The Grand Bard of Cornwall, Merv Davey, Telynor an Weryn, delivered the following presentation to the Boundary Commission Consultation on Thursday 10th November 2016 in the Council Chamber, Lys Kernow, Truro.
“Myttin da ha dynarghow dhe Gernow dh’agan gwestoryon a Dhesedhek an Oryon Pow Saws. – Good morning and welcome to Cornwall to our guests from the Boundary Commission for England.
I appreciate that our English neighbours are sometimes unfamiliar with Cornish cultural tradition so a quick explanation. Gorsedh Kernow, the Cornish Gorsedd, is a civic and cultural organisation with a college of some 500 Bards. These Cornish Bards represent scholars, writers and creative artists from a wide range of disciplines in Cornwall, as well as sport and community service.[i] Gorsedh Kernow is a sister organisation to the Welsh and Breton Gorsedds and has cultural links to Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. The aim of Gorsedh Kernow is to celebrate and promote Cornwall as a Celtic Nation in a civic and cultural capacity. We are concerned that the proposed Devonwall Constituency devalues this identity and submit that Cornwall’s integrity should be maintained by having a coterminous border with the Parliamentary Constituency boundaries.
If Cornwall is treated as a discrete entity it comfortably meets the electoral criteria laid down in the Parliamentary and Voting System and Constituencies Act of 2011 for 5 constituencies[ii]. Dropped into a South West melting pot together with the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall is arbitrarily and unnecessarily dismembered in order to balance the numbers. Our case for Cornwall to be treated as a discrete entity is based on history, cultural identity and modern democracy. This case is strongly supported by recognition of the Cornish under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities endorsed by the UK Government in 2014 and I quote:
“The decision to recognise the unique identity of the Cornish, now affords them the same status under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as the UK’s other Celtic people, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.” [iii]
I note that there are no cross-border boundaries recommended for Wales or Scotland.
From a historical perspective, Cornwall was territorially well established by the end of the first millennium and an agreed border with the formative England.[iv] Cornwall’s distinct national identity was recognised and preserved by successive administrations as it became first an Earldom and then a Duchy with its own constitutional status. This constitutional status is quite different from other Duchies within the UK, it remains on the statute books and continues to impact upon a number of governance issues.[v] Examples range from foreshore and waterway ownership to civic responsibilities such as the appointment of a High Sheriff. In Cornwall the “absolute ownership of the soil”, within the meaning of a constitutional monarchy, is vested in the Duchy whereas for the rest of the UK this is vested in the crown. To combine part of Cornwall with England in a cross border Parliamentary Constituency would be a serious denial of this history and the British constitution.
The Cornish people have a strong sense of a distinct cultural identity. This is reflected in a wide range of traditions from the celebration of our own patron saint and an historically recognised national flag; to the use of the Cornish language in personal names, place names and the spoken word. The Cornish language belongs to the family of Celtic languages and is protected under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The 2011 Act undertakes to respect cultural issues in the assignment of constituency boundaries where possible. This is clearly possible in the case of Cornwall and we ask the Boundary Commission to put both spirit and letter of the act into practice by creating coterminous Parliamentary Constituency boundaries with our historic border.
The stated purpose of the 2011 Act is to improve democracy as was the ethos behind the 2014 Devolution Deal between the UK Government and Cornwall Council. To muddy the waters with a cross border constituency devalues this democracy and risks dividing the MPs loyalties. One obvious area of loyalty conflict is within the tourist industry. This is an extremely competitive market and Cornwall Council is active in promoting a distinctive Cornish brand in order to encourage people to drive the extra distance into Cornwall rather than stopping off in Somerset or Devon. It is difficult to see how a cross border MP would feel comfortable in actively supporting a Cornwall wide branding when this competed with the interests of the Devon half of their constituency.
Gorsedh Kernow invites the Boundary Commission and the UK Government to put the ethos of democracy that underpins the 2011 Act into practice. To listen to the people of Cornwall and make the necessary arrangements to enable parliamentary representation of five constituencies which fall within the border of Cornwall and are coterminous with that border.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to make this case.
Dr Merv Davey, Bardh Meur Kernow/ Grand Bard of Cornwall
[ii]Professor Gareth Parry, Open letter to Chris Skidmore MP, 11th October 2016
[iii] Press release: “Cornish granted minority status within the UK”, HM Treasury, Department for Communities and Local Government, The Rt Hon Danny Alexander and Stephen Williams .First published: 24 April 2014 Part of: Community integration
[iv] Dr Bernard Deacon, “Cornwall’s First Golden Age”, (London. Francis Boutle, 2016)
[v] Dr John Kirkhope, Visiting Research Fellow – Plymouth University, “Cornwall – a category of its own?”, Academia, June 2015, stable url: https://www.academia.edu/13446781/Cornwall_-_A_Category_of_its_Own