There is no doubt that Brexit has shaken the political unity of the United Kingdom, since the four nations that constitute it voted unequally in the Brexit referendum: England was the nation with the most “brexiteers”, while Scotland and Northern Ireland (the latter, part of the Irish nation) voted to continue in the European Union. Wales, on the other hand, also voted in favor of Brexit but with not as much conviction as England. As in Scotland or Northern Ireland, the Welsh nationalist parties (Plaid Cymru is the main one) called for a vote against Brexit, wanting to get away from English nationalist europhobia. But compared to the nationalism of Scotland or Northern Ireland, that of Wales is not as strong, and this is reflected in the results of Brexit.
But beyond the results there is no doubt that the departure from the European Union has created a strong discomfort among many Welsh. And the Welsh independence movement wants to take advantage of that discomfort, as is also happening in Scotland.
For many years Plaid Cymru has been the main Welsh nationalist political party, garnering about 20% of votes in Wales. Being an independentist party, its main aspiration is to separate Wales from the United Kingdom and to integrate it back into Europe.
However, in 2014, the Welsh independence movement launched a new strategy to go beyond the traditional Plaid Cymru electorate and reach new sectors of the population. To achieve this, YES CYMRU (“Yes to Wales”, in the original bilingual title) was created, an independence movement inspired by the ANC of Catalonia or the YES SCOTLAND of Scotland, which is not under the control of any political party. This movement now has 2,500 affiliates and covers almost the entire Welsh country.
As in Scotland or Northern Ireland, Brexit has increased support for independence: for many years the polls showed the percentage of independentists as always below 20% in that Celtic nation but more recent surveys indicate that the number of independentists has grown significantly and is now around 40%. The independence cause has much support in particular among young people.
“Brexit has caused a deep institutional crisis in the United Kingdom,” Alan Sandry, a professor at the University of Swansea (Wales), told NAZIOGINTZA. “The UK is dying slowly, and YES CYMRU is aware of that. Many more people now talk about independence in Wales, and the growth of YES CYMRU has helped spread the message that Wales can become an independent nation,” Professor Sandry added.
On July 27, 2019, the largest demonstration in favor of independence ever held in Wales was held in the town of Caernarfon. Almost 10,000 people took part. Although viewed from the Basque Country, that number of participants may seem small, it must be borne in mind that the citizens of Wales had never taken to the street for independence, or had done so in a very small numbers. YES CYMRU has managed to fan the independence spark in a large sector of the population, which was very irritated by British politics.
The red dragon of Wales is roaring again with pride. Elections to the Welsh Parliament will be held next year, which will be a good opportunity to measure the rise of mobilized independentism. What will happen in Scotland or Northern Ireland can give a great boost, no doubt, to Welsh independence. We’ll see what happens.