After the protest against the proposed Devonwall Constituency recently at Polson Bridge, this week, people throughout Cornwall mobilised once again in what is felt to be a concerted attack on the territory from the Conservative government in Westminster – which crucially includes Cornwall’s own MPs.
The Boundary Commission consultation on the plan to impose a cross-border Parliamentary Constituency was held on Thursday and Friday this week at Lys Kernow, Truro. Holding such an important hearing during the working week, thus limiting those that could attend to speak is highly controversial to say the very least. However, over two days, many people stood before Anita Bickerdike, Lead Assistant Commissioner for the Boundary Commission for England – South West to make clear how the plan is contrary to the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe that the government signed Cornwall up to when recognising their right to National Minority Status, and goes against years of history in Cornwall – and the fact that the territory has never been legally adopted into shire England. What was particularly interesting to note from following events over the past two days was the fact that it was not just those who may be termed ‘Cornish Nationalists’ who spoke passionately about why this plan cannot be imposed, but also those who would identify themselves as English not Cornish – one telling quote relayed from the hearings being: “I am an English woman and I can tell you that what you are doing to Cornwall is wrong”.
In an address to the hearing, Craig Weatherhill, archaeologist, historian, author and Bard of the Gorsedh Kernow highlighted further examples of the problems that the Boundary Commission seem to have conveniently ignored in putting this proposal forward: “One half will be administered by Cornwall Unitary Council which has certain devolved powers; the other by North Devon District Council, which has no such devolved powers. In rural Parliamentary elections, the Returning Officer is the High Sheriff but, in this case, which one would be chosen and be given precedence over the other? Will it be Devon’s High Sheriff, appointed by the Crown? Or will it be Cornwall’s who – uniquely in the UK – is appointed by the Duchy of Cornwall. Whose jurisdiction will then intrude into the other’s in direct breach of constitutional law? This has all the potential of creating yet another legal dispute between Crown and Duchy”.
A key aspect which also seems not to have been considered by the Boundary Commission is the fact that Cornwall’s National Minority status is supposed to afford the Cornish the same protection that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish people gain. Yet, there are no plans for cross border constituencies between England, Wales and Scotland.
Given the fact that Cornwall’s six Conservative MPs have consistently refused to back the campaign, it has led to former Cornish MPs to join the campaign prominently. Respected former MP for St. Ives, Andrew George recently stated: “The notion of equalising constituencies sounds like a plausible explanation, until you realise that they’re using a method which will massively favour the Tories.” To be fair, whichever government in power always tends to aim for a Boundary Review which favours their party – Labour have been equally guilty in the past.
The next stage in the Devonwall Protest will come at the Mebyon Kernow Conference at Lys Kernow, Truro next Saturday (19th November) – at the event, there will not only be guidance about how to make representations against the Boundary Commission’s plan – but also a renewed row which broke yesterday with the Government’s response to a petition against the ending of funding for the Cornish language.
Yesterday (11th November), the official response from the Department for Communities and Local Government stated: “The Government has provided Cornwall Council with substantial spending power to allocate resources to their local priorities, including the Cornish language. The Government has always been clear that its funding of some £650,000 since 2010 to support the development of the Cornish language was time-limited, and that the Council should seek alternative sources in order to place it on a more sustainable basis. Cornwall Council has a core spending power of £1.7 billion over four years from which they can allocate the necessary resources to local priorities, including the development the Cornish language, if they wish.” It is fair to say that this response is disingenuous at best, as Councillor Loveday Jenkin rightly responded on Social Media: “Apparently they (the government) give Cornwall Council money to support the language (not!). No recognition of State responsibility for supporting the language under the Charter and the FCPNM both signed by the UK state in respect of Cornwall.”
This, and the recent comments by Savid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government which derided those who state that Cornwall has a separate identity from the rest of what he terms “the South-West region” – means that Cornwall and the Cornish people are feeling more and more under threat from the government. This is a situation that Human and Social Geographers need to be aware of and one that they must join in and support this movement in Cornwall.