The morning sun nearly blinds me with its brightness as I step out the door. I hear the distant sound of the trains in the distance, whisking commuters away to their jobs. Fair wages and unions. The air is clean and fresh. Green and sustainable industry is one of the main pillars of this country. An ambulance’s siren blares somewhere in the middle of the early morning commotion as children cross the street to attend school. A welfare state. Art and literature fills the streets as businesses open up for the day. The whole world is blooming. As I pause to listen I can hear at least two languages ac mae popeth yn Gymraeg.
It is a very good morning indeed.
Croeso i Gymru annibynnol. Welcome to an independent Wales.
But it hadn’t always been this way, had it? Wales hadn’t always been an independent state. It feels so odd writing that now. Even the thought feels unfathomable. How could it possibly have been any other way other than independent? How did we ever settle for anything less other than building and steering our own country?
But not too long ago, Wales wasn’t even autonomous. There was a time that even its status as a country was up for debate. Wales used to be a country within another state called the United Kingdom which consisted of Wales, Scotland, England and northern Ireland. Back then Wales had some autonomy in the form of devolution and the Welsh Government but for the most part it was dependent on the UK, or perhaps more accurately, England.
It had been that way for centuries. Welsh laws were dissolved in 1282, medieval rebellions and a brief period of independence in 1404 followed before the country was formally annexed as a part of England in 1536 in an act of union. We merged with one of the biggest and bloodiest empires the world had ever seen. Autonomy never felt like it was anyway possible – or indeed, deserved.
I think we had this lack of confidence in ourselves and our ability to be a country. So often it felt like we were stuck in a perpetual pre-pubescent stage and could never seem to grow to reach our full potential. Deep down perhaps we always had this quiet confidence in ourselves and our potential but in hindsight, centuries of lack of state rule over ourselves had been humiliating and debilitating.
But ‘every empire on earth has fallen’ and the colossal wrecks they leave behind are doomed to decay. Plates shift, the tide turns and things change. The question was, could we change with it?
One of the biggest indicators of change and opportunitu came in 2016 when the UK voted to leave the European Union. Truth be told, it was shambolic. Tainted by xenophobia, blind and false rhetoric and elements of rancid British imperialism, the campaign had been horrific and shattering. For those of us who had always considered ourselves citizens of Europe, who had see the worth the European Union gave in all its free movement and trade and sharing in languages and culture and a time of peace – it was crushing.
We wanted to get organised. We wanted to feel passion. We wanted to feel empowered. But instead of a righteous fire in our bellies, all we felt was a state of indigestion.
The daily churning of negativity from the state news bulletins, the echo chambers of frivolous social media, and the feeling of utter helplessness at the entire charade with no one being answerable or showing any real leadership – it all dragged us down. The negativity bred apathy and despair.
Suddenly, we found ourselves fighting battles we thought we had won. Pushing again for civic, political and social rights that people, especially women, LGBTIQP+ collectives, minorities and migrants, had achieved after years of struggle. Xenephobia and racism were as rampant as ever. Fascism had crawled under the rock from where it had been creeping and now, newly emboldened and validated, it was on the march.
It was exhausting. Trying to achieve the most basic gains for Wales became battle after battle to be fought – let alone trying to create and establish an independent country – an independent country we knew we were capable of becoming.
An empire obsessed with its own faux legacy of superiority and grandeur was crumbling in on itself into dust, but not without a final explosion of xenephobia, putrid British nationalism and intolerance. We felt shackled to a burning ship heading for an iceberg.
But then Wales had been a part of the empire too, in a way. It had a shared history. It wasn’t about forgetting that but about carving our own distinctive path. We had to write our own story.
But it was a struggle.
It wasn’t just because we were struggling with the monster that was ‘Brexit’, or that there was this incapacitating warning that we would soon be swallowed by England, or being aware of the new rise of the far right spreading across Europe like a 13th century plague. It was because we could also see so clearly what needed to be done in Wales – culturally, economically, socially and politically. We saw the poverty and the injustice and the consequences of not being independent. Every day – we saw it, we understood it, and we felt we couldn’t do anything about it.
There were discussions. Scotland was calling for a second independence referendum and Ireland seemed closer than ever to unification. But even if there were discussions in the media about the prospect of Welsh independence, there was no mobilisation or organisation on the ground.
And the question was always the same.
What can we do?
What could we do in the face of such enormous odds? What could we do to put things right? How could we not feel so helpless and such despair? What could we do to see this impossible task through?
Then we realised what the answer was. It was the little things.
It didn’t happen overnight, of course. It came slowly, like the way one drifts off into sleep. Then suddenly, like the coming of spring and the blooming of its flowers, the movement exploded in colour and commotion.
We started to build our country again. No, not again – anew. We started to build our country anew. We organised, we mobilised, and we created.
It wasn’t easy. It was hard. But it wasn’t as hard as we thought.
Often, the burden and the campaigning got to be too much. When it did, we supported one another and we never forgot what we were building. We kept going. I think we got a taste for it. Because finally we realised it really was up to us. We realised we could imagine and design and shape our country – our Wales. We believed in ourselves. We saw that we were worth it – that the people of Wales were worth it.
We got the message out. Not online. No, nothing like that. We just spoke to people. We spoked to our friends, our neighbours, our lovers, our co-workers – even people on the bus. It was just an idea at first. It was just discussions and deas being thrown around. But then that idea gained momentum. Then, sure enough, the seeds planted started to bloom.
We never argued with people. We debated but we respected one another. We understood that people were apprehensive or afraid of independence. It was something new, after all. All we did was question and affirm our beliefs and ideas and never blamed anyone who didn’t share our ideas to begin with.
We did all of this happily. We danced as we did the little things. We held events – the cultural, the political and the social. Day by day, every day, until people started to change. They started to feel confident and the movement grew. It became wider and bigger. It encompassed all people in Wales – every community, every religion, every race and every language. From teachers to doctors, to artists and engineers, the public servants and the business workers – we realised that we were the architects of Wales.
Our questions became our rallying cry.
What kind of country did we want Wales to be?
We wanted a mature and educated Wales where education and welfare would be provided to every person from the cradle to the grave. We wanted a Wales that would be free from prejudice and systemaic racism. We wanted a Wales that would be free from patriarchy and misogyny with equal rights for all – including the LGBT+ community. We wanted a Wales with a solid infrastructure and an efficient transport system that would connect all of our communities – from north to south. We wanted a Wales where no voice is silenced. We wanted a Wales which would be proud of its flourishing culture and arts with a strong, independent and unbiased media. We wanted a Wales where the Welsh language would be equal and for all. We imagnied a Wales where we would be free to be innovative and creative and would be able to use our resources and tools to make our economy thrive. We wanted to create a Wales where our peoples were happy and healthy.
What kind of Europe do we want to build together?
We imagined a democratic, socially just and united Europe. We would build even bigger and bolder networks across all frontiers in Europe and celebrate our diversity. We would share our cultures and aspire to work together. We would stand tall and proud on the stages of Europe and the rest of the world.
What kind of world do we want to live in?
We would take part in creating a flourishing world of peace and alliances.
We lobbied. We campaigned. We spoke to people and we made culture. We did it everday in the everyday spaces. We built from the ground up. We took care of ourselves and each other. We danced. We laughed. We stayed focused. We did the ‘pethau bychain’ – the little things.
We imagined a new Wales to call our home. We made our contribution, every single one of us.
That’s what we could do, so that’s what we did. We believed it could happen, so it did. We fought for it, and we won. And that is how Wales became independent.
Fflur Arwel / EFAy Vice-president for Gender and LGBT+ Rights