To win the battle for independence Wales must stop fighting the battles of the past
It is a genuinely exciting time to be a proponent of Wales as an independent state.
Whether by design, happenstance or accident, a seemingly authentic conversation is finally being had about our potential for true nationhood.
Many in our movement cannot remember a time where the topics currently circulating within the ever-swelling community (and beyond) have been so explicitly, nakedly and comprehensively discussed and addressed. Issues that have long been dismissively and dispassionately written off by both aloof detractors and weary enthusiasts alike have suddenly and remarkably taken on an almost zeitgeist-forming quality in a manner usually reserved for trends in pop music and fashion.
Of course, the sustainability of such apparent fervour needs daily reappraisal and vigilance. At present, however, as the old phrase goes, the only way is up. This current wave of curiousness has come from almost a standing start. A single match is well on its way to burning a thousand trees. Those blessed with giddy optimism would naturally infer that such interest can only grow larger as the word spreads wider.
Or can it? Why has Welsh Independence as a concept never managed to be as infectious as a viral pandemic, or as enticing as a religious cult?
We must examine what weapons we have deployed in this battle, and what must we do to ensure they have a chance of overwhelming the currently dominant defences of unionist distrust and dogma.
The front line consists of the massed ranks of data, facts and statistics. The arguments presented in support of the survivability and sustainability of an independent Welsh State have, as time has gone on, become more grounded in reality and reason and less in optimism and opportunism.
Behind are the less strong but equally important auxiliary divisions of precedent and provenance; of examples, exemplars and extrapolations.
Underpinning and commanding all this are the intangible, invisible but indivisible identity-forming concepts of pride and passion, longing and belonging, home and hiraeth. These are characterised as elements of the fire that burns inside each of us. But if we are not careful, it could end up burning us, for reasons that may not be immediately apparent.
From our formidable fully-faceted phalanx we peer across no man’s land. Hidden out of sight behind a blusterous, boisterous barricade piled high on blocks of British bullshit are the souls of the people we must persuade if we are to prevail. They are not there to be conquered, but convinced. They are not to be ignored, but included.
They are not the opposition, they represent the opportunity.
It would be impossible and foolhardy to attempt to characterise and generalise the nature and motives of those we have not yet reached. If we do that, we are no better than those who seek to simplistically slander us as merely having anti-English tendencies. Leave the stereotyping to those without imagination. Our campaign must have measure and motivation, nuance and novelty.
It is novelty I wish to address specifically. In any movement for change, progression is the overriding theme and buzzword. We must offer a meaningful, tangible change not simply and lazily for change’s sake but for the better. The future we claim to offer must represent improvement and not simply difference. We need an independent Wales to be beneficial, not merely superficial.
We must therefore adopt – as a movement – a collective attitude which some would call radical, maybe even brutal, distasteful and disrespectful, but one which I believe is the only way we can genuinely begin to offer what we promise, and may even be a key tactic in swaying the waverers. It would, however, be a big ask in a land full of bards, storytellers and poets, where the legends and stories of the generations before are the very lifeblood of our nation’s culture and mindset.
We should consider desisting in utilising the numerous injustices and inconsistencies Wales has suffered for our gain. Whether it’s lamenting the fall of Glyndŵr, or decrying the investiture of Prince Charles, or even regretting the removal of railway lines, history has been written and cannot be unwritten. In the fight for our future, Wales’ history must be a motivation, not a distraction.
I understand that, to many, this may seem like a casual, cold, cruel dismissal of such formative and emotive events as the destruction of Tryweryn or the sacrifice of the miners at Six Bells. Therefore I feel it is vitally important to make some qualifying distinctions between commemoration and exploitation, namely that the decisions that anger us and the atrocities that sicken us still occurred. They remain as raw and as rage-inducing as ever.
Similarly the events that excite us and the moments that motivate us do not disappear. They remain as invigorating and inspiring as ever.
But, as mentioned earlier, that fire is contained within each of our bellies. If that fire is collectively let loose upon the land around us, we could end up with scorched earth.
We must confront and address the unfortunate human truth that outrage, anger and indignation are merely emotions. We must attempt to reserve said emotions and feelings solely for ourselves as individuals and react to them personally and uniquely. Using them as a focus for the wider engagement is a recipe for little more than wasted energy; energy which could be used for more tangible and effective actions. Feelings are futile in the formation of the future.
The path upon which we now walk has already been travelled by those before us. Let their perspiration be our inspiration. But the Yes in “YesCymru” is not an abbreviation for “yesterday”. We need perspective, not retrospective. Our mission is to foment a future, not dwell on days gone by.
The ultimate irony of this somewhat clinical, perhaps exclusionary approach is that in creating a new Wales, the old one will finally rest in peace. This nation’s story will never be erased or forgotten. Our goal must be to add new chapters to the history books rather than deliver endless seminars and lectures on the pages already printed. How, and by whom, those chapters are written depend on actions in the here and now and on plans for the future. The past is as much a foreign country as the one we are trying to secede from.
We live in 2020; we are inching inexorably into a defining decade. Our quest for independence cannot be achieved if we are hamstrung trying to amend prior stains at the expense of present struggles. When one is preoccupied with correcting the past, the here and now gets ignored and the long-awaited dawn never breaks.
We can see recent examples of this failed mindset in groups such as Momentum or the Brexiteers. The former spent all its time trying to reopen old wounds that it never got a chance to treat fresh cuts; while the latter actually needlessly ripped open a clean, healed and sealed wound which subsequently got reinfected.
In illogically seeking reparation, they failed in preparation. With the current impetus in our movement, it would be foolish for us to fall into the same trap. Simply put: we cannot afford a self-inflicted failure of muddying our messaging with melancholy memories or achieving an anecdote-affected apathetic ambivalence.
Wales’ history lives in all of us. Its story is powerful and it is permeating. But for our cause and our goals, it must remain a backdrop, not a focus. It will never be irrelevant: it lives in our character, in our resolve, in our desire and our passion.
Let it serve as a cornerstone in our foundation rather than a millstone around our necks. The arguments are there to be won. We can do that simply, clearly and relevantly without invoking nostalgia or regret.
Instead of dismay and disbelief at our past, we must offer strong belief, come what may in our future.