SENIOR Plaid Cymru figures have told their leader Ieuan Wyn Jones that a coalition deal with Labour should only proceed if a series of tough demands is met.
Last night this was being seen as a potential swing of the pendulum back in favour of a rainbow alliance including Plaid, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
Although Rhodri Morgan has been re-elected First Minister following last month’s inconclusive National Assembly election, he could be deposed by a rainbow coalition before the summer recess.
Included in any deal between their party and Labour, say the influential Plaid figures, should be an agreement by the Treasury in London to provide £500m in “match funding” for the EU Convergence aid project for West Wales and the Valleys, full implementation of the Richard Commission report on the future of the National Assembly and a commitment from new Prime Minister Gordon Brown that he would campaign for a Yes vote in a referendum on full lawmaking powers for the Assembly.
The demands – which would almost certainly be too much for Labour to accede to – come as Mr Jones is about to begin a series of meetings with Plaid members across Wales in advance of a meeting of the party’s National Council on July 7.
Former Plaid president Dafydd Wigley told the Western Mail that a commitment by the Treasury to provide £500m in match funding should be included in any coalition agreement between Labour and Plaid.
He said, “Ever since 1999 we have been pressing for match funding from the Treasury, yet so far not a penny has been provided. This has meant that the Assembly Government has had no option but to raid its own core budgets for higher education, the health service and local government. There is a new Comprehensive Spending Review due from the Treasury, probably in October. That should certainly include £500m in match funding for the Assembly.
“I don’t know whether Plaid’s negotiators have raised this during coalition talks with Labour, but it should certainly be part of any deal between the two parties.”
Another senior Plaid figure who preferred not to be identified outlined a list of demands the informal group believed should be in any deal with Labour.
The figure said, “The demands come under three headings – Democracy, Funding and the Nation Question.
“Under Democracy, we expect to see the full implementation of the Richard Report, which would include raising the number of AMs from 60 to 80 and introducing the Single Transferable Vote (STV) for Assembly elections. We don’t believe there are enough AMs at present to scrutinise Welsh legislation properly. We want the ban on candidates standing in both constituencies and on regional lists lifted. It was clearly intended to benefit Labour. These changes would require amendments to the Government of Wales Act.
“We also believe that STV should be used in council elections.
“On the issue of a referendum on full lawmaking powers for the Assembly, we don’t think it’s sufficient for Welsh Labour to offer such a referendum and to back a Yes campaign. It is clear from the opposition of Labour MPs that there would be serious difficulties in delivering the whole of the Welsh party. We should require a commitment from Gordon Brown and the UK Labour Government to campaign for a Yes vote, and the referendum would be on the whole Richard package, including 80 AMs elected by STV .
“Under Funding, we should be insisting on £500m in match funding for the Convergence programme as well as an agreement from the Treasury to allow Corporation Tax to be cut in the Convergence region. These are both perfectly reasonable requests.
“On the National Question, Labour should commit itself to the concept and process of nation building in Wales. This will involve developing economic, planning and transport links, bring the Welsh regions together. Examples are closer institutional links in the higher education sector and better transport links including between north and south though not just north and south.”
The senior Plaid figure added, “A deal with Labour goes contrary to what we were saying in the election, where we had a poster saying ‘Kick New Labour into touch’. Therefore if there is to be a deal with Labour, it has to be a very good one indeed.”
Another senior Plaid figure said, “There is a very real danger that if Plaid walks away from the rainbow coalition, the Liberal Democrats will seek to do a deal of their own with Labour. Plaid could be left looking very foolish, having walked away from the chance to lead a government and having shown itself prepared to prop up Labour.”
A third senior Plaid figure said, “We should get rid of the term WAG (Welsh Assembly Government), which has made the Assembly a laughing stock across the UK. Instead it should be referred to as the Government of Wales.
“Labour’s approach has been about making concessions to Wales, which is entirely wrong. People voted for a change, not for the same tired Labour administration as before.”
Mr Jones begins a series of meetings with grassroots Plaid members tonight in Caernarfon. Further meetings will take place in Neath, Cardiff, Denbigh, Carmarthen and Blackwood, with the last scheduled for Aberystwyth on July 5, two days before the party’s crucial National Council meeting where a final decision will be taken. It is understood that Plaid’s Assembly group will decide its position next Tuesday.