Who will be Plaid Cymru's leader?

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Image caption Plaid kick off their leadership campaign

Who will be the next leader of Plaid Cymru?

The four Assembly members who've said they want the job stayed well away from this morning's football match - Plaid "kicking off" the leadership campaign, a new year and they hope, a new beginning, all in one.

It was a hotly contested match, not that you needed to see the tackles to know that this matters very much to Plaid.

The early, though not outright favourite? Former Agriculture minister Elin Jones. Good luck to the bookies, official and unofficial. Predicting a winner with any confidence from a relatively wide field, where not only first but secondary preferences are involved, is a bit of a fool's game - as two brothers called Miliband would no doubt remind you.

If Elin Jones appeals to party members and is elected leader, she will try to broaden Plaid's appeal, to - as she's put it - the plumber in Swansea and the family who has moved into the Llyn peninsula - persuading anyone with ambition for Wales but who've never given Plaid their vote in the past to give it to them under her leadership.

It's time for a new generation, she argues, a new chapter. It's a chapter in which she's very comfortable to include the word 'independence,' a word she included in just about every conference speech I can remember.

The hot favourite of the left of the party? Leanne Wood, who will argue that Wales' economic fortunes will only change for the better if and when it votes for independence, "real independence" as she calls it, independence that means something to people to whom it means very little now.

Today's edition of the Western Mail will have shown her that she is - it appears - their favourite too.

The favourite of those who want a canny operator in charge, who think it's time for experience to come to the fore - Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas, a man who says he's keeping his powder dry until his local party officially nominate him. His take on independence will be closely scrutinised, the suggestion he would discount any possibility of Plaid working with the Conservatives if he were leader mulled over.

Fourth in the race, say the bookies, Simon Thomas. He would listen to the party, involve members, seek to lead by consensus. He knows his style is not about fire in the belly and knows too that won't work for everyone. He must hope too that losing Ceredigion in 2005 won't lose him this race in 2012 before it's even started.

An independent Wales? Yes. He's comfortable with that but quick to point out that is not the point. The point is that the rest of the nation must be equally comfortable with it and that so far, they aren't. Plaid cannot, he argues, rely on independence one day as an answer to problems in the here and now.

What those problems are and crucially, why Plaid has failed to convince voters it has the answers to them will be laid out in the conclusions of an internal party review, published soon. I'm told some of those conclusions - and the debate that is likely to follow - will be pretty tough to deal with.

But deal with them Plaid must. Very soon, as the politicians return to Cardiff Bay, the Welsh Labour party will be publishing a review of its own plans, setting out what it has already achieved and where it is headed. Take it as a response, a positive response, to opposition criticism that Labour has done nothing and worse, doesn't know what to do next.

That, say Labour party sources, is 'dishonest' but there's an admission that the perception is gaining some traction. So it's time to go out there and set out Labour's stall, reinvigorate the party, broaden its support, not while its back is against the wall and its head down but from a position of strength.

The message?

We are renewing because we choose to. Plaid are renewing because they have to.