No one cares about Cornwall. Not even half of Cornwall cares about Cornwall. The Duchy doesn’t care about Cornwall. Westminster doesn’t care about Cornwall. The sooner we realise this the better. All politicians care about is power and doing the bare minimum they can, to cling onto popular support, and if we dare to complain, we are accused of biting the hand that feeds us scraps.
Yet in the face of sheer adversity, the Cornish spirit will not die. No matter how hard England tries, it cannot kill Cornishness. Imperialism tried for centuries, all but wiping out the Cornish language. Then along came modernity, still doing its best to homogenise the entire world – and succeeding in many ways. But still, no matter how weak it may seem, a Cornish spirit and identity lives on in the hearts and minds of thousands within Cornwall and beyond.
But for those who actually care about Cornwall, what is there to do? There is certainly energy ready for the cause, but there is nowhere to direct it. Cornwall cannot decide its own future and is powerless, sitting idly by while the housing market is steamrollered and celebrities take pot-shots at us because (according to Tim Smit, anyway) we’re a bunch of inarticulate tossers. Clearly, we have become an easy target because we no longer have anything to unite around, except a dislike of tourists and a few words of Cornish slang that separate us from the incomers.
This has been the case since at least 1337, when the Duchy of Cornwall was created. Many believed – and still do – that this conferred a special status on Cornwall. This isn’t wrong, but it’s not the basis of an independence bid as you might expect: in fact; it ties Cornwall to the monarchy more than any county in England. The Duchy has firmly cemented Cornwall’s ambiguous position as more than a county but less than a country. We have been bogged down in this stasis for nearly 700 years, and nothing short of a miracle can dismantle this dogma.
There are calls for increased devolution, full-on autonomy and, most laughably, independence. All three are possible going forward, but without a plan and a strong Cornish identity, any of the three could render Cornwall a failed state, forcing us cap-in-hand back to the Westminster overlords. Failure cannot be an option, so we must bide our time.
Marches for independence have taken place in 2021 and 2022, which proves there is a desire for change, but these are a catastrophic waste of time if we consider the current climate – Cornwall Council and all six Parliamentary seats are occupied by the Conservative party and in the Brexit referendum the region stuck two fingers up to the EU – which, ironically, was far more willing to offer financial support to Cornwall than anyone in Westminster would ever be.
Nonetheless, a Cornish Revival is growing. Those who identify as Cornish are still a minority within Cornwall, but this number is rising exponentially and may have reached 100,000 when the results of the 2021 Census are published; but we must be patient. This is a generational shift, not something that can be forced to happen overnight.
Whether we like it or not, Cornwall is CURRENTLY part of England. Demographic shifts during the 20th century diminished the original ethnic basis of Cornish identity, and, going forward, a new, modern Cornish identity centred around passion and fervour must be established. On Twitter, this enrages Cornish nationalists, who are so hellbent on denying this truth that they are hindering the progression of their own campaign. Once you accept that Cornwall is currently just another English county, you can begin to change that forever.
Cornwall is CURRENTLY tied to the Westminster system. There is a ‘National Party’, akin to the SNP or Plaid Cymru, but their reach is tiny in comparison to the main parties’. One reason why no one can take Cornwall’s lofty ideas seriously is because we are tightly tied to Westminster and the monarchy. Mebyon Kernow are not a threat to Labour, Conservatives or Lib Dems. How can a national movement gain traction if there is no national party? No matter how much they pretend to care about Cornwall, no matter how Cornish these candidates might be, ALL POWER flows back to Westminster. This is undeniable.
Both within Cornwall and beyond, the main reason why Cornwall is not taken seriously is simply a lack of understanding of Cornish history and culture; most people are not aware of the existence of the Cornish language, and if they are, they certainly cannot speak it. Neither are most people aware of the rich and distinct history of Cornwall that stretches back thousands of years, long before the Romans and the Saxons ever set foot on British shores.
Believe it or not, Cornwall has all the prerequisites for a modern nation state, but this need not be the focus of our efforts right now; there is still a long and winding path ahead of us before we can think about grandiose fantasies like statehood.
A good place to start would be increased devolution, followed by a bid for complete autonomy, but this is still a long-term process – one in which no Westminster party can have any say, for they will attempt to dampen and sabotage it. It is probably too late for independence: history suggests otherwise, but no matter how culturally Cornish any one of us feels, politically we are still English. Eliminating every trace of the Westminster system from Cornwall is nigh-on impossible, and any attempt at political revolution is sheer insanity.
It is up to the people of Cornwall to teach themselves and others about Cornish history, and maybe even try to learn some basics of the language. The ‘national’ curriculum will never support either of these moves; nor should we expect it to.
Everyone interested must visit Kresen Kernow in Redruth, which holds thousands of books about Cornish history and culture, and even offers language lessons, freely available to all. If Redruth is too far away, why not go online and buy a second-hand copy of one of the many books by eminent Cornish historians like Philip Payton or Bernard Deacon, for an easy-to-digest overview of thousands of years of Cornish history.
Regardless of whether you’re ten generations Cornish, or simply someone who has lived here for decades, if you love Cornwall and the community you live in, you don’t want to see it destroyed by market forces and profit motives. You want to see it thrive, you want there to be a future here, not elsewhere, for your family and the younger generations. Regardless of your accent or your heritage, you want to see a Cornish future decided within Cornwall by people who live here year-round.
Concepts like nationality will lead us down a dark and divisive path. Nationality is a Western fantasy, something designed by the upper classes to contrive loyalty to a cause they control. Cornwall gaining independence wouldn’t change anything for ‘ordinary’ people; it would simply be a propaganda victory. Does a Cornish passport put food on the table? Does a national anthem keep you warm at night? No.
Autonomy, on the other hand, can put power back into the hands of local people: the power to administer services like healthcare and education and ultimately to collect tax revenue internally to use for the people who need it most, not diverting it away into the national coffers.
The old Cornwall is dead. It is too easy for the dispossessed to cling to the rich past of Old Cornwall like a comfort blanket and cower beneath it, but we must move on, to bigger and better things. The New Cornwall waits patiently in the shadows, ready to emerge in any guise we want.