Sunday, 12 December 2021

The 50,000 : what happened after 12th December 2001

This is my article in this coming week's Cornish Guardian.

In last week’s Cornish Guardian, I wrote about the 20th anniversary of the delivery of 50,000 declarations, calling for a Cornish Assembly, to 10 Downing St on 12th December 2001. I wish to return to this topic and to share how the Westminster establishment dealt with our demand for greater self-government for Cornwall.

It remains my view that the 50,000 declarations represented a massive statement of intent from the people of Cornwall. When the signatures were being collected, we were aware that the Labour Government had a position that, if a petition of 5% of voters was collected, it would allow a referendum on changes to local government in a particular area. Obviously, our demands were not about “local government,” but having secured the support of more than 10% of the electorate we felt we had won the “moral argument” to put pressure on the UK Government to support devolution for Cornwall.

While there was no formal response from Downing Street, there was hope that our aspirations would be reflected in the forthcoming White Paper. Titled “Your Region, Your Choice,” this was published in May 2002 and studiously ignored Cornwall. Instead, it proposed assemblies for government regions. In the preface, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said: “No region will be forced to have an elected assembly. But where there is public support for one, we believe that people should be given the chance to demonstrate this in a referendum.” But for Cornwall, such words were a nonsense. There was no choice. There was just one option - a 25-35 seat assembly for a “South West” which stretched as far as Bristol.

At the time Cornwall County Council, four of Cornwall’s six district councils and numerous town and parish councils backed the campaign for a Cornish Assembly and/or a referendum, while hundreds and hundreds of people from Cornwall made similar representations.

Sadly, it was to no avail and Tony Blair’s Government refused to even consider the representations for more powers for Cornwall. A subsequent FOI request from MK secured a couple of ministerial briefings from 2002. These set out the “lines to take” when responding to campaigners from Cornwall. One condescendingly stated: “Although the campaign for a Cornish Assembly grabs the headlines, there is a growing but less audible groundswell of informed opinion in favour of a unitary council for Cornwall” adding that the “supporters of a unitary Cornwall could see it nestling happily within a South West Regional Assembly.” I find it so insulting for 50,000 people to be told their opinion is not “informed.”

The campaign for meaningful devolution to Cornwall must and will continue.

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