By Fulup Hosking
THE Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Bill passed its second reading in Westminster Parliament and has gone through further Committee stages. If this 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 people who should know better 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 Cornish identity recognitions or even a Cornish assembly. What resistance to this assault on Cornish territorial integrity have we seen to date?
Lets start with our own Cornish government. So far the absolute silence from the Duke of Cornwall has been deafening. This current threat to the territorial integrity of Cornwall has prompted nothing from our constitutional head of state, the Duke of Cornwall – your Prince of Wales. As ever, he seems happy plundering Cornwall of its heraldry in order to sell jam and oatcakes. In stark contrast, the Tory-independent run council has voted a motion urging the Government to respect Cornwall’s borders. This was largely supported by Cornwall’s councillors. Alec Robertson, leader of Cornwall Council, is on the list of supporters for Keep Cornwall Whole (KCW). Cornwall Council’s chief executive Kevin Lavery has also spoken of the creation of a Devonwall constituency as a serious threat to Cornish devolution.
Until very recently our Lib Dem MPs, so often keen to dress up as Cornish nationalists, had been strangely quiet. In fact all our Con-Lib MPs voted for the bill at its second reading. This month the bill will go into committee where amendments will be debated that could prevent a Devonwall parliamentary constituency. In September, Andrew George MP produced an amendment to that end. At a KCW meeting with Deputy PM Nick Clegg, four Lib Dems were present, including our three MPs. 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 MPs – Sheryll Murray and George Eustice – made the point that Cornwall is special, a Duchy, and needs to have its territorial integrity respected (read more here). Murray 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. Sheryll has also tabled an amendment to ensure all parts of Cornwall must be included in a constituency which is wholly in Cornwall. Murray also mentioned Cornwall’s de jure legal status as a Duchy in the cross party meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
Local Labour activists have also spoken out against the bill, 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. 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.
As expected, Mebyon Kernow has opposed the creation of a Devonwall constituency from the start. A petition has been started by MK and it is closely implicated in KCW. Its ability to act, however, is limited by the lack of any MK MPs. A much larger number of councillors would also help.
The Cornish Liberals, the Communist Party and the Cornish Democrats have said or done very little so far. The South West Libertarian Party has blogged once on the subject. 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?
More surprisingly to date Plaid, the SNP and their members have 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. Devolve’s support for the Regionalist Front of Dumnonia suggests a certain flexibility on its part.
The Grand Bard of Gorseth Kernow, Mick Paynter, has spoken out strongly against any threat to our territorial integrity. 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 let’s not rule anything out.
Do we Cornish want more representation than our numbers would require under the Government’s changes to electoral constituencies – No, Cornwall wants Fair representation, if necessary going down to 5 rather than 6 MPs if the removal of second-home voters doesn’t solve the problem. Fair doesn’t mean mathematically equal as Mr Cameron claims, it means representation as the people want it to be, without taking more than our fair share.
Of the UK’s think tanks there has been no mention of Cornwall excepting 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 MPs and government for our cause. Please vote here: Campaign Suggestions.
So now 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 MPs 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 there appears to be no 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, but are they going to help us today?
What can you do as individuals? If you haven’t done so already, then please write to all your elected representatives by EMAIL NOW!
Get in touch with the party or pressure group of your choice and ask them what they are doing. Use your e-mail, Facebook or other social media account to spread the word.
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 Piran’s 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 as some claim – just another English county.
A stepping stone therefore to greater things is what could be won or lost.
The UK Government has given no assurances, and are at present, unbending in wanting to see a ‘one size fits all’ approach to determine constituencies – apart, that is, from two constituencies in Scotland.
Furthermore, of the five (5) national borders of Britain only Wales, Scotland, and Ireland will also not be affected by this Bill, but NOT Kernow.
MPs will debate Cornwall on Monday, 1st November – Celtic New Year – but will the Celtic Cornish be able to celebrate? The Cornish MPs are saying there is everything to play for. Write by email NOW!
31 October, 2010
[A slightly updated version of an opinion piece recently published in http://waleshome.org – reproduced by permission of the author]
About the author: Fulup Hosking is a Cornishman living and working in Paris. He is a member of Mebyon Kernow and the Celtic League and helps out with both organisations as and when he can. He has been studying Breton for around four years now and in September he will start to teach English at the Paris Diwan school.