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Flipping questions

Betsan Powys | 08:01 UK time, Thursday, 18 February 2010

pancake2_elvis_226.JPGOn pancake day in Llanelli Plaid were doing a pretty good trade.

Their leaflets were getting nods of approval, mutterings of 'they've got it right you know.' The list of signatures on their petition against care home closures was getting longer by the minute. The man in the Crazee Crepes van nearby must have been looking on with envy.

And then as people walked away came the flipping question, the one that Plaid must answer if they're not to flop on this election day.

Why vote Plaid when they can't win?

"They do a good job for a small number of people but they're never going to win, are they?" said one Labour voter who'd only need the slightest of nudges at this election to flip his allegiance and give his vote to someone else. "I don't want to waste it on Plaid".

Cue some more reasons not to vote Plaid.

They're great on making pledges, less great at doing the maths.

Sorry love, no good asking me. I don't speak Welsh.

Don't they want a Welsh army? Mad mun.

Cue a pre-election conference where we get to hear Plaid's answers and a few questions of their own.

Why vote for anyone else at this election? Why vote for a party led by a Prime Minister who cannot divest himself of all responsiblity for the economic crisis you're seeing and feeling every day? Why vote for the other party who are offering change but who've said their response will be to cut earlier and harder, a Conservative party "who've never been and never will be relevant in Wales" as one Plaid briefing put it yesterday.

Why not vote for a party that could punch above its weight in a hung parliament, one that - electoral maths willing - could concentrate on getting the best deal for Wales it can squeeze out of the governing party? On the shopping list? That £300 million per year the Holtham Commission report suggested Wales was missing out on, a pledge to protect schools and the health service when the axe has to fall, a deal to have the referendum when the Assembly Government want one, not according to a UK Government timetable.

And the 30% hike in pensions?

At that point the language turns to principles and priorities, rather than promises. Plaid "will get the best deal possible for Wales."

Here's another Plaid question we'll hear this weekend. Plaid can't do the maths? Try this.

We'll raise capital gains tax. We'll limit relief on pension contributions for high earners and if 'high' is over £100,000 we'll raise income tax to 50%. That raises £9.4 billion.

We'll spend £2.8 billion of that on the pensions pledge you all dismissed as irresponsible, cruel and fantasy economics, though granted, it will only be for over 80s in the first instance. We'll spend £5.1 billion on taking a million of lowest earners out of income tax altogether.

Let's counter with just one other, obvious question - and leave you to come up with others. What about the other huge, massive question being posed by the economy, the one the three big parties believe holds the key to winning or losing this election? What's the Plaid plan for paying back the £72 billion or so of the national debt that someone is going to have to find from somewhere by 2014?

Ieuan Wyn Jones' answer is bathed in the soothing knowledge that he'll never be tested on it. "I'd like to talk in terms of what we'd protect. We'd protect health and education. We accept that there'd have to be cuts in other areas".

He'd like to talk in those terms and because he leads a party that won't win the election, he can. What he must be hoping is that the other answers being offered by Plaid at this conference add up to more than three seats at this election and a platform to government at the next.

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