YesCymru needs to raise its membership to be effective says new Chief Executive
Raising the YesCymru membership is the first priority for the independence campaign groups’ new Chief Executive, he has said.
In his first interview in the new role, Gwern Gwynfil who started in the role yesterday told Nation.Cymru that without increasing the number of members – and therefore the amount of funds coming in – nothing else he wanted to do would be possible.
He also said that the organisation needs to put less emphasis on independence marches in the future and more on finding – and funding research into – the answers to the questions that the people of Wales needed answering before committing to independence.
“The key to everything else at the moment is more members,” he said. “That will be the key to more resources and will allow us to do all the things that will make us effective.”
He admits that the scale of this challenge means that it “took me a long time to accept the role”.
“I was in two minds because there is so much to be done,” he said. “The [Board of Directors] have done a lot – I don’t want to criticise them in any way. They have all given their time for free over the past nine to ten months.
“They’ve created a foundation. And the foundation is quite solid – there are some things that need changing.
“Where the foundation isn’t strong is in the resources available. At the end of the day it all boils down to money. Without money I can’t employ anyone. I have a team of one at the moment. I don’t have an office. There’s no HQ.
“So it’s all about membership. For the first six months, I’ll be banging on and on about membership.
“They did reach around 12-15,000 members in the past. And of course, they will still be in contact with many of those former members.
“In a way they’re the easy ones because they have joined before. But we need to reach new people and create a new audience who don’t worry so much about politics, and convince them to give us the price of a cup of coffee a month.
“And then use that money to create a professional team and use the weight of that membership to expand the argument. Ask ‘What can Wales do as an independent nation that it can’t do now?’
“Where are we failing Wales now because Westminster won’t let us do it our own way?”
Those members and resources are needed because YesCymru “can’t just be a group that arranges and finances marches,” he said.
There was a “law of diminishing returns” around how much publicity marches would generate and they were very expensive, he said.
“There’s no point in YesCymru just being some sort of protest group. We have to be much more than that. That includes political lobbying – we need to have a visible presence somehow in Wales.
“We need to present the real possibility that Wales will be better off after independence. We need to convince the leadership of the country of that, not just the voters. We have to take them all with us. And to convince the leaders, we need to have a higher quality of argument.
“We need to make our case from every perspective and on every level.”
That includes having a fundamental role in answering the questions regarding how Wales would look after independence, he said.
He imagines a future in a year’s time where YesCymru has increased its membership to 25,000, and he can be in a room with business leaders encouraging them to put money into looking at the economic possibilities of Welsh independence.
“I would say to them – ‘Your company makes millions. Spend £10,000 a year on research into this.’ In a few years that research comes out – it’s boring and I’m sure not that many people would read it.
“But at the moment there is very little quality research into these things from a Welsh perspective. It’s only the IWA (Institute of Welsh Affairs) doing that kind of research.
“It’s a nice dream to be able to facilitate that kind of research. But we’re very far away from being in a position of having the funds to be able to do that.”
He admits that he “had hoped [YesCymru] would have more resources than they do”.
Another key reason to drive up membership is because it would generate its own media coverage, he said.
“It’s great at the moment because we have a new Chief Executive and there will be four or five interviews,” he said. “But in a week or so that will dry up. We don’t have enough members at the moment to create that pressure in the media.
“If we have 15,000 or 20,000 members and Question Time comes to Wales, it’s harder for them not to give a seat to YesCymru because we would be the political group with the second highest membership in Wales.
“If you have 25,000 members – more than Welsh Labour – you can then pull the political agenda in your own direction a little bit, towards the independence argument. So over the first six months I’ll be going on, and on, and on about membership.
“It doesn’t matter if they can’t do a march. It doesn’t matter if they just sit at home with their feet up. Every single name makes a difference. I can only be as effective as the number of members we have.”
He also argued that YesCymru, and its members, have a key role in supporting the media in Wales, saying that it will be a crucial means for them to get their message across to the population.
“The Daily Mail is still Wales’ most popular newspaper,” he said. “That drives me crazy.
“I think a key role of YesCymru is to strengthen the Welsh media. To create more news stories about Wales and push for more scrutiny of our politics and Westminster from a Welsh perspective, as well.
“Leading the debate and making Welsh independence more visible will in itself help Wales’ media because it gives them something to discuss. By creating an effective lobbying group, a protest group that presses for change, that forces Wales’ politicians to discuss independence, which creates content for the Welsh media.
“But the problem for the Welsh media is huge. Because everything is owned by large companies from without apart from a very small number of outlets that are very disparate. There’s no one Welsh media body. There’s no critical mass.
“What would be great was if someone came in and looked at the map of the Welsh media and said ‘wait a minute, we really need scale here. We need critical mass.’ And try to pull these smaller parts that are here and there together.
“At the moment they all live in their little silos. Pull them together to create a critical mass that can reach more people.
“I’ll be completely open and say that part of the fight for independence is to support our media in Wales.”
Gwern Gwynfil said that he was “very aware” that much of last year had been marred for YesCymru by online arguments, particularly on social media such as Twitter.
It coincided with a period of turmoil within the organisation, with the resignation of the Central Committee and the former Chair, Sion Jobbins.
Gwern Gwynfil said that it is important that YesCymru is not “lead down the silly Twitter rabbit holes” in the future. “We’re infamous in Wales for not pulling together for the important things,” he said.
Since the announcement yesterday some on social media had aimed criticism at Gwern Gwynfil’s own record as a businessman, pointing to records on Companies House that showed that as well as being the director of a number of contemporary businesses, there were also ones that had been dissolved and liquidated.
“No one successes in everything they do,” he said. “And it’s very well known to people in business that you have to fail before you succeed.
“But I don’t have much time for people who just want to shoot things down. YesCymru isn’t a business, but rather a campaign.
“I have no interest – they can talk about me and make as much noise as they like!”
The important thing for him was that whatever arguments took place around YesCymru, the central goal of the organisation was to cut through the noise and focus on independence.
“What tipped me over to taking the role is how simple the goal is – Independence for Wales,” he said. “And [the Board of Directors] have learnt in the most difficult way possible that they need to focus on that.
“They all accept that despite their own political leanings that the big tent needs to include everyone. I don’t mind if they’re left wing or right wing, as long as when they’re in the independence tent they fight for Welsh independence.”
That was so that YesCymru could take the case for independence to everyone in Wales, he said.
“The Welsh are everyone who live within Wales. We can’t differentiate, because if the nation is independent, the population are all members of that nation.
“It doesn’t matter how much you disagree with them. It doesn’t matter if they want to call themselves English, or Americans, or whatever – if they live in the country they are members of that country.”
Part of ensuring that YesCymru did not become mired in arguments beyond independence also included strengthening YesCymru’s own disciplinary procedures, he said.
“There are lessons to take from Plaid Cymru’s failure to deal effectively with the Jonathan Edwards issue. They couldn’t have found a worse way of handling that, I don’t think. Partly because of the nature of their internal guidelines.
“Their internal processes weren’t strong enough to deal with that kind of situation. We need to ensure that that kind of situation doesn’t arise within YesCymru. We need to be able to deal with things very quickly.
“But the focus of YesCymru is to lead and contribute to the debate around independence – but not to tell people off.”
But despite the focus on political neutrality, he said that the issue that influenced him most to get involved in the Welsh independence movement was that of child poverty.
“The thing that fires me up most is child poverty in Wales,” he says. “It’s outrageous – child poverty in the UK is outrageous – but in Wales isn’t even worse.
“And the forecast for child poverty in Wales is enough to scare anyone. 90,000 Welsh children are going to be in absolute poverty – not relative poverty. We can do better. 200,000 in relative poverty. It’s horrifying.
“What excuse is there for that kind of situation in our country? We have educational poverty, health poverty. We’ve seen figures in the last few days about our children being less fit than any others.
“There’s not even a suggestion that Westminster are going to solve those problems, or even care about them. Wales and Westminster’s priorities just aren’t on the same page.”
Nation.Cymru suggested to him that a focus on child poverty was one of equality and therefore a left-leaning position, perhaps contradicting the idea that YesCymru could make a cross-political case for independence.
“But it’s not for YesCymru to say what the policies of an independent Wales should be,” he said. “It’s for YesCymru to make the case that it should be up to Wales to decide that policy.
“There’s nothing stopping people from having those arguments if they want to. Personally or privately, they can do anything they want. The important thing is that people don’t have those arguments using YesCymru’s platform.
“People will want to have arguments about issues that are timely at this moment. But independence is a long-term project. Once Wales is independent, it’s independent for centuries.”
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