The submission below will be sent to the Minister for the Constitution and copied to my MP. Anyone also wishing to write to them is welcome to adopt, adapt, plagiarise, support any of the arguments here as they see fit. More factual background can be found at Dick Cole’s blog.
The Government White Paper Help Shape our Future: The 2021 Census of Population and Housing in England and Wales again fails to support the inclusion of a tick-box for people to express a Cornish national identity. I am writing to add my support to those who are demanding this oversight be rectified when the statutory order for the Census is laid before Parliament in the autumn. I also refer you to a submission I made to the ONS in August 2015.
It is tiresome in the extreme to have to repeat arguments that have been rehearsed since the late 1990s when a well-supported campaign was launched for the Cornish to be recognised as a national minority within the UK. It is frankly disgraceful to be still making those arguments 20 years later and five years after that campaign belatedly achieved success.
In 2014 the Cornish were recognised as a national minority under the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. This was supposed to have led to the same status as ‘the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish’. So why do these other minorities have a tick-box option while the Cornish do not? Why do we continue to be discriminated against in this manner even after 2014?
Article 4.2 of the Convention clearly states the responsibility of states to “undertake to adopt, where necessary, adequate measures in order to promote, in all areas of economic, social, political and cultural life, full and effective equality between persons belonging to a national minority and those belonging to the majority. In this respect, they shall take due account of the specific conditions of the persons belonging to national minorities.”
This can only be done if comprehensive and accurate data on the socio-economic conditions of the Cornish are collected. The Census is the obvious best means to achieve this. The Office for National Statistics states in the White Paper that it “fully recognises the need of the Cornish community for data on the socio-economic, educational, health and housing conditions of those who identify as Cornish”. Yet, bizarrely, by illogically denying the right to a tick-box option it also prevents the collection and analysis of such data.
The need for robust statistics and therefore a Cornish tick-box is increasingly pressing as a two-tier Cornwall emerges and growing levels of inequality blight our land. This is a result of central and local government planning policy and a local government high population growth strategy which indirectly breaches Article 16 of the FCPNM: “The Parties shall refrain from measures which alter the proportions of the population in areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities …”. Continuing this strategy also conveniently further marginalises the Cornish by exacerbating our minority status even within the historic territory which we have inhabited since a time before the English arrived and before the English state existed.
The existing write-in option is clearly unfit for the purpose of collecting good quality data. This can be illustrated from the case of Wales. There, in 2001 when only a write-in option was offered, only 14% of the population took that opportunity. In 2011 a tick-box was provided and this proportion leapt to 66%. This proves that the write-in option is useless in terms of identifying the Cornish as a group. In Cornwall almost 14% wrote in their national identity as Cornish in 2011. It is likely that with an explicit tick-box this proportion would, as in Wales, be much higher.
Article 4.1 of the Framework Convention states that the parties “undertake to guarantee to persons belonging to national minorities the right of equality before the law and of equal protection of the law. In this respect, any discrimination based on belonging to a national minority shall be prohibited.” By denying the Cornish a tick-box and granting that right to the Scots, Welsh and Irish the Cornish are plainly not enjoying the same rights as those other national minorities or the majority, as was promised in 2014. The Government will therefore be discriminating against the Cornish on the basis of belonging to a national minority and thus in breach of article 4.1.
Unfortunately, despite the Framework Convention, there is little sign that either the central or local state are accepting the responsibilities that were signed up to. The snub delivered by this White Paper is only the latest in a long line of similar insults. It’s time to move beyond lamenting the failure of government to take the Cornish seriously and begging for equality and ask why this discrimination, at times amounting to institutional racism, proceeds unchecked.
In recent years academics have been increasingly prone to describe Cornwall and the Cornish as being subject to colonialism, especially of the cultural kind, as Cornwall fulfils a function of being a leisure periphery and retirement zone for better-off permanent and temporary migrants from England. This analysis might be extended to the economic and the political fields.
For some the refusal to provide a Cornish tick-box is clear evidence of a long-term de-facto project finally to eliminate the embarrassing issue of the Cornish, embarrassing as we are the only case of an indigenous national minority living within the political boundaries of ‘England’. This cannot entirely be left to processes of demographic change engineered through the planning system and by the agents of central government in the local state.
This is being pursued in parallel with that of de-democratisation. Since 2009 and the imposition of a unitary local authority on Cornwall the voters of Cornwall have been among the worst represented in quantitative terms anywhere in western Europe. This is now being made even worse by the proposed cut of 29% in the number of Cornwall Councillors, from 123 to 87. Let’s compare this with the boundary reviews of other unitary authorities carried out by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) since 2015.
The mean reduction in councillors across these authorities has been 5.6%. Yet in Cornwall it is 29%. Why was Cornwall treated so differently? Look particularly at the numbers for the rural unitary authorities of Wiltshire (established at the same time as Cornwall UA) and the new unitary authority of Dorset. Both of these have far more councillors in proportion to population than does Cornwall and the people of Wiltshire, despite their fewer numbers, now have 11 more councillors. Why?
There is also a massive difference between the way Cornwall is being treated and the decision of the LGBCE in 2012 to maintain the number of councillors in the County of Durham unitary authority at 126. At the time the LGBCE rejected calls in Durham to reduce the Council’s size to 85 members in order to provide ‘efficient and convenient local government’. The LGBCE disgracefully failed to answer a letter sent in September 2017 asking for their views on this differential treatment and have offered no reason to justify this strikingly differential treatment.
Moreover, whereas so-called devolution deals with other regions in England have resulted in an elected mayor and an extra layer of democratic government, this has also not occurred in Cornwall. It’s necessary to repeat that the Cornish are the least well represented community in the UK in quantitative terms. De-democratisation is resulting in an atrophying political culture in Cornwall, a democratic deficit and a poverty of civic debate about what is happening to our land. It must be assumed that this outcome is a convenient one that suits certain interests.
The absence of a tick-box is merely the latest small but critical step in a long line of actions (or inactions) that the UK Government and its agents have undertaken to guarantee the continuation of their plans for Cornwall. As part of that they have little choice but to engage in what can only be described as institutional racism and discriminatory policies against the Cornish.
A tick-box is no magic answer to counteract centuries of colonial subjection or to end the post-democratic experiment being carried out in Cornwall. There is a growing sense that the Cornish left in Cornwall are the last generation of an ethnicity that has inhabited these islands since at least the time of the Romans. If even the small concession of a tick-box to express our identity is not forthcoming then, sadly, those fears will be entirely confirmed.