DAFYDD ELIS-THOMAS is being lined up to save his party through a spectacular comeback as leader within months.
Leading Plaid Cymru figures are now ready to embrace their former president as the Renaissance Man to lead them into the National Assembly election campaign against Labour in 2007.
The last three years have been disastrous for Plaid, and on current form it would be likely to lose its role as the main opposition party to the Conservatives.
Under the rescue plan, Ieuan Wyn Jones will step down as Plaid's Assembly leader next year, and Lord Elis-Thomas, left, will quit as Presiding Officer to stand for the vacant post.
One of the Plaid strategists behind the move said, "Dafydd is an excellent politician with an enormous amount of experience and popular appeal. He first entered the House of Commons over 30 years ago, he has been in the House of Lords since 1992, and for more than six years he has been presiding over the Assembly.
"He has chaired a major public body - the Welsh Language Board - and is a credible candidate for First Minister who is respected beyond Plaid Cymru. If, as is very likely, Labour fails to win an overall majority in 2007, Dafydd would be very well placed to lead a coalition government comprising the opposition parties.
"Ieuan Wyn Jones is a good number two, but he has not been a successful leader. He has good qualities as an organiser and negotiator, but in terms of public appeal he is not in the same league as Dafydd Elis-Thomas. By stepping down from the Assembly leadership, Ieuan would be able to concentrate on retaining his seat at Ynys M n."
Under the plan, Lord Elis- Thomas would probably need to resign as Presiding Officer soon after the official opening of the new Assembly building on Cardiff Bay's waterfront on St David's Day next year.
When Mr Jones quits the leadership of Plaid's Assembly group, an election of all party members - not just AMs - will be triggered. The last such election took place in 2003, when Mr Jones was challenged by Helen Mary Jones and Rhodri Glyn Thomas. With Mr Jones out of the picture, circumstances would be different. Ms Jones in particular stood because she believed Mr Jones had been an uninspiring leader who should be held largely responsible for Plaid's loss of five seats at the 2003 Assembly elections. With Lord Elis- Thomas as a candidate for the leadership, such considerations would not apply.
Ms Jones also faces a difficult election in 2007. At the first Assembly election in 1999, she pulled off a major coup by winning Llanelli, traditionally a safe Labour seat. Four years later she lost to Labour's Catherine Thomas by just 21 votes, but remained an AM by virtue of her top position on Plaid's regional list for Mid and West Wales. Under changes to be introduced by Labour, candidates will no longer be able to stand in both sections of the ballot. Ms Jones has chosen to stand in Llanelli again, and this time will have no safety net if she loses.
The Plaid strategist said, "Helen Mary is a major asset to the Assembly group, and she has made the very brave decision to stand in Llanelli. It will take all her campaigning energy to win the seat and it would be sensible for her to concentrate on that."
Mr Thomas has indicated that he would be unlikely to stand for the Assembly leadership again.
To complicate matters, it is understood that current Plaid president Dafydd Iwan is considering standing down next year. If he does so, Lord Elis-Thomas would need to stand for the presidency in case another AM won that election and became the party's Assembly leader automatically.
As Presiding Officer, Lord Elis-Thomas is expected not to participate in party political activity within the Assembly. He told us, "At the moment I have my work cut out. The new Assembly building is opening next March and I am concentrating on trying to ensure it is a great success.
"I am also closely involved in doing what I can to get the best possible deal for Wales out of the White Paper proposals for the Assembly's future."
Lord Elis-Thomas had originally indicated his intention to accept nomination for the presidency of CALRE, the Conference of European Regional Legislative Assemblies. Last week, however, he wrote to all AMs saying he was not willing for his name to go forward after all, saying he did not have the time to undertake the role. In his letter, he explained that boundary changes were affecting his part of North Wales, and that he needed to seek nomination and campaign in his new constituency. He also referred to his involvement in work associated with the legal changes affecting the Assembly.
His letter concluded, "If the Bill is enacted there will be substantial work to be done to have everything in place by 2007. Therefore, I hope to continue to serve as Presiding Officer until then provided I have the confidence of Assembly colleagues."
Not being president of CALRE might also make it easier for him to take over as the Assembly's Opposition Leader.