Below, I continue my blog topic on Internal Colonialism and Cornwall – this week looking at the moves towards devolution in the territory.
Within Cornwall, it rankled that whilst the British government kept investment levels in Cornwall as minimal, it took a body based in Brussels to put funds into the region. Two additional sources of conflict with the British government became associated with this – first the closure of the region’s remaining tin mine at South Crofty, near Redruth in 1998, and then the decision not to include Cornwall in the plans for devolved regional assemblies around England that the Labour government had announced. The decision seemed to go against everything that Tony Blair’s cabinet had promised – the North-East of England had held a referendum on having an assembly, with 77.9% voting ‘no’. Conversely, Cornwall, mobilized by its own political party, Mebyon Kernow, had sent a petition signed by over 50,000 people to Downing Street demanding legislation put in place for a Cornish assembly. It was ignored, and the Cornish were angered. In a move akin to the human chain set up in Catalonia, campaigners set about a blockade of the Tamar Bridge – the only way in and out of Cornwall to the south of the region. This effectively cut off the rest of England from Cornwall – the consequences of having a physical boundary between Devon and Cornwall suddenly became apparent. At around the same time, the 500th anniversary of Michael Joseph an Gof’s march to London with thousands of Cornish people to protest at the raising of taxes was being commemorated by Cornish groups – once more, thousands of Cornish men and women were on the march to London to re-create the scenes of 1497. The unique identity of a place, which to the vast majority of English people, exists as a peripheral appendage to their country, was suddenly being asserted on TV news screens with the message from the marchers that “it is our duty as well as our privilege to defend our Cornish identity” (cited in Parker: 1998: p 168).
Around this time, Kernewek experienced a renaissance, as, although “amongst the Cornish people, there has been a long-standing belief that Kernewek serves no useful purpose…although it does foster kinship…and ethnic identification” (Harasta: 2013: p 132). The Cornish political party, Mebyon Kernow began experiencing an increase of support in Cornwall Council elections. Groups were biding their time to respond to the failure of the UK Government to give them the Cornish Assembly that they had demanded in the late 1990s. Then, with the Scottish National Party winning an overall majority in the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary Elections, and the ensuring demand for a vote for Scottish independence, Cornwall, and Mebyon Kernow in particular, saw a chance for greater devolution. William Hague, the Leader of the House of Commons added to these hopes when he stated: “This is an age of devolution. This is a direction that Britain should go in” (Hague on BBC Spotlight: 2014). However, the high hopes that those in Cornwall had for a degree of autonomy missed an immediate chance to unite in the way Catalonia had. There were disagreements over what form of devolution would be the most suitable. One of the key comments that came out of the Cornish devolution debate was: “As a Cornish person, I would love it. As a business person, I’m not sure” (BBC Spotlight: 2014). This forms the crux of the matter – The people of Catalonia united behind a single call for independence because their land has the economy to back it up. Cornwall, reliant on the EU NUTS Region 1 funding doesn’t. The territory finds itself torn between Mebyon Kernow’s calls for a Cornish Assembly with devolved powers for transport, education, culture and infrastructure (Mebyon Kernow: 2014), being part of a ‘South-West Regional Assembly – which would also include Devon, Somerset, Avon, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire – all regions with very different identities and economic needs to Cornwall, or wider powers for Cornwall Council, who published a draft document in December 2014 setting out its demands. Whilst this document is well-meaning, it has only served to divide the Cornish people further as the Council’s plans do not include taking over responsibility for the key infrastructure and economic policies that true devolution usually includes (Cornwall Council Draft Document: 2014). Therefore, Cornwall is at the crossroads – it is passionate about receiving autonomy from Westminster in recognition of its special status and identity – but it remains unclear exactly what form of devolution may result.
Next Week: Concluding part of Cornwall & Internal Colonialism where I look at the potential influence of this year’s General Election in the devolution situation.
BBC Spotlight: (2014) ‘South-West Devolution – Spotlight Special’: BBC One South-West Region: 5th November 2014.
Cornwall Council: (2014) ‘Devolution and decentralisation – the case for Cornwall’: Cornwall Council: Truro.
Harasta, J-O. (2013): ‘In Search of A Single Voice: The Politics of Form, Use and Belief in the Kernewek Language’: PhD Thesis: Syracuse University.
Mebyon Kernow: (2014): ‘Towards a National Assembly of Cornwall: A consultation document from Mebyon Kernow – the party for Cornwall’: Mebyon Kernow: Truro.
Parker, S (ed) (1998): ‘Cornwall Marches On! Keskerdh Kernow 500’: R. Booth Ltd: Mabe.