Cornwall has always had a desire to have greater power. But when I ask those who call for it what kind of powers they want, there’s often uncertainty and specifics are usually hard to pin down.
The word “Devolution” itself is not really helpful either. Sometimes you just need examples to explain to people what you mean by such a poly-syllabic conceptual word as ‘devolution’.
The principle is simple enough: “decisions that affect one place and nowhere else should be made in that place and not outside it”.
So taking a list of some key decisions, let’s see how this might guide us:
• Who should be able to decide how many holiday and second homes are allowed and how many affordable homes for locals are provided?
a) Elected representatives accountable in Cornwall; or
b) Government Ministers or quangos?
• Who should decide how many homes are built in Cornwall?
a) Elected representatives accountable to Cornwall; or
b) Government agencies or Whitehall?
• Who should decide how to spend Cornwall’s economic development funds?
a) A Cornish Development Agency answerable to us in Cornwall; or
b) a Government appointed quango or agency accountable to Whitehall?
• Who should decide whether Cornwall’s Parliamentary Constituencies should respect Cornwall’s border?
a) People in Cornwall; or
b) the Government in Westminster?
I realise that there have been occasions when elected representatives in Cornwall have not always shown themselves to be mature enough to take wise decisions for the good of the locality. But then there are times when I’m not sure that politicians in the Westminster Village have proven themselves much better either!
Nevertheless, the point about who should make decisions affecting Cornwall remains valid. Indeed, it’s not just a power struggle between Cornwall and Westminster. There’s the European dimension too. I realise it’s a hot potato for some, but it all comes down to pragmatic decision-making in the end.
For example, one local fisherman on the Lizard complained to me this week that yet again he has had to dump 1200kg of Spur dog fish (less than 5% would have survived!) from one catch because of heavily micro managed quota restrictions agreed at a European level. So I could add to the questions:
• Who should decide how best to sustainably manage Cornwall’s marine resource and fish stocks?
a) scientists and fishermen in Cornwall; or
b) bureaucrats in Brussels?
In each of these cases simple common sense should be applied. It’s not to say that there shouldn’t be some independent oversight by Government or that a backstop shouldn’t be available in case an unresolved controversy should arise. But, by and large, it’s better to give those people most affected by the decisions more say in making them.
At the same time, of course, there needs to be a wider national context. There is sense and benefits all round where a nation seeks to achieve a national standard. There’s a shared interest amongst all regions in setting national standards in health, care, trading rules, housing and welfare entitlements, pay bargaining and systems for funding local and regional authorities.
The campaign for Cornwall to have more power will never go away, but if we are to achieve it we need to be clear about what powers we need and what national standards we need to keep too!
Kernow bys vyken!
8th October 2012
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