Cornwall & Internal Colonialism – Part III

In this, the final blog post in the three part series on Cornwall and Internal Colonialism, I look ahead to this year’s General Election, and the Liberal Democrats recently published document on devolution in England, with regional assemblies, which could include Cornwall as a separate entity.

“Nationalism is the pathology of modern developmental history, as inescapable as neurosis…(and) a similar built in capacity for descent into dementia.”

(Nairn cited in Anderson: 2006: p 5)

The trend towards the historic regions of Europe beginning to assert demands for greater independence is an undeniable growing force in the continent’s contemporary regional geography. Nairn’s quote at the opening of this section is particularly prescient, as it is elements of ‘regional nationalism’ and expressions of cultural identity and difference which are at the heart of these demands.

Cornwall’s situation ahead of the 2015 British General Election is particularly interesting – the neurosis that Nairn mentions is particularly apt in the situation of this part of Britain. The Cornish people are increasingly emboldened at asserting their own identity, but cannot yet agree on the eventual outcome that they want for their demands. The territory of Cornwall has six seats in the Houses of Parliament and every one of them is a marginal constituency – the largest majority held by an incumbent MP is 3,220, with the smallest being just 66. With the correct mobilisation of campaigners, the political party for Cornwall, Mebyon Kernow has a real chance of increasing its share of the vote in Westminster elections to a historic high – following the lead of other Celtic parties such as the SNP and Plaid Cymru. This is a very exciting time and a historic opportunity for these regions to obtain a greater voice and independence, as Cumbers foresees: “more political devolution, and even the break-up of the UK as reflective of changes in the relations between the UK’s constituent parts and the rest of Europe and the world” (Cumbers et al: 2014: p 33).

The increasing popularity of pro-independence, or pro-devolutionary political parties are a key sign of these demands. This is an era where the historically popular political parties levels of support are declining to all-time lows, and if one follows this trend, the assumption could be that Mebyon Kernow are ripe for a historic performance in May. This “mobiliz(ation) on the basis of the distinctive territorial identity…(and) the use of elections by voters to express their distinctive territorial identity” (Schakel & Jeffery: 2013: p 327) is a trend which only looks like growing over the next two years. Cornwall’s situation has been recently aided by the territory being granted minority status under EU rules for the protection of national minorities. The move means that the Cornish receive the same protection as Scottish, Irish and Welsh people in terms of national identity, and government departments have to take into consideration the views of the Cornish when making decisions – an important move, and one which only increases the importance for the wider Cornish community to agree on what sort of devolution they want, as although “the direction in which (these territories) are heading is clear; the road there is not” (Keating: 2001: p 198).

This week, the Liberal Democrats Lord Tyler and Sir Nick Harvey have published a document entitled ‘A Devolution Dialogue: Evolution or Revolution?’ which states “England has suffered from far too centralised government for far too long” (Tyler & Harvey: 2015 p 45). The pair go on to call for “An English Devolution Convention…immediately after the 2015 General Election, bringing together local leaders, representatives of civic society, Parliamentarians and central government to propose initial boundaries for new institutions…taking full effect after the 2020 General Election. In parallel (with this)…a rapid and radical review of local government structures should be conducted with a strong emphasis on ‘double devolution’ to improve local democratic accountability” (Tyler & Harvey: 2015: p 46-7).

It therefore seems right to end this three part blog series on a positive – the present trends across Europe are for greater devolution. If Cornwall can come together with one voice, then there is hope that the call will not go unanswered.


Anderson, B. (2006): ‘Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism: Verso: London.

Cumbers, A. et al (2014): ‘Deciding whose future? Challenges and opportunities of the Scottish Independence Referendum 2014 for Scotland and Beyond’ in Political Geography No. 41.

Keating, M. (2001): ‘Nations Against The State: The New Politics of Nationalism in Quebec, Catalonia and Scotland’: Palgrave: Basingstoke.

Schakel, A.H. & Jeffery, C: (2013): ‘Are Regional Elections really ‘Second-Order’ Elections?’ in Regional Studies Vol. 47 No. 3.

Tyler, P. & Harvey, N. (2015): ‘A Devolution Dialogue: Evolution or Revolution?’ edited by Nick Tyrone: Centreforum: London.


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