Dick Cole, leader of Mebyon Kernow - the Party for Cornwall MK Spring Conference Address
Mebyon Kernow councillors and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates
These are the people who, unlike their counterparts at Westminster, have worked many years with little personal gain, save that of knowing they do their utmost for the people of Cornwall. Their main objective is to deliver a law-making Cornish Assembly that will ensure that the people of Cornwall will have the power to make decisions and policy based upon what is best for Cornwall.
May 7th is the day that the people of Cornwall have a rare choice; to continue with the politics of Westminster as usual, ensuring that Cornwall’s position as one of the poorest areas in the UK and the wider EU is maintained:
1 Housing targets that ensures more inward migration to Cornwall rather than a sensible, proportionate figure, that should reflect the rise of the local population. Westminster’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will ensure more stress will be placed upon Cornwall’s already creaking and fragile infrastructure.
2 Developer greed, rather than local need.
3 DevonWall: still on the agenda
5 Austerity: Westminster’s funding withdrawn, resulting in even more cuts that will see many of Cornwall’s front-line services cut or disappear altogether.
Or Change for the Better:
The people of Cornwall can vote for Mebyon Kernow, thus ensuring that decisions and policies are made IN Cornwall that are best suited for the people of Cornwall via a law-making Cornish Assembly. It was evident that the people of Scotland’s massive support for the SNP was responsible for those shockwaves felt by Westminster’s politicians that brought about promises of more devolved powers for Scotland.
Also, just as the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) served to enshrine the Cornish identity, then a law-making Cornish Assembly will serve to enshrine Cornwall’s identity within the UK and to be rid of a ‘county’ administration that is nothing more than a ‘charity cloak’ which has done nothing over the decades to protect the people of Cornwall from the ill-wind of poverty; a ‘county’ status that has undermined Cornwall’s unique cultural, historical identity and lumped together with terms such as ‘Devon & Cornwall’ ‘Westcountry’ ‘South West’ and ‘Region’.
The myths that the opponents of devolution often peddle is that old chestnut of affordability. How often do you hear “An Assembly will never work – how can we possibly afford it?” Of course the Westmister parties quite often preface this at the moment with “In these times of austerity …”
If you’re not really into politics then you might not know why the question is ridiculous – it might even seem quite reasonable. If you are a unionist politician then you probably know why it is ridiculous – and yet you will continue to pose it because it is a great way to pull the rug from under a desire for democratic self-determination.
The way that devoloution works is that a financial settlement is is negotiated and then this settlement becomes the budget of the devolved body. Very simple really.
For Cornwall the settlement will be based on what the UK governement would normally expect to spend on the areas of devolved government in Cornwall. In other words a law-making Cornish Assembly would not cost anybody any more than they already pay.
People across the UK pay taxes and some of the tax is used to pay for government services in Cornwall. Devolution would give the power to Cornwall to decide how best to spend the money that is already being spent – no additional costs for either people who live in Cornwall or those that live elesewhere.
In fact there is a strong argument that devolution would save the UK money in the long term. Westminster has done an awful job of looking after Cornwall’s economy. Our GDP is less than 75% of the European average – our economy is similar to that of several Eastern European countries. This is why we qualify for European funding. We believe that a Cornish Assembly could improve our economy as it would understand it a lot better than an assistant to an under-under secretary working from a broom cupboard 300 miles away in London. If the economy improves then Cornwall would contribute more to the UK pot through a higher amount of tax.
We do need to negotiate a realistic settlement in first place though. Westminster has consistently underfunded Cornwall for decades – to Cornwall’s detriment and to the advantage of English regions and cities. We need a fair settlement based on what the UK government should be spending in Cornwall compared to England. Wales received a notoriously unfair settlement and getting a fair amount of funding from Westminster is now proving to be like trying to wring blood from a stone.
Frequently Asked Questions Q1. Isn’t Cornwall just too small for its own Assembly?
A1. There are many independent countries, with populations smaller than that of Cornwall. These include Iceland (320,000), Luxembourg (525,000) and Malta (453,000). There are also countless examples of smaller regions that have devolved governments. This was acknowledged in central government’s 2002 White Paper Your Region, Your Choice, which recorded regions such as Vorarlberg, Austria (350,000), Corsica, France (300,000), Valle d’Aosta, Italy (115,000), Flevoland, Netherlands (330,000) and Navarra, Spain (540,000).
Q2. We already have a unitary authority. Shouldn’t we just ask for more powers for Cornwall Council?
A2. There is a widespread misconception that Cornwall Council could somehow evolve into a Cornish Assembly, without any wider political reforms. A law-making Cornish Assembly would represent national government – controlling the majority of the public sector in Cornwall including the National Health Service, all aspects of education, a wide range of public bodies, and local government. In terms of local government, MK’s model mirrors that of Scotland, which has 32 principal local authorities below the Parliament, and Wales, which is served by 22 principal local authorities beneath the National Assembly.
Q3. Wouldn’t a National Assembly of Cornwall simply be another layer of expensive politicians?
A3. The National Assembly of Cornwall would be responsible for making strategic decisions about Cornwall’s future. It would bring greater decision-making back to Cornwall, and it would do away with the need for so many unelected bodies. It would also lead to a significant reduction in the number of unelected individuals on such bodies with little or no democratic control.
Q4. Wouldn’t a National Assembly cost us all a lot more?
A4. Mebyon Kernow is confident that a new democratic settlement for Cornwall would actually save money and boost the Cornish economy. The increased democratisation of the UK would lead to the abolition of a large number of unelected bodies, and the National Assembly of Cornwall would also ensure that much of the business of government and administration, presently carried out in places such as Bristol or London, would be happening in Cornwall – creating a significant number of well-paid new jobs. A National Assembly would also be best placed to manage the expenditure of the majority of the public sector in Cornwall and to create the conditions to develop a more successful and sustainable Cornish economy.
Q5. Wouldn’t it be better for Cornwall to be part of a greater SW region or to join forces with Devon?
A5. Since the 1960s, central government, big business and unelected and unaccountable quangos have been vigorously pursuing a south west or devonwall policy solution for Cornwall. It has been variously argued that Cornwall’s interests were best served by merging Cornwall institutionally with Devon or regionalism on the “big south west” model even though Cornwall and its representatives would inevitably be in a minority. We have been told that the wider south west option would enhance the political and economic “clout” of Cornwall. In practice, evidence of this regionalism over the past four decades shows that the reverse has happened and is continuing to happen. Our economic performance is significantly behind the rest of the UK, our wages have fallen steadily further behind the UK average and Cornish jobs have been exported eastwards. We lost the Cornish Police Force to merger in the 1960s and, since then, the centralisation of a range of public bodies and organisations has undermined the Cornish economy and cost thousands of Cornish jobs.
Q6. What would be the point of MPs after a National Assembly came into being?
A6. The National Assembly of Cornwall would not be independent of the UK – it would be an integral and empowered part of the governance of the United Kingdom. Local MPs would still need to play a full and constructive role at Westminster, representing Cornish perspectives on a wide range of issues that the National Assembly would not be responsible for, such as foreign policy and defence.
Q7. Could you give an example of how it would work?
A7. Over the last few years, the unitary authority has been debating what Cornwall’s housing target should be for the period 2010–2030. Central government claims that local councils can make the decision, but it has put in place an inspection regime that forces them to adopt higher targets than the majority of residents would prefer. As a result of this, the debate has been less about what is right for Cornwall, but more about what target councillors could get past central government. If there was a National Assembly of Cornwall, the housing target would be agreed locally. All related planning policies would also be devised in Cornwall, with the National Assembly producing a Planning Policy Framework to replace the NPPF produced by central government. The planning appeal process would also be controlled from within Cornwall.
Q8. Would the new Assembly need a new purpose-built building?
A8. Mebyon Kernow considers that the National Assembly of Cornwall would not need such a new building. It is the view of the Party for Cornwall that existing buildings already in the public sector, such as New County Hall, could accommodate the new democratic settlement for Cornwall.