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. 

Friday, 19 September 2014

A plea to the Lib Dems, don't reinvent the wheel, get on board with Mebyon Kernow's Cornish assembly ideas

Over the last few weeks the Liberal Democrats have started to campaign on the issue of Cornish devolution. Various pleas have gone around to mount a campaign and lately even a survey on people's ideas. My plea here is for them to stop reinventing the wheel and work with the campaign Mebyon Kernow already have. Over the last year MK have campaigned on the issue of a Cornish Assembly, we've held roadshows, got petitions signed, talked about it in the press, launched a consultation document, posted about it online and a whole host of other things. Why start a ground up campaign, when there is a body of work already there? Especially as the need to make a case to government is now, if Cornwall is to gain devolution the case needs to be made very very soon.

I know the Lib Dems have officially joined Cornwall Council's campaigns to get more powers transferred to the local authority. To beef up local government. But I think many in the Liberal Democrats know in their heart of hearts that Cornwall Council struggles with the power it has. It is widely seen as distant and too centralised to adequately represent all of Cornwall at the same time. It's relationship with the towns and parishes is already strained and Cornwall needs local government reform. I know Liberal Democrats agree with me on this, I've read your election leaflets, tweets and spoken to many of you about it.

Besides which there is a distinct lack of ambition with these plans, slightly more say over this and that won't change a great deal. Whereas MK is calling for government departments, quangos and other public bodies to be devolved. We don't want a token power here or there, we want the power to make decisions and the people and offices moved here into Cornwall that will carry out this change. As a nice aside we would then with devolution take jobs the Cornish taxpayer already pays for and bring them back here, more jobs west of the Tamar.

The Liberal Democrats passed a Cornish Assembly as party policy back in March and no further work has been done on this. It is clear to me that the central leadership of the party are happy to play with idea but they will not bring it forward themselves. I'm trying to appeal to some of you so I'm sorry to be blunt but the chances of both the Lib Dems being in government again after the next election and the party leadership then pushing it onto the agenda are very slim. This is a unique opportunity and may not present itself again for a long time. I do think many grass roots Lib Dems in Cornwall are sincere about the need for a Cornish Assembly and don't want to rebrand Cornwall Council a Cornish Assembly, any more than I do. I appreciate no one wants to break ranks and disagree with the Cornwall Council group's policy of localism in conjunction with the Independents. But you don't really want that any more than I do. You voted at conference for a Cornish Assembly not this hotch potch of localism masquerading as proper devolution.

There is two things that need doing, firstly the argument to the Cornish public needs making, consensus needs to be built. Secondly the hands of those in Westminster need forcing. If the Lib Dems in Cornwall present ideas like Mebyon Kernow's devolution document with public support to local councillors and MPs they and the leadership will have to support it. Cameron will have to follow suit. The Tories in Cornwall have a poor understanding of devolution and thus a weak argument. This great demon of an 'expensive layer of bureaucracy' they so fear, already exists in Whitehall. A strong and wide assembly campaign can easily dismiss the notion we shouldn't move jobs and public spending west of the Tamar for fear of upsetting ministers.

The timetable for getting a proposal before government is tight, if the promises both made to Scotland and by Cameron are kept to. Plans need to be before government in a matter of weeks. If we don't get bespoke plans before government we will end up with whatever they think adequate and probably, what they offer everyone else. Which will no doubt be along the lines of what Cornwall Council is proposing. Or even worse perhaps they will offer us an elected mayor and rename us a city!

The time has come for Cornwall to take matters into our own hands. For the decisions crucial to us, to our environment, our people, our economy to be made here in Cornwall not 300 odd miles away. That process can start now with working together to get decent devolution on the agenda. I heard -for the first time in a long time- a Lib Dem saying on the news that the party wants a federal United Kingdom. Lets see Cornwall playing a full part in that federation.

The Cornish Assembly document is here
Please if you know a Lib Dem, forward to this to them or at least convince them to be bold and brave on this issue.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Pasty Munching ingrates and the shock as Cornwall features in a newspaper in something other than a lifestyle piece!

Thought I'd write something about Jeremy Clarkson's column/ diatribe on Scottish independence today....


It is a shock that Cornwall is not featured in the context of our great restaurants, food, landscape or coast or the opportunities for second homes. For a change Cornwall is talked about not as an abstract entity but a recognition that there are people in Cornwall and that there are politics here. Perhaps now pundits like Clarkson have noticed, the media might peer out past the M25 once in a while.

I don't take offence from Jeremy Clarkson, he can say what he likes, like so many comedians and pundits these days upsetting people is it's own genre. I have some sympathy with it I have a dark sense of humour and can chuckle at myself and not take it too seriously. Besides which I'm as much a 'pasty munching ingrate' as Jeremy Clarkson is a 'journalist'!

There is an interesting word he uses though ingrate, I've seen it a few times in reference to Cornwall as the debate on the future of the UK and the indyref heats up. So why exactly are we ingrates? what exactly does Cornwall have to be ungrateful for? Is it perhaps the second homes destroying our communities? Or our poor economic situation? Or is it the lack of opportunities that drive young people away in search of work? I accept there are things we might be grateful for, I'm not saying there is absolutely no benefit of the current situation. But why should we be grateful? Why exactly should we show gratitude and thankfulness?

I was brought up with manners and if I want something I say please and if I'm given something I say thank you. But this is a United Kingdom We're All In It Together, Better Together. The rhetoric constantly points to partnership of equal relations. But if this truly was the case why is there still an opinion that we are being gifted things? Gratitude in a partnership should be a two way street. Gratefulness implies not taking things for granted the UK would be a better place if it was realised that the Celts are not recipients of  English largesse...

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The indyref and the time Scotland dared to dream

The Scottish Independence referendum, although like many politically attuned people I've thought about little else recently. It's hard for the gravity of the situation to truly sink in. We can see from the scramble of politicians to Scotland and their frenzied activity to convince the Scottish people that the UK can change, that I'm certainly not the only one!

Events in Scotland, will send an earthquake originating in Scotland but with it's epicentre in Westminster and through UK politics (or perhaps rUK). In the event of either a yes or a no vote there will be chaos. The status quo will die this week, all of the assumptions about central government knowing best and blind faith in their judgement will end.

Quite what all of this will mean is yet to be seen, will the neo-liberal view of economics remain intact? or to put it another way will the market and big business remain so powerful in politics? Will austerity remain the basis for all economic thought? Will we see a resurgence in front-line public services? We might see the nature of the state being challenged? How the UK is governed being rethought? Could Mebyon Kernow's long held goal of a Cornish Assembly come into being? The whole of politics itself could be questioned from the House of Lords down to parish councils. What is the role of the monarchy? The UK's place in the world might be reconsidered. Whether the UK retains nuclear weapons and even remains at the top table of the United Nations Security Council will be questioned.

All of these things are mights and maybes, not because the people of Scotland will vote yes or no. But because the whole process of having a vote on the future of Scotland, calls into question the fundamentals of the UK. If the UK was the strong powerful, 'great power' it once was none of this would be possible. Nevertheless these matters are mights and maybes because there are powerful voices in the established order and throughout the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties that would defend the old order bitterly and would try to curtail even a serious debate on these subjects.

I think the permanent removal of the fundamentals of the UK as a debating point is an unteneable position for two reasons. Firstly as the whole Scottish vote, the whole process of the debate and referendum in Scotland has put them on the agenda. Secondly and this relates to the title of this blog 'The indyref and the time Scotland dared to dream' and dream it certainly has, with enough, imagination, energy and debate for scores of countries let alone one. I think the whole of the UK needs to have a robust debate about the fundamentals, rather than struggle to stuff the cat back in the bag, if that's even possible.

The amount of debate in Scotland is truly inspirational and puts to shame the normal debates around general elections. It shows when the media and public debates focussing not on the same old parties talking from London on the same old subjects, but widens this out the debate becomes much more varied, interesting and overall engaging.

I admire Scotland, I always have, but that admiration has grown in the last year. They have dared to dream and I wonder if that capacity to dream and to question the underlying principles of the UK can be constrained within the UK in the event of a no vote. Politicians often talk about listening to people and engaging the public in debates, these people and indeed all of us would do well to look north. A casual disinterest in politics and low turnouts in election is not a certainty. People can be engaged on a huge scale.

Whatever happens on thursday, Scotland is in a better place for the process and is the only place at the moment in the UK that can call itself a democracy in any meaningful sense. Whatever you decide Scotland, good luck and keep dreaming of a better world.