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?


  1. A good blog Rob, its good too see that the issue of Cornish devolution is moving up the political agenda and there clearly seems a will among the populace for an assembly.
    Having had devolution/assembly for the last approx. 13 years in Wales, there are many lessons as well as success that the Cornish take in the advent of a Cornish Assembly being formed at sometime in the near future.
    The Welsh Assembly has brought its benefits to Wales, it has done well in issues like the NHS, free prescriptions, free bus passes, free museum and gallery entries etc.
    However has the Welsh Assembly really brought change and substance to Wales, I would say no. It has fundamentally failed to generated inward investment and economic regeneration. Wales is one area of the UK that still has high rates of child poverty, unemployment, poor educational standards, low skills base and highest sickness and unemployment benefits claimants.
    Although it seems great for Welsh nationalism and identity, and the token gestures mentioned above, the dogmatic political tribalism of the political establishment, are busy either naval gazing and political squabbling of petty issues to actually concentrate on creating better standards of living for it citizens.
    The are examples of crazy decision making, scrapping the Welsh Tourist Board, one of Wales best economic generators, a business secretary who is a self professed communist and refuses to meet with with her opposite number at Westminster (Vince Cable) for regular meetings about Welsh economics and inward investment.
    What I have described are just the tip of the iceberg in the pitfalls of an assembly. However I do advocate the concept of an assembly however it requires the correct political system and will for it to work efficiently and effectively.
    Firstly I would say beware of the local political establishment / class as these types always seem to jump on the gravy train.
    Maybe a Governor type system, one person elected to office for 4-5year term. Therefore avoids leaders of political parties assuming first minister status and subsequent political squabbling along tribal lines
    The proportional representation I think works quite well for the local AM's, especially if independents intend to run.
    Finally the citizens of Cornwall have the will to make sure the assembly brings real change economic as well as cultural.
    I truly hope one day Cornwall does achieve the goal of devolution, and I do hope there is the good will to make it succeed for the people of the Duchy.

  2. When I edited "Devolution for One and All" back in 2002 I think we all recognised that the devolution programme would take a little time to mature, but I've been pleasantly surprised that Cornwall's case seldom seems to attract negative comment.

    When we were architecting a potential solution we were aware of the risk of a small elite holding all the power, and we envisaged deploying a similar model to that used in Westminster - the use of something like select Committees to hold the Executive to account. We also toyed with the idea of using a democratised (wholly elected) form of the Duchy Council as a 'revising chamber' to ensure that the Executive could not railroad through policy.

    As a further matter of interest we envisaged using STV to elect AMs and multi-member constituencies slightly smaller than the old Districts of Cornwall.