The second ongoing crisis Cornish communities confront is the inability to control the changes wreaking havoc on our land. The hurdle of dictatorial central government power looms across our path. Inevitably, this is extremely convenient for local agents of the state, either bureaucrats or elected. Councillors and their officers hold up their hands in innocent helplessness. ‘It’s nothing to do with us, folks. We have to do this; we have no choice’. On the occasions they don’t meekly follow their orders, appeals and enquiries, heavily weighted towards those with time and money, ensure any temporary resistance is quashed and decisions overturned.
In this way, attempts to slow down or reverse excessive and unsustainable population growth and halt new settlements through the planning process are doomed. Indeed, local ‘consultations’ merely provide a veneer of legitimacy for centrally imposed targets and serve to soak up the energy of campaigners who are left squabbling over where to put the deck chairs as the Titanic serenely steams onwards, ever onwards. The ‘National’ Planning Policy Framework, or the massive cuts in local government funding in Cornwall, or the external control of European grant money, are all part of the apparatus of central power. To begin to bring decision-making closer to people and communities in Cornwall, and ultimately move towards a time when we decide in Cornwall rather then let them decide for us in London, some measure of devolution might be a good idea.
Devolution is now flavour of the month as the old parties run scared of the SNP. Even versions of federalism are taken out of the box, dusted down and timidly given an airing. But while devolution is now admitted into polite company, devolution to Cornwall is another matter entirely and must wait, begging bowl in hand, meekly standing at the kitchen door.
The Tories, committed to new tax and spend powers for Scotland and Wales (and to the Barnett formula) declare proudly that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (spot the missing nation) make up ‘the greatest union of nations the world has ever seen’. While this belongs on the shelf marked ‘Typical Tory hyperbole’, it’s significant that Cornwall is missing. For when it comes to practical suggestions outside Scotland and Wales, the Tories get all tongue-tied. There’ll be no devolution to English regions either and Tory ‘devolution’ in practice seems to amount to letting ‘local people have more say on local planning’. Given their record in this area over the last five years, when they’ve allowed local people precious little say while giving bucketfuls to their developer chums, this of course entirely lacks credibility.
Labour’s promises on Scotland and Wales are almost identical. Though they add the possibility of English city and county regions, but only in order, it appears, ‘to drive economic growth and prosperity’. As they don’t mention Cornwall either, it’s unclear whether this leaves the kitchen door ajar for us or whether the Cornish pussy-cat is set to drown in an imposed top-down Devonwall functional region. Locally, Labour candidates treat the Cornish Assembly with contempt, which is a bit odd, or stupid, as the polling evidence indicates Labour voters are quite keen on a Cornish Assembly.
As, even more incredibly, are Ukip voters. But Ukip will have no truck with devolution, regarded as an unholy EU plot to dismember the UK. In fact, they’d get rid of the Barnett formula and see off those pesky Scots wildlings once and for all.
The Lib Dems are a lot more forthcoming, harking back to the days of Gladstone and home rule all round. They curiously claim that in government they’ve ‘devolved power to councils and communities’. This must be as in devolving the power to starve, as they mysteriously omit to mention the swingeing cuts in council budgets they’ve also made as local government took the brunt of the failed 2010-12 austerity experiment. But sound the trumpets and praise the Lord, they’re promising devolution ‘for example’ to a Cornish Assembly. Except that it turns out it isn’t a Cornish Assembly; it’s devolution to the discredited Cornwall Council. This would be a mega-disaster for the cause of Cornish devolution on a par with the Lib Dem driven imposition of this unfit for purpose institution in the first place. The sad old Liberal Democrats are either having a laugh or still clearly fail to understand the words ‘Cornish Assembly’, confusing them with with ‘Cornwall Council’.
The Greens explicitly want to create an Assembly for Cornwall, with similar powers to the Welsh Assembly. MK goes further, proposing a National Assembly with powers at least equal to the Scottish Parliament in 1998. Curiously, the Con/Lab/Libs sagely tell us that voting for MK would be a wasted vote. But then, they used to say that about the SNP not so long ago.