Scholars hope to understand what impact Cornish immigrants may have had on the Nisenan

University of Exeter experts are working to start a new public conversation about Cornish political decentralisation following the failure of a deal to bring a mayoral system to the region.

Researchers will work with residents, politicians and policymakers to think about the future of governance in Cornwall.

This has begun with the publication of a new book and a symposium, at which participants discussed the relationship between governance and the economy, the benefits of devolution for Cornish businesses and how can multi-level governance best reflect the social and economic interests of Cornwall.

At the event there was a keynote presentation from Cornwall Chamber of Commerce CEO Kim Conchie along with talks given by associates of the new Cornish Democracy Unit of the University of Exeter’s Institute of Cornish Studies

The symposium saw the launch of the book Cornish Democracy: Studies of Governance and Identity, edited by Dr Garry Tregidga, Co-Director of the Institute of Cornish Studies. There are contributions from researchers, policymakers, politicians and members of the public, including on the process of democratic governance in Cornwall in the aftermath of the failure of the Level 3 devolution deal. The book outlines the historical foundations of Cornwall’s political culture before

the need to define a clearer route map to advance the Cornish cause. This process must build on the practical experience of the devolution process in the other Celtic nations and secure the support of key allies operating in the sphere of central government if Cornwall is to continue on the road to greater autonomy.

The book draws on the personal experiences of two leading Cornish politicians about the events of recent decades. Dan Rogerson, a former Liberal Democrat MP and government minister, highlights the challenges in influencing policy at Westminster, including the ultimately successful campaign for the Cornish to be recognised as a National Minority.

Dick Cole, leader of Mebyon Kernow, focuses on the refusal of central government to respond to the 50,000 signatures collected in support of a Cornish Assembly in 2001. He argues the subsequent fragmentation of the devolution campaign has led to ‘the centralisation of local government’ with the unitary Cornwall Council in 2009 and the failure of the Mayor of Cornwall proposal in 2023.

Dr Tregidga said: “The aim of both the book and related workshop is to contribute to the discussion over the future of local governance in the aftermath of Cornwall Council’s decision to drop its plan for a Mayor for Cornwall earlier this year. Through a focus on issues like democratic renewal, communal regeneration and environmental concerns we can aspire towards a wellbeing economy for the future that genuinely benefits the people of Cornwall.”  

At the event Professor Joanie Willett and Harry Rawlinson, from the University of Exeter, presented their research on local democracy, showing the best examples can unlock community energy and be much more responsive to local needs. But there is a need to understand much more about what policy tools help decentralised local government to function well, and which enables councils to act entrepreneurially in their community.

Professor Willett, Co-Director of the Institute of Cornish Studies, has spent six months in Virginia in the USA observing local government and speaking to communities.

It is envisaged that future reports from the Cornish Democracy Unit will cover a wide range of areas such as social policy, educational reform and cultural heritage.