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27.1.11

The greatest illusion

Some months back now, on Our Scotland, I suffered a rather glib remark from a Scottish nationalist during a debate about the possibility of closer cooperation between the different EFA members in the UK.

He described Cornwall as the 'slowest boat in the convoy' with reference to the struggles of the different nations in the UK for greater autonomy. To be easily picked off by unionist U-boats perhaps? His point was that the movement for self-determination in Kernow was the least developed of all the Celtic nations and had made the least advances. He went on to add that it would not be in the interests of the Scottish movement to tie it's self, in alliance, to a weaker movement. No point in holding back to help the slowest boat when one could steam ahead out of danger. I suppose I should be grateful that Kernow was considered 'a boat in the convoy' at all. I'm guessing, in his eyes, the various grass-roots English regionalist hadn't even slipped anchor.

Swallowing some Cornish pride, it's not hard to conclude with the gentleman from the largest Celtic nation that the Cornish movement has not yet obtained the same momentum or achieved the same results as that of the much bigger Scotland. Indeed it seems that rather than fighting for devolution we are having to fight for our very existence as a politico-territorial unit. The first colonised, perhaps we are going to be the last to break with England.

However what if our little Cornish boat had an alternative engine -old, rusty but very powerful- locked away under the deck and forgotten about by almost all?

The greatest illusion the Devil every performed was to convince the world he didn't exist.

To any interested parties it should be clear now that all UK governments, and the authority for the Duchy of Cornwall, have wilfully deceived the public about the constitutional status of Cornwall. Perhaps the latest research from PhD student and solicitor, John Kirkhope, will help dispel any remaining doubts (opens pdf):  “A Mysterious, Arcane and Unique Corner of our Constitution”: The Laws Relating to the Duchy of Cornwall. More from Kirkhope is in the pipeline. Equally we have -The riddle of the Duchy of Cornwall and planning law- which appeared in the Cornish press recently.

With smug self-confidence, the Duchy authority and UK government repeat, parrot fashion, that the Duchy 'is a private estate' and that it 'consists of around 54,090 hectares of land in 23 counties, mostly in the South West of England' (i.e that is is not and never has been coterminous with the territory of Cornwall), comfortable in the knowledge that such state lies are a centuries old tradition.

With the growth in Cornish national consciousness and the birth of a Cornish self-government movement perhaps it's not so surprising that the establishment wants to keep this under wraps. After all could it be that our constitution allows for a position similar to that of a crown dependency? Administratively run as an English county, Cornwall appears to have de jure a constitutional position that, if enforced, would see us more akin to the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. From a certain legal perspective, does slow little Cornwall have a greater degree of autonomy from the Crown than Scotland!

Perhaps this hidden constitutional engine is far too securely locked away from the people of Cornwall for them to ever gain access. The legal efforts required to bust the lock would be hugely expensive. Imagine, however, for one second, the constitutional can of worms it would open for the if Cornwalls de jure legal status were to be translated into administrative de facto reality. Cornwall transforming into a crown dependency over night would send shock waves through the rest of the UK creating an un-hoped for and unmissable opportunity for all democratic reformers to tackle the UK's outdated constitution head on.

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