Recognition of the Cornish people as an official minority only confirms the differences that become obvious the moment you cross the Tamar. This is a separateness that runs deep
When I first drove down to live in Cornwall more than 20 years ago, I was met by a graffiti message on a railway bridge near Truro: “Go home, English!” I should have taken it personally. I should have politely turned around to head back across the Tamar. I was exactly the sort of incomer who was swamping the last little islands of Cornishness. But in fact, I found it heartening. Cornwall was not England – that was why I’d come.
Since then, Cornwall’s distinctiveness has, rather than being smothered, become resurgent. In those days, the monochrome simplicity of St Piran’s flag was an unusual sight, confined to places of nationalist fervour like Hellfire Corner at Redruth rugby ground. Now it is everywhere – in the logos of Cornish companies, on car stickers (usually with some jokey tag like “Pasty on Board”), or fluttering importantly from Cornwall council buildings. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Cornish language was likewise invisible, a barbarous and long-vanished practice, like piracy and smuggling. Now it receives government funding to be taught in schools and appears on the bilingual signs at the Cornish “border” on the A30, and on street signs for every new housing development.