The independence movement needs to break out of its silo and show us a plan

Picture by Ifan Morgan Jones / Llinos Dafydd. (CC BY 2.0)

Theo Davies-Lewis

We are in the middle of the Eisteddfod, our largest and most notable cultural festival.

It’s a place where the Welsh language is at ‘home’; protected from the clutches of Rod Liddle with its traditions and celebrations, this is arguably Wales at its purest form in symbols and expression.

Surrounded by our flag and our songs, what could make our most patriotic countrymen and women feel more Welsh than this event?

Inevitably then, this festival was and still is the haven for the Party of Wales, Plaid Cymru, and its supporters. If you think I am generalising, my point is that I don’t think there would be many Brexit Party voters entering the competition for the coveted Crown.

Plaid Cymru and its supporters are safe, supported and encouraged by this environment. They’ve even been joined by Labour’s soft nationalists, like Welsh Government Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles, who came to call for radical change to secure the survival of the United Kingdom yesterday.

It follows Carwyn Jones’ transfer from the First Minister’s office in Cardiff to the glamour of YesCymru’s stall at their event this week. But he, like his successor, is not too Indy-curious yet, apparently.

Overall, it’s a good time to be a nationalist in Wales.

If you believe the media and our political class, as well as the many contributors to this news service, independence is in the mainstream. It is quite impressive: there’s no denying that we are having serious conversations we could never have imagined pre-2016.

A grassroots campaign has seamlessly drifted into the media spotlight, spurred by disenchantment with Westminster, marching on the castle in Caernarfon and through our capital city to campaign for us to break away from the UK.

We have not seen such activism and attention drawn to the question of our Welsh identity since Gwynfor Evans threatened a hunger strike over the inception of S4C in 1980, or certainly not since the widespread campaigning from Cymdeithas yr Iaith and others following the sinking of the village Capel Celyn over half a century ago.

Plaid Cymru have also started topping the polls for a Welsh Assembly election (although the Conservatives score highest in a General Election poll). Perhaps we are putting an alloy umbrella up to that acid rain Gwyn Alf thought was pouring down on us.

Inclusive

Yet, we must face a reality: Welsh independence is far from established within the mainstream.

Just stop and think of the uncertainties and challenges that the campaign for Welsh independence faces.

I’m sorry to burst the bubble – but it is about time we came to the fact that for years Welsh independence campaigners have operated within a silo. In more recent weeks this has been apparent; in short, there is no plan.

YesCymru, AUOBCymru, and Plaid Cymru complain of populism, but they are just as guilty of its vague and cunning elements. Of course, as we know detail isn’t the most interesting or persuasive element of a campaign anymore, especially one as complex and new as Welsh independence.

But independence campaigners would be unwise to suggest that things are shifting in their favour; nobody knows what they are proposing. An alternative to “stale politics” and being “internationalist” simply doesn’t cut it with the electorate.

To add to this, who exactly is in charge? You’d assume Plaid Cymru, of course, but organisations are springing up everywhere and organising marches and events.

Plaid Cymru has not been fit for an election victory, let alone an independence referendum of the highest stakes, since the beginning of devolution. Underfunded and prone to playing to the same crowd, the party could do with listening to its adopted Scottish guru Angus Robertson.

The former SNP Westminster leader suggested an “inclusive” rebrand was needed in his review of the party’s operations. Easier said than done.

Who is going to pay for that? It’s no cheap thing to revitalise a party that does not benefit from billionaire donors’ cheque books. Although Plaid Cymru may have a leader that is presentable, they also lack the funding that the SNP have used to good effect for years.

And if the party is not inclusive – branching outside of the Crachach Crowd – it will not win votes in elections or referendums.

On the topic of referendums, it’s worth noting how the members of the campaign silo for Welsh independence seem to have been blindly followed Plaid Cymru into the “Remain Alliance” of pro-EU parties.

It may be a more pragmatic and progressive politics, but is Plaid the bit-part player in this team? If Plaid Cymru’s ambitions are to secure independence, the voice of other parties such as the Liberal Democrats may advocate a more federalist settlement for the union (or what is left of it). The SNP are partisan and decisive, a separate and unique entity within politics. Importantly they blend this with popular appeal and party strategy: a wicked combination for electoral success over the last decade.

The problem is that when the media really starts to probe what the whole independence strategy is, this issue of strategy and leadership will come to a head, and this spells trouble for campaigners. Of course, Plaid have appointed a recent BBC journalist to bring some discipline to its external relations. To what extent he will be able to work with the party’s resources effectively will be apparent in the next few months.

‘New Wales’

If you don’t take my word on these challenges, take another issue that is certainly more frightening for independence campaigners: the economy.

Arguing for a better future outside the UK cannot be done in general terms, or with flimsy solutions – as seen in the No campaign’s destruction of Alex Salmond’s arguments in 2014.

I am sure some campaigners realise the danger they are in this regard. “Wales spends £15bn a year more than it raises in tax”: visualise that on the side of a bus. So far, recent excitement has conveniently skimmed over any detail of what people are marching for.

But there is reason for optimism: one can point to recent polling that says Scots now favour independence – this arguably shows economics isn’t everything. However, we must realise that five years have passed since the Scottish referendum, the SNP are in power in Edinburgh, and are significantly represented in London. This centralisation of power is not something Welsh nationalists enjoy and cannot expect such polling within the space of weeks or months without some communications miracle.

We mustn’t forget the Scots in all of this; after all, this could all come down to them in the end. We have, aside from 1979, followed them in what we think we want in political terms. But to simplify this issue as ‘you go first’ would be to miscalculate the complexity of the task ahead of campaigners.

Welsh independence is certainly talked about, and I have enjoyed reading about the diversity of the independence movement, the story of the marches, and where Labour sits in the campaign, but the silo and echo chamber the campaign has operated within has yet to break through to regular voters.

How the notion of Adam Price’s “new Wales” will be presented to the public must be a priority for Plaid Cymru and its supporters. They have the summer recess to put something together – like the SNP did with the “Scotland’s Future” document during their referendum – to tell the Welsh people what alternative they are offering.

The task is made trickier by events in Westminster and a poor media landscape in Wales. But without a plan in the immediate future, the Welsh independence campaign may be dead before it has even begun.

Theo Davies-Lewis is a Welsh communications professional in London. Follow him on Twitter @TDaviesLewis.

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Simon Gruffydd
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Simon Gruffydd

Wales is largely a small ‘c’ conservative country. Plaid Cymru’s “New Wales” is dead in the water. We have had our fill of Tony Blairish political spin and ‘third way’ globalism. National movements of independence is exclusionary by definition. “Progressive” open border, transgender, diversity politics can never square that circle. Until Welsh nationalism can return to its roots of ethnic and cultural solidarity based on family and community, an independent Wales is like a mirage of a pool of water in a desert – always visible but never reachable. Only an authentic politics that speak the plain, incontrovertible, (yet often… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

Ah, so you think that ‘Blood & Soil’ nationalism is the way, huh? I’m not so sure that Wales is ‘largely a small ‘c’ conservative country’. There are certainly some areas where a more cautious approach to politics is concerned, such as a wise questioning of change for change’s sake alone, but in many ways I think our small country is socially progressive, and would be even more so should it be able to spread it’s wings. Where Plaid Cymru and other self-ordained ‘progressive’ groups have gone wrong, in my opinion, is their seeming championing of what are called by… Read more »

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Bit late picking up on this exchange of views, apologies. I think you have hit several nails on the head especially the persistent inability of experienced politicians to prioritise “issues” above “ishoos”. Now I appreciate that one man’s issue is another’s ishoo but the task of our political leaders spearheading campaigns is to tune into the real priorities and address them on a sustained basis. Having done that they can then proceed to tackling those other things as they step up the pecking order, because that is what we have in a world of finite capacity and resources. ” Identity”… Read more »

Heath
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Heath

Well said Simon.

Joanne Davies
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Joanne Davies

Excellent post Simon. There has to be some element of blood on soil, frankly. You can’t just ‘choose’ to be Welsh more than you can choose to identify as a woman or a doorstop or whatever.

Leigh Richards
Member
Leigh Richards

Ahem think the ‘blut und boden’ (blood and soil) approach to nationhood was somewhat discredited by the mass murderer Adolf Hitler and the genocidal third reich he and his racist movement created

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

Many people would agree with you in principle, Joanne, but the mass influx of English settlers means that we can no longer define Welshness solely in terms of ethnicity if some of the settlers are willing to ‘become Welsh’ on at least a surface level. Obviously a white-flighter from Birmingham who buys a cottage in Abersoch is never going to be Welsh in the accepted sense, but he or she can at least learn the language, immerse him/herself in the culture, and transfer his/her loyalties from his country of origin to Wales. An independence movement that included such a person… Read more »

Joanne Davies
Guest
Joanne Davies

I suppose we also need to bear in mind the demographics of independent countries in Europe…

Luxembourg is only 55% Luxembourgish
Netherlands is 77% Dutch
Macedonia is 70% Macedonian
Latvia is 68% Latvian
Montenegro is 45% Montenegrin
Even 28% of people in the Basque country are not Basque.

Meanwhile, 23% of people in Ireland and Sweden were born elsewhere…

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

Ystadegau diddorol, Joanne. We know that Latvia, pre-independence, was in a similar colonial position as Wales and that the 32% of non-Latvians are largely Russian colonists who almost certainly opposed independence. The Basque country is still in a similar situation to Wales, but with considerably more autonomy but ultimately ruled from Madrid, which is as vehemently opposed to granting independence as Westminster will be when the crunch comes. I suspect that some of the non-Basques living there would be sympathetic to independence. Leaving out Luxembourg and the Netherlands, which are not newly-independent, it would be fascinating to know how many… Read more »

j r humphrys
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j r humphrys

Minus 2 for you, Joan! Must be poking the left mindset, and set it must be, if they are still at it after the age of 30.
Are we seeing here the birth of a Conservative movement in our beloved Cymru? As to step 1, Jonathan Edwards has pointed time and again to a Constitutional Convention. If the Left won’t do it, let the “small c” conservatives have a crack at it?
btw Let’s see more gay people from the right posting. Sure, everyone wants a quiet life, so post politely, then.

j r humphrys
Guest
j r humphrys

Sorry, Joanne, of course.

Rob Richards
Guest
Rob Richards

Small ‘c’ conservativism? From the Rebecca Riots, to non conformists and up to the present day, that statement doesn’t hold water.

Richard Jenkins
Guest
Richard Jenkins

Good overall but somewhat presumptive on a number of points. I see no evidence of populism in Plaid Cymru. The brave devision against wide criticism to stand down in B&R typifies this. Yes Cymru has not followed into a ‘Remain alliance’! That’s just wrong. Yes Cymru remains apolitical with only one aim. Independence.! The writer asks who leads, assuming we need an authoritative party to lead. Old fashioned thinking. We work together! No need for a single party to lead? Pragmatism means we vote and support PC as they are the only party that can bring Indy unless Labour (Welsh… Read more »

James M
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James M

I would have on the other side of the bus (£15bn – 20% deficit / gdp) that this is a rather reasonable deficit – comparable countries – Slovenia (79%) , New Zealand (32%) – Uruguay (63%). I think explaining to people that most countries have deficit’s would help. Also explain how the Basque’s have the highest wages in ‘Spain’ because of the financial levers they have at a local level.

KK
Guest
KK

I think it’s an interesting article and one if anything triggers debate. Whether one agrees or not with the article is a different thing but with a visible democratic deficit in Wales it is important that any debate and/or coverage is welcomed. We definitely have the ability to succeed but it is vital that a more vibrant private sector materialises. Along with agricultural and environmental innovation, research and development and fostering SMEs as well as harnessing the cultural sector then I do not see why Wales can’t succeed.

Mcollins
Guest
Mcollins

A good, well thought out article. The economics of independence need a full explanation and proper plan as you suggest. I would like to see Wales cut taxes and become a business friendly country which would boost the weak private sector we currently have. Om the Plaid Cymru angle, I think it is a mistake for PC to pin their mast to remaining in the EU above all else. As the 2016 referendum and the recent European Elections showed, the independence movement cannot ignore a large chunk of the population who voted leave if Wales is to achieve its independence.… Read more »

Sibrydionmawr
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Sibrydionmawr

“I would like to see Wales cut taxes and become a business friendly country which would boost the weak private sector we currently have.” Who cares about the private sector with is just a parasite, making its profits through the exploitation of Welsh workers. Far better to develop and expand the state sector, for at least any surpluses would then accrue to us all, rather than the grasping few. Even better would be the transfer of all enterprise to the workers themselves who would be free to run industry themselves with the exception of being constitutionally prohibited from disposing their… Read more »

Mcollins
Guest
Mcollins

Communism then?

Transferring all enterprise to the workers would pretty much shut off Wales to any investment or private capital. Though I get that’s what you’d want.

I think history has shown the results of the approach you suggest

Heath
Guest
Heath

The majority of Wales voted to leave. You are correct. They shouldn’t be ignored.

Leigh Richards
Member
Leigh Richards

Voted to leave – by a very narrow majority – after being told a pack of lies by the Brit nats leading the leave campaign (Johnson and Farage). People in Wales were told if they voted to leave Wales then westminster govt’s would make up for the loss of the objective one aid Wales gets from the EU. We now know this was a complete lie – Wales will have to apply to a general fund along with the rest of the UK. Johnson and Farage told people in Wales that powers would be repatriated from Brussels to the senedd… Read more »

Leigh Richards
Member
Leigh Richards

‘Silos”? ‘Echo chambers’? ‘Crachach’?….. fraid i simply dont recognise the negative characterisation of the burgeoining Welsh Indy movement presented by the author of this piece. I’ll be charitable and suggest his view of AUOB Cymru, Yes Cymru and Plaid Cymru is somewhat blurred from his base in London. Certainly if he were nearer to events he’d know just how inclusive and welcoming the growing Welsh Indy movement is – and that’s why the movement is growing at such a pace! And please leave out attacks on the movement for not yet having all the economic answer on Welsh independence –… Read more »

Mcollins
Guest
Mcollins

“Two thirds of Welsh exports are to the EU single market and for some agricultural products this figure rises to 90 percent” This is very misleading. Of the Welsh exports that go outside of rUK the EU accounts for 60%. If you were to look at Welsh export destinations you would find the rUK (England, Scotland and Northern Ireland) is by far the biggest export market followed by the EU and then non-EU countries. You should say: two thirds of Welsh exports sent outside the UK are to the EU This is why putting the EU ahead of any future… Read more »

Leigh Richards
Member
Leigh Richards

I’m pretty sure that by the time Wales becomes Independent the UK would have ceased to exist anyway, with Scotland having long departed and the north of Ireland having reunited with the Irish republic But of course I’d be happy with a formal arrangement with England. But it would be a economic arrangement only – Wales would be a fully independent nation and Westminster govt’s would have no role in the governance of Wales whatsoever

Mcollins
Guest
Mcollins

I’d agree and that formal economic agreement with rUK would have to take precedence over EU membership (depending on the state of play).

Joanne Davies
Guest
Joanne Davies

A Russia – Belarus arrangement would be most sensible.

Eos Pengwern
Guest

Have a wander over to Ein Gwlad’s site and I think you’ll be struck by how much discussion there is there about the nitty-gritty of how an independent Wales might manage its economy, tackle the deficit, manage the England-Wales border and all sorts of practical things like that. We also have a published manifesto which tackles most of the important policy areas head-on. A few tasters: https://eingwlad.wales/NewsPortal/index.php/2019/08/01/lost-opportunities-lets-not-keep-making-the-same-mistake/ https://eingwlad.wales/NewsPortal/index.php/2019/07/04/stealing-other-peoples-ideas/ https://eingwlad.wales/NewsPortal/index.php/2019/05/06/wales-can-be-prosperous-printing-its-own-debt-free-currency-annually-to-match-its-gdp/ (…but read the comments below as well) https://eingwlad.wales/NewsPortal/index.php/2019/01/24/energising-the-case-for-independence/ https://eingwlad.wales/NewsPortal/index.php/2019/01/03/the-cross-border-economy/ https://eingwlad.wales/NewsPortal/index.php/2019/01/31/gasonomics-the-economics-of-the-welsh-gas-industry/ https://eingwlad.wales/index.php/our-manifesto/ For sure there’s work to be done and debates to had, but we’re a party which is perfectly serious about… Read more »

Mcollins
Guest
Mcollins

Thank you – I will have a good read as haven’t explored much of you guys are saying

One point, on the party name, will there be any consideration for changing to an English name? It was brought up by Adam Price in his leadership election and I think it applies here too: you are at an immediate disadvantage to 80% of the Welsh population if the party name is in Welsh. Through independence the language can be strengthened I am sure but it won’t be achieved with it at it’s centre

Eos Pengwern
Guest

The rationale in choosing the name was that, though in Welsh, anyone who’d ever sung the national anthem (whether at a rugby match or anywhere else) would be familiar with it, know how to pronounce it and have a good idea what it meant. Our ‘steering committee’, which chose the name, is about 50-50 Welsh speakers and non-Welsh-speakers, with a pretty even geographical spread across the country.

We’ve applied to the Electoral Commission for a number of bilingual ‘taglines’ which will leave no-one in any doubt who we are or what we’re about.

James M
Guest
James M

This is a disingenuous comment – as Plaid couldn’t lead the polls for the 2021 just with Cymraeg speakers. There are parties with native names in countries where less people speak the native language. Policies and the current psycho-drama will win people around, regardless of the name of the party.

Aled Gwyn J
Guest
Aled Gwyn J

Interesting piece by Theo. He’s surely right that there is an element of the echo-chamber going on at present that we need to guard against. But, i’m not too exercised by his concern over the need for a ‘plan’ and to have someone recognisable in charge of proceedings. The Independence movement should be gloriously anarchic, allowing a ‘thousand flowers to bloom’. It’s got to be different, radically different to the top down, technocratic, ‘we know what’ s best for you’ approach which all the present political parties have been guilty of for so many years. That means letting go of… Read more »

Nic Llan
Member

I don’t understand why he thinks that independence supporters or Plaid supporters have to ‘come up with a plan’? Am I expected to hit my laptop and draw up a fully-costed plan, including the minutiae of how, exactly, independence will ‘look’, how independence will be delivered? Surely, It’s the people’s responsibility to simply decide what they want and inform their politicians of their desires? It’s then up to political parties to do the rest? Isn’t that their job? Our job is to help people decide what they want in the first place. We can offer ideas, we can disseminate information,… Read more »

McDuff
Guest
McDuff

The No campaign did not destroy Alex Salmonds arguments in ’14 it was the ENTIRE MSM’s relentless attacks on anything Salmond or the SNP said that had the effect. Despite this the polls suggested a win for Indy and that was when at the 11th hour Cameron and the leaders of the other Unionist parties aided and abetted by an enthusiastic MSM made their infamous vow which has now been revealed as nothing but lies. England will do anything to keep Wales and Scotland in this broken Union as it does not want to lose its colonies which supply it… Read more »