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We all know the geography, Dave, now here's a history lesson...

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: October 12, 2010

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It may not be "the Amazon for heaven's sake" but if David Cameron had been on the wrong side of the Tamar at the weekend he would have been under no illusion as to what "Cornish lads (and maids) can do".

Several hundred men, women and children fighting a Government Bill aimed at smashing the integrity of Cornwall's historic border converged on Saltash on Sunday to voice their anger.

Following the Prime Minister's televised gaffe – perhaps as damaging to Mr Cameron in Cornwall as Gordon Brown's "bigot" moment during the General Election – the Cornish protesters were in no mood for compromise.

Already an issue uniting politicians across the spectrum in Cornwall, Mr Cameron further inflamed the situation during an interview with ITV Westcountry last week, during which he snapped: "It's the Tamar – not the Amazon for heaven's sake."

Condemning the content of the PM's comments and his apparent dismissal of Cornish voters' views, speaker after speaker at Saltash called on MPs of all parties to "kill the Bill".

The rally was organised in protest at Tory and Lib-Dem Coalition proposals to reduce the number of MPs to 600, and the possible creation of Cornwall and Devon cross-border constituencies. The Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill will be discussed by MPs in the House of Commons today.

Keep Cornwall Whole, a group set up to challenge the Bill, has won the support of all six Cornwall MPs, Cornwall Council and the mass of Cornwall's electorate.

That strength of feeling was demonstrated on Sunday when protesters gathered at Saltash's Jubilee Green for a symbolic Respect The Tamar rally. Politicians took a united stand in condemning the Government's proposals, stating that the eastern bank of the Tamar had been the historic, cultural and linguistic border of Cornwall for more than a thousand years.

First up was Saltash Mayor Adam Killeya, who has spearheaded the Keep Cornwall Whole movement.

"This proposal says that numbers are more important than people or place," he said. "This proposal would disregard a thousand years of history. This proposal would ignore the right to self-determination of half a million Cornish people. This proposal would say when it comes to Devon and Cornwall we can disregard myriad differences in politics, history, economics, sociology and geography, and overrule them all with mathematics. Nationalist or not, Cornish or not, surely all supporters of democracy and freedom believe in the right to have identity recognised and protected."

Mr Killeya was followed by Torpoint Mayor Edward Andrews, who said "hell would have to freeze over" before the population of Cornwall accepted the Coalition's proposals.

Referring to David Cameron's "Amazon" gaffe, Mebyon Kernow's deputy leader Andrew Long said: "Mr Cameron, we do not need a lesson on geography from you. However, you seem to need a history lesson from us. This great river is not just a line on a map. The Tamar marks the national boundary of Cornwall and it has marked our national boundary for more than a thousand years. Its integrity needs to be protected, just as the national borders between Wales and England, and Scotland and England, are respected."

South East Cornwall Tory MP Sheryll Murray was in no mood to defend her leader either, declaring: "We must fight the destruction of our historic border by the political map and that's why I have tabled an amendment to the Bill. If the Shetland Isles or the Western Isles can be treated differently, why not Cornwall. We will fight on and on to make sure the border is protected."

Representing the other partner in the Coalition, Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell and Newquay, Stephen Gilbert, opened his speech by saying: "This is Cornwall and over there, that's England. When David Cameron said this is not the Amazon he was right... it's much more important."

Mr Gilbert said he would vote against the Government and called on everyone to write letters of protest to the Prime Minister.

"We need to flood Downing Street with letters," he said. "If you haven't written, write now. If you've already written, write again. Let's show that Cornwall stands united in defence of our historic border."

The other speakers were Grand Bard Mick Paynter, Cornwall Council chairman Pat Harvey, Cornish Labour Party vice-chairman Jen Forbes, UKIP MEP Trevor Colman and Saltash May Fair Princess Corina Roissetter, who stated: "We are all Cornish and proud of it, and that's how we want it to stay."

Mr Paynter, speaking first in Cornish and then in English, drew huge cheers when he stressed that the campaign was not anti-English.

"Our opponents say that we are a people full of hate and poison for foreigners, especially those from across the river, and that this campaign is motivated by these feelings," he said. "This is in fact totally alien to our tradition. There is no place in our thinking for ideas based on race or blood, or nonsense like that. We are for the equality of all peoples. We are for land, language, family and friendship. We respect the culture of others and ask only for the same respect for ours. No more, no less.

"We believe that the idea of elections is to choose a Member of Parliament to represent a real community and the real people who live and work in it. The purpose of elections is not only a numerical exercise designed to save money, a mathematical concept of equality, but to ensure that the people's will is recognised. This proposal of the Coalition does nothing to strengthen democracy. The Tamar has been our border for over a thousand years. It is a cultural border, it is a linguistic border, it is our national border."

With Will Coleman taking the role of MC, Saltash Town Band providing the music, and a rousing rendition of Trelawny, the rally was all over in 45 minutes. Those present can only hope that the hated Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill will be consigned to the dustbin of political history in as short a time. The Bill will be discussed in the House of Commons today and over a three-day period next week.

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