Opinion

YesCymru’s problem are a result of its own explosive growth – it needs to professionalise, and quickly

14 Aug 2021 6 minutes Read
Lluniau gan / Pictures by Lluniau Lleucu

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.

Bogged down

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.

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Carl Iwan
Carl Iwan
2 months ago

…..and beware the ‘agents provocateurs’ that bedevil any organisation that challenges the British establishment –

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
2 months ago
Reply to  Carl Iwan

At present I think most of the provocative agents are those who are obsessed with there being bad actors within the movement. They are of course correct, but ironically it is they who are the bad actors spreading FUD.

Any genuinely suspected activity of bad actors placed by a state, (Russian, North Korean, British) and concrete evidence needs to be submitted to the relevant YC officer. Not become idle speculation.

Crwtyn Cemais
Crwtyn Cemais
2 months ago

Dadansoddiad a chyngor ardderchog, Ifan – diolch ~ Excellent analysis and advice, Ifan – thankyou

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
2 months ago

I think this misses the central issue that we have witnessed over the last few weeks. That is cultural. We need to recognize that Welsh society is plural and diverse. In identities and opinions. We need to accept this and adopt a code of conduct that allows us to rub along with different views and visions for Wales. Rudeness, tribalism and personal attacks should be rejected by all. Greater professionalism in YC’s central management is unlikely to have a major impact on that essential problem. Cymdeithas is essentially managed by volunteer activists, and its policy agenda is much more complex… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Cai Wogan Jones
Cynan
Cynan
2 months ago

That still seems a little more hierarchical than I’d like. But it’s an improvement on the current sad state of affairs and professionals running the day to day seems a step in the right direction.
I suggest this addendum: Maximum terms of 4 years (non-renewable) for CC members. No opportunity to occupy a different CC role. 4 years and done.
Something in the articles about a commitment to respecting other members. Shouldn’t be needed. Clearly is.

Cynan
Cynan
2 months ago

STILL bickering. Stop bickering. I WILL send you ALL to the naughty step!
Done is done. Retreat, reconsider, reset, re-engage.
If they can agree a shaky peace in NI, it can be achieved in YC.
Or we can be stuck with Unionist rule for another 50 years!

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
2 months ago

I agree 100% about the debacle surrounding the electoral system within YesCymru, but I have serious doubts about ‘professionalisation’ My gut instinct about appointing a CEO is to reject the notion entirely. YesCymru is at base a democratically structured organisation with the sole aim of gaining independence for Cymru, nothing else. It’s categorically not a corporate entity. The very last thing that YesCymru needs to be is to be run like a local authority, or a mainstream TUC union where paid officials wield executive powers. Certainly YC needs paid staff to take care of administrative work and the day to… Read more »

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
2 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Agree. We must learn to cooperate respectfully in pursuit of the cause of independence with people we disagree with on many issues. Wales is much more diverse in opinions and identities than many of us appreciate.

Last edited 2 months ago by Cai Wogan Jones
CJPh
CJPh
2 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

On matters of specific policy, political philosophy etc, I don’t think there are many regular posters I find myself diametrically opposed to more than Padi here (despite his erudition and evident good faith in his arguments and other utterances) – He is 100% right here. Further, there cannot possibly be a better example of our ability to actually form our own independent state; there are those with a more heteronomous bent, couching a will to enact certain societal changes with a veneer of rhyddid. This statement from Padi is the exact opposite and I applaud you for this. More Padis… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by CJPh
Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
2 months ago

Wise counsel from Ifan – wise counsel which all of us who want to see an independent Wales and want to see Yes Cymru get over its recent difficulties would do well to heed!

Mawkernewek
2 months ago

“YesCymru should be run much more like a local council”

How a local council is run in theory, or as it is in practice?

Keith Evans
Keith Evans
2 months ago

I general I agree with the article,the devil however is always in the detail,I’ve gone through life thinking of myself as “of the left” politically,so was somewhat of a suprise to become a fascist overnight , according to one group within Yes Cymru,the Transphobic allegations against many members show the weakness of allowing any group to set the definitions of what is offensive ,the anti semitism allegations against Jeremy Corbyn showed( for me) the flaws in this.To clarify, up to maybe 2016 I would have supported 100% any group having complete control in setting the parameters of what constitutes discriminate… Read more »

CJPh
CJPh
2 months ago
Reply to  Keith Evans

It may seem a tad glib, but I think the people that engage in this culture war need to step out from their basements/loft conversions/dorms and see that 99% of Cymru don’t know and don’t care about their little semantic games. This isn’t a lack of compassion, it is that the real world doesn’t get effected by such things. Tyfwch lan, better people than you have played this game and lost. Lost hard. Build something before you feel confident that destroying something is the right course of action. The internet Left and the Internet Right should seem infantile and weird… Read more »

Dex7
Dex7
2 months ago
Reply to  Keith Evans

I was there way before you: YC Casnewydd were selecting Kulaks quite some time ago – despite being a Bakunin Anarchist (I’ll settle for Social Democracy), I got booted off for supporting the inclusion of Tories – apparently that made me transphobic. Have a look at Bill C16 in Canada, where a small group in the Trans community have elected themselves as the voice of all Trans people, and created an abomination in the Law that is Compelled Speech.

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
2 months ago

I certainly agree with changing the voting format. A link sent to each member is the best idea. The organisation now needs to hire a professional CEO – there needs to be structure and professionalism right down to each local group.

Dai Hawkins
Dai Hawkins
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Duggan

Steve Duggan.
Dw i ddim yn cofio bod yn ymwybodol bod yr etholiad yn digwydd.

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards
2 months ago

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.” Not so easy. Here are 3 views which I hold 1. Wales needs an alternative to Labour/Plaid woke 2. Wales lacks knowledge of how to run itself, and needs to learn. 3. Wales lacks dynamism, too risk-averse. Acid test – any likely YesCymru CC will cancel me, won’t it?

hdavies15
hdavies15
2 months ago

It may just be a reflection of an unpleasant truth – that too many people in the nationalist movement are afraid of independence ! Our current situation provides bags of scope for protest, for campaigning, even abusing others within the movement. This note will be seen as abusive by some although recent examples of hate within YC makes this little scribble appear quite insignificant. I have not seen much evidence of deep thought and constructive debate around the subjects relevant to ” how do we run this thing when it breaks free ?” yet people are quick to trot out… Read more »

j humphrys
j humphrys
2 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Please don’t!

Quornby
Quornby
2 months ago

Together!!!!!!!! We can win this!

Mandi A
Mandi A
2 months ago

So Dr Morgan Jones thunders down from his digital pulpit that YesCymru should be run corporately, professionally, “like a local council”. A bit like the Labour Party perhaps with its Executive, its paid Officers, its Branches and CLPs which create endless storms of dissent. A local council with its appointed portfolio holders, the occasional one working from Panama on “holiday”. Some councillors hold very senior positions on the slimmest of public votes because no-one will stand against them. We are allowed to have an opinion on their performance once in four years. Is that democracy? In his piece, Dr Morgan… Read more »

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