YesCymru members have to ‘respect each other’ after ‘breakdown in communication’ says interim Chair
Members of YesCymru are going to have to “respect each other” and “appreciate their different political backgrounds” if the movement is to succeed, according to the movement’s interim leader.
Sarah Rees, who has taken the reins after previous Chair Siôn Jobbins stepped down last week, called for patience with the new committee, after some on social media had been calling on them to step aside.
However, she said that there had been a “slight breakdown in communication” between the YesCymru committee and the membership, that they were now taking steps to rectify.
Six of the members of the YesCymru committee stepped down in May to work on other projects. Then, last week, the Chair Siôn Jobbins, announced that he was stepping down for personal reasons, saying that he needed to prioritise his health.
Sarah Rees said that Jobbins had “immense pressure on his shoulders” and that she could see the responsibility of managing an organisation that had ballooned to 18,000 members “taking a toll” on him.
However, she called for the new team to be “given a chance, as they’ve only been together for two months”.
Sarah Rees added that the plan for the Central Committee now was to organise events in which they had an opportunity to listen to their members and their concerns.
She said that speaking to her local group in Penarth there was a feeling that there had been a “slight breakdown in communication between the Central Committee and our membership”.
“It’s really great to have that feedback and that interaction with members because it’s just been such a huge learning curve for people in a short amount of time,” she said.
“Maybe that is the thing that’s slipped off. And the important thing is that, YesCymru is its members, we all want the same thing and we won’t be able to move forward until we do have that conversation and we do keep on communicating with each other.”
She said that the conversation moving to social media during the pandemic had also played a part in the breakdown of communication between the central committee and some members.
“And there’s only so much you can say and how many characters are on Twitter, and everything you say can be read in a different way,” she said.
“We have to respect each other if we are going to move forward. So it’s about just reminding everyone of that and making sure that we are all being mindful of how we treat each other.
“Because we’re all going to have to live together if we get what we want. And it’s striking that balance. We are a single issue movement. We’re a grassroots movement because we want independence.
“But at the same time, we’ve all got very different political backgrounds. So we all have to be respectful of that.
“And it is doable. I’ve done it before the Women’s Equality Party. I never thought I would sit around a table with people from UKIP to the Green Party. But we did it because we all knew that we had common goals and we were working together on those common goals.”
She said that it wasn’t necessarily the Central Committee’s job to decide on the steps forward, but rather to facilitate that conversation with members.
“What we are doing is working on ways that we can listen and connect with our members so that it’s our members’ decision,” she said.
“And it was something that someone said to me when I first joined and they said that YesCymru belongs to all of us. And so it’s up to all of us to make that decision. And that isn’t easy when you’ve got eighteen thousand members.
“But what we want to do is make sure that we are listening. We are being open and we’re listening to all of our membership and all of that broad church of people that are part of our movement, so that we can agree on what we want the organisation to look like.
“And then our job and my job in this interim period is to help you get the wheels in motion to make those changes happen.”
‘Top of the agenda’
But new systems had to be put in place to ensure that a similar situation did not arise again, particularly such a high yearly turnover in members of the Central Committee, she said.
“How I’ve done it when I’ve been on boards and charities in the past is that you would have that succession plan when roles became available – say four or five on a board of fifteen,” she said.
“And you do that on a three-year rolling plan and you’ve got some continuity.” But a number stepped down at once, she said, which is “a coincidence”.
“But the danger of that and what’s happened for us is if that means you have got a lot of new people, you all need to gel,” she said.
One of the criticisms made by members was of the voting system used at the AGM, where the central committee were elected.
Members needed to log into the meeting in order to vote, meaning that only some 500 of the 18,000 members cast a vote.
A letter circulating among branches said that this system had “disenfranchised” members and amounted to a “breach of the constitution”.
Some have since called for a voting system that would allow all members, including those who were unable to attend, to be able to vote over a wider timeframe.
Sarah Rees said she thought the criticism was “slightly unfair” because in many ways the AGM was more accessible than previous ones where people had to travel to a certain location to vote.
However, she accepted that a better system was now needed.
“There were people saying actually that the AGM was great because it meant I didn’t have to get up at five o’clock in the morning to get on a train, to get to where it would be in a geographic location,” she said.
“It wasn’t perfect. Nothing ever is when we are working so quickly and reacting to things like Covid and also with a group of 90 percent of us putting it together being volunteers, working late into the night, checking how things could plan and could work.
“But I think it does have to change. And, you know, we are looking at a system where everybody will have the opportunity to vote. And we want to do that for elections of any committee members coming up and anything else.
“I’ve done it before, the Women’s Equality Party, exactly the same. Every member has a code to log in. You can use that system.
“And in the time that we had for the AGM, it just was too difficult to investigate those things. But definitely, it’s what is at the top of our agenda.”
She said that set term limits and a better voting system were among ideas that needed to be put in place to ensure that “no one grouping or one ideas group could take over anything”.
“The Central Committee has to be as reflective of the membership as the membership are themselves.
“So I think it’s just in some of that succession planning as of making sure that we can have people on a three year term rather than a one year term.
“And then you can have that on the rolling period. So, looking at skills, we haven’t even done a skills audit. There are a couple of places now on the committee.
“And so we have to do a skills audit of what are the things that we need right now. And that’s as you would with any large membership organisation, you just have to bring some of those things in place.”
While there was a focus on ensuring a plurality of opinions within the movement, one thing that was not negotiable was that everyone felt safe within the movement, she said.
One issue that has been at the centre of arguments online has been the debate about trans people and how to ensure that they feel welcome in the YesCymru movement.
“We’re not alone in that,” says Sarah Rees. “It’s going through a lot of organisations across the whole of the UK and further, and so we had to work on things like that.”
She added that YesCymru had always been rooted in an anti-discrimination, inclusive environment.
“And that’s been our focus, too, to look at making sure that YesCymru is a safe space,” she said. “And I think that that’s been more important than a couple of individuals who feel that there is a particular grievance that they have.
“It’s more important to make sure that we are safe for everybody. And everyone feels that they can be a part of this movement and that they can come along to anything.
“If people are saying that they didn’t feel safe to come to something we must to work quickly to make sure that they are safe.”
She said that they were now looking at putting together an Equality & Diversity Committee to advise the central committee on how to ensure that YesCymru is a safe space for all.
“And to be able to go to them and say, is this the right thing we should be doing? You were the experts because you’re living this experience. What are the things that we can put in place?
“And so we’re doing that. And also we’re doing that on a number of levels with other working groups. We’ve got amazing people across this community of this country, and we need to make sure that we’re listening to everybody’s voices and utilizing all of that expertise because they’re brilliant volunteers and they want to.
“I think part of the frustration is that we haven’t been able to get out to march and talk to each other and even put up anything in our communities and streets.
“And so people want to be able to have conversations. And so a couple of things that we are doing is to work on building up conversation, on building up communication with each other, and that is the way forward when it comes to transgender issues or anything else.
“I have always my work is in gender equality, and I’ve always been a very strong champion of trans rights. And we have to make sure that YesCymru is a leader on those things, that we are making sure that, yes, YesCymru is a safe space for everybody.
“Now, if we have one person that doesn’t feel safe, then the movement isn’t safe at all. So we have to do our best on that.”