The age old cliche advises us to be careful what we wish for. This may be something that Brexiteers should bare in mind in the future. For many years they have yearned to be in the position they now find themselves in. But when such changes happen there are inevitable, unforeseen or otherwise ignored, consequences that might arise. A pertinent example is the case of Scottish independence. This ongoing issue has only been exacerbated by the Scots' feelings of disempowerment. The issue is even further complicated by Northern Ireland and their border with the Republic. There remains no immediate answer to this problem and nerves appear increasingly frayed.
The response in Wales to Brexit would appear to be a muted one, and nothing has been reported in the media to suggest any ill wind for 'Brexit Britain'. As far as this is concerned the people of Wales have dealt themselves a very bad hand. Where as both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain a part of the European Union, Wales voted with its neighbour to the east and as such has been largely ignored or unseen in the discourse that has followed.
That the people of Wales chose to place themselves in this position continues to cause much confusion. The financial benefits of EU membership to Wales are well known and as you drive past the many new developments in this small country you can't now help but notice the blue signs identifying these various funding streams. The real benefit of the EU to the people of Wales has perhaps been more subtle than that though. The EU gave Wales a place in the world, recognizing it as a country in its own right, and protecting its specific cultural differences. Correspondingly, those who have sought to reassert a sense of Britishness, and Westminster's sovereignty in it, have long claimed that "the Welsh...are not a people". As a result of this protection Welsh nationalism had been largely pacified since achieving devolution in 1999. The EU had allowed the people of Wales to live together in relative peace with their divergent identities. Those who felt Welsh could feel confident that their culture and country would continue to quietly develop as their Assembly grew in confidence and stature, and those who felt British could continue to feel that Wales was part of a wider United Kingdom.
Despite the differences in fortunes between Plaid Cymru and the SNP in recent years nationalism in Wales has always been there. This nationalism can be evidenced by Plaid Cymru's continued, if slow progress, in traditional Labour heartlands. It has been achieved without the clearly stated vision of the SNP and with what some consider to be the burden of the Welsh language weighing them down. Sport has been an essential tool for this nationalism and the degree of its importance could perhaps be seen at Euro 2016 when the country came together in support of its footballing heroes.
Nevertheless, without this occasional opportunity there have rarely been moments when such an unusually shy nationalism has been willing to lift its head above the parapet. For many of these people, quietly sitting in the shadows, Brexit has felt like a defining moment, a real and present danger that cannot be ignored. On the evening of Wednesday the 30th November 2016 a group of twenty such people gathered in The Schooner Arms, a pub off Swansea City Centre, to plan for the future. These people have come together under the banner of YesCymru, a nation wide, non-partisan group, focused on promoting only one thing - independence for Wales.
If you doubt that Brexit has changed things in Wales then only consider the organiser of this group. Tricia Roberts is a quiet, clearly shy lady, who has never in her life been involved with politics. She has never marched for something that she felt passionately about and she has never campaigned for a political group. Born and raised in Burry Port she has lived and worked in Swansea most of her life, without ever seeking to make waves. Yet following Brexit she took to the internet, and after some further conversations with others, she had formed YesCymruAbertawe, and here she was speaking in front of a group of strangers telling them that she "couldn't do nothing anymore". When people like this involve themselves in politics something has changed.
Just one week before this meeting, Tricia Roberts made history, arranging and holding the first ever Welsh independence rally in Swansea on Saturday the 19th of November 2016. This rally was arranged following similar events in Cardiff and Caernarfon and was attended by a large group of interested persons despite the pouring rain. Tricia had even participated in a local radio interview to promote the rally, giving further indication of her willingness to serve this cause.
Just one week later, in the Schooner Arms, a large group of similar people who had never met before, shared their experiences and planned for the future. They spoke of the threat that they felt Brexit posed both to their country and its burgeoning democratic systems; they also spoke of the opportunity that Brexit offered them to progress the goal of Welsh independence. By the end of the meeting they had agreed that the days of quietly sitting on the side of history had passed for the Welsh, and that it was their responsibility to now make themselves visible. In 2017 YesCymruAbertawe will be regularly placing themselves in the centre of Swansea, engaging with the public and speaking about the future of Wales. They will be seeking to answer peoples questions and to have a conversation about something that people had simply dismissed as impossible in the past.
It would be very easy to also dismiss this small change as something that won't last. This may well be true. However, it is worth noting that YesCymruAbertawe was set up with the support of members from YesCymruCaerdydd and one of the things spoken about in the Schooner Arms was the need to spread this message further across Wales, to encourage the normalisation of the independence conversation and the creation of further YesCymru groups. If those who fear the economic impact of Brexit are correct then the Brexiteers may well be looking to put the genie back in the bottle in two years time and YesCymru, if they can achieve even a small percentage of their lofty goals, will be well positioned to benefit.
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"Be strong, think, question, live”
May 20, 2017
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