Plaid Cymru’s electoral success sets stage for 2026 Senedd election

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Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales – had an excellent general election. They secured four seats in Wales out of 32, increasing their share of the Welsh vote to 14.8%. That’s a rise of 4.9% compared with the 2019 general election.

While the party also won four seats in 2019, changes to electoral constituencies in Wales for this election, reducing the number from 40 to 32, meant existing seats were merged and expanded. Despite this, Plaid Cymru maintained its representation.

Two of its sitting MPs were re-elected in the newly formed constituencies of Dwyfor Meirionydd and Ceredigion and Preseli. The party also triumphed in its target seats of Ynys Môn and Caerfyrddin.

These are significant achievements when you consider the challenges facing Plaid Cymru going into this election.

General elections are always difficult for parties like Plaid Cymru, which only campaign in a specific part of the UK. However well they perform, they will only ever have a few seats in the House of Commons. With an electoral system favouring UK-wide parties, and which typically gives them a majority of seats, there’s little prospect that smaller parties will have a role in forming the next UK government.

Voters have to be convinced that it’s still important for Plaid Cymru to have a presence in the UK parliament. That’s a tough sell during campaigns dominated by national themes and major political parties.

Plaid Cymru also went into the election after a difficult period for the party internally. In recent years, in general and devolved elections, the party has struggled to make any electoral advances beyond its Welsh-speaking heartlands in north and west Wales. This has raised questions about the adequacy of its campaigning strategies and structures.

A report last year highlighted a culture of sexual harassment, bullying and misogyny within the party, leading to the resignation of then leader Adam Price. This election was the first opportunity for voters to assess the party’s efforts to detoxify under new leader Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Despite its commitment to Welsh independence, Plaid Cymru’s election campaign did not heavily emphasise this constitutional goal. A manifesto pledge to “prepare a Green Paper on the path to independence” was given much less prominence than criticisms of the main political parties’ lack of ambition for Wales. And it repeated calls for a fair funding settlement to tackle poorly performing public services and a stagnating economy.

These central campaign messages were targeted not only at voters disillusioned with the incumbent Conservative government in Westminster. They also sought to position Plaid Cymru in relation to a Labour Party that has been in government in Wales since 1999 and which was expected to form the next UK government. Such a strategy reflects the multi-level political dynamics of elections in the UK.

For Plaid Cymru, the general election was also a chance to profile itself, and its new leader, ahead of the next elections to the Senedd (Welsh parliament) in 2026. Plaid Cymru will be aiming to lead the next Welsh government from 2026. This general election has already seen it outline its pitch to Welsh voters.

2026 Senedd elections

The next Senedd elections will probably revolve around Welsh Labour’s track record on public services and economic growth. With a Labour government in Westminster, Plaid Cymru will aim to amplify its claims that Labour is failing Wales at all levels of government.

The increasing unpopularity of Labour first minister Vaughan Gething and the adoption of a new wholly proportional electoral system for the next Senedd election enhance Plaid Cymru’s prospects for a breakthrough. The gains in this general election have provided the party with momentum heading into 2026.

The leadership of ap Iorwerth has been a critical factor in this respect. Recent polling suggests the Welsh public think he’s doing a good job in the role.

The challenge now is to maintain this profile and momentum in the run up to 2026. But while the external context may well be favourable for continued electoral growth, the party’s response to these opportunities will be critical.

It will need to balance its long-term ambition for Welsh independence (which a minority of voters in Wales support) with a credible programme for tackling the more immediate challenges facing the country. And it will need a modern, sophisticated campaign that can deliver votes beyond the party’s heartlands and under a very different electoral system.

The Conversation

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Anwen Elias receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.

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