Monday, 17 November 2014

Extracts from my Conference speech

For those people who were unable to attend the recent MK Conference, I focused quite strongly on the need for democratic reform and the devolution of greater powers to Cornwall. The relevant extracts from my speech are as follows:

Westminster politics

Confidence in Westminster politics is at an all-time low.

And is it any wonder?

The House of Commons and the House of Lords are still dominated by the same old establishment parties.

And their placemen control all manner of unelected and accountable quangos that litter the very core of the civic life of Britain.

A political elite – career politicians – they are far removed from the reality of what happens in our lives. They put the needs of the powerful, the banks and big business ahead of ordinary people like you and I.

In their cynical politics, they have little idea about the day-to-day struggles of ordinary people, who are working hard to get by, battling to make ends meet, sometimes juggling multiple jobs to simply pay the bills.

The present London-centred political system – with its top-down politics – is well and truly broken. It is not working. And more and more people are coming to that obvious conclusion.

St Piran’s Oratory and National Minority status

The uncovering of the historic chapel of our national saint is truly symbolic – and it is fitting that it is also happening in the very same year that central government bowed to years of pressure to recognise the Cornish as a national minority through the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection for National Minorities.

Doesn’t that last statement sound just wonderful.

It is indeed wonderful that all the Celtic peoples of the United Kingdom– the Cornish, the Irish, the Scottish and the Welsh – will be afforded equal protection through the Framework Convention.

Hundreds and hundreds of people – from all aspects of Cornish life – have played their part in this campaign. I see many of you here today.

And make no mistake – this formal recognition of the Cornish is a landmark decision of momentous political significance and it could – and should – help shape the very future of our nation.

Government departments and public bodies will now be required to take the specific needs of Cornwall into account when formulating policy and making decisions.

And we have to find a way to ensure that the cultural recognition embodied in minority status is followed by a wider acceptance of our right to greater control over our political, civic, and economic lives through the creation of a legislative National Assembly of Cornwall.


We certainly owe a great debt to the people of Scotland for the manner in which they have debated the future governance of their country over the last two years.

And how the process has energised voters and shown that “politics as usual” is no longer acceptable.

Some months ago, Colin Fox from the Scottish Socialist Party wrote:

"No country in the world is more engaged in the democratic debate over self-determination than Scotland today. The referendum has energised people to a remarkable extent with debates on the 'democratic deficit' at the heart of Scottish politics now taking place in households, schools, workplaces, village halls and community centres from one end of the country to the other.”

The First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, rightly described the whole process as a “triumph for democracy,” while even the Better Together campaign acknowledged that there was a “cry for change,” which was likely to be “echoed in every part of the UK.

Alex Salmond is also right that the “real guardians of progress are not the politicians at Westminster … but the energised activism of tens of thousands of people” who he predicted “will refuse to go back into the political shadows.”

Friends, it is up to us to ensure that the echo from Cornwall reverberates across the length and breadth of the whole United Kingdom, and we must – with confidence – put our case for Cornwall into the political spotlight, and build the momentum to bring home significant political and economic powers to our local communities.

Four nations or five nations?

Many Westminster politicians are now talking about devolution or new democratic settlements for the “four nations” of the United Kingdom.

David Cameron pledged “a balanced settlement – fair to people in Scotland, and … to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.”

Kirsty Williams of the Welsh Liberal Democrats has talked about "four distinct nations” with their “own ambitions, own needs and own outlooks." Nations, which she said, all needed a “place at the table.”

Gordon Brown has spoken of the specific rights and needs of the “minority nations” of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. He has also expressed his concern at the “disregard” shown to the “smaller nations” of the UK by Westminster Governments.

That is all a bit fine from the man who was Chancellor, when we presented 50,000 declarations demanding a Cornish Assembly to 10 Downing Street in 2001.

And whose Government dismissed the declarations and refused to consider our calls for greater powers for Cornwall.

The truth is that the Westminster parties have a blind spot when it comes to the historic Celtic nation of Cornwall.

To them - when it comes to democratic reforms – we are the invisible nation that cannot be mentioned.

Well – I have a message for the establishment in London.

We will not be silent. We will not meekly stand in the political shadows. We will make the case for greater Cornish self government and we will be heard.

Westminster politics in Cornwall

Now, I am not surprised at the noises coming out of the London HQs of the Westminster parties.

But what I find most unforgivable is the attitude of their local representatives here in Cornwall.

The local Conservative Party has set out its opposition to a Cornish Assembly – with their normal disregard for the facts.

Tory MPs have been busy scaremongering away.

And their arguments have been heroically inconsistent.

Sarah Newton MP described a Cornish Assembly as a “tokenistic institution …” But she has gone on to argue that the devolution of more powers to Cornwall, as a constituent part of the UK, would lead to the break up of the United Kingdom.

And yet, David Cameron says that more powers to Scotland will actually strengthen the UK!

Candy Atherton meanwhile, speaking on behalf of the Cornwall Labour Party, said that a Cornish Assembly would be just “another layer of bureaucrats.”

What a shameful statement. And how galling for all those Labour MSPs and AMs serving in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly – their national legislatures – to be dismissed as “bureaucrats.”

And then there are the Liberal Democrats. Well …

One minute, they are claiming that they are leading the campaign for a Cornish Assembly – demanding “real devolution … like Wales.”

The next moment, they are clearly only seeking a few additional powers for local government.

Liberal Democrat MPs who previously argued for a powerful Cornish Assembly and warned the previous Labour Government that it would not “get away” with “fobbing us off with a rearrangement of deckchairs on the Titanic of local government” … are saying and doing the opposite now that they are in Government.

I am also particularly disappointed at the lack of ambition being shown by the leadership of the unitary authority. There is flowery language aplenty, but instead of showing real ambition for Cornwall, they are timidly seeking greater “freedoms and flexibilities” for the unitary authority.

Those of us who are serious about greater Cornish self-government must reiterate time and time again that our nation must be considered on a par with Wales and Scotland.

It is not about local government reform but delivering a new democratic settlement that matches those which have been won east of Offa’s Dyke and to the north of the Solway Firth.

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