The Sons of Cornwall are on the march, and this time it's away from London

West of the Tamar, the beat of the nationalist drum can be heard again, writes Ian Burrell

Half a millennium ago, 15,000 Cornish rebels marched on London. Now thousands of Cornish people are planning to do it again in the form of a commemorative march calling for greater investment in the region and the cutting of ties to England.

A resurgence in Celtic language and music together with chronic unemployment and perceived "racism" by the English have built up the concept of a Cornish identity to a level unprecedented in modern times.

A record number of Cornish Nationalist candidates will stand in the general election, on a platform which demands Cornish language lessons in schools and a Cornish assembly.

Nationalist politicans will be seeking to capitalise on the 500th anniversary of the An Gof rebellion next year, when 15,000 Cornish marched on London and fought the English army at Blackheath, south of the capital.

The 1497 rebellion, a protest at an English tax levied to raise money for a war in Scotland, led to the drawing and quartering of the two leaders, Michael Joseph An Gof and Thomas Flamank, and the death in battle of 2,000 rebels. In May, the march will be re-enacted peacefully, culminating in a mass celebration of the Cornish identity in London, with trade shows and cultural performances including a service in the Tower of London and a concert by the Cornwall Youth Orchestra in the Barbican.

Although the celebrations are ostensibly non-political, and will include those who do not advocate separatism, they represent a great opportunity for the nationalists. Dick Cole, spokesman for the Mebyon Kernow (Sons of Cornwall) Party, said: "This is a very important year for us. We have got to go for it." Mebyon Kernow's candidate for South East Cornwall is Paul Dunbar, 49, a vineyard-owner from Liskeard. Already canvassing for votes, he is angry at the drain of local workers across the River Tamar to "England".

"What we need in South East Cornwall is the emphasis on indigenous enterprise and reducing the necessity for people to commute to Plymouth. It's over the border, it's big enough already and it doesn't do us any good," he said.

Alan M Kent, who is among a new breed of young Cornish novelists and poets, said: "The new literature is looking at the real Cornwall not the Cornwall of Ross Poldark and historical romance or the Cornwall of Arthurian legend. It's a rebirth after 100 years of stagnation. A century ago, the bottom fell out of the mining industry and Cornwall collapsed. It has taken 100 years for it to reclaim its identity.

"Cornish nationalism has become more sophisticated and organised, looking to promote the Cornish as an indigenous British ethnic group who should have the same status afforded to the Welsh and Scots."

Rob Burton, a lecturer at the University of Exeter, has carried out research comparing the Cornish situation with the national identities which have emerged in the former Yugoslavia. He said: "What has been interesting is the resurgence of Cornish identity among young people." Cornish youth has adopted surfing as its national sport, with participants decorating their boards with Celtic symbols, and the yellow Cornish tartan has become fashionable as a mini-skirt.

Many first-time voters were born during the 1970s when an earlier revival in Celtic identity, led to many youngsters being brought up to speak Cornish.The cultural revival has also been stirred by interest from the migrant communities of the Cornish diaspora who left after the collapse of the mining industry to start new lives in America, Australia and Mexico.

Amy Hale, an American researcher who is carrying out a study of the revival in Cornish culture for the University of California Los Angeles, said: "This is a really exciting place to be right now. There is a world climate which is allowing what is happening here to be taken much more seriously."

Philip Payton, of the Institute of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter, who last month published Cornwall, the first history of the county from a Cornish perspective to be written in a generation, said there were plans for a Cornwall University in Penzance.

Increasing numbers of local cars have stickers with the word "Kernow" and throughout the region, English Heritage signs at sites of Celtic monuments have been vandalised and dubbed "Cornish Heritage".

The EC has now designated Cornish as an officially-recognised living language and last month the Commission for Racial Equality formally recognised the separate identity of the Cornish people for the first time. The acknowledgement could form the basis for future claims against discrimination by English employers or institutions.

The ancient Cornish Stannary Parliament, based in Truro, has applied to the National Statistics Office demanding that respondents to the 2001 Census be allowed to describe their racial status as "Cornish". There are nearly half a million people living in Cornwall, of which roughly half were born Cornish though many newcomers have also embraced the culture.

The Stannary Parliament was set up by charter by Henry VII in 1508 and maintains the right to veto English legislation. In reality, the parliament has little power and in turn believes that Cornwall County Council, which is responsible for the day to day running of the region, does nothing more than pay lip service to London.

Senior members of the parliament are furious with the Prince of Wales for his perceived bias towards the English in the Duchy of Cornwall. They are especially angered by his decision to allow English Heritage to take care of Tintagel Castle, which is believed to be the ancient seat of King Arthur's court. Colin Murley, one of the Cornish parliament's Stannators, is no Royalist. "Prince Charles is obviously more interested in promoting the English nation than the Cornish," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms