Should Wales Be?
Once upon a time, in my younger days, I vehemently advocated the formation of a British football team. My logic was sound: think of how good a British team would have been with the likes of Neville Southall in goals and Ryan Giggs finally able to play on the stage that he belonged. We would be stronger together, as they say. My opinion on this subject has long since changed, led by my growing appreciation for the ironic lack of equal union that there is within the United Kingdom.
This growing sense of unease sparked a little in 2014 when I watched Scotland engage in their independence referendum. I have much respect for how the Scottish have pushed back against the status quo in recent years, forcing Westminster into a rearguard action and leaving all of us with the hope of real constitutional change. But my hope changed to despair with the Brexit vote. With all of my optimism towards Scottish independence it didn't occur to me that the Welsh would correspondingly stab themselves in the back by voting to leave the European Union just 2 years later. The EU is quite possibly the greatest wealth redistribution system ever created, and Wales has been a net beneficiary of that system. The EU has funded us because we were identified as being the poorest region in Western Europe. This funding has allowed us to make considerable progress in recent years, despite continuing to be underfunded by the Westminster system.
Since the 23rd of June 2016 there has already been talk of a second referendum to get rid of the Welsh Assembly Government and to centralise power in Westminster again. If this is what the Brexit voters wanted when they made their "protest" vote I would be very surprised. If this were to happen then they would very quickly find that any semblance of power and relevance that they may have previously had will have gone forever. The people of Wales have developed a strong reputation for being the shrinking violet of British politics for many years now. We seem to be simply disinterested in asserting ourselves on the international stage. As a result of this we have found ourselves largely ignored by the wider UK system. We all know this to be true, even those who would defend the union. This was most pointedly exhibited recently when the UK began its discussions about what Brexit actually means, inviting a specific Brexit Minister from Scotland, and leaving Carwyn Jones at home to lick his wounds and scrub his begging bowl clean. So it was that on the 17th June 2016, the day before Scotland celebrated the second anniversary of their independence referendum, with a very real threat to Welsh autonomy being voiced in the halls of power, thousands of people lined the streets of Cardiff, to watch a giant peach. Under ordinary circumstances, the celebration of Roald Dahl's birthday in such a manner would be something to be proud of, but the date of the event only seemed to serve as an ironic indication of just how low Wales has sunk into irrelevance. I sincerely hope that we will one day have our own referendum. But I fear that if we don't wake up soon, it will be a referendum to answer a question that we won't like. And after it is all said and done, there won't be a need for a Welsh football team anymore, and Carwyn will have to dry off that bowl sooner than he thought.
On the same day that people scrambled around Cardiff after the giant peach, Yes Cymru Caerdydd held their first rally in the Hayes, Cardiff. Attendance was relatively small but significant and the large crowds of people in the city for other reasons helped to get their voice out to those who might not otherwise have listened. YesCymru is a cross-party campaign group formed, I suspect, as a reaction to the calls for independence from Scotland, and the impact that it is having on the rest of the UK. There I saw many people who share my feelings of concern for the future of a country that sometimes feels like it has dozed itself into a coma. Mark Hooper began with some important points about the conversations we who support an independent Wales will have to have with those who might not share our vision. Neil McEvoy AM gave a rousing speech about the need for a film about Owain Glyndwr and the hope that we might finally be able to understand our own shared history; Sandra Clubb spoke about the importance of women in movements for change, and Nick from Wales in the Movies spoke of the need to avoid statements of certainty in our campaigns but to ask questions.
Perhaps most notably, former Labour MP for Carmarthen, Gwynoro Jones, encouraged YesCymru in their efforts and warned of the risk of Wales becoming just a region of England. With Mr Jones now advocating the formation of an independent Wales it is clear that the times are changing. We are on the cusp of a great moment in the history of these islands and if we are not careful we may just find ourselves climbing out of the rubble after it's all happened and having to ask for directions home from those who are already rebuilding. We must share in this campaign with those of YesCymru and help to declare ourselves capable of paving our own path in the future. It is clear that we must change the minds of many more people in Wales over the coming years. But first, we must get them to listen.