Saturday, 5 January 2013

A Cornish Assembly in news and blogs 2012

This year has been an exciting time in politics in Cornwall, not always good but definitely changing and busy. Devonwall, pasty tax, cuts cuts and more cuts, regional pay and of course Cornwall Council's Shared Services (privatisation scheme). Its not all been dominated (thankfully) by the hare brained schemes of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. Mebyon Kernow has been able to present ideas too and push for change in Cornwall, most notably on the Cornish assembly which has been on the agenda and the news a lot this year. This is a review with links of developments in devolution this year.

The end of 2011 saw the tenth anniversary of the Cornish Assembly petition and this was marked by an EDM launched by Plaid Cymru MPs. By the end of 2011 devolution was already on the agenda and in the news, see here for a collection of links to news articles. By this time last year I was blogging about the subject under the title Thinking About Devolution, similarly Stephen Richardson was too with the title Just Believe. All Mebyon Kernow members were keen to use this publicity to argue the case for Cornwall. The subject of Cornish devolution was on the agenda in it's own right.

However this was to change, the big political news and debates of 2012 have been dominated by Alec Salmond, the SNP and the future of the UK itself. Soon Cornwall was not just a separate problem or question but part of the British question as a whole. Was the future of the UK now certain at all? Was Scotland the only place arguing for change? Dick Cole was clear in what he thought under the title: A Referendum for Scotland: What about Cornwall? he wrote:

Surely now is the time to address the unequal constitutional relationships between the various nations and regions of the UK, and to tackle the centralising influence of London and the South East of England.
And as part of this debate, we must be allowed to make the case for the meaningful devolution of political powers to Cornwall.

Certainly external observers were linking the two questions Cornwall's relationship with the UK and Scotland's Independence referendum. As a Telegraph blogger put it: Never mind a Scottish referendum, now Cornwall wants it own government  Even in Japan the idea of Cornish nationalism had reached (Turning the Japanese). Meanwhile in the UK the Guardian were musing what Mebyon Kernow stood for in an article titled, Cornish party see future in Black and White featuring interviews with MK Councillors Loveday Jenkin and Dick Cole. 2012 started with Cornish devolution and MK firmly on the agenda. The idea that Cornwall has a section of political society that wants devolution could not be denied.

St Piran's day saw Councillor Cole call for devolution (Annual St Piran message reiterates Cornish dream) calling specifically for 'meaningful devolution of political powers' which was obviously in reference to the Coalition's localism agenda. It has always been hinted at and implied that Cornwall's quest for further powers could be under the guise of localism. We all remember well Cameron's words: "I think Cornish national identity is very powerful – people feel a great affinity with Cornwall. We're going to devolve a lot of power to Cornwall – that will go to the Cornish unitary authority." link but this was back in 2010 with the Prime Minister on the backfoot over the Devonwall row and the Tamar not the Amazon slip. It's safe to conclude that this was not an admittance of policy but simply something Cameron thought people wanted to hear, not what he wanted to say.

The end of 2011 saw: Mebyon Kernow challenge coalition on Cornish Assembly. Since Cameron's words on 'localism' and Cornwall, Cornish activists have been trying to get the government to keep to it's word. To explain to the Cornish people what localism can offer them and why we would prefer it to the status quo or localism. This fell on deaf ears, as we all know the government prefers to listen to people that agree with them and rides roughshod over anyone that disagrees. It was a a rare move then when MPs George Eustice and Sarah Newton finally entered the devolution debate in the summer. With all the subtlety we are accustomed to with the Tories they broke the silence with Devolution is Defunct which called for an end to calls for a Cornish assembly. Instead of the assembly we apparently needed a forward looking, self confident approach of localism, quite how localism (which is after all devolution)  was forward looking and not defunct yet devolution was backward looking, defunct and lacking in confidence is still beyond me.

I welcomed the Conservatives intervention it expanded the debate somewhat. I blogged in response Localism enough slogans already, what will happen? and what will it cost?. Drawing attention to the fact that localism is not a clear alternative to an assembly for Cornwall, it is a hotch potch of initiatives dressed up as policy. Quite how it is preferable to devolution or the status quo is an argument that is yet to be made, coming up for three years in government I have grave doubts we will ever know what localism was supposed to be for Cornwall.

It is a great shame that 2012 has seen so much talk about Cornish devolution yet little has been achieved. Talked about across the globe by various commentators, arguments made and debate had, yet not by the powers that be. Nowhere was demands for an assembly met with clear arguments against. If localism was a clear contender to a Cornish assembly why does no one make that argument? It seems clear that localism will not apply to Cornwall, we have seen Wave Hub taken into control of central government and sat idle on the seabed. The welcome announcement over the government funding A30 improvements should worry proponents of localism. Talk of Cornwall Council wresting control and funding of our roads from the Highways Agency has come to a halt. The only significant thing to be 'localised' has been council tax benefit, with less money, easy to see why the Treasury supported that one!

There was a danger that localism would knock a Cornish Assembly off the agenda in 2012. That an assembly wouldn't be needed for Cornwall, that devolution would come in other ways. The reason that Cornish devolution is still on the agenda and a talking point is that localism is a sham. We know from London, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland (to name just UK examples) that devolution to a new legislative body works. We know what it could look like, we know what it does and we know the pros and cons. Localism on the other hand is a mystery, could Cornwall Council cope with more powers? Could Cornwall Council pick which powers it wanted? Will Cornwall have any localism before 2015?

2013 is a huge year for Cornish politics, an election a new Council administration and new parish and town councils. Its a huge year for Mebyon Kernow too, rest assured we will be keeping a Cornish assembly on the agenda this year like last. With a bit of luck and some control on Cornwall Council we will be pushing the central government to honour their promises to devolved power to Cornwall. We won't be settling for the scraps that Westminster no longer wants and needs but pushing for the powers and responsibilities that Cornwall wants and needs. MK can get Cornwall and devolution on the agenda as we have done in 2012 but to get action we need political power we can't trust the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to deliver devolution they don't want it or they'd have done it by now. For real change vote Mebyon Kernow in 2013 and put Cornwall first!

By the way, my favourite Cornish devolution blog of 2012 is Stephen Richardson's Autonomy for Cornwall


  1. A good summary of the year. Interesting that you mention Stephen Richardson's Autonomy for Cornwall blogpost.

    I think it sums up one of the problems with the Assembly campaign which is that the case for greater autonomy is still founded primarily on the constitutional argument. The first part of that post retreads the 1337 Duchy Charters etc. case for seeing Cornwall as a separate entity from the UK. My point is not that this is not valid but that for 99% of the Cornish electorate it is irrelevant. The case for the Assembly has to be based on the practical benefits for the people of Cornwall for a transfer of some powers from Westminster, not on a 14th century charter. Until the focus of the Assembly campaign shifts to the practical arguments, I suspect it will continue to go nowhere.

    I think a similar argument also applies to MK. Cornwall's electorate have show repeatedly that they don't care about esoteric historical debates and that they are not interested in a party that does not go beyond generalities. Until MK ditches the vague 'social justice' talk and puts forward specific policies that relate directly to Cornwall I suspect that 2013 is going to be another year of electoral disappointment which would be desperately sad.

    1. Interesting comments Colin. I'm not sure that esoteric is a fitting description of the assembly campaign. I'm not sure either that its at the forefront. But I agree with you sentimental politics in my opnion aren't that useful and how change will effect peoples day to day lives needs to be the main argument.

      I've read your blogs about Mebyon Kernow and they are interesting and thought provoking. Again I've seen you write that MK needs to do things differently and think more about policy. I know this something that's been seriously undertaken in the party executive and I don't know if you've attended any of the party conferences but policy is a major debating point.

      I'll ask you this what do you think should happen? What do you think should be the priorites and hoe do you think they should be conveyed to the electorate?

      P.s sorry for the time taken to reply.