Over the past month, lively debate has been sparked on various Facebook groups in reaction to two blog posts on Doronieth Kernow in relation to Mebyon Kernow’s calls for making 2016 The Year of Recognition for Cornwall (They can be seen by clicking on these links Blog Post 1 and Blog Post 2). It was felt that Westminster was never going to take notice of a party who had, once more, failed to make any inroads in a General Election. This soon turned into a wider discussion on MK’s position in contemporary politics, which saw some strong criticism of the party on Facebook.
Mebyon Kernow leader Councillor Dick Cole was keen address some of the points that had been raised as a result of the initial articles on this blog. I shared some of the questions that readers posed:
Is it fair to say that MK failed to build on the momentum of the 50,000 strong petition for a Cornish Assembly?
DICK COLE: (DC) I am very proud of the “declaration” campaign, which MK launched on St Piran’s Day in 2000. It was truly amazing that, over an eighteen-month period, 50,000 individuals signed individual statements backing a Cornish Assembly. In particular, I would pay tribute to Paddy McDonough who was the real driving force of the campaign.MK has remained true to the spirit of the declaration campaign, and we have worked hard to push the campaign for a Cornish Assembly at every opportunity.But the reality is that this campaign has been weakened by London-based political parties. Many members of these parties did sign declaration but subsequently undermined the campaign through their actions.
Let me explain. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Mebyon Kernow was extremely proactive in attempting to build a meaningful cross-party campaign for a Cornish Assembly. For example, I played a prominent role in the setting up of the (shortlived) Cornish Millennium Convention, and then the Cornish Constitutional Convention, which was also launched in 2000.In seeing the bigger picture, we also consciously allowed MK’s declaration campaign to become a cross-party initiative. We very much took the long view that it was more important to build such a cross-party movement, than to simply gain short-term political advantage for MK.Looking back, we were quite successful and I still believe we were right to take this course of action. Support for a Cornish Assembly came from people in all political parties. I recall that Tory MP Sheryll Murray was then a supporter of the Constitutional Convention – though she seems to have forgotten this of late – and the Liberal Democrats in Cornwall adopted a manifesto commitment for a Cornish Assembly.
You may recall that the Lib Dems won all seats in Cornwall in the 2005 General Election, as well as control of Cornwall County Council. The Lib Dems then published their priorities which included a pledge to “establish detailed plans for a Cornish Assembly” within their first year of office. They had a fantastic opportunity to unite local communities behind radical democratic reform. And it was such a simple message. We could create a Cornwall-wide strategic National Assembly, rationalise local government with a single tier of unitary authorities and remove power from a range of unelected and unaccountable bodies. But they chose to jettison their commitment to a Cornish Assembly and pushed through the centralisation of local government with the creation of a single unitary authority, while claiming that such local government reorganisation would lead to greater powers. This is frankly where the 50,000 may have lost momentum, where MK was forced to vigorously oppose the creation of the unitary authority which we felt would prejudice our fight for meaningful devolution. I would hope that our critics would accept that MK has remained true to the spirit of the 50,000, and that the cross-party momentum fostered by MK from the 1990s was undermined by other political parties.
Is it true that MK have failed to “get out the message” that they want devolution and not independence? Why may confusion have arisen?
DC: Mebyon Kernow has always been extremely explicit about its commitment to a National Assembly of Cornwall operating within the framework of the United Kingdom. This was set out clearly in our “Towards a National Assembly of Cornwall” document published in 2014. The initial document was a consultation draft, a revised (online) version was produced in 2015, and a further revised version is presently being prepared and will be published in the very near future. But whereas our language has always been precise and consistent, I do get extremely frustrated at how the media, other political parties, and individuals, do conflate terms such as devolution and independence when, as you acknowledge, they are very different things. Indeed, I was contacted by a long-standing local journalist only days ago asking me about the impact of the EU referendum on arguments for “Cornish independence.”
There is a further problem. The word “devolution” is repeatedly being misused in Cornwall within the context of very limited tweaks to local government via the so-called and extremely timid “Devolution Deal.” Clearly this was not devolution as it needed neither legislation or even a debate in the Westminster parliament. I would appeal to everyone who supports a Cornish Assembly to keep making the case, whether through our ongoing campaigns, letters to papers, social media, etc – emphasising time and time again that this is not about total independence or local government reform.
MK’s statement that the 2017 Cornwall Council elections will be its General Election campaign – can you understand people thinking that this assertion leaves the party at risk of being accused of sweeping a disappointing performance under the carpet?
DC: I can categorically state that we have not sought to sweep the “disappointing performance” of the 2015 General Election under any carpet. We have been very open in stating that we were disappointed that we did not do better in the General Election.
Our biggest problem remains our inability to secure meaningful coverage on “regional” and UK-wide television – the medium which has the biggest impact on General Elections. I would refer readers of this blog to my recent representation to the BBC – http://mebyonkernow.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/mk-demands-fair-coverage-on-bbc.html
This relative invisibility, within a contest dominated by Westminster parties and their candidates to be PM, means that Mebyon Kernow still has a credibility issue with voters when it comes to parliamentary elections. I acknowledge this, but there were many calculations in putting forward six candidates at the election. Not least, the fact that Royal Mail would deliver 250,000 “freepost” leaflets at no cost to MK. It is clearly the case that many people vote for MK candidates in council elections and support our work within a range of local communities, but cannot bring themselves to support us in the General Election that is dominated by the Westminster elite. My call for MK members to treat the 2017 unitary elections as MK’s General Election was not a defeatist comment. I was emphasising that this set of elections would be (i) more focussed on Cornish politics rather than those of Westminster and, very importantly, (ii) MK would be able to win seats. I stand by this statement. And I would add that for me, the key issue is a simple one. Political parties – especially those not bankrolled by big business and millionaires – can only succeed through hard work and MK needs more people to stand as candidates, help with leafleting, assist with campaigns, etc. And I would appeal to those people not already in MK, to join us in this fight.
MK’s campaign for 2016 to be the Cornish Year of Recognition from Westminster is destined to fail because Parliament will take no notice of a party who struggles so badly in General Election campaigns?
DC: I would have thought that people would welcome MK has prioritised campaigning for Cornish recognition in 2016. As Cllr Loveday Jenkin said, it is almost two years since the British government recognised that the Framework Convention on National Minorities covered the Cornish. And since then they have failed to act on this important Convention in terms of the (i) political recognition of Cornwall, (ii) the protection of Cornwall’s distinct territoriality, and (iii) their failure to properly invest in Cornwall’s distinct culture and identity. In taking forward this campaign issue, we will be putting pressure on others to follow our lead and make similar efforts – whether it is making representations to the FCNM Advisory Committee in March, backing MK’s call for a National Assembly of Cornwall, opposing the Devonwall constituency, seeking a Cornwall-wide television media, demanding funding for the Cornish language, or so much more. I would suggest that this will be good for Cornwall and I would welcome people backing the campaign.
Surely MK needs to put together a broad coalition among the Lib Dems, Labour, Greens, SNP & PC to produce a coherent argument to ensure 2016 to be the Cornish Year of Recognition from Westminster?
DC: As I have already pointed out with regard to the declaration campaign, MK has often sought to build a wider coalition in the best interests of Cornwall. In terms of those parties active within Cornwall, my experience has been that their commitment to specific pro-Cornwall campaigns has been very fleeting and grounded in short-term political advantage. At this time, MK’s plan is to lead by example on these issues, though we have already agreed that we will look to promote these issues in partnership with our sister parties in the European Free Alliance. Watch this space …
Interview to be continued …