On the 30th November in the Schooner Inn, Swansea, around a dozen of us gathered for the first YesAbertawe meeting. Over the course of the next hour and a half (followed by drinks by the open fire and more informal chat) we discussed the next steps for promoting independence here in Swansea and across Wales.
Tricia Roberts opened the meeting with the reasons that had led her to found a Swansea branch of YesCymru in the wake of the EU referendum. We all remembered clearly that divisive campaign and the increasingly accepted idea that for many, their vote was a protest of sorts – a kick back against, “If you always do what you’ve always done then you’ll always get what you’ve always got” – and that here in Wales what we’ve got has generally been the short end of the stick.
We discussed the idea of independence as a unifying rather than divisive force. People voted in the referendum the way they did for many reasons and independence shouldn’t hang on any of them – EU in or out, party politics, language politics – the point is that in an independent Wales we could make those decisions ourselves, not be dragged along in the tail of Westminster’s decisions.
The aim of the meeting was agreed as setting some basic aims and objectives and definite short term plans.
We talked about the plans of YesCymru as a whole and YesCaerdydd and where they overlapped. YESCymru are in the process of planning an equivalent of Wales of Scotland’s Wee Blue Book setting out the economic argument and the consensus was that this would be very important and possibly should be supported by a crib sheet of sorts so people promoting it have an overview of the basic rebuttals to the old “Too small, too poor, too weak” arguments which are bound to be trotted out. A recognisable brand is already in place in terms of logos etc which should be tapped into.
Feedback on the intro leaflets from YesCaerdydd leaflets was good and their tag of #indycurious should be promoted as a key conversation starter.
Comparisons with Scotland’s independence campaign were perhaps inevitable but the general feeling was that while there might be elements which would work for us too, they were, on the whole, starting from such a different place and history that direct comparisons weren’t always useful.
One example was that in Scotland there was always at least some willingness to listen to the argument whereas until relatively recently most in Wales assumes it’s not even an option, a wild fantasy. One key aim for us in YesCymru therefore is to normalise the debate itself and challenge assumptions.
Worth a mention, raised by one attendee, was that prior to the start of the IndyRef campaign, and going back to 1999 there were more Plaid than SNP MPs – there were knock-on benefits for the national pro-independence party from the campaign itself even though they didn’t win the day on their first attempt.
Most attendees believed it was a case of when-not-if for Scottish Independence and when it happens it will massively impact the debate here too.
A number of attendees discussed how Wales’ history impacts on our situation today – we’ve been a colonised nation a long long time, from Norman Marcher lords overturning the laws of Hywel Dda, up through to the lack of teaching of our own history in the school curriculum – Wales’s key roles in the industrial revolution generally going utterly unremarked for one.
We discussed probable dismissals like to come our way – that independence is “only for” language activists or those who are anti-English, or due to timing innately linked with which side of the Brexit debate one was on.. These will be key things to challenge.
We discussed the inaccuracy of opinion polls in recent campaigns and agreed there was no point putting too much faith in them whether positive or negative.
While YesCymru itself is party neutral, a comment was raised about the need to engage more people in the political process – a lot of the ‘protest vote’ came from people feeling disconnected from politics and wanting to move away from the status quo and ‘business as usual’. A note was made of the fact that me and Trish were the one women in the room – another key demographic to get on side.
Attitudes of the main parties to independence was discussed – from the history of Plaid Cymru trying to get away from being seen as a single issue party to it being brought back to the forefront more recently
The possibility of engagement with local AMs/MPs was raised and several felt they were probably waiting to see “want we were like” and it was better to get on with things ourselves and show our viability through building up grass roots support.
The Media Problem
This was a recurring problem discussed – the mainstream media while being in large part, especially the tabloids anti-EU but equally anti-independence (and see no apparent contradiction!). Social media has its uses for reach but needs to be backed up by real actions in the real world if not to be simply the ‘slactivism’ of clicking a button.
There was brief discussion of Scotland’s head start in having some papers on side such as The Herald and The National and the new pop-up pro EU paper The New European could also be a possibly model.
Attention was drawn to the generally anglocentric view of the BBC even within BBC Wales.
Trish has had more luck with local radio and the Welsh language press in Golwg360 when promotingthe rally, this could be worth following up.
Part of the problem is that ‘local’ radio while branded as such is often owned and operated from elsewhere.
Blogs are currently one of the main long-form distributions of pro-indy news with several mentioned including BellaGwalia, and IndyMam along with the new podcast Desolation Radio. Several people left the meeting determined to start blogs of their own!
Strategies and Key Messages
A wide-ranging discussion threw up a lot of ideas about strategies and messages to work on.
The notion of “Take back control” was a lie in the EU debate, but an effective one. Could maybe be tapped into – independence is real control.
We will need to be prepared for common questions. Things like finance. Possibly a FAQs list is needed or something like a “common myths”.
We need to make Wales’ strengths clear – we are energy rich, rich in natural resources, have a trade surplus, strong local communities, pockets of expertise in aerospace and IT and skilled trades.
There is, worldwide, no correlation between size and wealth and independence. Independence is normal!
As well as facts we need the convincing story. we all heard too much about how people no longer trust facts, figures, experts.
We need to encourage youth involvement, that’s how the momentum will be maintained over the long term.
We talked about the local/national structure of Cymdeithas yr Iaith as model for practical stuff
One important things might be to keep an eye on politics going through, e.g. the Wales Bill at present is entirely unsatisfactory.
The Schooner has offered the use of their back room for fundraising events we might want to hold and are very supportive.
- Collected list of names and ‘useful skills’/contacts from those present
- Followed up cost of stand at The National Eisteddfod – min stall is £700 for the week so possible a long term aim to be discussed at next meeting or to work together with as YesCymru as a whole.
Several definite actions were agreed:
- Meetings will be monthly in the Schooner, Trish to schedule based on shifts.
- We will have an info table one Saturday a month in Swansea city centre ,Trish will organise permissions if needed and collect names for a rota.
- We will host a screening of The Red Wall in the new year. Possible venues being followed up are: The Schooner, Cinema and Co or Volcano. All agreed this was an inspirational bit of film showing the unity and Wales presenting itself at its best to the world.
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