Brexit has awoken the Welsh independence movement

A Yes Cymru protest in support of Catalonia on Saturday. Picture by Yes Cymru

Aled Gwyn Job

Despite Brexit and its associated risks to our economy and autonomy, these are undoubtedly exciting times in Wales.

Whatever your views on last year’s EU referendum, the result has galvanised the national movement in Wales in a way that has not been seen for many, many years.

It could even be ventured that the present atmosphere is akin to that sense of national awakening which promised so much at one stage during the late 1960s.

Plaid Cymru’s annual conference last weekend seemed more animated than usual, featuring an almost evangelistic address from Adam Price invoking the Israelites’ journey from captivity in Egypt to the freedom of Canaan.

Dr Dai Lloyd also left a browbeaten BBC journalist in no doubt whatsoever that Plaid would now be more of an out and out nationalist party.

Then there was Neil McEvoy’s fringe event which attracted 120 people to the Celtic Hotel to hear his barely-veiled pitch for the leadership of the party, in the form of his “2020 Vision” declaration.

It was an undoubted coup for McEvoy to attract such a gathering, and although his presentation of a dream of a Sovereign Wales might have been slightly underwhelming following the whole hype created beforehand, he certainly has a dedicated and growing following within the party.

Time will tell of course whether he will have the opportunity to fully develop his vision, within or outside of Plaid Cymru.

Then we have the growing Yes Cymru movement which seems to be establishing new groups on almost a weekly basis.

Its members are dedicated to taking the message about Welsh Independence directly to the people of Wales in their own communities, and beyond the usual party-political boundaries.

And if that was not enough, a meeting has been called in Aberystwyth this weekend with the aim of establishing a new national party to adopt an unashamedly Wales First approach.

The original venue has apparently now been changed to accommodate the substantial numbers expected to turn up.

Uncharted territory

We will have to wait to see how the above pans out and whether indeed the disparate groups can work together in any shape or form.

Disunity has been the curse of the Welsh national movement going back to medieval times. Let us hope that this time we can recognise that even though we may be taking different paths we all have the same destination in mind.

Whatever happens, surely the above groupings must acknowledge that we are now in completely unchartered political territory and that their pitch to Welsh voters and citizens from now on must reflect this new world we find ourselves in.

For better or worse, the Brexit decision has been taken and there can be no doubt that the UK is now leaving the European Union.

Indeed, the most likely outcome is that the UK Government will crash out of the EU over the next few months without a formal deal in place

WTO tariffs will probably be put in place, at least temporarily, which will obviously hurt the Welsh export economy in the short run.

But despite that initial shock to the system, a new emphasis on developing a self-sufficient internal market is likely to emerge to take up any slack both within Wales itself, and the rest of these isles as well.

The Welsh National Movement must adjust itself quickly to this new reality and show an unprecedented amount of agility and imagination to deal with this momentous change.

I would argue that it needs to quickly adopt a fresh approach which can acknowledge this new state of affairs and turn it to Wales’s advantage.

An Independent Wales in Britain is the way to both acknowledge this new reality and transform it.

Those who voted for Brexit wanted to take back control, and give the establishment a bloody nose – the Welsh national movement offers the opportunity to do both.

Empire

Many nationalists will be aghast at such an argument of course. Such people have invested everything in their view of the European Union as a benign, philanthropic and a force for good on the continent.

Unfortunately, wearing those rose-tinted spectacles has meant that many have failed to see that the EU is, in fact, a deeply anti-democratic institution which favours a parasitic Banking Sector and Big Corporations above all else.

Furthermore, it is, and has been for many years, an Empire-building project with the clear intention of deleting national identities in favour of one European state run by technocrats.

History advises us to be deeply sceptical of such Empires and its leaders.

And of course, we have just witnessed the most glaring example yet of the democratic deficit which lies at the cold heart of the European Union.

The debacle of the Catalunya Independence Referendum where the EU failed to recognise the country as an independent republic or condemn Spanish violence against people merely exercising their democratic right to choose their own national future was quite simply sickening. The Emperor truly now has no clothes.

The national movement in Wales must see that this is a historic waking up moment for people all over Europe.

The tectonic plates are shifting and there is a golden opportunity, for the first time in centuries, to build a Wales that works for its own citizens.

And there is a clear and successful alternative European model which it could seek to emulate, i.e. a Scandinavian model for Wales within Britain.

In Scandinavia, Sweden, Denmark and Norway share a peninsula and a shared culture to some extent- but they are also all independent countries which then opt to co-operate with each other in some respects.

The Scandinavian model of economic dynamism and social well-being underpinned by a strong sense of national identity provides a clear path for Wales to follow post-Brexit.

Opportunity

Independence has been a word that has frightened too many people for too many years in Wales since it has appeared to convey a sense of withdrawal, a drawing up of the bridges, and a willful turning away into some sort of irrelevant isolation.

Independence for Wales in Britain, however, can be a way of finally overcoming these fears and turning it instead into a transformational project which can inspire the people of Wales to imagine a better future for themselves, their families and their communities.

One of the advantages of Brexit (and least acknowledged so far) is the fact that England in due course will be forced at long last to forego its imperial delusions and face up to the fact that it is a medium-sized European nation sharing this island with two other nations.

It will also need to address the long-neglected truth that it is completely divided nation, with its constituent parts feeling totally at odds with each other.

In this eventual national reckoning, who can say what will eventually emerge.

History, culture and political reality have now come together to offer the Welsh National Movement a golden opportunity in the wake of Brexit. Let’s not waste it.

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