The future of democracy is held, at least partly, in the hands of the people of Wales. The Senedd, the Welsh Government, and the mechanics of governance have had their ups and downs over the past quarter of a century. But in that short time the overall trajectory has been upwards, with incremental improvements when 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 such as Estonia, Slovenia, and Iceland. The natural progression for Wales – as a nation, a democracy, and a developing presence on the international stage – is independence. Or is it?
The ties to British institutions are as strong and pervasive as bindweed. Some feel a strong sense of duty to or even pride in the monarchy and the shared history of Empire; of ideological unity in the twentieth century; of ‘success’ in the two great conflicts that tore our collective world apart. Conflict that still lies within living memory. The armed forces, political institutions, and political parties are linked to the population by an umbilical cord. They are emblems of generations of the people of these islands, a glue that links all our histories together.
Opinion polls fluctuate on the question of independence for Wales. Around a third of those polled in Wales see self-determination as the way forward. Support for independence crosses traditional barriers of geography, party politics, and language, and seems to be consistently spread across Wales.
Another third of our population is sitting, for now, on the opposite side of the fence. Again, this demographic is not constrained by boundaries, whether geographic, linguistic, or political.
This leaves us with the middle third: the undecided, curious, and unbothered. These are the people who will truly decide the future path 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 change in some way?
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 and further afield, changes in Scotland, the possible reunification of Ireland: all will have their impacts 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?
Or could it be that we discover we are brave enough, confident enough, care 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. While 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.
Written by YesCymru Director, Geraint Thomas. Another version of this article was published by Byline Cymru on 31stMarch 2023.