Who cares about Wales?
Over the decades, who has actually given a jot about Wales and its citizens? Did the dynastic quarry, pit and mine owners of the industrial revolution? Did the landowners that squeezed every dram of effort from the workers who ploughed its soil? Well, those who did were few and far between.
Did the successive political dynasties see Wales as little more than a bountiful Eldorado of resources to feed, roof and fuel the greatest empire the world has ever seen? Probably not. What about the executives of the NCB responsible for tip No7 of the Merthyr Vale Colliery? History will show us otherwise.
Do the masses of Mountain Warehouse dressed warriors care as much about Wales and its people as much as they do about its beauty as they strive towards the nirvana of their ‘happy place’ by sea or up a mountain? Well, occasionally they do, but unfortunately, they are few and far between.
Luckily, across the centuries, people have cared. Cared enough to get together to accomplish Herculean feats. From the power of the Chartist movement and the miners’ strike to the language campaigners of recent decades. With vision and passion, our communities have pulled together to create the working classes’ cathedrals to learning such as the Workers Education Association (WEA), the workers halls and our very own schools and universities.
We are lucky - a lot of us care and have cared about Wales over the years.
Who cares about the way we are governed?
Do we care about how we are governed? Do people in the early years of the 21st century actually care about how and who happens to be in government at any point in time? It is sadly the case that those of us that take an interest in politics and its mechanics are very much in the minority today, and maybe party politics has mostly dissolved into a grey lukewarm soup of murkiness over the years, the boundaries blurred between all the key components.Voter participation in Wales at local and Senedd level is very poor indeed and over a third of voters won’t even turn out for a General Election despite the relentless media coverage that comes with it. Have we become apathetic because we know that we have no agency here in Wales, it doesn’t matter who we vote for, injustice, unfairness and poor treatment for Wales will continue.
The perception that none of the political class of this century hold the moral scruples of their predecessors is constantly renewed by the actions of many politicians. Successive Westminster scandals, from expenses to partygate, have left the legacy of a public more disengaged than ever with politics and governance, and electioneering is now nothing more than who can shout their three word slogan the loudest.
Enduring our fourth economic downturn in 15 years on the back of a global pandemic and a messy divorce from our biggest trading partner has focused vast swathes of the people of Wales on survival. A large proportion of our population have learnt how to blank out the white noise of rhetoric in the traditional media as much as the new, and surviving until the next pay-day with the occasional mid-month flourish on the odd meal or takeaway is the new norm. What difference does political bluster and rhetoric actually make? We are poor and getting poorer and knuckling down to get by is sucking up our collective energy and enthusiasm.
Fortunately, a great deal of us still care. Sufficient numbers of people care to turn out to vote, to engage in debate in the pubs or in on-line forums and chats. There is a realisation that good governance does make a real difference to daily life, from public health policies in times of crisis to legislation and litigation that prevents tenants from being burned alive in their high-rise homes. Maybe the crossfire of on-line and off-line misinformation will polarise and cloud the pond, but decent people will always strive for truth and fairness, and should expect integrity, passion and compassion from those who govern.
Who cares who governs?
Party politics might well be a cloudy soup, but the question of who makes the decisions is alive and well, the ruling Conservative party in Westminster are identifiable enough in the public domain, as are the Labour administration in Cardiff Bay.
Further down the food-chain it is less clear - apart from the odd charismatic opposition leader, who knows anything about who is who, and what is what? Do most of us actually know the difference between Party, Government or Parliament in Wales? Do we really know where the Westminster responsibility ends and the Senedd begins how Welsh Government projects, statutory obligations and regulations interact with governance? Can we grasp the absurdities and inadequacies of the devolution settlement as it stands today?
This lack of understanding of the basic functions of our democratic institutions is itself a threat to our devolved structures. As time goes by, understanding does improve, and so does confidence, those in Wales who've grown up with the Welsh Government feel far more keenly that Westminster treats Wales poorly, they too accept implicitly that Wales has a government and, as a direct result, are much more likely to believe that Wales should stand on its own and divest itself of Westminster rule completely. The Senedd is yet to win over the hearts and minds of all the citizens of Wales, a weak press and patchy broadcast media make it hard to cut through the confusion of overlap in political authority and harder still for the Senedd and its politicians to communicate broadly, easily and well with the whole of Wales. Even so, Wales has democratically and emphatically put its weight behind the Senedd - twice.
Over the past couple of decades the Assembly and Senedd have changed the landscape of politics in Wales. The people of Wales in recent years have seen the Westminster emperor in all its naked filth, its cover has been blown - self interest and the interest of the dominant partner in the Union is clear to anyone who takes the time to look. This will never change whatever colour or stripe the government in London
Meanwhile, the challenges that the Cardiff Bay administration face are numerous, reversing decades of economic and social decline; the need for investment and radical reform of health, social care, transport and education. But first we must set ourselves free.
The vast majority in Wales believe that the future of democracy remains, at least partly, in the hands of the people of Wales, The Senedd, Welsh government and the mechanics of governance have had ups and downs over the past quarter of a century, but in that short time the overall trajectory has been upwards, with incremental improvements where 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, Estonia, Slovenia, Iceland.
Who cares about independence?
The natural progression for Wales - as a nation, a democracy and a developing presence on the international stage, is independence.
Or is it?
The apron strings to the UK institutions are as strong and pervasive - for some there is a strong sense of duty, or even pride in the monarchy and the shared history of Empire, of ideological unity in the 20th century, of success in the two World wars that tore our society apart. Conflict that still lies within living memory. The armed forces, political institutions and parties, are linked to the population by an umbilical cord, and quite understandably - these are the emblems of generations of the people of these islands, the glue that links all our histories together.
Opinion polls fluctuate on the question of independence for Wales, and around a third of those polled in Wales see self-determination as the way forward. Support for independence breaks down traditional barriers of geography, party politics and language and seems to be universally spread across Wales. Another third of our population are sitting, for now, on the opposite side of the fence. A demographic not constrained by boundaries - of geography, linguistics nor political.
This leaves us with the middle third - the undecided/curious/unbothered. It is this group who will decide the path of the future 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 have radical change?
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, or even progressive changes in Scotland, the future reunification of Ireland - will all impact 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? Could it be that we discover that we are brave enough, confident 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. Whilst 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.
Who cares enough?
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 in order for things to improve. After all Wales has form Across the centuries Wales has made things happen - culturally we have always done so collectively, we are a nation of community.
Perhaps in this age, with its vast digital landscape, our forums, our public spaces, are different. The days of crowds at hustings and vast debating events might be over - debate and discourse is 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 they will be a part of the modern landscape of multiple platforms of discussion and engagement. The gelatinous nature of politics and belief binds people together, it can lead to toxic echo-chambers of extremism which foster ignorance and even hatred.
History tells us that eventually, people will always find a collective voice when change becomes imperative. How this voice is projected will be as varied as ever. Voices will emerge from introverted cocoons to become a voice of reason in debate in the bar, canteen or around a kitchen table. It might develop into a more organised affiliation with organised campaign groups. It might emerge in a desire for activism, and the need to ‘do’ something in the interest of change.
Campaigning is the culmination of the activism of the collective and seldom 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 21st 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 the pubs, the workplaces, communities and cafes, homes and clubs.
However, even a grass-roots 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, we can grow the campaign not only through sheer numbers, but through the strength of a mass-movement campaign. The goal is clear, the message is clear, so ask yourself - do I care? And more importantly in building a successful campaign - do enough of us care?
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” - Vincent Van Gogh