YesCymru needs reform – but members should vote against the new proposals at the EGM
Back in October 2018, Iwan Rhys published an article here, on Nation.Cymru, urging the members of YesCymru (YC) to attend that year’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) to vote down proposed amendments to the organisation’s constitution. Then, Iwan argued that YC had experienced a successful year, but needed to make sure that it didn’t take a wrong turn.
Little over three years later, YesCymru has grown to be a mass movement, its membership rivalling that of the Labour Party in Wales. Yet while it has grown almost beyond recognition, few would argue that 2021 has been a successful year for YesCymru. It has been riven by infighting, bullying and bitter division – and it is now on the verge of taking another very serious wrong turn that could have long-term implications for the cause of Welsh independence.
On Saturday the 11th, an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of YesCymru will be held online to decide on the future shape of the movement. All members have been invited to attend, and to vote on a proposal that has been drawn up by a small group of members – the Gweithgor – who have been working on reforming the YC constitution since August. If you are a member of YesCymru, I urge you to read on, to register as a delegate for this EGM, and to vote against the Gweithgor’s proposal.
Until early October I was a member of the Gweithgor, appointed as a delegate by my local group, YesBethesda. Mid-way through the process of drafting the new constitution I resigned in protest at what I considered to be an opaque and unaccountable decision-making process.
Having been, at least partially, involved in drawing up the Gweithgor’s proposal, I have some insight into what is being put to the members at the EGM. Parts of the Gweithgor’s proposal is valuable and has the potential to change YesCymru for the better. But as they stand these reforms are still at an early, half-formed stage, and not ready to be put into practice. More worryingly, they also involve unpicking important aspects of the existing constitution that are progressive and left-leaning in nature.
To give the Gweithgor its dues, the proposal contains two important recommendations about how to improve the organisation. First, it asks the members to approve a change in YesCymru’s structure, moving from being an unincorporated association to becoming a (non-profit) Company Limited by Guarantee (CLG). This would provide YC with a legal and regulatory framework that will help guard its members interests, while also limiting the liability of those elected to its executive – which I welcome and support.
More importantly, perhaps, the proposal would – if enacted – eventually eliminate the National Committee from YC’s structures. Much of the blame for the crisis of the past few months can be laid at the door of the National Committee, an unelected and wholly unrepresentative assembly of delegates from YesCymru’s “Groups” (or local branches).
Despite the fact that the National Committee has little in the way of democratic legitimacy, it wields exactly the same powers as the Central Committee, YesCymru’s elected executive. This past Summer the National Committee decided to use those powers to overturn the results of a perfectly fair election, by means of an entirely unconstitutional vote of no confidence. YesCymru will take a major step towards becoming a properly functioning democratic organisation by the removal of the National Committee.
Yet, despite these positive reforms, I vehemently oppose the Gweithgor’s proposal because of a number of other provisions that it includes. Most problematically, it undoes a vitally important recent reform to the YesCymru constitution. Currently 50% of the members of the Central Committee – YesCymru’s Executive – must be female or non-binary, and at least one member must be from a Black or Minority Ethnic (BAME) background.
The Gweithgor’s proposal would replace the Central Committee with an elected board of executive directors, but there is no mechanism in their proposal to ensure equal gender representation, or any BAME representation. The Gweithgor may well argue that this is an accidental oversight, and this may well be true – but it is the kind of accident that only seems to occur when decision-making bodies are overwhelmingly male and white, as the Gweithgor happens to be. Accidental or not, it is a very significant step backwards for YesCymru, and one that will serve only to undermine the diversity of the movement.
This is not the only aspect of the Gweithgor’s proposals that should cause concern to progressive members of the organisation. YesCymru has always taken great pains not to align itself with any one political party. It is, and must always be, a broad church if it wants to build sufficient support for the cause. Yet while it has always been non-partisan in a very narrow sense of the word YC has never been unideological.
The YesCymru’s constitution clearly lays out the aims of the organisation: to build a new Wales that is internationalist and European, that embraces diversity and is inclusive of minorities. This is hardly a revolutionary position to take, and locates the organisation slightly left-of-centre. It is also – contrary to what some may think – not a new position; this is a vision that has been consistently articulated by YesCymru since it was established in 2015.
What the Gweithgor proposes, however, is to eliminate even this very mild centre-leftism from YC’s constitution in favour of a vague pursuit of independence for independence’s sake, nothing more. On the face of it, this may seem innocuous; a simple attempt to broaden the appeal of the movement to a greater range of political supporters.
But consider for a moment what is being removed from the current constitution – any reference to internationalism, to Europe, to inclusivity, to race, religion, ethnicity and gender. What is it about these things, specifically, that mean that they should no longer be part of our collective vision for the movement? Who exactly would we be appealing to by eliminating any reference to these things, and who are we turning away?
There are plenty of other lesser reasons to object to the Gweithgor’s proposal, too numerous and arcane to explore in detail here. The new structure of the organisation is Byzantine, far too convoluted and with poor lines of accountability – take a look at the proposed new organisational chart, and ask yourself how it could be expected to function?
There is also a total lack of clarity as to how the new proposed structures will be put into practice, both in the short- and medium-term. Yet members are being asked, at the EGM, to immediately suspend the powers of the Central Committee and transfer responsibility for the day-to-day running of YesCymru into the hands of an interim administration. How that is to happen – indeed who is to make up this interim administration – will only be revealed to the members once they have voted to adopt the Gweithgor’s proposal.
It is therefore, in my opinion, absolutely imperative that the Gweithgor’s proposal is voted down. If their recommendations are rejected by the members, then this will allow YesCymru to move forward to elect a new Central Committee under the current constitution, and set the organisation back on its feet. A newly-elected Central Committee could then engage in an open and transparent discussion of how to reform the organisation, involving the entire membership instead of a small, secretive group of unelected members.
This would allow us to finally close the door on this unedifying episode in YesCymru’s story, and move forward to build a new organisation, and a new nation, that represents the best of Wales.