The past week has seen the BBC devote a reasonable sized chunk of airtime devoted to devolution related to Cornwall, and the South-West region. Unfortunately, this coverage failed to provide any coherent answers to the conundrum, and, if anything resulted in the messy web of devolution becoming further tangled.
In terms of National Coverage, the BBC News has been focusing on a different region each day during the past week for their main bulletin, looking at the main arguments and demand for a degree of autonomy from Westminster. The report started very encouragingly – stating the facts of Cornwall having a recognised separate language, the fact that 60,000 people identify themselves as Cornish, and comments from Merv Davey (Deputy Grand Bard) stating: “We are not English,” and Loveday Jenkin (Mebyon Kernow) presenting the powerful point that: “We are not a region of England. We are a region of the British Isles.” Whilst the notion of specific devolution for Cornwall was described as a “euphoric dream”, the territory’s clear notions of ‘difference’ was undoubtedly explored, and it was a major boost for the cause to have it highlighted nationally.
However, the difficulty of what sort of devolution Cornwall should be given was never far from the surface – a gathering seemed to agree that Cornwall doesn’t have the finances for total devolution from Westminster, but there was no appetite for a link up with Plymouth (“No! They’re Devon!), or a wider South-West Assembly (“Them that live over there don’t know what goes on down here! We’re completely different!”). So what would work?
Unfortunately, matters didn’t get any clearer in a special 40 minute programme broadcast in the BBC South-West region on 5th November. Entitled: ‘More Power For The South-West – A Spotlight Special’, the programme only served, in my opinion to highlight the differences in opinion, rather than attempt to highlight a demand for devolution, or indeed attempt to solve the differences. Typical quotes from the audience were: “As a Cornish person, I would love it (devolution), as a business person, I’m not sure.” Those arguing for a degree of Cornish autonomy, made their points clearly, with Mebyon Kernow founder Ann Jenkin observing: “So much is going on which reflects Cornish Identity through culture” and the party’s leader Dick Cole re-stating his desire for “Democratic Cornish devolution.” The dangers of Cornish Nationalism were highlighted by Ed Rowe, better known as comedian Kernow King, who warned: “The minute you state Cornish, people think you are anti-English.”
With the conversation going largely round and round in circles, with a lack of consensus anywhere, anchor Justin Leigh asked his one probing question of the night – with Mebyon Kernow clearly stating their historic demand for a Cornish assembly, he asked party leader Dick Cole how much it would cost to establish an assembly. It was a massive missed opportunity for Cole not to be able to answer the question. I have to admit, as a Mebyon Kernow member myself, I had my head in my hands at that moment because of the ammunition it immediately provided to the ‘non assembly’ backers, most notably Conservative Sheila Ferguson, who saw no need for anything other than the existing Cornwall Council. I wonder why?!
With the government’s William Hague telling the BBC that “This is an age of devolution. This is a direction Britain should go in”, it was a massive opportunity missed for a clear road-map to some form of devolution for the area to emerge. For Cornwall to achieve more autonomy some form of agreement HAS to be reached. Research for a paper I am in the process of writing on the subject has highlighted how regions such as Catalonia have come together in order to bury differences in the fight for Catalonian independence. Whereas Cornwall is unlikely to achieve independence, if people can come together, the Cornish could at lease achieve a greater degree of autonomy from Westminster.