Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Cornwall Council's twitter ban

Today the Conservative leader of Cornwall Council took the bizarre step of banning councillors from communicating on the internet during meetings. A few councillors (lamentably none from MK) tweet during meetings, understandably some tweets criticise the regime and these have caught the attention of Cllr Robertson.

I am all in favour of people tweeting from such meetings, it provides an insight into the democratic process. It is interesting for a wide range of people, voters, organisations, political activists and journalists can quickly get the opinions of councillors. Their reactions and thoughts without spin as issues in the chamber are discussed. It also invites users of twitter to challenge the views of councillors and ask for clarification on their views in the chamber or in tweets. The real beauty therefore is that it invites people to witness the democratic process and engage with it, this is a great thing for democracy.

Also the ban is rather pointless, meetings are webcast anyway so people can hear and see proceedings anyway. (That is of course if the Conservatives don't push to alienate people from democracy further by banning those broadcasts as well.) Councillors can't be controlled in such a manner as the twitter/ blogging ban outside of the council, so they can criticise the Tories then anyway. Obviously the more instant communication during meetings is preferable as the majority of people can't watch the webcasts live.

I am appalled by the behaviour of the council on this issue it is a retrograde step for democracy. We already face a situation whereby a handful of select councillors make all the decisions and the full council is given little input on that process. Government across this isle and indeed this continent is opening up and becoming more open and democratic, I dearly hope Cornwall isn't allowed to buck this trend

As a footnote, I actually joined twitter after the Tax Payers Alliance criticised Cornwall Councillors for tweeting in meetings. That was a while ago and I haven't looked back since.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Cornish language film Tamara, a quick review

Image taken from
Last year at the Cornwall Film Festival awards, Will Coleman's short Cornish language film Tamara won the Govyn Kernewek award. Thankfully it is available to watch online, which is highly commendable. For many of the films featured in the awards do not make it to the wide audiences online, which is a great shame as there is a wealth of talent in film making in Cornwall. Like many aspects of Cornish culture there is a unique view of the world and of Cornwall and the Cornish expressed very clearly and coherently, it could be said that there is an undercurrent of a sub-culture constantly simmering away in Kernow. Music has always been at the forefront of this and the influence of Cornish musicians is very evident in performances in Cornwall and further beyond. The names of people from Cornwall have carved their names into the history of music, Mick Fleetwood, Roger Taylor, Aphex Twin, Luke Vibert, the Fisherman's Friends, Sue Aston, James Morrison and Ruarri Joseph to name but a few. These people have innovated music, pushed boundaries helped create new genres and made a substantial contribution to that art form. It is therefore very encouraging to see Cornish filmakers given the opportunity to unleash their talents, to present a Cornish view on film as innovative and ambitious as their musical counterparts. We're still a long way from Cornish film makers becoming household names globally like their musical counterparts but still progress is being made and we must welcome the opportunity for Cornish people to showcase their talents in Cornwall.

Personally I am a big fan of Cornish films, one of my favourites over the last few years has been Will Coleman's excellent Daralla Jooan Chyannor (the story of John of Chyannor) which is a vivid and amusing telling of the ancient Cornish tale.

Will Coleman is a very gifted droll (story) teller and a very enthusiastic character so I was really looking forward to seeing Tamara in all it's glory and it certainly did not disappoint.

Tamara tells the tale of two Cornishmen obviously incensed by Cameron's slur of "it's the Tamar not the Amazon for Heaven's sake" keen to avenge this sleight and that of Devonwall itself, they set to work. Styling themselves as the Cornish Liberation Army they set to destroying the Tamar bridge, but life becomes more complicated and they realise their actions have consequences they never could have imagined. The film has a keen sense of humour and a keen sense of timing and suspense and in every way is very well made and professional (although I fear the special effects budget was all blown in one scene at the end!).

For me there's interesting commentary on Cornwall and Cornish politics and our language Kernewek. It exposes albeit in an exaggerated way some of the dilemmas and debates about politics and culture in Cornwall. Is direct action the answer? or is Tamara right when she proclaims: "No one has ever made the world a better place through hate and violence." Obviously in a less exaggerated way we might reframe these questions as: is confrontation and argument the right way forward? or is building consensus and agreement a better path? I think the answer is quite obvious it maybe boring and ordinary but I'd rather be like the heroine Tamara than the Laurel and Hardy-esque duo.

On the subject of the language it is interesting to note that the film frames the two nationalists as poor Cornish speakers whereas Tamara is a teacher and obviously fluent. Davey and Dawe seem to struggle with the language and use it simply to proclaim their political beliefs, in contrast Tamara uses the language to communicate and chat not to proclaim and make speeches. Certainly Tamara's use of the language is more admirable and honest than confused childlike sentences of the men that are mixed with political rhetoric.

Agree with me or not, I do hope you watch the film and feel free to leave comments below I'd love to know what other people think, maybe I read to much into it and it's simply a comedy, decide for yourself....

TAMARA from denzil monk on Vimeo.

Friday, 20 January 2012

government position of ignoring Cornish identity is untenable

In July last year the 2nd Cornish national minority report was published. It urged the government to recognise the difference of the Cornish people in law by adding the Cornish into the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, link here to the pdf. Basically this means that the government officially recognises Cornish difference and admits that we are a different people and deserve as much recognition as any other background within the UK. As of yet and as far as I am aware the government has not added the Cornish. This is despite the fact that the Prime Minister himself admitted: "I think Cornish national identity is very powerful". Note he doesn't question whether the Cornish people do form a national identity but accepts it as a fact. He certainly is not alone in the Conservative party, the leader of Cornwall Council co-signed the report as did the leaders of all the party groups on the council: Liberal Democrat, Mebyon Kernow, Labour and the leader of the Independent group. Despite this no action has been taken by the government.

The status of the Cornish and official recognition is a confused and muddled area. On the one hand the government recognises the Cornish language but unlike any other group in the UK they don't recognise the people from which the language belongs. Name any language and any national group in the UK and both their language and their people are recognised in law, whether French, Polish, Welsh, English or Vietnamese. Similarly with the census, the Cornish people have the option to write in Cornish on the form and this is duly recorded, but unlike any other national group we have this option without recognition either in the Framework Convention or the Race Relations Act. The Cornish are in effect in limbo partly recognised here and there and  equally partly ignored. This situation is untenable due to it's inconsistency.

Further too that recent news stories reveal that Cornish identity is on the rise. According to the school survey 41% of school children in Cornwall are recorded (by themselves or their families) as Cornish as opposed to White British.  This trend has increased over the years, the first PLASC survey in 2006 revealed 24% of respondents as Cornish, 2007: 27%, 2008 30%, 2009 34%, 2010 37%. For whatever reason more and more people in Cornwall are identifying as Cornish as opposed to any other identity.

Today the Guardian has published and updated the results of their online survey: How British do you feel?  less scientific it must be said than the schools survey but nonetheless a strong indicator of Cornish identity. Guardian readers were given the opportunity online to enter their postcode and pick a flag. Across the UK 6,549 recorded themselves as British, 8,948 as not British. Of the non-British respondents 2,386 recorded as English, 1,355 Welsh, 2,874 Scottish and 1,309 as others. Unfortunately the Guardian much like the government has not recognised the Cornish for the purposes of the survey, but much like Cameron they have to admit the identity is real and clearly statistically noticeable. By far the greatest concentration of "others" is in Cornwall, to which the Guardian comments: "Another 1,309 people chose other, particularly in Cornwall" link Now we must bear in mind that the questions and options was one dimensional and others may have included anybody not British,Welsh, English, Scottish, Irish, Northern Irish. Nonetheless the frequency of other flags in Cornwall is far greater than any other area. It is safe to assume that these others are mostly Cornish respondents keen to express their identity as such. My good friend John Ellery Bodrugan tampered with the original Guardian map (see here) changing flags for the others to Cornish.

The government position of recognising the Cornish people here and there is slapdash and incoherent. No other group from any corner of the globe faces this muddled approach to recognition why should our corner of this island be singled out like this? There is little point recording Cornish identity on the official census or on the school census or any other census without it meaning anything. The purpose of statistics is to inform policy, without recognition all this hard work and resources spent has no chance of informing anything. The Cornish people have some recognition by the UK government, we do record our identity in diverse ways, there is a clear need for government to catch up with the desires of the Cornish people and concede that we do exist. I don't know why the government don't recognise the Cornish people's identity but fixing this incoherent fudge is really quite simple.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

senior Cornish Tory echoes MK policy to lobby for a Cornish police force

the Canadian Cornwall has it's own police force why not the Cornish Cornwall?
Very pleased to see that the Conservative cabinet member and councillor for Bodmin, Lance Kennedy echoing my call to devolve policing to Cornwall. It's always been the policy of Mebyon Kernow that all governmental institutions and bodies be devolved to Cornwall including the police force. The idea is certainly not that radical, at the moment Devon and Cornwall police force is the biggest in England and the smallest constabularies are smaller than Cornwall.

It is also very encouraging to see a councillor taking up the baton of fighting for a Cornish police force. On the 6th of September 2011 a majority of Cornwall councillors voted that:

  1. The Council urgently meets with the Chief Constable and Chair of Devon and Cornwall Police Authority to assert:

    (i) equal partnership between Devon and Cornwall
    (ii) fair division of resource
    (iii) policing style relevant and effective for Cornwall
    (iv) equal representation in governance of police
  2. The Council Send a strong cross party delegation to Home Secretary to assert stronger Cornish representation in governance, opposition to Devonwall, assessment of case for a Cornish Commissioner and police force, and the principle of democratic governance and accountability.

So far no one has championed this cause in an official capacity (that I know of). Certainly Lance's comments appear on the BBC Cornwall newsite (Councillor bids for Cornish police force) but don't feature on the news  section of Cornwall Council's website. It would seem safe to assume that this is not council policy that the administration at Cornwall Council have so far refused to lobby on this subject and are ignoring the will of the chamber to do so (not for the first time). I know Robertson and other senior Tories in Cornwall are keen not to upset their bosses in the party in Westminster but they should take up this cause and spend more time listening to the people of Cornwall and councillors. Doing what is best for Cornwall rather than what is the best for Tory policy in London.

high time austerity applied to the ruling classes

I am absolutely appalled to read of plans, of government ministers planning to buy the Queen a yacht. These millionaires probably don't realise in their fancy houses and fancy cars that things have changed over the last few years. Here in the real world, wages are stagnating, companies going bankrupt, prices rising, unemployment rising. So it's so disappointing to read that the Queen's cousin and Prime Minister David Cameron  and the Duke of Cornwall support lavishing yet more tax payers money onto the monarch.
We're all in this together, well I mean they not we obviously, scoff scoff.

These people are millionaires, they don't want for anything, choices of homes and castles to live in paid for by the taxpayer and God knows what other extravagances and they barely need to spend their own money to sustain this gluttonous lifestyle. Meanwhile the government is trying to railroad through the Lords plans to cut the disability living allowance. So people who have a hard time in life who struggle will have a harder time and struggle more whilst the richest and the most powerful dip into the treasury as and when they see fit to make their lives easier and more luxurious. It absolutely beggars belief and this story alone demonstrates that British politics is broken.

Friday, 13 January 2012

the Scottish independence referendum and an assembly for Cornwall

The news and political classes are abuzz with the prospect of Scottish independence. A very real and exciting landmark in UK politics is upon us, whatever the outcome, the SNP and their talented leader Alex Salmond are making history. In the years to come historians, enthusiasts and commentators will speculate on the events of the next few years attempting to see where it all went right or wrong for the parties involved. If Scotland does get independence, the UK will yet again shrink on a comparable scale with the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, hopefully this time peacefully. If Scotland does not leave the union, if Cameron, Miliband and Clegg can join together and sell the benefits of union successfully, the UK will still change. The dominant idea of centuries that the people of these isles should be ruled exclusively by London is seriously under question. The nature of the union itself has to change and adapt to meet these realities. The idea that London knows best and is a source of great power and influence is increasingly being questioned.

There are a number of possible outcomes for this change, Westminster and Whitehall could centralise more power with the advent of either Scottish independence or 'devo max', localism could come to the fore and power disseminated across the remainder of the UK, an English parliament might appear, English regionalism might be tried again, Wales may choose to follow Scotland on the brave path to nationhood. There's no real way of knowing what might change. But change it will, the real question for Cornish campaigners, Mebyon Kernow and others that advocate devolution is how do we get on the agenda? How do we put our hat in the ring? How do we articulate our desire for constitutional and  governmental change? This is an historical moment for the UK and it is also an historic opportunity for the people of Cornwall to make positive changes in our relationship with the UK. I fear that if we do not articulate our desire for change if we are not successful in championing the pro devolution sentiment in Cornwall we will fall by the wayside. We will end up at best with the current arrangement, that is direct rule from Westminster and responsibility for little more than planning applications and footpaths. At worst an English parliament will be created, Cornwall will be at the periphery of it and our needs will be lost whilst this new arrangement finds it place in the world and administers what would still be a large and varied area. We might see localism whereby Cornwall Council will be given more power and responsibility, but I doubt whether the council has the capacity and the power to administer such tasks. As we have seen with the LEP giving more power without the institutions and staff to administer such ventures has poor results and is an unpalatable option. Ultimately we have two choices accept centralisation or argue for more powers.

This has begun, we are successfully making the case for devolution, MK has brought devolution to the attention of the public, we have got newspapers and bloggers talking about a Cornish assembly. They are not all in favour it must be said. From the Labour blogger Mudhook we have questions about the funding of an assembly, where will the taxes come from? will we pay for ourselves? unfortunately Mudhook finds problems not solutions. He mocks that no one supports the assembly, that it is unrealistic that we don't know how it will be funded. We need to win over these unambitious people, stuck happy with the status quo of poverty, Euro funding dependence, and an abject lack of political power for the people of Cornwall.

Many London media outlets are noticing the long fought campaign for Cornish devolution too, suddenly real Cornish issues, more than cream teas and holidays, have made their way to London's gaze The Daily Telegraph offers Never Mind a Scottish Referendum Now Cornwall Wants it's own Government, not to mention the scores of articles about the Cornish EDM, some of which are listed on The Cornish Republican blog here.

Today This is Cornwall has an article typifying my sentiment toward the subject with the title Where Will the SNP's referendum leave MK's ambitions?. It is an interesting piece, it doesn't delve too far into the Cornish situation which is unfortunate. The author also calls into question whether non-Scots and non-Cornish will decide the future of these respective Celtic nations. An argument presumably based on the idea that Scottish or Cornish nationalism lacks a broad appeal, this is a falsehood. Devolution is not just of benefit to a particular group in society it is of benefit to all, Scottish and Welsh students benefit from better conditions than their English cousins not based upon their ethnicity or place of birth but on the virtue that they live in those devolved nations. I would argue that what is of benefit to Cornwall is of benefit to all the people of Cornwall, devolution is not about being Cornish its about securing the best deal from the UK and better governance for One and All.

The time for change is now, direct Westminster rule has failed to stimulate the Cornish economy instead successive regimes have centralised jobs and services undermining our economic position and our ability to create Cornish solutions to Cornish problems. The United Kingdom will be reordered in the coming years, things will change, centres of governmental power will rise and fall as a consequence of Scottish nationalism. They have proven to Cornwall that change can be made, the only thing that stands between Cornwall and making positive change and starting a new future is the ambition to imagine it and the strength of will to make it happen. There is a gaping opportunity for Mebyon Kernow and Cornwall to stand up and tell London's elites that government here can be better. We have the resources, the ability and the intelligence to start to make our own decisions to make politics work better for the people of Cornwall. The time to argue for devolution and a better deal for the people of Cornwall is now.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

thinking about devolution to Cornwall and a Cornish assembly

I hope all of my readers had a great Xmas and New Year and ate and drank too much (I certainly did) and caught up with family and had a good break. Welcome back and I hope 2012 is a good year for you all.

Just a quick blog to add some comments about a Cornish assembly. I blogged late last year (A Case for a Cornish Assembly) arguing that politics needs to change in Cornwall, to unlock Cornwall's potential. That our poor economy and poor state of governance could be changed with devolution and that politics could work better for the people of Cornwall if we end the decades of centralisation and start having a greater say in our own affairs whilst remaining part of the UK. Today both the Huffington Post and the Independent have picked up on the story about the EDM: Tenth Anniversary of a Cornish Assembly. It seems that people in London are noticing.... The articles in the Indy and Huff Post seem to be remarkably similar, the former leads with Cornish Devolution Campaign Revived by Show of Pan Celtic Unity and the latter has it as Cornwall Devolution Campaign Revived and Backed by Plaid Cymru. The Huffington Post also has an online poll here which stands at the moment with 62% agreeing with "Cornwall should have devolved powers from Westminster".

It is interesting that over half of an international news sites readers have agreed with the campaign. Certainly many of these people will not be from Cornwall so judging how much support in Cornwall this would mean is difficult and interesting, a bit short of conclusive. It is also interesting how the other peoples of the UK view the subject of Cornish devolution, whether they agree that Cornwall suffers at the hands of an over-centralised state or that Cornwall is served well at the moment. Whether Cornish devolution would secure the future of a fairer and more equitable government in the UK or hasten the demise of the union. In short would devolution to Cornwall be a crisis or an opportunity for the UK and Cornwall itself?

On the subject of outside support it must be noted that the EDM itself is up to 10 signatures now, all of Cornwall's Liberal Democrat MPs have now signed following the path forged by Plaid Cymru's MPs, joining them is 3 Labour MPs. It is perhaps disappointing for the campaign that more MPs have not signed, especially so as Cornwall's Lib Dems find themselves isolated from the rest of their party. Perhaps Labour too might have taken this opportunity to redraw their policy toward Cornwall and ditch the "South West Regionalisation" which meant centralisation west of the Tamar and was that unpopular it kick started Mebyon Kernow's assembly campaign and the 50,000 strong petition in the first place. The Tories are curiously silent, the party that brought us the broken promise of a Minister for Cornwall, seem no longer willing to appeal to the people of Cornwall in such ways. It is fair to say that no Westminster-based party seems willing to wholeheartedly advocate a Cornish Assembly, how much of a problem this will be for the campaign remains to be seen.

On the subject of a support it must be noted that Cornwall will need the acceptance of England and her MPs to get an Assembly, we can not decide for ourselves that is not the nature of our relationship within the UK. We need the support of others to get the required legislation through parliament. Ultimately though it ought to be decided by the people of Cornwall the future of our government arrangements. Personally I am completely in favour of a referendum on devolution, I believe the people of Cornwall should decide what kind of powers we want and what is offered to the public in a referendum.

Therefore I believe the most prescient task for those wanting devolution (whichever party and background they come from) is to make coherent arguments about devolution. To convince not only the people of Cornwall but also the people of England and politicians that a Cornish Assembly would be a positive step forward. That Cornwall could better take her place within the UK with more powers, that we could have a stronger economy of benefit to Cornwall, the whole UK and thus the public purse. That devolution need not be feared, no one wants to isolate ourselves from our neighbours, we want to work better with our neighbours but we need our own voice to do so.

We need to make positive arguments about the benefits to everyone, we only need look to London, Wales and Scotland to see how devolution has had a positive impact. Also we can look to Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man to see how devolved powers within the UK works. We might not be the same as these places and want the same things but they teach us that being part of the UK does not necessarily mean being a county where everything significant has to be decided by London. Devolution within the UK works elsewhere why not here in Cornwall?