The prospects for Cornish devolution. What do the parties say?

Ninety-nine per cent of the Great British Public have never turned the page of, let alone read, a party manifesto. So, as a public service, here’s what the parties are saying about devolution to the regions and nations of the UK, with particular reference to Cornwall.

MK has only one candidate standing at this election and no manifesto that can be identified as such. However, Cornish devolution is at the very core of its raison d’etre. According to its website, it’s been ‘at the forefront of the campaign for the greater self-government of Cornwall, through the establishment of a Cornish Assembly’.

Unfortunately, the Cornish nationalist can only vote for MK in St Austell and Newquay. Do the other parties share its vision? The Liberal Party, that’s the ‘real’ Liberals as opposed to those fake Liberals of the Liberal Democrats, say that strategic planning, environment and social security should be devolved to ‘Cornish and English regional governments’. That clearly identifies Cornwall as separate from England.

The Greens also want a fuller voice for ‘regional and national identities’. As part of this they pledge to hold a referendum on a Cornish Assembly and appear to define the Cornish as a national rather than merely regional group.

There is both more and less ambiguity from the Liberal Democrats. They want to devolve revenue raising powers to regions ‘from Cornwall to North East England’, with permissive legislation to empower groups of authorities to come together to establish devolved governance’ … ‘for example to a Cornish Assembly’. Which is a bit unclear as there’s only one such authority in Cornwall – Cornwall Council. Therefore, are they suggesting Cornwall Council can convert itself from a local authority to a regional assembly? Please spare us that outcome, guaranteed to discredit the whole idea of a Cornish assembly. Furthermore, what then happens to local government?

Less ambiguously, the example of a Cornish assembly comes as part of a section on English devolution, which is odd given the Lib Dems’ support for national minority status for the Cornish in 2014.

And what about the two bigger parties? Search for Cornwall or devolution in Labour’s manifesto and we find … nothing. There’s a promise to work towards replacing the House of Lords with an elected Senate of the nations and regions, but those nations and regions aren’t specified. More ominously, Labour wishes to re-establish regional government offices, which were a disaster for Cornwall in their previous incarnation.

Finally, for the Tories there’s no mention of Cornwall, just a promise of a white paper on English devolution. Soon. Amazingly, given the damage they’ve done by cuts in local government funding and their willingness to cull the number of councillors in Cornwall, they have the bare-faced cheek to state that ‘local government is the bedrock of our democracy’. Ignore housing targets, as ‘the days of Whitehall knows best are over’. Meanwhile, suspend credibility entirely. Local government has ‘received a substantial funding increase in the most recent spending round’. As usual, a gaping abyss yawns between Conservative rhetoric and the real world, the real world shyly peeking through in their emphasis on ‘keeping council tax low’.

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