11 January 2013

Over a few brisk posts – this is the first of them – I’m going to look at several issues that I think Mebyon Kernow (MK), the Cornish nationalist party, has to resolve, the tasks or labours it has to undertake. Largely, MK has to be very much clearer about what it believes and wants and its routes to achievement. I take political nationalism seriously and think it is important that people in Cornwall understand what MK stands for on central issues so that they can make an informed judgement in support or opposition; MK merits that. Oh, and as Themistocles figuratively said, παταξον μεν, άκουσον δε (Plutarch Themistocles 11.3).

Bothering ghosts and devolving Cornwall
There are arguments from some nationalists about the historic duchy and whether there have been a loss of powers and degradation of status for Cornwall into a county of England. Revisiting and reconstructing the past is not, however, a substitute for clarity about the future. It does not rationally matter what happened in 1337, nearly seven hundred years ago; what matters is not bothering ghosts but what MK and nationalism want for the future status of Cornwall.

Let me go straight to the point. What would be the status of a nationalist and autonomous Cornwall? Broadly, an independent country outside the UK as the Scottish nationalist government seeks for Scotland; or a part of the UK but not of England with devolved powers more or less like Scotland, or Wales, at present; or part of England with devolved powers? A republic or with the monarch as head? In the EU or out? Do I need to mention Guernsey?

UK future
How does MK envisage the UK after Cornish autonomy? Separate independent states with no UK; a federal UK with federal and independent institutions; the current set up with England and Cornwall together or separately joining the other three as devolved countries in the UK; a republic or still a monarchy?

Cornish parliament
Mebyon Kernow  talks of “self-government” and “powers at least equal to those of the Scottish parliament” which suggests to me the middle course, semi-independence within the UK but outside England. I think that MK  should spell out with unmistakable clarity the status it seeks for Cornwall and the UK. It would be more candid to talk of a Cornish parliament rather than an assembly and it should spell out too that it sees the future of its Cornwall outside England.

Unresolved questions
However, there are unresolved questions.

The moves in Scotland towards independence make continued comparisons with Scotland ambiguous and raise a question for the party. Is the current Cornwall status that is sought the final one or are there larger ambitions? Is the current MK status policy only a step along the road to SNP-like independence?

There is also a question that MK tends to disregard: the increasing discovery of England by people living there, something the Labour devolvers never imagined. This has been prompted by the view that devolution and the Barnett formula which predated it have delivered a disproportion of UK tax revenue to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and England has lost out or at least not benefited from devolution. See this poll which suggests a growing number of people wish for independence for England outside the UK. Do MK aims and means take into account the new visibility of England and the changing aspirations of its people?

I set out my views on how we should seek change in Cornwall in the posts How should Cornwall be governed? and Empowering Cornwall: an all-England approach, Cornwall campaigning within England with other counties for more powers. However, MK sees Cornwall as a “distinct national community,” a place other than a county of England as the comparisons with Scotland and Wales also indicate. This raises the question of how MK expects to achieve its status goal for Cornwall. We are talking beyond localism and increasing the powers of local authorities in England, as the MK response to the Rogerson bill showed; MK presumably does not see itself as part of any general agitation for increased powers for cities and counties in England. As far as I can see the party does not have a credible strategy for getting to its status goal; a clear road to semi-independence or autonomy should be mapped out. There are difficulties here: successive UK governments are decidedly indifferent or hostile to any separatist ambitions in Cornwall and most people in Cornwall do not support MK in county-wide and national elections. Has MK got a plan?

I shall look at the second labour of MK, about the related issue of funding, in the next post in the series.