After the pandemic, it will be up to us to build the New Wales we want
Llywelyn ap Gwilym, YesCymru central committee member and founder of AUOBCymru
The coronavirus pandemic is presenting the world with a global challenge on an unprecedented scale: over 4.1m cases; almost 282,000 deaths; and over 200 countries affected – that we know about.
The Bank of England has warned that the UK faces the worst recession in 300 years. It is therefore quite natural that some may question the relevance of the independence movement at the present time.
However, it is precisely because of this unprecedented global crisis – the limp response from both the UK and Welsh governments, the clear inadequacy of our current constitutional settlement, and the social, economic and political reshaping that will occur when the crisis passes – that working towards an independent Wales is now more urgent than ever.
March’s report on Wales’ fiscal position from the Wales Governance Centre made two things clear:
- From an economic perspective, Wales’ current situation as part of the UK is not sustainable
- An independent Wales which replicates the status quo, albeit on a smaller scale, is no more sustainable than our current situation.
In my article in the Western Mail discussing the report (Union not feasible for Wales as the sums fail to add up, 10 March 2020), I made the additional argument that increasing poverty, falling life expectancy and increasing suicide rates suggest that, socially, the current situation is far from sustainable, let alone desirable.
The past 18 months have seen a spectacular rise in support for an independent Wales, with recent opinion polling showing support for independence at around 32%, above the level of Scottish support when their 2014 referendum was called. While this increase in support is certainly encouraging, for those of us who are determined to see a better future come to fruition, our focus must turn to answering the question ‘what next?’.
How do we consolidate this support, and pull more people into the movement? How do we convert the IndySceptical to IndyCurious, and the IndyCurious to IndyConfident?
As noted by the authors of the Wales Governance Centre report, “economic arguments have seldom been the main driver of successful independence movements throughout history.” That is why acts such as YesCymru’s fundraising for the flooding victims from storms Ciara and Dennis, and their mobilisation of resources to help with the clean-up, are so important.
These acts demonstrate to a broad audience that those who are advocating for an independent Wales are doing so because they want a better Wales, and are willing to start realising that vision now. In the difficult weeks and months to come, we should all seek to forge a deeper sense of community from such selfless acts of kindness.
But what if we could combine both the head and the heart, and begin to articulate a coherent vision for the type of country an independent Wales could be: socially, politically and economically?
Given the rise in support for independence, but also because many people will have some spare time on their hands due to enforced social distancing, I believe that now is the time to start this conversation. We should question what is and envision what could be, so that as the austerity-Brexit-and coronavirus-induced crises come to a head (and pass, as they will), there is a compelling case to be made for an alternative way forward, separate to the path of narrow British nationalism and exceptionalism that we are currently treading.
This is what I have attempted to do in my pamphlet “Llyfr Du Cymru Fydd | The Black Book of the New Wales”.
I want to live in a better Wales. I want to raise my children in a fairer Wales. I want Wales to be a prosperous and successful country. But what does that mean; what does it look like? Lived experience varies from person to person, and so words and phrases like “better”, “fairer”, “prosperous” or “successful” can mean different things to different people.
Platitudes are a hindrance. Ambiguity is a recipe for inaction. That is why articulating in detail, not just the goal but the means of achieving it, is so important if we want to achieve a New Wales.
So what does this New Wales look like?
The normative values in the New Wales that I envision are fairness, democracy and community. Everyone, no matter where they live, what language they speak, their sex or sexual orientation, their ethnicity, appearance or (dis)ability, will have the material, social and cultural means to live a flourishing life: happy, meaningful and fulfilling.
By definition, the New Wales will, therefore, be fair. Power will be devolved to the lowest practicable level, meaning that people will make, or will be party to making, decisions about the things which affect them.
The New Wales will, therefore, be democratic. And as a result of this fairness, people won’t need to compete with each other and instead will cooperate, driven by a deep-seated sense that it is the right thing to do. The New Wales will be a true community of communities.
On this last point, it is worth pointing out that this is not wishful thinking: we are seeing exactly this type of behaviour across the country in response to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the most vulnerable in our society.
While the pamphlet is written in the spirit of utopian thinking, and does not provide a roadmap of how to achieve this New Wales, it does go into detail about the radical social, political and economic reorganisation that will be needed, some of which, such as unconditional basic income, are becoming more mainstream due to the current crisis.
It discusses many, though not all, aspects of this new country of ours, such as education, health and social care, energy, shelter and social connection. It also discusses how the New Wales will de facto be a green Wales.
If this New Wales is to be built, then the citizens of the present Wales must not only demand it, but must build it. As Erik Olin Wright states in his seminal work Envisioning Real Utopias: “if this is to be our future, it will be brought about by people acting collectively to bring it about” (p370).
The heartening response to help those impacted by the recent floods, and the community-based mutual aid that has been helping our most vulnerable tackle some of the challenges presented by coronavirus, suggest that the community spirit so central to my vision of a New Wales is within many of us already.
We must build upon this sturdiest of foundations to deliver a future which is not only different to our present, but is better.
The entire pamphlet is available to read in both Welsh and English at www.llyfrdu.cymru