The Cornish are nationalist??

Cornish nationalism, much like Welsh and Scottish nationalism, experienced a revival throughout the last century – particularly since WWII. It has manifested itself in many ways:

  • The Cornish Constitutional Convention (also known as 'Senedh Kernow') and Mebyon Kernow reflect the organised political face of Cornish nationalism. Senedh Kernow campaigns and outlines proposals for Cornish devolution. Mebyon Kernow - literally "Sons of Cornwall" - is the only Cornish political party. It stands in general, local and European elections, and campaigns within government institutions for Cornish autonomy.
  • There is also campaigning outside of official political channels: direct action such as physically removing English Heritage logos from Cornish signposts, marches and demonstrations in London.
  • The cultural facet of Cornish nationalism is just as strong as the political aspect. In the last fifty years there has been an enormous increase in the volume of people speaking and learning the Cornish language. Furthermore the cultural revival includes pop and traditional music in Cornish, Cornish traditional dance and dress, traditional festivals such as the Gorseth Kernow, the production of 'An Bibel Kernewek' - a bible in Cornish, and numerous other little signs of asserted Cornishness, such as car stickers of the Cornish flag.

Some of the nationalism is very extreme: Tyr-Gwyr-Gweryn ("Land-Truth-People") talks of a ‘Cornish Genocide’ whereby the English are systematically eradicating the Cornish and Cornish way of life. Most nationalists, however, are somewhat less extreme, but nonetheless provoked when the subject is raised.

The reasons for which the average Cornish nationalist wants increased Cornish autonomy are that

So has all this actually got any justification?

Cornish nationalism has a legitimate basis in history: it was a separate nation that was subsumed into England between the 17th and 19th centuries. Like the rest of the Celtic fringe, Cornwall was not distinctly Romanised, nor did the Anglo-Saxons reach it. In 936CE the Athelstan Settlement ensured the river Tamar as the England-Cornwall border, although this effectively annexed Cornwall. In 1210 King John established a separate parliament for Cornwall (called the Stannary Parliament) which had powers of taxation, legislation, and its own court system. In 1337 Cornwall was made a Duchy, which undermined the Stannaries and linked Cornwall permanently with the English Crown, however at this stage Cornwall still very much a distinct entity – politically, culturally and linguistically.

In 1496 the then Duke of Cornwall decided to increase taxation. This was resisted as taxation was a Stannary power. The 'English' responded by trying to assert control over Cornwall – the result of which was a Cornish ‘army’ marching on London. Both this and a subsequent march were defeated, as was a third attempt the following year. The Stannaries’ powers were greatly damaged by this, although Stannary law was still used up until 1896. However, the Local Government Act of 1884 gave Cornwall a county council, effectively making it into simply another English county – putting an end to any remnants of Cornish nationhood.

Culturally, between the 15th and 19th centuries there was a slow process of Anglicisation in Cornwall – the introduction of printed material (in English), English church services, mass education and so on began to push out the Cornish language. Furthermore, with the discovery of copper reserves in Cornwall there was an influx of English speakers, and so English became the language of business.

As a result, the Cornish language declined until the 19th century when it was ‘rediscovered’ by Henry Jenner. This started a cultural revival of ‘Cornishness’ – history was romanticised and the pre-modern era was looked upon as a ‘golden age’. This early cultural revival was reflected in the establisment of the Gorseth Kernow * in 1928, and organisations such as the Cowethas Kelto-Kernuak ("Celtic Cornish Society").

The revival gradually became more politicised – particularly as the Cornish economic situation worsened with the collapse of the mining industry in the early 20th century. The Cornish felt (and were) hard done by – to the extent that the Cornwall National Minority Report outlines a distinct difference between the financial well-being of Cornish people and English people in Cornwall. The first Cornish political organisation, Tyr ha Tavas ("Land and Language"), soon became Mebyon Kernow, which officially became a political party in 1969.

So how has this all happened?

The decline of Cornish nationalism – furthermore Cornwall as a nation, and its subsequent revival reflects the incomplete nation building on the parts of England and Cornwall. This is to say that industrialisation and its accompaniment elements of increased communication and mobility subsume smaller states into larger ones: the change from agrarian to modern society brings about nationalism through changing consciousness, which itself is a result of the change in education.

Cornwall was therefore subsumed into England, and given an English consciousness via education in English, the Anglican church and so on. The development of English nationalism eclipsed the Cornish nationalism. According to most modernist theories of nationalism, this should be the end of the issue, however, clearly, Cornish nationalism has returned. This resurgence is a result of the very same forces that caused the decline.

This is to say that enhanced transport and communication which are a result of industrialisation have now reinforced cultural identities. People of the same ethnic and cultural groups can communicate, particularly those spread in a diaspora. The Cornish diaspora is enormous, hence the saying "Down the bottom of every mine is a Brother Jack" Furthermore, other sub-state nations can communicate with each other, and reinforce each others ideas. Walker Connor explains:

“…the substantial body of data which is available still supports the proposition that material increase in… social communication and mobilisation tend to increase cultural awareness and exacerbate interethnic conflict.”

Cornish nationalism is, therefore, a response to the primary political development of the modern age – that is, nation building. The English nation building during the industrial revolution was incomplete, in that it did not persuade the UK, or even England, to become a culturally homogenous entity. Cornish nation building, however, was not advanced, hence its original integration into England. However, this incomplete nation building is now being reflected as the effects of modernisation are changing, and the latent Cornish nationalism is once again becoming evident.

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