12 July 2012

I am returning to the question Who pays for Cornwall? which I last looked at in the post Cornish nationalism and the Rub’ al Khali (11 January 2012). This question is not going away.

One of the difficulties that I have with Cornish political nationalism is that it is too often incoherent and vague. The issue of funding a self-governing Cornwall is an instance. Nationalism has not produced a comprehensive, detailed, viable, and convincing policy that deals with this question.

A recent issue shows the difficulties. The Tory Libdem government is – I think “exploring” is probably the best way to put it as it is a muddle – exploring the possibility of public sector pay and some benefits being moved from national rates, largely identical in Leeds and Bodmin, to local rates based on differing local circumstances. I have explained over several posts since this post in 2009 (Tories eye benefits and wages in Cornwall 6 September 2009) that I oppose this localisation which for Cornwall will mean cuts in pay and benefits.

The other day Cornwall Council voted to oppose cornished pay and benefits. The part about benefits came from the Cornish nationalist party Mebyon Kernow (MK), I believe.

I’m puzzled.

I think Cornwall is a part of England and should not receive unjustified lesser public pay and benefits compared to the rest of England.

However, if Cornwall is self-governing and not part of England, as nationalists desire and claim, on what grounds should it receive the rates applicable in England? Should not a self-governing Cornwall, a nation apart from England, pay its own way: raise its own funds, levy its own taxes, deliver its own public pay and benefits at its own levels?

This takes me to getting and spending, to taxation. As I have pointed out before, the devolution bill that Dan Rogerson (then and now Libdem MP for North Cornwall) put up appeared to see devolved Cornwall funded by redistribution from a common pool, in a Barnett way, that is with its money coming from the UK, in effect mostly from (the rest of) England. I pointed out that the section of the bill dealing with the funding of Cornwall “is very brief — the section dealing with the remuneration of assembly members is twice as long”. That is an unconvincing devolution as I set out here (How should Cornwall be governed? 24 October 2009).

I find MK funding policy unsatisfactory. The party apparently does not see the levying of income and company tax in Cornwall as a responsibility of its desired Cornwall assembly/parliament; it seeks only a “fair share of central government funding” for Cornwall which suggests a Barnett approach rather than a self-financing Cornwall. However, its parliament would be responsible for a range of activities which involve spending. MK should be explicit now about how it sees these matters and what it has in mind; it should share its thoughts with us. Whose money and where it comes from should be spelled out. How much MK considers is needed to fund Cornwall; the funding formula it has in mind, its principle and basis; and any net cost to people outside Cornwall, should be stated by the party now rather than waiting on an improbable commission. “Fair funding” is not serious politics; it’s sloganising.

I have raised this question before and I shall go on with it until nationalism comes up with a satisfactory answer. Who pays? Would a self-governing Cornwall no longer part of England still depend on taxes from people outside Cornwall for its hospitals, schools, roads, public sector pay, benefits, police…? Does Cornish devolution at bottom mean ‘in England for getting the money, out of England for the spending of it’. Oh, what a brave new Cornwall that would be.

About 84 percent of income tax payers in the UK in 2012/13 are people in England: see table 2-2 here and its footnotes.