Budget 2015: New deal for Cornwall fails to impress nationalists

Mebyon Kernow leader Dick Cole tells Adam Lusher he wants 'democratic control' of the public sector

Adam Lusher
Thursday 09 July 2015 08:58

Anyone would have thought the Chancellor knew this was Seythen Kews Kernewek (Speak Cornish Week.)

How else to explain George Osborne’s tantalising revelation: “Devolution within England has only just begun … In the first of our new county deals, we are making progress on a major plan to give Cornwall a greater say over local decisions.”

Was this freedom at last?

Was the Chancellor signalling the final, triumphant victory of a heroic struggle for Cornish self-rule stretching back at least as far as that glorious, doomed 1497 rebellion against Henry VII’s rapacious central government?

Or, according to English cynics, to no further than the late 19th century when the Great Western Railway drummed up business by talking about Celtic mysticism, Merlin and King Arthur, thus allegedly inventing much of Cornish nationalism.

The timing certainly seemed propitious. Minutes before Mr Osborne got up to speak in Parliament, the cabinet of Cornwall Council, in County Hall, Truro, had unanimously voted through a motion supporting the authority’s detailed draft plan for Cornish devolution.

If also approved by the full council on 14 July, the Case for Cornwall devolution deal – covering everything from drainage to powers to list historic buildings “on Cornish rather than English merits” – would go to central Government for negotiation, and, hopefully, acceptance.

Councillors spoke glowingly of a Cornish brand “developed over 5,000 years,” of a heritage case that was “a no-brainer, as they say over the border [in England].”

Sporting a badge showing the Cornish flag of St Piran in his lapel, John Pollard, leader of the council, seemed to feel the hand of history on his shoulder.

This was a “one-off opportunity” he told councillors. “We are ready, willing and able. The time is right.”

Alas for Mr Osborne, not everyone was so grateful.

Dick Cole, leader of Mebyon Kernow, the Party for Cornwall, a councillor but not part of Cornwall’s ruling Independent-Liberal Democrat coalition, was unimpressed by proceedings.

He wanted “the works”: devolution on a par with Scotland and Wales, and County Hall (or similarly appropriate building) becoming a full-blown National Assembly of Cornwall. The council’s Case for Cornwall, said Mr Cole, mentioned some powers going to unelected quangos and in places merely requested central Government money. So it fell short of an assembly exerting “democratic control of the whole public sector in Cornwall”.

As for Mr Osborne, and his talk of county deals: “What has actually materialised is very limited, quite disappointing for people who want far-reaching devolution.”

The campaign for Cornish liberation will be peaceful. Owners of holiday cottages, should rest easy. There is no question of polite Mr Cole or any Cornish patriot resorting to the tactics of a fringe group which in 1981 firebombed a Penzance hair salon, having apparently mistaken it for that symbol of Englishness, a branch of the Bristol and West Building Society.

But, said Mr Cole, Mr Osborne and the Tory Government should acknowledge that their approach was “very contradictory”.

Only last year the Government had announced it would recognise the Cornish as a national minority like their Celtic cousins, the Welsh and the Scots. How could they now deny the Cornish their national assembly? “The reality is we are a Celtic nation,” said Mr Cole.

As for anyone peddling black propaganda about Cornish nationalism as the invention of the Great Western Railway or suggesting that despite an antiquarian-led late 19th century language revival, true native Cornish speaking died with Dolly Pentreath, a Mousehole fish seller, in 1777: “Stop writing PhDs and get into the real world.”

The struggle will continue. “You take whatever is offered, and keep campaigning. You hope for the best, and prepare for what a Tory Government delivers,” said Mr Cole.

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