Ifan Morgan Jones
2018 was a successul year for the Welsh independence movement, with a number of polls suggesting that support is on the rise.
Around 20% would vote for independence in a referendum, not far off where support for Scottish Independence was at the start of the decade.
However, for all its successes, 2018 could be called the year in which the Welsh independence movement suffered from a few growing pains.
There were three big events in the calendar this year:
- The Plaid Cymru leadership election
- The resignation of Yes Cymru’s Central Committee
- The setting up of two new pro-independence groups, Ein Gwlad and Undod.
The common theme throughout was a big difference of opinion about where the movement goes from here, with some concerned that the hard-left or hard-right (it’s hard to know which) were ‘taking over’ the independence campaign.
Who knows how much truth there was to those whispered rumours, which were amplified to a deafening roar through social media!
There is a danger that on Twitter, in particular, very small political differences become big rifts as different groups, due to the nature of the medium, fail to understand what the other is saying.
The battle lines were drawn during Plaid Cymru’s leadership election.
The reasons for the election itself had little to do with factional infighting – it seemed to be more a recognition that the party needed to shape up if it was going to win elections.
The ‘party machine’ as it is sometimes called was not in great shape, and the messaging on some of the most important issues of the day, such as Brexit, was somewhat incoherent.
However, it seemed to play out very differently online, with some acting as if Plaid Cymru was completely abandoning its socialist pinciples and commitment to diversity and the working class by electing an, er, gay, socialist son of a coal miner.
But these arguments and ill-feeling seemed to have gained a momentum of their own and continued for the rest of the year, touching on everything the Welsh independence movement did.
It was rather inevitable that as these disputes raged, Nation.Cymru would be caught in the middle to some extent.
One unintended consequence of Nation.Cymru’s decision to report on the Welsh national movement is that is has introduced different factions within the Indy movement to each others’ thinking.
This has inadvertently highlighting the ideological differences between them, leading to a big falling out about whose vision the Indy movement should coalesce around.
There were complaints on all sides whenever we published an article supporting a particular candidate in the Plaid Cymru leadership election, although all were given roughly equal time.
Whenever the website gave a socialist perspective on the independebt movement a platform it was derided from the right, and whenever Ein Gwlad made an appearence the site was accused of allowing dangerous populists in through the back door.
It should be pointed out that Nation.Cymru does not intend to give anyone an uncritical soap box to spread their views – the aim is always to question, start a conversation, and open people’s views up to public scrutiny.
We do not publish intolerance, and anyone who sent us articles containing what we thought was intolerant was told to change it, or the article was rejected out of hand.
But it’s not our job to close down debate and give readers just one perspective on Welsh politics.
Another problem with demands not to provide a platform for either the left or the right of course is that no faction within the Welsh national movement voluntarily produces much newsworthy content on its own.
Therefore, demands that Nation.Cymru only reports from a particular political perspective means that the Welsh independence movement wouldn’t be reported on much at all.
Hopefully, as a home-grown, people-funded Welsh media continues to mature and develop, seperate news sites reporting from different perspectives will be viable.
At the moment, however, I think we need to resist the urge that is the downfall of almost every Welsh project – to split like amoebas and scatter in every direction.
I think that at the present time, one Nation.Cymru reporting every day is better than two or three publishing once a week. In unity there is strength, and reading an opinion contrary to one’s own at least allows the reader to hone his or her arguments.
For now, the way to ensure that a particular group within the Welsh national movement hogs the limelight on Nation.Cymru is to create more newsworthy content, be it opinion pieces, videos, or news articles, rather than expending time and energy demanding that other groups aren’t covered.
Personally, I tend to think that it is inevitable that there will always be different factions within the Welsh national movement. No one is ever going to ‘own’ it.
I’m not saying that the Welsh Indy movement should be an ideology free zone. Independence is pointless in and of itself.
If the Welsh independence movement is to succeed, it needs to show how it will improve people’s lives. That is completely central.
But it’s inevitable that different people will have different opinions about how independence will improve people’s lives. And also that different messages will appeal to different people, rural and urban, and north, south, east and west.
I also think there is probably more room to compromise between those that see Independence as a way of preserving Wales’ cultures and those that would use it to create an economically fairer Wales than they may think.
There is nothing contradictory in these viewpoints and they can live side by side. Neither is stopping the other from doing their own thing.
At the end of the day, anyone who insists on 100% ideological purity will get less than 1% of what they want. Getting anything done in politics is always a tightrope compromise between what you want and what enough other people want.
But if 2018 has taught us anything, to compromise people need to get off Twitter and start talking to each other face to face.
If the Welsh independence movement does make a New Year’s resolution it might well be to spend less time arguing online and more time getting to know each other in the real world.
And crucially, understanding what brings people together rather than what drives them apart.