Opinion

The first four years of Labour for indyWales: A timeline of persistence

16 Feb 2021 7 minutes Read
Ben Gwalchmai speaking at the Cardiff AUOB march. Picture by Lluniau Lleucu / Yes Cymru

Ben Gwalchmai

As of February 15th, it will have been four years. Four years to the day that Huw Lloyd Williams and I first met in the Senedd Café, overlooking the bay and the Siambr, to form Labour for IndyWales.

There’s a new executive and new president, a new team, at the helm now, and they have a great launch coming up on March 1st.

But I wanted to take the time to mark our achievements and tell you what it takes to grow what we have grown.

The initial draft of this article grew to 4000+ words but I’ll spare you that memoir. Instead, here’s a (very) condensed, personal timeline of persistence:

  • December 2016, Hedd Gwynfor from YesCymru put the movement’s Labour members in touch with each other
  • February 15th 2017, Huw L Williams and I met to discuss plans and strategy
  • September 2017, I took part in a panel at Annibynwyl in Caernarfon
  • The day before our launch event, October 5th 2017 to be precise, Neville Southall tweeted Podcast Peldroed that he supports indyWales
  • October 6th 2017, our first event; with Lord Elystan Morgan, Mike Hedges, and Dr Sophie Williams, was a brilliant start; in coverage of the event on Newyddion 9 that night, Professor Roger Scully-Awan was in the segment talking about how Labour members were highly unlikely to support independence. We continued. Huw and I spent about £600 between us to make that small start. [There, Mike posed 6 questions to be answered… so I did. He would later go on to repost those questions, elsewhere.]
  • Christmas 2017, I chaired the first meeting of YesWelshpool and six people came. Now its membership sits at 160+ members.
  • January 2018, Huw and I spoke at YesCaerdydd – and met Bob Lloyd and others. Our core group expanded
  • February 2018, we hosted an event on the economy with Prof. Calvin Jones (that’s informed my thinking ever since – Huw bore the brunt of the costs on that one).
  • April 2018, our first ever Welsh Labour Conference fringe event, including Big Nev.

That event felt important. I knew that I wanted to get Big Nev to speak so spent around £2k of my savings on the whole thing – it wasn’t all that well attended but we weren’t hounded away by the party.

In fact, we made some important connections. If 2017 saw us as on the left of the party, 2018 bridged the gap to the centre through our discussions with Fabians Cymru. It was also at this point that I, personally and temporarily, changed strategic tack – I moved to having conversations with individual AMs/MSs; I left the discussions with a broad base of the membership to Huw but continued my social media work.

  • May 2018, I attended the 30th AWWE Conference and encouraged academics to consider IndyWales (many already were).
  • May 2018, I spoke at the Merthyr Rising festival on S.O. Davies.
  • June 2018, I met with Eluned Morgan (as a constituent) to suggest some policies for her leadership candidacy; things like the immediate Devolution of Justice and the decriminalisation of sex work, a National Forest of Wales, and more.
  • July 2018, I began work in Eluned’s office.
  • September 2018, the new core group met at Powys Castle to consider a constitution for the Welsh Labour Representation Group (the necessary front/sister-org we briefly considered to enamour us to the Unionists in our party).
  • Around this time, Huw worked with others in Cardiff to set up Undod and began to take understandable steps back from Lab4indyWales. He got promoted at work but still found time to speak to YesBridgend and Aberystwyth Labour.
  • October 2018, my CLP elected me to the Welsh Labour Policy Forum; it was around this time that the first of many attempts to get me kicked out Labour was made. That member failed.
  • November 2018, my work in Eluned’s office finished but I had had a great many important conversations
  • February – April 2019, co-organised the Fabians Cymru & Lab4indyWales Welsh Labour Conference event with Carwyn Jones, Tonia Antoniazzi, Carol Green of ITV, & Natasha Davies of Chwarae Teg

This event may not have caused the biggest ripple throughout Cymru but it did cause the beginning of a change in Carwyn Jones’ rhetoric and it gave Lab4indyWales our first mention on the 6.30p.m. BBC Wales TV News as well as giving me my first appearance on Vaughan Roderick’s Sunday Supplement on BBC Wales. This too felt significant.

  • March – April 2019, I organised the north-east & Powys bus to the AUOB Cardiff March
  • May 2019, I spoke at the All Under One Banner march in Cardiff

Whether we acknowledge it enough or not, I don’t know, but we must: AUOB Cardiff was a turning point. I had expected maybe 300 people. We had 3000.

At the time I had been mulling over moving back to London – after that, I couldn’t. At that time roughly 23% of Welsh Labour supporters wanted indyWales, up from 15% in 2018.

Significant

  • May 2019, spoke on a panel at Merthyr Rising – met with indyCurious Young Labour members
  • July – September 2019, we helped our Councillor Gareth Davies to convince his fellow Blaenavon Town Council councillors to back independence.
  • September 2019, Gwynoro Jones and I hosted the first meeting of the Sgwrs Cenedlaethol / the National Conversation – we committed to making the constitutional futures ahead easier to understand for the wider public. We consulted with academics and then did so in infographics, here.
  • September 2019, we hosted a Welsh Labour social after the AUOB Merthyr march and I spoke with Harriet’s WalesPod.
  • September 2019, Labour-run Blaenavon Town Council voted to back indyWales
  • September 2019, I spoke on a panel with Huw Irranca-Davies at the GWLAD festival and got him to admit that his preferred future is a Confederal future.
  • Throughout 2020, I endeavoured on the process to become a Welsh Labour Senedd candidate on the Mid & West Regional List; this was mostly to be able to talk to the membership about indyWales – I was surprised to be selected in October 2020 but it was only possible with the support of all the members of Lab4indyWales. The first ever openly pro-indyWales Senedd Candidate from Labour. Not too shabby.
  • November 2020, I was part of the Valley’s Underground panel.
  • January 2021, Bob Lloyd was elected as the new President of Lab4indyWales and a whole new executive took the reins. Including Harriet, who’s also now an important member of Momentum’s organising central committee.
  • Throughout 2021, we’ve supported others to become pro-indyWales Senedd Candidates from Labour. We currently have 5% of the whole Labour slate.
  • February 17th 2021, I will be on a Momentum Panel discussing independence

This feels like a lot. The funny thing is: this isn’t even an exhaustive list. It doesn’t include all the meetings, articles, little conversations, emails, internal campaigning, external campaigning, leafletting, podcasts, motions written, motions failed, strategies attempted (strategies proved successful, strategies failed, others ongoing etc), relationships changed, panels participated in and the PhD I continued over this period.

This list is what I can remember and what I feel was significant – if I’ve missed something then let me know! We’ve achieved a lot and come very far from just Huw and I. I wanted to mark it, before the next phase.

The next phase sees Lab4indyWales, renewed, on Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant; they will be opening up the new systems they’ve prepared – this article is a marker so that the old successes can be celebrated and the new opportunities given the respect, space, and excitement they deserve.

All that’s left to say is: Diolch, to Ifan and Mark at Nation, especially, but diolch i chi gyd am eich cefnogaeth.

Here’s to many more years to come.

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