Guest post by Shane Brennan, former Assembly candidate for Alyn and Deeside 2011
Whilst the recent election results were disappointing, there are many positives to take from the year so far. It was the grassroots of Plaid Cymru that successfully campaigned for a Yes vote in the referendum giving the Welsh people their first parliament since Glyndwr's time.
We also have a terrific opportunity to move the national movement forward with our forthcoming leadership election. It is clear from our recent performances that we need to reform our approach order for us to succeed in building a better Wales.
Despite the negative election results I am confident that with Plaid Cymru will lead Wales to take its rightful place as an equal amongst the other nations of the world. I am also confident that an independent Wales will be a better place for all of the people of Wales and will serve as an example of a happy and successful society.
There have been a number of significant factors inhibiting the advance of the Welsh movement. But I believe we are now at a point in history where we can change that. The recent election results have seen us as string as ever in the heartlands of the north and west. The impending leadership contest gives us the opportunity to remold our image and break out of our old strongholds and establish new ones.
We are automatically at two particularly difficult disadvantages. The first being that the lack of a strong indigenous media and the overbearing volume of the London-based media drowns out any Welsh political dialogue. The other is the misconception of our party as being a rural, middle class, Welsh-speaking party.
Independence for Wales can only be achieved when Plaid Cymru is regularly winning elections. This is unachievable as long we are seen as being irrelevant to the majority of voters because of the fact that they are urban and non-Welsh speaking. As a result of the forthcoming leadership contest we have the opportunity to dispel this image of Plaid Cymru.
It is inevitable that during the leadership campaign that someone will say that charisma is not the only quality we need in a new leader, and they would be right. But it is a key quality needed in any political leader. Politics is after all, above all else, a popularity contest and people are more likely to vote for someone they like. The recent success of Alex Salmond and Jack Layton’s NDP particularly in Quebec would bear this out.
Most of the electorate only engage with politics a few times a year and they usually do so through the leaders of the parties. Our previous leaders have all tended to look and sound the same; this is due to the fact that all of our leaders have come from similar class, geographical and professional backgrounds. In order for us to reflect modern Wales and connect with the ordinary voters who would not have been inclined to vote for us in the past we must have a leader who is demonstrably different from previous leaders.
It is vital that our next leader be above all else a strong, passionate and charismatic media performer. Like all of the other large political parties the age profile of our membership is increasing, any new leader must address the issue of recruitment immediately or we face our very own demographic time bomb. In electing such a leader we can engage more vigorously with the media and in one move change the public image of our party making it more appealing to both potential voters and potential members.
A change of leadership can only be a start to the reinvigoration of our party. We have repeatedly emphasised that we are a different type of party to the three main UK parties, however we are structured like them and measure success by the standards that they have set.
If we are to be a different type of party we must start acting like one.
Alongside a more prominent leadership we need to reinvigorate party structures by devolving the organisation and building a ward-based party. Internal discipline must also be strengthened to ensure that all party officers are held accountable for party performance locally and that elected members adhere to party policies and ethos.
As the UK parties have embraced counter-cyclical economic policies to the detriment of the working class there is a growing space for a political alternative. As Plaid Cymru is the only socialist party capable of winning elections we must ensure that the public is aware of the alternative policies that we can provide.
It has long been conventional wisdom that most people are socialists when it comes to their health and education but reactionary when it comes to taxes and crime. Given the current economic conditions we are witnessing a paradigm shift of the type not seen since the fall of Soviet state capitalism. As neo liberalism was in the ascendancy for the last twenty years we must prepare to ensure that socialism is the answer to our current and future problems.
We must clearly and passionately articulate our socialist policies. We must never forget that Independence is a means to an end rather than the end itself. It is apparent that the current economic downturn will see a sustained period of economic stagnation. Welsh nationalism needs to be positioned to give voice to the people who have had their expectations dashed and their horizons limited.
We must embrace and lead a vibrant and confident socialism otherwise we will be consigned to being a niche party representing a Welsh-speaking middle class who are economically reliant on the past successes of the language struggle.
Since the election in May I have had plenty of time to contemplate the future of the party. I have discussed the leadership contest with fellow party members and acquaintances.
After this period of due consideration I have come to the conclusion that the one person best qualified to meet the needs and challenges of the leadership of Plaid Cymru is Leanne Wood AM. It is my hope that Leanne is seriously considering running for the leadership and I urge her to enter the race.
Plaid Cymru and Wales needs the leadership that only Leanne can provide. Leanne has proven herself to be a very capable media performer as well as being a passionate nationalist. The election of Leanne as leader would demonstrate that we are indeed a party for all of the people of Wales.
The achievements of Plaid Cymru have been truly amazing and the the generations of patriots who laboured in the national struggle in the last few decades will be remembered as Wales' greatest. In the next few months we have the opportunity to move our party forward and ensure that Plaid Cymru is seen as the party for all of Wales.