The debate around devolution to a Cornwall assembly has shifted. As I have argued previously Mebyon Kernow (MK) languishes in yesterday’s England and should drop its claim of Cornish uniqueness on this and other questions and drag itself into the real debate about a general devolution within England.

Mainstream progress
The other day Andrew Adonis added to the momentum of devolution within England and presented Labour’s argument for such a devolution. All the major parties – Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Labour – are now agreed about devolving powers to major cities in England. It has already begun and will spread to populous areas outside the cities, including to groups of counties. Of course, we must hold the hands of the parties to the fire of local devolution in England but also be aware of the problems that localism brings.

Frankly, while nationalists played with blueprints for a separatist assembly, the mainstream politicians and parties quietly worked on a general devolution throughout England. What happens in Cornwall will happen within these general moves in England. It will be interesting to see how MK responds, whether it places itself within the devolution-in-England movement or remains impotently outside.

Only 1 in 300 back assembly petition
Meanwhile, notice that when I looked today the MK online petition for a “legislative Cornish assembly” has got 2453 signatures since late November, half of them by the end of the year. However, six of the ten latest signatures displayed on the website were from outside Cornwall, indeed one from outside Britain. There are about 425 000 adults in Cornwall; assuming half of the signatories live in Cornwall, that’s about 0.3 percent of our adult population, one in three hundred, signing. This political nationalist cause does not command widespread support. Andrew George, Libdem MP for St Ives, who came first in the House of Commons draw ballot for private members’ bills, was wise not to pursue a Cornish assembly bill.

Other posts

Comment on the city deal project 30 October 2012

First set of city deals 5 July 2012

Meanwhile, in the Commons this (Hansard 19 November 2013 columns 870 and 871) and this (column 1074) about Cornwall, devolution, and city deals.

Empowering Cornwall 8 March 2012

How should Cornwall be governed? 24 October 2009



14 April 2014

Oh dear, MK still doesn’t get it.

On the MK website I read in a blogpost called We can do better: “Our children should enjoy the same educational opportunities as children up the country – not make do on half the money spent on pupils in the City of London”.

We certainly can do better.

I discussed this absurd comparison three years ago in this post. Shortly, there is only one state school in the City of London, Sir John Cass, a primary with 247 pupils; there about 39 000 primary pupils in more than two hundred primaries in Cornwall.

There are two clear mistakes in the MK whinge. It compares 247 pupils with 39 000, one school with more than two hundred. The City of London is not streets paved with gold, all banks and hedge funds and bonuses; parts of the City are residential and MK should acknowledge that some of those 7000 residents experience deprivation and it is that and costs which give the per pupil funding higher than Cornwall overall. It is the residents’ children who go to the excellent primary school. The school is in Portsoken ward which last month elected a Labour councillor.

Now I can understand that someone in Cornwall, unfamiliar with east London, might have a distorted view of the City of London from the media that talks only of money; however, the facts are readily available to those who look for them and I set out some of them in my 2011 post. It is shamefully unconvincing for Cornish political nationalism to disregard context, which is at the heart of any viable idea of fairness, and write starkly about “the money spent on pupils in the City of London”.

Let me repeat what I said in that post of 2011: “MK does not explain that the difference in funding is not a question of arbitrarily giving more money to the City of London education authority but rather is intended to reflect differences in costs and needs.”

Yes, MK can do better. If it wishes to be taken seriously, it must.

In Cornwall 17 percent of children are in poverty (mid 2012); in the City, Portsoken ward, in which the Sir John Cass primary school is sited, has 37 percent of children in poverty [Source:]. At Sir John Cass school in 2014/15 32.9 percent of primary pupils were eligible for the deprivation pupil premium; in Cornwall 22.5 percent of primary pupils [Source: illustrative figures here].

See these posts too: Stuffing mushrooms and nationalist tosh 5 April 2013 and Cornwall school funding 14 March 2014.

Mebyon Kernow (MK), the Cornish nationalist party, is being left behind.

There isn’t widespread, eager support for this party and its political nationalism; in the last election it contested, a by-election last December for two seats on Camborne town council, a favourable area for MK, only 14 percent turned out to vote although there were two MK candidates to vote for and each of MK’s candidates received support from less than 4 percent of the electorate. Enthusiasm for MK? No.

The petition calling for a Cornish parliament – a law making national assembly – is gathering a trickle of signatures from Cornwall and elsewhere: after nearly five months I estimate less than 1000 from people in Cornwall have signed, a pitiful small proportion.

In the real world all three currently major parties, Conservative and Labour and Liberal Democrat, have now said they support devolution within England. The Tory Libdem government is pressing ahead with city deals. So far twenty eight councils are involved, including Plymouth. City deals are the devolution of powers to cities and city regions, with some cities working with neighbouring areas in a “combined authority”. The primary aim is to better advance local economic growth and each area will have different and tailored devolved powers such as housing and transport; local enthusiasm and competence are essential.

The government’s approach in practice is somewhat incoherent (see this sensible scrutiny ) but English devolution is happening at last. The process having begun, it will be impossible to stop or reverse.

The word “city” is perhaps misleading: it is clear that counties are included and Cornwall, Cumbria, and Essex were specifically mentioned by Nick Clegg last October 2012.

Labour has supported the city/county devolution policy and expanding it, writing this week to every council leader (scroll to the very bottom to link to the letter; he specifically mentions devolution to cities and counties).

MK will argue that all this is about local government and what it seeks is a national government for Cornwall separate from England; that is more than “more powers” for Cornwall. However, the kindest that can be said about the MK approach is that it has been bypassed. The devolutionary future of England is here already and MK has been left behind in a nationalist fantasy.


First set of city deals 5 July 2012

Second set of city deals 19 February 2013

Comment on the city deal project 30 October 2012

Camborne by-election result 19 December 2013

MK election results 2013 and before

The petition is here.

The online petition for a law-making assembly for Cornwall has been going for about three and a half months. It now has 1693 signatures and I reckon around six tenths are from people outside Cornwall and even outside Britain.

My best estimate is that about 0.16 percent of the adults in Cornwall have signed. If the organisers know better, I shall happily draw attention to that.

Another quiz, I think
0.16 percent. Is this:

a) An unstoppable tide
b) A triumph
c) Up there with storming the Winter Palace
d) A disaster
e) A bloody disaster, for god’s sake let’s talk about something else
f) Anglo-Saxon arithmetic.

Earlier post
Assembly petition plays lento 13 January 2014

Looking at Mebyon Kernow (MK) and devolution I am reminded of Swift’s satire on the projectors of the Lagado academy: “He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams from cucumbers, which were to be put into vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers.”

Without form and void
Mebyon Kernow (MK) cried up a long overdue review of its signature autonomy policy, a policy currently largely “without form and void” I think. While we wait through the MK gestation we have a few disappointing snippets. This article on the MK website gives some but the petition for a law-making assembly reserves “a detailed proposal” to any future discussions with the UK government. Mus ridiculus, I fear.

In this post I shall look again at the funding of an autonomous Cornwall, a matter that MK has so far not dealt with thoroughly and convincingly. I shall look at matters of governance and the nationalist economy later.

Cornwall, the dependent beggar
In finances, what nationalism is suggesting is, I think, very unattractive: a suppliant Cornwall whose new symbol is a begging bowl. Does MK see Cornwall as a perpetual suppliant?

There appear to be no ambitions for Cornwall be self-financing, spending in Cornwall only what Cornwall raises here, a Cornwall financially autonomous. Nationalist Cornwall will apparently be underwritten by taxpayers in the UK, largely by London and the South East of England (see the funding posts at the foot of this post). Nationalism apparently seeks an initial financial settlement – what it costs to run nationalist Cornwall – and then to that presumably is annually applied a percentage according to the the discredited Barnett formula.

Gone is the nationalist fable that Cornwall – with low wages, low GDP, high pensioner numbers – pays more in than it takes out of Britain. What nationalism is tacitly admitting is that Cornwall cannot survive without subsidies from the rest of England – and that largely means, let us be very clear, London and the south east.

This is not autonomy; it is dependency; it is Belloc:

“And always keep ahold of nurse
For fear of finding something worse”.

Apparently MK expects to negotiate with the UK government to arrive at the initial settlement. This would, it presumably hopes, take account of the nationalist view that Cornwall is currently underfunded (as, it might be argued, is much of England) and be based on needs, or rather the needs met by what is devolved to Cornwall. The website also talks of “needs-based funding”.

There are several points of difficulty that MK is not addressing here.

Who gets a say?
MK suggests that the UK government should “work with the people of Cornwall to formulate a detailed proposal” for the assembly. I am unclear who the “people of Cornwall” are here. I suspect it will be a handful of people. MK should explain whether and how the generality of the people here would have any input into any discussions with the government; or which “people of Cornwall” actually will. The end will be a binding referendum of the “electorate”. Which electorate is that? Only voters resident in Cornwall? MK is not seeking independence which could reasonably be seen as only a matter for Cornwall voters. The limited devolution sought is a different question as the rest of the UK and England would still be involved and have responsibilities. Would the electors in the rest get a vote on the reassignment of their taxes and their being the financial underwriters of the nationalist project and their residual and continuing responsibilities for Cornwall?

What are needs and fair funding
To say needs should be met and consequent funding should be fair is insufficient. MK should tell us what it sees by needs and consequent fairness in funding. What is the underlying principle on which needs and fairness in Cornwall are worked out? I have written several posts such as this one about the inadequacy of nationalist (and Libdem) cries for fair funding. Look at two examples, the NHS and schools. The debate about the funding of the NHS in localities shows how needs and fairness are not Sinai-given, undisputed ideas, but rather ideological notions, heavily conflicted.

We should ask too how much school funding should be a simple matter of equal percapita arithmetic and how far deprivation such as the proportion of free school meals – another contended aspect – should be taken into account. The nationalist foray into the scale of public funding for the only state school in the City of London compared with schools in Cornwall shows the difficulties and does not build confidence in MK. Of course more schools are becoming academies funded directly by government and it looks as though Cornwall Council will in effect cease to be an education authority. How does MK see this working in an autonomous Cornwall?

Too often the impression is given by nationalism that needs and fairness can be ascertained by average percapita arithmetic which is at bottom population-based rather than needs-based funding. MK should clear up how it sees the relationship between these two approaches. The unitary council’s recent foray into perceived underfunding seemed to fix on percapita arithmetic.

The council also raised the question of allocations among urban and rural areas of England. This is a shift to a new take on fair funding, a late recognition that this is not a Cornwall-only issue but an all-England one. This aspect should certainly be explored though with more understanding and finesse than the simplism that it costs more to provide often lesser services in rural than urban areas. Writing about fair funding and urban and rural allocations, the MK leader recently wrote in terms of percapita comparisons.

What’s in
I assume that MK will be more forthcoming and tell us comprehensively and exactly what the devolved matters would be, what it wishes to see devolved to its Cornwall. This would indicate how ambitious it is for Cornwall.

Does MK intend a nationalist Cornwall to be able to vary income tax and if so by how much? Claim stamp duty, whatever? How far is membership of the UK compatible with tax freedom? How far is financial control by central government compatible with autonomy? MK should share its thoughts.

People currently are being asked to support this devolution without knowing wholly what it involves.

Would an autonomous Cornwall be better or less able to resist the localisation, the cornishing, of benefits and pay? What would be the basis of any nationalist, assemblied Cornwall claim to be different from England but entitled to England-level benefits and pay? I have explored this in several posts about localisation and it is another aspect on which MK should be forthcoming. MK believes that Cornwall is a historic nation distinct from England but also in its election manifesto opposes distinct regional pay for Cornwall: it is difficult to see coherence there.

Localisation throws up another problem. I think that central government is needed to guarantee the rights of local people to affordable housing against their fellows who want no change. This is a challenge for localism that nationalism shirks: localism in places in Cornwall has meant opposition to affordable houses for locals. An autonomous Cornwall would continue to face this reactionary response; how would MK deal with it?

And what does the base cost
MK should tell us what it expects the initial settlement, the foundation funding, to be. At present nationalism says that the initial funding would be based on what the British government currently spends in Cornwall. That’s a muddy point. What is MK including in that spend? Only assignable public expenditure of the devolved functions, presumably. At presently PESA data does not separately cost places smaller than countries and regions but I assume MK is already doing the arithmetic. Is it?

What does Cornwall raise
From that there is the question how much towards those costs is currently raised and, as I mentioned earlier, should be raised in Cornwall. That’s back to the arithmetic which I assume MK is already doing.

There is also the question of balancing public spending in Cornwall and taxing. Would people in Cornwall pay more taxes to get better public services? What does MK think?

Conflicting points
Additionally nationalism seems to make two incompatible points. One the one hand it appears to argue that any funding for Cornwall would not cost the UK any more than the county receives at present; on the other it claims that Cornwall is underfunded by the UK government and a future funding agreement should put this right. Thus, simultaneously not costing a penny more than now and costing more than now.

Who loses
Let us suppose Cornwall is widely underfunded and that should be set right. MK does not identify where any more funding for Cornwall should come from. Nationalism always shies away from identifying the source of the extra money for Cornwall, that is, from telling the people elsewhere in England they must lose present or future public money (from growth or higher taxes) so that Cornwall can have more; that, for example, the funding of their schools and hospitals must be cut for Cornish devolution. MK should send out its missionaries to spell out to people in Sunderland and Liverpool, urban both, that it believes they must get less so that nationalist Cornwall gets more.

It is irresponsible not to explain where the extra money will come from and how much we are talking about. How much must Sunderland lose or forgo? MK is silent.

Mugging the poor
There is an added difficulty for MK with sees itself as a progressive leftist party.

Eighty four percent of the most deprived neighbourhoods are in English cities (Cities outlook 2014). Look again at the indices of multiple deprivation, the figures for free school meals, and deprivation pupil premiums: a shift in funding from urban to rural areas would in gross be taking funds from the most deprived parts of England. That is not progressive politics.

In sum

Swift again: “There was a most ingenious architect who had contrived a new method for building houses, by beginning at the roof and working downwards towards the foundation”

It is inadequate for MK to prate generalities, however glittering. This is a Gradgrind moment. We are not talking Cornish on every tea towel to entice the tourist. An assembly is a signature MK policy and the party must spell out fully what it sees as assembly matters, the cost of their provision, and how much of that cost is to be raised in Cornwall; and the party must explain fully the principle on which needs and consequent fair funding will be based so that one can scrutinise proposals.

To fly to the moon all one has to do is point a rocket at it and light the touch paper
People in the rest of England have the right to know how much MK expects them to pay for this Cornish adventure. Will they get a vote on any settlement? People in Cornwall have the right to see a worked-out, worked-through policy with details that can be scrutinised, examined, tested, reviewed. MK has had years to get this right and the present vacuities are unimpressive. Let’s hope the promised paper will be comprehensive but at present MK is telling us that to fly to the moon all one has to do is point a rocket at it and light the touch paper. It has to do very much better than that.

Outside the Cornish nationalist laager life in England moves on. The UK government has begun to shift more power and funding from central government to cities and soon will have growth deals for other areas. A current example is Nottingham city deal here. The deal explains in detail how they aim to create economic growth and sets out achievable targets such as a 25 percent fall in youth unemployment and a 4 percent increase in GVA. This growth-orientated devolution makes sense: the economies of Leeds and Manchester city regions are both larger than that of Wales (Cities outlook 2014); growth enables rising living standards and both more opportunity and equality; it destroys the victim agenda. Cornwall may well be offered a growth deal and that would cut the ground from under political nationalism. A negative response from MK would encase the party in irrelevance.

The Libdems will discuss devolution within England at their conference next month. The motion is here : motion F14 on page 57, lines 67-76. Having talked of building on city and growth deals by devolving “more administrative and financial power” to local authorities in England, it then talks of enabling opt-in ”legislative devolution” to London and to principal local authorities, or groups of them, in England with a population of a million or more, and includes Cornwall (population 532 000) in that. Exactly what Libdem devolution involves, what powers would be conferred by it, is not clear from this but it looks like an upgrade to local government and another attempt at the discredited and unloved regionalisation of England.

UPDATE 24 February 2014 Talking of Sunderland, there is this on city autonomy.

He had been eight years and There was a most ingenious: Jonathan SWIFT Gulliver’s travels book 3, chapter 5

Without form and void: Genesis 1.2

Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus: Horace, Ars poetica ()The mountains are in labour and a silly mouse is born)

And always keep: Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) Jim

Some relevant posts
The second labour of Mebyon Kernow 15 April 2013
London subsidises our bills 16 February 2012
Letter from the City of London 3 March 2009
Funding devolution 18 July 2012
Who pays for Cornwall? 12 July 2012
Stripping the nationalist altar 2 March 2011
How should Cornwall be governed? (There is a section on funding) 24 October 2009


20 November 2013

I have previously confessed that I find MK’s nationalist policy on autonomy – an assembly and all that – vague with lacunae.

I was therefore interested to read in this MK blog that the party’s recent review of this policy found that some MK members are not “entirely clear” about the autonomy policy.

Some of MK’s own members aren’t entirely clear about it. They don’t get it. I’m reminded of Palmerston and the Schleswig-Holstein question.

Meanwhile, in the Commons this (Hansard 19 November 2013 columns 870 and 871) and this (column 1074) about Cornwall, devolution, and city deals.


17 September 2013

On September 5 there was a by-election in Wadebridge for Cornwall unitary council, the first one of the present council. There were five candidates, four representing political parties and one independent. Altogether 1284 people voted, two fifths of the electorate.

One party was absent, one party did not contest the seat.

The party that amusingly calls itself ‘the party for Cornwall’ was invisible. Mebyon Kernow (MK), the political nationalist party, did not have a candidate in the election. Being elusive is well for the Scarlet Pimpernel, but a serious political party should be seen and heard.

MK, the party for Cornwall (except Wadebridge).

elusive Pimpernel: Emma ORCZY The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905): Percy Blakeney’s mocking rime in chapter 12