Bandwagon jumping politicians threaten the Welsh independence movement’s grassroots appeal

Former First Minister Carwyn Jones. Picture: National Assembly.

Ifan Morgan Jones

Just over a week ago 8,000 people marched in Caernarfon for Welsh independence, an occurrence that might have seemed unthinkable as recently as the beginning of May.

And this week both the Brexit Minister Jeremy Miles and former First Minister Carwyn Jones came to the National Eisteddfod and made what can only be interpreted as deliberately positive noises about independence.

They did not go as far as endorsing the idea of independence – their own Labour MPs would be in revolt if that happened – but they gave the national movement a nod and a wink.

If Brexit does go ahead “any sensible government would have to reassess Wales’s place in a changed UK,” said Jeremy Miles.

Carwyn Jones said on Tuesday that he did not oppose independence “on principle” but rather for “practical reasons”. He also said that Wales “isn’t too poor to be independent – no.”

It is clear what is going on here – Welsh Labour see the way the wind is blowing and are re-aligning their own electoral sails accordingly.

Their response to any suggestion of Plaid Cymru’s possible electoral success has always been to roll their tanks further up Plaid Cymru’s lawn.

However, their readiness to even countenance independence shows how much of a sea change there has been in Welsh politics since the beginning of Spring.

Even as Wales seems to be at its most powerless in the context of UK politics – or perhaps, because of it – it feels as if the Welsh national movement has all the momentum at the moment.

Change

There is a danger for the Welsh national movement here, however, that it falls into the trap of being seen as project driven by, and for, a minority within Wales.

The reason why the Welsh national movement has never really taken off is that it has been seen, up until now, as a middle-class, mainly Welsh-speaking movement in a mainly working-class, English-speaking country.

YesCymru has so far managed to avoid being tarred with this brush in the same way as Plaid Cymru.

But while the march in Caernarfon was a huge achievement and impressive in its size, the movement needs to be careful that it does not become too associated with the cultural nationalism of the north-west.

And while the movement needs Welsh Labour’s voters – it does not necessarily, at the moment, need the same politicians who have been in charge for much of the past 20 years.

There is a danger that if the politicians get on board before the people do it will be seen as a vehicle for maintaining privilege rather than radical change.

While Welsh Labour’s movement towards the idea of Welsh independence is to be welcomed, the danger is that it too quickly becomes associated with the political status quo.

Radical

This is why All Under One Banner Cymru’s next venue, Merthyr Tydfil, is such an excellent choice.

Because if they want to avoid hitting the buffers, the independence movement needs to make inroads beyond cultural nationalists and beyond the middle class.

As Carrie Harper recently argued so effectively, the movement’s continued success means breaking into non-Welsh speaking, working-class areas which nevertheless have high numbers of Welsh identifying people.

‘Populism’ has become a dirty word because of its association with the far-right. But the Welsh national movement must at least offer the people of Wales a radical change.

My hope is that the choice of venue for the next march will give the movement an opportunity to articulate a vision that really does appeal to those who have been rendered politically, culturally and economically powerless.

Waving an Owain Glyndŵr flag may get the crowd’s blood pumping in Caernarfon but is likely to fall flat in Merthyr – the speakers at this event need to lay out how Welsh independence would offer people real hope.

As I wrote just after the Brexit result came in, and subsequently, the people needed to win Welsh independence are, like it or not, the exact same people who delivered Brexit.

I have always made it clear that I’m not a fan of Brexit. It would not, at least in the hands of Johnson and Farage, improve the lives of the people of Wales. However, just canning Brexit isn’t enough. Brexit is a symptom, not the cause, of the current political ructions.

The root cause is that people are unhappy with the current status quo, who feel powerless, and need political leaders who will empower them and offer them radical change that will improve their lives.

Equilibrium

This does not, of course, mean that YesCymru should overcompensate and allow itself to be hijacked by populist ‘anti-elite’ extremes.

National movements are only successful if they yoke together the interests of the middle-class and working-class.

In the age of Brexit, when the country is hopelessly divided, such a manoeuvre is probably as difficult as it has ever been.

The Welsh independence movement can, however, heal this divide if it presents a vision of Welsh independence that everyone in Wales can rally around.

Welsh independence needs to be what Brexit pretends to be – a real attempt at returning political, economic and cultural power to everyone in Wales.

But if it perceived to be about more power for a small number in Cardiff Bay and the psychological satisfaction of nationhood for the cultural nationalists, it will never cut through.

Articles via Email

Get instant updates to your inbox

We do not moderate comments before they appear. The views expressed in the comments are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of Nation. Cymru. Please read our community standards and participation guidelines before contributing.

21
Leave a Reply

avatar
9 Comment threads
12 Thread replies
1 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
12 Comment authors
Stuart StantonRhosdduj r humphrysHuw DaviesMax Wallis Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

The day Carwyn Jones endorses anything remotely akin to independence will be a day that I start to doubt whether the world is really a sphere and maybe the flatearthers were right after all ! This is a man seeking a new role in life, something new to stick his nose into. It’s more about identifying aspects of an evolving relationship between the nations and the U.K brought about by the instability of Brexit, and how some of those aspects might provide him with a lucrative income and position of power until he decides to quit. He is not alone… Read more »

Stuart Stanton
Guest
Stuart Stanton

Mixing ‘Pop’ and politics is usually a recipe for disaster on the political side. To disturb the existing dynamic of the Eisteddfod as a celebration of Native Welsh Language and Culture can be best regarded as cynical. As I remarked yesterday, the Eisteddfod has enough of a problem in broadening its appeal to non-Welsh speakers as it is without weary politicos muddying the waters.

Bill Phillips
Guest
Bill Phillips

This article makes some really good points about broadening the appeal of independence to a much wider demographic. My wife is from Llanhilleth and if we can crack the valleys then we would be making very real progress. I support the non political party approach of YesCymru but the movement has to be careful that it does not make partial supporters from a political background enemies of the ideologically pure. There are definite questions in Llafur Cymru about support for independence and this should be encouraged, not discouraged by condemning their current or past leaders. Decolonising Wales is not about… Read more »

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

Good thinking there Bill, particularly your points about any movement ( as opposed to Party ) being a broad mix of all kinds of beliefs. I share your need for a market economy, best populated by S.M.E’s, as big corporates, particularly those with multinational spread have little or no sincere regard for anything other than their own self interest or things that happily coincide with that self interest. Co-operatives also have a key role to play especially in communities, both the traditional “local” communes and a more modern community of complimentary skills and common aims/goals. In the absence of so-called… Read more »

Dani
Guest

My suggestion would be that everyone in wales has a chance to contribute to writing the new constitution. Also form a citizens assembly to contribute to this process. It would prove that it wasn’t just for welsh speakers, gogs, hwntws, politicians etc. It would really be taking back control.

Anne Greagsby
Guest
Anne Greagsby

The danger here is allowing itself to be hijacked by the woke elite and their pet causes. Inviting Neville Southall as a speaker, a self proclaimed LGBT ambassador is confrontational and out of place. This is guaranteed to lead to unwelcome controversy. Guess hes keen to get publicity for himself not independence for Wales.

Bryn Colion
Guest
Bryn Colion

Neville Southall is salt of the earth most of the time

Max Wallis
Guest
Max Wallis

Neville Southall’s tweets show no interest in Independence; his twitter account says “Ex-Everton and Wales goalkeeper supports sex workers,trans people and anyone else I want interested in mental health issues”. The “T” in LGBT are annoying many people these days including the working class we’re keen on winning to Yes-Cymru. The Rally at the end of the Cardiff march suffered from speakers keen to push their own causes. Rather give space to “Welsh Football Fans for Independence”.

Stuart Stanton
Guest
Stuart Stanton

How right you are. As uplifting as the Eisteddfod Bae Caerdydd was, there was a sense that it had been partially hijacked by groups for whom the Welsh Language was not their main concern……you will know who I mean. The caucus developing around Yes Cymru has a real job on its hands to keep the movement tightly focussed. My suggestion is to let their stage only be occupied by ‘y gwerin’. This is definitely not a celebrity photo opportunity..

Stuart Stanton
Guest
Stuart Stanton

Agreed,,,see my reply to Max Wallis below…

Leighton Evans
Guest
Leighton Evans

This article does touch some important issues but mainly i disagree with this article and that’s because I don’t believe that people in the valleys feel disengaged from the Welsh political spectrum simply because some areas use thier Welsh more than others; I live in Merthyr Tudful and people in Merthyr do consider themselves to be Welsh (a lot of people actually speak more Welsh than they actually credit themselves for in Merthyr) and not brtish here in Merthyr, when you speak to people in Merthyr the majority of those will tell you that they do want an independent Wales… Read more »

Simon Gruffydd
Guest
Simon Gruffydd

The most Welsh-identifying place in Wales is the south Wales Valleys – by a long shot. This is largely due the fact that the Valleys have suffered the least amount of influx of incomers from away – unlike the so-called Welsh heartlands of the North-west. Merthyr Tudful remains the highest Welsh-identifying population is Wales at 80.7%. Compare that to Gwynedd at 66.4% Given its history, culture and people, I would venture to say that Merthyr Tudful could very well become the epicenter of an Welsh independence revolution. An Owain Glyndwr flag is certainly not out of place there. Quite the… Read more »

Leigh Richards
Member
Leigh Richards

crikey ifan what’s with all the recent negativity on here bout the brilliant and emerging welsh indy mivement? Yesterday we had some baseless claptrap from someone in london about ‘silos’ and ‘echo chambers’ and today we have an article complaining because some senior welsh labour party figures are talking openly bout the possibility of Welsh independence – and even making positive noises about it! For those of us with long memories and who remember Welsh labour’s treachery in the devolution campaign in 1979 – and the indifference of many of their members in the 1997 referendum – we should be… Read more »

j r humphrys
Guest
j r humphrys

Slightly off topic, but
If I may? You (Welsh Patriots) should also start thinking “European”. The insularity of England also creeps into your thinking.
You must skip over England and look at the economic and cultural life of the mainland, Calais, Berlin, Tallin…………..
“Fog in the channel……….continent cut off”, indeed!

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

not much point thinking about anything until we get rid of relationship with the colonial power. Then we can go on to creating new relationships and reviving old ones along the western seaboard of Europe and further into the continent. Our big advantage is very few, if any, have a bad word about the Welsh once they have the distinction explained. Too many still see “British” as the one singular insular nation.

j r humphrys
Guest
j r humphrys

Huw, your view could be described as “pre Brexit”, though leaving seems still a kind of pipe dream/nightmare.
I can assure you, that eyes have been opened somewhat (see DW tv and France 24, if poss.) notably by the
Scottish struggle and of course the “backstop”. Just the other day, on YLE, Finland’s state TV, their expert
pointed out that the position on Brexit in Wales has been reversed due to continued debate.
So, while you may not know much about Scandia, they know quite a bit about you. De-insularise now, please.

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

Not a matter of being insular but rather a case of focussing our efforts on those matters that are likely to produce the desired result. Commentators from distant countries are welcome but they seldom add weight to the effort. By the way – is “insular” and variants of that root word a recent addition to the vocabulary of those who like the focus shifted thus avoiding the need to confront the real challenge ? Could fit in neatly with other derogatory distraction words like racist, fascist, Nazi, mysoginist, homophobic, transphobic, wife beater, kiddie fiddler etc etc I see the British… Read more »

j r humphrys
Guest
j r humphrys

………………….”distant countries”…………………….

Stuart Stanton
Guest
Stuart Stanton

Question……..where will the biggest display of ‘Welshness’ take place …… Today on the Eisteddfod Maes or a week tomorrow on the streets of Cardiff when Wales face England ? (and why?)

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

Both are different strands of the same culture, Stuart, and equal in their display of Welshness. (I should have been a diplomat…) I mean it, though.

Stuart Stanton
Guest
Stuart Stanton

How to blend the two is possibly the ‘Big’ question for Wales right now…..Hope to see @YesCymru and more on Westgate St. come Saturday next….Perhaps my earlier article for this website on the Welshness of Newport County supporters in England contains pointers…