Realpolitik replaces Cornish passion

Ian Burrell goes West to test the Cornish waters, as Christian Wolmar (below) finds strange friends in the North
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The Independent Online
The flag of St Piran flies from churchtowers over Cornwall but the county which was once Britain's fourth ancient kingdom still remains firmly tied to London.

Just three months ago, thousands of Cornish people took part in a march on the capital to re-enact the An Gof rebellion of 1497 when up to 2,000 rebels were slain by Henry VII's army.

The march stirred a wave of nationalistic fervour to accompany a cultural revival which has seen the compilation of the first Cornish dictionary and translation of the Bible into the Cornish language.

Yet the poor showing of the nationalist Mebyon Kernow (Sons of Cornwall) party at the general election, showed that the feeling was more one of misty-eyed sentimentalism than a true desire for separatism.

John Mills, chief executive of Cornwall County Council, said that such passions had to give way to the realpolitik of modern life.

"Whilst appreciating and applauding Cornwall's distinctive geography, culture and history, it is utter folly and totally unrealistic to contemplate `independence'," he said. "From a purely economic point of view we are utterly integrated with England."

And so, last month, the county council chose pragmatism and decided to co-operate with plans by Richard Caborn, minister for the regions, to set up a regional development agency (RDA) for seven counties in the South- west.

Nevertheless, the council pointed out that its preferred option would have been a Cornwall Development Agency, and it noted that "every effort should be made to ensure that the RDA's headquarters should be located in Cornwall and not in Bristol, which seems to the people of Cornwall as remote as London."

Indeed, the northern end of Gloucestershire, which will form part of this huge and disparate economic region, is as near to Carlisle as it is to Penzance.

Loveday Jenkin, spokeswoman for Mebyon Kernow, said Cornwall's chances of attracting European development funds would be greatly harmed by being lumped with the wealthier counties of Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire and the former Avon.

"Parts of Avon and Somerset are extremely rich while Cornwall is depressed, with low wages and high levels of homelessness. We need our own regional assembly to deal directly with Brussels and not go through either London or Bristol," she said.

The Marquess of Bath, who founded the Wessex Regionalist Party, is a supporter of the new RDA, provided it is linked to a new regional chamber. He would like to see England divided into eight self-governing regions.

"If we are to have a democratic Europe we have got to evolve away from the nation towards a united regions of Europe," he said.