Here our Editor Phil Parry looks at how the issue of independence for Wales appears to be gaining ground among opinion-formers, even as major problems become ever clearer.
In the past he has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories when he presented the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW) TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
The concept of Welsh independence is securing strong support now among mainstream political parties and media outlets, but the problems surrounding it persist.
The leader of the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru (PC) Adam Price has proclaimed “I think we need to have that conversation (on independence) and we need to decide on that at some point during this decade” in an article in the South Wales Echo, along with a picture of him that was headlined ‘Independence would let Wales be equal nation”.
This comes after I remember a predecessor of his saying in a press conference more than 20 years ago that PC had never, ever, advocated independence for Wales.
Rallies in towns and cities across the country demanding Welsh independence have attracted thousands of people, and the independence organisation YesCymru (YC) claims to have strong backing.
The presenter Rhydian Bowen Phillips on BBC Radio Cymru (BBC RC) (where it seems impartiality guidelines are being flouted), has publicly called for independence and he re-tweeted a message saying: “Welsh independence is increasingly looking like a good idea…”.
The Editor of the nationalist website Nation.Cymru (NC) Ifan Morgan Jones is an enthusiastic supporter of the idea and he has published many pieces about its importance.
Dr Jones helped organise an independence rally in Caernarfon but it had to be postponed because of the lockdown.
NC is funded to a large extent by public money through the Books Council of Wales (BCW) and Dr Jones himself is a lecturer in ‘journalism’, yet a fundamental tenet of journalism is neutrality and this appears to be lacking in his website.
A recent ‘news’ piece on NC was headlined 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.
One opinion item on NC began: “It seems the opponents of independence, now running out of arguments, are getting desperate.”.
Polls have not been good news for Dr Jones, as the results have had to be ‘spun’. 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 seems that support for Scottish independence may have reached a record level, but the same cannot be said for Wales and this represents a significant problem for those seeking the same.
Research last week 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.
Even in Scotland there are major issues 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.
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.
Perhaps the most important one is the economy.
Backers of small independent countries like to point to Iceland, yet 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.
The Welsh economy is one of the weakest of the UK regions, and to a large extent still relies on UK Government support even after 21 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 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”.
But there are other huge difficulties as well.
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.
Supporters of independence for Wales also have not helped their cause by publicly posting extreme views on social media.
A branch of YC celebrated a potential attack on a UK military base on the Llyn Peninsula and asked on Twitter whether “heroes” would make a stand in conducting it, while another group from YC said people in “our country” (Wales) refuse to integrate, posing the question menacingly of what should be ‘done’ about Unionists, and a YC supporter who claims he invented their app said on Twitter that gay people should be prevented from spreading disease.
The extraordinary ‘anti-Unionist’ tweet was put out by YC in the Afan Valley and declared: “These people are in our country, yet refuse to integrate into our local community”.
The provocative ‘attack’ one on Twitter came 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 PC were jailed.
The event has gone down in folklore for Welsh nationalists and a video on YouTube announces: “Penyberth. Plaid Cymru one. RAF nil.”
This inflammatory tweet in Welsh and English said: “Another Penyberth on the horizon! The question is this: Are there three heroes today ready to make a stand?”.
The three ‘heroes’ is a reference to original members of PC (among them Saunders Lewis) who gave themselves up at Pwllheli police station and were imprisoned for nine months following the destruction.
This contentious Twitter remark was a response to an article ‘reporting’ protests against a new military training base on NC.
Other important questions have yet to be satisfactorily answered by supporters of independence too.
Point three (the issue of the currency) could be overriding, with it proving so already in Scotland.
In 2014 the SNP claimed Scotland would keep the pound sterling as an independent state. But as the leader of the Better Together campaign (and former Chancellor of the Exchequer) Alistair Darling pointed out, with devastating effect, Scotland could have sterling only in the way Panama had the US dollar, with no lender of last resort in the form of the Bank of England or indeed any monetary instruments whatever.
Actually, chapter 17 of the European Union (EU) acquis (on economic and monetary policy) demands that any would-be member state has an independent central bank with its own currency, before moving towards adoption of the Euro. The SNP, therefore – realising that so-called sterlingisation proved a nightmare for its proponents in the 2014 referendum – now advocates the short-term adoption of an independent Scottish currency (possibly a reincarnated Groat), followed by Euro membership.
There is also deep unease among some in Wales about comments on the Facebook (FB) site of independence-supporting NC, which have been likened to life in Nazi Berlin.
These remarks were posted after a link was published to an NC ‘news’ piece, which declared that: “The county of Gwynedd in the north-west has seen the largest collapse in consumer spending as a result of Covid-19 in both Wales and England, according to business data”.
Apart from one that holiday homes should “burn to the ground”, another said: “I remember the sixties” which refers to a time when the paramilitary organisation Free Wales Army (FWA) was prevalent.
But one aggrieved writer hit back and said: “I am genuinely concerned by the amount of vitriol that comes out in the comments on the Nation.Cymru posts, and it makes me feel that we are uncomfortably close to the political posturing of 1930s Berlin.
“We have had property damage (mostly to key workers cars) and threats and insults made to people (again, often keyworkers going about their legitimate business) because “they’re not from round here.”
These kind of comments and actions undermine the cause of independence and will put further pressure on NC as well as its funding by the BCW.
With friends like these you don’t need enemies of Welsh independence.
There are plenty of those already…
Tomorrow – more disturbing revelations about a controversial Welsh rugby commentator.
Phil’s memories of his astonishing 37-year award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable neurological disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book which was NOT funded by the BCW, ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!