Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The case for Cornwall

A national flag, or a "regional" one?
(Pic : Via Flickr)
We've often heard that Wales is England's biggest county. It certainly feels like it's treated like that sometimes, but I don't think that quip holds much water anymore other than as a wind-up, especially since devolution – however weak a settlement it is.

There are campaigns for some form of English devolution - and there will have to be movement there at some point in the future. As arguments over the future of the British constitution "rage" (or become totally bonkers in the case of this guy), there are two broad parts of the islands left out of the debate : the Crown Dependencies (which are enjoying what most of us would call "Devo-Max") and the fifth Home Nation – Cornwall.

Wales & Cornwall : Points of divergence

Could this simple act - the creation of a disestablished church - have
changed  Wales' future vis-a-vis Cornwall?
(Pic : Wikipedia)
Wales and Cornwall had a similar relationship with Old England. Both (you could probably expand this to include Devon) were recognised as holding some sort of "separateness" from England proper – both containing the Germanic "wahl" (foreigner) in their adopted names - but being nothing more than vassals to be divided amongst the Norman aristocracy. Subsequent interbreeding with the "natives" created Cambro-Norman and Corno-Norman ruling elites.

Then the Welshman, Owain ap Tudur, managed to play way out of his league. Many years down the line, we ended up with the Tudor dynasty, who centralised rule from London, fully absorbing both Wales and Cornwall into the Kingdom of England.

Both had rebel leaders who wanted to do things differently at varying times – for Owain Glyndwr, see Michael An Gof. Both, however, were fighting powers beyond their control. That power being the carrot dangled in front of our elites that their fortunes could only be made by being fully paid up members of the British project – cemented by the ascension of a Scottish King to the English throne. Both were true to this for some time, being Royalist strongholds through the English Civil War.

Both had their own forms of devolution – the Council of Wales and the Marches, and the Cornish Stannary Parliament. Both were eventually swept away. Both had their own extractive industrial booms – Wales had coal, iron and slate, Cornwall had tin and copper. As a result of industrialisation, both saw increased migration, and both saw the slow decline of the remnant native language and culture. Both were hotbeds of non-conformism and "rural liberalism".

But then something happened that I believe is critical – Wales was treated as a distinct nation. We got our disestablished church and freedom of thought and administration in such matters, while Cornwall was destined to become the "most un-English of English counties." From this, Wales eventually claimed administrative, then legislative devolution. But for Cornwall, the damage had been done.

The Cornish have, to date, never had their "1955 moment". Cornwall isn't widely considered in equal standing with the "four" Home Nations, though attitudes are changing.

Cornwall doesn't have a national rugby team, national football team, Commonwealth Games team, national university....the list goes on. These are things the Welsh take for granted, as they've "always been there", and we couldn't possibly imagine them being taken away now.

Welsh nationalists probably won't admit this, but I'll be honest – Cornwall is a worst case scenario of what Wales could've been. Administratively, Cornwall has been absorbed into England and has had very few, if any, symbols of nationhood besides its flag, the Cornish language and national anthem.

Maybe that's all you do need. A sense, or idea, of nationhood can never be taken away. Cornwall is slowly but surely being revived, and that should enhearten civic nationalists everywhere.

Cultural Revival

The unedifying spectacle of the Cornish flag being taken forcefully from an Olympic torchbearer back in May prompted significant outrage, resulting in an overturning of a ban on the flag of St Piran at the Olympic Games themselves. You've probably noticed yourselves, but this has been extended to Y Ddraig Goch too.

On the civic culture side of things, a Cornish national theatre is proposed by Cornwall Council as part of a wider plan on Cornish culture. Alongside this, a Cornish National Library is also planned to house various documents currently split between several sites. That's a lot of "nation building" there.

The Cornish language (Kernewek, or in Welsh, Cernyweg) is seeing a gradual revival, with between 2-3,000 people estimated to be able to hold a conversation or be fluent in the language. Cornish, Welsh and Breton share a similar Brythonic language family, and although Welsh and Cornish are very similar, they aren't entirely mutually intelligible. UNESCO has Cornish listed as a "critically endangered" language (Welsh is listed as "vulnerable"), but Cornish has, at least, been upgraded from the incorrect "extinct" designation.

Cornwall has always maintained a distinct culture, and
against all odds, a distinct language too.
(Pic : Wikipedia)
Reaching a eventual milestone of, for example, "10,000 speakers" would be remarkable considering where the language was - aided by projects like Radyo an Gernewegva (Cornish-speaking area Radio) and organisations like Maga (the Cornish equivalent of the now-defunct Welsh Language Board). Cornwall is still some way away from becoming a bilingual nation, but keeping Cornish alive in these circumstances is an achievement in itself.

In another big step - literally within the last day or two - Visit Cornwall have dropped references to "England" and "county" from their promotional materials. They're adopting "region" (softly) for now, and will probably keep "Duchy" to spare Chuckle's feelings, but how long until that becomes "country"?

Political Revival

You're right Dave, it might not be the Amazon, but
it's still a national border.
(Pic : National Archives)
There have been three incidents that have provoked Cornish self-awareness in more recent times.

Firstly, the creation of a "Devonwall" constituency in the proposed Westminster boundary reforms. Recent events mean that might not happen now, but it reeks of a decision taken by a government that fails to take local - or in this case, national - opinion into account.

Now, imagine the reaction in Wales if Monmouthshire, or parts of Powys, were partially merged with Marches seats, and the Prime Minister justifying it by saying, "It's the Severn, not the Amazon, for Heaven's sake!" That would be unthinkable, wouldn't it?

The rational reason to oppose such a move would be that, because of devolution, it would make the role of any prospective MPs too complicated – but the obvious, sentimental "heart" reason would stir sentiments more. Cornwall doesn't have that luxury (for now).

Secondly – the proposed "pasty tax". Now the spectacle of politicians of all colours winding themselves up over pastries might have been very "Brass Eye", but the Cornish pasty is an EU-designated protected geographical product. It was estimated by the Cornish Pasty Association that the "pasty tax" would've led to "400 job losses and a £100million hit." The u-turn might well have been a shambles, - leading to unnecessarily complicated rules on VAT - but it could be considered a minor victory for the Cornish food industry.

Thirdly - a sports stadium. A 10,000-capacity stadium for Cornwall was proposed on the outskirts of Truro for promotion-chasing Cornish Pirates RFC (the Cornish like rugby almost as much as the Welsh do) and Truro City FC. Plans have been on and off for the best part of a decade, but in the last few years were revised, not as a "Stadium for Truro", but as a "national", popular campaign for a "Stadium for Cornwall". Although the bid has been put on the back burner due to funding issues, it was a perfect melding of the cultural with the political – a home for, what effectively is, a "national" sports team, and a significant "political" investment in sporting facilities alongside it.

There's one other depressing characteristic Cornwall and Wales share – rural poverty. Cornwall is an Objective One area in the same way West Wales & The Valleys is, with a GVA per capita around 70% of the UK average. However, the Cornish have been partially successful in closing the gap. Can Wales learn from what the Cornish have done there?

Having said that, Cornwall had no sway on Objective One decisions. It was managed within the South West England region, while Wales is a European region of its own and manages European programmes largely by itself.

The creation of Cornwall Council (as a single unitary authority) in 2009 has been viewed quite negatively since it replaced six, smaller, district councils. Maybe this creation of a pan-Cornish institution will make the path to devolution much easier – and the local government situation can always be resolved post-devolution. Indeed, a Government of Cornwall Bill was introduced by a backbench Liberal Democrat in 2009, but nothing came of it.

Cornwall is a traditional Liberal Democrat stronghold (along with much of south west England), with the Tories a competitive second party. Labour are practically non-existent outside of the major population centres. The Cornish Nationalist party, Mebyon Kernow, has been a fully-fledged political party for some 40 years, and has 5 seats in the 123 member Cornwall Council, as well as many representatives at community and parish level. They campaign for Cornish devolution, wishing to create a devolved Cornish Assembly, with the same powers - broadly - as the Welsh Assembly.

A devolved, or de-loved future?

The future "Senedh Kernow"?
(Pic : BBC)
Wales and Cornwall share an awful lot in common, including being caught in Westminster's blind spot when it comes to our more peripheral needs.

But the Cornish shouldn't expect devolution to act as a magic bullet. It'll have its disappointments, and it'll have its triumphs – like all forms of government. It'll probably have to be a process led by the Liberal Democrats if anyone - or, perhaps at some point in the future - Mebyon Kernow MPs.

Cornish Nationalists don't need to be patronised by people like me. They might be starting off the process further behind Wales, but they have more than enough raw material to work with and a strong case to be made for equality with the other Home Nations. It's hard to predict when, or if, Cornwall will eventually become a devolved nation - but a nation they are.

And once a nation stands up and actually acknowledges that fact, who knows where it'll take them....


  1. The Cornish are a great nation but sadly Cornish-born people are a minority in Kernow :(

    I'd love to see Cornwall in a Seven Nations rugby tournament though!

    ^^ Good anthem ;)

  2. MK are a very respectable party, support for devolution is very high - however next to nothing is being done, despite promises from Cameron. I would dearly love to see Cornwall as a free state.

  3. Anon 19:03 - Yeah, that sounds familiar. Quite a rousing tune ;). Anyway, I thought "Trelawny" was the Cornish anthem?

    Cibwr - Credit to the Lib Dems, at least they've tried to do something concrete, albeit running out of puff as soon as backsides were on the opposite benches of the Commons, rather than the ones they're used to.

  4. It's great to see Kernow waking up to it's potential as a nation. After all, why be a mere county in someone else's country when you can, quite legitimately, be a country in your own right and forge your own destiny? I wish the Cornish well in their endeavours.

    On the downside the lesson from Cornwall for us Welsh is starkly clear - if you do not 'fight' for your own future as a nation, economically, socially, culturally and linguistically, you will loose it, loose it to those who would happily take it away from you in their own, often selfish, interests whilst pleading the inalienable right to their own freedom and self-determination in the face of potentially wider constitutional arrangements. Now, whilst I don't disagree with civic nationalism, and thoroughly dislike racism, there is a danger when a small nation is reticent about standing up for itself for fear of being labelled something unpleasant, usually of course by those who wish to exercise control from outside. The results of the 2011 census will undoubtedly show that us Welsh have taken, in the last 10 years, further significant strides to joining the Cornish as a minority in our own country, Welsh and English speaking alike.

    We should not kid ourselves at this stage of the game that we're in the clear, that the Cornish experience is a fate we've escaped. We're not, and may yet find ourselves in the same boat. Over a decade of devolution has had ZERO effect on the demographic change taking place at a huge pace in our country, with NO evidence that it is coming to an end. If anything, the pace is still accelerating.

    What price national institutions if the majority of the people feel no loyalty, and are under no obligation to show any loyalty? This is our greatest challenge.

  5. "Cibwr - Credit to the Lib Dems, at least they've tried to do something concrete, albeit running out of puff as soon as backsides were on the opposite benches of the Commons, rather than the ones they're used to."

    Didn't this happen in Wales with the Liberal party regarding Home Rule? Practically the same thing.

  6. Thanks for the comments.

    Neilyn - I'll be counted in the 2011 census as a "non-Welsh born person." In fact, I'm not even British born. Am I one of those people swamping Wales? The situation in Wales, demographics wise, is not that different from the Baltic States pre-independence. In some parts of Latvia, even today they have 50%+ Russian majorities. The proportions of Latvians to Russians are very similar to those of Welsh and English within Wales. I don't see any Latvians voting to rejoin Russia anytime soon.

    The reason Welsh nationalism is stalling, is because we keep pumping out really crap arguments for independence or further powers. Pensioners are attracted to rural parts and the coast because its quiet. It'll be dead if the populations weren't artificially held up by them, despite the inevitable pressures caused.

    If we want to stem the demographic shift, we'll have to make rural Wales (and presumable it's the same situation in Cornwall) much more attractive to young (Welsh & Cornish) people. Priority housing could be one way, as could, more crucially providing decent jobs. Easier said than done. But all that will have to come before anything else. Nothing would put elderly people moving to rural Wales more than making it a lot more noisy.

    Build more windfarms and dams. Plant GM crops to get more agricultural working. Rear noisier animals. Get loads and loads of activity tourists there. Widen roads. Build Welsh-medium schools, sports centres and nightclubs right next to bungalows. Provide brochures for the south of France and Spain in every public library. Make sure they know they're not moving to a "quiet, unspoilt area" but a functioning country.

    Anon 13:55 - It was dropped because Liberals in SE Wales didn't want to be dominated by "Welsh ideas" when various associations merged, AFAIK.

  7. Owen,

    No, you're not, but I would imagine that most incomers don't quite share your civic Welsh nationalism.

    Latvia - I'm sure you're well aware of the hostility of the sizeable Russian minority in Latvia to the Latvian language! They 'don't want it forced down THEIR throats' is the message to the Latvian Government - a familiar tone in Wales. In neighbouring Lithuania where the proportions of Russian and other national minorities from the old USSR is much less there is correspondingly less hostility towards the Lithuanian language.

    I realise that the demographic issue is a fairly sensitive one, but I don't feel we can afford to ignore it anymore. Wales has taken more than her fair share of retirees, downsizers and hippies.

    Having said that I agree with the general thrust of everything else you said.

  8. Good on the Cornish, there still hanging in there.

  9. Demographic change/English immigration is a major elephant in the room when it comes to Welsh politics. Sadly we can't 'send the buggers back' so I think Owen's ideas are more appropriate.

    I'd like a big motorway linking the North-west to the South-east for starters and target growth on the major population centres of the North and West, making it commonplace for someone from Pontypridd or Bridgend to move to Caernarfon or Aberystwyth for employment (or the other way around of course).

    Perhaps there needs to be a nationalist organisation that aids young entrepreneurial people from the South to take over the tourist industry and start small businesses in y Fro. Maybe the middle-class, Welsh-speaking children of western Cardiff will be able to reclaim rural Wales when the old Brummies/Mancs/Scousers die off?

  10. "fully absorbing both Wales and Cornwall into the Kingdom of England"

    It's easy to jump to this conclusion I know. Thanks to the anglo-british educational system no mention is made of the Duchy of Cornwall and its de jure legal position. Whilst I would agree that Wales was fully absorbed, in a legal sense if not culturally, into the Kingdom of England, the Duchy of Cornwall was and still remains a quite seperate legal entity from the UK. Cornwall has been run de facto as an English county for a long time now but this changes nothing in terms of our de jure constitutional position. The lies put about by the Duchy and UK government, and sadly also by our ill informed allies, deprives the Cornish people of the truth about their history and constitution. Please don't fall into the trap of helping our enemies.

    The Duchy of Cornwall - A Very Peculiar Private Estate:

    Plymouth Law Review “A Mysterious, Arcane and Unique Corner of our Constitution” :The Laws Relating to the Duchy of Cornwall by John Kirkhope:

    The Duchy of Cornwall – A Feudal Remnant:

  11. Heavens - their 'senesh' looks beter than our boxy Assembly. The public can come and view proceeding ... not like out gold-fish bowl where you stuck watching a tv monitor and can't even see every AM below you.

    Our Assembly and especially chamber is so uncultured, plain and embarrassing. But then, that was the whole idea, to tell the Welsh that it's not a proper parliament. Deliberately being understated - and this was supported by Plaid and Dafydd Elis Thomas.

  12. Thanks for the comments - even if it's a few months late!

    Fulub - I tend to simplify things on here so I don't end up producing longer posts than I already do!

    I was aware that Cornwall has a "separateness" that wasn't afforded Wales, perhaps most notably the Stannary Courts & Parliament (which could be compared to the Council of Wales & The Marches I suppose).

    I don't think de jure things matter too much. If enough people have an idea they are a nation, backed up with some semblence of reality - even if it's only a flag - then that's enough. You can't destroy ideas, can you? Or history. Only the interpretations.

    Anon 12:05 - I think the Scottish Parliament got it right (costs aside). I don't mind our Senedd chamber, even if it looks a little bit like a lecture theatre. I'm not particularly big on aethetics and architectual design, but it seems perfectly functional. I would've perferred something with a bit more gravitas - naturally - and maybe if/when there are 80AMs those silly side panels will go.

    It makes you wonder what goes on behind those panels. Is that where Leighton goes to beat up people for their dinner money?