Review: Independence – Wales Awakening is a happy document of aspiration and collective desire
It would be difficult for a book to makes a more timely entrance, with the membership of YesCymru growing at a lick and as indy-curiosity mutates into an eager appetite for independence.
Barely a year after her fine book charting the resonating ripples from the inundation of Capel Celyn in Cofiwch Dryweryn, Mari Emlyn has once again put her finger on the pulse of things, pretty much nailing the zeitgeist by curating a collection of stories about people’s journeys into an independence state of mind.
The drowning of the Welsh-speaking, farming community of Capel Celyn to create a reservoir of water for the city of Liverpool was for many a key moment in the evolution of Welsh nationalism. But that was then, and as these vignettes suggest, the departure points are now many and various, with some coming to the conclusion that independence is the only answer via football fandom, support for the national football team in the 2016 Euros transmuting into support for the idea of a country standing on its own two feet, and standing well proud at that.
The image of the Welsh Fans for Independence marching down Womanby Street before the Wales v Hungary game in November 2019 shows this new allegiance within a flurry of flags, as does the top shot of Caernarfon, with the estimated 8,000 marchers running as a red thread towards the town’s Maes.
One of the most effective recruiting sergeants for the movement has been England’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose criminal ineptitude and fecklessness in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and his populist duplicity in the damaging matter of Brexit make him a veritable human fault line, re-drawing the map of the disunited kingdom all by himself.
As one of the contributors to the book, Eryl Vaughan of Abergele puts it:
“I’m thinking this morning about everyone who is going to suffer because of Boris’ irresponsible statement on the television last night changing the status of ‘Stay Home’ to ‘Stay Alert.’ I’m thinking particularly about the doctors and the nurses in the NHS. Thinking also of my English friends who have been betrayed by their own government on the altar of mob politics; and on the altar of capitalism.”
This book is full of photographs, many of them of the three independence marches in 2019 and one of the hallmarks of all of them is that people are forever smiling. In this one is reminded of the media images of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on the stump in the US election, consistently beaming and thus emanating positivity, in sharp contrast to the sad arrays of Trumpist scowls.
As Mari Emlyn suggests in her introduction to the book, the smiling faces in Merthyr, Cardiff and Caernarfon “somehow reflect a new confidence in our campaign…” and how “the joy and positive inclusiveness of our marches are in sharp contrast to the aggression and ugly frowns of negativity of the English nationalists.”
The independence campaign is a good-natured one judging by pretty much all of these accounts, from Tim Walker’s story of managing to hang YesCymru banners from the balcony of Caernarfon castle through to the draping of flags over motorways and roads with its car-horn-honking responses.
There are useful analyses, too, such as Dr. Carl Clowes’ survey of 10 small countries that joined the European Union in 2004, places such as Cyprus and Estonia and noting how they have fared subsequently. Not one of them has regretted the historical unshackling that was gaining independence.
It is good also to be able to read Eddie Butler’s inspiring speech, delivered from the self-same balcony where once Keir Hardie addressed the Merthyr crowds, not least for the rhetorical answer to his question about Westminster, namely ‘what good will be coming the way of Wales?’ to which he answers ‘Nothing good can possibly come from it. Nothing. But nothing is good. Nothing is a blank canvas. Every small nation that has freed itself from even the mightiest of neighbours – Holland from the Empire of Spain at its grandest; Finland from sweden and then Russia; Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia…Belgium, Denmark, and perhaps above all, the Free Irish state…they all began with a blank canvas…’
Which is unlike Patrick Jones, who must have started with a blank page, a tabula rasa when he set about composing the pellucid and tender poem that closes this book. Whereas Jones’ work is often animated by righteous anger this time there’s a gentle and telling lyricism in his lines, and I am tempted to learn the whole thing by heart. Each stanza is often a simple benediction:
may you take refuge up in Tryfan’s crags
and wander wild up Pen y Fan
may your bread rise
with the blown beach winds of Ogmore and
may you bring sunshine to our vineyards
may the Teifi Elan and Taff
bring you home when you are lost
let the slate mountain of Blaenau Ffestiniog
build a roof to protect you
from the nightmares of the past
let the deep reservoirs
moat your fears
Just as Jones’ words are uplifting in their honest and clear-eyed hopefulness, wanting to hear ‘Cymraeg chime with Arabic’ and desiring that ‘the cradling arms of the Cambrians strengthen you,’ so too is this book’s spirited account of just a representative sample of a burgeoning movement, a register of voices clamouring to be heard from Penygroes to Powys, from Trearddur to Torfaen, all united in a common and sustaining purpose.
It would not be surprising to find this book in all of their homes, a happy document of aspiration and collective desire despite these trying and unhappy times.
Annibyniaeth/Independence: Cymru’n Deffro/Wales Awakening is published by Y Lolfa and you can buy it here.