The more I think about it, the more I realize that this assembly election will prove to be pivotal in our fight for independence. If Labour had managed to achieve a majority then we could forget independence for maybe 20 years, by which time, due to English immigration, we might never achieve it.
On the other hand, a Plaid majority today might also have put the cause back years, as our poor calibre candidates (with a few obvious exceptions) would probably have made a mess of power, and would be punished accordingly in the next polls – look at Merthyr & RCT councils if you want any historical examples – and we are back 20 years again.
But the current result should prove an excellent springboard for the 2011 elections, - the Plaid contingent are large enough to wield real power and demonstrate their capability – while at the same time knowing that they will have to work hard to achive any success, and confine themselves to realistic policies.
As I write this I do not know how the power negotiations with Labour will work out. As I see it, the LDS could be bought off with the promise of STV voting in local councils, but I do not see Labour agreeing to that (even if LDs could agree with themselves). Labour could not deal with the Conservatives, as it would destroy any credibility they have left, which brings us back to Plaid.
Plaid could be offered a formal coalition with Labour (over the dead bodies of Huw Lewis, Leighton Andrew & others) but I think it unlikely. Plaid will more likely be offered a non-coalition deal, which would actually be better for them in the long term as it would be non-tainted. I am certain that Plaid will insist on a new Welsh Language Act & a referendum on a Scottish style parliament as the price for their support, and if Labour agree it will be a good result, and Plaid can concentrate on achieving real power in 2011, with independence by 2020.
But I don’t think that certain ostrich-like Labour egos will permit this, and will refuse to compromise with anyone. At this point there are two options. First is to let Plaid form a Rainbow coalition, but the clever option would be to let Rhodri get elected as First Minister, and then to use the combined opposition votes to ridicule and frustrate Labour ambitions, and to then bring him (or one of his potential successors) down a few months later, with the same result – a Rainbow coalition led by Plaid.
Labour strategists have considered this and realize that they can play on the fear of the Tory bogeyman running our schools and hospitals. They also realize that with the multicoloured team in Cabinet, they can dominate the committees and frustrate the WAG at every turn. But this can be easily countered – firstly the Cabinet must be limited to only say 6 ministers covering the major portfolios. The other portfolios must be dealt with as non-cabinet positions, which would allow more non-Labour people in the committees. And with only 6 cabinet ministers, Plaid would then only need to agree to 1 Conservative Minister – and give him/her a non-sensitive position, such as agriculture. Most farmers vote Tory anyway.
The result should be that in 4 years Plaid will become the largest party in a new expanded Parliament. That is by no means guaranteed, but I feel far more positively about our chances of achieving independence by 2020 or earlier.