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Why, as the poorest county in England does Cornwall think it deserves its own assembly? (Apologies if this is a loaded question it is unentional)?

I think I’m qualified to answer this: I can trace my Cornish ancestry through the centuries, and I’ve holidayed in Cornwall every year until we moved here, seven years ago.

The simple answer is that Cornwall doesn’t think that it deserves its own assembly.

Let me explain. There is a, very untrue, assumption that the Cornish want their independence. While this has some grain of truth, this is not the dominant feeling throughout the county, and is mainly fiction spouted from people ‘upcountry’, who love to believe that all Cornish people are fierce nationalists. Although there is evidence that could be argued in favour for independence, this is usually misconstrued. There is, however, a great feeling of resentment towards Cornwall’s leading authority: Cornwall Council.

This is my reasoning behind this:

Throughout history, Cornwall has stood as an area of defiance. The Celts rebelled against the Romans, the Cornish rebelled against Christianity, then they rebelled against the crown switching the Bible/services from Latin to English. The area has tried to hold on to its own identity for thousands of years.

This is the issue: Cornwall is not ‘Cornwall’ anymore. The Romantic image of rugged headlands, straight out of ‘Poldark‘, is just that: an image. The reality is vastly different. To begin with, for every Cornish person you meet, you will encounter nine ‘upcountry’ people who have moved down here. Now, this shouldn’t be a problem; migration is a good thing. Yet this follows the undeniable fact the that richer folk and opportunists are increasingly buying the homes and flats (which are in great demand down here), just for second homes and to let. The actual Cornish people who need and want to live here full-time, have become out-priced for any future homes, while holiday homes stand empty. This is a problem for all millennials and those trying to get on the housing ladder, throughout the country; but it is a particular issue in Cornwall. The Cornish feel so strongly about this, that St. Ives (which has been dubbed ‘Kensington-On-Sea’ by journalists) shall be soon holding a referendum to ban people from buying second homes, because the area has become a ghost town. (This seaside town is having a referendum on banning second homes)

The second issue is that the Cornish are finding that their self-identity is being destroyed. They hold on to their traditional festivals as much as possible, but even they have become exploited for tourism purposes.  Piece by piece, Cornwall is being eroded. This is most evident through evaluating the Cornish language. The Gaelic Cornish had been spoken in Cornwall for hundreds of years, and the English language was finally widely adopted throughout the region in 1750; this alone shows a reluctance to accept the imposed English identity. Yet the most astonishing fact is that the last well-known fluent speaker of the Cornish language (prior to its resurgence in 1904), Dolly Pentreath, died in 1777, just twenty-seven years after the English language crept into the region. I believe that this is a fantastic way of looking at the modern Cornwall now: it has held on to its own identity for many years, but within a short space of time, it has been  heavily suppressed.

Now, you may be wondering what the language really has to do with anything, seeing as the last fluent speaker died so long ago. The issue is that in 2003, the government granted special funding to Cornwall County Council, to enable the widespread teaching of the Cornish language in schools. This was a wonderful idea, bolstered further with joyous news of a Cornish GCSE. Even though Cornish has been taught (at a low-level) in some primary schools, it was not widespread. ‘Cornish language funding was axed by the government in April 2016. This dealt a great blow to Cornwall’s heritage, and has greatly upset many locals. The irony is that Cornish phrases appear on many things such as tourist items, the radio, and even street signs; yet most people in Cornwall cannot read them. I think that the fact that Cornwall has been granted minority status, and yet the funding for its own language, just as ancient as Welsh and Scottish Gaelic, has been cut, really frustrates the region. The language has a rich history, that is not being preserved for future generations.

Alongside the abandonment of the Cornish language, this growing feeling of resentment is well-founded in the county. The patron saints of England (St. George), Scotland (St. Andrew), Wales (St. David), and Northern Ireland (St. Patrick), are all widely recognized as public holidays and big events in their respective regions. Have you ever heard of St. Piran? The Cornish saint is well-regarded here, and beloved. Yes, we do have a small celebration, but nothing compared to St. George. Once again, the Cornish equivalent, no less than the other countries’ saints, is ignored by the wayside. Every year, the Cornish ask: ‘ Should St Piran’s Day be a Bank Holiday in Cornwall?‘, and every year their attempt yields no positive results (although this may change:  Council to again debate making St Piran’s Day a bank holiday in Cornwall).

This theme is found everywhere in Cornwall, in comparison to the otehr members of the UK. The Union Jack the ‘Cross of Saint Andrew’, the ‘Cross of Saint Patrick’, and the ‘Cross of Saint George’. Admittedly, the Welsh dragon does not appear on the flag, however it is indirectly represented through the flag of England, which represented the former Kingdom of England, which included Wales. In that respect, the Cornish flag is viewed as nothing more than a novelty item sold to tourists, rather than the flag of a nation.

Haggis is fiercely protected by Scotland, as Welsh rarebit and cawl, and the Ulster Fry are all protected by Wales and Northern Ireland, respectively. The pasty is, undeniably and unequivocally, Cornish. Created for the miners so that they’d be able to have a decent meal while down the mines, the Cornish pasty is our proud food. Yet, nothing is sacred down here. Although Cornwall was only granted the minority status in 2014, it was in 2011 that the Cornish pasty won protected status from European commission. This meant that you cannot call it a ‘Cornish’ pasty if the item in question was not produced physically down here; this was in order to protect small businesses and bakers. This was supposed to be a step in the right direction…it was not. To this day, I have been (or know people who have been) to Aberystwyth, Cardiff, Southerndown, Somerset, Devon, Germany, and Denmark, where ‘Cornish Pasties’ have been sold that were quite clearly not made down here. All this does (besides exposing people to horrible fake pasties) is lie to the consumers, and take business away from actual Cornish Pasty Association approved pasty makers. If this was happening on such a widespread scale to Scotland’s Haggis, this would not be a quiet, unresolved matter.

As mentioned above, Cornwall’s festivals are also suffering. The Stithians Show is a county show which has been held annually since 1834. It is one of the many events happening around the county throughout the year. Why is this a problem? Well, although this may be the case for other areas in the UK, it is a real problem in Cornwall that it seems that every single cultural event of festival that happens throughout the academic school year, children are banned from attending. The Stithians Show happens in late July, and all school children are banned from attending the one day show. This is frustrating as a lot of business and farm owners need their children there to help them, but if the children are ever pulled out of school to attend, the parents will be hit with a fine. How is it feasible that Cornish children are banned from an event which holds cultural or monetary significance to them? This also holds true for Floral Day and St. Piran’s Day, both two cultural significant events in the Cornish calendar, that children are banned from attending if it falls on a school day. This is basic denial of children learning their cultural heritage.

Yes, Cornwall is physically smaller than the other minority countries, but this doesn’t make the county any less. Despite having some of the best teams in the rugby league (see: Cornish Pirates), who have players playing for England; we have no Cornwall team itself. This is understandable (albeit still annoying) that we have no representation for international football, but not having an official rugby team makes no sense. This is a common theme in Cornwall; we are either purposefully left out or forgotten. The representation of Cornwall as a place full of country bumpkins (no thanks in part to Clive Aslett’s piece: Who wants country bumpkins for children?) has been longstanding. Cornwall is a cultured area with a world-renowned theatre group (Kneehigh Theatre), and successful actors, musicians, academics, and sports personalities. Yet we are still overlooked for everything. It has taken years for the Stadium for Cornwall to be approved.. We very rarely hold high-profile concerts or theatre tours, and Cornwall is frequently over-looked on political campaign trails (although Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party, has promised to travel to Cornwall in the near future, he did not tour the region once during his 2015 leadership campaign). Another insight to the lack of real focus on the Cornish area, is the proposed High Speed 2 (HS2) railway is set to connect London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Leeds, Sheffield, and Manchester. Although linking between London and the north of England is a good plan, it is a high speed link between Cornwall and London, that is greatly needed. The project is projected to cost £42.6 billion to build, with a further £7.5 billion for additional trains. This is an incredible amount of money to spend just to save 30-40 minutes on the long journey). The worrisome factor is that the Phase 1 link between London and Birmingham is set to be built by 2026-2027, with the Phase 2 link to Leeds and Manchester to be built by 2032-2033. This frustrates the Cornish as the journey from London to Cornwall is 4/5 hours plus, which leads to sky-high ticket prices (even with discounts and travel cards), for an incredibly uncomfortably long journey. This leads to a domino effect of businesses unwilling to expand in the region, as well as a ‘Brain Drain’ in the Cornish area: the price to commute between Cornwall and the capital is simply not worth it, so the best and brightest of the West Country usually do not return to Cornwall. The general consensus within Cornwall is one of great annoyance; the government and others do somewhat recognize the area, but we get little to no real benefits as the other recognized minorities do.

The above may put forth a good argument for why it may appear that Cornwall wants its own assembly and own independence, but there is more to the romanticized and fictional idea of the Cornish, the last ‘hard-done-by’ independent warriors, ‘wanting their independence’. However, there is more. In May 2015, the government passed  the ‘Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016’. Now, many (usually people from across the Tamar) heralded this as a great achievement for the Cornish, especially as Cornwall was the first county to received these new powers. The truth is, despite all of our frustrations with how Cornwall has been treated in recent years, we are still a proud member of the UK, and most of us do not want this to change. When this change was announced, there were great discussions among the Cornish, and the general consensus was one of worry. Why? We do not trust our council. As you say in the question title, Cornwall is the poorest county in the UK, and many families are on the same poverty level as those living in Romania. Cornwall Council has had a shocking amount of cuts to their budget since the Conservatives were elected in 2010, but that’s not to say that they don’t squander the money. Many of the citizens in the county are desperately poor, yet Cornwall Council though it was a fantastic idea to install a £30,000 bus lane, that was absolutely not needed. The bus lane, installed in Truro in November 2015, was scrapped just weeks later when it was realized that the bus lane confused drivers and was utterly useless. It was scrapped at the extra cost of £60,000 . One of the key features of the ‘Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016’ was to allow new powers for transport, policing, EU funding, business support, employment, energy, health and social care, heritage and culture, and public estate. As well as the sheer incompetence shown regarding the bus lane decision, a re-adjustment to the Trafalgar roundabout was announced in 2014/2015, which not only  cost an estimated £3.43 million, (which was  £1.2 million over the anticipated price), it caused major disruption for months, and has since served only to  gridlock the Truro traffic . If  you were to ask anyone here about these two instances, you would immediately feel the anger. There are no excuses for this decisions when there are Cornish people who are near destitute, homeless, and hungry; yet Cornwall Council spends a total of at least £90,000 on a bus lane that was neither wanted nor used for more than two weeks, and over £3.43 million on a roundabout that still doesn’t work properly two years on. The basic point that I am trying to make is that Cornwall doesn’t necessarily demand its own assembly or want its independence, we just want competent people to run Cornwall Council, and to be recognized for our cultural and artistic heritage which is so overlooked by the government.

Therefore, in conclusion, the above could be construed as evidence for Cornwall wanting independence, but this is not the case. The Cornish are frustrated by their representation in comparison to the other minority status areas, and there is, undeniably, a widespread mistrust in our authority figures. Granted, some members of the Cornish community do want independence and have set up the Mebyon Kernow, The Party for Cornwall (Cornish Nationalist Party), but you can tell exactly what the majority of locals think about the legitimacy of the CNP, just by looking at the Mebyon Kernow election results (they lost every constituency, and received just 1.9% of the total vote) . The supporters of the CNP, are usually just ignored or laughed at. The majority of the Cornish do not want independence, they just want to be recognized. We like being a part of the United Kingdom, and we do not want this to necessarily change. We, the  Cornish, have been granted ‘Minority Status’, with culture and heritage on par with Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Therefore, what we actually want is the same recognition as Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland; we are legally recognized as the same (Cornish people are formally declared a national minority), yet we are not treated with the same acknowledgment as the other minorities.. That’s all we want, proper recognition on a national and international stage.

Cornwall is a not a county purely for the entertainment and enjoyment of tourists, nor are we daring nationalists who want to fight for our freedom; we are a community who believe we should receive the recognition that we deserve (as well as a competent governing body), on par with Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Our size, nor our economy (particularly our economy) shouldn’t matter.