It's a good time of year to talk about this kind of thing. There has been a very positive poll for the BBC which everyone has already blogged about. The pro-devolution camp should obviously focus on this and take steps towards the 'Yes' campaign and the referendum. But some points were raised on Marcus' blog about the apparently insignificant support for Welsh independence in the very same poll, with the inference that this is bad news for Plaid Cymru.
In the poll, two pro-independence options (within the EU and outside the EU) receive 8% and 5% respectively, with 13% of those polled wanting an independent Wales. I'm not sure if this is worth reading into (remember the poll that showed hardly any Plaid supporters wanted independence?), but if I was to read into it as a pro-devolution, pro-Wales person, my reading would come out as positive for Plaid's long-term aims.
Independence for Wales is at present an abstracted position to take (although an entirely honourable one, and one I subscribe to personally) because no political party in Wales is currently advocating it. Not even Plaid Cymru is campaigning for independence, because the realities of devolution mean that we need to nation-build Wales first. In recent years Plaid have instead sought to extend devolution. The extent to which they have been succesful is hugely significant, just 10 years after the first elections to the Assembly a pro-more powers consensus has already been formed across the Assembly, and a majority of people in Wales want to move further down the road of devolution (not the 'slippery slope'). When you think about it, this is quite an achievement, considering the mandate for creating the Assembly was extremely slim.
The remaining three mainstream parties are all British in their identity and approach, so the political weight is stacked against any pro-independence view (more so than in Scotland where smaller parties other than the SNP back independence- not tiny parties either, ones which have won MSPs in the past). And if independence is solely seen as Plaid's pet, but is not even being campaigned for by them, what chance does it have? Even 13% in an opinion poll is surprisingly good for such an obscure term, when posed during an economic recession which experts have predicted would diminish support for independence in Scotland for example (not convinced at all that those experts are right, but there you go).
It could be argued that abolishing the Assembly, an option that polls 21% in the latest survey, has a similar position to independence, that it's an abstract idea that no party is campaigning for. But the 'no devolution' cause, if it can be called such a thing, does have a history in recent living memory: in the vociferous 'no' campaign in 1997 when the outgoing ruling party in the UK officially backed such a campaign. It also has more of a grassroots following in the newspaper letters' pages in Wales, mainly in South-East Wales amongst conservative voters and supporters (inevitably older generations). Independence has no such impetus or recent history as an ideal in the political fabric of Wales (probably a good thing, the last thing the national movement needs is to resort to misty-eyed remembrancing).
For independence to progress as a national cause that people will support, there needs to be a strong fabric of Welsh life and identity already in place. As far as I can see, this is what the nationalists in Wales are trying to achieve. Wales has only become classified as a nation in living memory, only got a capital city in the 1950s and faced linguistic extinction not that long before then. Nationalists in Wales need to model a view of the kind of independence they want to achieve and the kind of society they want to create. Wales having it's own army and a seat at the UN isn't good enough. As James Connolly warned, changing the colour of the flag won't make a difference unless you also change society. I think this is the kind of independence we can campaign for and achieve, but nobody has set it out yet.
If you want to read further into the point I was trying to make about older generations, these recent stats about national identity amongst school children in Wales are very relevant. These kids are growing up under the Assembly, by the time they are older it will be their reference point to politics, such a huge change from my (young) generation who had the Assembly created as something new in their life times. The 13% for independence is going to be a growing pool. The 21% for abolishing the Assembly is going to shrink with age and eventually die out.