Cornish devolution campaign revived by show of pan-Celtic political unity

 

A campaign aiming for devolution for Cornwall as a “historic Celtic nation” within the United Kingdom has been revived, with fresh support from Welsh politicians.

Cornish nationalist party Mebyon Kernow is repeating its “ambitious” call for an elected assembly and ultimately devolved powers from Westminster similar to those enjoyed in Scotland, ten years after 50,000 people - 10% of the population of Cornwall - signed a petition supporting its aims.

In a show of pan-Celtic unity from across the Bristol Channel, Plaid Cymru has given the campaign its backing, with MP Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) launching an Early Day Motion (EDM) calling “for the formation of a democratically elected Cornish Assembly to take decisions for the benefit of the people of Cornwall”.

It comes after Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, one of the country's most senior civil servants, said holding the United Kingdom together will be an “enormous challenge” in years to come.

Councillor Dick Cole, the leader of Mebyon Kernow, said it was hoping to “breathe new life” into the campaign under a new Government.

“What we are campaigning for is devolution within the UK and for powers similar to those of the Scottish Parliament,” he said.

“We will campaign and campaign until we are successful.

“It remains a disgrace that Tony Blair's Labour government (which supported devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) dismissed the declarations and refused to consider demands for greater powers for Cornwall.

“The previous Labour government spoke a lot about devolution, local control and democratic change. The present coalition Government also speaks a lot about devolution, as well as localism.

“But these were, and are, hollow words as far as Cornwall is concerned. Blair and Brown ignored calls for a Cornish Assembly, a situation that is being replicated by the present coalition Government.”

The nationalists argue that Cornwall has never politically officially been a county of England but is a separate country.

So far signed by ten MPs from his party, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the EDM also “expresses disappointment that the then government did not act upon the subject of the petition” a decade ago.

It has been signed by Cornish Lib Dem MPs Andrew George (St Ives), Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) and Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall), fellow Lib Dem Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South), Mr Edwards, Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) and Hywel Williams (Arfon) from Plaid Cymru and Labour's Jeremy Corbin (Islington North), Paul Flynn (Newport West) and John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

Mr Edwards said the campaign chimed with Plaid's campaign for greater powers for the Welsh Assembly.

“The Cornish people feel they have a distinct national identity and that needs to be reflected,” he said.

“If I was a unionist what I would be putting forward would be a vision of a federal British state, with equal powers for each of the historic nations.”

Cornwall's “Celtic” cultural identity has been growing in prominence in recent years. Its language, Kernowek, has been undergoing a revival, with dual-language road signs an increasingly common sight and, in January 2010, the opening of a creche teaching young children the language.

On December 22, Sir Gus warned that the question of whether the UK stayed together would be a major issue in the coming years.

His warning, on the eve of his retirement at the end of the year, came as the SNP administration in Scotland committed to holding a referendum on independence before 2016.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Sir Gus said: “Over the next few years, there will be enormous challenges, such as whether to keep our kingdom united.”

PA

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