The future of democracy is held, at least partly, in the hands of the people of Wales. The Senedd, the Welsh Government, and the mechanics of governance have had their ups and downs over the past quarter of a century. But in that short time the overall trajectory has been upwards, with incremental improvements when possible.
This is terrific news for Wales, as it suggests that with genuine control we could soon emulate the success of other small Independent nations such as Estonia, Slovenia, and Iceland. The natural progression for Wales – as a nation, a democracy, and a developing presence on the international stage – is independence. Or is it?
Who will wear the apron strings?
The ties to British institutions are as strong and pervasive as bindweed. Some feel a strong sense of duty to or even pride in the monarchy and the shared history of Empire; of ideological unity in the twentieth century; of ‘success’ in the two great conflicts that tore our collective world apart. Conflict that still lies within living memory. The armed forces, political institutions, and political parties are linked to the population by an umbilical cord. They are emblems of generations of the people of these islands, a glue that links all our histories together.
Opinion polls fluctuate on the question of independence for Wales. Around a third of those polled in Wales see self-determination as the way forward. Support for independence crosses traditional barriers of geography, party politics, and language, and seems to be consistently spread across Wales.
Another third of our population is sitting, for now, on the opposite side of the fence. Again, this demographic is not constrained by boundaries, whether geographic, linguistic, or political.
This leaves us with the middle third: the undecided, curious, and unbothered. These are the people who will truly decide the future path of Wales. Will they become engaged? Will they take the time to inform themselves? Will they form a view on Welsh independence? Will the arguments for or against independence be strong enough to foster engagement? Can they be inspired to interrogate their own beliefs? To challenge their own assumptions? To understand that, for things to be better, we must change in some way?
Who will choose the way?
Whatever tectonic plates shift in UK politics over the next few years, the constitutional future of Wales will boil down to a battle for around a third of our population. Political forces in Wales and Westminster and further afield, progressive changes in Scotland, the possible reunification of Ireland: all will have their impacts on Wales. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the UK status quo will not survive. An alternative must emerge.
Will this mean a semi-autonomous, devolved, big-brother-little-brother relationship with an English Westminster government? Could this even be the beginning of the end for the devolution process in Wales? A subjugation within a ‘ Greater English’ state?
Or could it be that we discover we are brave enough, confident enough, care enough, to stand on our own feet and take our place on the world stage? Stepping up, as so many nations have over the past 80 years, embracing Independence and thriving as a consequence.
Crunch time approaches for Wales, and for the UK. Not only do we need to choose our path, but the nebulous cloud of emotional ideology will need to be blown away. While emotion and history will always play a part in the debate, hard facts and figures will eventually crystallise into informed opinion and confidence. It’s time to light the pyres of discussion, debate, and discourse.
I believe enough of us care about the future of Wales and its future generations. All of us care enough to understand that something needs to give, change must happen for things to improve. After all, Wales has form across the centuries. Wales has made things happen. Culturally we have long done so collectively, we are a nation of community.
Perhaps in this age, with its vast digital landscape, our forums and public spaces are different. The days of crowds at hustings and debating events might be over. Debate and discourse are often now keyboard-to-keyboard rather than face-to-face. Will we ever see the days of vast political gatherings again? Something we Welsh have historically enjoyed!
Perhaps, but either way our online spaces will be part of the modern landscape of multiple platforms of engagement and communication. The gelatinous nature of politics and belief binds people together. It can also lead to toxic echo-chambers of extremism which foster ignorance and even hatred.
Who cares enough?
History tells us that, eventually, people will find a collective voice when change becomes imperative. How this voice is projected will be as varied as history itself. Voices will emerge from introverted cocoons to become voices of reason in debate in the bar, the canteen, or around a kitchen table. This might develop into an affiliation with organised campaign groups. It might result in a desire for activism, and the need to ‘do’ something in the interests of change.
Campaigning is the culmination of the activism of the collective, seldom of the individual. If a collective can amass enough passion, desire, and belief, if it can agree on a clear vision of its end goal, then that campaign can and will succeed.
In our journey towards an independent Wales, our message is strong and clear: Wales needs to gain independence in order to thrive as a nation in the twenty-first century. To do so for the benefit of all its citizens. The campaign is rooted in the confidence of the possible, through discussions, debate, and discourse. The front lines of the campaign are pubs, workplaces, community centres, cafes, homes, clubs, parks, and pavements.
However, even a grassroots campaign must be organised. We must accept the reality today that any campaign needs resources in order to succeed. A membership organisation like YesCymru only succeeds through the efforts and activism of its network of members. It is in the work of many members, doing the small things, that it can support a sustained multifaceted campaign across all the communities of Wales.
If enough of us do care, and care enough, we can grow the campaign not only through sheer numbers, but through the strength of a mass-movement campaign. The goal is clear, and the message is clear. So ask yourself: do I care? And more importantly in building a successful campaign, do I care enough? Do enough of us care enough?
Editor’s note: It is the editorial policy of Bylines Cymru to publish all arguments and opinions for, against, or agnostic about Welsh independence as long as they are within the bounds of civil discourse. In this way we hope to provide an open platform for discussion of the subject from all perspectives.