11 April 2007

On 6 and 29 March 2007 the department for constitutional affairs gave written answers to parliamentary questions about Cornwall, the duchy of Cornwall, the stannaries, and the Scillies. I put below the government’s clear answers about the first three.

The constitutional position of Cornwall

“Cornwall is an administrative county of England which is subject to UK legislation”

“Cornwall has always been an integral part” of the UK

“With the exception of geographically limited matters such as private acts of parliament for infrastructure works, acts of parliament, regulations, and statutory instruments apply in Cornwall as they do throughout England”

“There are no treaties today that apply to Cornwall only”

“There is no special status for legislation which applies to Cornwall or to Cornish localities”

“The government do not intend to change the legal position of the duchy nor the constitutional position of Cornwall”

The duchy

This is “a private estate that funds the public, charitable and private activities” of prince Charles, his wife, and two sons

“The government do not intend to change the legal position of the duchy nor the constitutional position of Cornwall”

The stannary

“There are no valid Cornish stannary organisations in existence”

“Stannary courts were abolished under the Stannaries Court (Abolition) Act 1896”

Source Hansard 6 March 2007 column 1892W; 29 March 2007 column 1673W

These answers will displease some nationalists who will futilely dispute them. However, a case for a (semi) independent Cornwall or more local powers cannot be made on the basis of a contended history, mired in the quicksands of yesterday. The only rational approach is to make it on arguments grounded in the present day.

I do not find even the contemporary nationalist arguments convincing: I do not see Cornwall in 2007 as uniquely distinctive among the parts of England, whatever might or might not have been Cornwall’s long-gone position in 500 or 1337 CE. There is no case for saying that Cornwall in 2007 is really a separate country if by really one means in the real world.

I think most people in Cornwall, including most of those who call themselves Cornish, are far more interested in the practicalities of everyday living and the future of their children than in nationalist videnda. A job with decent pay, a house, good schools and medical and welfare services, a sustainable environment, up-to-date infrastructure, and local government arrangements that are best placed to help deliver them, what one might call practical rights and needs, are what count most; as they do for people throughout England.

Put away the dead arguments for more local powers in Cornwall based on misread history and distinctiveness. There is a rational and democratic case for devolution and decentralisation for the cities and counties and popularly perceived regions of England which I support though I am wary of post code lotteries in services and of claims that reconfiguration necessarily means improvement. Let us hear how a reorganised local government in Cornwall will help deliver those practicalities today.