Whilst this blog is presently in the middle of a series looking at Cornish Identity through the sport of Rugby Union, several high profile announcements on St. Piran’s Day this week, and a forthcoming day of presentations at the Institute of Cornish Studies in Penryn next week, has brought Cornish devolution into the headlines once more. A number of the issues raised in recent days cannot, to my mind, be ignored – and therefore need to be addressed here.
The first announcement on St. Piran’s Day was made by Deputy Prime Minister, and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who spent Thursday in Cornwall, and announced that his party would offer the Cornish a referendum to establish a “legislative assembly which would get new powers to run local services.” The BBC reported that such a body would be “similar to the one in Wales”. Among the powers that such an assembly would have would cover housing, healthcare and transport. Additionally, there could potentially be powers to address issues such as second home ownership, academy schools and bus services.
Whilst such an announcement has to be welcomed, generally speaking it appeared that the Liberal Democrat proposals would simply serve as a replacement for Cornwall Council, which is not a particularly popular move. One has to question Clegg’s motives in making this announcement as this is a road that his party has been down before without actually being able to offer Cornwall anything in the past. There is also the fact that with each of the Lib Dem’s existing three Cornish MPs facing a real fight to hold their seats in the forthcoming General Election, is this merely an attempt to win over the Cornish in knife-edge seats? With the outcome of the Westminster election pointing towards another hung parliament, Clegg’s party are yet to state if holding a referendum for a Cornish Assembly would prove to be a ‘red line’ in any potential coalition deal.
On the same day, Mebyon Kernow published an updated version of their Towards A National Assembly document. In this work, the party set out proposals for an entire raft of powers that they want a Cornish Assembly to be responsible for covering twelve areas: Agriculture, Fisheries & Food, Arts & Culture, Economic Development, Education, Health, Home Affairs, Housing, Local Government, Planning, Social Services, Sport and Transport. I think the reality of a Cornish Assembly ever being granted all of these powers from the start is minimal, and wonder if MK could have been better served by making an opening gambit of issues that, for them must be included in a Cornish Assembly, and some other areas that they would be prepared to negotiate on in setting up an assembly.
Unfortunately, there is a huge risk that demands for a Cornish Assembly will descend into bickering between parties which, in essence, all want one. If we continue to have groups in favour of an assembly attacking each other’s plans as “nonsense”, then the electorate will get turned off of the arguments, and the present chance for the establishment of a Cornish Assembly, which is, arguably, closer than ever, could be lost.
We have to look to the example of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly which were established with certain powers which were added to over time. What we urgently need is all groups who want a form of devolution for Cornwall to sit down and discuss the powers that they can agree they want, other powers which they would be able to negotiate on over time, and a third group of powers that they would like to be added to an Assembly in the medium term future.
The establishment of a Cornish Assembly is of vital importance – we must not lose this potentially historic opportunity to get it by getting bogged down in silly playground style bickering between groups of people who have stated their support for an Assembly. Only by presenting a united front to the Cornish people on the topic of a Cornish Assembly can it ever come to fruition.