Could Plaid Cymru turn the Welsh Tories' scandal to their advantage?

With the closely fought Welsh parliamentary elections approaching, both Labour and Conservative members have been accused of breaking Covid rules.

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A group of politicians and their aides, including the leader and the chief whip of the Welsh Conservatives and the former Labour minister Alun Davies, are alleged to have broken lockdown regulations with an informal gathering at the Senedd building. The Welsh Labour party has suspended Davies while the investigation is ongoing. He and three Conservatives involved apologised but denied breaking the rules.

The affair is obviously particularly embarrassing for the Welsh Conservatives, whose leader and chief whip are at the centre of the allegations. But it comes at a time when the approaching Welsh parliamentary elections look likely to be tight, with the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru in a close battle for second place. More importantly, an election result in which Welsh Labour is the largest party but other parties can form a government without them continues to be a plausible outcome. 

The two big strategic arguments that Plaid Cymru's leader, Adam Price, has made throughout much of his career are that his party needs to prioritise getting Welsh Labour out of office, and to make an explicit and unashamed argument for independence if if they are to genuinely become a party capable of winning elections across Wales.

A scandal with the potential to implicate the leadership of the Welsh Conservatives could have favourable or unfavourable outcomes for Plaid Cymru. On the one hand, if the allegations are found to be true, it could hurt both the partyu's rivals. On the other, who governs will be in part decided by the seats that have voted Conservative at Westminster and for Labour at the Senedd, and a scandal that implicates the Conservatives more than Labour might mean that Welsh Labour once again emerge as the indispensable partner in any coalition. 

But perhaps a more likely outcome of the Welsh election, whatever the truth of these allegations, is a scenario in which no one wins: in which the Welsh Labour party finishes first but has no natural coalition partner able to make up the numbers; in which neither the Welsh Conservatives nor Plaid Cymru is large enough to have a definitive claim to lead an alternative government, and in which one or several of the major party leaders is too tainted to be accepted into office or as a coalition-maker.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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