Memorandum by Councillor Dick Cole, Leader
of Mebyon Kernowthe Party for Cornwall (RG 20)
1. Mebyon Kernowthe Party for Cornwall's
official response to the consultation on the future of regional
government has been forwarded by the Party's National Executive.
This is a personal response from myself (Cllr Dick Cole) in my
position as the Leader of the Party.
2. It is my contention that regional government/devolution
has an important part to play in the future governance of the
United Kingdom. But for this to work it must be about the real
decentralisation of political powers, that is driven by the areas
themselves. It will not work if weak settlements are offered from
central government on high.
3. MK's position is clear. Cornwall is a
historic Celtic nation just like Scotland and Wales, with its
own identity, culture, language, traditions, history and distinct
constitutional arrangements. This forms the bedrock of the support
for greater Cornish self-government.
4. We believe that Cornwall merits stand-alone
legislation and should not be dealt with as a so-called "English
region." As a Party we are campaigning for a Cornish Assembly
with powers at least equal to those of the Scottish Parliament.
50,000 FOR A
5. Mebyon Kernowthe Party for Cornwall
was founded in 1951, with the aim "to further the acceptance
of the Celtic character of Cornwall and its right to self-government
in domestic affairs in a Federated United Kingdom."
6. Since then, support for a Cornish Assembly
has grown considerably. On 5 March 2000, MK launched the Declaration
for a Cornish Assembly campaign and later that same year the cross-party
Cornish Constitutional Convention was set up. In less than 18
months, the declaration campaign won the support of 50,000 people
(more than 10% of the Cornish electorate). This evidence was presented
to 10 Downing Street on the 12 December 2001 by the leaders of
the Cornish Constitutional Convention, Mebyon Kernow and Liberal
7. The campaign for a Cornish Assembly is
also backed by all of Cornwall's five MPs.
8. In 2002, Cornwall County Council and
Carrick District Council both passed motions supporting a referendum
for a Cornish Assembly, while Restormel Borough Council, North
Cornwall District Council and Penwith District Council backed
the call for a Cornish Assembly.
9. In the same year, the following Council's
also backed a Cornish Assembly and/or a referendum on the issue:
Bodmin Town Council, Bude-Stratton Town Council, Callington Town
Council, Camborne Town Council, Chacewater Parish Council, St
Clement Parish Council, Cubert Parish Council, St Day Parish Council,
St Dennis Parish Council, Egloshayle Parish Council, St Enoder
Parish Council, St Erme Parish Council, St Gennys Parish Council,
Gunwalloe Parish Meeting, Gwennap Parish Council, St Just in Penwith
Town Council, Looe Town Council, Marazion Town Council, St Mewan
Parish Council, Newquay Town Council, St Minver Lowlands Parish
Council, Penzance Town Council, Perranuthnoe Parish Council, St
Pinnock Parish Council, Porthleven Town Council, Redruth Town
Council, Roche Parish Council, St Stephen in Brannel Parish Council,
Truro City Council.
10. If ever a document had an inappropriate
titlethis was it. Much was made of choice, but the boundaries
of the regions were pre-ordained and the political powers offered
were extremely limited. In 2002, we described it as "timid,
uninspiring and, as far as Cornwall is concerned, offer[ing] less
11. In the Preface Tony Blair writes "No
region will be forced to have an elected assembly. But where there
is public support for one, we believe people should be given the
chance to demonstrate this in a referendum."
12. In the Foreword to the White Paper,
John Prescott wrote "There is little point in devolving power
if you impose a solution from the top. So what this White Paper
offers is an opportunity for change and a choice for local people."
Other ministers made numerous public statements in line with their
leader and deputy leader.
13. The document did not mention Cornwall.
14. In its response to the document, Mebyon
Kernowthe Party for Cornwall made the following points:
"50,000 people have already signed individual declaration
forms for a Cornish Assembly. These people represent a considerable
block of Cornish opinion and we maintain that their views should
be respected. Given this strong level of support, we believe central
government has an obligation to institute a referendum asking
the people of Cornwall whether they want a Cornish Assembly. Whether
for, or against, the setting up of a Cornish Assembly at this
stage, we should unite around the principle that we are all democrats.
Let us unite around the people of Cornwall being allowed to decide
the nature of their own future governance through a referendum.
As democrats, we must make sure that everyone in Cornwall has
the chance to say YES or NO to a Cornish Assembly in a properly
15. But the Government chose to ignore this
considerable "public support" for devolution to Cornwall
and did not offer a referendum to the one area showing an enthusiasm
for the devolution project.
16. The answer to this question must be
Yes and there are a number of reason for this.
17. One problem is that central government
has simply been unwilling to allow the decentralisation of significant
powers. I believe it is becoming clear that the North East referendum
did not fail because the majority of people were against an assembly,
but because they could not bring themselves to support the establishment
of the weak and denuded assembly that was on offer. This problem
is also illustrated by the way that central government has badly
handled the demand for increased powers to the Welsh Assembly,
following the findings of the Richard Commission,
18. Another problem is the "one-size-fits-all"
approach to regional government as presented in the White Paper
"Your Region, Your Choice," for nine arbitrary regions
which do not necessarily reflect community or regional identity.
Just as the Government brought forward very different models of
devolved governance for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and
London, it needs to take into account the different circumstances
of the component parts of the United Kingdom (such as Cornwall
and the English regions) when taking devolution/regional government
19. Support for regional government has
also been undermined by the setting up of a unelected regional
government which, rather than taking powers from central government,
is undermining the powers and responsibilities of democratically
elected local councils. The regional chambers or self-styled "Assemblies"
now have control over many areas of "regional" policy
such as economic development, housing and planning.
20. Rather than being about decentralisation,
this is centralisation within a government region. To take planning
as an example, the structure plans of the County Councils are
now being phased out, with less local input into the policies
that the Councils themselves are meant to follow.
21. The experiences of Cornwall are particularly
chastening in terms of this south west regionalisation. Running
in tandem with the governmental changes, there has been a considerable
centralisation of a range of public bodies and organisations out
of Cornwall to elsewhere in the South West, undermining the local
economy and local communities. Recent examples include the centralisation
of the National Health Service and the local emergency services.
22. The South West Regional Assembly has
meanwhile shown itself to be totally undemocratic in the way that
it has put together its Regional Spatial Strategy, ignoring all
representations about the need for Cornwall to be treated as a
23. We maintain that the issue of local
government reform is a secondary issue that should follow the
establishment of regional government.
24. It is our view that there should a tier
of unitary councils operating beneath the umbrella of a legislative
25. The framework for Cornish local government
in the future should be decided by a "Boundary Commission
for Cornwall" or a "Boundary Committee" of the
Cornish Assembly, once it is up and running.
26. Mebyon Kernowthe Party for Cornwall
Is committed to the self-government of Cornwall. We believe that
the people of Cornwall should have "maximum autonomy"taking
all those political and economic decisions that they practically
27. The party is committed to working with
regions and nations throughout the British Isles, Europe and the
wider World. As part of this we repeat our demands for a radically
reformed European Union (based on the principles of decentralisation
28. The Party is committed to the principle
of subsidiarity, with decisions made at the appropriate local
level. We therefore maintain that decisions affecting Cornwall
should be taken in Cornwall.
29. We call for the immediate setting up
of a legislative Cornish Assembly (elected by the Single Transferable
Vote) with powers at least equal to those of the Scottish Parliament.
These powers would include: Health, Education and Training, Local
Government, Social Work and Housing, Economic Development and
Transport, Law and Home Affairs, Environment, Agriculture, Forestry
and Fishing, Sport and the Arts.
30. The Party also believes that sovereignty
lies with the people. Powers of the Assembly will be increased
when that is shown to be the democratic will of the people of
31. It is my opinion that the United Kingdom
needs considerable reform to its political system and this includes
facilitating the greater decentralisation of political powers
to the historic nations and regions of the United Kingdom.
32. I believe that the Government has a
responsibility to breath life back into the debate and take it
forward. There are a number of actions that should be taken. Central
Offer real political powers to those
historic nations that have made a case for devolution. This includes
(i) accepting the full recommendations of the Richard Commission
in Wales, allowing greater parity with Scotland, and (ii) supporting
the establishment of a powerful Assembly for Cornwall.
End the ongoing centralisation of
political economic powers to unelected regional chambers, which
should themselves be abolished.
Re-engage with the English regions,
revisiting issues such as boundaries and the powers and responsibilities
that could be devolved.