Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru Westminster leader
It’s safe to say there were more Welsh supporters in Glasgow last Saturday than pro-Union protestors goading and taunting the passing marchers at the Argyle Street crossroads in the city’s centre.
Even if it rained on the Unionists’ bitter excuse of a parade, the extreme weather made Scotland’s All Under One Banner emergency march an indelible, unforgettable event. It mattered little that the rally’s speakers decamped to an indoor venue. It mattered even less that the marchers walked in soaked shoes, rain-heavy coats and soggy hats for hours on end.
What mattered was that 80,000 people took to the streets of Glasgow in January 2020: the results of last month’s Westminster election and the irrefutable reality of Brexit are bearing fruit.
The Saturday evening after the march gave an opportunity for discussions about the potential for future work among the grassroots movements of AUOB Scotland, Yes Cymru and other groups. Each has its own backstory, political habitat and trajectory. But each also faces the challenges arising from their successes: where next – how to maintain momentum and what are the delineations between party political and grassroots activities?
These are live issues in Scotland considering the SNP’s twin roles as a popularly-effective party of protest in London and a prudently-effective party of government in Edinburgh, and its manifesto commitment to holding a referendum in 2020.
But the common ground was an understanding that the independence movements all have a common, immediate objective: namely, to change attitudes and to inspire confidence and hope, without which there can be no sea change in expectations and no impetus to drive a wider spectrum of political representatives into the discomfort zone of change.
Which begs the question: how are the YesCymru movement and its party political supporters performing against the measure of changing attitudes towards independence? Wales presently compares with pre-referendum 2014 attitudes towards independence in Scotland, with a Plaid Cymru-commissioned YouGov poll last year indicating around a third of respondents being supportive of an independent Wales in the EU in the event of Brexit.
It’s utterly undeniable that the 2019 rallies in Cardiff, Caernarfon and Merthyr boosted the ‘I’ word into the word cloud of Wales’s public debate. But – just as in Scotland – we need to set the sights of our present trajectory on where we aspire to land.
Many of us who campaign for independence have a knee-jerk reaction to enquiries – sometimes loaded but mostly sincere – to the economic question of Wales. We want all the answers to everyone’s argument, and we want them at our fingertips now.
This is both understandable and laudable, but it is not of itself sufficient. It’s one thing to have a detailed set of specifications instructing how to build a train and its railway, but the destination itself needs to provide a reason for people to choose to get on board.
If the success of grassroots organisations – and Plaid Cymru – can be measured in terms of changing attitudes and building confidence, the independence movement will need to confound the clichés of critics, and develop an understanding of what independence will do for the people of Wales as well as counter scepticism.
It is, therefore, exactly the time to talk about the values of Indy Wales, because these values are integral to the building of our nation. And, to me, that means the values of social justice, equality, fairness and democracy.
Although anodyne as abstract nouns and worn threadbare by the British state, these values cry out for a new applied definition in an independent Wales. For what is politics but the constant endeavour to apply ethics to practical action?