Building a successful national movement has many different aspects and takes many different skills. There is a place – an important place – for waving flags and chanting slogans, but overcoming people’s scepticism and fear about independence will take intellectual heavy-lifting as well.
In Gwlad we’d like to think we’ve made a start on this, by setting out an economically credible vision for how an independent Wales can pay its way in the world and prosper. Far too many people, whose support will be needed to get independence over the line, are frightened away from the idea by vacuous promises of a socialist paradise. As was brilliantly stated once by Matthew Paul at Herald.Wales,
“Socialism always starts the same way, and it always ends the same way. A songs and flowers phase which lasts until all the rich people’s money has gone, at which point socialism progresses towards its barbed-wire-and-barbecued-rats endgame.”
Let the socialist nationalists set out their vision, and we shall set out ours. All of this is necessary: but it’s still not sufficient.
Rigour now: vigour later
Few people will want independence if it leads to a one-party state, whichever party that may be. The onus is on the independence movement as a whole to demonstrate that an independent Wales can in fact be a vigorous multi-party democracy – with different parties reflecting the different strands of opinion within Wales – but undergirded by a robust constitutional settlement which will safeguard everybody’s fundamental rights and freedoms. That’s where cross-party and non-party groups come in.
Many will remember that, back in 2017, YesCymru was set up as a non-party campaigning organisation to argue for the basic viability of independence. In its first few years it did outstanding work: the first edition of its ‘Independence In Your Pocket’ guide tackled many of the commonly-used arguments against independence, and its marches and ‘banners on bridges’ events attracted ever-increasing levels of support. The upheavals of the last year have damaged it, but hopefully not irreparably – the ‘rearguard action’, led by the branches, to rescue it from the small group of extremists who had infiltrated it, showed that the movement still has real ‘strength in depth’.
But yet more is required: there need to be people who are not even campaigning, but doing the nitty-gritty work of examining what an independent Wales’s constitution, and the various institutions which would exist within it (the legal system, the financial system etc. – the things which would persist while governing parties came and went), will look like.
A Cinderella Job
Few indeed are the people who are addressing this with the seriousness it deserves.
We discount, for now, the ‘official’ Constitutional Commission set up by Mark Drakeford, and headed by Professor Laura McAllister (former international footballer) and Dr. Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury). While unarguably distinguished in their respective fields, the remit of their Commission is too narrow – examining ‘progressive’ options for “the UK in which Wales remains an integral part”. It looks and smells very much like yet another ruse for cementing Labour’s dominance over Welsh political life; independence campaigners shouldn’t set much store by it.
Few people have done more in this area than journalist Owen Donovan, whose ‘State of Wales’ blog reaches the parts that few political blogs about Wales get anywhere near. We don’t always agree with what he says, and for all we know he may be horrified at the thought of us endorsing him – but his blog is thoughtful, measured, and deserves a much wider readership than we expect it gets.
Don’t ask the Bolivians
But the real purpose of this article is to highlight another online forum which is dedicated to doing this groundwork in a thorough, non-partisan way: the convention.cymru site which is co-ordinated by barrister Jonathan Gwyn Mendus Edwards, who (full disclosure) is a Gwlad member.
Anyone visiting the site will immediately notice a strong influence from the constitution of the United States of America. There is a reason for this. A story is told of how, when Brazil once announced it wanted a new constitution, it was inundated with American lawyers offering advice. “What do we need Americans for?” went the cry. “They’ve only had one constitution. We need Bolivians. They’ve had hundreds.”
The population and the economy of Wales today far exceeds that of the USA when it achieved its independence in 1776; and as well as being a bigger country, Wales differs from the USA in countless other ways so that adopting the US constitution lock, stock and barrel is hardly an option.
But like the US, or for that matter Ireland, a future independent Wales is bound to inherit much that is worth keeping from the current UK settlement. While being dramatically different in lots of other ways. The important thing is that the movement as a whole recognises the vital distinction between party politics, where conflicting visions are inevitable and necessary, and constitutional matters where consensus will be vital.
We all need a team to support; but we need to agree on the rules of the game.