Since Brexit, the campaign to make Wales an independent country has really got going. The profile of YesCymru has exploded.
Polls suggest that 30% of people would vote yes if there was a Welsh independence referendum (though this comes with the heavy caveat that it excludes people who answered “don’t know”). In the last Senedd election Plaid Cymru put independence front and centre of their whole campaign. Independence is now a more mainstream issue than it has been in living memory.
However after five years of significant growth, in my view, the movement needs a change of tactics.
I do not claim to fall down on either side of the argument on this issue. For the last six months I have immersed myself in the issue of Welsh indy as part of my research for a book I am writing exploring whether it is feasible for Wales to go it alone. Throughout this process I have spoken to some of the most passionate and interesting people I’ve ever met. They truly care about this issue. But I think that it is time for the Welsh independence movement to move out of puberty and into adulthood if it wants to see the change it says is so needed.
First let’s talk about some of the social media strategies.
Below is a post from the YesCymru Rhedwyr | Runners account on Twitter. This was made on the morning that Boris Johnson announced an increase in National Insurance to fund health and social care.
Alongside a meme, the account posted: “Workers in Wales are about to see a change in their payslips. The UK Government are set to raise what you pay in National Insurance to support England’s social care sector.
“Your extra money won’t be seen by the Welsh Government as the sector is devolved.”
Now there was a lot to criticise about this increase in NI. It will hit working people hard while not really touching the people who have managed to accumulate substantial wealth over the pandemic. Plus there is a strong argument that this doesn’t go far enough in actually tackling the serious challenge that social care faces.
These are legitimate criticisms.
However this particular indy account opted to say that people in Wales were essentially being taxed to pay for England’s social care. They then added that this money “won’t be seen by the Welsh Government as the sector is devolved”.
Now clearly this is a gross misrepresentation of the situation. Yes NI was being raised across the UK to fund services in England. But crucially a proportion of this would be coming back to Wales through the Barnett Formula. There was never really any doubt about this. But in the interest of promoting their political cause this particular account decided to mislead the people of Wales in order to try and convince them to support the breakup of the country in which they live. Even after the inaccuracy was pointed out to them they refused to take it down.
Now it is easy to feel sympathy for the argument that the UK Government and Boris Johnson-led Conservatives have a history of peddling misinformation to further political ends. It was a serious issue during the 2019 election and during the EU referendum it was absolutely rampant. One big argument put forward by the indy side is that we need independence to break away from this political culture of misinformation.
But you can not be the cure when you are part of the disease. If you are going to run an independence campaign spreading disinformation (AKA lies) you are simply becoming the thing you claim to hate. You undermine your entire argument that independence is a route to better, more informed governance.
Now of course this is one post, from one Yes Cymru account. Of course a large movement can not be responsible for what every supporter says and does. But this post was shared by the YesCymru main account and several other prominent indy supporters (plus this is far from an isolated incident. Not condoning (and actively promoting) lies when you see them, simply because they happen to further your aims does not make you part of the solution. It makes you just another group doing whatever they can to be heard in the social media cesspit. To be successful the Welsh independence movement needs to be better than this.
And ultimately I do not believe it really furthers the cause anyway. Sure it will stir the blood of the people who already agree with you but the purpose of a campaign is to win support. To do that you need people who don’t already agree with you to change their minds. You don’t do that by making misleading statements or stirring up resentment with misrepresentations.
Even once it became clear that the NI would be coming to Wales through the Barnett Formula the misrepresentations didn’t stop. The PM announced that the money would be ring fenced for spending only on health and social care. Immediately elements of the indy movement and indy leaning news organsations lost their absolute minds that Johnson was dictating how Wales should spend devolved cash. But yet again taking a breath and just 30 seconds of research would show you that this isn’t new.
Ever since NI was created in 1911 and expanded under the Labour government of 1948, there have been limitations on the use of the money raised by National Insurance. Even if it wasn’t, due to the fact that the amount raised from the levy was substantially less than the Welsh Government spends on health and social care anyway it would make no material difference to what the Welsh Government were doing (if this is getting complex then there is a full explainer here).
There are so many perfectly legitimate reasons to have grievances with how Wales is treated that fabricating them is utterly pointless and counterproductive. If the indy movement is to continue to grow it needs to move beyond putting stickers on lampposts. Engagements and likes on social media from people who already agree with you have a ceiling and aggressively pursuing that risks alienating the people who you need to win over.
The indy Wales campaign needs to ditch the reactionary Brexiteer meme cr*p and actually start building the nation they want to see free.
A key part of this is developing an efficient and truly accountable government here in Wales. I am constantly astonished about the easy ride given to Mark Drakeford and the Welsh Government but some (by no means all) members of the movement. There is almost a belief that the Welsh Government is Wales and therefore should be defended when contrasted to the UK Government despite a series of catastrophic failings – not least over coronavirus.
The Welsh Government is not Wales. They are elected temporarily to represent us. Inefficiency, poor decision making, dodging scrutiny and incompetence on their part should be an affront to all of us – most of all those arguing that Wales should be independent. Simply saying “oh but Boris did worse” is the sort of mentality which totally undermines the argument that we need to focus on ourselves. Being “not as bad as another Government” is not a benchmark for a successful going it alone.