Wednesday, 8 December 2021


This is my article in this week's Cornish Guardian newspaper:

This coming Sunday (12th December) will mark the 20th anniversary of the delivery of a CD-ROM to 10 Downing Street. The disc contained the names of over 50,000 people who had signed individual declarations calling for a Cornish Assembly.

I am very proud to have authored the declaration and that the campaign was initially launched by Mebyon Kernow, before it was broadened out through the cross-party Cornish Constitutional Convention to garner greater support from across the political spectrum.

It was amazing that, within a period of about 18 months, more than 10% of the Cornish electorate had backed devolution for Cornwall. And I will never forget how the campaign had such energy thanks to the leadership of Paddy McDonough who co-ordinated teams of petitioners that took to the streets, weekend after weekend, to sign up supporters.

It remains one of the greatest disappointments of my political life that the Labour Government of that time ignored the declarations. Instead of helping to build a better and stronger democracy in Cornwall, as they did in Wales and Scotland, they chose to centralise local government even though this was opposed by 80% of residents.

In recent weeks, I have had a few chats about devolution with a Labour councillor. She is rightly exasperated that elected politicians to the west of the Tamar lack the political powers to deal with important political issues. Her particular frustration was Cornwall could not control second homes, though I couldn’t help but point out that it was Tony Blair’s Government which had denied devolution to Cornwall.

One common criticism of supporters of devolution is that we should not be talking about dry topics such as constitutional change or new structures of governance, but instead should focus on the “real issues” facing people.

But if we had won devolution in the 2000s, Cornwall would have the ability to cap the number of second homes and reverse the damaging spread of such properties – just as will soon be happening in Wales. Linked to this, Cornwall would have control over all aspects of planning.

If we had won devolution, Cornwall would have had more say in how the pandemic had been dealt with, just as the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales (Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford) were able to lead in their respective countries.

And fair funding. If we had a meaningful devolution settlement, Cornwall would almost certainly be better off. The devolved administrations have just secured an extra £8.7 billion, while Cornwall’s one principal council is busy making yet more massive cuts while it is waiting to see what crumbs it will get from the local government budget.

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