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31.10.09

Identity, Immigration, Equality and Cornish Devolution

Some choice quotes on identity, immigration and equality below from the Cornish Constitutional Convention's new document: The Next Push.

5. In 2000 the Cornish1 were looking forward to being recorded as a separately ‘coded’ ethnic group in the 2001 census. This breakthrough had been patiently achieved through a quiet coalition of local and parliamentary politicians, supported by officials in the local authorities and Office of National Statistics. The flow of the national discussion about cultural data, prompted by concerns about implementing policies driven by multi-culturalism, as well as by the outfall from Scottish and Welsh devolution and the drive towards a peace settlement in Northern Ireland, offered a moment when the Cornish position could be effectively and logically advocated.


16. Each aspect of Cornish evolution contributes to Cornwall’s reputation as a mature and committed place with ambitions set in the context of achieving a distinctive economic and environmental identity – we now have both the means of generating Cornish ideas and of communicating them effectively into the global debates in a wide range of disciplines. One area in which this is proving to be quietly effective is that of human rights. The anomaly of having a People whose heritage and language are internationally recognised and protected, whose identity can be recorded on the national census but whose visibility as an ethnic group in a multi-cultural society remains opaque, to say the least. The most important element of achieving progress in the human rights field is to fix an objective and to coalesce a partnership around achieving it.


19. The long-term residual influence of outmoded and often mischievously formed perceptions about Cornwall and Cornish people and their culture may, to some extent, affect the formulation of policies leading to migratory trends that can easily be construed as a subliminally inspired effort to ‘assimilate’ Cornwall and to iron out the wrinkles of difference that motivate demands for specific and tailored treatment. The distinctive historical narrative that has long been suppressed within the supposed status quo has become more prominent as historians have re-focused British historical study to take account of different national and regional perspectives, such as those of Wales, Scotland and, increasingly, Cornwall. It is simply impossible to explore the Cornish story without concluding that it has a very distinctive narrative, a culture which owes much more to its peripherality, connectivity by sea with Europe, Africa, Ireland and Wales, and to fairly new links forged as a result of emigrations stimulated by economic collapse at the end of the 19th century and a degree of religious persecution against non-Conformists in the same period.


20. This ‘difference’ informs the identity of Cornish people and underpins the conviction held by many (articulated by a few) that the Cornish form a British ethnic group, a ‘National Minority’ which has evolved as a result of the upheavals of Europe. The UK Government is unwilling to openly recognise the legitimacy of Cornish ethnicity, and, as time passes, and arguments evolve, is becoming increasingly isolated in its opinion. Attempts to formalise the position by seeking the support of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE)3 to establish case-law recognition of the Cornish, which would engage the protections of the Race Relations Act, have been constantly thwarted without good reasons being cited for the resistance.


21. We should not overstate the issue of Cornish ethnicity, or indeed of Cornish nationalism. Neither case nor their advocates seek cessation or independence. They seek an ‘accommodation’ which recognises Cornish difference within the overall structure of the United Kingdom. It is asserted that the UK would benefit from such an ‘accommodation’ because the arrangements thus secured would unshackle Cornish creativity and ingenuity and supply its outputs and ideas to the UK. The effect of Objective 1, which was a Structural Funds Programme conceived by Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which initiated the notion of regeneration by promoting ‘regional distinctiveness’, was to reveal what potential lies beneath the surface of Cornwall, wanting only the confidence that springs from being granted constructive semi-autonomy over public strategies, services and budgets to flourish and to greatly enhance productivity. It is the intense desire to flourish that nurtures the sustained commitment to seeking an ‘accommodation’. There is consensus in Cornwall around the concept of the Cornish Assembly. It finds expression in many forms in mainstream and ‘fringe’ institutions and bodies, including the main political parties in Cornwall, senior officials and holders of public office, and within a significant swathe of the general Cornish public.


35. Against the indigenous perspective was now firmly pitched the external view, propagated by people rhetorically burdened with illiberal concepts such as ‘balkanisation’, over-egging the impact of Cornish nationalism by linking it to neo-nazism rather than to the fine liberal principle of preserving and enriching cultural diversity that characterises what might be described as ‘celtic’ nationalism within the UK and the British Isles. Such assertions were founded on ignorance, either genuine or assumed, and emanated from motives that are difficult to fathom. Emanate they did, and have led to Cornwall being increasingly disabled as perceptions of Cornwall within the government have become more and more confused and detached.


44. It would be complacent to suggest that the new migrants have not altered the culture and human environment of Cornwall. However, it would be an overstatement to say that the ‘difference’ of Cornwall has been eroded or destroyed by them. Indeed, the nature of Cornwall challenges the individual, and if migrants are to flourish then they need to adapt and to learn. Those who do not bend like Cornish reeds before the gale find themselves eager to move on ere long! Population turnover is very high, whilst the number of Cornish returners is growing. In very recent times, with the new university and new job opportunities deriving from the structural investments of Objective 1, we are seeing a small but significant alteration in population structure and cultural identity as more young people choose to stay than go.


An empowered Cornwall where all citizens have the best possible chances in life and a far greater say over how the territory we all share is governed.

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