Thursday, 25 September 2014

When will Labour and the Tories let everyone see their back of a fag packet ideas for powers to Cornwall Council?

Over the last week, various Cornish politicians have scampered to try to have a position on what Cornwall should get from any new constitutional settlement. They have unbelievably been caught on the hop by the fall out of the Scottish independence vote. Now they are finding themselves trying to both acknowledge Cornwall doesn't do well from direct London rule and at the same time say that bringing significant decision making to Cornwall would be a bad thing. That's quite a tight rope to walk, as such it would be no surprise that their ideas would be a bit of a fudge. But that's the rub, they don't really have any ideas, no proposals and no clue how devolution to Cornwall Council would work. Unless they smoke king size fags I expect the back only has room for "no to a Cornish Assembly, keep power in Westminster." But I'm willing to be wrong and I'd love to see what Labour, the Tories and the Independent group on Cornwall Council, would like to see the future to be. (I've left out the Lib Dems as some of them are in favour of an assembly and some in favour of more powers to Cornwall Council).

Thankfully this is unlike Mebyon Kernow as we were well aware that such a situation would arise from either result after the vote in Scotland. Our document Towards a National Assembly of Cornwall is due to be republished in the coming weeks, after going through a consultation of party members and the general public. We have clear ideas of what powers Cornwall should have, what responsibilities should no longer be in distant politicians hands. We've talked to people about these during various events across Cornwall and online. These are clear, well thought out ideas.

My challenge to the Labour and Conservative parties is for them to come clean, either separately or together spell out what powers they want for Cornwall. How they think it would work? How it would make things better?

Or even better to admit that they issued these hollow statements in response to Mebyon Kernow's ideas. In an effort to snub out growing support for MK by pretending to offer what we are. To come clean, that they are not really interested in devolution and the reason they have no plans and not even a coherent argument is that they are happy with direct London rule for Cornwall as that suits their parties better.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

5 things that might have been different with a Cornish Assembly

What is a Cornish Assembly? How would it be different from Cornwall Council? Mebyon Kernow's argument is that we need a legislative national assembly, meaning Cornwall can make it's own laws, decide it's own priorities but remain within the UK, it means fundamental change and for some that's scary. So I thought here I would talk about MK's ideas and provide some examples of what could have been different and hopefully show making decisions in Cornwall need not be feared.

I say could because the spending priorities and legislation would be the responsibility of the assembly members elected by the people of Cornwall. The public may have elected people to do things other than the 5 ideas listed below, but here's what I think would have been vote winners:

1. Temple would have been dualled ages ago.

Dualling of Temple (and indeed Goss Moor before it) well over a decade was spent lobbying government to improve the A30 here. Despite accidents, tailbacks, costs to Cornish imports and exports and the efforts of people, organisations and politicians from Cornwall it has taken so long. (Even now it will not be a proper dual carriageway and Cornwall Council is bearing the brunt of some of the cost, but that's another matter.)

The A30 is crucial to Cornwall as is the A38 but as they are trunk roads, the decision making on them is centralised to the Highway's Agency, the Department of Transport (DofT) and the Transport Minister Conservative MP for the Derbyshire Dales: Patrick McLoughlin. Which effectively means the people that decide may never have driven these roads at all. It is my belief that if the decision making for this had been devolved to Cornwall, it would have been a higher priority. That civil servants who know these routes well would realise their importance because of it. The same for the politicians and as they would be directly answerable and accountable to the people of Cornwall they would have bowed to public pressure much sooner.

2. Wave Hub would be up and running years earlier

The pioneering Wavehub, installed in 2010 is a device for testing experimental renewables, but did not get hooked up to any test devices until June 2014.  When the coalition government came to power they transferred ownership from the RDA to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) under the supervision of Vince Cable Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham. Power and decision making went to London, to people not directly accountable to Cornwall.

Again bureaucrats and politicians in Cornwall would be well aware that economic development is needed. That there is a veritable treasure trove of wealth to be made across Cornwall through wind and tidal energy. The proving the both the concepts of test devices and the energy of Cornwall could spark more industry and jobs in Cornwall.

3. Housing policy could be made in Cornwall

There are a number of housing issues in Cornwall, the problem is indeed complex. There is the huge questions of people not being able to afford to buy homes, second homes, empty / derelict properties and overdevelopment. The solutions to these things aren't simple make no mistake, it would be a challenge for anyone to fix these things. However it is within the power of Westminster and Whitehall (i.e the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) under Eric Pickles Tory MP for Brentwood and Ongar) to make changes but unfortunately they flit between ignoring the issues and making token gestures. I have no doubt given the tools to address these issues civil servants and politicians in a Cornish Assembly would do so, they might not fully succeed but at least they would give it a go. Perhaps they could do things unthinkable up the line, like invest in (truly) affordable housing?

4. The damage for the floods would have been fixed sooner

The damage by last winters floods did millions of damage. Thankfully Cornwall Council have started work fixing the damage, Down this way Newlyn Green looks very good and work on Penzance prom has started. Unfortunately despite the money is no object rhetoric it is my understanding Cornwall Council has not yet received any of the promised monies from government.

Responsibility for government support schemes for flood damage falls into a few government categories David Cameron MP Conservative Witney, Pickle's DCLG, DEFRA, DOfT and BIS. All centralised in London. They have responsibilities for a huge amount of things across the UK, perhaps not surprising that getting Cornwall back on it's feet after the storms and honouring the PM's hasty promises is not top of the to do list.

5 Hospital services would not be centralised to Treliske and Derriford

Even though the management of hospitals and care in Cornwall has passed through various organisational changes. The policy of closing down smaller hospitals in the furthest reaches of Cornwall has continued without pausing for breath. Unfortunately none of these organisational changes have involved making management more open and accountable to the people of Cornwall. This is indicative of the changes Mebyon Kernow would like a Cornish Assembly to bring. To make decisions like closing down Poltair and downgrading West Cornwall Hospital the responsibility of people open and accountable to the people of Cornwall and elected by them.

These are only 5 things, there are perhaps hundreds we could choose, perhaps Cornwall couldn't afford to do all of them. There would still be discussions and debates to be had, there would still be decisions I or anyone else might not like. However we could all directly influence these debates, vote for the politicians directly involved with these important issues, or vote them out as we so wish. There would still be priorities but these would be set here in Cornwall, by people living here not by people who probably couldn't find Temple, or Hayle or Newlyn on a map.

Mebyon Kernow's plans for a Cornish Assembly are ambitious we don't want merely want more powers to Cornwall Council. Many of these 5 examples could not be done by anything short of a law making assembly. MK want Cornwall to make a huge leap forward in our governance to start having a say in the big strategic decisions, to take influence from Westminster and redistribute it locally. This would mean a big step up for Cornwall, making our own decisions would mean a big step up for politicians in Cornwall and it would mean a big step up for the voters of Cornwall. I hope people can see the positives of us all taking more responsibility.

Mebyon Kernow's Towards a National Assembly of Cornwall document is available here.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

A rebuttal of Cornwall Labour's lies and conjecture about a Cornish Assembly and Mebyon Kernow

Today there was a frankly bizarre rebuttal of the idea of a Cornish Assembly from Candy Atherton of the Cornwall Labour party. Bizarre not only because we disagree on the principles of the matter, but on the arguments used. I call on the Labour party to actually talk to people, recognise that there is a desire for more powers to come to Cornwall and not rely on lies, dubious facts and made up stories. The latter I will now explain.

The original article is here: Labour positions itself against Cornish Assembly in face of nationalist call. In it the argument, echoes the Tory line that people do not want extra bureaucrats and politicians. As I've written before, we are already governed at the moment, there are politicians and bureaucrats that deal with the business of administering Cornwall. They are in places like Bristol and London, the Tory/ Labour position is that they stay there. Mebyon Kernow's position is that these jobs, this decision making is brought to Cornwall.

Candy explains in that WMN article:

“The last thing the electorate want is more politicians. I challenge you to knock on doors in a wet October and find more than one in 100."

Interestingly this was done ten years ago, over a while year in wind, rain and sun, doors were knocked and people in town centres were asked. 50,000, 10% of the Cornish electorate signed declarations calling for a Cornish Assembly. The then Prime Minister Tony Blair dismissed these. A fact I'm sure Candy is aware of, as she was at that time a Member of Parliament for Falmouth and Camborne and steadfastly kept to Labour policy of devolving power to Exeter and Plymouth.

I digress, Mebyon Kernow has again taken up this challenge, personally I was with other members of Mebyon Kernow on Truro's Lemon Quay on a cold and windy day in January and over 200 people signed the new declaration that day. I was also at Trevithick Day again not October but soaking wet nonetheless and nearly 300 signatures were added. Now I can't tell you how many people on a wet October day would say yes to Cornwall having more say over our own affairs, I can't because I have not done it. But somehow I strongly suspect neither has anyone in the Labour party in Cornwall. But what I can tell you is that in the wind of january and the wet of april, it was much much higher than 1 in 10 let alone 1 in 100 that spoke to us and afterwards signed the petition. As proof there are over 500 signatures from those two days alone, testifying to that fact. Its a sad day when the only argument against something is based on something blatantly no one has tried. Perhaps we will have a wet october and Labour can try out Candy's theory?

Candy also goes on to say that:

"Mebyon Kernow are not exactly top of the pops. Mebyon Kernow’s vote has halved.”

Now this one is perplexing, firstly supporting a policy needn't mean supporting a party. The Cornish Assembly petition I mentioned above was written by MK and promoted by MK activists, yet MK has never received 50,000 votes even across the whole of Cornwall. 

Secondly, unless there's been an election I'm not aware of in which MK did spectacularly badly, this is not even factually correct. MK results in the 2009 Cornwall Council election: 3 candidates elected with a total of 4.3% of the total vote in Cornwall. In the 2013 Cornwall Council elections: 4 candidates elected with 4.8% of the vote. Unless I'm missing something 4 councillors is more than 3 and 4.8% is more than 4.3%. MK's general election record shows a similar trend more votes and a bigger percentage consistently each election. 

There have been 2 Cornwall Council by elections with MK candidates. Although Stephen Richardson's vote share went down by 6.6% from 25.2% to 18.6%, he rose from third to second. In Mabe Perranarwothal and St Gluvias, Karen Sumser- Lupson gained 4.7% of the vote, in a division we had not stood in before. Not a net gain for us over all but still by any ones maths our vote did not halve. It is clear "Mebyon Kernow's vote has halved" is a figment of Labour's imagination.

This is symptomatic of the whole Labour approach to devolution in Cornwall and the idea of a Cornish assembly. There is no considered thought, let alone research/ statistics or door knocking to base their views. It is a knee jerk reaction and one based on a very simplistic view of politics. Sadly (and I thought we could expect more from Cornwall Labour) conjecture intermingles with damn right lies about Mebyon Kernow- the Party for Cornwall. 

I strongly believe that devolution is a very real possibility for Cornwall at the moment and politicians need to give all of the options considered thought. I'm not saying everyone ought to agree that a Cornish Assembly is the way forward but it is a realistic proposal and needs serious consideration. I challenge naysayers like the Labour party to look at what Mebyon Kernow is proposing and whatever the Lib Dems or anyone else come forward with. Come up with criticism that shows you understand the issues, the proposals and the pros and cons, not just glib remarks. Better still try knocking some doors or talking to people in the street. 13 years ago a huge part of Cornwall's population were denied a referendum on a Cornish Assembly. It would be a mistake for Labour to continue the legacy of denying the people a choice out of hand.

On a side note how depressing is it that Miliband, Brown and Darling are putting a lot of thought and effort into offering a whole raft of powers to Scotland, yet here a fraction of those powers isn't even worth Labour making a coherent and factual argument.