Better Nation is chuffed to provide another guest post today.  This one comes all the way from Wales and is authored by Marcus Warner, who is a frequent contributor to Wales Home.  This piece focuses on what Plaid should do to encourage voters to switch to them in May’s Assembly election.

In Wales, perhaps the most notable intellectual insight that has come under devolved politics is former First Minister Rhodri Morgan’s ‘Clear Red Water’ speech in 2002. In it, Morgan defined Welsh Labour’s differences between his devolved Government and the then New Labour Government of Tony Blair.

Aside of the politics or indeed whether the theory was a theory at all beyond political positioning, it has defined the narrative about Welsh parties under devolution doing politics. The Welsh Conservative leader, Nick Bourne, is the latest to put this view forward, arguing that the Welsh Conservatives will still reserve the right to oppose cuts that in his view disproportionally hit Wales (Clear Blue Water). The same can be said for the Welsh Lib Dems, who believe that they will need ‘Clear Yellow Water’ to fight back against the Lib Dems falling polling rating since the coalition in Westminster.

After explaining all that, you might wonder why Plaid feel the need to have ‘clear green water’, particularly given it does not operate outside of being a Welsh Party? Clear Green Water is the distance between itself and Labour but also the ConDems – which is very real in terms of values and policies, but communicating that difference is where the challenge lies.

This of course is made very much difficult given that not only has Plaid been in coalition with Welsh Labour since 2007 in the One Wales Government. While the crowning success will still be defined by the forthcoming referendum on primary law making powers, One Wales has largely been a stable Government delivering solidly progressive policy. It has also been seen as innovative during the economic crisis with the PROact and React schemes, as well as the Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones’ ‘Economic Renewal Plan’ reshaping the Government’s approach to economic development. The lack of underlying splits and tensions has also been noted.

So how does Plaid create that ‘clear green water’. Well I confess to being like a sponge on my strategy as painted here. These ideas are not always my own creations made in isolation, they are bloggers, chats with activists, politicians, the public and even anon commenter’s to my old blog (thanks El Dafydd El!). But I hope that a sufficient amount of my own thoughts still underpin these suggestions.

Might I also say that is about political positioning and narrative, rather than policy. If I am invited back I am happy to share some policy ideas.

To veer slightly from the Better Nation brief of focusing on the positive (we’re as bad at times – Ed) Welsh Labour have done a number of about turns since going into opposition, particularly regarding Wales. Barnett Formula reform, a subject that Plaid has campaigned on a number of years, was dismissed by New Labour during the 13 years of Government. Since May’s general election, those very same dismissing voices now champion Barnett Formula reform like there is no tomorrow. There are a number of very recent policy changes in Welsh Labour that many would consider to be ‘leaving their tanks on Plaid’s lawn’.

My first course of action is to be clinical on these about turns. Relentless focus on such matters will help us decouple from Welsh Labour rather neatly.

The economic mess, or the blame game that goes with it, is something that Plaid can exploit. All the polling shows that the Welsh people lay the blame at the door of the last Labour Government at Westminster, followed closely by the current ConDems. The One Wales Government simply does not feature in this blame. Ultimately there is consistent evidence, backed up this week’s poll about Welsh people’s views on the cuts, that Wales is being hit harder than other places.

My second course of action is to equally blame all three Westminster parties for the economic crisis and for Wales’ impending cuts. Plaid is constantly told that little old Wales would simply be too small to change the economic weather, with the UK being a very different beast. It would seem that all three parties haven’t been able to hold that claim up.

The polls are encouraging if a cause for concern in places. Campaigns can often be very localised and the margins regionally can be quite small between winning and losing a seat. Success in a constituency has knock on effects for regional candidates too. But the one thing Plaid has to focus on is denying Labour 31 seats which would mean a majority. Current polling would suggest Labour are there or thereabouts – but I sense the spike since the general elections has about 10% worth of soft belly to cut away at. It is important to remember that in 2009, the Conservatives topped the poll in the Euro elections and Plaid were not far behind in 3rd place. Welsh Labour looked to be in very real crisis – I don’t sense a massive change in the underlying problems it faces in 2011.

My third course of action is to promote the idea of ‘No One Party state’. There is a powerful narrative of the Labour ‘boyo’ getting all the jobs throughout public life. The effects of one party rule can be felt in the Valleys, but things seem to change once you break the iron grip of the Labour Party. This might be a tad cynical, but when Labour fights with fire, you best fight back with some fiery stuff.

Finally, many of Plaid’s growth areas in are in former or current Labour heartlands. In a two vote per ballot system, there is clearly space for some targeted ‘list votes’ to be split. In many Labour heartland areas, thousands upon thousands of regional votes are essentially thrown in the bin when they are cast for Labour. Plaid need to be canny about how they approach this, there will not be a one size fits all solution. Perhaps the narrative of saying that ‘would you prefer a Plaid regional AM or a Tory regional AM?’ which it increasing is the choice for voters, might be a worth starting point in winning those regional votes for Plaid from Labour voters.