Opinion

How the Welsh independence movement can beat Westminster’s populist propaganda

25 Jan 2020 7 minutes Read
Lluniau gan / Pictures by Lluniau Lleucu

Duncan Fisher

Nation Cymru has invited suggestions for ‘What Next?’ as we enter the new decade of the 2020s, and in the wake of last month’s General Election.

Many good ideas have already been shared, but one thing is clear – this decade will be a make or break one for the Welsh independence movement. With momentum building in Wales, Scotland on the cusp of a second referendum, and a border being drawn up in the Irish sea, it’s now or never.

So what can we expect in the 2020s, and how will this likely impact on the independence campaign?

We can predict that the economy is going to decline. We are teetering on the edge of a recession, and the restrictions on trade have not even started yet. The poorest communities will feel the most pain. We now have a Government in Westminster that ruthlessly favours the very rich at the expense of everyone else.

That means that Wales, as a peripheral part of the UK economy, will feel more than its fair share of pain and that will have political consequences. In my last article for Nation Cymru, I showed how much unhappiness increases during a recession, based on data from Greece.

Another thing we can expect with confidence is ever-growing anxiety about climate change, as more and more people react to the reality that this is an existential crisis. Frustration with the inaction of a Government putting profit of the very rich before climate will grow inexorably. Climate will be the defining issue of the next decade and beyond.

At the same time, faith in the democratic institutions to tackle these problems will be systematically undermined by the Westminster Government. Whilst other political parties have been presenting the possibilities of constructively using politics to deliver responses to poverty, wellbeing and climate change, the new populist Government has promoted the idea that all politics is bad, offering themselves as the way out of the whole problem – only a Conservative Government can rid us of the Brexit nightmare and “get Brexit done”.

The populists have used weapon-grade propaganda techniques on their own populations, spreading deceit and disinformation, to make everyone feel miserable, confused, stressed, hateful of one another and incapacitated. The responses are familiar – “sod the lot of them”, “they are all the same”.

The BBC has in the name of impartiality been too ready to reinforce this message, suggesting that the faults of all political parties as equivalent, and presenting politics as a soap opera of sniping and bickering. The populists now have a free hand to dismantle everything that gets in the way of their plan to enhance inequality. The EU is the first barrier to go; others will go, one by one.

 

Propaganda

This scenario presents a formidable challenge for the independence campaign. Reading the profiles of the voices of independence on YesIsMore Cymru shows a campaign suffused with themes of wellbeing, justice, equality, tackling poverty, community, caring and openness. All this is a direct threat challenge to the populist project of increasing inequality.

On top of this, all these things are proposed as a project of Government, worse, a Welsh Government that lies politically to the left of Westminster.

As we build towards independence, a populist UK Government will bring in the heavy artillery of propaganda, targeting current Welsh politics. The idea that the Senedd is a waste of time and money, and that all AMs are out for themselves and incompetent, is already strongly represented in public discourse, providing a strong foundation for a populist onslaught.

The message will be that Wales needs to be saved from the incompetents in Cardiff by a strong Westminster. The message will be micro-targeted over social media. Our over-centralised, primarily London-based media in an over-centralised, primarily London-based nation-state, will assist by amplifying the voice of politicians at Westminster over those in Cardiff.

Face-to-face

The core strategy for the independence movement in response to this populist approach is to build trust between us and the people. Trust built face-to-face on the doorstep cannot be distorted by other media, which means campaigning locally. I believe that the independence campaign hinges on the success of local groups to build local networks of people who can communicate trust through their communities, based on unique local understanding.

We need a campaign that relates not to grand constitutional questions but to the day-to-day concerns that people have about their own wellbeing. The 11 foundations of wellbeing drawn up internationally by the OECD (the Better Life Index) are a great start, particularly as we actually measure all these things: housing, income, employment, community, education, environment/climate, civic engagement, health, life satisfaction/happiness, safety/security and work-life balance. In Wales, we should add to that a 12th already added in New Zealand, cultural identity.

In preparation we need, in each of these areas, to (1) articulate very precisely what people feel the problems to be, (2) explain how devolution is already helping, (3) explain how being in the EU was helping, (4) describe examples where smaller and poorer nations in Europe are performing better than we are, and (5) explain how independence within Europe would enable us to create better solutions.

In order to provide the tools that local groups will need in reaching out to all corners of Welsh society, this knowledge could be synthesised into very short texts and videos, as a resource immediately available to everyone on-line. YesCymru is very good at producing accessible materials of this kind.

Then the campaign can be built around local, personal, face-to-face campaigning that directly challenges the distrust created by the populists about politics’ ability to solve people’s problems. Trust will be built around manifesting common concern about things that really matter to all of us. The message will be that Westminster’s neglect is failing us and that independence will allow us to have more control over the things that matter to us in everyday life.

Collaboration

We can support local groups to become influential. The European movement, backed by Scientists for EU, provided training to local groups on how to use social media to build a stronger local community, resulting in very large growth of local networks and a surge of numbers at demonstrations.

We could go further and work with other campaigns that reply on building trust to succeed, such as climate action. We could follow the example of Finland who are rolling out local courses on how to recognise and deal with fake news. (In the context of a populist Government that is a master of the art of fake news and spreading mistrust in politicians, it is important that such an initiative comes from outside Government.)

Collaboratively we could build the resilience needed to face the populist tactics of deceit and disinformation.

We have some years of work before the issue of independence for Wales comes to a head, most probably triggered by events in Scotland. But if we lay the foundations right now, if we forge the connections that will make people trust and reply on us when the time comes, we will be ready for that battle. And a battle it will surely be.

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Andrew Murphy
Andrew Murphy
1 year ago

A really good article and I agree with every point Duncan makes especially about taking our message out on the streets talking to people and engaging with them but there is one vital element missing how we are going to pay our way, what will the new Wales look like for businesses and employees. The last 10 years of Tory/Lid-Dem austerity have left most people , even those with a strong social concionse and traditionally to the left of politics, acutely aware that nothing ” is free” there is a cost to everything from infrastructure, to health and education and… Read more »

Richard
Richard
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Murphy

I’d like to applaud this comment and also to thank Duncan for an outstanding article. I would just like to add that SMEs thrive on innovation and there is a real opportunity for synergistic interaction between SMEs and Universities.

Jonesy
Jonesy
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Murphy

excellent but drop the Europe bit. move on from there. Arwyn excellent comments as usual

Ceri
Ceri
1 year ago

I, like most commenters and contributers here at Nation Cymru, enjoy participating in the political game. We are the minority here in Wales. Most people feel bored by, lack trust in or let down by our political institutions. Politicians are amongst the least trusted amongst us. Both the article and the above comment make valuable, well reasoned points. I cannot help feeling that the best tactic is to shift focus from political independence. Don’t get me wrong, the movement needs a political voice, but it seems to me that Wales may not ever be receptive to this type of message,… Read more »

Richard
Richard
1 year ago

Take ownership of Ower water/wind etc?(Cofiwch Dryweryn)

Richard
Richard
1 year ago

Take ownership of ower water/wind etc
Cofiwch Dryweryn???

j humphrys
j humphrys
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard

Jeremy Corbyn’s nationalisation of water, power, rail and so on, was Very popular with the public.

j humphrys
j humphrys
1 year ago

Tell your relatives and friends about Nation Cymru.

John Ellis
John Ellis
1 year ago

‘I am keen however that the movement embraces those on the centre right also. This must be a movement for all reasonable people who believe in Welsh democracy and better government.’ I believe that you’re entirely correct. The facts that Wales has for many a long decade elected more Labour MPs to Westminster than those of any other party and has continuously had Labour or Labour-led governments at Cardiff Bay since devolution was established can’t disguise the parallel – and to some perhaps inconvenient! – truth that there are a a very significant number of areas where the voters rather… Read more »

Alwyn J Evans
Alwyn J Evans
1 year ago

The biggest threat to the independence, is and always will be, “little man syndrome”, the napoleon complex.

Cure that with a short course and independence will follow.

Robert Williams
Robert Williams
1 year ago

Technical quibble first: I expect that this will be posted under my wife’s name, because we share an e-mail address, but it’s from me, a male person, Robert Williams! Sorry about that, now on to next quibble: Arwyn Lloyd makes the reasonable point that a movement for independence must not be sectarian, and must be broad enough to include people on the ‘centre right’. But I see no conflict between this and Duncan Fisher’s point that such a movement must be ‘to the left of the current government’. We now have a government not of the centre right, but on… Read more »

John Ellis
John Ellis
1 year ago

And I’d say that I too agree with the point that you make in respect of the Westminster government just elected.

A Prophecy is buried in Eglwyseg
A Prophecy is buried in Eglwyseg
1 year ago

Columns with eyes rise to watch you. Sky machines are coming.

The new Welsh Longbow has not yet been invented. Our clouds protect us from their sky machines, through which our new longbows fly.

Catherine Cole
Catherine Cole
1 year ago

Following the General Election, there is more discussion in the Labour Party about different kinds of patriotism/ nationalism/ citizenship & civic nationalism. This could be a good time for Wales to reflect as the arguments move along in England and Scotland. Many people, in Wales, may instinctively feel that Independence is the right way forward but hesitate to call themselves nationalists. Political engagement, local understanding and trust are extremely important and will build over many years. However these discussions about patriotic feelings may need to begin immediately. For understandable reasons, many people will naturally avoid such discussions which can be… Read more »

John Young
John Young
1 year ago
Reply to  Catherine Cole

Hi Catherine. Why don’t we just use the word democracy instead of nationalism. When talking about Welsh Independence we’re saying we want Welsh people to decide on the way we go forward.

In other words a democratic Wales where the Welsh people alone vote in the government they want. No one would hesitate to call themselves democrats.

Jim Parc Nest
Jim Parc Nest
1 year ago

A good article. Thanks. One of the priorities is to convince as many as possible of Labour Party members that Wales will be governed by Boris Tories for at least a decade.

Walter Hunt
Walter Hunt
1 year ago

Looking at this and recent posts and the comments, independence is being conflated with factional agendas: tractions for some, turn-offs for others. Listen to real people, find out what they want for their families and communities and the wider world, link those aspirations where you can to dissolution of the UK. Do Old Grey Whistle Tests on every idea. Don’t rely on people falling for: “Trust me, I’m a DIFFERENT kind of politician”. Identify, target and network influencers

Norma McCarten
Norma McCarten
1 year ago

Why re invent the wheel? We could use Labour’s Green Industrial Policy as a template?

j humphrys.
j humphrys.
1 year ago
Reply to  Norma McCarten

Adam, please note?

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