11 November 2008

Look at these figures: more than four out of ten elderly people describe themselves as Cornish. About three in ten schoolchildren are described by their parents as Cornish. Whatever reservations there may be about the methodology and meaning of the figures, they are noticeable. (There is an update for the Cornish numbers post here post.)

Let us assume that the school figures, three in ten, represent the base of adults (people over eighteen) calling themselves Cornish. That is about 129 000 “Cornish electors.” I think this is the very lowest plausible number for adults who describe themselves as Cornish rather than anything else.

Now consider the public tests of the support for political nationalism. The vote for the nationalist party, Mebyon Kernow (MK), was 3 552 in the 2005 general election (1.4 percent of all the Cornwall votes). It was 9 421 in the 2005 county council elections (3.2 percent of all the Cornwall county council votes). In the 2007 district council elections MK took about 3.9 percent of the votes. It is clear that most people who regard themselves as Cornish do not support the Cornish nationalist party. MK has no MPs, no county councillors, and only a very few district and parish councillors.

The numbers signing the various nationalist petitions is decidedly few. The latest FCPNM recognition petition had 259 when I last looked; one earlier calling for an inquiry into Cornwall’s constitutional status ended this summer with only seventy one. I have commented here on the efforts to raise money for a legal case about FCPNM recognition.

There is a dissonance between the numbers describing themselves as Cornish and the numbers voting nationalist and supporting public declarations of nationalist views. Why?

No, I do not believe it is because Cornish people have been befogged, deceived, or otherwise misled about political nationalism and their identity. That seems to take a low view of the capacities of people to understand their world. I think it is because they have understood political nationalism and have freely chosen to reject it while still being Cornish.

Look at the inadequacies of political Cornish nationalism. Many of the policies of MK are naive and confused. Beyond the party the wider Cornish nationalist fudge about independence does not win support by ambiguity: separation from England? from the UK? or a regional assembly/parliament? a souped-up county council? more decisions taken locally? Cornish nationalism simply does not have any distinct and realistic answers to questions about the interplay of government, institutions, and individuals in the creation of opportunities and wealth, questions of social and economic justice like the distribution of wealth and services, and questions of everyday life such as the price of heating the home or filling the car, whether the job seekers allowance scheme works well, by how much we can realistically increase the minimum wage. Indeed, some nationalists seem to show little public dynamic interest in such everyday questions. “Constitutional” issues which engage nationalists have little appeal to people immersed in the problems and possibilities of life.

There is simply no sui generis Cornish nationalist philosophy of these real life things.

Thus, a rational rejection of political nationalism as irrelevant to life as lived today. Cornish people – people who would describe themselves as Cornish rather than only English or only anything else – do not see a necessary link between their being Cornish and celebrating that identity on the one hand and political nationalism on the other, a point that many nationalists apparently have difficulty with. I believe people do understand what it means to be Cornish in a new way which does not require old-fashioned political nationalism. Being Cornish does not mean being a nationalist.

I shall explore this modern Cornishness and identity in another post.

FCPNM: Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, often abbreviated to FCNM