2 September 2007

Life’s getting better

I’ve said before that people here differ in how they see Cornwall. Some see themselves as Cornish not English and Cornwall as in sundry ways a separate country. Others see themselves as English or Cornish-and-English and Cornwall in 2007 as a county of England; there are other identities and combinations too. I’m sure most of us get on with our lives and one another and don’t fret about our identities. We are concerned with seizing life and opportunities ourselves and encouraging others to do so.

And life and opportunities are improving in Cornwall and are there for the seizing. The economy is growing, there are more jobs, British and EU funds are making a difference, Cornwall is not the worst-off place in England. In large ways and in a thousand small ways Cornwall is going forward: see the Vorsprung Cornwall posts for the latter.

Oh, of course Jerusalem is not yet. For example, housing for those starting out is a serious problem, as it is elsewhere in England; and the obvious solution of building enough housing specifically for them is costly and hampered by a variety of unconvincing objections. Many wages are debilitatingly low but objective one and convergence EU funds together building the economy are our best hope of raising them significantly.

However, overall there is very much about twenty-first century Cornwall to be upbeat about. Be of good cheer. This is the liberation of Cornwall.

Nationalist difficulties in the face of more prosperity

Faced with the demonstrable improvements in life nationalism has a problem. A common argument is that Cornwall is at the bottom of every league and suffers from deliberate neglect and unfairness by the British government and only nationalist solutions can work. This nationalist argument is falling apart. More and more people here can see with their own eyes it is not true. Cornwall is doing well as a county of England. The economic grievance agenda is looking ludicrous and surreal.

Of course, the argument that “we’re ethnically different and that’s important” still persuades some people here and I am happy for people to identify themselves as Cornish and celebrate their Cornishness. However, the vast majority of people here, whatever ethnic label they give themselves voluntarily or if asked or pressed and whatever they celebrate, are not agitated about ethnicity and genetics and happily get on with their lives and one another. It is a small minority that sweats about labels or minisculely different DNA. Most people walking down the street or drinking in the pub cannot tell who is Cornish, who is English, who is whatever; and for most people it is not an everyday concern at all.

Devastatingly for nationalism, most people are able to celebrate Cornishness without signing up to nationalist politics. The constitutional argument does not touch them; they celebrate Cornishness but do not believe Cornwall is a separate country from England and instead believe that Cornwall is and has been for centuries a county of England. Only nationalism links contemporary Cornishness with some form of Cornish political separateness.

I believe the nationalist constitutional argument, the belief that Cornwall is truly not a county but a country and the county arrangements are illegal as would be clear if only a court could be found to say so, is of interest to only a handful who look backward to a contested history.

Nationalism in fact largely stresses localism and a claimed administrative efficiency as the argument for devolution, though this apparently can incorporate the belief that using the word Cornish in front of an institution necessarily makes it work better, and the claim that Cornwall is a “Celtic nation” is still advanced as a reason for devolution.

Electoral nationalism fails

Real life gets in the way of nationalist theory. Hardly anybody votes for explicit nationalists or, as far as I can see, joins their organisations. Mebyon Kernow (MK), the largest and most public nationalist group, has made no serious electoral progress for years. The other political nationalist organisations here are distinguished for their insignificance in the lives of most people in Cornwall.

Electoral nationalism has failed.

The changing improved circumstances of real life and the failure to make headway among voters and people generally have, however, energised some on the nationalist spectrum. I shall look at these in another post.