Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell at the pride march in Truro on Saturday. Picture: James Ram. 0908JR01124pride@trucg
PETER Tatchell is an Australian who lives in London. He admits the last time he set foot in Cornwall was in 1972. Yet he has found himself as one of the most high-profile campaigners for Cornish rights.
During his visit to the Duchy last weekend to lead the Cornwall Pride parade in Truro he used the opportunity not only to highlight issues surrounding gay rights, but also to promote his support for improving the rights of the Cornish.
Last November Tatchell wrote a comment piece for the national Guardian website asking why the Cornish should not be afforded the same rights as the Scottish and Welsh and suggesting that the Duchy should be granted the opportunity to become independent and have its own Cornish Assembly.
The article attracted more than 1,500 comments – the most ever posted to a single article on the award winning website. What was surprising was the amount of vitriol expressed against the Cornish, rubbishing the ideas that Tatchell was championing.
"I was gobsmacked by the scale and passion of the response. I expected a lot of strong supportive comments from people in favour of Cornish self-rule but was quite shocked and disgusted by the anti-Cornish sentiment. It struck me as being borderline racism with some people regurgitating the worst caricatures and stereotypes that would no longer be acceptable if expressed against the Scots and Welsh.
But most of the people making those kind of comments were nationalists and people who believe in one single homogenous UK. There are five nations in the UK, four of which have got some form of self-rule and Cornwall hasn't. It is an historic injustice that should be put right."
Tatchell quotes a MORI poll which found that 55% of people in Cornwall support the idea of a Cornish Assembly as a good basis for the campaign to improve Cornish rights.
But while he has been keen to raise the profile of that campaign and lend his support by writing about it, he admits he is not about to start leading the way.
"Ultimately it's up to the people of Cornwall to decide whether they want to go for this and how they want to achieve it.
"I am very happy to lend my support and looking at the history the people of Cornwall have a legitimate national identity and rights." Tatchell says he has been aware of the Cornish nationalist campaign for 30 years or more and has also been outspoken on his views about the role of the Duchy of Cornwall and Duke of Cornwall.
He said: "It is an affront to democracy that MPs are not allowed to question the constitutional power and the financial arrangements of the Duchy of Cornwall. It suggests that the Duke of Cornwall has something to hide.
"Prince Charles has the Ducal land and powers which were taken by his ancestors from the people of Cornwall. He should hand them back as a gesture of reconciliation and recognition of the rights of Cornish people.
"If he is not willing to hand them back there should be an Act of Parliament to remove them from his authority and hand them to a democratically elected Cornish Parliament."
Of course the main reason Tatchell was in Cornwall was to lend his support to Cornwall Pride, which was held for the second year at the weekend.
And, according to Tatchell, the need for more recognition of gay rights runs hand in hand with Cornish rights.
"I am here to celebrate Cornwall Pride – lesbian, gay, transsexual, transgender people live in Cornwall and make a huge contribution to Cornish society, their rights should be recognised.
"To me the battle for gay rights and Cornish rights are two stems of a similar battle that is all about overcoming injustice and extending human rights."