8 March 2012

The other day I read this blog post about decentralisation and devolution in Cornwall.

Linking Cornwall in
While the post gave some staples of Cornish political nationalism, the last two paragraphs were most interesting. I think the current particularist approach of Cornish political nationalism to autonomy was questioned and a practical way of achieving maximal decentralisation here was suggested: Cornwall campaigning not on its own but rather with a general project for all England and “linking into the wider debate about devolution and decentralisation within England”.

If such an approach was adopted, Cornwall “would not be alone; people in other areas would doubtlessly seek greater devolution as well”. In response to comments the thrust of the post was neatly summed up: Cornish nationalists “can help their own cause by supporting decentralisation across England”.

All-England project
I warmly support the idea that we should look for an all-England project for decentralisation and empowerment within England, rather than focus exclusively on Cornwall and contended claims that it is uniquely different (nationalists can insert the word initially before the word within). I advocated this approach as the way to do it in a post on Dan Rogerson’s 2009 bill: How should Cornwall be governed? writing:

“It is in the initial context of a general and ongoing program of decentralisation throughout England that the case for Cornwall should be made not on the ‘fly-blown phylacteries’ of an unconvincing political nationalism. The bill will deservedly fail because it fractures the case for coherent decentralisation across England; and in centring its appeal on the particularist sentiments of Cornish political nationalism it excludes many in Cornwall who do not share them.”

Decentralisation and localisation
There is a rational and democratic case for decentralisation and localisation to the cities and counties of a fully recognised and devolved England which I support. However, I have pointed out in several posts that localism, of course, has drawbacks and can mean postcode pay and benefits and the privileging of parochial prejudices; for example I think that the prospect for affordable housing is very vulnerable under localism. And I have argued that the new unitary experience in Cornwall shows that one man’s localism is another’s centralisation, most recently here. Localism certainly demands a coherent answer to the question of who decides and I deplore that its advocates shy away from these issues. For Cornish nationalists there is also the question of who pays with what money.

Balkanising England
Let me add that I also think that the empowerment of cities and counties is distinct from regionalism, or at least that based on large, artificial regions in England, which few relate to and which many see as the balkanisation and dismemberment of England. Such regionalism has no part in localism and decentralisation. Keep England whole, as it were.

Shift to all-England approach
The shift to an all-England argument for decentralisation from the current and notably unsuccessful Cornwall particularist one would be a pragmatic advance. It is the way to get to the future in Cornwall. Nationalists could see this as an initial approach and could argue for an exit from England afterwards; I
should be happy with an empowered county in England. However, I think that Cornish nationalism, shackled to the idea of exceptionalism, is not yet ready for the all-England approach but we shall see as time goes by.