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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 in ~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 The Wales and Berwick Act defined "England" to include Wales in 1746, but the Welsh Language Act 1967, partly repealed this with the term "England and Wales". In 2011, the International Organization for Standardization use of the term "principality" for Wales was corrected to "country" due to Wales not being a principality since 1542.
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.
Wales first appeared as a unified independent country in 1055 under the leadership of the only King of Wales to have controlled all the territories of Wales, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn until 1063. Three years later the Norman invasion began which briefly controlled much of Wales, but by 1100 Anglo-Normans 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.
Last prince of Wales
In the 13th century, the last prince of Wales, Llywelyn the Last retained his rights to Wales in agreement with King Henry 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.
Owain Glyndŵr rebellion
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. Following the eventual defeat of the Glyndŵr rebellion and a brief period of independence, it wasn't 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. The banner of Owain Glyndŵr is still used as a symbol of independence today.
Integration into England
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. The law allowed the Welsh gentry to become magistrates and elect Welsh Members of Parliament at Westminster.
Home rule movement (1881–present)
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), the historian J. E. Lloyd 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. 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 decentralised, 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 of 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.
A Parliament for 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 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.
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 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 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 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.
Independence movement (2014–present)
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.
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. 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 stood on a pro-independence platform at the Senedd election: the Wales Green Party, Gwlad and Propel.
Labour for an Independent Wales
Labour for an Independent Wales was formed in 2018 which is a group of Labour Party members who "believe the best way to achieve a democratic socialist Wales is through independence". 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.
All Under One Banner Cymru
On 11 May 2019, the first ever march in history 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. 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 has been planned to 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.
Motion for right to hold referendum
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.
Influence of Brexit and Scottish Independence
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.
Independent Constitution Commission
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 Welsh 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".
Arguments for independence
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 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:
- Westminster government is not necessarily the government Wales voted for
- Welsh votes only contribute 40/650 Westminster MPs and so is unlikely to have a major influence
- The House of Lords is unelected
- The Westminster First Past the Post voting system ensures that a party can win a majority with only three in ten of voters
- Lack of Westminster concern for Welsh matters and lack of investment in Wales
- Welsh devolution powers are limited and UK government refusal to deliver more devolution e.g devolving air passenger duty
- Over 200 matters of government are decided outside Wales e.g Energy generation development, broadcasting
- Having no say in foreign wars
- UK foreign affairs pose largest security risk to Wales & no single defence regiment is based in Wales
- Westminster retains parliamentary sovereignty & devolved powers can be taken away
- Companies registered in England & Wales means no Welsh data and all taxes collected may come from a single office in e.g England
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:
- Ability to develop infrastructure such as transport and broadband
- Ability to build large energy projects to generate electricity that could be sold
- Better protection of Welsh culture and language
- Creation of a custom, bespoke Welsh constitution including human rights and rights within the judicial system
- Control over the Crown estate to provide Welsh revenue and potential for even more green energy generation
- Making Wales safer by separation from UK foreign affairs
- Option for inclusion in the UK & Ireland Common Travel Area.
- A custom immigration system
Welsh economy and trade
One major obstacle to Welsh independence is the size of Wales' fiscal deficit, which as of 2021 stood at 18% with each Welsh citizen being a net recipient of £4,400 per year from the UK exchequer. Those in favour of independence, such as Plaid Cymru, have pointed to the success of countries such as the Republic of Ireland after leaving the UK and note that modern Wales is in a better economic state than 1920s Ireland. Further economic arguments made for independence include:
- Economic flexibility, more open to trade and adapt better to economic shock as a relatively small country as seen in the Flotilla effect.
- Full control over economic ability
- Powers for borrowing money
- Ability to form a development bank
- Ability to develop a competitive tax rate to draw industries
- A system of bank regulation, designed to protect citizens and not just the banks
- Addressing the fiscal deficit in Wales and reshaping the Welsh economy
- Welsh internal exports within the UK not published. These could be substantial
- Currency options: Pound, Welsh pound or euro all with pros and cons
European Union membership
In 1975, Plaid Cymru opposed remaining in the European Communities (EC), feeling 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 during a 1975 referendum. The EC were incorporated into the European Union (EU) in 1993.
The United Kingdom left the EU in 2020 following a referendum on membership in 2016. 53% of Welsh voters voted to leave at the referendum, 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 in favour of independence 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.
Supporters of Welsh independence have argued that the ability to form Welsh teams in sports such as cricket or at the Olympics would represent a significant benefit.
Dr. Bleddyn Bowen, Lecturer in Defence Studies at King’s College London has suggested codified objectives in an independent Wales. he has suggested Welsh national security objectives for an independent Wales:
- Maintain global political economy to benefit the Welsh economy and Welsh quality of life
- Protect Welsh citizens & advance Welsh interests abroad
- Prevent and respond to hostile foreign activity in Wales
- Maintain relationships with European states and organisations and the USA
- Contribute to the collective defence and security of allies
Bleddyn Bowen has also suggested the formation of the following Welsh National Security organisations in an independent Wales:
- Wales National Security Council: lead by the Welsh head of government/state
- Wales Intelligence Service: counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence, counter-subversion, counter-organised crime, allied intelligence liaison
- Wales Defence Force: air/maritime policing, air defence, disaster response, civil protection, special forces
- Wales Expeditionary combat & peacekeeping force: NATO, EU, United Nations missions
- Promotion of training, exercises & testing for allies in Wales
Political parties in favour of independence
Parties with parliamentary representation in Wales
- 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)
Political parties opposing independence
Parties with parliamentary representation in Wales
- Liberal Party
- UK Independence Party
- Reform UK
- British National Party
- Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party
- Social Democratic Party
- Socialist Party Wales
- Christian Party
List of prominent people supporting Welsh independence
- Adam Price
- Leanne Wood
- Eddie Butler
- Neville Southall
- Ashton Hewitt
- Dafydd Iwan
- Mike Jenkins
- Patrick Jones
- Kizzy Crawford
- David Buttress
- Charlotte Church
Support a discussion and referendum on independence
- A 2001 survey for the Institute of Welsh Affairs found that 11% of people polled 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.
- 2007 polls found that between 10 to 20% of Welsh people supported 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 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.
- 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. A YouGov/ITV Wales Poll in September 2014, showed a marked increase in support for Welsh independence, rising to 17%, potentially due to the proximity to the Scottish Independence referendum, which was due to be held the week after the poll.
- 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. 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 a YouGov poll in November 2020, 33% said they would support independence, the highest ever level of support at the time.
- 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.
- In April 2021, support for Welsh independence reached 46% (excluding "don't know"), the highest ever level of support.
- The most recent poll of March 2022 showed 28.4% in support (excluding "don't know").
Yes/No Independence polls
|Sample size||Should Wales be an independent country||Lead||Notes|
|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%|
|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%||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
|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%|
- Culture of Wales
- History of Wales
- Welsh nationalism
- Free Wales Army, former nationalist movement
- Meibion Glyndŵr, former nationalist movement
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