Saturday, 13 September 2014

Lib Dems unveil (unclear) plans for a Cornish Assembly

The Liberal Democrats yesterday published a press release with the heading: “Lib Dem plans for a Cornish Assembly unveiled.”

It stated:

The Liberal Democrats have announced that they will campaign at the next General Election to introduce a Cornish Assembly.

Liberal Democrats in Cornwall have long fought for greater powers for the Duchy and for recognition of “Cornwall’s unique heritage, culture and constitutional status.”

In 2009, Dan Rogerson MP introduced the Government of Cornwall Bill to Parliament which proposed a legislative Assembly for Cornwall similar to the National Assembly for Wales.

Introducing a Cornish Assembly was already a national Liberal Democrat party policy, but will now feature in the party’s planned manifesto for the next General Election in May 2015.

The press release followed the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s launch of a Liberal Democrat ‘pre-manifesto,’ which they said contained a commitment to greater Cornish self-government.

Sadly, I have to be very cynical about the announcement.

I cannot forget that the Lib Dems contested the 2005 General Election and 2005 Cornwall County Council elections with a Cornish Manifesto, which included a commitment to a Cornish Assembly. And, upon winning control of the County Council that year, they published a list of priorities that included a pledge to “establish detailed plans for a Cornish Assembly” within their first year of office. The Lib Dems did not take this pledge forward and, even worse, pushed through the centralisation of local government in Cornwall – undermining the case for a Cornish Assembly that they claimed to support.

However, I have looked at the pre-manifesto document, and the relevant section which is “7.2 Devolving power in England” (sic). It states the following and the relevant statement is highlighted in red.

Liberal Democrats believe that in England too, far too much power remains concentrated in Westminster; ours is one of the most centralised countries in the Western world and that has to change.

Only by returning power to the communities, villages, towns, cities and regions of England can we drive growth, improve public services and give people the freedom to run their own lives.

We will:
• Reduce the powers of the Department of Communities and Local Government to interfere in democratically elected local government in England.
• Remove the requirement to hold local referenda for Council Tax changes in England.
• Build on the success of City Deals and Growth Deals, to devolve more power and resources to groups of local authorities and local enterprise partnerships, starting with back to work support.
• Introduce ‘Devolution on Demand,’ enabling even greater devolution of powers from Westminster to councils or groups of councils working together (for example to a Cornish Assembly).
• Establish a commission to explore the scope for greater devolution of financial responsibility to English local authorities, and new devolved bodies in England.

I am not impressed and it is all so confused. Why is the “commitment” to a Cornish Assembly couched in the terminology of local government? And why does reference to “Growth Deals” have to be to “groups of local authorities” and unelected and unaccountable “local enterprise partnerships”? And what are the “new devolved bodies” in the final bullet-point.

In the coming days, I will be seeking clarity and further details from local Liberal Democrats about their less-than-clear "proposal."

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