It’s been an extraordinary year so far for campaigners for Welsh independence. The first march for independence took place in Cardiff in May and attracted over 3,000 participants, drawing media attention far beyond Wales. Eleven town and community councils have voted to back independence and in July, Gwynedd County Council became the first local authority in Wales to vote in favour of an independent Wales with 42 councillors in favour, four against, and five abstaining.
The YesCymru flag briefly flew from the council building in Caernarfon following the vote and several thousand more were on display in the town a week later as the second independence march, again organised by YesCymru and AUOB Cymru, attracted an eye-popping estimated crowd of 10,000.
The third march takes place in Merthyr Tydfil on September 7th and should keep the campaign firmly in the spotlight with Welsh football legend and activist Neville Southall one of the main speakers.
Siôn Jobbins has been Chair of YesCymru since the organisation went though a major shake-up at the end of last year and he believes there has been a significant momentum shift in support of independence in the last two years, sparked in no small part by the political chaos currently engulfing the UK: “The last year or so something has clicked. I think the mess with Brexit, the shenanigans, the lies going on at Westminster. We used to think – I used to think – to some extent Westminster was the proper parliament. The Assembly was a bit small and stuff. But they are no better than us.
This has been quite an eye opener, even for people like me who have always been nationalists.
I think that has happened and people are starting to wake up.”
“We could be in the situation quite soon where Scotland is independent, Ireland then reunites and we are left with a United Kingdom of Wales and England.
If we are not ready for that then we are going to be caught with our trousers around our ankles, in a very embarrassing situation and it is going to be too late the day after to think “Oh let’s have independence”.
“We need to discuss this now because it takes time to develop the arguments, to improve the arguments, because we don’t have a monopoly on the answers either – and to get people together, to get ready for that.”
With a fully paid up membership of over 1000, branches all across Wales and further afield and a team of volunteers that recently delivered over 60,000 leaflets, YesCymru is becoming a formidable campaigning force and focal point for the independence movement. Jobbins admits: “It makes me very proud and quite emotional to see that people feel so strongly about their country and that things can be better and will be better with independence that they are doing this. YesCymru is part of this, giving them the strength to feel and act like this.”
“The exciting thing is we are creating a mass movement of people for independence. All kinds of people, different ages, different backgrounds and we want to bring them together.”
“Independence is a vehicle for change. I don’t think the British state can change, so independence is the way to make the change that people want.
We are creating a nationalist movement because that is the most effective way of creating the change Wales needs because the system under Westminster doesn’t work.”
“There is not even a Facebook campaign in the Republic of Ireland to reunite with Westminster. Not even a Facebook campaign!
Independence works. In the 1960’s the Welsh economy was twice the size of the Republic’s. Today the Irish economy is five time the size of Wales’.”
“The only way to fight British nationalism is with Welsh nationalism, because you change the agenda. You change the game. And that is what you have with independence.
If you give in to the British nationalist agenda, that is believing in a unified British state, you can never beat them, this is why Labour are having problems. You cannot beat the right-wing British nationalists at the game of British nationalism. The only way to beat them in our situation in Wales is with Welsh nationalism. Even if people aren’t particularly Welsh nationalist or even Welsh, to use that vehicle for change and to create a counterweight and a counterargument and a mass movement which is against the right-wing monetarist coup which is going on with Brexit.”
YesCymru carefully positions itself as non-party political but some critics have complained the organisation is too close to Plaid Cymru. Jobbins rejects those accusations: “The great thing with YesCymru is it plays a straight bat. We want independence. We don’t go into detail on whether to have nuclear power or not, or will it be Brexit or will we be in NATO? That’s another argument.”
“We are a broad church, just for independence. But there are other groups too which is great to see. There is Undod, which is a more left-wing Radical Scotland type group, there is Labour for an Independent Wales, of course there is Plaid Cymru and we have other groups. The great thing is there are people from those groups in Yes Cymru and just getting stuff done.”
“In Machynlleth Rhydian Mason, who is not a Plaid Cymru member and voted for Brexit, tabled a motion for Machynlleth to support independence and that’s happened because of what is happening around YesCymru. The family gives people the confidence, the strength, to do this kind of thing. YesCymru isn’t directing this. This is happening because people want it to happen.”
“There is obviously one party that wants independence but YesCymru is not part of Plaid Cymru. I think Plaid Cymru are very glad of that. It gives them the space to give their own different arguments. And we have Labour members who are also supportive of YesCymru and we want to keep that as it is. If people want to follow a more policy line there are parties for that and we support that. We are just for independence and I think that is the way it has to be at the moment.”