Little changes in Wales, especially for melancholic nationalists.

Centuries have passed and still they wait for ‘Y Mab Darogan’. It is He, dreaming poets claimed, who is destined to save Wales from the clutches of foreign occupation.

But who is He? Plenty have been worthy candidates to be recognised as this messianic figure in history: King Arthur to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Owain Glyndwr or Henry Tudor.

None, however, have revelled in the dizzy excitement of being anointed Welsh Legend as much as the leader of Plaid Cymru today.

Inadvertently, for Adam Price the tag of Y Mab has become something of a parody. Too often he has indulged the fantasies of his followers even before he was elected party leader in 2018.

Expectations, believable as much as Mab mythology itself, were firmly set. Both newfound strategists and age-old acolytes scuppered Leanne Wood in that year’s leadership race, for Price – grand orator, political operator, and rebel – was deemed the key to making Welsh nationalism and, crucially, independence mainstream.

And, remarkably, it now is. But the extent to which Plaid has helped shift the dial on this nation’s constitutional future is up for debate.

In my mind, at least, the party has form in pushing Welsh Labour to reluctantly embrace debates about Welsh sovereignty even though Mark Drakeford would insist he is the latest of a series of leaders readily prepared to “fight Wales’ corner”.

But as I wrote in this column some months ago, Plaid Cymru seems like nothing more than a pressure group. Little has convinced me otherwise, and it is not altogether a bad thing: vital developments on Welsh language policy, the second homes crisis, and combatting poverty are championed effectively by individual Plaid members, and surely there is no better frontline politician than Price with his welter of words.

But the greatest sign that Plaid risks forever being in the shadow of Welsh Labour came during this year’s Senedd election results. They were challenging Labour for the top spot, it was insisted. Or, at least to be the official opposition; or possibly for a place as a difficult coalition partner – third place was almost unthinkable.

Nonetheless, old habits die hard, for nationalists and the public alike. Y Fro Gymraeg held firm, of course. Target seats were nowhere near within the grasp of Plaid, as much as journalists were briefed accordingly.

Gone too was the political heavyweight Wood, relegated from radical status on the Senedd benches to sharing column inches with me. Some argue she was the first leader who could reach communities in industrial and ‘left-behind’ Wales that hadn’t thought of voting Plaid before.

Plenty of analysis has been printed to explain the party’s disaster on May 6, but we are yet to hear from Price – who has been on paternity leave – or senior figures.

Former Plaid chief executive Dafydd Trystan will look at the evidence in his official review which is to be published this month.

Lessons will be learned, no doubt we will be told again, but urgent work must happen if the party wishes to rebuild during this Senedd term.

After all, as Price returns to the political fold this month, and the Senedd resumes business, questions hang over the future.

Perhaps his party’s ultimate destiny in the politics of Wales will be clearer as events in Scotland take shape simultaneously, but there are growing murmurs of discontent – with the party leadership and its strategy to date – that will not go away easily.

The loudest voices have come from party grandees who have the freedom to voice such concerns. Rhodri Glyn Thomas, a former Plaid minister during the One Wales Government, has appropriately dubbed the party’s performances in devolved elections as “disastrous".

Arfon Jones, until recently police and crime commissioner for North Wales, has attacked Price more viciously than most: judging him as oozing “platitudes and populism”, as told to The National.

Price cannot be given the blame for historic issues that plague Plaid, most damagingly the perception that it only exists for Welsh speakers.

The leader can also point to the unique circumstances in which the election was held this year to explain the electoral flop. After over a year dominating the media and political agenda, Mark Drakeford was, quite frankly, almost unbeatable. No Welsh leader has captured the otherwise apathetic public imagination more than him; few politicians of the devolved era have even had the opportunity to respond to a crisis so well, at least in the eyes of the electorate.

But we are now coming out of the pandemic, albeit slowly and cautiously. Now is the time to build a revolutionary economic recovery in Wales, and surely an opportunity where we seek to avoid our over-reliance on the public sector and boost opportunities for young people.

Many seasoned political observers have heard the Welsh Labour promises of delivery across health, education, and the economy for years. Those who suspect an economic and social revolution is coming our way are misguided. There lies the opportunity for Mr Price.

With the Conservatives destined to become Boris’ bloc in the Senedd, Plaid have ample room to flex its muscles in the parliament. That will be easy. What Plaid, and its leader, do outside of Cardiff Bay will be crucial for the party’s re-building ahead of 2026. Town halls, consultations, et cetera. These will be useful, but so will championing policies that will unsettle Welsh Labour in what is a difficult few years ahead for the real Party of Wales.

After all, aside from a UK general election, the most transformative moment for Wales in the coming years will be when the First Minister steps down in 2024 or sooner; it seems a distant possibility now, but Mark Drakeford’s departure from Welsh politics may be the most consequential for the future of our country.

His possible successors will not have the same profile as he has been fortunately gifted in 2020, and none of the frontrunners can match Price in debate.

Political transformations do not happen overnight. And much thinking needs to be done as to how Plaid Cymru rebuilds itself after May. Offering a clear alternative to Welsh Labour – on how it is positioned on the political spectrum and indeed in the ideas it is offering – will be essential.

But this, and the wider messaging of the party, will be controlled by the leader. Once again, the hopes of so many in the national movement rests on one man. Adam Price carries a heavy burden in this respect, but it is a challenge which he has invited for decades.

After the disappointment of May, the next five years – as long as that may seem – could very well be the final stretch of his leadership of Plaid. Thus it is about time he lived up to the expectations he and his allies have set.

Otherwise, to borrow a phrase from a former prime minister, we will look back in some years and tell Y Mab: you were the future once.

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