YesCymru’s problem are a result of its own explosive growth – it needs to professionalise, and quickly
Ifan Morgan Jones
With the resignation of YesCymru’s entire Central Committee, the movement now stands at a crossroads.
It could collapse, as so many attempts at forming a Welsh national movement have done throughout history.
Or YesCymru can learn from these problems, professionalise, turn the page of this fraught and unpleasant chapter, and move forwards stronger than before.
There are some issues within the movement that aren’t immediately solvable, of course. Any national movement sits on political faultlines that will always cause friction – and the occasional earthquake.
So-called ‘cuture war’ issues around racism and transphobia transcend YesCymru and unfortunately can’t be solved by the movement alone.
All YesCymru can do is ensure it provides a safe space for anyone from any background, ethnicity or gender that wants to campaign within it.
People in YesCymru can campaign for a ‘left wing’ Wales, people in YesCymru can campaign for a ‘right wing’ Wales. The only view that should be unwelcome in YesCymru is the view that anyone – particularly any minority group – should be made to feel unsafe or unwelcome within the movement.
Beyond these, however, there are problems within YesCymru that the movement can solve. And I think that much of the inability to deal on an administrative level with the internal fallout over specific political issues are actually a symptom of these solvable structural failings.
The two biggest things that need fixing for YesCymru, and quickly if it is to progress, are a) its flawed electoral system, and b) its voluntary and therefore amateur administration.
Both these problems result from YesCymru growing at an explosive pace in the space of a year.
From early to late 2020, the movement grew from around 3,000 members to almost 20,000. It transformed from a small pressure group to a mass movement, with more members than all but one of Wales’ political parties.
However, what did not change was how the YesCymru worked internally. Its constitution, electoral system and largely voluntary ethos stayed the same.
This meant that when almost the entire Central Committee stepped down earlier this year, to be replaced by a new cohort, some growing pains were inevitable and difficult questions were bound to be asked by a more demanding and diverse membership about how the movement was being run.
The election was held under the old system, where you had to sign up to the AGM to vote. Few members did – most, probably, did not even know it was on.
It meant that the CC was elected by around 2% of members. While claims that a ‘coup’ had taken place were hyperbolic, it put the CC in the position of having a particularly weak democratic mandate.
This wasn’t helped by some claims on social media following the vote that one faction within the movement had ‘won’ and beaten the other.
But the political skirmish that followed was a symptom of the organisational failure rather than its cause. If the election had been run in a way that encouraged the greatest turnout possible, no one would have credibly been able to complain of entryism or stolen elections.
An election that encourages the widest political participation possible would not only give the Central Committee a stronger mandate but also inevitably deliver one that was more representative of the wishes of the entire membership.
Ideally, rather than having to attend a time-limited meeting, all members should be emailed a password and given a good week or two to make their choice under a proportional vote system.
The second issue is the amateur administration – and I don’t say ‘amateur’ critically, but as a fact. A dozen voluntary committee members are never going to be able to deal with the challenges posed by running an organisation of 20,000 members.
That the Chair and CC found this incredibly stressful and had to resign, with some citing mental health concerns, shouldn’t come as a surprise.
There is no reason why they should have been in that position. Every member of YesCymru pays a minimum of £2 a month each. Over a year that’s almost half a million pounds coming into the movement’s coffers – probably more since many will make a larger contribution.
To put that in perspective, this website Nation.Cymru has just over 1,000 monthly supporters and we employ three full-time members of staff.
With 20,000 supporters YesCymru should have at least 10 or more full-time, professional members of staff – and on competitive salaries, too – with plenty left over to pay for billboards, pamphlets and adverts.
With many thousands of members who don’t see eye-to-eye politically, within a particularly politically polarised electorate, and all within the maelstrom of social media, YesCymru is always going to be hit with a barrage of complaints. It is inevitable. But full-time members of staff would give them the administrative capability to deal with those without getting bogged down, while also maintaining a focus of campaigning for the movement’s main goal.
A first step would be to employ a CEO with experience of running an SME to do the job, who could then make informed decisions about what other staff are needed.
In this way, YesCymru should be run much more like a local council. At a council, you have elected members who vote on political decisions but the day-to-day work of running the organisation is done by the Council’s Chief Executive and full-time officers.
Members of the CC should then be elected every year at the AGM, with non-consecutive four-year terms so that not all members stand down at once as happened earlier this year.
These elected members would scrutinise and vote on work done by the CEO and the ten or more full-time staff employed by the organisation to quickly settle internal disputes while keeping the public focus on its core message.
Professionalising YesCymru will however, as a first step, depend on electing a new CC with the right mindset. Competent, mature and level-headed individuals, who can talk to those they don’t necessarily agree politically with, will be needed who are focused on the central goal of putting these professional structures in place.
If that is done, with any luck for YesCymru, the debacle of the last few months will not have dampened the enthusiasm of members for Welsh independence.
And perhaps historians will look back at this year, not as one of a Cymru Fydd-style collapse but rather one of growing pains which the movement ultimately overcame, and marched on.