ONE CORNWALL, MANY CORNWALLS

6 November 2009

A report about Sheffield, A tale of two cities, makes an interesting and important point. A team from Sheffield University looked at life in two different areas of the city, Brightside (Labour MP David Blunkett) and Hallam (Liberal Democrat MP Nick Clegg). We are talking chalk and cheese, about serious inequalities between areas in the same city.

I have said often on this blog that Cornwall is not one uniform place, that life differs very much across the county, that there are Brightsides and Hallams here (see this post and this for example). It does not make sense to talk as though there is one Cornwall, disregarding signal differences, and I have indicated some of the mass of readily available evidence that shows the differences even within towns.

The talk of one Cornwall is entirely political and entirely unrelated to reality for people who live here. People who believe Cornwall is a political and national entity and should therefore have a devolved/independent government stress the oneness and tend to disregard the important differences. Cornish political nationalism totalises varying experiences and views.

What then do people who live here think?

Look at the post on the dispute in Penzance about the ferry terminal(s) there and about the wind turbines at Davidstow. Apparently not for them a one-Cornwall governing their county and lives and deciding local issues affecting them; they see that as Truro-centric. Listen to a meeting at Wadebridge on 30 October 2009 on the future of the town suggesting that people in distant west Cornwall might be indifferent about north Cornwall.

There are many Cornish identities, as there are many English identities. On the ground people rationally and emotionally identify with their immediate locality: Cornish from Padstow, Cornish from Camborne, Cornish from Troon, English from Newcastle, from Kentish Town. They also identify with other things and people, their social class and work and interests and friends, as I shall explore in a forthcoming post about identity in Cornwall. Of course, some people indeed claim a general Cornish identity and see Cornwall as their home county (or country), especially against another large identity; but to understand that properly look again at the messages from Penzance and Davidstow and Wadebridge.

Cornish political nationalism, seeing Cornish identity as a simple, monotone matter, does not sufficiently understand these complexities and lacks any comprehensive theoretical or pragmatic way of handling them.

Beyond the politicking of one Cornwall there are difficult questions of local empowerment within Cornwall. There are also important inequalities across Cornwall communities that should be tackled robustly and with effect; those are what we should focus relentlessly on, targeting the places and people of most need, and by reducing the inequalities thus make one Cornwall less of a slogan and more of a reality. Nationalism does not seem up to that task.

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