Elin Jones: We are not a protest group. We are a modern party

Change for the three London-based parties since 1997 has been largely superficial. It has meant little more than picking up a Welsh flag and draping themselves in it, if the occasion and the audience suited.

Using a flag to fool the electorate is something Labour seem to do often. Gordon Brown's attempts to hide the fact that he's Scottish by waving the Union Jack has back-fired on all counts. The Scottish think he's betraying his roots and Middle England still know he's Scottish. The electorate are not fools and cannot be fooled – the crocodile tears of Brown, Cameron and Clegg cannot fool us into thinking that these leaders care at all for Wales.

Change for Plaid Cymru, however, over the last 10 years has been more fundamental, more profound and will be longer-lasting. We'd already been clothing ourselves in the Welsh flag – we look pretty good in it – and we don't wear it just as a fashion statement. In fact we were way ahead of fashion – 70 years ahead of fashion. We still wear it and we'll continue to, even when it goes out of fashion for others.

How has Plaid Cymru changed over the last 10 years? Well for a start, there are more of us. More elected members. With representation, comes responsibility.

As elected members, we have the responsibility of working on behalf of all our electors. We can't just indulge ourselves in fighting for our favourite causes and against our petty dislikes. We represent the people who want their neighbours' hedge cut down, and the people who want Welsh independence. We represent the soldier serving in Afghanistan and the peace campaigner in Penparcau. We are not a protest movement, or a one-issue group – we are a modern, 21st century political party.

Being in government has changed us. Being the leading opposition to Labour in Wales changed us. This didn't start last year – it started when we took leadership of three large councils in Wales. Our actions in those councils changed people's everyday services and lives. We began to learn the discipline of government then. People now see us as responsible enough to trust with running their education, social services and transport services. It may have ultimately been a small step for the Welsh electorate to entrust us with government, but it was a giant leap for us in Plaid Cymru.

Of course, such giant leaps do not come without pangs of anguish. Being in government and even being government in waiting brings with it the need to compromise. However, it does not mean we compromise on principles. It may mean that we have to compromise on the practicality, timing and affordability of delivery of policy. We may not be able to do it now, we may not be able to do as much of it – but we still intend to do it.

Taken from a speech at Plaid Cymru's annual conference this week by the party's rural affairs minister