People used to be ashamed to say they came from Cornwall... not any more

Minority status is in the bag. Now the fight is on to secure devolution. But not everybody sympathises with the separatists’ campaign

For the Cornish nationalists gathered excitedly at Truro County Hall yesterday, there was only one topic of political conversation: what now?

The canteen and meeting rooms didn’t quite have the buzz of the Westminster Village, but after 20 years of campaigning, the representatives of the people west of the River Tamar were celebrating the declaration that the Cornish were a national minority, just like the Scots, Welsh and Irish.

At the centre of the action, inside the drab, concrete council building, which some hope will become the heart of Cornish autonomy in the future, Dick Cole, the leader of the Cornish nationalist party, Mebyon Kernow, was busy working the small crowd.

“This week’s victory is historic news and a step towards Scottish-style devolution after donkey’s years of campaigning,” he told The Independent over coffee and a bacon roll between meetings.

Archaeologist and county councillor Dick Cole isn’t your average party leader. He survives on his modest council allowance, his party has less than 600 members, and he turns up to meet me in a shaggy woollen jumper, not a smart suit.

The land of pasties and St Piran is some 200 miles from the Westminster bubble, though, and Cole’s passion for Cornwall is clear: “People see Cornwall as a place from travel shows or the travel and property supplements of the Sunday newspapers, but there’s real poverty here.”

“There’s more to Cornwall than the glossy lifestyle world of surfing and holiday cottages, there’s a lifestyle of struggling going on here. This victory not only means we can celebrate what’s great about Cornish culture, tourism and business, but also look towards looking after ourselves.”

He is, of course, talking about Mebyon Kernow’s call for a Cornish assembly, along the lines of the Scottish model with tax-raising powers. Mebyon Kernow stops short of calling for independence, but wants an assembly to counter what Mr Cole calls the “centralisation on the overheated South-east and London”.

It’s a big call for a minnow of a party, but it’s supported by others in the area, including independent councillor Julian German, who also represents the Cornish Language Partnership, a body dedicated to promoting the Cornish language. Like many local politicians in the area, Mr German has long called for a protection status for the Cornish.

“If you look at all of the academic criteria of becoming a nation, then Cornwall passes all of them. We have a shared identity, a shared history and a common culture.” Mr German tells me as he and local Liberal Democrat MP Dan Rogerson come and join Mr Cole for a round of celebratory backslapping and handshakes.

Beyond the council building – where Mr German and Mr Cole break off to advise a council official on a Cornish translation for a dual-language road sign – only 84,000 people out of half a million residents of the county declared themselves as Cornish in 2011, while there are just 557 declared speakers of the ancient language.

Mr Rogerson says that this will change: “The negativity of declaring yourself Cornish is well and truly a thing of the past. Now young people are proud to be Cornish.”

One proud Cornish youngster is barmaid Megan Job, 19, who works at the Old Ale House pub in central Truro, where on Thursday evening Cornwall’s “proud day” was the only topic of discussion.

“Of course I’m proud to be Cornish. We say it’s only four degrees of separation down here. Everybody knows everybody,” she tells me over a pint of local ale. “I like the idea of supporting Cornish being taught in schools. I know it has no use at all in the outside world, but it’s important to celebrate our way of life.”

Others in the bar are slightly more cynical. John, who didn’t want to give his surname, as he works with several proud Cornish nationalists, said: “You don’t hear Cornish being spoken in the street in Truro. In fact, the Cornish are  quite diluted, as so much property has been sold to people coming in to retire  who made their money in the Home Counties”.

Enjoying the sunshine in Truro yesterday afternoon, retired nurse Jackie Hollingsbee, 66, who can trace her Cornish lineage to the 16th century, welcomed the protections the Cornish nation will now enjoy, but “hates to think it will mean more money going towards the teaching of the language”.

She said: “We really do feel like the forgotten county down here, cut off at the end of the train line and forgotten about by London when it comes to healthcare and services. Getting those sorted is far more important than an assembly or the language.”

Back at County Hall, Dick Cole is determined to change that but admits “devolution is process, not a one-off event”. Mr German agrees, adding:  “You’d struggle to find anyone in Cornwall who really wants to be independent. We couldn’t survive.”

Others, such as local councillor and musician Bert Biscoe, look to the example of Wales and to the European Union, rather than Scotland and full independence.

“I’m not a Cornish nationalist, I’m a man of Cornwall and I look forward to a Cornwall with its own assembly that’s proudly part of Great Britain,” he tells me in his study, which is packed full of books on Cornish history and culture.

He does still have one bone of contention with the “London media”, though, and it’s the depiction of a Cornish campaigner recently in the BBC comedy W1A. He says: “It’s easy to laugh at the Cornish, and we should have a sense of humour, but just repeating old stereotypes of loony nationalists is pretty mean-spirited.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all