Keeping Cornwall Whole

Posted: September 19, 2010 in territorial integrity

If the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Bill becomes law it will result in the creation of a Devonwall parliamentary constituency thus violating Cornwall’s centuries old frontier with England.

This will continue the blending of Cornwall out of existence and into the South West of England, West Country or whatever you want to call it. Such a parliamentary constituency would be a huge step towards the creation of a Devonwall region and a real blow to the current campaign for a Cornish assembly. Equally Cornwall is facing savage cuts and a VAT rise that will cost thousands of jobs and impact hardest on the poorest. What resistance to this assault on Cornish society and territorial integrity have we seen to date ?

Cornwall’s Economy

Whilst defeatism seems the order of the day when facing the public spending cuts only Mebyon Kernow has turned the issue around and asked: “is Cornwall getting a fair share of public money in the first place?” Before anything is cut lets make sure we have an equal slice of the cake to begin with. If it turns out Kernow is underfunded compared to other areas of the UK then this needs to be considered when cuts are made. Local Labour members and the Greens have also voiced opposition to the budget cuts. Surely this is an opportunity for the Kernow Anarchists Network to make a name for themselves. Recently a quick Twitter conversation talked of a popular front of the Cornish left -MK, Labour, Greens- against the budget cuts. Good idea! Make sure Trade Unionists from Cornwall are invited along as well.

Cornwall’s border with England

Lets start with our own Cornish government. So far the absolute silence from the Duchy of Cornwall has been deafening. This current threat to the territorial integrity of Cornwall has prompted nothing from our constitutional head of state Prince Charles Duke of Cornwall. As ever he seems happy plundering Cornwall of its heraldry in order to sell his jam and oatcakes. In stark contrast the Tory/Indy run Council has voted a motion urging the government to respect Cornwalls borders that was largely supported by Cornwall’s councillors. Tory Cllr Alec Robertson Leader of Cornwall Council is on the list of supporters for Keep Cornwall Whole (KCW). Cornwall Councils Chief Executive Kevin Lavery has also spoken of the creation of a Devonwall constituency as a serious threat to Cornish devolution.

As expected Mebyon Kernow have opposed the creation of a Devonwall constituency from the start. A petition has been started by MK and they are closely implicated in KCW. Their ability to act however is limited by the lack of any MK MP’s. A much larger number of councillors would also help. If you wanted Cornwall to have it’s own distinctive voice and not be in this situation then you know who you should have voted for! There is only one party for Cornwall.

Until very recently our Lib Dem MP’s, so often keen to dress up as Cornish nationalists, had been strangely quiet. In fact all our Con Lib MP’s voted for the bill at its second reading. In October the bill goes into committee where amendments will be debated that could prevent a Devonwall PC. On the 14th of September Andrew George produced an amendment to that end. At the recent KCW meeting with Deputy PM Nick Clegg four Lib Dems were present including our three MP’s. All made good points but a hat tip must go to Andrew George for the following comment used in his denial of any form of Cornish isolationism: “We love England so much, we want to protect its border”.

Surprisingly the Conservatives have been more vocal from the start. At the second reading in parliament both tory MP’s, Sheryll Murry and George Eustice, made the point that Cornwall is special, a Duchy, and needs to have its territorial integrity respected. Murry is on record as having asked the government to recognise Cornwall as a fifth country alongside England, Wales, Scotland and the Six Counties of Ireland. As well as mentioning Cornwall’s de jure legal status as a Duchy in the meeting with Nick Clegg Sheryll Murry has also tabled an amendment seeking to ensure all parts of Cornwall must be included in constituencies which are wholly in Cornwall.

Local Labour activists have also spoken out against the border menace notably Jude Robinson and Charlotte MacKenzie. Jude seems to have taken the lead blogging regularly and starting a web petition. The Vice-Chair of the Cornwall Labour Party Jen Forbes was also present at the KCW meeting and continues to support the campaign. At UK level Labour’s Deputy Leader Harriet Harman (along with Jack Straw and Peter Hain) has also tabled an amendment that would protect Cornwall. Surprisingly Labour has been more than willing to mention Cornish cultural specificity in its arguments to protect Kernow’s border. It seems gone are the days when Labour wished to force Kernow into the artificial South West region and run us from Bristol.

The Cornish Liberals, the Communist Party and the Cornish Democrats have said or done very little so far. Please let me know if this is not the case! The South West Libertarian Party have blogged once on the subject. Do these parties exist in Kernow? Do they want to? The Cornish Greens have some involvement with the KCW campaign. Nothing can be found on their website however. All of these parties defend some form of Cornish recognition. Excepting the Cornish Democrats all of them also support a greater degree of autonomy for Kernow. If they are serious about these policies then isn’t it time they pulled their fingers out!

To date and more surprisingly Plaid Cymru, the SNP and their members have also remained silent. Equally grass-roots English regionalists such as Devolve have not moved perhaps little bothered by the choice of a Cornish or Devonwall region. Devolves support for the Regionalist Front of Dumnonia suggest a certain flexibility on their part.

As for UKIP and other forms of English or British nationalist there is nothing yet worth reporting. Various forms of British-hard-right supporting pond life have popped up on the This is Cornwall forum and BBC Cornwall blog to belittle efforts to protect Cornwall and rant in favour of Devonwall. That’s about it.

Outside the world of party politics due respect must got to Adam Killeya the Lib Dem yet independent Mayor of Saltash for initiating the cross party Keep Cornwall Whole campaign. KCW organised the meeting with Nick Clegg and will probably go on to make representation to David Cameron. A full list of those supporting the campaign can be found here.

Bert Biscoe independent councillor and chair of the Cornish Constitutional Convention is also active in the campaign. One has to ask though what has the Convention been doing for the last ten years if such an attack on Cornwall’s border can even be considered by government? Anyway, if you support Cornish devolution then you must accept this as a battle we cannot afford to loose.

Two of Cornwall’s leading pressure groups come think tanks seem to be in an early hibernation. To date CoSERG and the Cornish Stannary Parliament have said nothing on the current threat. Their ropey websites give the impression that not much is going on. I do hope I’m wrong. I notice the Stannary is among the list of supporters for KCW. Lets hope they have something brewing to eclipse Operation Chough.

The Grand Bard of Gorseth Kernow, Mick Paynter, has spoken out strongly against any threat to our territorial integrity. He added: “It is a threat buried in the Coalition’s plans for electoral reform. Lest there be any doubt as to the meaning of ‘one and all’ we should show it together by saying, loudly, that the Tamar has been our border for more than a thousand years. It is a historical border, it is a cultural border, it is a linguistic border, and it is recognised as such by Europe. The Tamar is our national border. Na wrewgh tava agan ordir! Hands off our border! Gesewgh Kernow dhe vos Kernow! Let Cornwall be Cornwall!” Does the old dog -Gorseth Kernow- have teeth after all? Perhaps more so than others we would have expected to be first into the fray.

The Cornish branch of the Celtic league has made the most radical noises so far with talk of blocking the Tamar bridge, hunger strikes and other forms of direct action. Lets hope it doesn’t come to that but equally lets not rule anything out. I can’t and won’t pronounce on others willing to risk their health for the cause but lets all be ready for protest of one form or another. Don’t push us into a corner!

Of the UK’s think tanks there has been no mention of Cornwall excepting this article from the Federal Union. The internet campaign group 38 Degrees has however put KCW on its site for people to vote for. If KCW gets enough support then 38 Degrees will use the internet to lobby MP’s and government for our cause. Please vote here: Campaign Suggestions.

The way forward?

Unity of action is a must. We have to build on the cross party cooperation within KCW and inform/involve much more of Cornwall’s civic society. Could cross party cooperation have occurred when it came to the amendments? Surely our Lib Con MP’s could have coordinated something together? It is up to our elected representatives along with local leaders from others parties to put aside party politics and work together. Additionally friends of all sorts outside of Cornwall need to be contacted and rallied to the cause.

Many comments have been made about how a Devonwall constituency would violate the Duchy charters or that our legal constitutional position could be used to fend off the threat. Equally some have talked about the Cornish national minorities right to have its territorial integrity respected. These are good points but can they help NOW? The Cornish are still not recognised under the Council of Europe‘s framework convention for the protection of national minorities (FCNM) and I’m not aware of any impending legal action that would confirm Cornwall’s constitutional status as a Duchy once and for all. In fact the government has blocked all efforts at obtaining such recognition for the Cornish and is tireless in its efforts to keep the constitutional question under wraps. If we survive Devonwall then both avenues should continue to be fully explored (who is working on the FCNM at the moment by the way?) but are they going to help us today?

What can we do as individuals? If you haven’t done so already then write to all your elected representatives. If you have then write again. Telephone them and, when you can, go and see them face to face. Get in touch with the party or pressure group of your choice. Ask them what they are doing and then offer your help. Talk to anybody who will listen, friends and family. Use your e-mail, Facebook or other social media account to spread the word. Write to the government, direct to Clegg and Cameron, and let them know why Cornwall should stay whole. Contact politicians around the UK in all parties. Write to papers and other media sources in Cornwall and beyond. Lobby your Union and any other think tank or organisation you suspect might be interested. Why not go international and write to the various European bodies as well as foreign governments? Be ready for protest and more vigorous actions. How far are we willing to go to protect our nation and the possibility of devolution? Think carefully about your answer to this question. 

Lib Dem, Labour and Tory have all used the language of Cornish nationalism in the defence of Kernow. Nick Clegg even admitted that “perhaps there needed to be a debate about Cornwall’s position within the UK.” What of this will rest when the dust settles? Are we seeing a landmark shift in the perceptions of Cornwall or just more empty politicking? Too often it appears that all we do is defend the scraps that we already have, constantly on the back foot. This time lets keep up the momentum after we’ve ensured Cornwall’s border and demand more. Lets keep all the politicians who’ve wrapped themselves in the St Pirans flag to their word. If we develop a good velocity and a decent unity then lets use it to push forward. If we win the battle for Cornwall’s border then more than likely that victory will be based on Cornwall not being just another English county. A stepping stone therefore to greater things is what could be won or lost.

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