By James Moules
RENEWED faith in the Welsh government over its pandemic response has led to the rise in support for breaking away from the UK, a pro-independence activist has claimed.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the four home nations of the United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – have implemented restrictions and measures independently of each other.
Notably, Wales was earlier to implement an autumn “fire break” lockdown than England, with the two second lockdowns coming into force on October 23, 2020 and November 5, 2020 respectively – although during December 2020 Wales saw a more vicious spike of positive Covid-19 tests than England – and many of the UK’s worst affected regions were in Wales.
However, the Office for National Statistics recently estimated that a slightly higher number of people in England (one in eight) would likely have tested positive for Covid in December than in Wales (one in ten).
Siôn Jobbins, chair of the pro-independence pressure group YesCymru, told Redaction Politics that the Welsh government’s handling of Covid-19 has likely contributed to increased support for Welsh separatism.
He said: “I think people see the way that Westminster handled Covid badly and has shaken people’s belief in the system.
“People have by and large felt that the Welsh Government has handled things better and added to that they have handled things better when they have not followed Westminster. That’s the big realisation for a lot of people here.”
Over the past decade, polling has shown a growth in support for Welsh independence from the United Kingdom.
In 2014 – the year of the Scottish independence referendum – a mere 12 per cent of Welsh people told a YouGov poll that they favoured independence, compared to 74 per cent against.
Just six years later, a YouGov/Welsh Barometer poll found that support for independence had nearly doubled – growing to 23 per cent. It also suggested that opposition to independence had declined to 53 per cent.
Describing YesCyrmu’s mission statement, Siôn Jobbins said: “Our two mains aims are to have international recognition for an independent Wales, which is basically a seat in the United Nations and for Wales to have its own independent constitution.
“All questions beyond that – to keep the monarchy, or would Wales be in NATO, would Wales be in the EU – those are other issues to be discussed after independence.”
He added that faith in Westminster is eroding in Wales – further explaining the growing support for independence.
“I think there are some underlying issues. I think Brexit has shaken things up in general across the UK whichever way one looks at it, and I think for a section of Welsh society who felt their faith in the British state and in Westminster has been shaken.
“The other big thing with Brexit is that Brexit would be the first step towards centralisation of the British state,” he added, noting that many in Wales would be opposed to this. “Some of our members voted for Brexit, but we didn’t vote for a power grab from Westminster.”
Elections to the Welsh Parliament (also known in Welsh as the Senedd Cymru) are expected to be held on May 6, 2021.
Plaid Cyrmu – the largest political party supporting Welsh independence – currently has the third largest number of seats in the Senedd after Labour and the Conservatives. They have pledged to hold a referendum on independence if they win the forthcoming election.
The current First Minister of Wales is Labour’s Mark Drakeford – who leads a cabinet that also includes a Liberal Democrat and an independent.
This article was amended on January 23, 2021 to reorder wording in paragraph four.
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