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Mebyon Kernow, the Party for Cornwall, to Make the Case for a Cornish National Assembly

03/03/2014 10:49 GMT | Updated 01/05/2014 10:59 BST

On Wednesday, Mebyon Kernow will launch a White Paper outlining the case for Cornish devolution and the creation of a Cornish National Assembly.

Councillor Dick Cole, the party's leader since 1997, picked the 5th March launch date for a reason: it's also St Piran's day and therefore as good an opportunity as any to get some much needed publicity for his party's ambitious cause.

Speaking over the phone, Cole offers an abridged recent history of Mebyon Kernow. The organisation 'almost died out' in the 80s only to experience a renaissance in the 90s, benefitting from an influx of younger members and the promise of New Labour's then devolution agenda.

The party's comeback culminated in one of its most triumphant moments: a 2001 petition to Downing Street signed by 50,000 individuals - that's roughly an eleventh of Cornwall's population - calling for devolved powers.

Support for the petition hailed from across the political spectrum. However, it fell on deaf ears - the government refusing to even recognise Cornwall as a region (it's part of South West England, one of England's nine official regions) let alone a nation like Scotland or Wales. In 2011, to commemorate 10 years since its submission, Plaid Cymru, a longstanding supporter of Mebyon Kernow, launched an early day motion in Parliament in support of the petition, using the opportunity to express disappointment at the failure of the then government to take action.

Since 2001, the party has maintained a fairly low national profile choosing to focus its activities on local politics and particularly Cornwall Council where they have four local Councillors. Recent campaigns have ranged from appeals for more affordable local housing to headline grabbing calls encouraging all Liberal Democrat and Conservative Councillors to resign in protest at government cuts.

As platforms for launching a major devolution campaign go, it's pretty modest to say the least. Indeed, whilst the party's calls for devolution have received widespread public and local cross-party support in the past, they remain a party with only 600 registered members.

So why does Cole think now is a good time to push once again for devolved powers? Firstly, Scotland's 'in / out' referendum is placing welcome attention on Westminster's relationship with other parts of the UK - something that Cole thinks Mebyon Kernow can use to its advantage.

Secondly, the current economic climate is hitting Cornwall hard. 'Cornwall has always been seen as the end of the line by central government and the local economy has failed to make the improvements that people here need,' say Cole. He points, in particular, to recent figures from the Office of National Statistics that show Cornwall's growth to be the slowest in the country at only 61.2% of the UK average.

Such poor progress has been further compounded by central government's austerity drive. 'The Council here has been left shell-shocked by the cutbacks,' Cole remarks.

Added together, it has led to a feeling that the region is neglected by central government and needs more control over its destiny. The recent flooding that blighted the area damaging businesses and impacting transport systems, particularly railway lines, has only served to underscore this. Cole points to a recent report by IPPR North that reveals the significant difference in per-capita investment in transport infrastructure projects across the country, with Londoners receiving £2,596 per head while the South West receives just £17.58 per head. For Cole, such an imbalance can not be allowed to continue.

The devolution cause for Cole and thousands of others like him is an absolute must if Cornwall is going to secure itself a prosperous, economically sustainable future. But is it a realistic outcome?

Cole doesn't see why it shouldn't be: 'we're campaigning for greater powers for Cornwall. Three or four decades ago, people wouldn't have believed that a Welsh assembly or a Scottish Parliament was possible but look where they are now. They're not only working, they're also growing in stature.'

And how does he respond to those who say that devolution is just a stepping stone towards independence? Well, it's just not on the agenda. 'We're not campaigning for independence, we're campaigning for devolved powers,' he says.

Quite how successful the campaign will be is another matter entirely. The scale of the challenge is daunting and granting devolved powers to Cornwall, perhaps not unsurprisingly, doesn't score high on the agendas of any of the three main political parties.

That said, the passionate Cole - born and bred in Cornwall and the great, great grandson of the first ever Clerk to St Enoder Parish Council - has chosen the best possible time to start the conversation again. Thanks to Scotland, Westminster's relationship with the rest of the country is under close scrutiny. That, coupled with slow economic growth and a public dissatisfied with the government's response to the floods, might just help Mebyon Kernow attract some more support.

It's remains a tall order though. They might even need a helping hand from St Piran himself.