Earlier this week I was honoured to lead a debate in Parliament on the Cornish national identity and the 2021 census.
As a proud Cornishman I have been clear that speaking up for Cornwall will always be my priority in Parliament and this debate provided another opportunity to do just that.
The Cornish national identity is not a whim or some notion based on a romantic view of the past, but instead one that reflects our deep and lasting history as a separate people with a clearly defined culture.
In 2014 the Government announced that the Cornish would be classified under the European Framework convention for the protection of national minorities under the Council of Europe. A body that I have been honoured to recently be appointed to by the Prime Minister.
The Government has been very supportive of Cornwall in recent times. We are seeing record levels of investment in our transport infrastructure and Cornwall remains the only rural county to have been given a devolution deal. However, when it comes to the specific matter of recognition of the Cornish as a people there is still a great deal to do.
Sadly, despite the recognition afforded by the European framework convention, and embraced in words by the UK Government, the Government has been criticised by the Council of Europe for not doing enough to address the cultural needs of Communities in Cornwall. There have been warm words but little action.
In their report one of the key proposals they make to address this shortcoming is that a Cornish tick box for national identity be included in the 2021 census.
In the 2001 Census the Scottish were identified for the first time on the Census form, along with the English and Northern Irish. In 2011 a Welsh option was added.
Can you imagine the outrage today if the Scottish or Welsh were omitted on the next census?
The Government in its own statement in April 2014 stated that the Cornish would now be offered the same recognition as our Celtic cousins. And yet on this simplest and most basic of things – the ability to declare yourself as Cornish in the census, the Government is failing the Cornish.
The point has been made that there is the option under ‘other’ in the census to write in Cornish as a nationality. In 2011 a staggering 73000 Cornish men and women chose to do so. That 73,000 represents 14% of residents of Cornwall. This is the same percentage of Welsh residents who wrote in Welsh under the other option in the 2001 census. The inclusion of a specific tick box for Welsh increased the percentage of people identifying as Welsh from 14 to 66% in 2011. I am convinced that if a tick box is provided we would see a similar increase in the percentage of people choosing Cornish as their identity.
As it stands currently, the Cornish are the only nationality recognised by the Government under the framework convention not to be recognised in the census. No other group can make that claim.
In this way the Cornish case is unique. No one else can make the case we can for inclusion. Monday’s debate was an important one in highlighting this issue on a national level. I will continue to do all I can to press the case for positive change and ensure that Cornish people, one and all, are given tangible recognition in the future.