How I went from the British Army to supporting an independent Wales

British Army working during the Field Training Exercise. Picture by U.S. Army Europe. Public domain.

Jason Bates

Just like the majority of people living in Wales 15 years ago I had never really thought about an independent Wales.

I grew up in Wales when the economy was at an all-time low, but with the British media saying we had never had it so good.

Perhaps they did not bother visiting the valleys, where we often didn’t know growing up whether we were going to eat that day.

But strangely because it was on the TV, I believed it. I thought we were lucky to be part of Britain.

Little was done at our comprehensive school to make us feel part of Wales.

The only experience of Welsh history I had was a visit to St Fagan’s in junior school. The Welsh language was just an option in our last two years of school.

I never really thought about being Welsh as I was brought up and educated to believe that I, my family and my friends were all British. I had a union flag on my bedroom wall as a teenager.

I decided at 16 to join the British Army, after being visited in school at 15 by a representative from the military. I was told that I would get an education, see the world and still get paid for it.

It was after I joined the army that I started to look at the UK differently.

I took the entrance exam and was shortlisted for intelligence officer, but I had to get through basic training first.

I travelled to Aldershot. This was my first-time outside Wales and the bullying and racism I received because I was Welsh was rife.

From being forced to have ice cold showers and sleeping on the concrete floor being verbally abused and beaten.

I reported it to the staff Sargeant at the time, who said to me that because I Welsh I would never really be welcome, but that I should keep my head down and get used to it.

At that point, I still had the opportunity to drop out, and drop out I did. I travelled back to Wales with a different view of the UK, but I still called myself British.

A year later September 11th happened and Britain invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

A lot of people died in both wars on all sides and we were continuously told that we were right to invade. I started to think I could have been one of those men killed if I had not left the army.

Unfair

After putting all my effort into joining the army, I had no plan as to what to do next with my life when I came out. So, I decided to educate myself.

So, I thought I would read about Welsh history for the first time. They all had different opinions on Welsh history and politics but they all had to admit that Wales had been conquered and exploited.

I wanted to make my own mind up, rather than feeling that I was coming under the influence of ‘crazy’ Welsh nationalists. So I read another book, and another, and so on.

It was clear that we were invaded and bullied into submission and every time we tried to stand up, the British establishment would just knock us back down.

And, looking around me, I could see that things hadn’t changed. I realised that as citizens we had been drilled to think how the government wants us to think.

I realised that we had been bullied as a nation, in the same way as I was treated in the army.

I was never really interested in politics but I started asking myself why poverty is rife Wales, while other parts of the UK are so rich. Why don’t we get our fair share?

Our resources are stolen year after year. Holiday home buyers drive up prices beyond what people who want to live in our communities can afford.

Our waters are used as a dumping ground for potentially contaminated waste, and our own elected government in Cardiff is letting them do it while handing over our powers back to London.

Even last week the transport secretary was saying Wales should be lucky to get what we do from London. This when Wales has received £5Billion less than the south-east to spend on infrastructure.

We are still being treated like a colony. I realised it doesn’t matter who is in charge in Westminster. The message is the same: Britain is great we are better together. And that’s not a message of hope to places like those where I grew up.

To borrow Labour’s slogan, the UK is for the few, not the many. Those few aren’t in Wales, and I can’t ever see things changing while Wales is part of the UK.

The people of Wales have been brainwashed and it is our job to help them see the truth.

That’s why I joined Yes Cymru. Things need to change soon and we cannot rely on the politicians to do this for us.

We need to do it ourselves. We need to take our country back.

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