The launching of Diem25 Cymru had finally arrived. I was still in work when I got a text from Charles Davies that he had arrived down the bay and was just grabbing something to eat in the Ely Jenkins.
When I got down there he was just finishing off his pub meal. With his hair in a ponytail there was an uncanny resemblance to Podemos’s Pablo Iglesias. I thought of ordering something as well but I was far too stressed. Ty Hywel which is part of the Welsh Assembly had stipulated that only named guests would be allowed in and I didn’t know what was going to happen if people turned up on the night where they might be either turned away or need me to negotiating on their behalf. On the plus side enough people had requested a pass to make the meeting worthwhile.
We had a brief discussion on the format of the meeting and Charles read out some of the notes he had made. I suggested he mentioned the reasons he joined Diem25 as people like to hear that kind of stuff. We also had a chance to chat about music and guitars as we both in common with many Diemsters have a music and band background. We made our way over to the venue with a bit of time to spare.
After getting through the airport-style security we sat on the comfy chairs to wait for Hywel Williams and the other attendees to arrive. As they entered in dribs and drabs it was nice to meet and chat to people I had only met online before. Surprising one person I had corresponded with through Diem25 was married to a former class mate of mine (we were in a band together when we were 12) and I had even been to their wedding but hadn’t made the connection. It is indeed a small world. A figure in a overcoat and flat cap arrived who was Hywel Williams and we were escorted by security up to the meeting room.
Charles who was chairing the meeting first asked each person to introduce themselves. It was interesting the varied backgrounds – quite a few had some connection with continental Europe – people who had lived in Germany or Switzerland or from Greece or in my case born in Spain. Though attitudes to the EU differed – from those that see the EU as nonredeemable to those like myself that tend to see the EU as a fundamental necessity and that the UK is the bigger problem. Hywel Williams did his introduction and managed to use up most of his notes before he had even done his main speech.
He spoke of how he became an MP and how he nearly became a victim of boundary changes and as UKIP hadn’t stood in the last election he was proud that he didn’t believe any of the UKIP votes had gone to himself. Being on the parliamentary committee and Plaid Cymru spokesperson on brexit he had valuable insight into how the negotiations were going and that despite the posturing and brinkmanship a deal on withdrawal would be struck. This of course has turned out to be exactly correct. But whether the deal will get through parliament is another matter.
His analysis of the referendum in Arfon was that more prosperous areas were more pro-remain whereas the less prosperous were more pro-leave. Though this was definitely a theme in Wales as in England and Scotland, I think it would be a mistake to think this was the only factor, because issues such as national identity were as important. Research has shown that the more Welsh a person felt, the more likely they were to vote remain, whereas the more British it was leave. In England the reverse seems to be true. If you felt English you were more likely to vote leave and British more for remain. For Welsh speakers the percentage of remain voters was especially high at 75% plus. It would be wise for the UK government to take note of this if they care about the UK’s future. Hywel also talked about case that is going through the courts that if successful will mean that Article 50 can be reversed and the UK if desired could go back into the EU on the same terms and conditions as before.
Another matter Hywel raised was that of Catalunya an issue that I care about deeply and how ineffective the EU had been. It is also true that most of the other national governments have been very poor in their response, in some cases due to having similar minority nations with in their boundaries. He criticized the Welsh government for initially “condemning the violence on both sides” whereas as he rightly stated “the Catalans weren’t guilty of hitting their own heads on Spanish truncheons”. As with Northern Ireland, the banking and the refugee crisis, to me these show the necessity for elected European structures which can properly deal with these type of issues. It is a tragedy that the EU will intervene to close Greek banks or to enforce the contents of sausages. but won’t intervene in Catalunya to defend democracy because of Spanish national sovereignty.
Another subject that came up was the so called power grab by Westminster of powers returning from Brussels. This has highlighted how unrepresentative the whole system has become. It is ironic that the moves to bring back sovereignty to the UK parliament has in fact made it far less likely it will survive. Though the numbers supporting independence for Wales are still small, they have doubled since the brexit referendum. There is huge cross-party support for a federal solution for the UK. It is only UKIP who hypocritically want to overturn the results of two Welsh devolution referendums and get rid of the Welsh Assembly. Of course federalism may well get preempted by Scotland demanding independence.
In the question and answer at the end the issue of Reform versus Revolution came up. Hywel stated that he preferred small incremental changes were better than revolutions which end up killing too many people. He gave the example how Plaid Cymru has been able to influence the politics of Wales even though it is a small party. He contrasted Plaid’s decision to take their seats in Westminster to Sinn Fein which is abstentionist. The problem is that their voice isn’t heard and the DUP appears to represent the whole electorate. A lot of people (including it seems the DUP itself) don’t seem to realize how close Irish reunification is to getting the support of a majority of the population.
With Diem25 I think that this argument is more theoretical than real. To remind everyone the aims are (Immediately) Full transparency in decision-making. That includes live streaming of meetings, minutes, register of lobbyists etc. (Within 12 months) Address the on-going economic crisis utilizing existing institutions and within existing EU Treaties. (Within two years) Constitutional Assembly leading to a new European constitution by 2025. I would say that this veers more towards reform than revolution. But as Yanis Varoufakis said it doesn’t preclude the kind of velvet revolution happening in Europe as it had in the Soviet Block.
The meeting ended strictly on time as had been agreed with Ty Hywel. A few wandered off into the night but a few groups were still discussing issues of democracy under the street lamps. Though things look very dark there is a little bit of hope out there.