What drives the online IndyWales conversation?
As someone with a strong interest in politics and public affairs, I’ve been following the IndyWales discussion with interest for many years.
Nothing has the potential to change the nature of our politics, constitution, society and environment as much as becoming an independent nation, and whilst these discussions have taken place as long as my political awareness has been in existence, they have hitherto not been part of mainstream public discourse.
The meteoric rise of YesCymru membership which now numbers more than 13,000 (from just over 2,000 at the start of 2020) has changed the framework of public debate in Wales. According to some sources, paid-up members now number more than any political party in Wales except for Labour.
I think this means Yes Cymru have overtaken Plaid in terms of members now (which was around 11,500 last time I looked). Making Yes Cymru the second largest political force in Wales by membership, after the Labour party. https://t.co/Y5Wmnlxxmo
— Dan Lawrence 🏴 🇦🇺 (@Dunadan9) November 2, 2020
I decided to take a look at mentions of YesCymru on Twitter, from the very first days (August 2014) until now. I was curious about what was driving the discussion. Taking mentions of YesCymru as a proxy for interest in the organisation as a whole (and therefore IndyWales more generally) and I wanted to test the theory that pronouncements made in Westminster have an impact on YesCymru interest.
The early years
The first graph shows the frequency of mention of YesCymru over the whole span, from August 2014 until the present day.
By recent standards, there was very little activity over those early years; the activity tended to be catalysed by events within Wales itself, such as marches for independence.
However more recently there are clearly defined peaks in activity which correlate more strongly with specific events in Westminster. For example, there was a flurry of activity on the day following the General Election in 2019 in which the Conservatives were returned with a significantly increased majority.
The next big peak occurred during a period in mid-April when it was revealed that England’s health service had superseded the Welsh Government’s provisional deal for PPE equipment, and that England’s Covid death figures had not included those occurring in care homes.
The big peak(s)
Most interesting for me has been the more recent direct correlation between events in Westminster, and mentions of YesCymru on Twitter.
The furore around Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight resulted in more than 3,000 mentions of YesCymru over three days. And the vote by MPs in Westminster not to extend free school meals for the poorest children in England caused many Twitter users to vent their anger, resulting in much more activity for YesCymru.
And most telling of all, the ‘big’ peak of more than 4,000 mentions came following the more generous furlough agreement made after Johnson’s decision to lock down England for a month, despite rejecting pleas by Wales and Scotland for more support in the weeks prior to the decision.
As with many social media movements or campaigns, there was not much in the early years to report on.
Typically, early activity from any social media account consists of regular engagement to build up ‘brand’ awareness and forge relationships.
The science of social media demonstrates empirically that large social media accounts grow more quickly and have far greater interaction, so even in the absence of external factors, there would have been an increasing trend of mentions of YesCymru over time.
However, what we can see from the data is that external factors are playing a huge role in engagement, and that the factors which appear to be playing the biggest role are indeed those performed by UK Government – as highlighted by Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville Roberts.
I find it particularly interesting that even where decisions are taken in Westminster that do not directly affect the people of Wales – the decision not to provide free school meals to the poorest children in England as a prime example – this still results in a huge amount of increased discussion around IndyWales.
This appears to suggest that the institutions of Westminster are becoming increasingly scrutinised by the people of Wales for unfairness, not just to Wales, but to citizens in other parts of the UK.
It’s still very early days for discussions about independence in Wales, but it’s certain that analysing Twitter will continue to provide a rich seam of data for researchers examining politics and society here.
For more analysis follow David Clubb @firstname.lastname@example.org.