This Saturday sees the long-awaited YesCymru Extraordinary General Meeting that aims to settle the stormy waters that have engulfed the pro-independence, non-party political campaign group.

YesCymru has been rudderless since the 13th of August 2021, following the resignation, en masse, of what remained of the central committee.

The chair and one of the founders of YesCymru, Sion Jobbins, had stood down a month earlier for personal reasons; he cited his health as a factor.

The National Wales: YesCymru founder Sion Jobbins addresses a rally for Welsh independence in CardiffYesCymru founder Sion Jobbins addresses a rally for Welsh independence in Cardiff

So what led to the current situation?

YesCymru's public line is that the group's rapid growth meant its existing structures required an overhaul. YesCymru added thousands of new members during the Covid pandemic when awareness around Wales' devolved powers developed and questions were asked regarding Westminster's handling of the pandemic. 3,000 individuals joined over the space of three days in late October 2020 when the UK government refused to furlough Welsh business during the 17-day firebreak lockdown announced by the Welsh Government.

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By March 2021, YesCymru boasted more than 18,000 members who were paying a minimum of £2 a month to support their work; it was an increase of more than  15,000 members in a calendar year.

The 2021 Annual General Meeting was held online on a Saturday in May. It was the most accessible AGM the organisation had ever held, with all 18,000 members receiving an invite to attend. Of those, some 700 registered with around 450 attending on the day. It was a pretty decent turnout in terms of an AGM. I was one of the attendees on that day.

As well as electing the new central committee – they are elected annually for a 12-month term – other motions were put forward for a vote by the membership.

The discussions around the motions centred on equality and ensuring fair representation, including people who identify as non-binary. Pretty innocuous stuff for 2021, you would think. And here is where, in my opinion, YesCymru's present troubles lie.

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Before the meeting, a long-standing member of the central committee was suspended after complaints were received following the posting of allegedly transphobic comments on social media.

A new central committee was elected. But it became apparent soon after the meeting concluded that some within the independence movement were unhappy with the makeup of the new central committee. 

What followed and concluded with the chair's resignation and then the entire committee can only be described as a mess. But it's worth noting that much of the noise that surrounded it came from a relatively small group on Twitter. "Independence first we can sort out the rest later" was the argument; the fact that the rest included equality for all, regardless of gender, seems to have been downplayed. There were also claims of a left-wing takeover, as one of the new members was a founder of the group "Labour for an Independent Wales".

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Mud was slung, from both sides, but the fundamental issue that lay at the heart of those campaigning for the overthrow of the central committee was that of trans rights.

I'm no constitutional expert, but the original YesCymru constitution, which can be found here, may have had its flaws, but it isn't the real reason an EGM is being held.

The National Wales: Thousands attended Welsh independence marches before the pandemic. Photo: Huw Evans Picture AgencyThousands attended Welsh independence marches before the pandemic. Photo: Huw Evans Picture Agency

The removal of the central committee was followed by setting up a working group made up of representatives of local groups, whose own accountability and structures have been questioned by many over the past few months.

The "gweithgor", as it called itself, became a mallet designed to crack a hazelnut, and all because a small section on Twitter had taken umbrage that one person had been suspended from the central committee for having questionable views on the trans community. And also that a new central committee wanted to ensure that fair representation was extended to all.

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Is Yes Cymru worth saving? Yes. But it requires a radical overhaul and to be placed on a professional footing.

It wasn't the constitution that led YesCymru to this point. It was the failure of previous committees - including the one I served on for a short period - to create a professional structure staffed by competent individuals with the required skills to lead campaigns and make a positive case for Welsh independence.

The infighting of the past few months has damaged YesCymru's reputation. Still though, I would wager that most of the 18,000 membership are blissfully unaware of what's been going on behind the scenes and publicly in a Twitter bubble.

Now, more than ever, people who support Welsh independence need to come together to make the case for a fair, compassionate and caring independent Wales. It is the minds of those who don't currently support (and possibly don't understand), how an independent Wales can come into being that need to be won over.

Achieving independence won't come about by waving flags from bridges and the tops of mountains.   

Huw Marshall served as a member of the YesCymru central committee elected in December 2018. 

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