Peoples and nations today: Cornwall

DOSSIER. “It's not that Cornwall became part of England, it's just that the English forgot Cornwall was not part of their country”. This is how some Cornish illustrate the relations between such Atlantic stateless nation and neighbouring England. Cornwall, which celebrates Saint Piran as its national feast, is a Celtic nation that, unlike Scotland, Ireland and Wales, has not been able to turn its cultural and national specificity into an effective self-government system. But this could change soon, as more than half of the population demands an autonomous assembly along the lines of their Celtic neighbours.

Cornwall –Kernow in Cornish– belongs to the Celtic family of stateless nations. It is located at the shouthwesternmost tip of Britain, and it is currently one out of the nine regions in which England is divided. For centuries, London has shown little interest in Cornwall’s own culture language and identity, to the extent that that the Cornish language finds itself in a critical condition and is considered by UNESCO as a dead language. Apart from that, the United Kingdom refuses to recognise Cornish people as a national minority, a denial that has been critizised by both the Council of Europe and the Commission for Racial Equality.

English political centralism and disinvestment have made Cornwall one of the most impoverished regions of the State. These are some of the reasons why sectors of the Cornish society have started claiming for the establishment of a Cornish Parliament with legislative powers, along the lines of the assemblies that devolution granted for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. According to a 2003 poll, more than 55% of the population is in favour of following in the footsteps of Scotland, being Mebyon Kernow ('Sons of Cornwall' in Cornish), the main national Cornish political party hoisting the flag of such demand.

One of the most popular campaigns being launched lately has been the Cornish Fighting Fund, an initiative intended to raise money to fund the cost of a legal action against the UK government with the aim of including Cornish people as a national minority in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, a CoE treaty which London signed without considering Cornwall.

The campaign was brought to an end a few weeks ago without reaching the amount of 100,000 ₤ needed. Its promoters, though, celebrated the 40,000 ₤ the campaign achieved considering the lack of publicity, low wages in Cornwall and the economic crisis. They also underlined that they are “the only cultural minority group that needed to fund its own legal case”.

Saint Piran, national feast

On Thursday, March 5, the Cornish celebrate Saint Piran, a feast not observed in the British official calendar, but considered by Cornish as their national day. Several campaigns have been launched so that town councils adopt it as official holiday. Even the five Cornish MP’s elected to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom have signed a petition calling for the official observance of March 5. The date is also used to promote the future of Cornish, a language considered extinct by the UNESCO Atlas of endangered languagespublished last week.

More information can be found at Nationalia’s special reports section and at the renowned article called Self-rule for Cornwall, published last November by The Guardian.

Pictures: Saint Piran’s flag, Cornwall’s national flag. Nationalists criticize that the flag is not included within the British Union Jack; map of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, with Cornwall in yellow.