Self-rule for Cornwall
Like Wales and Scotland, Cornwall deserves self-government.
Cornish nationalists are preparing a legal challenge to the UK government's decision to refuse the people of Cornwall national minority status. They argue that Cornwall is a separate Celtic nation, similar to Wales and Scotland, and that their political, economic and cultural rights have been diminished by rule from Westminster. The aim is devolution, with a Cornish parliament.
Last year, both the Commission for Racial Equality and the Council of Europe urged the UK government to reconsider its non-recognition of Cornish national identity.
To finance a legal challenge in the European Court of Human Rights, a
Cornish Fighting Fund has been established, with the aim of raising £100,000.
This new battle for Cornish rights comes 500 years after the Charter of Pardon of 1508, under which the English Crown accepted a degree of Cornish autonomy.
This was an English concession following the rebellion against King Henry VII in 1497, when a 15,000-strong Cornish volunteer army marched on London in protest against onerous taxation and oppressive rule.
Although the Cornish were defeated, fear of further uprisings prompted the English establishment to abandon its centralising machinations and allow Cornwall greater rights within the Tudor state.
The 1508 Charter implicitly recognised Cornwall's ancient elected Stannary Parliament and accepted its right to veto English law that was prejudicial to the interests of the tin-mining Cornish people - who comprised much of the local population at the time - and to their heirs and successors in perpetuity.
By including this veto in the 1508 Charter, the English monarchy was, in effect, guaranteeing a substantial degree of control over Cornish affairs to the Stannary Parliament.
Indeed, in 1977, the British government acknowledged that the Stannary Parliament's right of veto has never been withdrawn.
The quest for Cornish devolved government is driven by deprivation. Rule from Westminster has seen Cornwall decline, from being at the forefront of the industrial revolution, to becoming one of the poorest regions of Europe, now qualifying for EU assistance to make up the shortfall in funding from Whitehall.
In the October 2001 issue of Business Age Magazine, Kevin Cahill wrote a feature headed: "The Killing of Cornwall". He noted that the London Treasury extracts £1.95 billion in taxes out of Cornwall's GDP of £3.6 billion. However, the Treasury returns less than £1.65 billion, so there is a net loss to Cornwall of £300 million. This extraction of wealth is happening in a region of England where earnings are 24% below the national average.
Many people view Cornwall as little more than an extension of the optimistically misnamed English Riviera - a pleasant tourist destination. In reality, it is a by-word for low wages, unskilled MacJobs and house prices that are out of the reach of many local people.
Allied with this economic impoverishment has been the centralisation and transfer out of Cornwall of decision-making institutions and government offices - together with the skilled jobs they entail - to various undemocratic and faceless South West of England regional quangos, which are run by unelected, unaccountable London appointees.
Westminster's frequent concern for poverty and under-development in the north-east of England is not replicated when it comes to the relative lack of state resources earmarked to tackle deprivation in Cornwall.
Successive London governments have shown little respect for distant Cornwall, or its people, identity, history or culture. It is a far away place about which they know little and about which they seem to care even less. How else can the decades and centuries of neglect be explained?
Nationalists argue that Cornwall is a subjugated nation, in much the same way that Scotland and Wales once were. Not only is the historic Cornish flag excluded from the Union Jack; until not so long ago Cornish people needed planning permission to fly the Cornish national flag.
Comparisons with Scotland and Wales are valid. After all, Cornwall has all the basic cultural attributes of a nation: its own distinct Celtic language, history, festivals, cuisine, music, dance and sports.
Many Cornish people perceive themselves to be other than English. Despite the government's resistance, under Commission for Racial Equality and Council of Europe guidelines they qualify for recognition as a national minority.
Cornwall County Council commissioned a MORI poll in 2003 which showed 55% of Cornish people in favour of a democratically-elected, fully-devolved regional assembly for Cornwall (an increase from the 46% in favour in a 2002 poll). Earlier, in 2000, the Cornish Constitutional Convention launched a campaign which resulted in a petition signed by 50,000 people calling for a fully devolved Cornish assembly.
Cornish nationalism finds political expression in Mebyon Kernow (MK), a political party campaigning for a self-rule Cornish parliament. Although its electoral support is currently small, many commentators believe that under a PR voting system support for MK would grow significantly.
Cornwall was once separate and self-governing. If the Cornish people want autonomy and it would improve their lives, why shouldn't they have self-rule once again? Malta, with only 400,000 people, is an independent state within the EU. Why not Cornwall?
Recommendations of the Commission for Racial Equality
Recommendations of the Council of Europe
Cornish Stannary Parliament
Cornish history timeline from 1800
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