Since the General Election which saw the Conservatives gain a clean sweep of the Cornish seats, talk of devolution and a Cornish Assembly had not received quite as much media coverage as previously. Until yesterday.
The leader of Devon Council, John Hart came out urging Cornwall to join his group, and that of Somerset Council to come together to gain more powers for a South-West super region. This call comes after the two political parties who had called for a Cornish Assembly (with widely divergent powers), Mebyon Kernow, and the Liberal Democrats badly underperformed at the General Election. Those who oppose an Assembly no doubt saw the election results across Cornwall as a rejection of devolutionary powers solely for the territory. Whilst the Lib Dems were badly tainted by their association with the Conservatives at Westminster (which tragically led to the loss of the outstanding St. Ives MP Andrew George among others), the situation of Mebyon Kernow is one I find particularly interesting – their total share of the vote only increased by 0.5% across Cornwall, this in an election where devolution was more of an issue than it had been for many years.
Perhaps then, Devon’s Mr. Hart saw this as an opportunity to resurrect the ‘Devonwall’ project that has roots back to 1946 when Plymouth attempted to extend its territory across the Tamar Bridge, and further experiences of European constituencies and Devon’s joint bid with Cornwall for EU Objective One funding, which was rejected because the region (due to Devon’s comparative wealth) was seen as too prosperous. Cornwall went it alone for a solo bid, and gained the EU funding. Indeed, in the words of the 1973 Crowther-Kilbrandon Royal Commission on the Constitution: “What they (the Cornish) do want is recognition of the fact that Cornwall has a separate identity and that its traditional boundaries shall be respected.” Devon seems to have forgotten.
Whilst Mr. Hart may tell us: “Cornwall is not an island and if it works with us I am convinced we can talk much more seriously to London about devolving powers to the South West” (BBC Cornwall: 14th June 2015) but the truth is somewhat different. The economic situation in Cornwall is totally different compared to Mr. Hart’s Devon and Somerset. The Office for National Statistics’ Regional Gross Value Added Income for 2014, show that the South-West region of England has an average income of £21,163. The figure for Cornwall and The Isles of Scilly was £15,403. The figures tell it all. Cornwall has marked different needs than a wider South-West region. As Cornwall Council’s deputy leader, the Liberal Democrat Adam Paynter commented Cornwall’s demands risked being “diluted” by working with Devon and Somerset (BBC Cornwall: 14th June 2015).
Perhaps there is a potential saving grace on the horizon (if you can ever call the Conservatives that) in the shape of a Government announcement that Cornwall should make its case for greater powers to manage its transport, planning and health. Whilst Cornwall Council seem incapable of managing the powers they have on planning at the current time, the prospect of them as a body getting more planning powers seems abhorrent, but at least the possibility of some devolution for the territory is out there.
The need for a Senedh Kernow is vital to address Cornwall’s needs and aims – at the present time we should pause arguments on what powers this Senedh may have, and join in shooting down Devon Council’s approach before it is too late.