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Opinion

Pushing the envelope?

04 Feb 2024 6 minute read
Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Gwern Gwynfil

Serious research work with depth and nuance is often a slow burn on its way to having a real impact and contributing to real change. This was always going to be the case for the report of the independent Constitutional Commission for Wales.

The initial headlines about the viability of independence have come and gone, parts of the report have been digested, although it’s likely that many have not yet taken the time to read it as thoroughly as they should. But the stone has been cast and the ripples are in motion.

First Contact

As someone who attended the Centre for Welsh Politics and Society (CWPS) event in the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay earlier this week, I did not come to the same conclusion as Martin Shipton after the Plaid Cymru leader, Rhun ap Iorwerth’s speech.

The message was clear that for Rhun, and, by extension, for Plaid Cymru, an independent Wales is firmly front and centre as the goal. No more incrementalism and flirting with federalism or confederalism, everything will be a staging post on the journey to that goal.

Yes, there’s recognition that the people of Wales are not ready to jump just yet but there’s an acceptance that it is for Plaid, and others who desire independence, to make the case properly and in depth. The report has given Rhun the opportunity to shift the emphasis permanently and frame everything in the context of steps towards independence.

Avoiding dates for a referendum or achieving independence is simply good politics, it’s all about preparation so that maximum advantage and impact can be achieved at the time of opportunity. It is a crisper, cleaner message from Plaid. It will be interesting to see how well they communicate a superficially subtle shift but one which is more fundamental than many realise.

Respect to Rhun too for being the first Welsh politician to really engage with the meat of the report. To recognise its actual findings, to commend the way in which it engaged with the people of Wales, to accept the challenge of continuing the work it has begun, in every sense.

Whilst it is certainly fair to criticise the quantity and depth of the reports so far produced by Plaid we should also recognise that they are alone in doing so – they concede that these are but a scratch on the surface of the work that needs to be done. Let’s have more independent research from every perspective and every party. Step off the sidelines, stop shouting inanely into the void and join the debate constructively, with open minds, with reason, with logic and with well informed opinion.

A National Commission?

The Plaid Cymru proposal for a semi-permanent National Commission recognises that the constitutional and research baton should be picked up and carried onward.

If this was well designed, adequately resourced and used to broaden civic engagement across the length and breadth of Wales, thus picking up on one of the key themes of the commission around political engagement, education and democracy, then it could be a valuable contribution to strengthening the Welsh body politic in fundamental ways.

Hopefully other politicians and other parties will also engage in more depth and with more seriousness with the commission’s findings in time. This has not yet happened. Vaughan Gething gives it the briefest nod but there is no substance here. He reiterates existing Welsh Government positions (as he must, being a minister himself) but there is no strength and fervour to the demands for those things considered imperative ‘urgent changes’ by the Commission.

Meanwhile, Jo Stevens, Welsh voice of Westminster Labour, has made it clear that democracy in Wales can be damned, the tyranny of the majority over the border must be respected absolutely in the quest for Labour hegemony at the heart of UK government.

It is hard not to conclude that the Labour Party itself is more important by far than the people of Wales, home to a generation of Welsh politicians who have lost their way. Perhaps the people of Wales, so long supportive of Labour, will soon rise up and bite back, demanding more of their politicians, insisting on a better representation of their actual priorities coupled with a fervent pursuit of change which will genuinely improve their lives and the wider fabric of our society over the longer term.

Always Watching

Whether it’s Gething or Miles I will be watching closely and, to the small degree that I am able, holding the next First Minister to account if and when they roll over and become a lapdog to a new Starmer government.

Any First Minister for Wales should always loudly and fervently stand up for Wales and demand justice (in every sense!) for the people of Wales. We should all expect no less and none of us should settle for less. It is in our engagement, in raising our voices, in making ourselves heard, that we take part in our democratic process. More of Wales should do so, more often.

New Voices

How then do we find ways to give ourselves this voice? How do we create the civic infrastructure we sorely need to hold our politicians to account? To shine a light upon them? To hold their feet to the fire when they underperform?

To insist on political discourse that adds value? To generate radical new ideas, to undertake good quality independent research, to inform and educate, to debate and evolve policy, to create a long term shared vision, across all parties, of the Wales we wish to become?

To define clearly an agreed destination regardless of differences in the approach we take to get there.

There is a vacuum that needs to be filled. The commission could be the match we needed to light a new fire of political vitality in Wales, something to trigger a renewed engagement across the whole of Wales, to remind us of the passion for politics felt by the whole population in the first half of the twentieth century. To reignite that passion.

This flickering flame needs fuel and oxygen, it is only we, the people, who can provide that energy. I truly hope that collectively we can step up and do so.


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Annibendod
Annibendod
16 days ago

Diolch am hwn Gwern. It is clear that Plaid is focussed on building the case and ultimately the consensus for our Statehood. That consensus comes at the ballot box. We will achieve this when we present the Welsh electorate with an imaginable, achievable future, one in which they have confidence that they can thrive. In this there is a deep reckoning to be had in which we reconcile our relationships with the other Nations of these isles. It needs to be done together. The UK must end for all our sakes. Our Statehoods must take its place and a new… Read more »

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
15 days ago
Reply to  Annibendod

Clywch clywch!

Ian Hunter
Ian Hunter
12 days ago
Reply to  Annibendod

While I understand Annibendod’s passion, their solution is, unfortunately, pie in the sky. Federalism, which they appear to embrace, will never take off. Cymru doesn’t want it and the English certainly don’t. Why should Burnham or Street look to Cymru, Alban or Poblacht na hÉireann? The two Andys are sucessfully grasping the benefits of devolution and will not want to give up power of any sort. And neither should we.

Garry Jones
Garry Jones
16 days ago

I too attended this event in the Norwegian Church last Wednesday evening. I also found Martin Shipton’s report of the event, and prognosis for Cymru to be characteristically downbeat. This was no surprise to me. Rhun ap Iorwerth’s outlook in his talk was more nuanced, making reference to events and trends that suggest a steady though perhaps not linear, path towards indy. 
In the spirit of political engagement perhaps ‘steps to independence’ could be colocated timewise with off-ramps, for those with a sense of political adventure, but seek breakout time to reflect on their journey.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
16 days ago
Reply to  Garry Jones

Such a lovely venue, on a cold wet weekend it was an oasis of warmth of every kind…

But what a shame about the rest of the place, desolation bay…

This was twenty years ago though…

Simon
Simon
13 days ago
Reply to  Garry Jones

Our aim is clear: independence. Cymru needs a ‘road map’ towards this aim, with objectives and milestones to mark our progression. We have the talent to build such. Many of us are willing and wanting to take up our place to put together such a document; working across parties and communities. Passion reminds us of why we want our sovereignty. Technocrats have their place in helping us along the road to making independence a reality.

Ian Hunter
Ian Hunter
12 days ago

Gwern Gwynfil dismisses Waughan Gethin’s manifesto for Prif Weinidog as ‘the briefest nod’ to the preparations needed for independence. I am wholeheartedly committed to independence for Cymru but impatience and a refusal to countenance the work required to prepare the ground will sink the project. Any serious setback now will result in the movement towards independence being derailed. Gethin’s proposals for Cymru can be dismissed as incrementalist but they are certainly do not lack substance. He has, for example, set his sights on Cymru controlling the Crown Estates and (more importantly) diverting their wealth to the Welsh exchequer. That is… Read more »

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