We have seen a surge in support for Welsh Independence in recent months. Something which appeared a pipedream not so long ago is becoming a far more mainstream view.
There are ‘hot bed’ areas for independence. Certain areas of Wales which have been the driving force for change. This valley has shifted support towards Plaid Cymru in recent local elections, I wonder whether our Swansea Valley is now a pro-independence area?
I spoke with the Chair of Yes Cymru Siôn Jobbins to find out what types of people were joining the movement: –
“All types of people for lots of different reasons. A poll we did with YouGov found 51% of people who voted Labour in the last election would now vote for independence. Plaid is obviously pro-independence, but we are seeing people who are English, Welsh, Indian, grandchildren, grandparents, a huge range of people joining.”
Yes Cymru started 2020 with around 2,500 members. It now has over 15,000 with over 3,000 people joining Yes Cymru over just one weekend in late October. This coincided with Westminster government refusing to furlough Welsh businesses during our ‘firebreak’ lockdown. I wonder if this is the drove the shift in public opinion: –
“A lot of people have seen that Wales has done a better job than Westminster. Especially with Covid. Ultimately Wales can do a better job of running Wales than Westminster can. It is less corrupt. Westminster have given 12 billion to the private sector for track and trace, this is more than the whole Welsh budget for the NHS. People think Westminster is the Mother of all parliament, but it is just the world’s best gentlemen’s club. The Assembly for all its fault has less perks etc… The MP’s most against Independence are the people who take most for expenses. It is a nice little earner.”
Economy post Independence
A common criticism of the Welsh Independence movement is that the Welsh economy would struggle without the United Kingdom. Sion disagrees “In the 1960s the Welsh economy was twice the size of the Republic of Ireland, today the economy of Eire is 4 times bigger than Wales. Something has gone very wrong. Without independence, the whole economy is about London.”
“You just need to look at the Furlough Scheme to see this. When the Welsh government asked for the Furlough scheme to be extended Westminster said no, Wales even said we would pay for it but they still refused. As soon as London and the South East of England went into lockdown then it forced their hand. In this crisis, Wales could be borrowing to get money into the economy, Westminster denies us by voting against us. If we had that power, we could be doing stuff.”
“If you look at HS2. It is costing over £100 billion. If we had our percentage of that then that would be billions of pounds for Wales to invest in our own railways. Wales exports twice as much energy than we use. 15% of Europe’s tidal power comes here in Wales. We manufacture more than other parts of the UK. We have lots to offer but are constrained by a system which doesn’t look after us.”
Scotland is further down the line with its independence movement and what happens there could be a large factor in Yes Cymru dreams “A lot of our members are keeping an eye on what happens in Scotland. Even people who are not for independence today. How would they feel when Scotland leave the UK? What will that mean for Wales? Northern Ireland is different. So, it will just be England and Wales then. The choice would be independence or being incorporated with England.”
I ask Sion whether he thinks there could be a vote on independence anytime soon? “I think there will be a vote sometime. It could just be a vote in the Senedd. Things could move very quickly. In the last few months, we have seen with internal market bill, Westminster trying to take more powers away from Wales. That has been a wakeup call to those in government in Wales. Those who have been supportive of working together can see that Westminster can take powers away. Once Scotland goes, I’d imagine that a lot will change quickly, and we need to change quickly. Labour needs to have a plan B if Scotland leaves.”
“There needs to be a path for independence. At the moment Yes Cymru gives the general argument to get the conversation going. Plaid Cymru have brought out their independence commission which sets out their issues. Similar to what Scotland did, people say they wasn’t clear enough but it was far more detailed than any other independence movement since WWII. In reality, I think that we would be following Scottish Independence and so a lot of the issues would be there for us to see first. It would not be a new thing, we wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel.”
Yes Cwm Tawe
Geraint Roberts from Ystradgynlais has long been a supporter of independence for Wales. He has been involved in setting up ‘Yes Cwm Tawe’ which is a new group set up within the Yes Cymru movement. “We cover the whole Tawe Valley.” Geraint tells me. “We have had so many people join from the valley recently that it is difficult to keep up. The group has not long started. Our facebook group, last Friday had 29 members, it has doubled in less than a week. 73 members today. I’m getting new details all the time. I have got in touch with some but there are so many new members in the valley that I am working through the list.”
With the pandemic, it is difficult for groups to get together and so Yes Cwm Tawe are relying on technologies “We had a zoom meeting last Friday (6th Nov) and we had only decided a day before to host one and yet there were people from Abercrave right down to Clydach. A dozen or so of us discussed what we are going to do and to officially set up the branch because it is that new, we only officially decided on it that day.”
Future Stalls Pontardawe / Clydach
There is clear frustration with both Sion and Geraint that they cannot get outside and use this momentum to get into the community. I wonder what we are likely to see when normal time return. “That’s some of the things that we were talking about. I was involved with Yes Cymru many years ago before there was much going on and the street stalls was a great way to communicate with people. That is something we are aiming to do. We were talking about having social events in pubs and cafes, but we obviously have no desire to be irresponsible and this is where the internet is really useful. Especially right now.”
Geraint feels that the independence movement was gathering pace prior to lockdown “I felt things were changing back in January, before Covid. I was in Loaf in Ystradgynlais and someone mentioned Independence and they said ‘you’d be in favour of that wouldn’t you’ towards me. But there were others there saying that they were talking about it too, people I wouldn’t have thought would be supportive. Since Covid that has moved on again.”
“I’ve been to all the marches and I was astounded with the first one in Cardiff. I was in the front and I could not believe there was more and more people coming. I expected a few hundred and there were thousands. To see people like Eddie Butler and Neville Southall, it was inspiring.”
I wonder whether the Swansea Valley is a popular place for independence “I certainly wouldn’t say that we are below the Welsh average. Everything is moving so fast that we are still waiting to get all the details of the latest influx but what we can say is that the numbers are going up all the time.”
Yes Cymru Trebanos?
I spoke with Chris who lives in Trebanos. He is recently leaning towards independence but has not completely made his mind up. I wonder what factors are making people like him think again about our position in the United Kingdom.
“I think Covid has highlighted the in-balance between the two nations. There are little comments and terminologies which belittles what we do here in Wales. No matter what direction we are going in, it seems that we are being belittled. The media have made out that Wales is going on its own, Scotland is going alone or Northern Ireland is going alone but it has been England going alone not the rest of us. They belittled our firebreak which was following the science. They ridiculed it and then they had to do it harder and longer afterwards.”
Local Issues Sriving Independence
It is not just the media and Covid reactions which are making people think again. Polls were already beginning to show greater support for independence prior to the pandemic. It is local issues which also influence Chris “I think there is an opportunity to look at what happens here in Wales a bit more. I was a bit frustrated the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon was scrapped, that was an opportunity to be pioneering. It stopped because of costs but then other schemes which cost even more are greenlighted in other regions. The electrification to Swansea was stopped at Cardiff. These decisions I believe were made in Westminster.”
Chris is also frustrated at the lack of clear water between the nation of England and the UK government “On social media, the UK government shares videos and messages which are just for England. There is a thought that maybe England need its own parliament. Would an assembly for England be better and then to have Westminster to support and develop the whole of the UK? I understand that Westminster is more or less the English parliament but I think that if Westminster was for the whole of the UK and England had a separate parliament on par with us then that would allow Westminster to focus on wider UK issues.”
Westminster’s Muddy Water
I ask whether he was one of the thousands of people recently joining Yes Cymru “Not yet. Purely on the edges. I have considered it but I think its just a case of sitting down and reading their plan. I am swayed towards Yes. If we had the vote today, then I would probably say yes. It would be a bit of an experiment but when you see those countries of relative size, it is possible and at the end of the day; why not?”
In 2014, YouGov found that 74% of people were against Welsh Independence. Over the summer of 2020, that figure had dopped to 54% and it is likely to have dropped further since. In this time the ‘Yes’ vote has more than doubled but those who are undecided is increasing too.
When normal life returns, we could become accustomed to ‘Yes Cymru’ stalls in Pontardawe and Clydach on Saturday mornings. This is a discussion which we are likely to be having more often.