How it all began: A look back at the first five years of YesCymru
Iestyn ap Rhobert, first Chair of YesCymru
With YesCymru approaching 18,000 members it has been a long and sometimes difficult journey to get where we are today, yet 2021 sees YesCymru marking its 5th year as a membership organisation and the second largest political organisation in Wales.
YesCymru had opened up membership to the public from January 2016 and following our official launch in Cardiff in February 2016 many of the 250 attendees became members. By March the 1st 2016 we had 350 members.
At our launch, keynote speaker John Dixon said: ‘Welsh independence was not an aim in itself but a starting point for an ambitious goal of improving all aspects of Welsh life’. That message has never been stronger in light of the corruption at the heart of Westminster Politics.
YesCymru’s origins go back to 2014 and the Scottish Independence Referendum of that year. Our first rally was held on 13th September 2014 under the title ‘Wales Supports Scottish Independence’ with approximately 800 people in attendance. This was a better turnout than the 10 people who joined Dan Snow on the same day in Cardiff to oppose Scottish independence.
Amongst the speakers were Leanne Wood of Plaid and the late Cllr Ray Davies of Welsh Labour. This was no mean feat at the time, and it set an important precedent – YesCymru was to become a non-partisan, big tent organisation. It was also the first time I addressed a large crowd in my role as YesCymru’s cheerleader
In 2015, the founding members of YesCymru which had kept in touch since the first rally had built a rapport with each other and a sense of belonging and purpose and although relationships were strained at times, we got things done. As a small voluntary group of no more than 10 founding members, only 4 are currently elected members of the current Central Committee, including myself.
I well remember, as Chair of YesCymru at the time, the meeting in Carmarthen shortly after our rally supporting Welsh Home Rule on the 4th of April 2015, we voted by majority to become the first national organisation in Wales to campaign solely on Welsh independence. The simplicity of the narrative is its strength and is a message people can understand, whether they support it or not.
We saw the first wave of diversification in the organisation in 2016 and 2017 with the establishment of important YesCymru groups around Wales including Cardiff, Caenarfon, Bridgend, Swansea, Aberystwyth, Merthyr, and London to name a few. Currently, there are dozens of YesCymru interest groups, geographic groups and affiliates dotted around Wales.
YesCymru has helped others gain the confidence needed to start their own groups and to normalise the independence debate’ and bring it into mainstream politics.
An important contribution to the debate was the launch of ‘Independence in Your Pocket’ at our 2017 AGM in Aberystwyth which offered solutions to questions on independence.
The initial publication of 500 was sold out within a week. Our latest, updated version was released in January 2021 and is available as a book and PDF on YesCymru’s website.
By 2018, there was enough money in the bank to get decent software to properly manage our administration and bring order to the increasing membership which was around 1,500.
YesCymru’s biggest challenge came that year when the movement was in peril of fragmenting due to internal conflict. As volunteers, we did not expect nor understand how divisive politics could be, but we had to survive 2018 were YesCymru to continue.
There is no doubt that the highlight of 2019 was the colourful AUOB Rallies where YesCymru groups were instrumental in organising a colourful and passionate support for Welsh independence.
Amongst a diverse line-up of speakers including Scottish celebrity Hardeep Singh Kohli were some unexpected supporters of independence including journalist, sports commentator, and former Welsh rugby union player Eddie Butler and Welsh footballing hero Neville Southall. The three rallies attracted a combination of 17,000 attendees pushed our membership at the end of 2019 to 2,000.
We saw big changes to YesCymru in 2020 and this was in no small part to how the pandemic has exposed the corrupt underbelly of the UK.
Many in YesCymru could already see this but it became clearer that our own Welsh Government could do a far better job at managing our affairs than any government in London could. It also exposed how low Wales was on the UK priority list.
On the matter of opinion polls and focus groups, of which YesCymru has commissioned 4 to date, we saw support for Welsh independence reach 33 per cent. To be very clear on this matter, when people are asked a straight question on Welsh independence as would be expected on a referendum ballot paper, we get a straight answer unlike the complex and convoluted Annual BBC’s St David’s Day poll which is a multiple-choice question on devolution.
This is usually the go-to poll by opponents of Welsh independents and is used as a proverbial stick to beat the supporters of independence with. Welsh independence is a rising force and at the end of 2020, YesCymru has 17,000 members.
Seeing as organising rallies not possible in 2020, one area of expansion was social media. Targeting Twitter, Facebook and Instagram was an effective use of our time and resources, and we saw greater connectivity between our members and our Twitter feed nearing 50,000 and Facebook getting almost 30,000 followers.
2021 has a new set of challenges for YesCymru. Our increased membership has given us organisational security and political clout, however, growth in membership and support for independence demands that YesCymru improves how it communicates and coordinates countless projects and reaching out to those who are hard to reach.
In doing so, YesCymru has employed its first Campaigns Officer and our first Diversity and Inclusion Officer.
YesCymru is a committed voluntary organisation and we would like to express our gratitude to our members and supporters both old and new. We are here to encourage debate, organise events and help indy-Curious and soft-Unionists find the answers they need to support Welsh independence.
YesCymru offers a vision of hope, ambition, and confidence because we are confident Wales will be a fairer and happier society when we gain our independence.