The 2020s can be the decade of the Welsh independence movement – if it learns the lessons of the 2010s

 

Image by Susan Cipriano from Pixabay

Ifan Morgan Jones

When we look back at 2019 we may well consider it the year when the Welsh independence movement finally shifted into gear.

This was a turnaround from 2018, when the national movement was marred by the kind of internal squabbling and falling out that has always sadly been characteristic of Welsh politics.

My last article of that year ended with a plea that we should all get off social media sites and start talking to each other face to face.

Thanks to the efforts of YesCymru and others that did happen in 2019 and to spectacular effect – the three Welsh independence marches, attended by 3,000, 10,000 and 5,000 people, were like nothing before seen in this nation.

Support for independence surged to over 30% for the first time, according to a YouGov poll.

The ‘stirring dragon’ metaphor has been done to death already. But for the first time since the start of devolution, it felt as if something was happening.

We suddenly had a deluge of articles both in the British and Welsh media about how the argument for and against independence was now taking centre stage.

But even though the Welsh national movement is entering the new decade with no lack of momentum, we must not fall into the trap of thinking that this momentum is self-perpetuating.

Despite the success of 2019, supporters of independence must enter the new decade with their eyes completely open to the scale of the task that faces them.

We cannot kid ourselves that support for independence is anything at the moment but a minority pursuit. What happened in 2019 was that support was consolidated, independence was presented as a realistic opportunity, and those who were already partial to the idea amassed around the YesCymru flag.

The task in 2020 and beyond is to convince the rest of Wales – people who may never have considered independence or who may be actively hostile to the idea – to give it a hearing.

 

Crossroads

In that respect, the General Election (only two weeks ago, although it feels like a lifetime) should be enough to keep our feet and expectations firmly on the ground.

The results of the General Election in Wales can be overstated – the Conservatives won six more seats but only increased their vote by 3%.

However, the Conservative Government at Westminster has already made it clear that they desire less autonomy for Wales, rather than more, and feel that they have a mandate for these changes.

Unfortunately, there are some even within the national movement that would welcome the rolling back of devolution, seeing it as a dead-end and a distraction from independence.

This is a completely misleading position that shows no understanding of the history of national movements around the world and throughout history. In all cases, some form of semi-autonomy has been a completely necessary ante-room on the road to independence.

No country, apart from those carved up by some far-away power or shattered by war, has gone from not having any kind of government to being independent. Self-government is almost always a process that takes decades, not an event.

Devolution is a necessary step on that road, but neither is it a guarantee that a nation will continue to progress towards its goal. All the progress made over the last 20 years could be removed in an instant if those advocating for it lost political power.

This means that Wales is starting the new decade standing at a crossroads. While devolution must be defended, the status quo is looking increasingly wobbly – both the Welsh national movement and those who want to roll back devolution are in the ascendancy.

We could both be seeing the beginning of a decade where Wales is slowly absorbed back into being little more than a county of England, or one where it continues on the road to becoming an autonomous nation-state in its own right.

Compromise

But in looking forward to how we win that battle we also have to look back and learn the lessons of the previous decade. The 2010s was a decade when the voter not just slammed on the brakes but seemed keen to reverse societal changes – a decade of continuous Conservative government, Trump, Brexit.

The key lesson of the last decade should that a lot of hard work alone by those who wish to change things is no guarantee of political success. Any political movement that wishes to succeed must first of all listen to the people and find out what they want.

Marches and huge memberships are all well and good but to be able to make any real political progress those advocating independence must ultimately win political power at the ballot box.

Unfortunately, in this age of social media, there is more danger than ever that we fight tribal, ideological battles that are a million miles from what voters care about.

Yes, the job of any political movement is to change people’s minds. But political parties such as Welsh Labour, Plaid Cymru and others are ultimately not lobbying groups.

Their success and failure will ultimately be counted in votes – whether that is in an election or a referendum – and therefore if they are serious political parties the starting point of any conversation has to be ‘what political offer will make the people vote for us?’

One of the main reasons the Conservative Party have run Wales for Westminster for two-thirds of the time for the last hundred years is that they have always made sure that whatever their goals they have won the election.

They would rather win power and be able to implement 25% of their program for government, than not win power and implement 0% of it.

They are ruthless in their ability to compromise with what the electorate wants as a first priority and then think about what changes they want to make and can make.

Those less successful parties have insisted on ideological purity first and then tried to sell that complete package to the voter – take it or leave it. And the voter has, unsurprisingly, always chosen to leave it.

That is true for the national movement as well. The success and failure of any national movement will ultimately rest on delivering for the people the kind of nation they actually want to see.

We can be as ambitious as we like in our desire to build a better Wales but if we’re unrealistic about what Wales currently is and what the people of Wales actually think, we will fail.

Two words for YesCymru, Plaid, Welsh Labour and others for 2020: focus groups. Find out what the people actually want, not what your Twitter followers say they want.

Hard work

And so on to 2020, and a new decade.

There’s a danger of over-hyping every year as a new beginning. The problems that have faced Wales over the past years, decades and even centuries aren’t going to go away just because a few digits have changed on the calendar.

These problems ar all ones we can solve, but they will be solved because people will have sat down and thought realistically about how to do so, and will then have then worked hard to get them done.

There was nothing inevitable about the success of the Welsh independence movement in 2019. The marches may have felt like a spontaneous release of a pent up desire for change.

But ultimately they happened because a small band of hard-working people put a hell of a lot of hard work into getting them done.

You can contribute towards a new Wales right now. Join Yes Cymru. Reaching out to a new audience will require a strong, thriving public sphere. Support Nation.Cymru. Join a political party – Plaid, Labour, Green, yes even Conservative – and fight for change from the inside.

Get out onto the streets and reach people directly who do not reside in your social media bubble.

Wales is ultimately a small country. That is our weakness and our strength. But one thing it does mean is that anyone and everyone can make a difference.

You have the power to decide Wales’ fate in the 2020s. Good luck!

 

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John EllisRhosdduJonathan GammondLeigh RichardsSteve Duggan Recent comment authors
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Neil McEvoy
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Neil McEvoy

The 20s will be a decade of opportunity. A new political party in Wales will be born, linked organically to the communities our members live in. The kind of communities with no political representation acting in the Welsh national interest at present. Welsh Labour is not a political party. It is a marketing ploy for unionist UK Labour in Wales. Many of us are looking forward to taking the message to the streets the doors, the pubs and places of social gathering. We can continue in servitude or give others the confidence and belief that we can stand on our… Read more »

Ken Barker
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Ken Barker

If there’s a lesson learned over the recent campaigns, it’s not to be tribal but to be inclusive. You can claim all you like about the Labour Party being colonialist / UK unionist, but in fact there is substantial support for independence / greater devolution within Labour. Don’t make too much of the Scottish history: the Labour Party in Wales, with other political support in the Senedd, will be instrumental in seizing the opportunities.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

“Don’t be tribal, be inclusive” Go tell that to Labour representatives at national (Cynulliad), local authority and other public body levels in Wales. That’s tribalism at its worst.

Now too late to spend time comforting these jokers, time to get on with the challenge of discrediting them and moving them out.

A Prophecy is buried in Eglwyseg
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A Prophecy is buried in Eglwyseg

I see Maen Beuno defaced. I see Sir Gâr mourning the Queen and turning Blue. I see a woman’s second home’s assured Dolgellau has fallen, and I see Machynlleth’s bridge under flood. I see YesCymru infiltrated by spies trained in the dark arts at Catraeth. I see hope in Y Rhondda. I see a lonely man in Gwent beginning a book of resistance, unpublished, which will echo for centuries. I see the banning in the Bannau. I see an assassination beyond the bridge of Santes Tecla. I see splintering and bickering in Wales.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Go easy on the sauce, it seems to giving you increasingly convoluted dreamscapes. If it ain’t the sauce then go easy on the mushrooms !

Plain citizen
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Plain citizen

People will vote for independence if they feel happy to do so emotionally and physically. Meaning they are happy to secede and feel secure economically and socially for themselves and their loved ones in a society underpinned by the rule of law. The key arbiter will be economic good health so what is the economic model independence proponents are endorsing? Don’t say pie in the sky ‘green deal’ stuff which relies on massive taxpayer subsidy (which brings in the problem of selling Welsh debt in the markets, what currency etc?). We need independence campaigners to demonstrate Wales is economically viable… Read more »

Leigh Richards
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Leigh Richards

Think the hundreds of thousands fleeing for their lives in Australia at the moment wouldn’t mind their fossil fuel loving govt pursuing some of that ‘pie in the sky green stuff’ . And think you’ll find Scotland is now getting over half it’s energy from OFFSHORE wind turbines. Also strange you make no mention of the massive subsidy given to the nuclear power industry. It’s clear from the contest of your miserable post youve no interest in helping to bring about an independent Wales – you’re only here to peddle right wing climate change denying claptrap

Plain citizen
Guest
Plain citizen

The UK is responsible for 0.75% (that is three quarters of one percent) of global emissions. Let’s say Wales share is 10% of that. How does sending the economy back to the stone age (no cars, mobile phones, central heating, modern agriculture etc etc as their production liberates vast amounts of green house gas) help the people of Wales? All alternatives require enormous subsidy, therefore high taxation and borrowing (who buys our debt and on what terms?) Please explain your economic model?

Jonathan Gammond
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Jonathan Gammond

It is possible for government to encourage businesses and communities to act in more environmental ways with no need to revert to the Stone Age. I am sure humans have the imagination and skills to stop destroying the planet and instead save it but if the status quo is the cheapest, most profitable and easiest option, then we are going to carry on making a mess of the place.

Arwyn Lloyd
Guest

I agree with this. I would also say that what we need to focus on is establishing a Welsh Nation State. The “sell” is in expounding how having the levers of Government, coupled with a credible policy programme will lead to a prospering economy.

Leigh Richards
Guest
Leigh Richards

Hear hear Ifan

Royston Jones
Guest

The lesson of 2019 is that independence will never be achieved by Plaid Cymru alone, or by Plaid Cymru and tightly controlled offshoots. In fact, the mismatch between those interested in independence and those prepared to vote for Plaid Cymru suggests Plaid Cymru is holding back the movement for independence. Progress will be limited for as long as some are allowed to insist that the movement for independence must be socialist, and must focus on ‘woke’ issues. With those who disagree with them being ‘fascists’. This takes us down a very narrow alley when we need the broadest possible route… Read more »

Leigh Richards
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Leigh Richards

And you have to accept that broad route must also include socialists Jac. It isn’t the Welsh left that’s an obstacle to welsh Indy. Our chief obstacle is the same one our friends in Ireland faced and our friends in Scotland presently face – the monstrous British state (and its stooges in Wales)

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Sadly the “stooge class” in Wales includes people who inhabit nationalist circles who have landed plum salaried positions that bind them into a dependency which they seem very reluctant to kick into touch. Posturing as nationalists or indeed any kind of radical thinker while spending far too much time comforting the major enemy on the ground here in Wales – the Labour provincial government- is counterproductive and sends out a confusing message to an increasingly suspicious electorate.

Royston Jones
Guest

The broad approach I advocate includes everyone wanting independence. We both know who’s creating the ‘bottleneck’.

Ben A
Guest
Ben A

This decade we need to focus on social mobility, aspirationalism and the Welsh Language.

What’s the point of independence if you can’t come from a poor background, wear English suits, drink french wine and take it for granted that when you get drunk and arrested for public disorder, that from arrest to the court, everybody is speaking Cymraeg?

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

‘Any political movement that wishes to succeed must first of all listen to the people and find out what they want.’ ‘Those less successful parties have insisted on ideological purity first and then tried to sell that complete package to the voter – take it or leave it. And the voter has, unsurprisingly, always chosen to leave it.’ ‘We can be as ambitious as we like in our desire to build a better Wales but if we’re unrealistic about what Wales currently is and what the people of Wales actually think, we will fail.’ That feels like a sound foundation… Read more »

jr humphrys
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jr humphrys

Once again, and it must be insisted on, Labour lost votes because JC was universally attacked in the largely Tory media, purely on his personality and history, while BJ was given a clean bill, despite being what he really is. The nationalisation policies JC advocates are extremely popular with the UK public
Extremely popular!
They think Private Enterprise is very good, but the country should basically belong to it’s people.
And that’s what we think in Wales also?

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

I think that if the Labour party chooses to interpret its defeat through that lens – and from the comments which I read on certain threads that looks by no means improbable – it’ll simply set itself up for yet another defeat four and a half years on, at the next Westminster election. (I’m assuming that the Bunterites won’t want to hazard another winter GE!) When Major’s Tories unexpectedly won the ’92 GE, the ‘Sun’ hubristically trumpeted ‘It was the ‘Sun’ wot won it!’. Well, they would, wouldn’t they?; no one else was likely to blow their trumpet for them!… Read more »

Arwyn Lloyd
Guest

I’ve written an article calling for a political coalition in Wales here: https://twitter.com/TalkAboutWales/status/1212010696743014400 I’m starting to wonder whether it would be a good idea for Welsh Labour to detatch itself from UK Labour and form a new coalition in Wales alongside Plaid Cymru, Welsh Liberal Democrats and Welsh members of the Green Party. If common ground can be found on the constitutional position e.g. A Welsh Nation State in a British Confederation of States, and further on a policy programme e.g. Social Democratic and economically Keynseian with a pro-business approach balanced by strong support for workers protections. Such a party… Read more »

Dr John Ball
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Dr John Ball

Good thought provoking article. However, I worry that taking the entire 2020s (a decade!) as a target will simply delay things while Wales becomes more and more a dying colony. The current. exciting dynamism must not be lost – independence must be at the top of the agenda, and action soon!
Be warned! The supposed process of devolution can be easily reversed and that is what we are likely to see. So, let’s not mess about. – no more middle steps, improving devolution, devo max and all the other paraphernalia; its only independence that matters!

NoCymru
Guest
NoCymru

Great satire.

Bev
Guest
Bev

Never seen so many out of touch deleuded people on one blog

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

… and some can’t spell for toffee either ! Or is basic education a delusion too ?

Bev
Guest
Bev

Not deluded like you though mush

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

Would it be within your intellectual capacity to explain in what way these people are deluded “Bev”, or are we to take what you say as in some way axiomatic? You’ve been contributing prejudiced one-line comments against Wales and the Welsh for months now, and no doubt many readers have a wry smile when one of your contributions makes an appearance, but you’ve never once grounded any utterance in cogent fact. But diolch, anyway, “Pete”, you’ve given us all a chuckle. Nadoleg llawen i chi.

Keith Parry
Guest
Keith Parry

Yet again we are told we have a U.K. government Wales did not vote for. But we did! Ninety percent of people in Wales voted for unionist parties. People can not then complain at a being governed by a unionist government. We must and can change this. Trying to turn unionist Labour in to a nationalist party is not the answer indeed is a futile waste of time. Supporting Plaid Cymru is also a waste of time, Plaid is stagnant. It had three MPS and a higher share of the vote in 1975. It has become a narrow, clique, run… Read more »

Bev
Guest
Bev

Keep taking the pills Keith

Leigh Richards
Guest
Leigh Richards

Nice rant Keith but plaid equalled it’s best ever performance at a UK GE, emerging with 4 MPs. There was a ‘new party’ of the kind you speak of – ein gwlad – but they lost their deposit wherever they stood. Plaid are crucial to the cause of Welsh Indy.

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

It’s up to them to start proving it, then. They will never get the majority behind them until they become a sight more pro-active in fighting Wales’s corner. Forget 2019, everybody, it was a proxy refrendum on Brexit, not an endorsement of Tory policies and values. The acid test for Plaid will be the 2021 Senedd elections. That’s a year in which Plaid Cymru must ditch the snowflake stuff, formulate a set of grown-up policies about issues that matter to most Welsh people, and tackle local issues in order to win votes.

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

Well summed up.

Glen
Guest
Glen

And how many deposits were lost by Plaid ?

Bev
Guest
Bev

I almost pity the regular collection of obsessives on this blog, have you no families or hobbies to occupy your minds?

Leigh Richards
Guest
Leigh Richards

Nobody here needs your pity jacques protic – how many fake profiles is this youve created now? Certainly a number that’s bordering on obsessive behaviour. Don’t you have any family or hobbies to occupy your mind?

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

An evening class in Welsh might appeal to him, since he thinks Welsh is a “hobby language”.

Steve Duggan
Guest
Steve Duggan

The the main focus of the independence movement in the 2020s should not be whether or not we can economically survive independently but achieving the passion for self determination. We all need to build up the passion, amongst the people, for Independence. Not possible ? Look at Brexit when has the economy benefit really been analysed? It’s largely been ignored with metophores like ‘take back control’ and ‘get brexit done’ thrown at us instead. Why should the Welsh push for independence be any different? We now need wide spread public consultations with our own Welsh independence metaphores to build the… Read more »