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Welsh independence (Welsh: Annibyniaeth i Gymru) is the political movement advocating for Wales to become a sovereign state, independent from the United Kingdom.
Wales was conquered during the 13th century by Edward I of England following the killing of Llywelyn the Last (Prince of Wales). Edward introduced the royal ordinance, the Statute of Rhuddlan, in 1284, causing Wales to lose its de facto independence and the native Welsh principality was incorporated into the Kingdom of England. Owain Glyndŵr, native Prince of Wales restored Welsh independence c. 1400–10, but Henry IV of England eventually regained control of Wales.
Henry VIII of England introduced the Laws in Wales Acts between 1535 and 1542, English law replaced Cyfraith Hywel (Welsh medieval law), and the Welsh principality and Marches were integrated into England. The Wales and Berwick Act defined "England" to include Wales in 1746, but the Welsh Language Act 1967, partly repealed this with the term "England and Wales".
The modern Welsh independence movement emerged during the mid-19th century, as did a movement for "home rule". Since 1999, Wales has been granted some legislative power as part of Welsh devolution from the UK parliament, and contemporary Welsh law within the English legal system. At present, the political parties Plaid Cymru, Propel, Gwlad, and the Wales Green Party support Welsh independence, as does the non-partisan YesCymru campaign group. Support for independence has increased from 14% in 2014 to its highest support of 46% in April 2021 when excluding don't knows.
The title, "King of all Wales" was used as early as 798 AD, but Wales first became a fully unified independent country in 1055 under the leadership of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, who ruled as King of Wales until 1063. Three years later the Norman invasion began, which briefly controlled much of Wales, but by 1100 Anglo-Norman control was reduced to the 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.
In the 13th century, the last prince of Wales, Llywelyn the Last retained his rights to Wales by agreement with King Henry III in the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267. Henry's successor, Edward I, disapproved of Llywelyn's alliance with Simon de Montfort, who revolted along with other barons against the English king in the Second Barons' War of 1264 to 1267; and so in 1276 Edward's army forced Llywelyn into an agreement that saw Llywelyn withdraw his powers to Gwynedd only. In 1282, whilst attempting to gather support in Cilmeri near Builth Wells, Llywelyn was killed by one of Edward's soldiers. Llywelyn's brother Dafydd ap Gruffydd briefly led a force in Wales, but was captured and later hung, drawn and quartered by Edward, thus ending Welsh independence.
Since conquest, there have been Welsh rebellions against English rule. The last, and the most significant, revolt was the Glyndŵr Rising of 1400–1415, which briefly restored independence. Owain Glyndŵr held the first Welsh parliament (Senedd) in Machynlleth in 1404 where he was proclaimed Prince of Wales and a second parliament in 1405 in Harlech. After the eventual defeat of the Glyndŵr rebellion and a brief period of independence, it was not until 1999 that a Welsh legislative body was re-established as the National Assembly of Wales, which was renamed Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament in 2020.
In the 16th century, King Henry VIII of the Tudor dynasty (a royal house of Welsh origin) and the English parliament passed the Laws in Wales Acts, also referred to as the "Acts of Union", which incorporated Wales fully into the Kingdom of England.
See also: Welsh devolution
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" in the United Kingdom, and in the same year, the Cymru Fydd (Young Wales) movement was founded to further the cause. The main leaders were David Lloyd George (later Prime Minister), J. E. Lloyd, O. M. Edwards, T. E. Ellis (leader, MP for Merioneth, 1886–1899) and Beriah Gwynfe Evans. Its main objective was to gain self-government for Wales. Their goal was a devolved assembly, but the movement was disbanded in 1896 amid personal rivalries and rifts between Liberal representatives such as David Alfred Thomas.
Support for home rule for Wales and Scotland amongst most political parties was historically strongest in 1918 following the independence of other European countries after the First World War, and the Easter Rising in Ireland, according to historian Dr Davies.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the formation of multiple national Welsh bodies. These included University of Wales in 1893, Welsh Education Board in 1907, the National Library of Wales in 1911 and Welsh Board of Health in 1919. In 1920, the Church in Wales was disestablished and separated from the Church of England through the Welsh Church Act of 1914.
In 1925 Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru ("the National Party of Wales") was founded; it was renamed Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales in 1945. The party's principles since its founding have been (1) self government for Wales, (2) to safeguard the culture, traditions, language and economic position of Wales and (3) to secure membership for a self-governing Welsh state in the United Nations. The party's first Westminster seat (MP) was won by Gwynfor Evans in 1966. By 1974 the party had won three MP seats and in the 2019 general election it won four seats. Following the formation of the Senedd in 1999, Plaid Cymru won 17 of 60 seats in the initial Welsh election of 1999 and 13 seats in 2021.
In 1975, Plaid Cymru opposed remaining in the European Communities (EC). The party stated, at the time, that it felt that the EC's regional aid policies would "reconcile places like Wales to their subordinate position". Nevertheless, 65% of Welsh voters voted to remain in the EC in the 1975 referendum. The EC were incorporated into the European Union (EU) in 1993.
In the 1950s, the deterioration of the British Empire removed a sense of Britishness and there was a realisation that Wales was not as prosperous as south-east England and smaller European countries. Successive Conservative Party victories in Westminster led to suggestions that only through self-government could Wales achieve a government reflecting the votes of a Welsh electorate. The Tryweryn flooding which was voted against by almost every single Welsh MP, suggested that Wales as a nation was powerless. The Epynt clearance in 1940 has also been described as a "significant – but often overlooked – chapter in the history of Wales".
On 1 July 1955, a conference of all parties was called at Llandrindod by the New Wales Union (Undeb Cymru Fydd) to consider a national petition for a Parliament for Wales. The main leaders were 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.
The declaration of Cardiff as the capital of Wales in 1955, the Labour Party'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".
In the early 1990s, Labour became committed to devolution for 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 National Assembly for Wales was formed in 1999. Since the referendum on Welsh devolution in 1997 and formation of the Senedd (then National Assembly for Wales) in 1999, there has been increased support for and trust in the Senedd, with support for it to receive more devolved powers. Further powers have been granted to the Senedd by the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Wales Act 2014, and the Wales Act 2017.
The independence movement has been present in Wales since the mid-19th century and Plaid Cymru has also campaigned for it throughout the majority of the 20th century, since it was founded in 1925. In the 21st century, the question of Welsh independence became more prominent following increased discussion on a second Scottish independence referendum.
Main article: YesCymru
Non-partisan pro-independence group, YesCymru was founded in 2014 and open to the public for membership in 2016. In 2020, the group claimed that they had had a sudden rise in membership with 17,000 members by the end of 2020, partly influenced by the British government response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Main article: Proposed Welsh independence referendum
In 2017, there were plans to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said there needed to be a national debate on Welsh independence. 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 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 July 2020, Plaid Cymru tabled a motion for Welsh ministers to seek permission from Westminster for the right of the Senedd to legislate for a Welsh independence referendum. The members of Senedd rejected this motion by 43 votes to 9. This was the first time in history that Welsh independence was debated in the Senedd.
On 11 December 2020, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price stated that if his 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 approved Price's pledge to hold a referendum in or before 2026. In addition to Plaid, three other parties—the Wales Green Party, Gwlad and Propel—stood on a pro-independence platform at the Senedd election.
In June 2022, the UK government announced its intention to repeal the Welsh Government's 2017 Trade Union Act, which bans agency staff from being used if public sector workers go on strike. Price called this a "power grab" and "potentially devolution's breaking point", and called for a referendum to be held in order to protect the Senedd's powers. In response, First Minister Mark Drakeford stated that in order for a referendum to be held, a pro-referendum party would have to win the most seats in an election.
Main article: Labour for an Independent Wales
Labour for an Independent Wales, which is a group of Labour Party members who "believe the best way to achieve a democratic socialist Wales is through independence", was formed in 2018. Welsh Labour member, Harriet Protheroe-Soltani has suggested that in order for the Welsh independence movement to create a supermajority and a cross-party movement, then the support of Welsh Labour members is required. In August 2020, a YouGov poll showed that 39% of Welsh Labour voters would vote for independence "if there was a referendum tomorrow". The Welsh Governance Centre also showed that in the last Senedd election over 40% of Labour voters supported independence.
Main article: All Under One Banner Cymru
On 11 May 2019, the first ever march in history for Welsh independence was organised by All Under One Banner Cymru (AUOB Cymru) in Cardiff, with an estimated 3,000 in attendance. On 27 July 2019, AUOB organised an independence march in Caernarfon. An estimate 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.
A pro-independence march organised by AUOBCymru, Indy Fest Wrexham and YesCymru took place in Wrexham on 2 July 2022, the first such march since before the pandemic. A further protest will be held in Cardiff in October.
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. Adam Price has made the argument that if the UK Supreme Court allows a referendum on Scottish independence to be held without Westminster's position, then Wales should be allowed to do the same.
In September 2021, an open letter, signed by a number of groups who advocate for Welsh independence (including AUOBCymru, members of the former central committee of YesCymru as well as Welsh Football Fans for Independence), was sent to First Minister Mark Drakeford. Written in response to Drakeford's proposed constitutional commission, it stated that "Wales needs an independence commission, not one to salvage the union." The following month, the Independent Constitutional Commission was launched by the Welsh Labour government. Led by Professor Laura McAllister and former Archbishop of Wales, Rowan Williams, it will examine Wales' future relationship with the rest of the UK and will consider Welsh independence as well. Plaid Cymru called the commission the "most wide-ranging national conversation about Wales' future".
As of the 2019 general election, 40 of 650 seats at the House of Commons are in Wales. Wales has the smallest average constituency size, with 56,000 constituents per MP compared to 72,200 per MP for England. Proposals revealed by the Boundary Commission in 2020 would reduce the number of Welsh seats from 40 down to 32 as part of efforts to equalise constituency sizes. Advocates for Welsh independence often cite the small number of seats in Wales as a justification for independence. They feel that this limits the ability of Wales to help make political decisions within the UK. Dissatisfaction with the House of Lords, where members are appointed rather than elected, has also been cited as a reason for independence. Further criticisms made of the Westminster system includes:
A central argument made by those in favour of independence is that becoming an independent country would allow Wales to make its own decisions on policy areas such as foreign policy, taxation, and other non-devolved issues. It has also been suggested that the Welsh government would be able to be fully accountable for an independent Wales and that the Welsh electorate would have sole political representation and would elect a government voted for by Wales only. Further proposed powers include:
See also: Economy of Wales
Welsh independence would also grant Wales far greater control over its economy. Proponents of independence argue that this would allow Wales to flourish as an independent country.
Wales has a significant fiscal deficit of 18% (2021), with each Welsh citizen being a net recipient of £4,400 per year from the UK exchequer versus England's £90 and Scotland's £2,500. It has been suggested that this deficit could be addressed as an independent nation using the example of Republic of Ireland which had an economic growth called the Celtic Tiger from the 1990s. It has also been noted that Wales is in a better economic state than 1920s Ireland, when it gained independence. Further economic arguments made for independence include:
The United Kingdom left the EU in 2020 following a referendum on membership in 2016. At the referendum, 53% of Welsh voters voted to leave, though Plaid Cymru, the only pro-independence party with representatives in the Welsh Assembly, opposed leaving. Since Brexit, many pro-independence campaigners, including Plaid, have argued that joining the EU would be a benefit to leaving the UK, noting the success of small nations such as Lithuania, Slovakia and the Republic of Ireland within the EU. While most people who are pro-independence also favour joining the EU, this is not a universal position. According to Ashcroft Polls, a "significant" number of Plaid voters also voted for Brexit. It has been suggested that an independent Wales would have the option to join the EU in an exclusive Welsh deal if this option benefits Wales.
See also: Armed forces of Wales
Dr. Bleddyn Bowen, Lecturer in Defence Studies at King's College London has suggested the formation of Welsh National Security organisations in an independent Wales as well as their codified objectives. His proposed organisations are as follows: a Wales National Security Council led by the Welsh head of government/state; Wales Intelligence Service responsible for counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence, counter-subversion, counter-organised crime, allied intelligence liaison; a Wales Defence Force for air/maritime policing, air defence, disaster response, civil protection, special forces; a Wales Expeditionary combat and peacekeeping force involved in NATO, EU, United Nations missions; the promotion of training, exercises and testing for allies in Wales. Dr Bowen suggests that these organisations should have the following objectives: maintain global political economy to benefit the Welsh economy and Welsh quality of life, protect Welsh citizens and advance Welsh interests abroad, prevent and respond to hostile foreign activity in Wales, maintain relationships with European states and organisations and the US and contribute to the collective defence and security of allies.
Reasons for continuing the union can be summarised as follows:
A graphical summary of yes/no independence polls, excluding non-standard questions.
|Should Wales be an independent country?||Lead||Notes|
|16–19 August 2022||YouGov / The Sunday Times||1,025||30%||48%||13%||18%||Non-standard question:|
If Liz Truss became Prime Minister of the UK
|16–19 August 2022||YouGov / The Sunday Times||1,025||25%||53%||12%||28%|
|12–16 June 2022||YouGov / ITV Wales||1,020||25%||50%||25%||25%|
|25 Feb – 1 March 2022||YouGov/ Barn Cymru||1,086||21%||53%||26%||32%||Age 16+|
|5 May 2021||Savanta ComRes||1,002||30%||55%||15%||25%||Taken with 29 April – 4 May 2021 poll, online|
|29 April – 4 May 2021||Savanta ComRes||1,002||27%||58%||14%||31%||Online|
|23–28 April 2021||Savanta ComRes||1,002||42%||49%||8%||7%||46% (excluding "don't know"), the highest ever level of support.|
|18–21 April 2021||YouGov||1,142||22%||54%||24%||32%||Age 16+|
|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%||Age 16+|
|18–22 February 2021||Savanta ComRes / ITV News||1,003||35%||55%||10%||20%||39% (excluding "don't know"), the highest ever support at the time. Age 16+.|
|19–22 February 2021||WalesOnline / YouGov||1,059||25%||50%||14%||25%||Age 16+|
|18–21 January 2021||The Sunday Times / YouGov||1,059||23%||52%||25%||29%||Age 16+|
|11–14 January 2021||Welsh Barometer Survey / YouGov||1,018||22%||53%||25%||31%||Age 16+|
|26–29 October 2020||Welsh Barometer Survey / YouGov||1,013||23%||53%||25%||30%||Age 16+|
|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%||Age 16+|
|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%||Age 16+|
|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 / YouGov / 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
the Senedd (%)
status quo (%)
the Senedd (%)
of the Senedd (%)
not reply/Other (%)
|28 January – 21 February 2021||BBC / ICM Unlimited||14||35||27||3||15||6|
|29 May – 1 June 2020||ITV Wales & Cardiff University / YouGov||16||20||24||5||22||14|
|4–22 February 2020||BBC / ICM||11||43||25||2||14||3|
|7–23 February 2019||BBC / ICM||7||46||27||3||13||4|
|February 2017||BBC / ICM||6||44||29||3||13||4|
|February 2016||BBC / ICM||6||43||30||3||13||4|
|February 2015||BBC / ICM||6||40||33||4||13||4|
|September 2014||BBC / ICM||3||49||26||2||12||6|
|February 2014||BBC / ICM||5||37||28||3||23||5|
|2013||BBC / ICM||9||36||28||2||20||4|
|2012||BBC / ICM||7||36||29||2||22||4|
|2011||BBC / ICM||11||35||18||17||15||4|
|2010||BBC / ICM||11||40||13||18||13||4|
Side by side polls – Independence vs. No devolved government in Wales
|No devolved government
/ 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%|
((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)