarthen East

Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM




Alun Ffred Jones AM



Ynys Môn

Ieuan Wyn Jones AM




Helen Mary Jones AM




Elin Jones AM




Iwan Huws



Carmarthen West

Nerys Evans AM

0.44% (third)


Clwyd West

Eifion Lloyd Jones

3.33% (third)



Alun Llewellyn




Ron Davies



Preseli, Pembrokeshire

Rhys Sinnett



Clwyd South

Mabon ap Gwynfor

7.55% (third)



Darren Price

7.81% (third)

Harry Hayfield


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