Opinion: We need a Cornish Assembly

Flag_of_CornwallYou won’t be surprised to learn that I am working day and night to win back Truro and Falmouth for the Lib Dems. You may also know that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the first time David Penhaligon was elected as the MP for Truro.

Yes, he was a liberal hero to many people across the Country, but if ever there was someone who stood up for Cornwall and the Cornish people it was David Penhaligon.

He knew that Cornwall has its own language and its own vibrant culture but he also knew that more self-determination would be good for the countryside in Cornwall, for the NHS in Cornwall, for jobs in Cornwall. These are the crucial issues today. We all want a greener, healthier, wealthier Cornwall.

In the past, Cornwall used to be one of the wealthiest parts of Britain. It was the requirement to make tin and copper mining more efficient that kicked started the world wide industrial revolution in Cornwall some 250 years ago.

Today, there are some new wealth creating success stories in Cornwall. Tourism is an obvious one. But we also make some of the best foods, beers and even wines in the world. And we have growth in other sectors too. Renewable energy, higher education, new media, medical research. But Cornwall still has a long way to go when it comes to wealth creation.

So how would an assembly for Cornwall help with that wealth creation? Well, the powerhouse of wealth creation in Europe now is Germany. And what does Germany have that we don’t? Many things, but one is the confidence to allow its regions to have real power and control over their own destinies, through powerful regional assemblies.

I strongly believe that, as a Country, we need to emulate Germany’s regional assembly success story.

Germany doesn’t run everything from Berlin and we shouldn’t run everything from London. Germany’s regional assemblies are part of the reason for their strong regional economic performance, and their high levels of productivity, and for their embedded environmentalism, which has resulted in that golden combination we all need to achieve globally – economic growth simultaneously coupled with carbon reductions.

Last Wednesday it was St Piran’s Day. St Piran was of course the patron saint of Cornwall. It was said he swam over to Cornwall with a slab of granite on his back. Not an easy journey. And it’s not been an easy journey achieving real powers for Cornwall. The vote at our York conference* is a great leap forward to achieving real powers for Cornwall. Now we need to win the votes of people in Cornwall and elsewhere next May.

* Editor’s note: Policy motion F14 included the proposal for “an English Devolution Enabling Act whereby legislative devolution is available to Cornwall (recognising its historic, cultural, and linguistic claim to autonomy), to London (which already has its own limited, devolved institution in the shape of the GLA), and to any principal local authority (or group of principal local authorities with contiguous boundaries) outside London which has a population of a million or more people.”

* Simon Rix is the Parliamentary Candidate for ultra-Marginal Truro & Falmouth

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  • No we don’t.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Mar '14 - 10:22am

    How would a “Cornish Assembly” differ from Cornwall County Council?

    You say “we shouldn’t run everything from London”, but that is based on the assumption that the government in London runs things. Mostly it doesn’t any more, since 1979 we have ceded so much power to private corporations. So when things are “run from London”, it’s because that’s where the big corporations are based. What exactly do you think your enhanced Cornwall County Council could do to stop that when even the UK government so often now uses the line “We have to kowtow and give in to big business, because if we did not, they would shifty elsewhere”?

  • peter tyzack 18th Mar '14 - 10:45am

    Perhaps it should be Devon and Cornwall.. as per LibDem region.

  • Peter Tyzack I suggest you come down here (to Devon OR Cornwall) to see how that one would fly!

    Matthew Huntbach Yes, we need to bring in some new words to counter the old nuLabour trope of “being a business friendly party” (with the strong implication that if you don’t do everything any business organisation demand, you are “anti-business”). As I said in a local Council meeting last night, we are supposed to be living in a democracy not a plutocracy. How much money you have should be outlawed as a factor in public decision-making. As a certain party not too far from here might say “One person one vote”.

  • Seems to me that we need to devolve more power to our county councils, and then repaint the sign outside the County Council offices as the “Regional Assembly.” Job done!

    We need fewer not more structures, so hard to see what a Cornish regional assembly would do that a county council wouldn’t, but the core message about regional priorities, strengths and needs makes sense, and points to opportunities for more decentralisation on issues such as rural policy, transport infrastrucutre, energy and business policy.

  • Let’s skip the whole devolution stage and go straight for Cornish independence. Then we can have an international dispute over the possession of the Isles of Scilly, and whoever is PM at the time can mount a naval invasion to boost sagging poll numbers.

  • Matt (Bristol) 18th Mar '14 - 3:57pm

    I too want regional government, like Germany. But why is cornwall a ‘region’ and other historic counties are not?
    Is your argument on the basis of:
    – population size
    – ethnicity / language
    – landmass / area size
    – inherent pre-existing consitutional distinctiveness
    – expediency?

    I am finding the argument here and in previous discussion about Yorkshire that regionalisation of England should be on the basis of self-defining ‘opt-outs’ from the existing structure, frustratingly messy and illogical (well, maybe the existing constitution is messy and illogical already; but why would you want to make it more so?).

  • Stephen Hesketh 18th Mar '14 - 7:12pm

    As you cross the Tamar you leave England and enter Kernow. An ancient kingdom as distinct from England as are Scotland, Wales and Ireland. What fellow posters may not appreciate is that the depth of the cultural and genetic differences and the genuine sense of identity that is as strong and deep here as in the other Celtic area of Britain.

    In conventional terms is Cornwall large or populace enough to count as a region? Probably not, particularly if you have the mind-set that a region must be ‘South West England’, ‘North East England’ etc but that assumes that the regional government model can not be adapted to suit what the local population require.

    I look forward to the day when I can leave my home in an area regionally governed from a town in North West England and travel through many other regionally governed areas to the County-region of Cornwall.

    I wish you every success in Truro and Falmouth and in your quest for regional status for Cornwall. “One and All”.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 18th Mar '14 - 7:22pm

    I have yet to be convinced that anywhere in England needs another tier of government.

  • Bring back the Heptarchy! Vivat Mercia!

  • @Simon Rix – For all us non-Cornish, what additional powers would you envisage a Cornish Duchal (?) Assembly having?

    Germany, after all, doesn’t just have regional assemblies, it has Länder (States) with distinct powers and responsibilities – real Sovereignity, in other words, not just whatever the Bund (Federal Government) couldn’t be bothered dealing with as it is too unimportant to make a significant difference.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Mar '14 - 2:46pm

    Stephen Hesketh

    I look forward to the day when I can leave my home in an area regionally governed from a town in North West England and travel through many other regionally governed areas to the County-region of Cornwall.

    As I have already noted, power has shifted from government to corporations. Without a radical economic change, you will NEVER see this. Even if all these regional governments were set up, the way economics works now means they would just be powerless talking shops. People would just get angry with them, seeing them as yet more pompous politicians, who promised much but delivered little, because such things now CAN’T deliver much. Whatever elaborate system of regional assemblies you set up, real power would remain with the City of London Bankers and the global financial elite.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    I think you may not be entirely right on this one. In the USA, where federal government is very weak on most domestic matters, it has been possible to achieve radical change on some issues from the bottom up.
    It can sometimes be an advantage to be below the radar of the large capitalist corporations and their well funded lobbyists. On certain issues campaigners have worked town by town, city by city winning the argument until a nationwide momentum has built which eventually overwhelms the corporate vested interests who are entrenched in Congress. People action at local level reaches the parts the lobbyist cannot reach.
    I can envisage a similar popular participatory democracy in the U K or a regionalised England. In fact we already have it to an extent — eg something good goes through the Scotland Parliament, then the Wales Assembly, then people in England start to demand it.

  • The ‘Power to the People’ policy paper at conference last week had a great premise to allow :

    ‘devolution to any principal local authority (or group of principal local authorities with contiguous boundaries) which has a population of a million or more people’

    This means if an area feels a sense of identity and wants to devolve it can (like Cornwall) and areas that don’t want to devolve don’t get additional layers of local government they don’t want (like the failed Mayoral system of the previous government).

    This nails the reason why devolution proposals in England have failed time and again – its always been centrally organised and dictated by Westminster. With this policy its bottom up, if Yorkshire wants a regional assembly more it can have it, if Manchester and the surrounding authorities want to build a ‘city region’ they can. Its self organising and flexible for what the local community wants, if they don’t want it they won’t vote for it.

    I really believe this flexible system will finally transfer powers from Westminster to the regions. Love it 🙂

  • Stephen Hesketh 19th Mar '14 - 9:21pm

    I agree with the last two posts from John Tilley and Gareth Wilson.
    @Matthew Huntbach “Whatever elaborate system of regional assemblies you set up, real power would remain with the City of London Bankers and the global financial elite.”. Why would you assume that support for local and regional government together with opposition to the excesses of any financial elite are mutually exclusive? Local democracy and decentralisation must surely help weaken financial and political monopolies.
    @DarthBeeftrix … surely local control over local matters and national control over national and international matters more closely approaches the situation in C19th England?

  • Gareth Wilson The fact that Cornwall only has half a million people living there, clearly doesn’t meet the population criterion of the Lib Dem policy you mention. But then Cornwall has always had to fight like a tiger to get statistical differences recognised, eg the fight to get Cornwall recognised and separately measured economically from Devon, whicg ultimately brought substantial EU aid.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Mar '14 - 12:54am

    Stephen Hesketh (in reply to me)

    Why would you assume that support for local and regional government together with opposition to the excesses of any financial elite are mutually exclusive?

    Why do you assume I say that? It’s not what I said, it’s not at all what I said. Please go back and read what I actually said, then I might be able to reply to you if you write something that actually reflects it.

  • Shirley Campbell 20th Mar '14 - 5:05am

    Thankfully, policy motion F14, which seemingly included the proposal for an “English Devolution Enabling Act”, is merely a proposal and is unlikely to reach the statute books. As has been suggested, it would make more sense to give greater powers to the various county councils, greater powers and a greater slice of the financial cake.

    Here in Devon, the county council will have to close its day centres and residential homes because, apparently, it cannot afford the cost of running them. Devon is not an affluent county; it harbours pockets of deprivation. There would be an outcry from the public if it increased council tax, and, seemingly, its grant from central government has been drastically reduced.

    However, in the County of Devon, we have had a massive amount of money spent on a “Transform” neighbourhood programme, and now, to satisfy the “localism” agenda, yet more money is being dished out for a “Neighbourhood Community Budget”. None of these so-called initiatives addresses concrete issues. Twice in the past decade, I have entertained market research company employees in my living room but to no avail since none of my suggestions has been taken on board. “Localism” is all talk and precious little else. If any powers are to be devolved, they should be devolved to existing county councils together with adequate funds to fulfil their existing statutory and social duties.

    I live my life at grass roots level and I see much of this “localism” as being parochialism. Yes, I am a Liberal and I have interests outside my immediate neighbourhood. I despise the ignorance of certain of my neighbours who support the EDL, and I am shocked to hear that there are people in Cornwall who seek separation because of their “cultural and genetic” differences. How are Cornish people “genetically” different from the rest of us?

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Mar '14 - 10:45am

    Shirley Campbell

    Localism” is all talk and precious little else. If any powers are to be devolved, they should be devolved to existing county councils together with adequate funds to fulfil their existing statutory and social duties.

    Indeed.This whole talk of devolution and setting up assemblies and the like is based on the notion that councils are the main force which “runs things” in their area. They aren’t, in our country it is big business that runs things, councils are just left picking up the pieces where big business can’t make a profit, and big business is, of course, doing all it can to avoid paying tax which might be used to fund picking up the pieces. I remember having this sort of argument when I was a councillor – people just assumed that as the council “runs things” it could choose which shops opened up on the high street, which entertainment facilities were provided, and so on. I had to patiently explain that, no, councils could not do that. If one of the big chains felt our area was not wealthy enough for them to open a branch in it, they wouldn’t do so, the council could not force them to do so. People would often ask as yet another shop turned into a cheap take-away “Why can’t it be a greengrocers/butchers/fishmongers/etc like it used to be?”. I had to patiently explain that this was because the previous business had closed down because its owners could not make a profit from it, the council could not just magic up someone to take it over, and could not force people to carry on shopping at these small shops rather than go to supermarkets. When the council is struggling for funds to run even the most basic services that a council must run, it can’t do anything else, it can’t set up alternatives to big business and persuade people to use them and so stop the way life and culture is dominated by how the big business executives make it.

    My point about Simon Rix was that all he’s writing is waffle. He has not given us anything about how the Assembly he wants to set up would be able to change the way the economy is and so achieve this “local control” he wants. We need some real practical suggestions, real powers these assemblies can have, and details of how they can be paid for. Without that, they are just talking shops, the politicians in them patsies for people’s anger, taking the hits because people assume “You are meant to be running things here, but you’re doing a bad job” but actually having no real power to change what makes people feel so dissatisfied with how things are.

  • Matthew Huntbach

    It is not unreasonable for you to ask for more detail about how Assemblies would run, be financed etc.
    It is also not unreasonable for you to identify the power of private corporations and question the ability of smaller units of government to be able to counter that power when the Westminster Government does such a poor job.

    I would suggest that the smaller a unit of democracy and the closer that it is to the people, the easier it is for the people to exert real influence and to be genuinely involved. Of all the levels of democracy within the UK, it could be argued that traditional country councils have been the most remote and least participatory. I live in a London Borough which has effectively been a Unitary authority for the last fifty years. It works quite well. In forty years of knocking on doors I do not remember anyone demanding that Kingston return to Surrey and be run from Surrey County Hall. Bizarrely the HQ of Surrey County Council remains in this County Hall a large grand building in Kingston, a London borough. Residents of Guildford or any of the leafy bits of southern Surrey (a long way away by even the fastest public transport) have to travel to Kingston to visit the HQ of their County. Obviously this is an unusual example of remoteness, but a very real one.

    This is not a full response to your various points in your comment, it is just some of the ideas which it prompted.

  • @ShirleyCampbell

    Hang on – don’t make us a straw man for your argument with a poster on this website, because we’re really not like this! I feel like we’re getting unfairly characterised now by what someone has written, most folks down here that say these things aren’t Cornish at all! I’m pretty certain from his post that Simon isn’t, so lets not tar the county with a brush we’ve been trying to escape for years just because a PPC seems to know very little about the people whose vote he wants (e.g. me and mine). Since the establishment of the Unitary Authority local support for an Assembly has dissipated greatly.

    We had all of this with An Gof years back (this rhetoric inevitably leads to people spraypainting “English go home” on the bridges, happens once every 20 years or so). We’re not bigots, and I’m offended at the suggestion we’re in any way like the EDL – Simon Rix doesn’t speak for us (and never will at this rate).


  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Mar '14 - 1:57pm

    John Tilley

    Well, I was twelve years a councillor in a London Borough, for half of those Leader of the Opposition. However, I increasingly came to feel being a councillor was setting oneself up as an Aunt Sally – people assumed you had a lot more power than you really had, so you got the blame for a lot of things you couldn’t really do much about. Sure, as Leader of the Opposition my job was to pull holes in what the majority party was doing (and in later years The Mayor), but I grew to dislike intensely the game where you had to pretend it would all be wonderfully better and different if you ran things, whereas you knew the constraints councils run under meant in reality you’d have to do much the same as they did.

    Seeing how difficult it was then, goodness knows how it must be now, with local government as usual getting the cuts made and being told be central government “Here’s your reduced budget, get on with making the real cuts in service”.

  • Matthew Huntbach
    Yes I agree it must be much worse now. The removal of powers and funding by central government during the Thatcher, Major, Blair , Brown and Coalition Governments has steadily eroded he ability of councillors to have much of a task beyond imposing someone else’s cuts.
    Unfortunately so many politicians of all parties at Westminster level have little or no knowledge of local democracy. I used to think it would be different with Liberal Democrat MPs and to be fair some Liberal Democrat MPs have been different. Here in Kingston we used to have an excellent MP who had spent years as a councillor in Richmond and has worked for the decades and still works for the cause though now in the House of Lords. Irony is that she has been forced out of the party by Clegg’s gang because she spoke the truth on Palestine.

  • Chris Manners 20th Mar '14 - 6:30pm

    ” Here in Kingston we used to have an excellent MP who had spent years as a councillor in Richmond and has worked for the decades and still works for the cause though now in the House of Lords. Irony is that she has been forced out of the party by Clegg’s gang because she spoke the truth on Palestine.”

    She might have a few problems from that time as a councillor coming up in the near future…

    But I agree, she was a doughty sort.

  • Stephen Hesketh 20th Mar '14 - 8:00pm

    @Shirley Campbell “How are Cornish people “genetically” different from the rest of us?” Us being the ‘English’?
    All the regions show differences but Cornwall is indeed genetically distinct. More worrying altogether is that Lancashire and Yorkshire folk are pretty similar … must be being the wrong side of the Pennines that makes them (the Yorkists) odd 🙂
    Take a look at: http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2012/120703.html

  • I can’t think that anybody would believe that it would be wise to base regional boundaries on prevalent blood type or any other genetic marker.

  • Stephen Hesketh 20th Mar '14 - 8:45pm

    @Matthew Huntbach [20th Mar ’14 – 12:54am ]
    So we actually agree? We should use European and National governments to take power back from over powerful, tax avoiding multi-nationals and then to ensure that those powers most appropriately exercised locally are decentralised and taken up locally and/or regionally?

    I just think that John Tilley’s post [19th Mar ’14 – 3:15pm] and Gareth Wilson’s [19th Mar ’14 – 4:35pm] are significantly more positive and nicely sum up my own position regarding local and regional government.
    I have never been a Councillor but can totally understand your comment: “Here’s your reduced budget, get on with making the real cuts in service” – but to me that sounds like an argument for increased local and regional powers (combined with removing power from the centre be it Westminster, the Square Mile or state GDP-sized multi-nationals.) Devo-max for England and Cornwall!

  • jedibeeftrix 23rd Mar '14 - 1:48pm

    @ Stephen Hothsketh – “surely local control over local matters and national control over national and international matters more closely approaches the situation in C19th England?”


    I am not persuaded that a mere half million people need their own layer of government.

    Does every half million people in britain need its own government?

    Wales and Scotland at least have a number of people roughly ten times the size, and nearly ten percent of the total.

    But Cornwall…

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