Splits are emerging in Wales’ main independence organisation, The Eye can reveal.
One angry supporter has tweeted that he has cancelled his membership, while another has shown his fury that the controversial group YesCymru (YC) he claimed had ‘liked’ a tweet from a right wing party, which it has also re-tweeted.
The critic is aggrieved at YC allegedly saying Conservatism and Independence “are totally compatible” stating: “They’ve also RTed one of their articles with dodgy content… They always claim to be politically neutral yet they’ve never tried to placate any other groups like this”.
Yet the organisation has long been contentious, and appears to be offering highly questionable information.
YC has claimed that opinion polls report support for Welsh independence among younger people is “around 40-50 %” and says: “Independence is becoming common sense view within young people in Wales.”.
Actually recent opinion polls suggest the figure among younger people is far lower than this, and also make clear that the vast majority of people in Wales support Welsh parties which are opposed to independence.
These facts, however, have not been published by YC, but that has not stopped uncritical pieces about them in the Welsh mainstream media.
One of the biggest broadcasters in Wales published an adulatory ‘story’ about YC, and another leading Welsh media organisation talked about its “rise”-yet both failed to challenge membership figures when other statistics have been highly questionable, they did not raise the negative news that it has celebrated a potential attack on a UK military base and said unionists “refuse to integrate”, or that a supporter who claims he invented the group’s ‘app’ wants to talk about banning gay people from Wales.
The ‘report’ about YC by ITV Cymru Wales’ Ellie Pitt, for example, began: “‘Westminster isn’t working for Wales’. These are the five words I have been hearing all week. Over the last few days I have had numerous conversations with recent joiners to the Welsh Independence group YesCymru.”
The item continued: “Anyone who follows the movement’s Twitter account will know just how fast-paced and exponential the membership growth has been, particularly over the last week. It took YesCymru almost four years to gain 2000 members, but this week they had 2000 new sign ups in just over 24 hours.”
But nowhere in the article is the body challenged about the huge criticism which has followed close analysis of the official social media account belonging to YC, which reveals it has far fewer ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ than officials maintain.
Yet ITV Cymru Wales is not alone.
The website WalesOnline (whose ‘Editor’ Paul Rowland threatened to sue our own man in charge Phil Parry) published another piece which, again uncritically, put the views of YC, beneath the tendentious headline: “The rise of Yes Cymru and why people are joining in their thousands”.
The ‘report’ on the website declared that: “By October, it (YC) had around 8,000 (members). In the past ten days or so that has shot up to 14,000. One thousand new members signed up on Monday alone, with a further thousand on Tuesday, which is why the group thinks something special is happening”.
But money for key supporters appears to be a problem, and YC is allowing members to be tapped for potential funds.
The Editor of the nationalist website Nation.Cymru (NC), which is supported by public money, Ifan Morgan Jones (who helped organise a Welsh independence rally in the past) has said: “If just every @YesCymru member donated £3 a month to @NationCymru it would raise £570,000 a year”, a message which was endorsed by YC in a ‘retweet’.
Dr Jones, though, is a headline-grabbing figure.
The contentious aim of Welsh independence has been openly backed by him, yet he lectures in ‘journalism’ at Bangor University (BU), when neutrality is a fundamental tenet of journalism. The independence rally Dr Jones helped organise was in Caernarfon, but it had to be postponed because of the lockdown, and his website has published numerous ‘stories’ backing the aim. One recent piece on his website began: “It seems the opponents of independence, now running out of arguments, are getting desperate.”.
The Eye have revealed how NC has also accepted an advert for students on the media course at BU where Dr Jones is the leader. But one critic of NC has told The Eye: “This crosses the line”. Another said: “It creates a potential conflict of interest”. A further detractor stated: “How can they do anything about the university when they are advertising one of the courses their own Editor teaches on?!”.
This advert in NC stressed the importance of the “Journalism and Media Studies BA” at “PRIFYSGOL BANGOR UNIVERSITY”. while Dr Jones’ CV states: “I am the BA Journalism Course Leader at the School of Creative Studies and Media at Bangor University, and lecture on the subject of practical journalism”.
Yet it is obvious that Dr Jones is uneasy about the reliance of NC on taxpayers’ money, and Twitter has been used extensively in order to try to raise more than just public funds.
He tweeted on Easter Day to Hollywood superstar Michael Sheen that any support for a ‘new service’ would be “gratefully received and the better the service will be”. In another tweet Dr Jones proclaimed that they had “already reached an audience of some 2m readers digitally”.
The tweets asking for money were also sent to UndebPlaidCymru which declares it is “The official trade union section of Plaid Cymru”.
In an earlier tweet, Mr Sheen asked about the cost and Dr Jones replied: “it’s very elastic – the more subscribers we have the more content we can produce”.
Dr Jones had also tweeted the ‘Donate’ section of NC which states: “We are now close to realise (sic) our dream of creating a lasting Welsh national media, by the people of Wales and for the people of Wales”.
Some readers of NC, though, were deeply unimpressed, and one told The Eye earlier: “If this new service involves more public money it will be outrageous. And why should Michael Sheen be interested in something like this anyway?”.
Another said: “What is this all about? We know Nation.Cymru backs independence, but does Michael Sheen understand a lot of people are angry that taxpayer money supports it?“.
Meanwhile there are a huge number of controversies which could have been seized on to confront officials of the organisation the nationalist website backs, YC, by the media in Wales other than The Eye, such as ITV Cymru Wales or WalesOnline.
The Twitter account of one controversial YC message has announced that at one point it had 487 ‘likes’ and 187 ‘retweets’, but when these were counted the figures were actually just 45 and 70 respectively. One critic told us: “What is going on here with YesCymru? If there is such a huge difference with the number of times their message has been liked or retweeted, how is anyone supposed to believe what they say?”.
We also showed how a branch of this Welsh independence movement asked provocatively whether “heroes” will make a stand in carrying out an attack on a UK military base on Anglesey.
The goading comment came on Twitter from YC in Ruthin, and referred to a notorious incident in 1936 when an RAF bombing school was set ablaze at Penyberth on the Llyn peninsula, and founding members of Plaid Cymru (PC) were jailed. The event has gone down in folklore for Welsh nationalists and a video on YouTube declares: “Penyberth. Plaid Cymru (Welsh nationalist party) one. RAF nil.”
Another branch of YC has said people in “our country” (Wales) refuse to integrate, asking menacingly what should be ‘done’ about Unionists. This extraordinary tweet was put out by YC in the Afan Valley and stated: “These people are in our country, yet refuse to integrate into our local community”.
A major supporter of YC also holds highly dubious views which he has publicised on social media. Mark Wells/Gareth Mark Welsby claims to be the inventor of the YC ‘app’ and has urged holding a debate about banning gay people from Wales.
He wrote in one tweet: “With all this talk about quarantine. I’m serious… Shouldn’t we be discussing banning gay people from Wales. Esp. (gay ex-Welsh rugby international) Gareth Thomas who should resign!! Hiv will spread into Wales’ blood groups inc. Rh+ and our reputation for positive blood ruined. aids infected are negative people”.
Mr Wells/Welsby plainly has an issue with gay people, and tweeted offensive questions to @PrideCymru: “What percent of your membership has HIV AIDS, whats the %difference between your membership with AIDS and the normal %population. HIV is in your group.YES. what research have you? Do you know the %increase in AIDS in wales per year? Please reply” and to @BBCWalesNews “You have a responsibility to prevent the spread of disease and are acting recklessly on social media… encourages Gareth Thomas on gay day”.
But the man behind YC was not questioned about any of these remarkable events by ITV Cymru Wales’ Ms Pitt, or the WalesOnline reporter. They simply gave the opinions of the man behind YC.
In the case of the ITV Cymru Wales ‘report’, it was proclaimed: “Siôn Jobbins, Chair of YesCymru (says): ‘Wales isn’t poor, there are poor people here, but the country itself isn’t poor’.
But the reality is that Wales is very poor indeed as compared with other parts of the UK.
The Welsh economy is still one of the weakest of the UK regions, and to a large extent must rely on UK Government support even after many years of devolution. Official statistics for regional Gross Value Added (GVA–a measure of economic wealth) demonstrate that recently it had actually DROPPED 2.2 per cent in comparison with the previous year. Welsh GVA is the lowest of all the UK regions, and Wales has proportionally more public sector jobs than in most other areas, many of which, presumably, would be threatened with independence. The Welsh Government (WG) has stated: “Over a quarter of the workforce in Wales work for the public sector. There is a significant public sector presence in Wales on a local, national and UK-wide level”
Other key issues about Welsh independence were also not put to the group pushing for it by the reporters, and which could have affected, as well, the “fast-paced” membership growth ITV Cymru Wales alluded to.
Among these are: 1. The concept needs to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that it would make Wales more democratic and less open to rule by elites. 2. Voters must be convinced that the population would become wealthier. 3. It must be proven that it would make Wales healthier. 4. Voters need to be sure that the majority of Welsh people want it. 5. How would the border with England work? 6. How would Wales handle its share of the UK debt? 7. What currency would Wales use? 8. Most Welsh nationalists believe an independent Wales should re-join the European Union (EU). That process takes about 10 years. How would an independent Wales cope in the meantime? 9. Is there an awareness that in its current economic state, an independent Wales would fail the EU membership requirement for a functioning market economy?
Devolution only just scraped through (the 1997 referendum result was 50.3 per cent in favour when 48.7 per cent were against) and independence is likely to be an even tougher sell, with a strong streak of anti-nationalism in Wales.
This has all come as a recent ‘news’ piece on NC, announced that ‘thousands’ had signed a petition calling for an independence referendum, but the text revealed the actual number was only 2,000. This figure should be set against a population in Wales of 3.1 million, with most firmly opposed to Welsh independence.
The results of surveys have had to be ‘spun’ to support the argument for independence. A St David’s Day poll giving the figure of 11 per cent of people in Wales supporting independence, was ‘reported’ in NC as a rise because it represented a four per cent increase on last year.
According to one recent survey it seemed that support for Scottish independence may have reached a record level, but the same cannot be said for Wales and this could have been put to Mr Jobbins but was not.
Research by Ipsos Mori for STV News found that with just six per cent of voters still to make up their minds, 55 per cent backed separation, with 39 per cent in favour of the union when they are included.
Despite this, even in Scotland there are major problems for those who want independence, because senior figures in the Scottish National Party (SNP) were briefed before the 2016 Scottish parliamentary election that CONSISTENT polling of about 60 per cent in favour of independence would indisputably prove that the country had changed its mind since the 2014 referendum against it. Yet supporters of Welsh independence can only dream of these kind of figures, and there are other enormous hurdles to clear before their goal can be achieved. Backers of small independent countries also like to point to Iceland, but this country has a huge and thriving fishing industry which Wales doesn’t have – there isn’t even a coal industry in Wales to speak of now that all the deep mines have closed.
Journalism usually dictates that these kind of facts which apprently do not fit the independence narrative should be put to the man behind the main organisation pushing for it. Although not, it seems, for ITV Cymru Wales or WalesOnline.
Perhaps they will now report the main independence organisation in Wales tearing itself apart.
But don’t hold your breath…
Tomorrow – the ‘enthralling’ new podcast by an ITV Cymru Wales presenter telling everyone about infertility.
Our Editor Phil Parry’s memories of his remarkable decades-long award-winning career in journalism (when putting difficult questions were paramount) as he was gripped by the rare disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!