In this blog, Bethan Williams explores the recent leadership shake-up in Plaid Cymru, the factors which prompted Price’s resignation, and what this means in practice for the cooperation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Labour Government.
Who are Plaid Cymru?
Plaid Cymru are a centre-left to left-wing political party with a particular policy focus on promoting Welsh nationalist positions and Welsh Independence. They hold 12/60 seats in the Senedd, and won 4/40 Welsh Parliamentary Constituencies at the last General Election. Their support at Senedd Elections consistently outperforms their General Election vote share, and is concentrated in predominantly rural, Welsh-speaking communities. Some Plaid policies have become law, yet only through a cooperation agreement with the Welsh Government. Adam Price, Plaid’s outgoing leader, has been forced to resign in recent weeks following a report into the “toxic” culture of the party, as well as a systematic failure within the party to enact procedures to safeguard staff and deal with misconduct.
Plaid: What’s Going On?
Price’s decision to resign was influenced by the release of Prosiect Pawb, a report authored by Nerys Evans, the former Plaid Cymru MS and Public Affairs executive at Deryn. The report presented 82 recommendations, leading Price to feel “morally bound to step down”.
Evans’s report unearthed bullying, sexual harassment and misogyny which she concludes that “many issues have contributed to an organisational culture which has a number of distinct challenges”. The report continued that failures by the party to successfully deal with misconduct through policies and procedures had created a working environment where there is “an inherent imbalance of power”. Evans asserts that cases of the nature specified above “are not isolated cases”, noting that a significant amount of workplace misconduct is gender-based.
This is not the first time in recent years that Plaid has found itself involved in allegations of this nature. In November 2022, allegations were made of sexual assault against a senior member of staff. This was in the same month that Rhys ab Owen was temporarily suspended from the Senedd for a breach of conduct. In May 2020, Jonathan Edwards, Member of Parliament for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr and former leader of Plaid Cymru in Ceredigion Council, was suspended after receiving a police caution for assaulting his wife.
What does this mean for Plaid Cymru?
12 out of 60 Senedd members represent the party, but opinion polls suggest that no gains have been made in the final few months of Price’s leadership. Price saw a 15% drop in personal favourability after news of the report broke, but Plaid Cymru’s Senedd polling remained consistent at 20%. This is consistent with Plaid Cymru’s vote share at the last two Senedd Elections, 20.3% and 20.5% of the constituency vote in 2021 and 2016 respectively. T47’s blog on Westminster boundary changes demonstrated that Plaid could see their representation halved as a result of the changes. Considering the stagnation of Plaid’s polling, alongside an unexpected leadership competition, we can anticipate that Plaid will struggle to make gains in their target constituencies at the next election.
What happens next?
There is the obvious question surrounding who will lead Plaid moving forward. Llyr Gruffydd, the interim leader, has established that he will not stand for the leadership in the forthcoming election. Rhun ap Iorwerth, Deputy Leader, has suggested that he may run despite securing the nomination as Plaid’s candidate in Ynys Mon at the next General Election. An additional possibility is Siân Gwenllian, the second Deputy Leader. Gwenllian currently holds the largest majority in the Senedd, with her Arfon constituency doubling her majority between 2016 and 2021. Speculation over the leadership is rife and covers a wide variety of potential candidates, suggesting a lack of a clear successor to Mr Price.
The consequences of the change in leadership in Plaid Cymru are currently unclear. There are however two clear options: either the status quo continues and Plaid Cymru remains part of the cooperation agreement, or Price’s successor may wish to forge a different path. In the latter case, further talks will be had within the party. First Minister Mark Drakeford has given a qualified assertion that the cooperation agreement can continue despite a change in leadership, stating that “the cooperation agreement is an agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru – not between individuals.” In a departure from the prevailing sentiment, Rhun ap Iorwerth, a viable candidate for leadership, has previously emerged as one of the rare Senedd members who raised objections to the cooperation agreement. It follows that the agreement may face challenges as Plaid Cymru seeks to reassess its direction as a party, but this will ultimately depend on their next Leader.
Climate change and further introduction of renewables was a topic featured in the 2021 cooperative agreement document, under the title “A Greener Wales to Tackle Climate Change and the Nature Emergency”. Both Plaid and Labour are committed to tackling climate change, however the cooperation agreement allows for both parties to promote their own respective climate agendas, as outlined in the agreement. The main candidates for Leader have all spoken out about the need for further green infrastructure, whether that be through improved flood defences in vulnerable areas or ground-mounted solar farms. It is consequently likely that not much will change on this front, even if the cooperative agreement comes to an end.
The recent resignation of Adam Price as the leader of Plaid Cymru following the release of the Prosiect Pawb report has sparked widespread discussions and brought national attention to the party’s future direction. As Plaid Cymru navigates the leadership transition, it remains to be seen how the party will respond to the report’s recommendations and chart its course ahead. The outcome of these developments will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for Welsh politics and the aspirations of the party moving forward, including potential changes to the relationship between Plaid and the Welsh Government. In terms of planning and development, however, it is unlikely that significant changes will occur. Both Plaid Cymru and Labour share a strong commitment to the promotion of renewable energy, indicating a lack of substantial changes on the horizon.