Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Cornish history must now be taught in Cornish schools

Following on from the Cornish recogntion in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) the Cornish school curriculum must be changed. Perhaps to the extent of a Cornish National Curriculum, now I don't mean science should be the prism of Cornish scientists and lessons revolving around Davy, Trevithick and Couch Adams, or literature be dominated by Du Maurier, Quiller-Couch and Golding. But nevertheless Cornish inclusion in the Framework binds education authorities to change things and these changes are significant.

Unlike some of the subjects I wrote about yesterday, that perhaps the convention might mean this or that, in terms of education it's very clear, Article 12 is categorical:

"Article 12
The Parties shall, where appropriate, take measures in the fields of education and research to foster knowledge of the culture, history, language and religion of their national minorities and of the majority.
In this context the Parties shall inter alia provide adequate opportunities for teacher training and access to textbooks, and facilitate contacts among students and teachers of different communities.
The Parties undertake to promote equal opportunities for access to education at all levels for persons belonging to national minorities."


I do think Cornish education has come on a great deal since I was in school. There have been changes and local history has a much more prominent place. Which I think is greatly beneficial, because the history of your community has more bearing on where you live, why culture and festivals are the way they are and of course why the economy is the way it is.

Where does the Cornish story in history fit in to the history of England? well it doesn't fit in that well. This is one of the reasons we are different. The history of the English people, begins with the Anglo Saxon invasions, the formation of a unified kingdom from the seven kingdoms that were, before England ever existed. Various battles with the Vikings and the Danelaw. At this time the Cornish were already resident in Britain and descend from the ancient Britons of course the stories intertwine but there are different dynamics. For the English this was the founding moment in the history, their Plymouth Rock if you will, but for the Celts like the Cornish this was a much different story, one of invasion and the loss of traditional lands, Plymouth Rock was taken from us.

Even further back in Roman times, Cornwall was at the very periphery and traces of the Romans West of the Tamar and indeed West of Exeter are very few and far between. Whereas what is now England was heavily influenced by the Romans, forts and roads etc the same is not perhaps true in Cornwall. These are the kind of things that the teaching of history in Cornwall needs to address to be complaint with the FCNM.

But the FCNM means that history has to be taught differently and indeed subjects have to include Cornish beyond history. Explicitly stated is culture, language and religion as well. It remains to be seen how this might fit in. It seems to me Religious Education should include the reformation in Cornwall and it's negative effect on Kernewek. The later non conformist denominations. Language is of course the big issue, perhaps we might see the Cornish GCSE reinstated and the language offered as an option alongside French, German and Spanish.

Many have dismissed the recognition of the Cornish as tokenism an empty gesture. But these are the kinds of people that really need to have a good look at the Convention and what it actually entails. As I wrote yesterday perhaps for the first time the Cornish will receive protections under the Equality Act, perhaps housing policies will have to change and access to Cornish language media. The point of this blog was to highlight some of the aspects of history and how education now needs to change to incorporate the Cornish story into teaching. It wasn't meant as a definitive guide to Cornish history, I didn't even touch upon the industrial revolution in Cornwall, the governmental arrangements of the Stannary Parliament and the Duchy, the rebellions of 1497 and 1549 or even Cornwall's unique part in the 'English' Civil War. There are huge ramifications just for the subject of teaching history, what will or won't be included. How much of Cornish history is needed  "to foster knowledge" of the national minority? This seems like the perfect opportunity for education matters to be devolved to Cornwall. My view is that recognition under the FCNM is a long drawn out and hard fought victory. It is historic and momentous in itself but it can promise so much more. There sits before us a can of worms, with hard work the lid has already been forced off, with more hard work we can pick up this can turn it upside down give it a good shake and get the most out of this for Cornwall as possible.

As a footnote it's also worth considering other mentions of education in the Convention:

"Article 13
Within the framework of their education systems, the Parties shall recognise that persons belonging to a national minority have the right to set up and to manage their own private educational and training establishments.
The exercise of this right shall not entail any financial obligation for the Parties."

"Article 14
The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to learn his or her minority language.
In areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers, if there is sufficient demand, the Parties shall endeavour to ensure, as far as possible and within the framework of their education systems, that persons belonging to those minorities have adequate opportunities for being taught the minority language or for receiving instruction in this language.
Paragraph 2 of this article shall be implemented without prejudice to the learning of the official language or the teaching in this language."

Monday, 28 April 2014

A truly inspiring town council meeting

Tonight was Penzance Town Council's meeting of electors, which is where various charities and voluntary groups come to explain the good works they have done in the community in the last year and indeed the challenges they face.
There was a wide variety of groups represented from Penzance Lions Club, to Friends of West Cornwall Hospital to Shelter to Penlee bowling club to the Cuxhaven twinning association and lots in between. These various groups and individuals do a wide variety of work in the community. It is indeed worth noting that these groups exist we might argue in some cases that the state should be doing these services but nevertheless it's heartening to know that people take times out of their lives to work for the good of others or the community itself. (Or in some cases animals as the Cornwall Animal Hospital who were tonight present). Sometimes it is easier to see the bad in society (especially if you read the Daily Mail) and overlook the good that happens.
A special mention to young mum Molly Blewett, who's in the process of organising a Soft Play Area in Penzance in conjunction with Pop Up Penzance temporarily and later apparently with St John's Church. Which from a personal point of view having two young kids would be fantastic and I know very welcome among the parents in Penzance.
There are a huge number of great organisations out there like the ones the council heard from tonight. If you can spare some time and expertise to volunteer. Organisations are always looking for help and contacting them directly or looking for opportunities on the Volunteer Cornwall website or through Penwith Community Development Trust in Penzance. Or of course you can just donate money or in the case of GOFA (Good Old Furniture Available) donate furniture and they even collect!

Cornish recognition what it means? some thoughts

I'm no legal expert and this early days for Cornish recognition for the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, so this is more of a discussion piece than a definitive account of what this historic decision means. Take a pinch of salt where necessary add a comment where you wish but these are my thoughts on what it means. There are a number of discussions at the moment taking place and I'm not going to try to summarise them all. But here I'll take a quick look at what the Framework means, what it means for equality legislation and what changes might occour now.

Of course I must echo Mebyon Kernow leader Dick Cole in saying this is fantastic news, but I also agree with Andrew Long when he said:

‘It is excellent news Government are finally recognising something the European Union have recognised for years and the Cornish have known for generations.’
On the Cornish Times website.

What is the Framework Convention?:

Fantastic, historic, momentous, groundbreaking there are certainly a plethora of positive descriptions that could be given. But what is the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities? In short it's an agreement between the states of Europe to protect identities of peoples in the aim of creating and ensuring harmony. As the preamble explains:

"Considering that the upheavals of European history have shown that the protection of national minorities is essential to stability, democratic security and peace in this continent;

Considering that a pluralist and genuinely democratic society should not only respect the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of each person belonging to a national minority, but also create appropriate conditions enabling them to express, preserve and develop this identity;

Considering that the creation of a climate of tolerance and dialogue is necessary to enable cultural diversity to be a source and a factor, not of division, but of enrichment for each society;"


This is not something emanating from the European Union, it is from the Council of Europe and it is up to members of the council to decide whether to implement it. This map from wikipedia goes some way to illustrating how the Framework stands across Europe:

European states that aren't members of the EU (e.g. Switzerland) are signatories, other EU members like France ignore it completely. It is at the behest of state governments to implement this and to define groups individual governments consider a national minority. This is why so much lobbying for Cornish recognition has taken place over the years and finally and thankfully Westminster has relented. In short this is a multilateral treaty that seeks equality and protection of identities of cultures between national majorities (such as the English) and national minorities (such as the Cornish) specifically duties of the state to ensure this. 

How might it apply to Kernewek and broadcasting?:

So what does this specifically mean? In my opinion parts of the Convention are quite woolly and open to interpretation. Such as the first paragraph of Article 9:

"The Parties undertake to recognise that the right to freedom of expression of every person belonging to a national minority includes freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas in the minority language, without interference by public authorities and regardless of frontiers. The Parties shall ensure, within the framework of their legal systems, that persons belonging to a national minority are not discriminated against in their access to the media."

What could this mean? and what limits might "within the framework of their legal systems" actually entail? We could read this and argue that the present form of broadcasting is sufficient "access" or we might argue that "access" requires Cornish language tv, radio and print media. It could also be argued that media is the preserve of the private sector and not the state and it is up to private enterprise, not the government to ensure "access". Although considering the UK has a state media in the BBC and statutory requirements with independent broadcasters are in place, it would be within the power of government to allow access to our minority language. 

What about housing policy?

There's an interesting debate about how the Convention affects Cornwall Council/ government housing policy specifically the local plan. Bernard Deacon has made the argument here that a housing policy predicated on an increased migration to Cornwall (from England) infringes the convention and specifically Article 16:

"The Parties shall refrain from measures which alter the proportions of the population in areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities."

The local plan explains that migration to Cornwall is a factor in increasing the house building rate to 2020 so does it therefore follow that the state is infringing article 16? 

Do other rights and protections now follow?:

Although the convention was ratified by the UK government in 1998, since then and until the Cornish have been excluded from it. However other groups were included in it. Most notably the Welsh, Scottish, Ulster-Scots, Gypsy and Irish traveller. Because the government took the view that groups native -if you will- to the UK that had been recognised under the Race Relations Act 1976 where covered by the convention. The Labour government's argument for denying the Cornish was that there had not been a case tried at court that had shown the Cornish to be defined as a 'national' or 'racial' group. So rather than challenging the arguments put to them that the Cornish fit the criteria as a nation (flag, common history, self identification, common geographical origin, language, culture etc). They left it up to the courts to decide, the story of John Angarrack's brave effort to do this and the Cornish Fighting Fund is summarised here

Other than a dig at Labour and their scornful attitude to Cornish identity and recognition, there is a point I am getting to here. If it follows that the same groups recognised as National Minorities are recognised in anti discrimination legislation such as the Race Relations Act, is the converse true do the Cornish now enjoy the protection of this legislation? Could prosecutions be made in cases where Cornish people are discriminated against and vice versa in cases of Cornish people discriminating against the English? Surely now not only the Race Relations Act but also the Equality Act 2010 ensure protections of the Cornish people. If the government denies this then surely they have broken articles of the Framework Convention? This point is significant because it seems the Convention applies to protections to a people, their culture and identity from the policies and acts of the state. Whereas the Equality act and Race Relations act provide protection against discrimination from individuals and organisations.  

On the subject of housing, remember the case in Illogan, whereby a locals were refused housing in the village because they were not from London (Scandal of Cornish homes for Londoners). Could the Equality Act be used here?

The Cornish should now get a tickbox in the census:

The last point I want to make here is on the census, hitherto the Cornish have been able to record that identity on the census but with a write in option rather than a tick box. In the 2011 census all national minorities recognised under the Framework Convention had a dedicated tickbox with their identity written beside. Cornish was the only national minority group recorded but not explicitly written on the form. My reading of Article 4 is quite clear:

"The Parties undertake to guarantee to persons belonging to national minorities the right of equality before the law and of equal protection of the law. In this respect, any discrimination based on belonging to a national minority shall be prohibited."
I don't see how the government (this or the next) can discriminate against the Cornish by not including a tickbox and denying our identity equal footing with English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh etc. Further there are many organisations that collect data on ethnic and national origins, some do already collect Cornish and some don't. It would now seem the all have to collect Cornish and allow it to be displayed to users on an equal footing with other identities.


The real effects of the recognition of Cornish national identity are yet to be known. Most of this will be a legal process. I would very much expect some of the issues and arguments I have touched upon here to be debated and perhaps tested in the legal system. I apologise for the rambling nature of the above blog and how it flits between subjects. But this is an issue with huge ramifications, this is a 'game-changer' and there ought to be a very real debate on how this all applies. I imagine there are a number of organisations governmental, councils, businesses, housing associations that will have to think how their existing equality policies now apply with respect of the Cornish. I'll leave you with one last thought: we may have laughed (or tried to) at the BBC programme W1A and the fictional Spotlight news presenter overlooked for promotion in the BBC because she was Cornish, but that fictional case might soon be impossible in reality or challenged in the courts....

A couple of articles have caught my eye on this subject of Cornish recognition:

Cornwall to join UEFA? (or indeed field a '7 Nations' rugby team? Commonwealth games?)

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The false feminism of Camborne Labour

A year ago the picking of mayor and deputy mayor for Camborne Town Council got really unashamedly political. Mebyon Kernow and the Conservatives had representatives picked as Mayor and Deputy Mayor respectively.  As with all politics and life in general sometimes things don't go your way but some can't except this and lash out with any argument at hand.
Labour were sore their nomination for deputy (Cllr Dalley) didn't get selected. Far from taking it on the chin, they howled and screamed. It was not only a sleight to their candidate but an example of MK and the Tories ganging up on Labour "Mebyon Tories" as Adam Crickett would have it. But it was also a full frontal assault on womankind itself. As Jude Robinson explains:
"There were the usual discussions. Two things I do know about politics: one is that when people say ‘this is not political’ reach for an enormous pinch of salt and the other is that when men say ‘It’s about the best person for the job’, they mean it’s a man."
So a year has passed and news of this years nomination has reached the press.  Who is the fine woman Labour put forward? Who will embody the feminist revolution of Camborne? Erm Labour's Trevor Chaulker. Guess who "the best man for the job" was nominated by? The same Jude Robinson and seconded by Adam Crickett as decried a man for the role a year before!?!
Now more women in politics should be a must, does Camborne (or Penzance for that matter) deserve a woman in charge? Most definitely. But how is Camborne as a council and as a town benefiting from this kind of slippery logic? When it suits championing the cause of women but when it matters and a difference can be made, abandoning it entirely?
When I was first elected nearly a year ago. I struggled to understand why people warned me about bringing party politics into local government. Up until now I didn't understand it. Don't get me wrong on Penzance Town Council we have disagreements of opnion between councilors. It's not all sunshine and lollipops but no one throws toys out of the pram and straight onto a press release. It's my sincere hope the Labour group on Camborne Town Council start to think less about throwing ideological insults and more on how to make their town better. Also that I learn from this hypocritical episode and don't forget it.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Sign the petition to save Penzance's Jubilee Pool

Not a great deal to say on this one. SIGN the PETITION is the important thing.

Despite press releases claiming disappointment on losing the grant funding and vague commitments to the future of the sea lido. Unfortunately this was not backed up by match funding in the last round of grants. Enthuastic rhetoric aside the reality was an immensely short sighted approach by Cornwall Council, spurning a large amount of money by not adding in some of their money a grant application that was destined to fail.
The petition seeks a new approach where a successful bid for grant funding can be achieved by Cornwall Council putting money in as well. Please sign this, we need to pressurise Cornwall Council (and Cornwall Councilors) that people do want the pool and it needs to be funded. Please sign here.

Alex Salmond underestimates the effectiveness of the YES campaign

The biggest political story of the year is no doubt the Scottish Independence referendum. It truly is an inspiring time, UK politics tends to be a bit stuffy endless scraps over the center ground by a cosy political consensus masquerading as political rivalry. Real change is unusual in UK politics so anything as vaguely unique and inspiring as the debate on Scotland's future is most welcome.

That said I've been on the fence on the issue, I did an interview with a couple of journalists (Jamie McConkey and Victoria Scholar) up in Paul the other week. There by the headstone of Dolly Pentreath I was asked various questions about Cornish identity, Mebyon Kernow, the campaign for a Cornish assembly and ultimately how this impacts and is impacted upon by events in Scottish polling stations in september. I was directly asked what I thought of the Scottish vote and whether I supported the yes campaign. I was quite hesitant in my answer, at the time I was unsure and gave an answer along the lines of "it's up to the people of Scotland to decide" and did pour scorn on the terrible Better Together campaign. But now I've changed my mind and I am a yes supporter (although it's still up to Scotland).

I still have doubts, not to whether Scotland will succeed or build a better society as an independent country. But to what a yes vote, or indeed a no vote, means for the Rest of the UK and particularly here in Cornwall. Will a rump UK be more open to the idea of Cornish devolution? or will the opposite occour and devolution be seen merely a stepping stone to independence and fought bitterly? What will public opinion and the political classes make of the Scottish decision, will there be a tide of defensive English patriotism manifested in reinvigorated centralism?

My fears for the RUK aside Alex Salmond convinced me a yes vote is the right thing. I sat and watched his conference speech the other day, after enduring two typically right wing Farage v Clegg debates, it was a welcome and refreshing change. No blaming migrants for all societies ills nor an undue focus on what costs how much, nor whose jobs rely upon what. It was a refreshing look at what the future could be, what kind of future people would like to see. How to make life fairer for people how to get women a fair deal in the workplace, how to drive up the minimum wage. A welcome speech not of nationalism or patriotic fervour but one of hope, optimism and daring to dream of a better society.

Watch that speech here:

So why my title, how has Alex Salmond underestimated the YES campaign? Well I think he fails to grasp that when one side loses the other side wins it. As much as Better Together  is scare mongering and generally negative about the future. Or as the First Minister aptly put it in the speech:

"the most miserable, negative, depressing 
and thoroughly boring campaign in modern political history."

This is true but it's also about the hope and promise of the yes campaign. The political system in the UK is broken there is no doubt. The majority feel disenfranchised and don't turn up on polling day. Governments of all the big three parties have pursued policies in face of public opposition. The capital continues to grow and attract the most investment yet elsewhere enjoys enjoys no such privilege. They have presided over a deplorable MP's and Lord's expenses system. Billions spent on Trident despite austerity. Public services are sold off to privatisation. The gap between rich and poor continues to grow and has done for a long time. Whilst the minimum wage barely rises and we've seen recently nurses have no or little pay rise. At the same time as MP's are looking forward to a 11% pay rise. The list does go on and I don't mean to do down Britain, there are some great things, there are some great people but the top of the hierarchy, the establishment, among the politicians there is a real stink. It is little wonder that the yes campaign can claim to be better, to be more uplifting and optimistic, to increasingly win over voters.

It is little wonder the positive case for the union has been so had to make. That the no campaign relies upon senior politicians rather than a grass roots campaign. It's a really hard argument to make a positive case for the Westminster political system and it is little wonder yes is doing so well and even with the might of unrivaled media attention the no campaign flounders.

I sincerely wish the people of Scotland well in their decision. If I lived there, and after months of careful consideration, I would vote yes without a shadow of a doubt. It is my hope that if Scotland does vote yes that the Westminster bubble is well and truly popped and that the political establishment take a long hard look at themselves. I  Hope they borrow some of the optimism and foresight north of the border and think how the RUK might be better and how this broken political system can be fixed, for all our sakes.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Green Party to respond to Cornish Assembly Consultation

The Green Party in Cornwall have announced that they will respond to the Mebyon Kernow document Towards a National Assembly for Cornwall. Certainly a welcome move. The Green Party have traditionally supported the idea of Cornish devolution believing like MK that "small is beautiful" and the closer power is to the people the more accountable and responsive it is. They have unfortunately done precious little in the last few years. 
So this is a welcome move. The internet article is here. It must be said as with previous criticisms on this blog of the Lib Dems, Tories and Labour. This does appear to be electioneering.  But unlike the rest, the Greens have not had an opportunity to devolve power and unlike the others doesn't have a history of centralisation in power. So it is more genuine than the establishment parties.
It also must be welcomed that the Green party are interacting with our document.  Thinking beyond grand pronouncements of devolution and getting to grips with how it would work. It'll certainly be interesting to see what they make of our plans and what they can add to them. This is much unlike the Liberal Democrat approach as Stephen Richardson wrote a month ago today, where is the detail in the Lib Dems devolution plans? Four weeks later and we're still no closer to knowing or perhaps those press releases were the sum of anything that will come from this. Perhaps the Lib Dems could learn something from the Greens and interact with the Mebyon Kernow document and take part in the consultation. 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Cornwall stands to be further marginalised by a Labour government

The subject of devolution is never far from the political agenda in UK politics. It's something all parties talk about. We've seen in the last month the Lib Dems make a Cornish Assembly policy and the Conservative party talk vaguely around the idea of more powers for Cornwall.  Now it seems Labour's turn to yak on about shifting power from Whitehall outwards but ignoring Cornwall (again).
Ed Miliband was in the news today, promising regional ministers. In the eventuality Labour form a government in 2015 there will be a South West minister. Shelving my cynicism of fictional ministers promised before elections. We might fear that again Cornwall will be ruled from afar. With Cornish regeneration money funding offices and workers to administer our money from Plymouth, Exeter and Bristol. But a Labour shadow minister tells us things will be different:
“Regional ministers would not be a replica of what came before, but rather would be complementary to our agenda to devolve more power to city-regions.”
Quite how this is different or of any benefit to Cornwall is at best dubious. Quite how this is different to the coalition's city deals is again unclear.
When will the political classses realise that the answer to the centralisation and dominance of London is not making mini Londons?
What does Cornwall have to do to get noticed?
Or does Labour have some unannounced prejudice for Cornwall not having more political power and jobs?

Sunday, 6 April 2014

My bedroom tax speech that never was

There was supposed to be a bedroom tax rally in Penzance, on saturday just passed to coincide with the UK wide day of action. But due to the wet and windy weather and the fact it relied on street theater the organisers, Cornwall Anti Cuts Alliance, decided to call it off.  Which was unfortunate as the Tory and Lib Dem government need pressure from every corner of the UK to stop this horrible and pointless policy. Anyway I was as PPC  for the St Ives constituency was (possibly) going to give a speech.

Here it is:

Dydh da Pensans

Here we are marking the 12 months anniversary of the bedroom tax. 1 whole year of a policy that is unfair, does not work and brings shame to the Conservative party and their Liberal Democrat allies. 

The statistics are clear, despite the rhetoric, that this would be helpful to the needy, that it would incentivise people to downsize, this has not happened.

A recent BBC survey revealed that 6% of tenants have been able to move, downsize and avoid the bedroom tax.

That is, 94% of people have been punished by the bedroom tax for simply living in their own home.  

The Tories and the Lib Dems argue that it is not a bedroom tax, that it is not a tax at all. Although bedroom tax has resonance. What the government call it, describes exactly what it is. They call it the under occupancy penalty.

And a penalty it surely is, that same BBC survey revealed that 3% of victims of the bedroom tax have been penalised so severely that they are now facing legal action including eviction.

28% of tenants have been penalised so severely that they find themselves in the unenviable position of falling into arrears for the first time. It is clear that this is a policy that is not working and penalises unnecessarily.

During the recent floods, or to be more accurate when they reached the Thames valley. The Prime Minister declared: “We are a wealthy country”.

He quite rightly stated that if people’s homes were being effected by floods, the government would help.  That the state would step in, use taxpayers money to protect people in their homes. To make their lives more bearable.

But yet this logic, this compassion, this admittance that the UK is wealthy, does not seem to apply to people in social housing. Far from “money being no object” every penny is squeezed out from the poorest in society.

The United Kingdom is wealthy, no matter what the Tories, Lib Dems and their austerity agenda would like us to believe.

The collective heads of Westminster are buried deep in the sand if they believe penalising people is justified.

We need to send a clear message to London that we’ve had enough of the bedroom tax. That the lie we need to penalise the poor, is a shameful lie in a wealthy country. I urge you all to pressurise the government to challenge MPs to talk to people effected by bedroom tax, challenge them to look deep into their own souls and try to find some morsel of compassion. So they too can see that the right and proper thing to do in a wealthy country, is abolish the awful bedroom tax.

Statistics taken from this BBC article.