Ifan Morgan Jones
YesCymru celebrated its fifth birthday over the weekend, and in some ways, it’s hard to believe that a movement that has had such a big impact on Welsh politics has only existed since February 2016
So here is my list of the five most important events in the life of YesCymru so far. I must admit that this is a personal list and those more involved in running the movement may feel very differently!
It’s also admittedly partly coloured by my experience covering YesCymru for Nation.Cymru – I was present at all of these events and not at others that didn’t make the list, like the Caernarfon march and the launch in Cardiff.
5.) Poll shows a majority of Labour voters would back independence in September 2020
One poll may not seem like much of a turning point but this YouGov offering in September of last year may have been the point where many of Wales’ politicians sat up and took notice.
The poll showed that 51% of those who voted Labour at the 2019 General Election would back Welsh independence if a referendum was held tomorrow, with don’t knows removed.
What the poll did was show that the pro-indy vote wasn’t confined to the 20% who regularly voted Plaid Cymru at Senedd elections anyway.
This meant that if Labour continued to dismiss independence as a viable constitutional alternative, it could have a dire impact on their electoral performance in May.
From that point on the Overton window shifted, with Welsh Labour, if not embracing independence, then certainly making more sympathetic noises and talking openly of ‘radical’ constitutional reform.
4.) The launch of ‘Independence in Your Pocket’ in June 2017
Back when YesCymru was still in its infancy a small group gathered at the Old College in Aberystwyth for the launch of Independence in Your Pocket, a 64-page ‘comprehensive’ guide to Welsh Independence.
YesCymru’s Chairman Iestyn ap Rhobert said at the time that it was “the most comprehensive document arguing for Welsh independence to have ever been published”.
The book, partly based on Owen Donovan’s State of Wales articles, continues to form much of the basis for arguments for Welsh independence today.
Some of the arguments were also summarised on Nation.Cymru here in an article that has been read almost 10,000 times.
3.) Merthyr Tydfil independence march in September 2019
YesCymru had already drawn crowds of over 3,000 and 10,000 in Cardiff and Caernarfon but this march felt different as it was held in an area which one might not think would be as naturally politically inclined towards the movement.
It is not difficult to find Welsh nationalists in Caernarfon, or in Cardiff either given the influx there from rural west Wales over the decades.
But the All Under One Banner march in Merthyr Tydfil was the first real test of whether YesCymru had appeal outside of the ‘Fro Gymraeg’ and its proxy satellite in Cardiff.
It is a test YesCymru passed with flying colours with an attendance of over 5,000 and a real sense that Welsh nationalism was breaking beyond its perceived linguistic barriers and embracing a wider civic nationalism.
A rousing speech by broadcaster Eddie Butler – who few had previously suspected to be sympathetic to the cause – and a diverse mix of speakers and singers from goalkeeper Neville Southall to singer Kizzy Crawford gave the event a feeling that the movement was growing and taking all of Wales with it.
2.) The big YesCymru membership boom in late 2020
There were some that thought that the Covid-19 pandemic might halt the independence movement in its tracks as all the momentum generated by the three huge marches in Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil and Caernarfon fizzled out.
However, the independence movement’s attention turned to online activity, in particular a huge membership drive in the last quarter of 2020.
At one point in November, YesCymru was adding a thousand members a day.
As a result, YesCymru’s membership ballooned from just 2,000 at the start of the year to 17,000 by its end, making it the second-largest political group in Wales after the Labour party (which had a 120-year head start).
With the membership fee standing at £2 the boom in members also meant that YesCymru suddenly had an income in the hundreds of thousands, putting it at a distinct advantage over other constitutional movements who struggled to raise cash.
1.) The Cardiff independence march in May 2019
We now take huge crowds of thousands of people at Welsh independence marches for granted but that certainly wasn’t the case before the first one in Cardiff in May 2019.
Before the crowd assembled in front of the City Hall in Cardiff many had feared that Welsh independence existed as a movement within a social media echo chamber and the crowd might be in the low hundreds.
This march was later dwarfed by the 10,000 who turned up for Caernarfon and the over 5,000 in Merthyr Tydfil but it remains the moment that much of Wales sat up and noticed what was going on.
The huge march of a sunny Saturday in the middle of the capital brought the movement to the public’s attention in spectacular style, garnering media coverage in Wales and beyond.
Many of the images of that day have become iconic representations of the YesCymru movement, and will likely continue to do so for as long as the movement lasts.