Full Eddie Butler speech at the AUOB March for Independence in Merthyr Tydfil on September 7 2019.
To be in Merthyr, with independence in the air. This place … this crucible of resistance …
I’m from half an hour that way. Monmouthshire. Not a centre of revolution. “Not really Welsh at all …”
How easily we – even we – pick on the things that keep us apart.
Well … I’ve been lucky in my working life to go to just about every corner of this land of ours – working, walking, talking … and I have reached the conclusion that there is far more that binds us together than keeps us apart.
And what are we bound into? We are distinct. Distinct of sound. Welsh, a language that not only stands – speaks – in its own right, but also influences the English that so many of us speak, to the extent that we are instantly recognisable as being from Wales (even me).
Is it enough, to be distinct? English spoken with an accent is hardly rare. Is it enough?
It is more than enough. To be distinct is the very essence of what makes people strive to be in control of their own affairs. To be free. As long as there is a will.
The will to cut loose. I have sat in rugby changing rooms, about to go out and play England … and every word, every breath is dedicated to overcoming this particular opponent. England above all – for being our landlords; for having taken and for giving so little back, for there being not a trace of Wales – not the tip of a dragon’s tail – on the flag of their Union. To beat England … and I have long been amazed that this spirit of defiance has remained there … confined to sport.
Amazed … and dismayed. We could barely bring ourselves to vote in favour of limited powers to control certain aspects of our lives. Devolution is no revolution. We are distinct but it seems we have not been very defiant.
My parents came to Wales straight after the Second World War from England. My father, to work in a brand-new factory in Pontypool. The Nylon. BNS: British Nylon Spinners. My parents’ notion of who they were was forged by the Second World War. At its outset they were teenagers. By its end they were both part of the war effort. My mother served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, the WAAF. She was on duty on the night of the Nuremberg Raid, the RAF’s costliest mission ever … more aircrew died on this one night than in the entire Battle of Britain. The night her twin brother was killed. The war took a toll, but it forged a spirit: of Britain standing united, defiant against a terryfying ideology.
The United Kingdom that made my parents proud to call themselves British no longer exists. The Nylon is empty; as abandoned as Elm House, the clubhouse of my beloved Pontypool Rugby Club.
And for extreme ideologies, look now no further than Westminster. Today is not so very political. Today is more about being together on what may be long road. Not yet political … but there is a question. From Westminster as it is and out of Westminster as it will be after all the contortions and convulsions, what good will be coming the way of Wales? Crumbs to take the edge off our defiance? But what real good? No good at all. Nothing good can possibly come from it. Nothing.
But nothing is good. Nothing is a blank canvass. Every small nation that has freed itself from even the mightiest of neighbours – Holland, from the Empire of Spain at its grandest; Finland, from Sweden and then Russia; Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia … Belgium, Denmark, and perhaps above all, the Free Irish State … they all began with a blank canvass …
To be an independent Wales. “Ed, mun, it can’t be done.” Well here we are in Merthyr, birthplace of an uprising … and here’s somebody from down there, “not very Welsh at all”, who joins you in saying: “Yes … it … can.”