Welsh independence (Welsh: Annibyniaeth i Gymru) is a political movement supporting Wales leaving the United Kingdom to become an independent sovereign state. Wales was conquered by Edward I of England during the 13th century, and it was incorporated into the Kingdom of England by the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542.
The modern Welsh independence movement emerged during the mid-19th century. In the 21st century the political parties Plaid Cymru, Propel, Gwlad, and the Wales Green Party support Welsh independence, as does the non-partisan YesCymru campaign.
Wales became distinct culturally and politically from other Brythonic groups during the Early Middle Ages. Ruled by a patchwork of independent kingdoms, the territory of modern Wales was not a unified state. Following the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the Normans invaded Wales and fleetingly established control over much of the country. However, by 1100 Welsh resistance had reversed most of these gains; the Anglo-Normans maintained control of lowland Gwent, Glamorgan, Gower, and Pembroke, regions which experienced considerable Anglo-Norman colonisation, while the contested border region between the Welsh princes and Anglo-Norman barons became known as the Welsh Marches. Despite intermittent conflict, this situation broadly persisted until the conquest of Wales by Edward I between 1277 and 1283. The death of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282 and the defeat of the leading native Welsh state, Gwynedd, effectively ended Welsh self-rule. The Welsh rebelled against English rule several times in the following centuries. The last, and most significant, revolt was the Glyndŵr Rising of 1400–1415, which briefly restored independence. The banner of Owain Glyndŵr is still used as a symbol of independence.
In the 16th century, the English king Henry VIII (who belonged to the Tudor dynasty, a royal house of Welsh origin), passed the Laws in Wales Acts, which incorporated Wales fully into the Kingdom of England. These parliamentary measures, often referred to as the 'Acts of Union’, were passed by the parliament of England, a body which wholly lacked representatives from within Wales. The union offered new opportunities to the Welsh gentry, who could now become justices of the peace and members of Parliament at Westminster.
The belief that Wales should form an independent nation state returned in the mid 19th century (the first recorded use of the Welsh word for nationalism, cenedlaetholdeb, is from 1858). By 1886 Cymru Fydd ('The Wales to Come') had been founded, its main leaders being David Lloyd George (later Prime Minister), J. E. Lloyd, O. M. Edwards, T. E. Ellis (leader, MP for Merioneth, 1886–1899), the historian J. E. Lloyd and Beriah Gwynfe Evans. Its main objective was to gain self-government for Wales.
The Sunday Closing (Wales) Act 1881 was the first legislation to acknowledge that Wales had a separate politico-legal character from the rest of the English state. In 1886 Joseph Chamberlain proposed "Home Rule All Round" the United Kingdom, and in the same year the Cymru Fydd (Young Wales) movement was founded to further the cause. Their goal was a devolved assembly rather than a fully independent state, and the movement collapsed in 1896 amid personal rivalries and rifts between Liberal representatives such as David Alfred Thomas.
There was little mainstream political interest in Home Rule following the First World War. The focus of independence moved to the newly founded political party, Plaid Cymru, from 1925, although it took until the late 1960s for Plaid to make its first electoral breakthroughs. Many bodies were decentralized, however, including:
- 1907 - the Welsh Education Board
- 1911 - the Welsh Insurance Commission
- 1919 - a Welsh Department of the Ministry of Agriculture
- 1919 - the Welsh Board of Health
- 1920 - the Church in Wales was disestablished and separated from the Church of England through the Welsh Church Act 1914
The early part of the century also saw the expansion of the federal University of Wales and the establishment of the National Library and National Museums. By 1945 there were 15 Government departments established in Wales.
The declaration of Cardiff as the capital of Wales in 1955, Labour's 1959 commitment to appoint a Secretary of State for Wales, the creation of the Welsh Office in 1965, and the repeal of the Wales and Berwick Act 1746 two years later seemed to demonstrate a growing nationalist impetus. However, the heavy defeat for a proposed Welsh Assembly offered by Labour in the 1979 devolution referendum "suggested that the vast majority of the inhabitants of Wales had no desire to see their country having a national future".
On 1 July 1955 a conference of all parties called at Llandrindod by the New Wales Union (Undeb Cymru Fydd) to consider a national petition for the campaign for a Parliament for Wales. The main leader was Megan Lloyd George, the daughter of David Lloyd George, T. I. Ellis, and Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards. According to the historian Dr William Richard Philip George, "Megan was responsible for removing much prejudice against the idea of a parliament for Wales". She later presented the petition with 250,000 signatures to the British government in April 1956.
In the 1980s, economic restructuring and Thatcherite market reforms brought social dislocation to parts of Wales, which had formerly been described as having "the largest public sector west of the Iron Curtain". A succession of non-Welsh Conservative Secretaries of State after 1987 was portrayed by opponents as 'colonial' and indicative of a 'democratic deficit'. In the early 1990s the Labour Party became committed to devolution to both Scotland and Wales, and in 1997 it was elected with a mandate to hold referendums on a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly.
The proposed assembly won a narrow majority in the 1997 referendum. The political climate was very different from that of 1979, with a new generation of Welsh MPs in Westminster and a broad consensus on the previously divisive issue of the Welsh language. However, political commentator Denis Balsom notes public sentiment that devolution may have been "unnecessary" following the election of a 'progressive' Labour government. These conflicting sentiments were reflected in the relatively low turnout at the referendum and the narrowness of the victory for devolution campaigners.
Since 1997, there has been evidence of increased support for, and trust in, the Senedd and greater support for it to receive enhanced powers, as evidenced by the 63.49% "Yes" vote in the 2011 referendum.
It was suggested before the UK's referendum on European Union membership that Wales might vote by a majority for Remain while the UK as a whole voted for Leave, which would increase support for independence. However, while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted for Remain, Wales as a whole voted by a majority for Leave, with majorities for Leave in all but five of its council areas, the Remain majorities being in Cardiff, Monmouthshire, Vale of Glamorgan and the Welsh-speaking heartlands, Gwynedd and Ceredigion.
In July 2020, Plaid brought forward a motion to discuss a referendum on Welsh independence, but it was rejected by 43 votes to 9. On 11 December, Plaid leader Adam Price stated that if the party won a majority at the 2021 Senedd election, an independence referendum would be held in its first term in office. At Plaid's special conference on independence, held on 13 February 2021, party members formally approving Price's pledge to hold a referendum by or before 2026. In addition to Plaid, three other parties stood on a pro-independence platform at the Senedd election: the Wales Green Party, Gwlad and Propel.
In January 2021, Guto Harri, who was Boris Johnson's communications chief when the latter was Mayor of London, wrote in The Sunday Times that "the idea of independence is taking off, with new recruits from very different backgrounds." He went on to say, "Brexiteers will hate me for saying this, but it is clear that some have contributed more to the cause of Welsh independence than my late father. The prospect of being attached to a leftover English rump of the UK, if Scotland and Northern Ireland head off, seems bleak to many people. And having argued against pooling sovereignty with our neighbours to facilitate trade and maximise our influence, Brexiteers should not be surprised if the same logic is applied in a different setting." Richard Wyn Jones, director of the Welsh governance centre at Cardiff University, claimed that the cause of independence in Wales would be boosted significantly if Scotland chose independence first.
Prior to 2014, numerous previous surveys yielded quite widely differing results, often with small sample sizes, poor methodology, differing question types and often without publishing their data sets. These polls often found that between 10 and 20% of Welsh people desire independence from the United Kingdom. A 2001 survey for the Institute of Welsh Affairs found that 11% of people polled favoured independence. A 2007 survey by the Institute of Welsh Politics at the University of Wales found that 12% of those questioned supported independence, down slightly from 14% in 1997. A poll taken by BBC Wales/Newsnight in 2007 found that 20% of Welsh questioned favoured independence. A 2006 poll taken by Wales on Sunday found the number to be as high as 52%, although the poll mostly interviewed people in North Wales and West Wales where support for independence was historically strongest.
A YouGov/ITV Wales poll in February 2012, showed that only 10% of Welsh voters would support independence even if Scotland became independent of the British state, with three constituent countries, the same level of support as polls have shown with the British state composing four constituent countries. However, a YouGov/ITV Wales Poll in September 2014, showed a marked increase in support for Welsh independence having risen to 17%, potentially due to the proximity to the Scottish Independence referendum, which was due to be held the week after the poll.
In February 2014, an ICM poll for BBC Wales on the range of devolution options found that 5% chose Independence from the options. Following the referendum on Scottish independence, a September 2014 poll conducted by the same company again on all 5 options of devolution, found that this figure was 3%, with the largest percentage of people choosing the 'More Powers' for the assembly option. The same poll found that there had been a significant increase in support for more powers for the Welsh Government.
Since 2014, polls have used similar methodology, often using the pollster YouGov, and have a relatively consistent question style with sample sizes >1000.
A poll commissioned by YesCymru in May 2017 discovered the following: of the major political parties in Wales, Labour voters and Plaid Cymru voters, as well as those aged 18–49, were most likely to vote for independence, while UKIP and Conservative voters were least likely. It also found that 5⁄6 of Plaid Cymru voters favoured independence, and that Welsh speakers were three times more likely to favour independence.
On 11 May 2019, a march for Welsh independence was organised by AUOB Cymru in Cardiff, with an estimated 3,000 in attendance. On 27 July 2019, AUOB organised an independence march in Caernarfon. Estimates put the attendance at about 8,000. On 7 September 2019, a third AUOB Cymru was held in Merthyr Tydfil and attracted a crowd of 5,200.
On 24 October 2020, Wales Green Party members voted at their party conference that the party would support Welsh independence in the event of a referendum being held on whether or not Wales should become independent from the United Kingdom.
In a YouGov poll in November 2020, 33% said they would support Welsh independence, the highest ever level of support. Support rose to a new level in a Savanta ComRes poll conducted from 18-22 February 2021 and published by ITV News on 4 March 2021. This one found that 39% of Welsh voters would vote Yes for independence, once 'Don't Knows' are excluded.
Parties in favour of independence
Support for independence is found in political parties on both the right and left of Welsh politics:
- Cymru Sovereign
- Plaid Cymru
- Wales Green Party (in the event a referendum is held on Welsh independence. The party does not actively campaign for independence but has stated it would do so if a referendum was called on the matter)
- Green Party of England and Wales (in the event a referendum is held on Welsh independence)
Parties in favour of the Union
Support for the Union is found in political parties on both the right and left of Welsh politics:
- Welsh Conservatives
- Welsh Labour
- Welsh Liberal Democrats
- Liberal Party
- UK Independence Party
- Brexit Party
- British National Party
- Co-operative Party
- Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party
- Social Democratic Party
- Socialist Party Wales
- Christian Party
Yes/No Independence polls
|Sample size||Should Wales be an independent country?||Lead||Notes|
|23–28 April 2021||Savanta ComRes||1,002||28%||57%||15%||31%|
|18–21 April 2021||YouGov||1,142||22%||54%||24%||32%||Includes 16 and 17 year-olds|
|9–19 April 2021||Opinium / Sky News||2,005||28%||52%||19%||24%|
|16–19 March 2021||Welsh Barometer Survey / YouGov||1,174||22%||55%||23%||33%||Includes 16 and 17 year-olds|
|18–22 February 2021||Savanta ComRes / ITV News||1,003||35%||55%||10%||20%||Includes 16 and 17 year-olds|
|19–22 February 2021||WalesOnline / YouGov||1,059||25%||50%||14%||25%||Includes 16 and 17 year-olds|
|18–21 January 2021||The Sunday Times / YouGov||1,059||23%||52%||25%||29%||Includes 16 and 17 year-olds|
|11–14 January 2021||Welsh Barometer Survey / YouGov||1,018||22%||53%||25%||31%||Includes 16 and 17 year-olds|
|26–29 October 2020||Welsh Barometer Survey / YouGov||1,013||23%||53%||25%||30%||Includes 16 and 17 year-olds|
|24–27 August 2020||YesCymru / YouGov||1,044||25%||52%||23%||27%|
|29 July – 7 August 2020||YesCymru / YouGov||1,044||26%||55%||19%||29%||Includes 16 and 17 year-olds|
|29 May – 1 June 2020||ITV Wales / YouGov / Cardiff Uni||1,021||25%||54%||21%||29%|
|20–26 January 2020||Welsh Barometer Survey / YouGov||1,037||21%||57%||22%||36%||Includes 16 and 17 year-olds|
|6–9 December 2019||Welsh Barometer Survey / YouGov||1,020||17%||60%||23%||43%|
|22–25 November 2019||Welsh Barometer Survey / YouGov||1,116||20%||57%||22%||37%|
|31 October – 4 November 2019||Welsh Barometer Survey / YouGov||1,032||22%||57%||21%||35%|
|10–14 October 2019||Welsh Barometer Survey / YouGov||1,032||21%||57%||23%||36%|
|6–10 September 2019||Plaid Cymru / YouGov||1,039||24%||52%||23%||28%|
|6–10 September 2019||Plaid Cymru / YouGov||1,039||33%||48%||20%||15%||Non-standard question:
If an independent Wales was within the European Union
|7–14 December 2018||Sky News Data: Wales||1,014||17%||67%||16%||50%|
|30 May – 6 June 2018||YouGov||2,016||19%||65%||16%||46%|
|July 2016||ITV Wales / YouGov||1,010||15%||65%||20%||50%|
|July 2016||ITV Wales / YouGov||1,010||28%||53%||20%||25%||Non-standard question:
If an independent Wales was within the European Union
|July 2016||ITV Wales / YouGov||1,010||19%||61%||21%||42%||Non-standard question:
If Scotland left the UK
|8–11 September 2014||ITV Wales / Cardiff University||>1,000||17%||70%||13%||53%||The week before the Scottish independence referendum|
|March 2013||ITV Wales / YouGov||Unknown||10%||62%||28%||52%||Non-standard question: If Scotland left the UK|
"0-10" Independence polls – (Respondents asked to rate 0–10. 0–4 Against, 5 indifferent, 6–10 In Favour. "Don't Know" removed)
|10–15 May 2019||YesCymru / YouGov||1,133||36%||14%||4%||5%||6%||7%||17%||5%||6%||6%||2%||28%||47%|
|9–12 May 2017||YesCymru / YouGov||1,000||29%||10%||2%||6%||6%||5%||18%||4%||6%||7%||5%||31%||53%|
Devolution extent polls
Side by side polls – Independence vs. No devolved government in Wales
|Polling Organisation & Client||Sample Size||Independence (inc. sub-samples)||No devolved government (inc. sub-samples)||Indifferent
/ no reply (%)
|Total (%)||Conservative (%)||Labour (%)||Lib Dem (%)||Plaid Cymru (%)||Total (%)||Conservative (%)||Labour (%)||Lib Dem (%)||Plaid Cymru (%)|
|29 May – 1 June 2020||ITV Wales / YouGov / Cardiff Uni||1,021||33%||12%||45%||39%||87%||45%||79%||35%||53%||4%||21%|
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