Are we living through the end times in Cornwall, doomed to survive into what Neil Kennedy has called Kernowland? This is a post-Cornish Cornwall, stripped of its indigenous, native cultures, even as token signage in re-written medieval Cornish proliferates and St Piran’s flag flies proudly up and down the land. Neil’s warning that we are headed for a ‘Cornish pastiche’, where cultural nationalism has been co-opted into a lightly green-washed Lifestyle Cornwall marketed to outsiders, takes on more urgency when we consider the latest in-migration statistics.
These show conclusively that we are now living through another period of crisis, another phase of the social transformation that got under way back in the 1960s. This has quickened pace again as policy-makers in Cornwall resort to failed policies of population-led growth, this time to save their own sorry skins, rather than the Cornish economy, as was the case in the 1980s.
The latest data for 2016-17 show net in-migration running at a rate unparalleled since the 1980s. Cornwall last year experienced a pro-rata in-migration rate three times higher than that into England, Scotland or Wales. Moreover, not one English county came close to the Cornish rate.
If you think this has always been the case, then think again. Here’s a map of the same measure for the years 2006-11, before the unitary authority was imposed, with its Tory and then Lib Dem administrations, both backed by the Independents and all of them committed to a frenzied building spree. Rates of in-migration were high back in the 2000s, but not by any means the highest in the British Isles.
What’s changed? Cornwall Council will deny it until they’re blue in the face but the coincidence between record levels of in-migration and record levels of housebuilding is interesting to say the least. Of course, the Council refuses to gather data on the origins of the residents of all the new houses they’re encouraging. Councillors and planners know full well what the answer will be, even as they proudly bleat about meeting ‘local need’.
People might be forgiven if they throw their hands up in despair at this unprecedented level of in-migration. Actually, a lot could be done if only the tools were available, the long-term thinking indulged in, and the political will in place.
For a start we don’t have to stop all migration or end so-called ‘freedom of movement’. This is a lazy distraction touted by those who defend and/or profit from mass in-migration. Gross out-migration is running at something over 20,000 a year, with gross in-migration at 27,000. To restore a balance to net migration we either have to encourage more out-migration or discourage in-migration, not stop the process completely.
To discourage in-migration we must ask what causes it. Clearly, there are two main factors, one short-term and the other longer-term. First is the speculative building of a surplus of the wrong kind of housing which is then aggressively marketed upcountry. The second is the insidious role of tourism in Cornwall, which encourages temporary residence that often induces the desire for permanent.
Therefore, the answers logically have to include all or some of:
• Reducing the housing target to a total that supplies the right kind of housing for local residents
• Local taxes on non-resident house purchasers (similar to the extra stamp duty levied on buy-to-rent purchases)
• Punitive taxes on second home ownership and the holiday let business
• A cap on tourist numbers, via some kind of tourist tax
• Changes to the labour market in Cornwall, introducing some form of positive discrimination for local residents
• A radical change in marketing policy for Cornwall, reversing the cultural colonialist and Lifestyle Cornwall values that pervade it.
Some may point out these modest suggestions are hardly defined as practical politics at present, so in the long-term they require a degree of political autonomy or a considerable measure of independence.
Others might argue it’s time to write off the Cornish people as a historical dodo and focus on the global end times of species extinction and planetary suicide that we’re all causing. But if you’re prepared to casually write off one of Europe’s oldest indigenous peoples, then what hope is there for the planet?