Mebyon Kernow – MK

Mebyon Kernow – The Party For Cornwall

Mebyon Kernow, the Party for Cornwall, is currently engaged on a drive to recruit more members and activists following renewed interest in the Cornish nationalist movement. More over on Breselyerkeltic for those interested in joining or donating to the party.

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Wales – Exit Stage Left?

Portrait of Leanne Wood

There is a surprisingly sympathetic article looking at Welsh nationalism, Plaid Cymru and the Plaid leadership candidate Leanne Wood in the Guardian newspaper:

Leanne Wood is rather different from most of the UK’s politicians. Forty years old and a mother of one, she still lives in the same street in the Rhondda Valley where she was born and brought up. She thinks the crash of 2008 should have “resulted in the rejection of capitalism and many of its basic economic and political assumptions”, and that the UK’s coalition amounts to a “hyper-competitive, imperial/militaristic, climate-change-ignoring and privatising government”. She is also a proud republican, who refuses to attend the kind of official events at which the Queen turns up, and was once thrown out of the Welsh Assembly for referring to the reigning monarch as “Mrs Windsor”. If any of this chimes with your general view of what’s wrong with the world, it’s fair to say that you’d like her.

If Wood pursued her political career in Westminster, her opinions might ensure she was kept safely on the fringes. But in her home country, she is a high-profile voice – and the current favourite to take over the leadership of Plaid Cymru, the nationalist party who, until 2011, shared power in Wales with Labour.

The prospect of life as party leader is not the only reason for her air of energised enthusiasm. Being a senior Plaid Cymru figure, Wood believes in Welsh independence. And with Scotland set to vote on whether to stay part of the UK in 2014 and the future of the union being argued over as never before, Wood and her fellow Welsh nationalists think there is an unprecedented opening for the most fundamental of their beliefs.

Membership of Plaid has gone up 23% in the past four months. And while its senior politicians once held that pointed talk about independence was a vote-loser, all four of the current leadership candidates are falling over themselves to underline their vision of a Wales finally free from the English yoke.”

Given the extreme hostility of the British media establishment to Alex Salmond and the SNP in Scotland (including most of the journalists and feature writers at the Guardian), this almost enthusiastic profile of Leanne Wood is decidedly odd. However the same tone has been picked up by other media, and the BBC is now reporting that her candidacy seems likely to win through to the leadership of Plaid Cymru:

“The bookies have Leanne Wood as a clear favourite now. She won the battle for nominations from branches and constituency parties hands down. Her ‘big names’ are bigger than anybody else’s. (Adam Price was no surprise. Dafydd Iwan rather more so, say the Elin Jones camp). What was seen as inexperience a few weeks ago, is now seen as a fresh approach, a politician whose time – to the surprise, even, of some of those who plan to vote for her – has come. In the world of online polls and twitter support, she is the runaway winner. They, at least, might be tempted to think it’s all over”

With the SNP in Scotland dominating politics north of the border, Plaid Cymru in Wales experiencing a revival in their fortunes, and even Mebyon Kernow in Cornwall beginning to gain new ground, it is, perhaps, not the only thing that is all over.

Cornwall Awakening

To my shame I’ve written relatively little about the nationalist movement in Cornwall, in some ways the almost forgotten nation of the modern Celtic world, but an article in the Guardian thankfully highlights some of the more recent political developments there:

“When Loveday Jenkin was growing up, the Cornish flag was rarely seen. Now the white cross on a black background is ubiquitous, fluttering outside county hall in Truro and printed on everything from souvenir boxes of fudge to pasty packaging and car bumper stickers.

“I think it shows what a long way we’ve come in just a few years,” says Jenkin, the latest member of Mebyon Kernow (MK) – the Party for Cornwall – to be elected to Cornwall council. “Everyone is so much more aware that we are separate, different, not a part of England and should have the right to govern ourselves.”

Scotland has its own parliament, while the assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland are maturing nicely. And in the far south-west MK is leading the campaign for a referendum on a Cornish assembly.

It is demanding a meeting with David Cameron and Nick Clegg to ask why a petition of 50,000 names, the equivalent of a tenth of the Cornish adult population, appears to have been ignored. The Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru, has laid down an early-day motion in the Commons supporting the call for devolution.

MK, which has just celebrated its 60th birthday, is beginning to do well in local elections, holding five seats on Cornwall council – four more than Labour. The party hopes that the unpopularity of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition will lead to it taking a leap forward at the next general election, and believes it is starting to attract younger voters disillusioned with the bigger parties.

“Being Cornish is about belonging to the place of Cornwall but also having a particular way of thinking about things,” says Jenkin, a biochemist.

“We do things differently. Our culture is different, we have our own language. People ask why I identify myself as Cornish. It’s simply because I am Cornish. We have more in common with Brittany and Wales than the south-east of England but we’re subsumed into English decision-making.”

Like Plaid, MK often talks about social justice. Dick Cole, the party’s leader who gave up his job as an archaeologist to become a full-time councillor, says that over the past 40 years Cornwall’s economy has been fractured.

“Jobs have been lost, centralised out of here,” he said. “Cornwall is now one of the worst places for wages and the living costs are getting ever higher. We are one of the most deprived areas and the over-centralised nature of the British state has done us no good.”

Cole and Jenkin are veteran MK activists but believe a new generation is beginning to take an interest; people such as John Rowe, a 25-year-old MK parish councillor.

Like many young Cornish people, Rowe admits he did not understand his identity until he left his family farm to go to university in Bath. “It may sound trite but I did not realise what Cornwall was all about until I left it,” he said.

Rowe noticed not only the cultural differences – the language, the art – but also the economic differences between a relatively wealthy city such as Bath and the former mining town where he grew up, Camborne.”

With the electoral successes of the SNP in Scotland and the upcoming referendum on independence a new consciousness has awakened in the Celtic nations of Britain, one that can see beyond current or past limitations. In Wales the leadership contest in Plaid Cymru has brought to the fore the two competing ideologies of the party, regionalist and nationalist, with Leanne Wood leading the campaign on behalf of progressive nationalism. It can only be hoped that Mebyon Kernow will be able to seize the moment on behalf of the people of Cornwall and gain the recognition of the country’s right to national self-expression that many desire, politically as well as culturally.