Sunday, 22 January 2012

A referendum for Scotland: what about Cornwall?

My column in last week's Cornish Guardian focussed on the coming referendum on Independence for Scotland. It was as follows:

Rows over the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence has dominated the United Kingdom media, with numerous headlines referring to the potential “Break-up of Britain,” or a “Battle for Britain” pitching “Braveheart versus Lionheart.”

This follows the electoral success of the Scottish National Party in 2011, when it won overall control of the Scottish Parliament. It has announced a multi-option referendum for 2014, which will allow the people of Scotland to choose between (i) the status quo, (ii) the devolution of further powers (described as “devo-max”) to their existing Parliament or (iii) outright independence.

The SNP and Mebyon Kernow are both members of the European Free Alliance – a federation of political parties campaigning for varying degrees of greater self-government.

I follow the progress of sister parties such as the SNP with great interest but, as a Cornishman and a resident of Cornwall, it is not for me to say what is right for Scotland. The decision on their future governance is clearly one for the residents of that historic nation to take and we should fully respect their decision.

But whatever happens there are implications for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Recent days have already seen a series of increasingly fractious rows between the SNP and an alliance of politicians from the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.

The debates have certainly been robust. The SNP, for example, challenged the mandate of David Cameron to “interfere” by commenting that there were more Giant Pandas in Edinburgh Zoo than Conservative MPs north of the Tweed.

But much of it has been extremely bad spirited and I was particularly appalled to watch last week’s Question Time (held in London) and witness the aggressive hectoring of the SNP’s Deputy Leader Nicola Sturgeon.

It is also interesting to note that the arguments being wheeled out against Scottish independence – it is too small or too poor or too weak to stand on its own feet – bear a striking resemblance to arguments used against Cornish demands for greater powers within the United Kingdom.

It is my view that, over the next two-three years, and irrespective of happens in Scotland, there needs to be a mature, respectful and wide-ranging debate about the future of the United Kingdom, and how it is governed.

Surely now is the time to address the unequal constitutional relationships between the various nations and regions of the UK, and to tackle the centralising influence of London and the South East of England.

And as part of this debate, we must be allowed to make the case for the meaningful devolution of political powers to Cornwall.

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