18 May 2009

I want to suggest that there is a more constructive way of doing politics in Cornwall.

I have argued over several posts that the “Cornwall is a victim” approach is unfounded. Cornwall isn’t regularly singled out for an unfair share of national resources; and desires for more local decision making in Cornwall aren’t singularly frustrated by central government.

The approach is also unproductive. It is incoherent and it is difficult to detect any unifying principle behind it beyond a county parochialism, us-more-now. It is the self-focus, the insistence on a Cornish unique particularism, that damages the arguments for a different deal for Cornwall.

Central government, under any party including Liberal Democrats, has to consider the whole country, all England and all Britain. It has to work out financial and administrative arrangements that, mutatis mutandis, apply to us all. This is not simple: areas differ in their prosperity and needs, and people’s circumstances and even geography within administrative areas such as counties and districts varies. Getting to fairness is complex.

What those in Cornwall who are dissatisfied with present arrangements should do is work with interested people outside Cornwall to come up with proposals for a redistribution of resources and powers throughout the whole country not just Cornwall. Drop the nonsense of the victimisation of Cornwall and draw up a better redistributive system that covers every area. Drop the unpersuasive claims for Cornwall-only devolution and draw up proposals for a general devolution of powers throughout the country based on proven competence. Within such national projects a Cornwall of broader horizons can find its place.

I think it will be very difficult to show that people in Cornwall receive an unfairly low share of English national resources and I should be interested to see serious arguments from Cornwall about the claimed unfairness of the present adjustable national arrangements. As far as devolution goes, the government through its unitary project has dipped its toe in waters that could be devolutionary, though I think it is for reasons of economy rather than of local democracy; an inadvertent dipping, let us say, and not done in a very democratic way. If Cornwall and the other rural unitaries (and the metropolitan areas) of England liaise, a national argument can be mounted after time that a proven record of competence, supported by local desires, makes it feasible to give the successful among them more powers, and then more. An assembly in effect can be achieved if we can demonstrate we are fit for it.

This, of course, will not be in an independent Cornwall as apparently desired by some nationalists; that would take further administrative action which, candidly, is very unlikely to win support among the vast majority of the people of Cornwall. Few believe that the past makes Cornwall a country separate from England today.

I have caveats about the drawbacks of localism which I have explored here , which also links to other localism posts.

What I am saying is that arguments about treating Cornwall alone differently do not persuade central government or even many here: they are essentially parochial and special pleading and largely based on nonsense. Presenting Cornwall as part of a program of national reform would be persuasive. The present horizons are too narrow and too close; look to those wider horizons.