|Cornish nationalist party, Mebyon Kernow, recently launched a|
consultation on the format of Cornish devolution.
(Pic : Western Morning News)
Cornish nationalist party, Mebyon Kernow (MK), launched a consultation document on proposals for a devolved Cornish Assembly on March 5th – St Piran's Day. It's available here (pdf).
Fifty thousand Cornishmen will know the reason why
As I've covered before (The Case for Cornwall), Cornwall meets most of the standard requirements and historical precedents to be considered a nation rather than an English region or county. Back in 2001, more than 50,000 signed a declaration calling for Cornish devolution. It was Liberal Democrat policy, with the closest Cornwall coming to devolution being a backbench Government of Cornwall Bill (pdf) introduced by Dan Rogerson MP (Lib Dem, North Cornwall) in 2009.
As I post this, the Lib Dems have made it official party policy again.
|Many of the problems facing Cornwall are very similar to those facing|
us in Wales - especially in terms of economic development
and demographic change.
(Pic : BBC)
With the UK constitution now in flux, MK believes "there needs to be a mature, respectful and wide-ranging debate about the future of the whole of the UK and how it is governed." A constitutional convention then - something our First Minister and others in the National Assembly would no doubt agree with.
If it's agreed that Cornwall should see devolution, and a detailed proposal fleshed out, MK supports holding a referendum.
Many of the challenges facing Cornwall are all to familiar to us in Wales : an ageing population caused, in part, by in-migration of retirees; high house prices in rural areas, a relatively weak economy (Cornish GDP per capita was 61.2% of the UK average in 2012, compared to 72.3% for Wales) and "peripheral neglect" by being so far from Westminster.
Except, of course, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have their own devolved legislatures to deal with some of these issues to varying degrees of success (or failure).
MK believe a Cornish Assembly would "be in a strong position to built a more prosperous economy....support Cornwall's traditional and emerging industries, build on Cornwall's sense of place, it's unique brand, and maritime potential".
|Chuckles' "Prince of Wales" title is exactly that - a title and nothing more.|
His role in Cornwall, however, is significantly more hands on
- perhaps to Cornwall's detriment.
(Pic : The Telegraph)
The party also believe that Cornwall suffers from a "democratic deficit" as they only have 123 councillors serving a population of 534,000 in a single unitary authority. Devon has two and a half times the population but four times the councillors, while Somerset has 1.7 times the population and 3.5 times the number of councillors.
A National Assembly would also reinforce Cornwall's national status, with 73,200 people describing themselves as Cornish in the 2011 census, despite it not being on the official census form, working out at around 14% of the population. Also, 46% of children in the 2013 school census described themselves as Cornish (more from Cornish Republican).
There's a very specific bone of contention too involving the Windsor clan. Chuck Windsor (and presumably in the short to medium term, Billy Windsor) enjoys near-feudal rights as Duke of Cornwall. MK believe devolution will make it easier to hold a full inquiry into "Cornwall's ambiguous constitutional relationship with the Crown and contradictions between this....and administrative arrangements".
What would a National Assembly of Cornwall look like?
|Mebyon Kernow propose something for Cornwall near enough identical|
to what we have in Wales, with some key differences - in particular the voting system.
(Pic : cornwallvsf.org)
- Devolved powers – Effectively the same powers as the Welsh Assembly (agriculture, tourism, health, education, culture, housing, local government etc.) - including primary law-making powers from the start. They also want the power to vary income tax, perhaps in light of what's on the table for Wales and Scotland.
- The Cornish Assembly – 40 Assembly Members (AMs) elected in multi-member constituencies by Single Transferable Vote (STV). This works out as roughly 1 AM per 13,350 people. The exact arrangements and constituencies will be decided by a special commission. Cornish AMs would sit in committees and work in a similar way to our AMs. Although there's nothing in the proposal about where a Cornish Assembly would be based, you would presume it would be at the existing Cornwall Council buildings in Truro without the need for a new building.
- Cornish Government – Made up of between 4 and 6 ministers with "a small number of junior ministers". It would be headed by a First Minister along the same lines as the Welsh Government and supported by a civil service.
- Finance – Cornwall would be funded via a Welsh-style block grant via a needs-based settlement, which MK estimate at being in the region of £4billion. They also want control of EU Structural Funding (Objective One), which Cornwall receives in the same way as West Wales & The Valleys, except it's administered from London and Bristol.
- Local Government Reorganisation – The single local authority covering Cornwall would be rescinded and replaced with four new councils, each with 35-45 councillors, set out by legislation. These councillors would also be elected by STV. Some decisions could be devolved further down to community and parish councils.
- External Relations – Cornwall should have representation on the British-Irish Council, and should have its own MEP, with offices in Brussels. Cornwall should also have its own Commonwealth Games team and the Cornish should be protected via the Convention for National Minorities in the same way as the Welsh and Scottish.
Devolution : Go for it, but don't repeat our mistakes
|If a Cornish Assembly were formed, these signs might have|
more than a little bit a truth in them for once.
(Pic : libdemvoice.org)
Believe it or not, Mebyon Kernow have been "inspired" by some of the achievements of our National Assembly over the past 15 years (and the Scottish Parliament), picking out :
- Scrapping prescription charges and hospital car parking charges.
- Protection from the "creeping privatisation of the NHS in England".
- Statutory waste and recycling targets with an aim of "zero waste".
- Allowing suspension of "right to buy" in areas facing housing pressures.
So there are plenty of things the Cornish can learn from devolution elsewhere in the UK, but there are also plenty of mistakes they would do well not to repeat. I would pick out mismanagement of EU funds as the biggest lesson Cornwall could learn from Wales, as well as timidity in policy making and having too small a legislature to allow effective criticism of the executive.
Politically-speaking, a Cornish Assembly could throw up some interesting things.
If you want to compare it to Wales, it's likely the Lib Dems and Labour would swap positions, with Cornwall becoming a Lib Dem hegemony and Labour being a minor party that would struggle to get more than 3/4 seats in a 40-seat legislature. It would make the machinations of an STV system interesting for psephologists I suppose – and it's sensible that Mebyon Kernow have proposed that system from the start.
As to how to get in the position of being able to hold a referendum, MK would have to secure their "Gwynfor moment". By that I mean winning, or seriously challenging for, a Westminster seat. Then the party would probably have to become a major force on Cornwall Council, being in a position to form a government or some sort of coalition with the Lib Dems in order to get Cornish devolution on the Westminster agenda.