A GROWING interest in Cornish culture could be harnessed to ultimately win a campaign for devolution in the area, All Under One Banner (AUOB) Kernow’s Garry Tregidga has told The National.

Outlining his hopes for the newly launched campaign group, Tregidga, an assistant director of the Institute of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter and editor of the journal Cornish Studies, said greater autonomy could help to combat many of the problems facing Cornwall.

These problems, with a notable parallel to the issues facing other regions and nations of the UK, include the NHS, housing and second homes, people’s ability to pay their bills, and the centralisation of wealth in London.

READ MORE: Wha's Like Us: Cornwall has its own distinct identity, language and culture

The Cornish history lecturer explains how china clay exports from Cornwall were a big boost for the British economy in the past, but the area itself didn’t really benefit. There’s now a discussion about how lithium deposits in the county could benefit its economy: “But will it?” he asks.

The parallels with Scotland’s oil wealth are clear.

The National: Cornwall's Eden Project, a world famous tourist attraction, is built in a former china clay pitCornwall's Eden Project, a world famous tourist attraction, is built in a former china clay pit

Even with Cornwall’s booming tourism industry, many of the hotels and restaurants are owned outwith the area. The people of Cornwall are left with “poorly paid jobs and limited opportunities” while the wealth is funneled out, Tregidga says.

“There’s a feeling that we [Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall] are all suffering from the same level of centralisation.”

The AUOB Kernow organiser’s involvement in the group highlights the connections between the campaigns across those areas.

Set up on Facebook by AUOB Scotland’s Neil Mackay in 2019, Tregidga first found AUOB Kernow through a former student of his who now works as an organiser for Plaid Cymru in Wales.

READ MORE: Cornwall establishes its own indy march group inspired by AUOB

Tregidga notes a “domino effect” linking the independence movements across Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall, as movements in one nation force people to think about “who they want to be”.

“Do they want to be ‘English’? Or do they want some greater autonomy?” he asked.

But on an electoral map Cornwall is Conservative blue. The party won all six of the English county’s constituencies in the 2019 General Election, and also took a majority of seats in its council in the 2021 local elections.

However, Tregidga insists politics in Cornwall is not as clear cut as it looks.

“The electoral system actually gave them [the Tories] the majority”, he says.

The National:

Tregidga ran in the 2021 elections for Mebyon Kernow (MK), a party which aims to secure greater self-government for the county. He came second out of six candidates, beaten by a Conservative.

However, Tregidga’s 23% of the vote was not far behind the winning Tory’s 28%, and he says that he would likely have won if it had been a straight one-on-one.

While Labour have historically been opposed to greater devolution, Tregidga believes their stance is softening, and the party returned the same number of councillors as MK in the May vote.

There are also a high number of independents on the council, some prominent examples of which, such as former council leader Julian German, have a history of speaking out for greater Cornish autonomy.

The LibDems have also advocated for Cornish devolution, with former MP for St Ives and current councillor Andrew George (below) saying in 2014 that “if Scotland and Wales can be offered further powers, then Cornwall must be next in line”.

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“Cornwall is already recognised as a distinct region for economic development purposes, as a separate people and for its distinct language,” George added.

Tregidga believes that AUOB Kernow can bring together these calls from disparate parties and politicians and a growing interest in the cultural aspects that make Cornwall so “distinct” to achieve devolution, and perhaps ultimately independence, for the region.

He told The National: “Conservative MPs are not representing the area. They are representing London and the Conservative Party. I think people are therefore frustrated.

“So if representation in Westminster is not addressing their concerns, then the answer is or should be greater autonomy, whether that’s through independence or, more probably, devolution as a first step.

“Certainly I think that’s the way that people in Cornwall are thinking.”

AUOB Kernow plan to hold their first rally in September, and aim to feature Cornish music and cultural institutions alongside speakers from a range of political parties.