POLITICAL correctness could cost Plaid Cymru the chance to get its most successful politician back in the National Assembly.
Dafydd Wigley's options for a comeback have been narrowed because of senior party officials' insistence on a candidate selection process that discriminates in favour of women.
Plaid's ruling national council has re-adopted a rule that reserves the top position on the five regional lists used in Assembly elections for women. The consequence is that an easy way back into active politics for Mr Wigley - as top of Plaid's list in North Wales - has been blocked.
Party chairman John Dixon confirmed yesterday that there were no plans to amend the rules to allow regional list candidates to be selected on merit without regard to gender.
This position could prove crucial to Mr Wigley's chances of returning to Cardiff Bay.
Significant boundary changes in North-West Wales will create three seats covering the home territory of two of Plaid's biggest hitters - Dafydd Wigley and Dafydd Elis-Thomas.
As we revealed in July, party president Dafydd Iwan wrote to Lord Elis-Thomas suggesting he was the only potential Plaid candidate who could win the new marginal seat of Aberconwy. He further proposed that Dafydd Wigley should stand in Arfon, with Mr Wigley's successor as Caernarfon AM, Alun Ffred Jones, in Meirionnydd-Dwyfor.
But Lord Elis-Thomas wants to stand in the latter seat himself, which might leave Alun Ffred Jones seeking selection in Arfon. Mr Wigley has ruled out standing in Aberconwy because he has no local roots there - and without an available alternative at the top of the regional list may decide not to make a comeback after all.
Plaid Cymru can ill afford the luxury of doing without Mr Wigley. Since Mr Wigley's departure from the presidency in 2000, the party has been on a downward trajectory. Under him it exceeded all expectations at the first Assembly elections by picking up 17 seats.
But despite his immense popular appeal across Wales, some crucial members of the Plaid Assembly group were almost gleeful when he resigned the presidency after suffering a heart scare.
As they saw it at the time, his charisma counted for little against their perception that his style of leadership within the party was inappropriate. For some inexplicable reason, there was a belief that Ieuan Wyn Jones would be able to match Mr Wigley's appeal. For all his qualities as an organiser and negotiator, Mr Jones is no Dafydd Wigley.
In 2003 Mr Wigley made a misjudgment of his own by deciding to stand down prematurely from the Assembly. This was a major loss both to Plaid and the Assembly.
At the 2003 election Plaid was down to 12 seats. A year later it lost control of two of its three councils and dropped one of its two seats at the European Parliament. Then at this year's general election it was reduced to just three MPs, losing the talented Simon Thomas at Ceredigion.
More than 30 years after they both entered Parliament, the immediate future of Plaid can still be said to depend on Dafydd Wigley and Dafydd Elis-Thomas. For decades they have been mostly at loggerheads, largely as a result of their differences in style.
Yet together they stand head and shoulders above all their party colleagues at the Assembly, both in terms of political experience and popular appeal. If Plaid Cymru cannot find a way to ensure that these two great talents both have smooth paths into the Assembly in 2007, the party's decline as a significant force will surely continue.
Page 2: Lord (Dafydd) Elis-Thomas
Page 3: Dafydd Wigley