Plenty of work still to be done. Almost everything, to be more precise. But there is some hope, even if only because they are “fortunate to be able to paint their regional discontents in the attractive colours of Celtic tradition, which makes them so much more viable”, as Eric Hobsbawm wrote. Indomitable Cornish nationalists are seeking to get an elected assembly and devolved powers from Westminster. They have been trying since 2001, when the Cornish Constitutional Convention gathered some 50,000 signatures (i.e. 10% of Cornish residents) calling for a Cornish assembly. In 2009, LibDem MP Dan Rogerson introduced a bill aimed at giving Cornwall a level of self-government similar to that of Wales. No success again.
The last try is that of Mebyon Kernow party, who have asked once more for an elected assembly in late 2011. This time, the Cornish have had the help of fellow Celts from Wales: Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards has launched an Early Day Motion in Westminster that calls for the establishment of a “democratically elected Cornish Assembly”. And this is coming almost at the same time that Scots are pushing for their referendum on independence.
Is there a “national” case for devolution in Cornwall? Cornish nationalists think so. They usually point out that no other territory inside the “official” England has such a different identity, based on the fact that only Cornwall has its own language (Cornish, which is being revitalised), its own Celtic tradition, a unique geographical position, historical institutions such as Stannary Parliaments and even a different ethnic self-concept: in 2011, 41% of pupils in Cornwall were recorded as ethnically Cornish, and this trend is growing.
So a base upon which a Cornish nation can be built exists, I can agree with that. But on my opinion, such a 21st century nation-building process will have little or no chance for success if Cornish do not get their own Assembly and Government. State contexts are important, and in the case of UK, it is pretty obvious that nationhood is assessed by having your own institutions of self-government. That is why an Assembly seated in Truro is crucial, as Mebyon Kernow blogger Rob describes on his blog:
“It does mean change and it does mean the opportunity to build a better more prosperous and self confident nation for ourselves.”
“To build a nation” from the Cornish Assembly, that is the real key for a successful process. Furthermore, this is especially important in the event that some day England could get its own Assembly. If that happens and Cornwall still does not have its own institutions of self-government, then the Cornish can possibly say goodbye to their nation-building.
Are there real chances to reach some sort of success? Bernard Deacon wrote in 2003 that “cultural hybridity” (in this case, Celtic identity combined with English county identity) explained to a large extent why Cornish nationalism was not successful during the last century, at least in the political arena. Perhaps this “hybridity” was a weakness in the 20th century, but it might no longer be in the 21st. As I stated in my last post on the Åland, combining cultural and linguistic elements with civic issues can lead to success stories in 21st century European national movements. This could be the case for the Cornish movement if its members hurry up and convince a great deal of their fellow citizens. Or, as Deacon said,
“Ethnicity is open to negotiation and Cornishness may be becoming more of ‘an idea, a set of values, a way of relating to place and to each other’ than a fixed, essentialist ethnic identification (Lewis 2002). It remains to be seen whether the hints of creative cultural re-selection can manufacture a more inclusive nationalism able to appeal to both insiders and incomers.”
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