Plaid Cymru's leader has detailed his plans to win voters in the south Wales Valleys and take on new Labour leader Vaughan Gething in an interview with WalesOnline. Rhun ap Iorwerth said he not go into another cooperation agreement with Welsh Labour before the next Senedd election and called on the new First Minister Vaughan Gething to give back his controversial donations from a criminal.

Nine months on from taking over from Adam Price, Mr ap Iorwerth has an interesting few years ahead. He admits that the General Election this year will be tough but there is a chance for Plaid to make gains at the Senedd election in 2026.

The prospect of a Labour administration in both Cardiff and Westminster means that Welsh Labour can no longer lay the blame for issues in London and offers an opportunity for Plaid to differentiate themselves. According to Mr Iorwerth, this will mean that the party will not enter another cooperation agreement this side of the Senedd election.

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Here's the full text of our interview with the Plaid leader

Will Hayward WalesOnline: What is your feeling on the current status of the cooperation agreement? Will you be ending it early? Will it remain in place for the full duration until the winter?

Rhun ap Iorwerth: Where I am on this is that it is an agreement around a fixed set of policies and of a fixed duration. It is due to end in December and I've made it clear that I don't expect it to continue beyond December. But at all the times we look at how it's going, how we're able to deliver through it, and how our relationship is working with the Welsh Government. From a business like perspective, it has worked very well. I will be gauging how it works with a new Vaughan Gething led government and making decisions based on on that. But I have made it clear to him that our expectations are high on being able to continue to deliver through it. And I think it's very important that he hears that.

It has been reported that you are open to another cooperation agreement. Are you saying that that would be predicated on the conduct of the Labour for the next six months?

I think you are referring to that item by PA. I was talking about the principle of cooperation and the fact that you have in the Senedd a political system, which is not likely to lead to majorities. Wales has never had a single party majority and in that context, there needs to be some sort of cooperation. I think it's inevitable that there will be agreements, they may or may not include Plaid Cymru and we have to be open to those at all times because if we're serious about doing things, using our time to try to influence things for the better for our communities I think we have to do that.

So that's the point I was making. It's about principle. I think I've made it clear that I don't expect this current agreement to be extended. We're we'll be moving to a pre election period where having that space to have a clearer development of our vision and distinctiveness is is even more important.

Do you think, from a purely electoral perspective, the cooperation agreement has been a benefit to Plaid Cymru?

Clearly I hear different views. I hear people saying 'I want you to have nothing to do with the Labour Party' while other people tell me 'do everything that you can try to influence governments'. The recent agriculture debate is a really interesting one where Plaid supporting farmers say 'we don't want you associated with a government that is putting forward a sustainable farming scheme that really doesn't work for farmers'. We agree with them about the scheme and we're working hard to make sure that we change what is currently on the table. But on the other hand, they know that they need us more than ever around the table, with government trying to influence them.

So much of this cooperation agreement is about getting Labour to do things that they wouldn't do unless we were there influencing and agriculture is a good example. So electorally for us, I think people will see that we are serious about what we're doing, that we're not here to play games, that we're here to make a difference for the people of Wales.

It is my job to show that that in no way takes away from our distinctiveness as a party, my determination to show Wales that our vision is very, very different to that of Labour and it'll be my job running up to 2026 to show that backing us is the way to make sure that we have those changes that Wales desperately needs.

You have said that the next General Election will be a two horse race to is it 2026 you are really gearing up for?

I think we're in the part of, of an election cycle where 2024 is important and it's also important to make sure that Wales' voice is maximised as much as possible in the UK context. It's a difficult context, you know, the polarisation blue versus red, the perception that it's just a two party system - it is not. It's a challenge to make sure that people understand that it's about more than just those two parties and that we need somebody who's willing to stand up to both of them.

But the election cycle takes us up to 2026 which excites us. We will be in a very different position with a new Labour leader in Wales having to work with, almost certainly, a UK Labour governments and not being able to point the finger of blame at the nasty Tories for what they are doing in cutting spending. Labour is talking exactly the same game as the Conservatives on spending on cuts for Wales and failing to engage with with fair funding. That is going to be a different context that we're in running up to 2026. It doesn't fall into our laps, but we have to show that we are fit, we have the vision, we have the energy, we have the people and we are a real alternative to Labour

If Plaid are going to achieve what you would like them to achieve in 2026 you will need to gain seats outside of traditional Plaid areas such as the Valleys. So how will your offering be different to 2021 when you did when you lost ground in those areas? What are voters going to be looking at from Plaid which will be different compared to last time?

It is in the tone of what we say and it's in the content of what we say. It's about showing the relevance of what we have as a vision. For example, we've started working already on a programme for the South Wales Valleys where we had a successful conference in Merthyr Tydfil some months ago, developing policy that we will try to persuade people is specifically relevant to them.

We will need the same thing for to make sure that people in our capital city understand that Plaid is a party that has a plan for the capital. We'll need to make sure that people understand that in west Wales, in mid Wales, north Wales, we are relevant. And that actually means being out there on the ground. Some thing perhaps that we haven't been doing enough in showing that relevance It's a programme of work that I'm determined to talk to people the length and breadth of Wales, about between now and 2026.

You know, I see a Labour government in Wales that doesn't feel like 'whole Wales' government. It doesn't show that it understands rural Wales. The fact that it feels it has to have a North Wales minister shows that it recognises it is seen as distant from North Wales. And for the record, I don't think there should be a North Wales minister, every minister in a Plaid Cymru government would be a minister for all of Wales. So I think it's in showing that relevance in our policy and in our action on the ground.

So is it fair to say that it's not that you'll have a massively different offering in terms of policy, but instead you'll be actually just trying to reach people you hadn't reached before?

I think we're always trying to hone our offer. We have to show that the offer as a whole is relevant that it can make a difference to people's lives and we'll be working hard in the run up to 2026 to have a concise and understandable offer of what things would feel like under Plaid. For example, Plaid's long term vision for the economy versus the kind of short term measures that we've seen from successive Labour led governments. I think that that's something that we will want to portray.

But absolutely, it's about showing the relevance in different parts of Wales. It's important to remind people that we have representation in every single part of Wales in the current parliament. When we go into 2026, with a new voting system, it'll be come even more explicit to people that their vote will count, that people can vote for Plaid Cymru in every single part of Wales and know that they can get representation there. That's really, really important because one of the drawbacks of a largely first-past-the-post system is that people do feel they would love to vote for you but in their patch, it doesn't matter. With a more proportional system, it absolutely will.

If Plaid were to hold the seats that it has, given boundary changes, was to take Ynys Mon, would that be champagne corks be popping at Plaid HQ?

I'm not going to get drawn into targets. I'd rather be really honest with with people that it's a challenging election. Getting heard in a UK election in such a polarised times is very, very difficult which is why to us it's about going out and talking directly to people door to door. Getting our message across in interviews like this, using those social media platforms that have become so, so important.

All I know is there is a very, very good reason why people would want to make sure that we maximise Plaid Cymru's voice now when there is so much similarity and so little distinctiveness between the Conservative and the Labour offering. When Kier Starmer's Labour is ignoring Wales at every turn refusing to engage with those issues of party funding. We need to maximise that voice. The people of Wales ultimately will decide what size that voice is, but we needed more than ever.

Give me your thoughts on the donations that Vaughan Gething received. What are your views on them?

It saddens me in many ways, because Welsh politics has been, to a great extent, able to separate ourselves from those examples of dodgy donations, and the feeling of financial impropriety of the buying of votes and support. This has left a bitter taste. And this is yes, me saying this as the leader of Plaid Cymru, but this reflects what many people within the Labour Party feel as well.

Mark Drakeford, when he was First Minister could say as much as he wanted, that he didn't think any rules had been broken and Vaughan gething is obviously saying he believes no rules have been broken. But this is about perception. It's about how people gain support - not doing so in an organic way, based on good judgement, but by buying that support, it leaves a bitter taste. And of course, the source of the money, has raised very, very serious questions about propriety.

Do you think you should give it back?

We've made it clear that we think he should and that the expectation is there from among the Welsh public that he should, because again, it's about clearing up perceptions. I even suggested that he could pay it to an environmental charity - just making a clear signal that no it wasn't right for a campaign to receive donations of that size and from that source. When you see how close the result was, you can see the impact that that spend would have had on the overall results. But that's a Labour matter, my challenge is to hold the First Minister to account and I will over those donations and all his actions as First Minister

The last time we spoke you said that 42 of the recommendations from Nerys Evans' report had been completed, have you got an update?

We are now up to 65. The key thing to me is that we are really ploughing ahead with the recommendations. But they also remind people, it's not just about the numbers game. We're doing well on ticking off the numbers but it's more than that. It's the feeling that people get when they take part in party activities, when they engage with a party. We've run a staff survey recently, which came back with really positive messages on a feeling but things have changed.

So yes, the numbers are good and that's a positive. It's a tribute to everybody working within the party on all levels, that we are going through those recommendations, but it's so much more than that. And even when the 82nd recommendation is done, it's not a matter of saying 'we'll put that behind us'. It will always, under my leadership, be an ongoing matter of building a party that people feel they can trust, not just because of our policies, but because of the way that we act.