Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Continuing the campaign for a Cornish tick-box

Last week, I was one of the four councillors present at a meeting with senior officers from the Office of National Statistics about the need for a Cornish tickbox on the 2021 census.

It was a positive meeting and we left the ONS in no doubt about the significance of this issue.

Further representations are planned and a press release has been published today by Cornwall Council. It is included below for information.

Cornwall Council press release
Council pushes for formal recognition of the Cornish in 2021 census

The Cornish could be recognised in the 2021 Census if the latest efforts by Cornwall Council are successful.

Last week Cornwall Council Deputy Leader Julian German, Cornwall Councillors and Council officers met with senior officers from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in Truro to discuss the inclusion of tick boxes for the Cornish and Cornish language on the Census.

In March 2017, in its Fourth Opinion to the UK Government on the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the Council of Europe made a specific recommendation to the ONS stating it should “take the necessary measures to include the possibility to self-identify as Cornish, through a ‘tick-box’ in the next census.”

In the last census in 2011, the Cornish did not have the option to tick a box to say they identified as Cornish like the Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Northern Irish and could only write Cornish under the ‘other’ option.

Deputy Leader Julian German said the meeting was an important milestone. “Cornish people have a proud and distinct identity. We are proud of our history and language and want this to be reflected in the way the census captures data so it’s not an ‘other’ field in the language and identity section.

“We believe this will provide a more accurate reflection of the number of Cornish in Cornwall and across the UK.

“An accurate count of Cornish language speakers is a key factor in influencing funding and devolution – this is key to helping us get a better deal and more funding for Cornish people and culture,” the Deputy Leader said.

Although no commitment has been made from the ONS on the inclusion of the Cornish as a tick box option, the Office reaffirmed their commitment to support ethnic groups across the UK.

“Our meeting identified some really helpful points in the development and operation of the next census where ONS and Cornwall Council can work together to have a successful census in 2021,” said Ben Humberstone, Programme Director, 2021 Census, ONS.

The meeting is the latest push to gain more recognition for the Cornish and comes three years after the UK Government gave Cornish the same status as other Celtic communities the Scots, Welsh and Irish. This recognition by the UK government within the Framework Convention is not affected by Brexit.

The media and being a Cornish nationalist ...

The headline speaks for itself. My article in today’s Cornish Guardian is as follows:

During the last few weeks, I have been approached by a number of “up-country” journalists. All were keen to find out more about Cornwall and, in particular, Cornish nationalism.

It would have been nice to think that Mebyon Kernow had generated this interest; possibly through specific campaigns that we had been running, or due to some of the key arguments we had been making for a better deal for Cornwall.

But sadly, the journalists were following up on the widespread and irresponsible reporting of the "fake news" of alleged terrorist activities in Cornwall.

For those of you that missed it, there was an electrical fault at a bin store, associated with fish and chip shop in Porthleven. This lead to a localised fire, for which an organisation claimed “responsibility.”

It was, of course, all nonsense, but that did not stop newspapers such as the Sun, Daily Mirror and Daily Mail, printing a series of unfortunate articles.

One local man – a former MP – interviewed for a feature on Radio 4 was cheeky enough to suggest that the claims were some sort of “Cornish humour” to see how many of the “metropolitan elite” would be daft enough to give credence to the claims.

That said, I do find it extremely infuriating that legitimate political and other stories from Cornwall – such as the 50,000 declarations for a Cornish Assembly in 2001 – are so often ignored by the mainstream media and “Fleet Street,” and yet they fall over themselves to publish stories lacking in substance.

In the recent interviews that have followed, I have often been asked what it means to be a Cornish nationalist. At this time, I thought it would be good to share my response in this article.

To me, the answer is quite simple. Cornwall is a historic entity with its own distinct identity, language and heritage. It is a nation – just like Scotland and Wales.

Every person who seeks the greater recognition of the nation of Cornwall or campaigns for self-government for Cornwall or positively promotes Cornish identity, is therefore, by extension, a Cornish nationalist.

What is important is that our approach to politics is inclusive and outward-looking. I am particularly proud that we campaign for a better deal for all the people of Cornwall and are never afraid to make a stand on global issues with significance far beyond our borders.

Cornwall does need to be “brave and bold” …

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian addressed the two-year anniversary of the so-called Cornwall Devolution Deal and the “state of Cornwall” address by the leader of Cornwall Council. It was as follows:

In recent days, there has been quite a focus on the two-year anniversary of the “Cornwall devolution deal,” with senior elected members on the unitary authority and council officers talking up the “historic” nature of the arrangement.

It would be churlish not to admit that the “deal” contains many elements of merit, such as the achievement of Intermediate Body status which allows Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly some greater local control over the allocation of EU funding to projects.

But overall, it does not include the shift of meaningful political power to elected politicians in Cornwall.

For example, in this past week, I was twice at meetings which covered the heritage aspects of the “deal.” Part of this related to a “study of the cultural distinctiveness of Cornwall's historic environment.” Obviously, I welcome this, but the “deal” included no powers over heritage policy or the management of state-owned historic assets in Cornwall.

From my perspective, what was agreed two years ago was not devolution as understood in other nations such as Scotland and Wales. It was an accommodation between the UK Government and local government here in Cornwall on a range of specific issues, but which still left central government in the driving seat.

And while this “devolution” debate has been ongoing, central government has offloaded certain local functions to unelected bodies such as the Local Enterprise Partnership, which is hardly an advert for democratic reform.

In his “state of Cornwall” address to the unitary authority at last week’s Full Council meeting, council leader Adam Paynter spoke about Cornwall being “brave and bold” and pushing for “more powers” and “greater autonomy from the Government.”

Adam also called for politicians to “work together” and “put the future of Cornwall first.” But having spoken about the primacy of Cornwall, he went on to undermine that by arguing that we should submerge ourselves into some kind of “strong south west offer” when dealing with the centre.

Recent history shows that whenever Cornwall is incorporated into a south west block, it inevitably loses out to Exeter, Taunton or Bristol.

I do agree with Adam Paynter when he says that we need to be “brave and bold,” but surely that means always standing up for Cornwall as a distinct unit in all things. And it means not allowing Cornwall to be seen merely as the western tenth of a synthetic south west region.