The Talking Point #35: The Race to Lead Plaid Cymru

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

After my look at the Tories last week, it’s time to focus on the second of four leadership contests in Wales, following confirmation of Plaid Cymru’s candidates on July 4th.

After six years, Leanne Wood is facing the first challenge to her leadership. All three of the most credible leadership candidates threw their hats into the ring and it’s probably going to be the strongest field of the four contests.

I went into the arguments surrounding the contest a few weeks ago so I won’t retread that, but here are the candidates (in alphabetical order by surname).

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)

Spokesperson for Health
First elected in 2013 (by-election)
Professional experience: Broadcast journalist (BBC)


  • As a trained broadcast journalist he has the gift of the gab and knows how to present arguments and make a case – he’s one of the better public speakers on the opposition benches and is telegenic.
  • He’s probably the candidate most likely to focus on everyday matters and less likely to be distracted by the “cause of the week” or the finer points of ideology and political theory.
  • Seems to be relatively straight-talking and doesn’t have the baggage of being a long-standing member of the party machine – he’s had valuable experience of being on the outside looking in.


  • It’s sometimes difficult to tell where he actually stands on some issues (except nuclear power). He’s always given the impression of saying the right thing to the right person at the right time.
  • I can’t remember him undertaking any serious policy work; he can certainly criticise and criticise well, but when it comes to offering solutions he’s been lacking.
  • Rhun would be a retreat to Plaid Cymru’s comfort zone – a settled, middle-class, middle-aged Welsh-speaking man from the north west.

Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr)

Spokesperson for Economy & Infrastructure
Assembly Commissioner
First elected in 2016
Professional experience: Academia, Executive Director (Menter a Busnes), Co-founder (Ideoba [defunct]), MP for Carms. E & Dinefwr (2001-2010)


  • Probably the most naturally-gifted Welsh politician of the last 30-40 years – he’s capable of wiping the floor with the Senedd and has embarrassed Labour ministers on several occasions.
  • He can talk to both Welsh-speaking and English-speaking Wales; like Leanne Wood, he came from humble beginnings and got where he is today on merit and hard work.
  • There’s no questioning his support for independence – he’s one of the true believers and has been for decades. He also takes a more pragmatic and strategic approach to policy. He’s definitely “the brains” behind the party and has correctly diagnosed some of the problems facing Plaid.


  • He’s existed in an academic/political bubble for too long. Some of his policy ideas have sounded great on paper but would toe the line between genius and madness when the time eventually comes to deliver them.
  • The weight of “Y Mab Darogan” label; there’s a long-standing expectation that he’s going to deliver a Plaid-led government Alex Salmond style and/or Welsh independence. Tough gig. There’s a danger that if he doesn’t do it, some might think “nobody will” when serious thought on independence has only just started.
  • Does Adam actually want the job now? The co-leadership suggestion sounded like face-saving and perhaps he might have prefered to have waited until after 2021. He was also one of Leanne Wood’s key backers in 2012.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda)

Party Leader (2012-)
First elected in 2003
Professional experience: Charity support worker, Probation Officer, Lecturer in Social Policy (Cardiff University)


  • The incumbency factor – Leanne’s easily recognisable as the “face” of Plaid Cymru. The other two candidates score poorly in that regard.
  • She’s gradually gotten better at holding the First Minister and Welsh Government to account and is capable of landing punches and getting headlines. People know where she stands and she’s sincere in her beliefs.
  • While they haven’t made major progress, Plaid haven’t gone backwards under her leadership either and have held their ground or regained any ground lost in previous elections (example: the 2017 local elections).
  • The early signs are that Leanne commands significant support from councillors and ordinary members – the party’s “foot soldiers”; there’s definitely loyalty there and she’s likely to have a lot of second preference votes. That’s a solid platform for continued leadership.


  • Leanne’s been polished and stage-managed over the last few years to the point of sometimes coming across as a bit plastic.
  • Some element of Leanne’s support seems based purely on the fact that they like her, not an objective assessment of the party’s performances since 2012 – is Plaid a political party, or becoming a Leanne Wood fan club?
  • Leanne has displayed weak personnel management in the handling of internal disagreements (DET, Neil McEvoy) and has failed to reform the party’s convoluted internal structures.
  • There could be another close, possibly acrimonious, Wood vs McEvoy race to top the South Wales Central list (as a fallback should Labour retake Rhondda).

Plaid use a preferential voting system to elect their Leader where candidates are ranked in order of preference, after which the candidate with the lowest number of first choices is eliminated and their second preferences distributed to decide a winner.

The exact timetable is yet to be revealed, but if this election is like the previous one there’ll probably be an announcement around the time of Plaid’s autumn conference.

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